Would I be happier if I just believed?

“Rabbi Gellman”, who I’d never heard of until I saw the Hit and Run link to this article, is offended because atheists are so offended about believers.

I may not be exactly his audience, because I’m not particularly offended at any believer who respects my right to respectfully disagree, but honestly, I was hoping he’d do a little better with his argument than this:

I can humbly ask whether my atheist brothers and sisters really believe that their lives are better, richer and more hopeful by clinging to Camus’s existential despair: “The purpose of life is that it ends.” I can agree to make peace with atheists whom I believe ask too little of life here on planet earth if they will agree to make peace with me and with other religious folk who perhaps have asked too much. I believe that the philosopher-rabbi Mordecai Kaplan was right when he said, “It is hell to live without hope, and religion saves people from hell.”

It’s easy to see how a believer would believe this tripe, but how is it supposed to convince an atheist? I mean, you can be an atheist without being a Camus fanboy. No atheist would prefer deluding himself with the promise of eternal life to trying to give a rational purpose to his life — isn’t that the whole point of atheism? Gellman does try to save himself by offering a quote from Spinoza: “I urge my atheist brothers and sisters to see things as Spinoza urged, sub specie aeternitatis—’under the perspective of eternity.'” Spinoza’s eternity, as I’m sure Gellman well knows, is quite a different concept from the typical Judeo-Christian version. It’s a little disigenuous to toss that breadcrumb in.

No, I wouldn’t be happier if I just believed. And no, I’m not angry about it. In fact, I’m quite impressed with people whose unshaking faith moves them to act in positive ways. I have two examples. The first is from the new TV show, Shalom in the Home, which if you haven’t watched, is quite entertaining. In it, a traveling rabbi parks his trailer outside a particularly troubled family’s home (this week, it was a family with a “devil child,” but the real problem was the bitter, angry father).

The rabbi constantly points out that God wants families to love each other, and that we should try to love each other the way God loves us. It’s a powerful argument, and he really seems to be able to get people to change their ways (they actually revisit the families two months later, and while there are still problems, things do seem to have improved). He could probably still make the same argument while removing “God” from it, but it seems more powerful when it’s motivated by faith.

The second is my wife’s grandmother, who simply seems to have absorbed her faith into the inner core of her being. This is not a woman who’s had a particularly difficult life, but she’s now old enough to have seen most of her friends and family die, and her quiet confidence that they — and she — will be moving to a better place is truly striking.

Do they give me anything to be angry about? Of course not. But the people screaming insults at the funerals of gay veterans do, and so too do the moral crusaders who shout and picket outside of abortion clinics, then try to sneak in the back door when they need one themselves.

Yes, I know that people like my wife’s grandmother and even Rabbi Gellman would simply argue that those folks aren’t true believers. But can’t they see that these angry believers are much, much worse than the atheists? At least angry atheists aren’t hypocrites as well.

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5 Responses to Would I be happier if I just believed?

  1. Simon says:

    “The purpose of life is that it ends.”

    and his alternative…

    “The purpose of life is that it doesn’t end.”

    WTF?! That isn’t a purpose. It’s just as meaningless.

  2. coturnix says:

    Now I have to watch Shalom In The Home! I wonder if he ever advises a family complaining about small house to bring in a donkey, and a goat, and a dog, and some chickens…

  3. Ken says:

    Wow, I grew up in a Southern Baptist environment, and I thought THEY were clueless. Rabbi Gellman should know that athiests aren’t angered by the thought of God. They’re angered by Christians who want to force them to proclaim faith in God everywhere they go — schools, the courthouse, even when they express patriotism by saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Frankly, being someone who left the Christian church to embrace Taoism, I find the idea of an eternity of peace, like the “eternity” we had before we were born, much more comforting than the idea of Heaven and Hell.

    I respect people enough not to critize them for their beliefs, no matter how far-fetched I believe they are. I only want to be respected in turn. How would Rabbi Gellman have felt if an “athiest” like me had written a column slamming Jews?I can guess his reaction would resembled, let’s say, anger??

    Would Gellman prefer that I return to the Baptist faith? All Baptists believe Gellman is going to Hell because he hasn’t accepted Jesus as his personal savior. Doesn’t matter if he believes in God.

    Religion is a good thing. People ruin it with their pettiness and finger-pointing. Rabbi Gellman is just another human who ruins what should be a very personal and peaceful thing — your religious belief.

  4. Religion isn’t a good thing. Religion is basically a bunch of superstitious huggermugger that people lean on like a crutch.

    I don’t get angry at others for holding religious beliefs because it’s pointless and won’t change them or improve things. Privately, I disdain their credulity.

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