Posts Tagged ‘wedding without Can you be a religious atheist? Jewish atheism’

Martin S. Jaffee offers the following definition of ‘religion’ in his book Early Judaism.

“Religion is an intense and sustained cultivation of a style of life that heightens awareness of morally binding connections between the self, the human community and the most essential structures of reality. Religions posit various orders of reality and help individuals and groups to negotiate their relations with those orders.”

You may have noticed that this definition does not focus on beliefs or rituals. This may surprise you. Jaffee argues that the idea of religion as a collection of beliefs about divine beings expressed in moral behavior, prayers and various forms of communal worship is actually an idea that emerged out of Europe in the 16th century. It was advanced by philosophers, politicians and theologians struggling to define the role of the Church in the emerging national states of Europe. For that time and place, that definition served a useful purpose: to create societies in which Church and State had separate and distinct spheres of life, enabling citizens of different religious beliefs to coexist as relative equals in society.

This particular definition of religion however, has not been reflective of the many ways in which non-European and non-Christian peoples have constructed their own conceptions of the role of holy communities and their institutions in the larger social and political order. Thus, he offered that alternate definition of religion, broad enough to explain human religious behavior across civilizations and millenia.

According to Jaffee, religious patterns of behavior encourage human beings to interpret themselves as moral beings whose destiny is bound with others in a project that brings them into relationship with the fundamental reality of things. In religious systems, the self identified through personal, autobiographical memory tends to be enlarged or enriched as it is interpreted in contexts well beyond personal experience. Personal identity includes a conception of how all these relationships are connected to generations of the distant past and the far-off future, as well as to the forces and powers that are held to account for the world as it is. (page 7)

Certain types of Buddhism, and even, Judaism come to mind. What all religions share, though, is the desire to participate in the essential structures of the world — to those spaces beyond our immediate world where “God” or “enlightenment” or “consciousness” reside. The ways we conceive of these alternate worlds differs from religion to religion. But constant among all of them is the tendency of religions to puncture the apparent solidity of mundane experience and to privilege intimations of other worlds at more profound levels of being.

I don’t know about you, but I love this way of describing religion. It’s like what Rabbi David Wolpe said: “Life is not an intellectual puzzle. Life is a precious one-time chance to grow. We grow not by solving riddles but by creating meaning.”

I wrote the title on this entry in jest, but it is not entirely a joke. It’s answer all depends on your definitions. Is it possible to be a religious atheist? Well, if you take Jaffe’s definition of religion (above), as opposed to a fundamentalist definition of God (an omnipotent, authoritarian entity invervening in human affiars) — then yes, you can be. And you most certainly can be an “atheist” or a “theistic agnostic” and have a wedding that is decidedly Jewish.

Read Full Post »