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Gods & Monsters

I just had to respond to this commentary by Rabbi Boteach that was on Huffington Post a couple of days ago. The premise is that "godlessness" is causing Great Britain to go down the tubes (only 35% of the country's population believes in God, compared to 92% in the US).

Basically, the rabbi wants to tie religiosity to success. Fair enough. In certain situations, no doubt one's religious convictions can help them to better themselves and society. But the opposite is also true. So religion is often a zero sum game in this regard. Just as importantly, so, too, is atheism. Someone who doesn't believe in a god, or a religious faith, is not necessarily better or worse than someone who does. Human beings are human beings.

What I can't abide, however, is what Rabbi Boteach attempts to do in the following paragraph:

British influence in the world has, in contrast, gone off a cliff over the last century. And while there are many factors in this decline, I would argue that the new, militant atheism that is becoming characteristic of Britain is a key reason. Atheism is a philosophy of nihilism in which nothing is sacred and all is an accident. While it has some brief, flashy moments, life is purposeless and meaningless. There is no soul to illuminate and no spirit to enliven -- just dead, decadent flesh. Human love is a prank played by our genes ensuring the sexual propagation of the species, and poetry and faith are shallow distractions masking the inevitability of our certain demise. Men are insemination machines incapable of ever being truly faithful and women are genetically programmed to seek out billionaire hedge-fund managers, so much the better to support their offspring.

There is so much wrong with that paragraph, I scarcely know where to begin. I mean, all the rabbi forgot to mention about atheists were the horns and hooved feet. But in all seriousness, he doesn't appear to even attempt to understand the atheist philosophy. For one, there does not have to be a God in order for there to be purpose and meaning to one's life. Indeed, those endeavors are often man-made. If someone were to reference "God's purpose" for them, then what they are actually referring to is destiny, and not strictly purpose. Atheists are able to construct their own purpose and meaning very well. The glory of life on Earth should not be reliant upon the existence (or lack thereof) of an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-creating God-like figure.

Let us be clear: Having an understanding of nature and science (which is what the rabbi seemed to be referencing with his mention of love, etc.) does not in any way negate the wonderful experience that is life. Falling in love, or the anticipation of a great event, or the knowledge-seeking of the universe we live in, is not diminished by a lack of religious belief. In fact, I am more fascinated by life, space and time by not believing in a powerful being with a beard sitting in the sky wondering what next to do with humanity, all the while keeping his banished angel at bay.

The universe may be godless, but it is not necessarily random. There is an organic structure to it. Things happen in sequence. There is a reason for why things are the way they are. Science helps us understand this (if we bother to listen), and the more we learn the more fascinating things become.

I do feel as though my life has meaning, as do the lives of many others. I feel like I have a purpose. I feel like there is something greater than myself. In fact, I know there is. And I feel all of this because we live in a vast, wondrous universe that we've only begun to understand, and we are but a speck within it. That, dear reader, is a humble person's view of things. What is not humble is to think that we, as a speck, are somehow the most important thing going on in a god's life, and that he/she/it has time to listen to and answer our prayers. Let's be real here.

Oh, and I just couldn't resist commenting on something else Rabbi Boteach wrote:

This decline of faith and optimism may account for why Britain -- once the most advanced nation on earth, which gave the world parliamentary democracy and its inimitable centers of higher learning -- is today more famous for exporting reality shows like Big Brother and Project Catwalk. For while religion affirms the infinite dignity of the human person, its absence robs life of its sanctity. Exploitation for fame and humiliation and cash are the inevitable outgrowth.

All I can say to this is: It's obvious the rabbi hasn't consumed any American entertainment of late. I mean, I just went and saw good 'ol American Transformers 3-D this weekend. Big Brother and Project Catwalk don't hold a candle to it when it comes to robbing life of sanctity.


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