The other day I read an old blog post by a Jewish Rabbi about The Difference Between God and Religion (title of his post). Reb Jeff says they are not the same thing. I agree, but only if the god or gods in question really exist.
I know many religious people wrap the two so tightly that they cannot conceptually separate them. I doubt if most believers could conceive of one without the other. A theist without theology.
Since the rabbi opened the door and put it out there, I am going to pick at his comments.
He wrote, “To me, God is manifest in the realization that I am here, and so are you, to fulfill a purpose and truth that is greater than any one of us individually.” (From Reb Jeff blog 8/18/2012, Italics mine). Jeff’s logic is that because you, he, and I exist, God not only exists, but is “manifest.” If that was true, there would be neither atheists nor agnostics.
Manifest means “readily perceived by the senses and especially by the sense of sight” and “easily understood or recognized by the mind: obvious” (merriam-webster.com). No god is obvious. None.
Furthermore, he got lost in the idea of living a pointless life without his god and his holy books. Based on what he wrote, without the Jewish God, Reb Jeff and his ilk cannot imagine a purposeful or fulfilling life. No news there. They subsequently reflect that position onto others, especially nonbelievers. How can you be happy if you cannot believe any god exits? Well, we are.
In the post, the rabbi speaks of “experiencing” God. Something not everyone does. Not even most believers. I never did. Experiencing is not manifestation. Psychoses and delusions can be experienced. Religion is experienced. Is God?
He also wrote, “You don’t need to be a mind reader to realize that a true atheist would not be concerned with the struggle to maintain faith.” Is the rabbi an expert in what a “true” atheist is? He is a reformed Jew. What if I claimed that he was not a true Jew?
Maybe he never heard of the true Scotsman fallacy. Anyway, I’ve been concerned with having faith and the “struggle to maintain faith,” my entire life. If the rabbi would say I am not a “true” atheist because I have such interests, he’d be wrong.
Then he says, “Atheism is the conviction that there is no God or gods (he’s wrong); no ultimate source of meaning (strike two), truth (wrong again) or morality (well, not the Torah) in the universe.” The whole universe?
He goes on, “How could a true atheist struggle with faith when atheism denies the very basis of faith?” He could have looked up the definition of atheism by atheists, but he did not. Maybe Reb Jeff should look up the meaning of faith and religion and God when he checks out the correct definition of atheism.
I suspect most atheists agree that people have faith whether God exists or not. Lord knows we hear it as the very reason many believe—not God’s manifestation. If God is obvious faith is unnecessary.
Some atheists are convinced to some degree that no god exists, but not all (at least as God is described by the Abrahamic religions).
As for terms like ultimate truth or morality in the whole fucking universe, I admit that I don’t know any universal ultimate truths except that death is real, and it seems to be wherever life exists. But my knowledge only applies to life on Earth. The old joke about three Jews having five opinions exists for a reason. Maybe I should ask three Rabbis and see how it goes.
I think separating religion and belief in god or gods is important for a better understanding of each. Rejecting religion makes room for varied conclusions about gods. However, as the rabbi implies, since I do not accept any belief in a real god (due to lack of evidence), thousands of religions become simple social/political organizations from my point of view.
The problem with seeing god and religion separately is that religion creates gods. Religions tell people who and what a god is and how to interact, relate, and what to believe about the god or gods. It’s contrived by humans. All religions thus become silly (some dangerous) psycho-social clubs.
Consequently, religious folks like good old Reb Jeff use terms (promises) like “experiencing God” to hold people to unnecessary social clubs, which they may enjoy, even as atheists.
Maybe that is why the rabbi thinks he must tolerate atheist-Jews showing up at the synagogue to be with other Jews. He claims they do.
Thank God for air conditioning.