Rabbi Yoffie lays it out

The old joke goes, “What do you call a Jew who doesn’t believe in God?”  The answer is, “A Jew.”  And that’s largely true, but there are some exceptions to Jewish atheism.   One is Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who, in a piece at PuffHo called “The frustrating, difficult, never-ending search for God,” tells us all how to find Him in these difficult times when the Big Man in the Sky seems to be hiding from us. The upshot: all is well, for we can find Him by reading sacred texts, keeping our eyes open, observing rituals, and acting like God (presuming, of course, that we know how God acts).  But the final paragraph is telling:

All of this might be a little overwhelming, I say. But start somewhere. The search for God is frustrating and difficult, and it is never done. But with God, our lives have meaning and purpose; without God, we are reduced to being no more than a tiny speck in a vast universe.

There’s Abrahamic religion in a nutshell.  Because we don’t like the truth—which is that all of us are just specks—we make up a god.

78 Comments

  1. Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Whenever I encounter such a sentiment, such despairing, Dawkins’s wonderful quote immediately springs to mind:

    We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      Beautiful. Would you please give the source?

      • Friend of Icelos
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        It’s from p. 1 of Unweaving the Rainbow.

      • zackoz
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

        Diane

        P 1 of ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’.

        It’s one of my favourite Dawkins quotes, too.

    • Marella
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I used a paraphrase of these lines just yesterday at my father’s funeral.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        Condolences, Marella.

      • Posted February 25, 2011 at 4:27 am | Permalink

        I’m sorry to hear about your father.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

      Another pithy Dawkins’s quote (I heard it on an interview somewhere):

      “The palatability of a proposition has no bearing on its truth.”

      • Filippo
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

        Dawkins, not “Dawkins’s”.

        • John D Stackpole
          Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

          From Strunk & White…

          II. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE

          1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with ‘s.

          Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

          Charles’s friend
          Burns’s poems
          the witch’s malice

          This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.

          • John D Stackpole
            Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

            Oops, I misread the original – no possessive called for.

            • Diane G.
              Posted February 25, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

              lol. I understand the urge though; as someone with family members whose name ends in “s” (Niels), it’s amazing how often most people screw up the possessive.

        • Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

          You still get partial credit for knowing that the possessive of “Dawkins” is “Dawkins’s”, and not “Dawkin’s”.

  2. Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Well, he’s honest, which is refreshing.

    I used to do a lot of searching for God, too — but eventually it dawned on me that if God were such an everpresent reality who consciously wanted me to find him/her/it/they, it shouldn’t be so hard.

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. That was my claim in the essay I did for Russell and Udo’s book. It seems so…obvious.

    • Marella
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      Good point. Is there any other ‘ever present reality’ that’s so hard to find? The reason the search for god is endless is that he isn’t there. You can find what doesn’t exist.

      • Saikat Biswas
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        What’s ‘there’? Isn’t it just ‘here’ with a t?

    • Filippo
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      If I am in that position, and I have humanity’s best interest at heart, should I not be easy to find, inclined to respond?

  3. Dominic
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    He says “without God, we are reduced to being no more than a tiny speck in a vast universe” – why ‘reduced’? What does he want? The world? Humans the crown & peak of creation, the Perfect Man? What makes us so fantastic? A little humbleness might be appropriate – we are JUST specks of dust – get over it Yoffie!

    PS Vatican & Science story – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12244279

    • Don
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. We are specks. But what an astounding wonder is is, to be conscious specks!

    • Filippo
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      And in the political realm, a little humility wouldn’t hurt Amuricuh, and Amuricuns.

    • moseszd
      Posted February 25, 2011 at 5:50 am | Permalink

      That is exactly what he wants — solace for his monumental ego that puts him on center stage, for all eternity, of the vast universe in which we inhabit.

      There is no humility in that belief. It is as egotistical as egotistical can possibly be.

    • Posted February 25, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      We are only “reduced” because with the Abrahamic God we were the pinnacle of that God’s creation, its purpose. Earth was the centre of the Universe, surrouned by a mere sphere of stars (not much more than twice its diameter, I guess), and at the top of the Great Chain of Being on Earth was Man (oh yes, with his helpmeet one pace behind, Woman). (Even evolutionists show a vestige of that with the classic diagram of human evolution as a queue of males.)

      If we didn’t carry that religious baggage, it’s conceivable we’d start out much more humble and take a more healthy pride in our modest achievements.

  4. Insightful Ape
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Nice. Search for god. How about search for the truth?

  5. Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Pale blue (ש”ע) נקודה

  6. Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Recognizing oneself as a “speck” (and as Ben said, a lucky one, at that) and feeling humbled and “transcended” by that understanding may be the perfect litmus test for identifying the more evolved members of our species.
    ~Rev. El Mundo

    • alex
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      indeed but a better test for more evolved members of the society would be recognizing that “speck”, “lucky”, “transcended” is just words that can mean so many different things to different people and then looking into the questions “what is human evolution?” “what about humans is evolving in classical sense given that humans are changing planetary dynamics as they still struggle to properly understand these same dynamics in light of HARD SCIENCE of BIOLOGY as applied to the whole of human condition?”

      “What is human condition? And how we can speack about human condition for any and all humans?” “What are we as an organism-whole?” “What are inevitabilities of our evolution as organism-whole?”

      Those would be more appropriate tests in my opinion

    • locutus7
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I prefer, “without god we are ELEVATED to a speck of dust.” For with him we are reduced to enslavement to ignorance.

      • Graham Martin-Royle
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        well said. gods impoverish us, they make the universe a smaller place. without gods, the universe is magnificent and we are a part of that magnificence.

  7. alex
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    who cares if we are specks or not?

    call it whatever you want to call – specks or “god’s image” – the reality is behind the words and this is equally missed by religionists and atheists trying to tell religionists that they are missing a screw.

    why religionists miss the point is clear – they introduce into their thinking something that has no explanatory powers – we can explain everything without enployment of the concept of creation, god,etc.

    why atheists who make the point talking to religionists miss the point is more subtle: atheists miss the point precisely because by engaging in the discussion with religionists they implicitly deem the subject matter of god worthy of discussion and this is the best validation for those religionists.

    this situation is the result of language being used simulteneuosly for communication and as a representational system for knowledge

    people mix up these functions easily and do not see that certain “substance” behind the words cannot be defined and trying to discuss that substance is complete waste of time

    mankind has so many more issues that need to be tackled that talking to religionists: yes they are dragging us all down but imagine we would have eradicated all religions and unscientific believes, do you think we would have solved our problems?

    i don’t think we would solve our problems because there is a much bigger problem than most of the world being religious: nobody is really looking in the eye of reality because it means social and financial suiside on a personal level for those who have brains to think and the rest is either busy enjoying their life and cannot be bothered by such “nonsense” (the top of the pyramid or ruling elites) or can only think about surviving and have no time for anything else (the most of the planet population – the bottom of the pyramid or those who make “enjoyment” for elites possible)

    all of it was not a problem for many many years because planet could easily recover from mankind’s activities – but we all can see that being most successful species mankind has long overpopulated the planet – some of us will not only agree thatthis is the case but also are willing to approach this issue from the basis of hard science but others will keep on denying the evifdence for overpopulation in much the same fashion the religious folks deny evidence for evolution – both denials are of the same origin and of the same kind

    so how then anyone can say that he is any way different from religious folks?

  8. Teapot
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Similarly, “What do you call a Church of England bishop who doesn’t believe in God? A Church of England bishop.”

    From Yes Prime Minister:

    Sir Humphrey: We like to keep a balance among the Archbishops.

    Jim Hacker: Between modernisers and traditionalists?

    Sir Humphrey: No, between those who believe in God and those who don’t.

  9. CTC
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    “without God, we are reduced to being no more than a tiny speck in a vast universe.”

    And with a Sky Fairy present, we are reduced further, to being no more than a tiny speck in a vast universe, controlled by a capricious lunatic who judges us all as evil because of how it chose to create us. What a dick (the rabbi or his Sky Fairy, take your pick).

  10. Sili
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    For some reason I’ve always liked the story about how the rabbis and elders in the KZ camp get together to discuss, how there can possibly be a God when his chosen people suffer so.

    After a long day of deliberation the chief rebbe stands up and announces to everyone: “We are all in agreement – there is indeed no God. Now let us gather in schul and pray.”

    • marcel
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Nobody ever said what we were chosen for, eh?

    • Ben Finney
      Posted March 1, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      An excellent portrayal of that story is the 2008 movie God on Trial. The cast and direction are magnificent, it’s like watching a theatre play.

      Please don’t read the spoilers before seeing it: the conclusion of the trial is quite emotionally powerful, and likely spoiled if one knows ahead of time what will be said.

  11. Brian63
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Religion has many similarities to drugs. An addict *needs* his drugs to function, and a theist *needs* his religion to function. An addict suffers withdrawal symptoms when separated from his drugs. A theist does the same during his deconversion.

    A sober person can look at the addict and clearly see that the addict is capable of living a meaningful and productive life without the drug; he just has to learn not to tie his entire life’s worth to the drug. We atheists can see the same for theists. Yes, as long as you necessarily tie meaning, purpose, love, happiness to your religious beliefs, then the absence of those beliefs is dreadful. However, there is no good reason to tie one’s life worth to those religious beliefs. It is just the religion itself that indoctrinates people into thinking that living religiously is the only way to live meaningfully. Theists just have to learn how to sober up.

    Brian

    • still learning
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Excellent point!

    • Andrew B.
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Another point: the name for those who use morphine in order to treat profound anguish is “hospital patient.” Those that use morphine for other reasons (addiction, namely) are called “addicts.” Perhaps the same could be said of the religious. Does the term “faith junkie” not accurately describe some of these people?

      • moseszd
        Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        Does the term “faith junkie” not accurately describe some of these people?

        In some people it is literally true. Emotionally-charged faith-events produces high levels of dopamine in most people. For example, just like good sex or the rush of falling in love with someone early in a relationship.

        However, just like good sex or the first-rush-of-love, in most cases it wears off in a few days, weeks or months and normal human brain chemistry ensues and the rush of ‘faith and belief’ fades away.

        Some try to recapture it by bouncing from religion to religion. Waiting for the ‘new rush of faith.’ Other’s throw themselves, ever more intensely and desperately, into their faiths.

        ‘Charismatic’ Christianity, which I explored for years, actively induces these emotionally-charged states, through their faith-practices. The testimonies, the laying on hands, speaking in tongues, rock-shows, mood-lighting, emotional sermons…

        Watch a Benny Hinn faith-healing concert sometime. He’s a master at this manipulation. A fucking genius for evil, but a master at it. Anyway, the bottom-line is the entire Charismatic Christianity movement uses manipulation (cynical or accidental) to achieve and reinforce this dopamine addiction.

        Others individuals are even more susceptible. Just like some people can experiment with drugs and walk away, while other become instant addicts, this happens (in an analog) with the religious.

        Some individuals don’t have to go through that path of constant reinforcement (using) to get the dopamine state (addiction). For them it takes just once and is a permanent or very-long-term increase/change in dopamine production/receptors within the brain chemistry.

        Anyway, when we compare the religious addicts to what we consider junkies they have many strong similarities in addiction. For example, addictive stimulants, like meth and some others, use the very same dopamine system to give the person the euphoria they get during their high. This euphoria is the same (though induced through out-side chemicals rather than from internally-generated dopamine) though, as I pointed out, it’s regenerated through various faith-practices unless they’re one of the small minority that gets it on a permanent/semi-permanent basis.

        So, in some respects, for some people, it is like meth addiction. However, unlike meth, it doesn’t destroy those receptors. So they can come down from religion without permanent brain damage.

        And, no I’m not making them equivalent; to make them equal would be false. But there are some striking similarities in the addiction path and results.

  12. Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Ultimately the search for god is a search for man to be like god- to be little gods. The hierarchical relationship of animals to Eve, Eve to Adam, Adam to god is based on the idea that I am closer to god than you are so I have dominance. Dominance allows me control over you and I can decide what is best because my relationship to said deity gives me authority to say what is best for you (or what is best for me and I don’t care what happens to you). In a relationship where the man is not a christian, the woman then has the dominance, so to speak (more victim-like generally but a dominance nonetheless). She allows his presence and has her christian friends pray for him regularly. He is welcomed into the fold with a sort of guest pass status.

    The same is true with Judaism… they have dominance because they are god’s chosen people. Without god, who are they exactly? To lose this status, well, they are simply just another political group trying to grab land that isn’t really theirs.

    • alex
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      excellent point Dannette,

      but the “choseness” of judaism is equally applicable to any sort of other “chosenness” we do not even notice otherwise: gender, culture, position in the pecking order hierarchy of the society

      one should not limit pointing out the blinding effects of religious “chosenness” but the same effects of all other “chosenness”

      and to my knowledge nobody really extends your argument to this length – simply because that would mean social and financial suiside affecting individual’s prospects to “survive and thrive” – the genetic imperative driving all of us to survive is primary

      but when we collectively run our planet into the condition when the individual’s survival will be compromised the concepts of “chosenness” will fall together with all other man-made ideas of “right and wrong” and over geological timeframe (many civilizational collapses) only science will be shepherd of human condition – nothing else will matter – at that time religion will be anything but evolutionary past of mankind

  13. Saikat Biswas
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Even as a tiny speck in this vast universe, we create purpose in our lives on our own and live that life, unencumbered by the stark indifference of the very same universe. That is truly exhilarating as well as liberating.

    • Tulse
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Amen (so to speak). I think it is immeasurably exhilarating and immeasurably humbling to think that we are infinitesimal bits of stardust in a tiny warm corner of a vast sea of cold emptiness. Why does adding a sky fairy make this any more amazing?

      • alex
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        because “amazing” depends on person’s internal system of reference that usually is not chosen by most people

        we all are first exposed to fairy tales -santa claus, “god laves you”, etc. and if our brains are note developped enough during the fary tale time we will never be able to reach the next level: the level of applying science to human condition

        becoming an atheist is the first step of such application: one can have only ONE worldview: either evolution is a fact and religion is waste of time OR “i don’t care what you say – god made as all including you, science, and your atheist “sin”

        we cannot reason with believers – they have to discover reason on their own – we have be available to them when they do their homework but we cannot make their homework for them

        the second step in aplying hard science to human condition is this:
        why even bother with the concept of meaning and purpose? who cares?
        why don’t we just look into biology and evolution of mankind as species?

        this would be going all the way;
        realizing god does not exist and trying to point to others that they are evolutionary past is much better than believing in god but still not enough for mankind as species

        because as species we are running around as a headless chicken: we do all this science and technology without first understanding where we are going as organism-whole;

        of course we will learn inevitably because the reality will manifest itself even to the most intellectually challenged; but those who can clearly see now can make a tremendous impact by making a conscius effort to work on practical matters: the sooner we understand and act to move to true sustainability, the more of biological resource/environment we have at our disposal at steady state – and that is not a trivial matter – it is of huge importance to people of 2999 or 3545

  14. Michael Fisher
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Didn’t Pasteur discover a vaccine against rabbis way back in the 1880′s ?

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Yeah, but they have become resistant.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, but you’re thinking of a different brain virus…

  15. Veronica Abbass
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    “The search for God is frustrating and difficult, and it is never done.”

    The first time I read “it is never done,” I misread it as “no one searches for God.” Wishful thinking; now I realize “never done” means “never finished.”

    “Remember, too, that God is not only a noun but a verb”

    Either I or Yoffie should buy a better dictionary

  16. Glaisne
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    “But with God, our lives have meaning and purpose; without God, we are reduced to being no more than a tiny speck in a vast universe.”

    Bull. Just because we’re tiny specks in a vast universe without god it does not follow our lives are without meaning and purpose. We don’t need a god to provide meaning and purpose we can do it ourselves. We make meaning and purpose in our lives through our work and our relationships and our connection to nature. No religion or god required.

    • Sajanas
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      I’d rather be a speck than a slave.

      I’d imagine it must be a lot harder for a rabbi or a priest to admit to their being no God, when they’ve spent so much of their precious, only life to something that is ultimately futile. Better to keep on believing rather than face up to the fact that you spent the better part of your life trying to make excuses for an imaginary entity.

      • Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        A new slogan -

        Better a speck than a slave.

        • Filippo
          Posted February 24, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

          From Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”:

          “What are we? Just a couple of specks of nothin’. . . We don’t count no how. . . . On a night like this I sit and wonder what Life is all about. . . .”

  17. Andrew B.
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    “But with God, our lives have meaning and purpose; without God, we are reduced to being no more than a tiny speck in a vast universe.”

    Woh woh woh, hold on Rubbi. YOUR life might be meaningless without a supernatural dictator nurse your sense of smallness, but mine is just fine. I, like everyone, do indeed live a vast universe, but I also live in SOCIETY in which I have a meaningful part. I thank the good Rubbi, however, for this argument from consequences. It testifies that the belief in God is indeed the fulfillment of a psychological need instead of a reasonable philosophical or scientific proposition. Way to help us make our case, Yoffie!

    • Sajanas
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      My thought on reading Stephan King’s The Stand was that it was a far more terrifying that the Old Testament God was real than anything else in that book.
      Seriously, I don’t quite get Judaism because of that.. do they not realize that the God of Abraham is a jerk who never follows through on his promises and then blames them for it?

      • Andrew B.
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        They’re convinced they deserve it. That’s what’s rotten about this stuff. It’s like battered-housewife syndrome. “It was my fault all along. He loves me in his own way, I just need to stop being so selfish because I’m the one making him act this way.”

  18. Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    He’s not worried about God, he’s worried about being a speck. If he could deal with that, the God question would be irrelevant.

    Maybe we should stop trying to convince them there’s no God, and talk about how it’s OK to be a speck.

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I rather suspect it’s his own mortality he can’t deal with, rather than his size in relation to the rest of the universe.

      He needs to take to heart the paragraph I quoted at the top of the thread.

      Cheers,

      b&

  19. SAWells
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    There seems to be a broken chain of logic which goes:

    (A) if X is true I would be really unhappy about it.

    (Z) X can’t be true.

    It’s missing a step in the middle:

    (B) The universe conforms itself to my emotional requirements.

    The whole “I need God so there can be meaning in my life” schtick is effectively a claim to _be God_.

    • Grendels Dad
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Try this premise:

      (B) Being happy is more important than being right.

      • Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        The problem, of course, is that such a strategy only produces very minor short-term gains when put into practice.

        It would make me very happy to believe that I have unlimited funds in my checking account, right up to the point that a debit card purchase was declined for insufficient funds. At that point, I would be much more unhappy than I am right now for having limited funds in my checking account.

        The religious might think that gods are so far beyond the mortal plane that whether or not belief in them is well-grounded is irrelevant, except we see, time and again, devastating prices paid for god-belief. Families are torn apart over differences in opinion — and wars are fought over the same differences. People repress their sexuality because of their god beliefs, and they kill others because of them. Untold riches are spent on the business of religion that could be much better spent on building civil infrastructure at home and abroad — or even by the people who tithe the money in the first place.

        In short, believing in gods gives you the exact same kind of benefit as wetting your bed. There’s a brief moment of pleasant release and warmth…followed by far more discomfort, effort, and cost than could possibly be justified by those few seconds. And the equation is so obvious that even a young child should have no trouble figuring it out.

        So, the Rabbi owes it to himself to ask him whether or not the price he pays for mistraking his fantasies for reality is really worth it…or if he’s just shitting himself, in more ways than one.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Bryan
          Posted February 25, 2011 at 12:31 am | Permalink

          hahahaha – “a brief moment of pleasant release and warmth”

  20. Grendels Dad
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    This why my eyes roll like I’m a demented slot machine whenever someone tells me religion or spirituality is about humility. It’s about placing themselves at the center of a narrative that explains the entire universe!

    They say they want to be part of something bigger than themselves but when they face that reality they stagger back, crying ‘No! it’s too much. I’m too small!’ They don’t want something bigger than themselves, they have that and it terrifies them. They want a face to put on the universe. A way to make it small and relatable. And relate they do. Why, it turns out that this vast universe loves them.

    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      True – you have to wonder exactly how “humble” it is to claim that you’re a member of not only the most important species in a universe that was created just for you, but also that you were specially selected to receive The Truth from that universe’s creator.

  21. Harvey
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    “But with God, our lives have meaning and purpose; without God, we are reduced to being no more than a tiny speck in a vast universe.”

    And, as stated before, this explains all of religion. Believers simply cannot accept the reality that our only “purpose” (like all living things) is to survive long enough and in sufficient numbers as a species to reproduce and (at least in the case of human beings and other great apes) to live long enough to nurture our offspring until they can reproduce, as well. Why this is not “enough purpose” in life bespeaks the egotism and need to be somehow more important in the scheme of things than other living organisms that drives religionists.

    It should be noted that this viewpoint, expressed in this case by a Rabbi, is only recently heard among more recent forms of Judaism (i.e. reformed); it has never been part of traditonal (i.e. Orthodox) Judaism. If one has knowledge of the ideas expressed in the Talmud (and other commentaries on the Torah), the “purpose” of life on this earth is to live a “righteous” life. “Righteous”, in this sense, can be reduced to “treat everyone else (and all living things) with the respect and kindness you hope to receive from them.”

    • SAWells
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      …and cut bits off your male infants while you’re at it.

      No religious tradition is really all about living the golden rule and being nice.

  22. Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I was sort of with him, understanding his position within Reform Judaism, knowing him personally, and expecting that he has to toe some kind of line as a religious leader. But, sure enough, he pissed me off with this:

    “But those who pursue justice with the express intent of testifying to God’s existence are those who find the greatest satisfaction in their actions and who are least likely to fall victim to exhaustion and despair.”

    As an atheist and a member of a Reform Jewish congregation I feel confident in saying, “No, that’s not true”. I feel intense satisfaction when I am fulfilling my obligation to help my fellows, and I am NEVER trying to testify to the existence of a fairy-tale character!

  23. Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I was sort of with him, understanding his position within Reform Judaism, knowing him personally, and expecting that he has to toe some kind of line as a religious leader. But, sure enough, he pissed me off with this:

    “But those who pursue justice with the express intent of testifying to God’s existence are those who find the greatest satisfaction in their actions and who are least likely to fall victim to exhaustion and despair.”

    As an atheist, and as a member of a Reform Jewish congregation, I feel confident in saying, “No, that’s not true”. I feel intense satisfaction when I am fulfilling my obligation to help my fellows, and I am NEVER trying to testify to the existence of a fairy-tale character!

  24. Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    [Third attempt to post a comment...irritating]

    I was sort of with him, understanding his position within Reform Judaism, knowing him personally, and expecting that he has to toe some kind of line as a religious leader. But, sure enough, he pissed me off with this:

    “But those who pursue justice with the express intent of testifying to God’s existence are those who find the greatest satisfaction in their actions and who are least likely to fall victim to exhaustion and despair.”

    As an atheist, and as a member of a Reform Jewish congregation, I feel confident in saying, “No, that’s not true”. I feel intense satisfaction when I am fulfilling my obligation to help my fellows, and I am NEVER trying to testify to the existence of a fairy-tale character!

  25. Posted February 24, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    “Life is its own validation and reward to which neither God nor the future state can further validate.” Inquiring Lynn
    http://inquiringlynn.posterous.com

  26. steve oberski
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    With or without god we are still just tiny specks in a vast universe.

    The more we understand about the universe the tinier we get and I for one welcome this amazing voyage of discovery over any banal burning bush or human sacrifice fairy tales from the mythologies of the 3 desert dogmas.

    Without ever leaving my house I can see real miracles ranging from the sub-atomic at CERN, decoding of the genome, observe in near real time the human exploration of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and beyond our solar system.

    If anybody’s life is without purpose in the face of all the knowledge we have acquired and all the potential knowledge we have yet to acquire, it is that of the rabbi and his religious ilk wallowing in their ignorance, putting it on an alter and worshipping it as a god.

  27. Robert Estrada
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I free dive for abalone off on the California coast. I gain great peace from the perspective that my problems really are on the same plane as the plankton floating around me. At that moment they are, find food, don’t become food, don’t get injured by the force of the ocean. It some how rescales the rest of my life. I doubt the plankton are worrying about a supreme being or sin. Perhaps the beach of life would never miss my specness but it does not worry me.

  28. 386sx
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    So I guess if we are tiny specs in the universe then there is no god? Thanks for the proof Rabbi but it seems contrary to your beliefs.

  29. Posted February 25, 2011 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

    The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

    Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

    The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

    It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

    - Carl Sagan

    I dare not add anything.

  30. moseszd
    Posted February 25, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    I should point out that when I believed in God my life was no more meaningful than it is once I realized it was bullshit. Nothing changed from the metaphysical/emotional perspective in my life.

    There were some changes, such as where I directed my charitable contributions and (to some better results) how they effected my fellow fan. I got Sunday’s free. I stopped feeling guilty over bullshit, like skipping Church for a football game or some such.

    A load of real crap was taken off my shoulders as I stopped worrying if I was making doctrinal mistakes that would burn me in hell for all eternity. The bible and what was taught was so irrational and contradictory that I was certain I could never follow all the rules. Was very anxiety provoking.

    Other positive benefits include making me a better citizen. The whole ‘just world fallacy’ mentality went away. I stopped worrying about what others did with their lives to the extent it did not directly effect me.It also took away foundational supports for many things I now perceive as social ills.

    So, over-all, losing my religion made me a better person.

    I did lose some things — church and a couple of friends — plus some small family discomfort that was easily handled by being passive and not answering questions for a month or two…

    But even then I was able to work around that in a positive way. For my ‘on occasion want to go to church’ I eventually became a Unitarian-Universalist in a very ‘atheist friendly’ congregation. And, of course, I was part of an ‘established religion’ so my ‘be a good boy’ family requirements were assuaged.

  31. Posted February 25, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I see that Jesus and Mo picked up on this. Followed the link from there to here.

  32. Posted February 25, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Rabbi Jeffrey Falick is a good counter to Rabbi Yoffie. http://www.theatheistrabbi.com/ has numerous links to other voices in the atheist/humanist Jewish communities.


5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Larry K, Marc Alan Di Martino. Marc Alan Di Martino said: RT @Evolutionistrue: Rabbi Yoffie lays it out http://wp.me/ppUXF-7HP /…and Jerry lays out the emmes. #atheism #god #religion [...]

  2. [...] Why do religious liberals hang on to religion? Here is one answer from Jerry Coyne (who quotes a Rabbi): The upshot: all is well, for we can find Him by reading sacred texts, keeping our eyes open, [...]

  3. [...] But too many of us are so full of ourselves that we have made up stories of gods making it all just for us! [...]

  4. [...] J&M artist doesn’t lose any time! Shades of Rabbi Yoffie . . [...]

  5. [...] a dire piece at PuffHo called “The sad, naive atheism of Christopher Hitchens.“  (We’ve seen Yoffie before, arguing that a god must exist because it gives our lives meaning and purpose.)  Curious to see [...]

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