I like the Rabbi and I enjoy his column with Father Tim Hartman in Newsday every Saturday and television show when they appear as The God Squad.
Unfortunately after studying so much about the Christian/Catholic Church after earning my MDiv in 1992, I lost interest in religion all together-- possibly because it has such a violent history led by the supposed followers of Jesus who more or less like any other religious leaders sought to oppress the flock by using laws to squelch the human spirit and using fear to control the masses. Where was Jesus in all this mayhem that ensued? Why did they persecute the Jews so much when after all we wouldn't have Christianity if it were not for the Jews? I also believed with all my heart (but no psychology training) that most the saints and supposed "great Christians" were schizophrenic. The Catholic Church canonized people who should have been locked up in loony bins.
Rabbi Gellman wonders
"...there is something I am missing about atheists: what I simply do not understand is why they are often so angry."Everyone disagrees about God. That's been the story since the beginning of recorded history. Great wars have been always fought in the name of God. That is why there are thousands of religions in the world. That is why the early Church split and that is why Martin Luther couldn't take much of the nonsense that ensued after hundreds and hundreds of years of christian bastardization of Jesus' message. That is why there were the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, passion plays, slave ships, the holocaust. How many versions of Christianity, Judaism and Muslim are there now? It appears that the "believers" have been the angriest in history and caused the most turmoil in history. Angry atheists aren't ruining the fabric of society.
"So we disagree about God."
"I'm sometimes at odds with Yankee fans, people who like rap music and people who don't like animals, but I try to be civil. I don't know many religious folk who wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists, but many people who do not believe in God seem to find the religion of their neighbors terribly offensive or oppressive, particularly if the folks next door are evangelical Christians. I just don't get it."
Don't talk to Yankee and Red Sox fans during the season. They are not always civil and the rivalry leads to much heated anger. If people can't be civil regarding athletics, one certainly can't expect them to be civil about their core beliefs.
Perhaps Rabbi Gellman doesn't read the news as much as many of us do. In fact, many religious leaders in this country and the world are doing their darndest along with the fascists in governments, to take away our freedoms, to oppress women, homosexuals and minorities, to completely discount science, urging the flock to check their critical thinking at the door, to speak hatefully in a public arena and declare war, all in the name of God. That particularly angers a lot of atheists and true believers as well. In fact, Rabbie Gellman ought to consider all the hatred being spewed by God's supposed followers. Turn on the tv to one of the cable news shows and see how much hate and intolerance is regurgitated in the name of God.
They use fear to energize their followers into a hateful frenzy. You don't even have to be an atheist to see what a radical new movement has been gaining ground over the past 25 years or so. They are threatened by Darwin, women, critical thinking, science and tolerance. I was a Christian when I realized that true Christianity had been hijacked by fanatics. That's why I decided to study theology. I needed to know what real Christianity was, where it came from and how it compares and contrasts with other beliefs. Fortunately, I learned more about spirituality than anything written and taken literally in ancient holy books. I learned great mysteries that are not at odds with most thoughtful atheists. I also figured out that the Bible is a dangerous book in the hands of those who are mentally unstable. I excommunicated myself from Catholicism after I graduated.
"Perhaps their atheism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one, or an angry degrading sermon, or an insensitive eulogy, or an unfeeling castigation of lifestyle choices or perhaps something even worse. I would ask for forgiveness from the angry atheists who write to me if I thought it would help."
Perhaps it's true that the angry atheists had a terrible trauma that led them away from God and most likely it's because they had the wrong impression of God's existence in the first place. And whose fault is that? They expected God to do something and He didn't. How many religous people do we know who don't really love God, but fear His wrath? If you were God, would you want people to love you out of fear or love you out of respect? A sane person wouldn't want to be loved out of fear. (I'm assuming here that God can be personified as many people think.)
"Religion must remain an audacious, daring and, yes, uncomfortable assault on our desires to do what we want when we want to do it. All religions must teach a way to discipline our animal urges, to overcome racism and materialism, selfishness and arrogance and the sinful oppression of the most vulnerable and the most innocent among us."
A good civics class can teach people how to cooperate in society too. Does fear of jail or hell really need to be a part of living in a good society? Fear is merely a tool used by oppressors. When I taught religion to youngsters (yes, can you believe it?) I often strayed away from the religion book in order to teach the kids compassion... such as "How would you feel if someone did this or that to you?" and then I would go on to tell them that God wants us to think before we act and society wants us to do the same because it makes for a better world. I taught my students that we must learn to forgive those who hurt us and not repay them in kind because there would be nothing but anger and hatred in the world... it would make for a pretty lousy life.
Why oh why does believing in God need to encourage people to take off their thinking caps?
My belief system is that we are to look out for each other and love each other as we want to be loved. (It also happens to be what Jesus taught in a nutshell and is also the crux of the Old Testament.) I don't need to be religious or even believe in God to understand that universal cooperation, tolerance, love and compassion are the keys to a relatively happy existance on earth. We still have Mother Nature or Acts of God to endure and we really need each other in those times and that is when God or goodness really manifests God's or goodness' self to everyone including non believers.
Anyone can figure it all out with some critical thinking- if we all tried to be patient and tolerant, to try to come to compromises with each other, we wouldn't even need laws. Jesus thought so too. We wouldn't have maniacs like George Bush or Osama bin Laden waging wars to satisfy their mean streaks. At least we wouldn't allow them to.
I think that too many laws tempt people to break them, if nothing else. I am a prime example of that. Religions made stuff up that made people act worse towards each other than if they had just shut up and stuck with the Jesus theme. Their laws made us neurotic.
"Some religious leaders obviously betray the teachings of the faith they claim to represent, but their sacred scriptures remain a critique of them and also of every thing we do to betray the better angels of our nature. But our world is better and kinder and more hopeful because of the daily sacrifice and witness of millions of pious people over thousands of years."
Some religious leaders? Only some? I disagree. The ones who betray the teachings of their faith are the ones who are getting all the media attention and forcing politicians to legislate oppressive policies that alienate our most vulnerable, in order to get campaign funds and votes. That pisses off anyone with a sense of humanity. Everything good that happens in the world may be as a result of how God created us or maybe it's just a mutation in evolution. There is no reason to argue that point if everyone is trying to get along whether they believe in God or not. The anger that abounds from the Christian left, the Jewish left and the atheist left stems from their outrage at the crimes against humanity that are committed daily in the name of God.
I hope that helps, Rabbi Gellman.