The Jew/Atheist Paradox

When I recently wrote about Godless Jews, I cited a Harris survey that surprised a lot of people. The majority of Jews don't believe in God. They are atheists. What makes this result even more interesting is another finding in a Pew Research Center survey on how Americans feel about different religious and nonreligious groups: Jews are viewed the most warmly of all groups and atheists the least warmly. Go figure!

Other than members of their own sect, evangelical Christians give Jews the highest rating. This is a case of unrequited love because Jews rate evangelical Christians the lowest, below Muslims. Not surprisingly, Jews and atheists regard each other warmly, while both rank evangelical Christians at the bottom.

Christians may not know that most Jews are atheists, but they do know that religious Jews believe Jesus was just an ordinary Jew with extraordinary delusions of grandeur.
And this rejection of Jesus inspired Christian anti-Semitism since the time of Jesus. So what has turned the anti-Semitism prevalent in my youth into today's philo-Semitism?

Many Christians began deemphasizing certain biblical passages that contributed to anti-Semitism and perhaps even to the Holocaust. Less on Matthew 27:25, which says that the blood of Jesus will be on Jews and on their children. And less on John 8:44, the Devil is father of the Jews. Post-Holocaust Christians have concentrated more on Jews as "chosen people," where God the creator/father says about Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you." What these combined passages tell me is that God and the Devil are both absentee fathers. Thanks, dads.

It wasn't until the late 1950s that I heard the term "Judeo-Christian," meant to encompass perceived common beliefs of Christianity and Judaism. I found this phrase odd, since many key beliefs of the two religions are so different (think Jesus). And I've heard Judeo-Christian used only by Christians, not by Jews. If Christians wish to be inclusive of monotheists, why not refer to our "Judeo-Christian-Islamic" heritage? After all, Mary is mentioned more often in the Quran than in the New Testament, and the Quran asserts that Jesus was the result of a miraculous virgin birth.

There is another reason many evangelical Christians strongly support the land of Israel and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, perhaps even more so than most Jews. In a word, it's "rapture." According to the strangest book in the New Testament, Revelation, there will be a final apocalyptic battle in Armageddon, where Israel triumphs. Jesus then will return, take believers up to heaven, and incinerates everyone who doesn't believe in Jesus, including Jews. So much for God's chosen people! (If I were to watch this event unfold, I'd have the evidence to become a believer. But I guess I would be too late because evidence-free beliefs are required ahead of the event.)

I've focused on belief in God and the so-called holy books, but what about behavior? To overgeneralize, conservative religionists emphasize belief and liberal religionists emphasize behavior. Not coincidentally, liberals view atheists more favorably. I'll illustrate by citing two of our many religious, conservative, presidential candidates.

Ted Cruz, Senator from Texas, believes that atheists are unqualified to become president. He said, "Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this country." Based on such bias, Cruz would also disqualify deists like our first four presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

Then there's Dr. Ben Carson. Presidential candidates certainly need protection from psychopaths; however, Carson wants the Secret Service to protect him from secular progressives. I had never before heard secular progressives (liberal atheists and humanists) accused of being violent, but perhaps I've now gained insight into Carson's religious mindset. It requires a faith-based leap for me to believe his undocumented and unverified claims that as an angry teen he would punch and stab classmates, bludgeon his mother with a hammer, and commit other atrocities, until divine intervention brought Jesus into his life. Maybe Carson thinks Jesus saved him from his former "secular progressive" evildoer ways. If I believed such a scenario, I, too, would want protection from secular progressives.

Those who don't trust atheists fear that society will fall apart as people stop believing in God. Maybe it's time for some evidence based on careful studies. Globally, the most secular countries fare better in terms of crime rates, prosperity, equality, freedom, democracy, women's rights, human rights, educational attainment, and life expectancy, while the most religious countries fare worse. Homicide rates are highest in religious countries and lowest in secular countries. The same correlation is true in the United States where, by nearly all measures of societal health, states that report the highest levels of belief in God fare worse than states with the lowest levels of belief in God.

That doesn't mean you should go around hugging all atheists (though I'm open to hugs), and it doesn't mean you should run from all religious believers. I recommend learning more about individuals before judging them by their professed religious beliefs. In fact, I think some religious Jew once cautioned about judging others. Sure wish I could get that message across to some presidential candidates.