For Secular Humanist Jews (and I am one) Yom Kippur is not a day of atonement, as it is for theist Jews. (In 2015, Yom Kippur was observed on September 22-23.) We may well have done wrong things in the past year, but we do not regard them as “sins.” “Sin” is a religious concept requiring the existence of an unknown, unknowable, and unprovable, yet somehow all-powerful super-natural being which at some level has control over our lives or parts of them. For us, Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar, is a day of renewal and rededication. We reflect, we restore, we renew — we look ahead, not behind. And this year, in dealing with religion, I am determined to continue dealing with the political uses of religion, a major danger to all persons in many parts of the world, most especially right now, in different ways in the Middle East and the United States. In this particular column I am returning to some thoughts that I shared with my readers two years ago, as referenced below.
Two years ago, it happens that Pope Francis, the leader of the largest single religious organization in the world, made it clear that he does not have a problem with atheists, per se. And so, I would like to make it clear that I do not have a problem with theists, per se. Yes, I do understand and agree with all of the arguments against the existence of an unknown, unknowable and unprovable “God” or “Gods” (think Hinduism, of which there are about 1 billion adherents). But I do think that it is a waste of time to argue against the concept, and worse to make fun of a set of beliefs that majority of the world’s population who are theists of one sort or another hold to.
The struggle of humanists and believers alike who are devoted to the fundamental interests of humanity in my view must be focused not on each other but on our common enemy: those forces who use religion to advance their own political and economic interests to arrogate to themselves and their patrons resources and the products of economic activity that neither benefit humanity as a whole nor have anything to do with religion. These economic forms of course are known variously as “corporatism,” the “global economy [privately held],” and capitalism. The problem, for atheists/humanists and, at many times in history theists of one sort confronting theists of another sort as well, is Organized Religion, like the historical Catholic Church, like the present Republican Religious Right (political by definition), like political Islam exemplified today by ISIS, like indeed political Orthodox Judaism in modern Israel. In my view, our argument is not, or should not be, with belief and the believers who want to do nothing other than believe and act on those beliefs to manage their own lives.
Further, it must be understood by all that over the centuries of human civilization, more of our brethren have been killed in religious wars, or wars waged for “religious” reasons, or in wars in which organized religions have been an ally of one or more of the warring states, than for all of the other causes put together. Even in the Second World War, hardly a religious war in the sense that the Crusades or Catholic/Protestant wars of 16th and 17th century Europe were, on the belt buckle of every German Wehrmacht soldier was the slogan (originated by the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the 1880s) “Gott mit Uns.” The traditional Japanese religion of ancestor worship, Shinto, was mobilized by the fascist leadership to help them mobilize the whole population behind the war effort. The Catholic Church was closely allied with both Benito Mussolini’s (Italian) and Francisco Franco’s (Spanish) fascist states. In the United States, it was not like that, but there were the frequent imprecations to God for support in battle and even a popular song that I remember well from my youth during that conflict: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”
Presently, as I have written recently, the US Republican Party runs in major part on the issues that are central to the Fundamentalist Christians and Jews who are central to the Republican base: homophobia, religious determinism in policy governing the outcome of pregnancy, the introduction of organized religious activity into the public schools, and in general the steady erosion of the Constitutional boundaries separating church and state. In political Islam, “Islamism” is very clear that its goal is to take full political power so that it may rule under the provisions of “Sharia Law.”
Funnily enough, many of the provisions of Sharia Law, against which the Islamophobes of the Republican Religious Right just love to rail, are strikingly similar to the law that the latter would like to impose across the United States. The central feature of both is that “religious law” (as they interpret it of course) should stand above any civil constitution. Just listen to the Repub. Dominionists in the current Repub. primaries, e.g.: Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson. For many Israelis on the Right, the whole policy that has been followed by their Right-wing governments over the years, the gradual erosion and (the hoped for) eventual expulsion (voluntary or involuntary) of the Arab population in the Occupied Territories is based on the Biblical concept of the “Land of Israel.”
The current Kim Davis gay-marriage battle over whether a particular set of religious beliefs can be sanctioned by government, while penalizing others (let’s say a religious gay coupled who want to get married and need a civil license to do so), which the Repubs. want to extend to criminalizing the beliefs of any persons holding to the position that life does not begin at the moment of conception, is an extension of the same one.
Through my writing I have been fighting the forces of the Republican Religious Right for some years. The original of my current book The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel (http://www.puntopress.com/jonas-the-15-solution-hits-main-distribution/) was published in 1996. And so, what is my renewal for this, the Jewish New Year? To rededicate myself to that struggle, but to feature the line of reasoning that I have outlined above. Our struggle is not with religion, per se, nor with its adherents, as individuals. Our struggle is most correctly with Organized Religion and how it is used to further the interests of Reaction by every government around the world that does use it in one way or another. In modern times that means to preserve and protect capitalism, with all of its present and future negative outcomes for all of mankind, whether theist or humanist. That is our challenge, and for the preservation of our species and indeed many others, that is the challenge we have to meet.
About the Author
TPJ Editorial Director and Contributing Author Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition, he is Senior Editor, Politics for The Greanville Post, a columnist, under “American Politics,” for The Planetary Movement, a columnist for BuzzFlash/Truthout, and a “Trusted Author” for OpEdNews. His latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel,