Not My God

(Via Sarah Trachtenberg)

My own atheism developed not so much out of enlightenment or disillusionment, but out of annoyance. The novelty of Hebrew school wore off after the first year (Hebrew School is where well-meaning Jewish parents send their malleable Jewish offspring, just as Christians send their children to Sunday School). Contrary to what many non-Jews think, Hebrew school's purpose is to teach about Judaism; learning Hebrew itself is further down the list of priorities. I was required to go Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays for two and a half hours each day, in addition to services many weekends and holidays (holidays accumulated a lot over four thousand years or so). Since I didn't want to be there, I began to ask questions to express my irritation at being forced into this particular after-school activity.

“How do we know these Bible stories really happened? Did archaeologists dig up video tapes or something? If God is everywhere, is He in the toilet? Why does God care if we pray if He can read minds? What did Noah do about all the sea animals?”

I was nine years old. These are the kind of questions any smart-ass, red-blooded American kid might have felt compelled to ask her religious and spiritual instructors, except that I came to think about them seriously. My teachers were kind and patient and explained to me that the point was to have faith, to be close to God, and that the stories themselves were not important so much as the spirit of the message. I remember a lesson we read about how tellings of events, such as the ones in the Bible, changed over time, even though the kernel of truth remained. Or did it?

Religious activities had some pretty bad associations for me, anyway. My mom reprimanded me for yawning during Saturday morning services. We had a couple of pretty bad fights after synagogue, and one time at home she ordered me to recite a prayer I was learning in Hebrew school. I just stood there, cowardly, unable to recite-- I suppose I did not want to be ordered around that way and was worn down after years of “shut up and pray.” After a few endless minutes of me standing there, speechless, she prodded, “Well?” I felt berated and humiliated. If all this stuff was supposed to endear me to God, it did not; it drove me further and further away...

My mother, the religious parent who made me go to Hebrew school in the first place (my dad had a laissez faire attitude about the whole thing and my parents were getting divorced around this time, anyway), wasn't well-pleased when I told her that I didn't think God or the Torah were true. I started to think that scientists did not believe in God. She argued with me on that point, saying that Albert Einstein believed in God, and the more he learned about the universe, the more he believed. As an adult, I learned that that was not true, or at least it was hotly debated.

Time went on; I still resented Hebrew school. For what it was worth, many of the kids did. Kids who quit to make time for other extra-curricular activities like gymnastics were held up to us as bad examples. We were warned not to quit after our bar/bat mitzvahs, as did so many other kids, counting their money once the party was over, feeling that they had done their time. One particularly resistant kid, a year older than me, started Hebrew school and they let him start in my year, ketah dalet (fourth year), to be among his age-mates. That was not fair; if he could skip years like that, why couldn't I? But the worst was yet to come.

1 comment:

No Guy in the Sky said...

I liked this. You write well. My falling out with God was similar, in that I was in Sunday School. Then for what ever the reason I sat with my mom with the adults in church. I heard a contradiction, that was it. I started questioning everything. I stopped believing.

Worst is yet to come :-) Write on.