Defenders of the Faitheism
It's another dubious trend story, complete with forced coinages and vague data, and a reporter using his friends as sources. So why aren't I griping? Because it was written by a friend, and my family and I are the starring sources. Plus, this one is 100% true!
The story on The New Faitheists can be found on page 3 of this week's Brooklyn Paper [pdf], but for convenience, I've posted it after the jump too.
The new ‘faitheists’
A growing number of non-believers still need a dose of that old-time religion
By Gersh Kuntzman
The Brooklyn Papers
Gina Duclayan lights one candle and then another and intones a familiar-sounding prayer.
“Baruch ha-or ba-olam (radiant is the light within the world),” she says, closing her eyes and moving her hands from the candles to her chest, as if inviting in some higher power.
It is Friday night and Duclayan and husband Daniel Radosh are lighting Shabbos candles and saying a prayer over challah and wine (substituting grape juice for wine, so their children can also partake) like many Jewish couples all over Brooklyn.
But there is one main difference: Duclayan and Radosh don’t believe in God. Call them “the new fatheists,” a growing number of Brooklynites who are turned off to organized religion there’s just too much “God begat this” and “God smote that” for them yet still need spirituality in their lives.
Duclayan and Radosh do the normal Jewish rituals at their Windsor Terrace home (although their Shabbos prayer, however traditional-sounding, makes no mention of God) and attend services at the City Congregation in Manhattan.
But if one doesn’t believe in God, why bother with formal rituals?
“Our rituals have meaning, not because a God commands us to do them, but because they connect us to thousands of years of Jewish history and Jewish people,” Radosh says.
“Humanistic Judaism” was founded decades ago by Ohio rabbi Sherwin Wine as a way of divorcing Judaism from God, yet keeping the traditions. Duclayan and Radosh celebrate all the major holidays, hold their own Seders and send their kids to Sunday school. They even had their son, Milo, circumcised an operation the Torah describes as a covenant with God.
Radosh disagreed: “Wehad Milo circumcised as our covenant with the people who made that covenant with their God. It’s a powerful thing, 5,000 years of history.”
There’s less history at the First Unitarian church in Brooklyn Heights but just as much faitheism. The other day, there was even an atheist folding church newsletters in the basement.
“I may not believe in God, but I want to be in a community that cares about social justice,” said Katherine Lazarus of Prospect Heights, who has belonged to the Unitarian church for 50 of her 85 Godless years.
The Unitarians are a Christian faith and the Bible is a part of the services. But God is more of a historical concept, a “fable,” as Lazarus put it, than a living super-being watching over and passing judgment on us.
“The Bible is just one of our sources,” said the Rev. Charlotte Cowtan, the interim minister. “God did not speak one time in one place to one people and never again. The Bible shows us what it means to live up to who we can be. Mother Theresa did it. Gandhi did it. Martin Luther King Jr. did it.”
She said most of her flock is drawn to the faith after being bruised by other churches. “The worst things humans have done in history have been done in the name of God, church and religion, so people sometimes find it easier to say they don’t believe in God,” she said. “They don’t want to put their energy and faith into a concept that has caused so much damage.”
But religion has inspired the best in Mankind, too. That’s what drives atheist Arthur Strimling to services at Kolot Chayeinu, a Jewish congregation in Park Slope that’s so liberal that the mission statement says, “Doubt can be an act of faith.”
“My grandfather and father were staunch atheists, and so am I,” Strimling said. “But I am of the generation that saw Martin Luther King and other ministers defending the best values, with courage and fortitude, in the name of God.
“You don’t need God to do those things, but it proved to me that spiritual hunger is not something I wanted to fully extinguish in myself.”
So when Rabbi Ellen Lippmann talks about the Torah, Strimling finds himself interested, even if he doesn’t believe the passages.
“Reading the Torah is about examination,” he said. “It’s a creative and humanizing process and I love that. In the Torah, God is a complicated idea. If I believe in anything, it’s that humans’hunger for God is so universal that it can’t be ignored. It must be in the DNA.”
Or as atheist Lee Pardee, who attends Unitarian services, put it: “I may be an atheist, but I love singing in the chorus!
“When I first joined this con- gregation, I was so pleased by the songs. There’s no God in them! It’s just like church, but all the words have been fixed,” Pardee added. “I can actually sing the hymns and believe in them.”