Nina B. Mogilnik

A New Year Without God?

I often refer to myself as a half-assed Jew, since I have more knowledge than many, and much less than others. I became an adult bat mitzvah since my father, z’l, did not believe in girls becoming bat mitzvah. I spent two years learning, but can’t honestly say I took away a whole lot. But in other classes I’ve taken, and reading I’ve done, I’ve added to my modest store of knowledge.

I value much of what I have learned about Judaism along the way, including how it aligns well with caretaking of the earth–shmita year, anyone?–and firmly places care for the least among us–widows and orphans–at the center of our obligations.  The fact that the entirety of Judaism can be summed up by the famous Hillel response while standing on one foot: that which is distasteful to you, do not do unto others–is a special kind of accessible genius. It is also one that human beings of all faith traditions and none have failed at spectacularly during our relatively brief sojourn on earth.

Which leads me to the question that never stops gnawing at me: Why God?

If all of Judaism is about how humans should and even must behave, what need have we of a supreme deity? Are humans incapable of being good stewards of the earth and of caring for the least and most vulnerable among us without the prod of a judging deity? Are people of faith uniquely compassionate, uniquely good stewards of the earth? It seems to me that the historic record is not in religion’s favor.

While the Hebrew Bible wisely and uniquely puts the full range of human character traits on display–from the most noble to the utterly despicable, so our faith tradition is not some unreachable standard of perfection–it still leaves me wondering about the necessity of a deity. I can grasp the argument that absent God’s intervention in Egypt, we would have no Jewish story to tell and retell. However, humans in all their best and worst dress existed before the Exodus. There was chaos and there was goodness in the world before and after God showed God’s hand, through Moses. The idea of a God that is meant, at least in my understanding, to be our inspiration to be the best version of ourselves, seems unnecessary. If we are left in a world with God, but also with full human freedom of choice, God will, I suppose, be some people’s motivation to do right, but doing right doesn’t require God.  Any God.

If our ultimate job is to leave the world better than we found it, eliminating religion altogether might be one answer. I have recently come to believe that the worst thing Judaism did was give birth to Christianity, and Islam. The former has been the source of more suffering and torture in the name of “love” than can be calculated, and the latter has been both tolerant and wildly cruel and intolerant, including to members of its own faith, who adhere to different versions of the religion.

Religious folks sometimes loudly and righteously bemoan the deleterious effects of secularism. The fall in church attendance is why America is reeling under social strife, family dissolution, licentiousness, etc. As if folks wrapped in their bibles and Korans aren’t some of the worst moral offenders on earth, some of the most intolerant, judgmental, and unwelcoming God-defenders imaginable.

You don’t need a God whose existence you cannot prove, whose presence you cannot see, and whose voice you cannot hear to be commanded to do good. You just need to ask yourself what kind of world you want to live in. And go out and build it.  Hopefully it’s a world that reflects the best of what human beings are capable of, and not the worst. Either way, the world is comprised of choices humans make. If we were designing a new world from scratch, where would God and religions and their divisions and contradictions fit in? My guess is that they wouldn’t make the top priorities list. By a long shot. Nor should they, given the sorry record of human beings taking what is best in theory about religion and weaponizing it against adherents of different faiths, or adherents of no faith at all.

Maybe all we need to do is relentlessly walk the path of treating others with dignity and kindness, with compassion and hospitality, not because God commands it, but because a world built on those principles is just a better world for everyone.

About the Author
Nina has a long history of working in the non-profit, philanthropic, and government sectors. She has also been an opinion writer for The Jewish Week, and a contributor to The Forward, and to The New Normal, a disabilities-focused blog. However, Nina is most proud of her role as a parent to three unique young adults, and two rescue dogs, whom she co-parents with her wiser, better half. She blogs about that experience now and again at
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