‘For good people to do evil – that takes religion’
Atheism is taboo in Israel. There’s a sense that one should de facto respect the beliefs of religious people. Its time more of us had the courage to come out the closet with pride and influence public debate. I’d argue that at this juncture it’s an ethical obligation. It’s not that I don’t respect your beliefs; I proactively disrespect them.
Don’t get me wrong – as a liberal I will defend anyone’s right to believe whatever they want. As a liberal, I am repulsed that Jews are barred from praying on the Temple Mount. As a liberal I understand the need for social compromise if we want a civilized society. There’s no reason for every store to be open on Shabbat. There’s no reason to drive through orthodox communities on Shabbat.
Yet, every year my ex-wife would ask me what I want for my birthday. Usually, I preferred quality time with her. Yet in 2015 I asked her to get me a framed copy of the Charlie Hebdo magazine with the cartoon of Mohammed on the front. The reason is that Muslim terrorists murdered 12 people and injured 11 others attacking their offices in response to the cartoon. It’s my right to hang a picture of your prophet on my wall no matter how offended you are.
Theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg sums up my concerns neatly “With or without religion, good people can behave well, and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.” In other words, anyone who believes in an unfalsifiable hypothesis (which God is) is by definition a fundamentalist. One cannot change their minds. To be clear – this doesn’t mean most believers perpetrate or turn a blind eye to evil. It means that believers have a unique direct path towards such behavior.
Former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass explains how his conditions worsened when his master became Christian – he now justified slavery as punishment for the decedents of Ham. Mark Twain describes his mother as accepting the legitimacy of slavery as she only heard preachers say this was God’s will.
Israel is about to form a coalition government with 3 religious parties and Likud. Two of those parties are Haredi (ultra-orthodox). Despite my proactive disrespect for their beliefs, these parties historically focus on their electorate. The media and public discourse about Haredim in Israel are bigoted. Most Haredim work and pay taxes. The budget allotted to their child support and Torah institutions is a drop in the ocean compared to other sectors and interest groups – they are simply a convenient punching bag to divert us from demanding real reform e.g., the ports, food cartels, and military largess.
The third religious party is called Religious Zionism. They ran on a platform of removing the checks and balances between the executive and judiciary. Granted reform is needed, and the supreme court has become a self-propagating clique. Nonetheless, the danger is the tyranny of the majority. Edmond Burke writes that “The tyranny of the multitude is a multiplied tyranny.” Ayn Rand writes the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities and “the smallest minority on earth is the individual.” We all know what they meant when Ben Gvir made his public address last night and the crowd repeatedly shouted, “death to terrorists”.
The Religious Zionist Party manifesto calls on women reporting violence from their husbands to sign a form that will be subject to prosecution for a false report. But false reports are extremely rare. It’s more common that women don’t report at all out of fear and remain trapped in an abusive relationship. More barriers for victims will lead to more abuse.
Christianity is mostly benign today. After the enlightenment they lost their access to weapons. But we see a Muslim world – with access to the trappings and weaponry of state – rife with repression and violence.
The heads of the Jewish Zionist party are not shy about their anti-Arab, anti-secular, anti-gay rhetoric. Half of the party is comprised of a political faction called Jewish Strength. I wonder what Israel would say if a European country formed a government with a party called white power, or Christian power, with the concomitant policies. The faction head, Ben Gvir, used to hang a picture of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, guilty of killing 29 and wounding 125 Palestinian Muslim worshipers. A few weeks before Rabin was murdered, Ben Gvir appeared on TV with the emblem stolen from Rabin’s car and declared “We got to his car, and we’ll get to him too.” In 2007, he was convicted of incitement to racism.
So, the question is whether the normalization of such ideas in the Israeli body politic is a milestone on the way to the ‘Iranianization’ of Israel. Will nationalist religious Jews behave any differently than their Muslim or Christian brothers and sisters when they have access to the state’s weaponry? Or will our nation also be lured by the siren of evil conveniently justified as the will of God?
I believe more people need to take a proactive stand to prevent this – it’s not inevitable. Atheists must take the courage to become an adult part of the public dialogue.