A (Weak) Critique of my Godless Jews Series

Over at the Jewish Exponent, Rober Leiter reviews the e-zine J.books.com. Leiter writes that the magazine covers Jewish subjects from a secular point of view. He adds that this approach is refreshing, except when the writers in question get too secular. Case in point, yours truly 🙂

The only thing that gets to me on the site is when writers become aggressively “in your face” about their atheism, as was the case with a two-part essay by Roi Ben-Yehuda called “Godless Jews: The Original Atheists With Attitude.” The piece points out that, “For two centuries Jews have contributed a disproportionate creative role to the discourse of doubt, skepticism and atheism. Jewish intellectuals, the likes of Emma Goldman, Ernestine Rose, Sigmund Freud, Woody Allen and Ayn Rand have all brought to bear their considerable talents on the question of God’s non-existence.

“It should come as no surprise that the same people that gave the world monotheism also played a significant role in its negation.”

Secularism is one thing, but trumpeting atheism so determinedly seems a little too triumphalistic. And Ben-Yehuda’s examples of great Jewish intellectuals — in his second installment, he adds Karl Marx — leave a lot to be desired (though Freud, outside of his anti-religion stance, far exceeds the others on that list). Like so many in literary and academic circles these days, Ben-Yehuda seems to overstate his case out of a need to counteract the seeming triumphs of the opposition.”

Hmm, so the problem seems to be that I was trumpeting atheism a little too zealously, and that my list of Jewish intellectuals was incomplete. This misstep on my part, according to Leiter, is the result of my need to “counteract the seeming triumphs of the opposition.”

Leiter writes that he gets upset when people try to shove their atheism down the throats of others. When they get really aggressive. I can understand what he is talking about. But for him to claim that that is what I am doing with my series is simply silly. He is confusing my essay, which explores the contribution of these jewish intellectuals to the discourse of atheism, with my own personal position. He is making an intentionalist fallacy. My own position, not that it matters, is that of an agnostic.

Of course Leiter makes no effort to explain his critique of my work. He does not offer any explanation as to why my list of godless Jewish intellectuaLs (I never called them great) leaves a lot to be desired, nor does he explain why am I being too “triumphalistic”. As for the claim that I am responding to the triumph of the opposition, I honestly have no idea what he is talking about. What opposition? Oh well, perhaps the author was under a word count limit.

To read the rest of Leiter article, click here. To read part I of my series “Godless Jews – The Original Atheists With Attitude”, click here. To read part II, click here. Part III, Freud, is coming out shortly. Enjoy.


6 responses to “A (Weak) Critique of my Godless Jews Series

  1. Love it – you’re too “aggressive” but this guy gets to take centuries of intellectual history and determine who is “smart enough”. Ay carumba.

  2. ag·nos·tic / Pronunciation[ag-nos-tik] Pronunciation Key
    –noun 1. a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
    2. a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study.
    –adjective 3. of or pertaining to agnostics or agnosticism.
    4. asserting the uncertainty of all claims to knowledge.
    [Origin: < Gk ágnōst(os), var. of ágnōtos not known, incapable of being known (a- a-6 + gnōtós known, adj. deriv. from base of gignskein to know) + -ic, after gnostic; said to have been coined by T.H. Huxley in 1869]

    You are a unique agnostic, as you pray and meditate at the wall, keeping religious traditions, but some traditions we keep because they were born within us, some we keep from familiarity, but a wise person knows which traditions to reject from instinct. Shabbat Shalom

  3. I hope Rober Leiter will read your smart response to his not smart comments. Assuming that you are atheist because you write about atheists? who is missing in the list as he said so? aggressiveness where? I think he should explain himself more fully.

  4. “Secularism is one thing, but trumpeting atheism so determinedly seems a little too triumphalistic.”

    Well, first of all, you don’t even play the trumpet. Second, noting the atheistic/agnostic tendencies of a handful of Jewish intellectuals hardly qualifies as triumphalistic. Third, if you were in fact acting triumphalistically, then by all means you should blow a trumpet because brass instruments are awfully well-suited to triumphant events.

    “Like so many in literary and academic circles these days, Ben-Yehuda seems to overstate his case out of a need to counteract the seeming triumphs of the opposition.”

    Again with the triumphs?

    Seriously though, the opposition doesn’t have any triumphs. They have thousands of years of insinuating themselves and their beliefs into people’s lives. Agnostics are playing catch-up now in the literary world and overstatement of their case is only expected. Overstatement has worked well for religious zealots for centuries.

    So, Ben-Yehuda, in the interest of “counteracting the seeming triumphs of the opposition” go ahead and blow that trumpet. We’re listening.

  5. Nice comments Terry. And Yakira, yes, I am a weird agnostic.

  6. Terry, you make me laugh!!!..so funny, this one 🙂 and don’t worry Roi, I take the cake on being weird.

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