Jews and atheists (was Re: Religion and the left)

James Farmelant farmelantj at
Wed Jun 3 09:10:23 PDT 1998

On Wed, 3 Jun 1998 08:09:51 -0400 (EDT) Justin Schwartz <jschwart at> writes:

>Sure. Zen Buddhism is atheistic and religious. My (Jewish) sister
>a Spanish ZB from a very Catholic family. While visiting her mother in
>law-to-be's sister in Spain, sher had the following conversation.
>Maria said, I hear that Jews don't believe in God. (They don't know
>from Jews in Spain, haven't since 1492.)
>My sister replied, Oh no, Jews believe in God. It's Zen Buddhists who
>don't believe in God.
Actually, Justin's sister is not quite correct here. It is certainly possible to be both a Jew and an atheist and indeed there have been many prominent Jews who were atheists. This is a point that even the most extreme Orthodox Jews will accept (if not always very happily). Certainly some of the most well-known Jews of the past century were atheists or agnostics- like Marx himself, Freud, Einstein (who wavered between agnosticism and a Spinozan pantheism), Trotsky, many of the early Zionists including the founders of Labor Zionism and Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism who was also a militant atheist. Today prominent Jews who are atheists or agnostics include physicist Steve Weinberg, biologist Stephen Jay Gould and attorney Alan Dershowitz. Interestingly enough a number of studies have shown that there are many American Jews who belong to synagogues or temples while holding atheistic or agnostic views.

Also it should be noted that in the US Jews are one of the ethnic groups most prone to atheism or agnosticism. This is no doubt due to several factors including high levels of education (which correlate strongly with non-belief) and the influence that the secular left had in the Jewish community. Also American Jews tend to work in occupations and professions where Enlightenment values still hold sway like academia, medicine, and the sciences.

Jim Farmelant

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