Remarks delivered at the August 4, 1996 services of the North Texas Church of Freethought
I always enjoy hearing about Christianity ... from non-Christians.
That's mainly why I went to hear Tovia Singer: Rabbi Tovia Singer, that is. His talk was entitled "Who Is The Messiah?" which he delivered at the Arlington Ramada Inn last June 30th. Mr. Singer runs an outfit called "Outreach Judaism," the purpose of which is to reclaim Jews who've converted to Christianity. You know, "Jews for Jesus" and that. Mr. Singer takes his Judaism very seriously. He said that he's motivated by "the sight of his people dying," and so he works at "saving" them because it's "a matter of life and death."
After complaining about the Southern Baptist bigots who had just met in convention and voted to increase their efforts to convert Jews, Mr. Singer offered a very plausible explanation for how and why Jews became so hated by believers in the Jesus-god of love-your-neighbor-as-yourself. It's not because the Jews killed Christ as the Gospels - mainly that of John - say. It's because, said Mr. Singer, the theology of evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity holds that Jews know perfectly well that Jesus Christ was the Messiah but they deny him anyway. And how else can this be seen but as a deliberate act of choosing evil? "Who else could do such a thing but Satan and his servants?" is how Mr. Singer pictured the Christian anti-Semitic mindset. Consequently, he noted, "Only in a Christian country can Holocaust Revisionism [the idea that the Nazis never tried to exterminate the Jews] be taken seriously." Because only Christians could believe that Jews are so wholly evil and so supernaturally-empowered by evil forces that they could successfully perpetrate the monumental conspiracy that would be necessary to get people to believe such a thing if it weren't true. And even of those people who accept the reality of the Nazi genocide of the Jews, he said, only a Christian could believe that innocent and harmless Jews were dispatched to hell while the Nazis who killed them were forgiven by God and admitted to heaven. There are no people who are more despised than Jews, said Mr.Singer.
Mr. Singer said something in connection with this that we Freethinkers should remember. He said that "If you want to know what someone really thinks of you, look at what they're willing to believe about you."
Well, most of the rest of Mr. Singer's remarks were of the sort you might hear from an Atheist or read in the pages of Biblical Errancy or The Skeptical Review. He demolished a variety of Christian claims, citing the scriptural distortions that are necessary to make them. He ridiculed the "cafeteria plan" of Christianity where believers pick and choose what they like from the Bible. And he also said that only believing Jews are qualified to say what the words of the Old Testament mean, while leaving no doubt that he thought that he was perfectly qualified to say what the words of the New Testament mean.
In the course of his remarks, Mr. Singer said that Jews have survived because God has seen to their survival. "That's how we know the Torah is true," he said.
But was there ever a society in which there was a placid consensus that extinction was just around the corner? Despite Cold War fears of nuclear catastrophe, or current concerns about the impact of human activities on the environment, and even doomsday asteroids, have people ever been completely hopeless about the future? And even if there have been such people, did they write down their expectations of ruin and make them an element of their cultural identity? Would we even know about such a people if they ever existed? And, if we did, would it prove that there are Jews alive today because the Jewish Torah is true and God has seen to their miraculous preservation through the centuries? Rabbi Singer doesn't bother with such things. He never heard of something called "selection bias." But critical thinking has never been the strong suit of believers in spooks and spirits. I guess there are coelacanths alive today because their scaly ancestors struck a deal with an all-powerful and omniscient celestial coelacanth who's been protecting them all these millennia. That's more remarkable than a religion, or ethnicity, or whatever Jewishness is, surviving for a few thousand years. Maybe the fish is a better God, after all!
Rabbi Singer also believes in the bodily resurrection of devout Jews. He said it's going to happen just like the prophet saw it in Ezekiel 37, where a bunch of dry bones sprout flesh and blood and the four winds breathe life into them. But don't think this means that the Rabbi is against cremation, because, he says, Jewish bones are indestructible. Even 2000° Nazi ovens couldn't incinerate Jewish bones, insisted Mr. Singer, which he said is proved by the fact that in photographs of the era you can clearly see the bones left in the ovens.
And once those Jewish bones get living Jewish flesh back on them, said Mr. Singer, the 12 tribes of Israel will be reconstituted also, the Jewish theocracy will be restored, and a third temple will be rebuilt that will last forever this time. Not only that, but God Himself will come live in that temple "and the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel." So don't think that the Christians and their "Rapture" have anything on Jews like Mr. Singer. And, like a Jewish "Late Great Planet Earth" Hal Lindsey, Mr. Singer says that current events in the Middle East are "the footsteps of the Messiah" that "we can hear" even now. And maybe he's right, too, what with the state of Israel now being run by Nuts n' Yahoos.
Still, said the Rabbi, Judaism is not in competition with Christianity for converts. Jews don't worry about who the Messiah is because, for Jews, the Messiah is just the political ruler in the line of David who will appear when it's time for the real-life Jewish version of the Dawn of Living Dead. The Messiah doesn't have anything to do with Jews' relationship to their God, he said, because Jews don't believe they need an intermediary between themselves and their God. Jews believe, he said, that God's infinite and perfect mercy is enough to save both Jew and Gentile.
By this time a question had formed in my mind. Why, if you don't need to be a Jew to be saved, and if God really has this "infinite and perfect mercy," is it necessary to obsess about all this supernatural stuff anyway? Well, you see, Rabbi Singer explained to me, to the "Amens" of others in the audience, "Jews that practice Christian idolatry will not enjoy eternal communion with God." That is, the "matter of life and death" that Mr. Singer's efforts are concerned with is not a figurative one of preserving some Jewish ethnic or cultural tradition. A Jew that becomes a Christian also develops combustible bones, it seems.
"But wait!" I challenged him. Didn't he just say that God's "infinite and perfect mercy is enough to save both Jew and Gentile?" Wouldn't this include everybody?
No, said the Rabbi. It only includes people who worship the Jewish God. You see, if you're a Gentile, even though you're under no obligation to observe the Mosaic Law, you're still bound by the Laws given by God to Adam and Eve and later to Noah. A reasonable person would also suppose that, that being the case, the Jewish God is under no obligation to preserve the posterity of Gentiles so I guess Gentiles need to worry about becoming extinct. Anyway, you can read all about this "Judaism Lite" - a kind of second-class citizens' auxiliary to the one true faith of Judaism - in the materials of a growing movement called "B'nei Noach" that preaches a "Noahide," as opposed to a Mosaic Law. They have a site, even a short book of their dogmas, on the WorldWide Web. Their ideas are every bit as loony-tunes as any Christian biblical inerrantist. They even claim that before Noah's flood there were never any rainbows. Those laws of physics just didn't exist!
And, surprise, surprise, they've got pretty much all the same narrow-minded bigotry that fundamentalist Christianity has too, all packaged up for Bible-believers who can be peeled away from New Testament nonsense but, of course, not from Old Testament nonsense. Jewish homophobia, for example, comes from Leviticus 18:12 which was directed only at the Jews. But you can get the same thing, say the B'nei Noach, from Genesis 2:24's "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." Surely you can see the prohibition on homosexuality there, can't you?
Now remember: "You can tell what someone really thinks of you by looking at what they're willing to believe about you."
Rabbi Singer and other fundamentalist Jews believe that if you don't worship the Jewish God, either as a Jew observing the Mosaic Law or as a Gentile observing the Noahide Law you're going to hell. Mr. Singer and his ilk could sit down and tote up the population of hell just like the Southern Baptists in Alabama did not too long ago.
So much for God's "infinite and perfect mercy." How can it be so infinite and perfect, after all, if Mr. Singer can be so sure that innocent and harmless people who don't believe in the Jewish God are all going to hell, while those who've stoned them and burnt them and pressed them and drowned them and hung them are going to be rewarded by God for their efforts. Wasn't this the same idea that the Rabbi was condemning when it was the Jews being slaughtered by the Nazis?
Mr. Singer didn't seem to like that comparison at all. He started off by making the same generous concession that the Anglican Church made not long ago to the effect that hell isn't eternal torture but just "separation from God." Is that clear? Forget about "God is everywhere," we're on the cafeteria plan now. Then the Rabbi offered the preposterous analogy of a married man running off with some other woman. Would the errant husband, he asked, still expect to enjoy the favors of his wife after spurning her? Of course, aside from the fact that it happens all the time, what does this have to do with people whose religion is neither Judaism nor "Judaism Lite" or who don't believe in God at all?
Now the Rabbi, I think, was beginning to get tired of having to deal with such curious and unexpected objections. He did a much better job of dismissing the rantings of a Christian in the audience. It was clear that he'd had some practice in responding to that sort of thing.
But here's what he said. I'm not making this up, either. He said that when Christians get in a jam and start praying they're usually not thinking about praying to Jesus as an intermediary between themselves and God, so probably they can be saved. He never explained how he knew what goes on in Christians' heads when they pray. And he never got to Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists.
But Atheists present a problem, he acknowledged. He offered Psalms 14:1 "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." That's also a favorite of Christians for ending discussion, and I really expected that the Rabbi was going to leave it at that. But instead, to my surprise, he went on to admit that there are a lot of Atheists who are no fools, but, rather, very intelligent and educated people. It made no sense, he suggested, for such people to deny the reality of God, because they, more so even than others, could appreciate the awesome workings of nature: the way in which the food a woman eats becomes converted into milk, which is produced at just the right time and in just the right amounts for her baby, and, of course, the marvelous event of that baby being born. "There are no Atheists in the delivery room!" he said assuredly.
And that was all the attention Mr. Singer was willing to devote to such questions.
As for me, it was nearly time to leave for the hospital where one of my patients had been admitted in labor. About four hours later I'd be the Atheist, and maybe not even the only one as far as I knew, in the delivery room.
Now remember: "You can tell what someone really thinks of you by looking at what they're willing to believe about you."
Rabbi Tovia Singer is willing to believe that no one could honestly deny the reality of his God if they were reasonably intelligent and educated and especially not if they were very intelligent and educated. What sort of person could the Rabbi have been thinking of who would nevertheless maintain a position of Atheism in such circumstances? How could this be understood in Mr. Singer's theology but as a deliberate act of choosing evil? And who could do such a thing but Satan and his servants?
Intolerance, bigotry, and hatred come in many forms, it seems. Dig into any collection of dogma, any system that says "BELIEVE!" and, necessarily "DON'T THINK!" and you'll find it. This is really, to my mind, the one clear blemish on the tradition of Judaism. For although so many extraordinary people who contributed prodigiously to human progress have been Jewish, there are also those who successfully attach the adjective "Jewish" to delusions which are every bit as malignant as the most fanatical of fundamentalist forms of Christianity and Islam. Jews who see their Judaism as an ethnic and cultural heritage should rightly be astonished and horrified at the thought that some element of an identity which they embrace can be so unthinkingly interpreted as supposing that other human beings are worthy of less consideration and less respect than an invisible, inscrutable, unprovable, and capricious deity.
Thank you and Good Morning.
© 1996 by Tim Gorski