**Update** Rabbi Fuchs commented at the bottom of this post. My response can be found here.
Stephen Fuchs, the rabbi emeritus of West Hartford’s Beth Israel and former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, really, really does not like John Lennon’s song, Imagine. This is from his blog, findingourselvesinbiblicalnarratives.com (and I thought “theatheistrabbi” was a mouthful):
I detest John Lennon’s iconic, Imagine. Not only do I find the melody insipid, but the lyric “And no religion too,” punctures my soul.
After dismissing Lennon and then Bill Maher, he explains why religion is not the horrible war-mongering idea that Maher et al., believe it to be:
The problem is not with religion itself but with the distortion of religious ideals. Those wars result from our inability to accept that well-meaning people can view religious questions and practices differently. We do not need to do away with religion. We need to do away with our compulsion to force OUR religion on others. We need to learn to not only tolerate, but to respect and affirm religious diversity.
Must religious liberals always go straight to defensive silliness like this? I assume that a rabbi who quotes Epictetus knows something about logical fallacies. So why does he fall into this one?
After asserting that the only problem with religion is its lack of respect and affirmation for diversity, he proceeds to demonstrate a remarkable lack of respect for nontheists:
Without religion humanity would never have perceived that life has purpose and meaning and that we are each called in our own way to treat others with dignity and respect and to use our talents to create a more just, caring and compassionate society.
Without religion no one would have ever felt the call of a good, caring God, to feed, the poor, clothe the naked and house the homeless. Of course many people today do not believe in God but still do wonderfully positive things. But would they have ever discovered the impulse to do those things had people long ago not done them because they felt God commanded them to?
I doubt it.
As long as they are staying in their own lane, I have no problem with religious people doing their thing. I’m not with Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens in pronouncing that all religions are poison (though they make some excellent points). I judge people and their beliefs by their behavior. Reform Judaism has been a great leader in the progressive world and I admire that.
But I do not admire the thinking of a Reform rabbi who in one paragraph lectures about the need for respect and affirmation of religious diversity while in another informs nontheists that they would never have discovered the “impulse” to do good things if people had not long ago felt commanded by God to do so. This assessment is as insulting as it is inaccurate. Rabbi Fuchs wrote a book all about the wonderful contemporary life lessons in the Torah. So I’ve got to believe that a smart fellow like him would also be able to locate the almost uncountable ghastly Torah tales about what people felt commanded by God to do.
Moreover, it does not demonstrate much respect or affirmation for religious diversity when you claim that only your monotheistic version of this imaginary god had the power to inspire “wonderfully positive things.” Surely Rabbi Fuchs is aware of the fact that many civilizations were able to morally advance without the influence of Judaism, Christianity or Islam.
I’ve already said something nice about Reform Judaism, the movement in which I was raised. I did not stop identifying as a Reform Jew because I felt it was insufficiently progressive. I left because I was no longer interested in all the bullshit involved in twisting texts and history in order to preserve an impossible supernatural conception of a universe with God at its center.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling isolated from the rest of the Jewish world, I forget why I declared my open atheism and moved over to Secular Humanistic Judaism. Then someone like Rabbi Fuchs comes along to remind me why.