I’m an atheist. I have been since I was 5 or so. The whole idea of God, at least anything along the Judeo-Christian lines, strikes me as practically a logical impossibility. The world is a nasty place, full of innocent people suffering, even babies. I’ve read all the arguments for believing in God, and none of them convince me. And I’ve read atheists like Bertrand Russell, and they DO convince me. I was raised Jewish, and discussed this with my rabbi, who was a real mensch. He had no problems with my being an atheist, and, in fact, said I should be a rabbi despite my atheism (rabbi, after all, does not mean ‘preist’, it is closer to ‘teacher’).
My wife, on the other hand, is not religious, but believes in God.
Our older son was an atheist from the time he was introduced to the concept. He finds the whole notion kind of pointless. I think it would be kind of nice if he new some more about Jewish tradition (as I put it, the God I don’t believe in is Jewish) but he doesn’t want to, and it’s not that big a deal to me. If he wants to learn about it later, there are certainly plenty of resources to do so. So, for me, talking to that child about God is no problem. It just doesn’t come up. The few times I’ve heard my wife talking about it with him, it’s been a sort of vague notion introduced by her that there MIGHT be a God.
My younger son, though, does believe. But now (age 7) he’s asking questions. “Why did God create people if they are going to suffer and die?” “Why did God create bedbugs?” (we had an infestation about a year ago) and such. I try to take a neutral position, because, while I’m an atheist, I’m not an evangelist (if only no religious people were evangelists how much better the world would be). If he wants to believe in God, it’s OK with me. Or maybe “wants to” isn’t the right phrase …. if he somehow winds up believing, it’s OK with me. Lots of good people do, and lots of good people don’t. If he’s a decent person – kind, generous and so on – then I don’t care if he’s religious
That reminds me of a story, originally told by the Hasidim, who started out as radicals. In a little shtetl (Jewish settlement) in Russia, a man is driving his cart on the sabbath. He sees the rabbi walking to shul (temple) and calls to him
“Rabbi, I’m sorry for working on the Sabbath, but I am very poor, and I need to feed my family”
“Tell me”, says the rabbi, “do you ever take people in your cart who can’t pay, and, maybe, let them pay on credit, or with barter, or maybe even ride free?”
“Yes rabbi! I do that almost every day”
“Then”, says the rabbi “you needn’t worry about working on the Sabbath”.
So I don’t really know what to say to those questions – they are precisely the sort that make me an atheist. I’ve read various reasons offered by theists of various kinds, and none of them convince me. So what can I do?
But there’s one argument for God’s existence that I can’t refute, although it doesn’t do anything to convince me. When I lived in Israel, I became friends with a man and his son. The dad and mom were divorced, and the boy (age 5 or so) was going to visit her in the States, and I agreed to accompany him to NY, where his mom would meet him. It’s a long flight. At one point, I asked him if he believed in God
“Yes”, he said
and I asked why, and he said “because I can feel him loving me”.
As I said, I’ve got no refutation, but it doesn’t convince me.