I read an atheist's comments on my book, and apparently this person hadn't read The Miriam Tradition. He was complaining that now dance and theater were being taken away from atheists, or something like that. It didn't make much sense, given that I stress VALUES and HIGHEST VALUES as the base or religion. It's not about belief, but I question the gods we do create. I agree with atheists that we do need to think about this. What we value most does become our deity, whether we believe in a God or not. However, my book was not about theology, but how we live out our values.
The following story from Rabbi Shefa Gold prompted me to respond to the atheist review (rabbishefagold.com):
WHEN I FIRST MOVED IN TO MY HOME, which is quite isolated high up in the mountains of New Mexico, I did not know a soul in the area. So one snowy morning soon after I had moved in, I was very surprised and delighted to hear the doorbell ring. At the door were two tenacious Jehovah's Witnesses who were quoting from Isaiah and vigorously informing me about the rewards of Heaven, and the punishments of Hell.
I invited them inside, took out my Bible and happily began correcting their translation and interpretation of scripture. I felt blessed to have company and conversation about what mattered most. Together we surveyed the blessing and curse that was set before us.
Then something happened.
As I listened to their talk of Heaven as some far-off place, I felt as if a veil across my eyes were suddenly dropping away, and all at once I could "see."
"Heaven is right here," I exclaimed. "Don't you see?"
I looked into their eyes, and for a moment I could swear that their veils had also dropped away. We shared a shiny heavenly vision and then a minute later I saw in their eyes a cloud of confusion, the veil returning. They thanked me and hurried outside.
I believe the power of my "seeing" opened their eyes, even if it was just for a moment. As each of us rises to the spiritual challenge of "seeing" clearly, the singular vision we are given can affect the mind-state and then the perception of others so that together we can acknowledge the fullness of the Reality that has been set before us.
Religion can become an arcane subject, stuck in a god-box of theology and limited to a literal box of building - a church, mosque, temple, synagogue. When we open our eyes to see that we are acting out our lives based on what we value, then we start to understand that religion and the study of religion is not limited to whether or not you believe in a God. The study of religion is more about what you value. Do you value narrow-mindedness or pluralism? Why? Do you appreciate your neighbor, who has a different understanding of life? Do you put people above business? or do you understand business is people, and you need to treat them well? Or, to use my study of The Miriam Tradition as an example, do you understand that life is more than business, and that theatre and dance are important for very deep reasons. They are activities that allow us to reflect on reality, and discover what we are seeing or missing in our vision of the world.
I think atheism is a valid option, and often I've found atheists to be very reflective and thoughtful. If atheism is a non-theistic version of puritan discrimination and religious narrow-mindedness though, than I don't see the point. What's the value, except to condemn everyone who isn't you, and refuse to see the spirituality of love promoted by every major world religion. Love your neighbor as yourself is a religious value.
Embracing the arts as a means of viewing human interaction and learning from it is an ethical choice of Judaism, and also Christianity, (as well as most religions). That's not to see all Jews and Christians at all times embraced dance and theatre. Rather, it's been an interesting history, and one worth studying. When I did so in The Miriam Tradition, I presented an embodied view of Judaism and the Torah tradition. I wasn't stealing dance and theatre away from atheism. I was questioning whether we live life in strict divisions of secular and sacred; we don't. That is a Puritan idea, and isn't true of most religions. So, I ask you this:
What fills your soul? what events to do attend that you find meaningful? Is it a music concert? a special gathering? reading a particular novel? Getting together with friends? I've heard other say U2 concerts and biker gatherings, so I really do mean any activity that you find meaningful. As always, I look forward to your response.