Atheism Typologies

on types of atheism and pseudonyms

Jon Murray, Essays on American Atheism , volume 1
(American Atheist Press: Austin TX 1986) p 177
"Atheist Pseudonyms" june 1978

All of those assembled classified themselves by one of the less definitive titles which Atheists all over the United States unfortunately use to shield themselves from the social pressures of outright identification with their true feelings. Terms such as humanist, agnostic, ethical culturist, deist, freethinker, rationalist, secularist realist, and objectivist all serve a purpose for their users, but often are not a true expression of their thoughts.

The use of such terms is common, and the initial argument we had over the question of "Why lie to yourself and others by not coming out and saying what you really are?" went as expected. When we began to probe the subject a little deeper, however, a position statement on the part of those gathered began to emerge. This position has deep implications affecting the struggle for civil rights for Atheists and indeed the freedoms that we all attempt to secure for our own enjoyment.

"Israel" october 1981
Now, some of you have written this journal [American Atheist] in the past referring to yourselves as Jewish Atheists. A spate of letters has been received at the Atheist Center objecting to any comments in this journal regarding Israel or Judaism, by persons designating themselves as Jewish Atheists. There is no such thing as a Jewish Atheist. The term "Jewish" refers to a religious stance, not an ethnic group. "Semite" is the proper term for the ethnic group. There are many non-Semites who are religiously Jewish also. (Sammy Davis and Elizabeth Taylor, to name two!) All "Jewish" customs are based on religious ritual. The true Jew has no secular holiday or custom or food habit. All of these are dictated by holy rote. Everything that an individual hails as making him "Jewish" is based on religious ritual.

emailed comment from a reader, M.E., sat, 8 feb 1997:

On the page on Jewish Athiests there is some discussion about whether a Jew can be secular or atheistic. The comments defining Judaism are historically inaccurate. ... My understanding is that even in the orthodox liturgy, they refer to the Jewish People. The Jewish people derived from the Hebrews - a group of semites. The Jewish People were around long before the Jewish religion - therefore they are an ethnic group. While there is also a Jewish religion currently defined by orthodox ideology which had its origins in the Pharisees, the Jewish people do not universally share that philosophy of life. People are frequently confused between the Jewish People and the Jewish religion. A religion is a set of beliefs. If you agree with that set of beliefs, then you ascribe to that religion. As a people, the Jews are known to disagree on many things. There is a saying - "2 Jews, 3 opinions".

Therefore the Jews can more accurately be described as a civilization, which includes many cultures (Ashkenazic, Persian, Sephardic, etc), distinct humor, literature, music, languages, etc.

Another problem with defining Judaism merely as a religious group, is that you could not explain how people like Herzl and Einstein could call themselves Jews along with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. They did not share the same philosophies of life - only their attachment to the Jewish People.

In summary, many Jews are secular, many Jews are atheists. Not all Jews share the orthodox belief system. Even at the time that system was developed there were many different kinds of Jews - Zadokites, Pharasees, Essenes. Jews have always been a pluralistic society. You should contact Professor Malkin in Israel at the Institute for Pluralistic Judaism. He is an expert on this subject and has interesting courses on Judaism during the Helensitic times. You also might want to consider attending a Colloquium this October in Detroit which is gathering many of the great Jewish scholars in the World on the subject "Reclaiming Jewish History". If you're interested I'll find out if there is any preliminary literature.

re. cultural/Catholic/Jewish/atheists, see Graham Greene, Charles Maurras, Miguel de Unamuno, Michael Harrington, Mordecai Kaplan, Sherwin Wine and Ahad Ha-Am.

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