Is G-d An Accident of History?
Take a moment and watch the world's most famous atheist answer a simple question:
What a wonderful example of intellectual knowledge, rhetorical skill and total avoidance of a question in one minute's time – quite an impressive feat. But that's not what I find so interesting in this answer – it is rather a) his notion that being born in a family that believes in G-d is an accident of history, b) the cheers of the crowd (let's call that the entertainment factor of atheism), and c) the notion that there is no substantive difference between believing in Zeus or Thor and believing in G-d (or that there is no substantive difference between different conceptions and understandings of G-d).
Is it an Accident That We Believe in the Torah?
Let's start with Dawkins first point – the notion of that one 'happens' to be brought up in a particular faith and one believes what they believe simply because they 'happen' to be born in a particular place, in a particular time in a particular culture with a particular set of religious beliefs.
In other words, religious beliefs are simply accidents of history imposed upon us by the blind forces of fate which indiscriminately dictate our religious destiny. It sounds so true, doesn't it – people basically believe what their parents and/or society believe and really are subject to forces beyond their control which dictate their religious faith.
Life is Dynamic, Not Static
It sounds true, but don't believe everything you hear (particularly if you are an American listening to an articulate professors with an English accent, we fall for those accents every time). To start with, life and history are simply not as static as the professor would have us all believe. People don't always believe what their parents tell them, they aren't nearly as robotic as Dawkins would have us believe and the history of the world is full of countless examples of nations and individuals radically (and sometimes less radically) changing their religious beliefs.
But that's not the real crux of the issue – the real point is that people don't 'happen' to be born into a particular family, it's not an accident – it's a choice. Not a choice of the child, but of the parents and of their grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. This, at least, is true of the Jewish people throughout history.
When the Jews of Spain were given the option of converting to Christianity or leaving Spain they chose – some left Spain, others left Judaism:
Those parents who left Spain had radically different kids than those who stayed behind.
When the enlightenment started to dominate the world stage it posed serious questions and challenges for the Jewish people, with radically new Jewish movements arising. In Germany Reform Judaism became dominant:
In Eastern Europe the Haskalah took hold:
Those parents who stayed with the Torah had different kids than those who went in the path of Reform Judaism or the Haskahlah.
In America in the early 20th century many Jews were faced with a difficult choice, work on Shabbas or lose your job. Some lost their jobs, some lost Shabbas. Those who chose Shabbas raised their kids in a different home than those who chose their job.
And how about the Holocaust – did Jews respond robotically to the Holocaust? Not at all:
Throughout history the Jews have been subjected to every type of pressure that one can imagine – physical, economic, political, societal, cultural, intellectual, religious, etc. And the road to the Torah has never been clear nor easy during those times. It has required effort, concentration, dedication and decision. It has required, in short – a choice, a real choice that has real ramifications and consequences for one's life, family, community and people. And this choice has had to be constantly made by the Jewish people since their very inception (note Rashi in Shemos on how many Jews came out of Mitzrayim).
Soothing One's Intellectual Conscience
So it's all nice and intellectually easy to pretend that religious people are simply robots, but for the Jewish people that simply is not true. It is a modern myth used to make it intellectually and emotionally easier not to have to face that girl's question – what if I am wrong. What if there really is a G-d, what if I really do have to consider how I live my life and why. What if life is fundamentally different than I imagine it to be?
Those are difficult and challenging questions – it is much easier to imagine the religious personality as a simpleton, a mindless robot who blindly follows in the footsteps of their parents and general society. That is why the crowd cheered – they cheered the fact that he cleverly dodged the question while making her look foolish and simple at the same time. For if she is a simpleton then they can go on with their lives without having to give any serious thought to the more important issues of life.
We Have Been There
As a post-script, in terms of Dawkins assertion that if we had lived in the time of Zeus we would have believed in Zeus. Well, we did live in the time of Zeus and the Greeks put quite a bit of effort into getting us to believe in him (and all the other Greek gods):
And many Jews went after the Greek culture, but a significant percentagechose not to. Jews today are descended from that significant percentage.
Oh, and we also have lived in the time of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Romans, the Christians, the Muslims, and almost any other god or type of god that you can name or imagine. And throughout it all, regardless of the appeal, influence or pressure, we have had a remnant who has constantly stuck to G-d and His Torah throughout it all. We are descended from that remnant.
And what's more – our point of view has emerged (largely) victorious. The gods of the ancient world are no longer. Zeus and Thor are mere relics of history, but the G-d of Israel lives on. Why? How come wherever the Jewish people have lived in significant numbers the Torah has wielded tremendous influence on the fundamental religious beliefs of the general society. Why did Christianity and Islam shoot forth from those areas where the Jews were in exile? Why did they so overwhelm the gods of old with a religious view (more) in tune with the Torah? What historical forces were at play there? What blind laws of fate dictated that it would be this way?
Europe didn't 'happen' to be born into Christianity, the Middle East didn't happen to be brought up in Islam. But they did happen to have the Jewish people exiled in their midst. And whether they liked us or not they adopted large segments of our faith. Why? What materialistic law dictates that the religious beliefs of the remnants of an ancient slave tribe should become the overwhelmingly dominant religious view of Europe, the Middle East, Australia as well as North and South America while making continuous and strong inroads into the rest of the world?
So, with that said, let's ask the question again – what if you are wrong?
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