I tried not to be Jewish 25 Dec 2013
I went to a lavish Bar-mitzvah on the weekend. I wanted to be a good Atheist. God knows I tried.
First there was the synagogue prayer service on the Saturday. With the aid of my restless three-year-old daughter, I had an excuse to sit out most of the prayer service proper. So I didn’t have to feign praying to a god I doubt exists, or at least cares to listen.
On the Sunday night, I attended a lavish Bar-mitzvah party. Three-hundred people at a private home by the beach. Fireworks, a band, a DJ, sushi-chefs, pinball machines, the works.
Its decadence was countered only by the presence of a handful of rabbis who made sure the food was served according to strict rules of kosher.
The band whipped everyone into a frenzy for a 20-minute Jewish circle dance. Everyone squashed into the big marquee.
They had me cornered. I considered my options. A part of me wanted to walk away, but my feet held me there.
Now this might sound strange, but inside my brain there lives a miniature version of Richard Dawkins – the famed evolutionary biologist and fly-swatter of anything religious.
I made a tiny sneeze, and sure enough, out of my nostril popped my personal Dawkins. He climbed my cheek, sat on my shoulder and whispered in my ear.
“Get out Ben. It’s religious indoctrination. These people are brain-washed. Religion is the enemy of science and rationalism.”
I tried to brush him away, but he dig in his heels.
“Don’t worry Ben. As soon as we find the gene that causes people to believe in God, we’ll cure them all.”
I knew he was right, but he was giving me the shits. So I called up the Atheist god of Cultural Relativism to sit on my other shoulder.
“Look Richard,” my little god yelled over the music, “who are we to criticise the values and norms of other cultures?”
Then, from my nostril popped out a tiny god of Feminist Theory. It was getting kind of crowded now.
“Come on boys,” she yelled. “Don’t give me that cultural relativist crap. Just look at female circumcision, arranged marriages, stoning”.
She had a point.
Then more little devils started popping up on my shoulders: Marx, Luther, Kant, Copernicus, Socrates. They all had to have their two cents.
But then disaster struck. My feet, those feet that held me firm, started tapping to the beat. I looked down at them and something in me could tell that whilst I had divorced myself from religion so long ago, my feet had another agenda.
They did nasty things to me that night. They took control of my hands, and I started clapping to the beat. My neck started nodding. Before I knew it, I was in the midst of that damned Jewish dance circle – stepping, twirling, arms around other people, working up an orthodox sweat.
Of course in the rush of it all, those little gods and devils slipped off my shoulders.
I’m not sure what happened to them all. I think I spied Dawkins and Marx arm-wrestling by the pool. Oh, and was that Martin Luther and Copernicus snogging under a table? Good for them.
Back home, I felt more than a little empty-headed as I lay my head on my pillow. I felt a little ashamed. I had tried to ward off my Jewishness, but it snuck up and bit me on my bum.
Maybe it was still okay to dance and eat and tell Jewish jokes without believing in an intervening god. I wanted advice. I closed my eyes and wanted to pray so badly. But who to? Damn those Jewish genes.
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