The fool thinks, “There is no God.” (14:1)
This is not the kind of language that I would have used. Fool is a strong, aggressive, word and I think we have too much aggressive language in our contemporary society. Too many people use name calling rather than trying to understand and appreciate the position of the “fool” with whom they disagree. Rather than disparaging the atheist, ask what there is to admire about his or her set of beliefs.
NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” aired a series in 2014 examining different beliefs in the afterlife. One person interviewed was an atheist named Samuel Sheffler who published a book on “Death and the Afterlife.” I quoted from an op-ed he wrote for the New York ties in October before Yizkor on Shemini Atzeret. His position is that the fact that we know that after we die people will live on is the single most critical factor in giving us the motivation to live meaningful lives. For proof, he invites us to engage in the following thought experiment. If we knew for an absolute certainty that the world will come to an end shortly after we die – imagine that an asteroid will wipe out all life – how many of us would live the same lives that we have lived. How many of us would have children? How many of us would build wealth to give to museums, synagogues, or other charitable organizations? How many of us would do research to find a cure for cancer, write great works of literature, or create beautiful works of art – if we knew that virtually no one would enjoy or benefit from our work?
The claim, “There is no God” is also a challenge to the image of God as the old man with the white beard watching and exercising minute control over everything that happens to us. Rabbi Brad Artson (or maybe it was Rabbi David Wolpe) told a story once of a conversation he had with an atheist. The atheist claimed that believe in God was ridiculous and reason demanded that one be an atheist, and the rabbi asked to atheist to describe God and why precisely he could not believe. After listening to the atheist’s description of God, which very much resembled the description that a religious person might give, the rabbi said, “You know, I don’t believe in that God either.” He then went on to describe a much more sophisticated view of God.
Thank God for the questions of the atheist!