The god you don’t believe in, I too don’t
believe in – Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev
As self-proclaimed atheist Michael A. Newdow argues his
case before the Supreme Court to remove the words “under
G-d” from the Pledge of Allegiance, it is hard to
ignore its timeliness.
We stand now in the Hebrew month of Nissan, called the
month of Redemption, when we prepare for Passover, which
is known as the holiday of faith. The Matzah eaten on Passover
is called “food of faith.” Indeed, the Bible
tells us that the Jewish people are “believers children
of believers,” and faith is emphasized time and again
throughout the Biblical account of Exodus.
So here we have the modern day confrontation between an
atheist and the American public’s declaration of “one
nation under G-d.” Dr. Newdow is arguing that the
daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in his daughter's
public school classroom violates the Constitution as long
as the pledge contains the words “under G-d.”
Last year Dr. Newdow won a decision in the United States
Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco,
that the addition of "under G-d" turned the pledge
into a “profession of religious belief” and
made it constitutionally unsuitable for daily recitation
in the public schools. Now that decision was being appealed
in the Supreme Court.
I have a few questions to self-proclaimed atheists. Perhaps
one day I can do a radio show and interview a few atheists,
agnostics and believers…
Frankly, I never understood atheists. Agnosticism is one
thing. I can see how someone has doubts and is unsure whether
G-d exists. But atheism? How can one be absolutely sure
and convinced that G-d does NOT exist? An atheist’s
irrational conviction can sound awfully like blind faith.
I understand that a person may emotionally choose to not
believe in G-d, but that should be confused with an absolute
rationale that G-d does not exist. No one can prove that
G-d does not exist as no can absolutely prove that G-d exists
(see below). Arguments can be made either way, but the final
conclusion is not driven by logic. For believers it is driven
by faith. But what drives an atheists absolute belief that
G-d does not exist?
Some have argued that the atheist’s belief is driven
by his unwillingness to accept G-d’s authority over his
life. In other words, the atheist does not have empirical
proof that G-d does not exist; he personally rejects G-d.
Similar to a person of faith who may not have empirical
proof for G-d’s existence, yet he personally chooses to
believe, or he instinctively, intuitively or emotionally
just knows that G-d exists.
Do you, Mr. Atheist, have the same type of instinct, intuition
or emotion that G-d does not exist?
Is an atheist worshipping himself and his views with the
same irrational certainty of which he accuses believers?
Another ironic observation: The Declaration of Independence
opens up with these words “We hold these truths to
be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This declaration, based on the belief in the Creator, guarantees
the right of every person, including an atheist, to choose
not to believe in G-d.
So here’s the big question: Would an atheistic declaration
allow believers to choose faith in G-d? In other words:
If atheism is true, and there is no Creator that endowed
us all with equal unalienable rights, who says that we are
all equal? Maybe some of us are more equal than others,
as the monarchs believed. Indeed, as Solicitor General Theodore
B. Olson argued before the court, “under G-d” was one of
various “civic and ceremonial acknowledgments of the indisputable
historical fact that caused the framers of our Constitution
and the signers of the Declaration of Independence to say
that they had the right to revolt and start a new country.”
The framers believed “that G-d gave them the right to declare
their independence when the king has not been living up
to the unalienable principles given to them by G-d."
Thus the great irony: The king, had he so chosen, would
never have given a Dr. Newdow the time of day to argue the
case for atheism, let alone to practice it. Only believers
in G-d gave you that right.
True, throughout history we have witnessed the horrible
consequences of “authorities” imposing their
dogmatic “religious” views on others, to the
point of terrible persecution, killings and total intolerance.
But I submit that they are neither models of faith nor of
what it means to be a G-d fearing person. Just because someone
dons religious garb and the mantel of the clergy doesn’t
mean that he is truly G-dly. Cruelty, power, control and
demagoguery can take on many shapes and mantels.
This definitely does more than justify the fear many of
us have of state controlled religion and governments imposing
their beliefs on their citizens. Hence, the separation of
church and state in this country.
But the same founders that separated church and state –
and no one had to remind them of religious abuse –
are the same people who wrote, “We hold these truths
to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that
they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
Rights.” For them there was no contradiction, because
these words clearly state the idea of a universal Creator,
not a Christian, Muslim or Jewish G-d, but One Who created
us all, and endowed us with unalienable rights.
These rights include the right to choose no religion and
even to not believe. Yet, the very foundation of all choices
is based on belief in G-d. If there is no Creator Who created
us as equals, perhaps we are really not equals? Eliminate
that axiom and there is no guarantee that we each have the
power to choose.
The Founding Fathers and the framers of the Constitution
clearly meant that freedom of religion is precisely that:
freedom of religion, not from
This brings us to some thoughts on faith. What exactly
is faith? As stated above, no one can empirically prove
with absolute certainty that G-d exists. As we see daily,
that people can choose to question G-d’s existence.
Indeed, that is exactly how G-d created the universe. He
created an agnostic world, in which he concealed His presence
to the extent that we must struggle to discover Him.
The mystics explain this phenomenon with the Lurianic doctrine
of Tzimtzum. In some mysterious way G-d turned reality “inside
out.” He concealed His Divine light, His conscious
presence so as to allow “room” for an independent
entity to perceive its own independence, to the extent that
we humans feel that we are “where it’s at”
and G-d is “out there,” when in fact G-d is
“reality” “where’s it’s at”
and we are the newcomers.
Hence, faith. True faith is not some blind childish acceptance
of irrational beliefs. Faith is a sophisticated tool that
works hand in hand with logic and reason. It is the recognition
that intellectual inquiry leads one to the conclusion that
reality is more than just the mere sum total of the human
mind. Reason leads us to a “door” that the “bigger
picture” encompasses much more than reason and beyond
reason. Faith is the way we enter that door.
With the exodus from Egypt human history had its first
collective dosage of faith. An entire nation was enslaved
by another. They were brutally oppressed and dehumanized.
They were then freed. This freedom was a demonstration that
there is a force in life that is more powerful than human
injustice, and when that force prevails, justice is served.
If humans were the only controlling force in existence justice
would have no guarantee of being served. After all, humans
can be the cruelest to one another.
As one Holocaust survivor stated, when asked by an atheist
how he can believe in G-d after experiencing G-d’s
silence? The survivor replied: If anything, the Holocaust
taught us how we no longer can believe in man, and our only
hope is to rely on G-d.
Thus, the opening of the Ten Commandments: “I am
your G-d that took you out of Egypt.” All the morality
in the following Commandments, which is the basis of all
civilization, is built upon the first statement that G-d
personally intervenes and can free us from the “Egypt”
in our lives. Murder, theft and all forms of immorality
have no foundation to stand on if there is no absolute authority
that dictates these laws. Take away G-d from the picture
and we are left with moral relativism.
The Declaration of Independence actually mirrors the Ten
Commandments in the sense that it too opens up with a an
axiomatic statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by
their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” upon
which is built all the rights and freedoms that follow.
This is all part of faith – the faith that was born
in the exodus of Egypt and is revisited and nourished each
year in the holiday of Passover.
And it is precisely this faith that so absolutely recognizes
the dignity of human beings and his or her sacred right
to free will, that it allows a person to choose to be an
atheist, as irrational as it may be!
Dr. Newdow told the justices, “I am saying I as her
father have a right to know that when she goes into the
public schools she's not going to be told every morning
to stand up, put her hand over her heart, and say your father
is wrong, which is what she's told every morning. Government
is doing this to my child. They're putting her in a milieu
where she says, ‘Hey, the government is saying that
there is a G-d and my dad says no,’ and that's an
injury to me.”
Dear doctor, is it at all possible that you may be wrong
and G-d does actually exist? And if so, is your injured
ego more important than your daughter’s pursuit of
truth? Are you perhaps taking yourself too seriously, just
as you accuse believers of?
I will concede one thing to atheists. People representing
“religion” have given you many good reasons
to reject G-d. Even how some dogmatic individuals present
the Pledge of Allegiance gives good cause to reject its
reference to G-d.
But don’t allow other people’s distortions to get in your
way of finding the truth.
This perhaps is the cruelest thing that we humans can do
to each other: Distort our attitudes and disfigure our impressions
toward G-d, truth and reality.
But after all is said and done, our journey goes on. All
of us – believers, agnostics and atheists –
share the most sacred journey of all: our search for G-d.
Hold on to the search. Never give up. That is the