How to Be a Better Atheist
By rejecting Maimonides’ God, ‘New Yorker’ writer says
One of the difficulties of being an atheist is that the task of explaining just what it is one doesn’t believe in requires, to some degree, an idea of what God might be like, if one did believe in a Supreme Being. In this week’s New Yorker, James Wood examines the question of whether the recent crop of public atheists (Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens among them) have rejected a “cheaply understood” God who is, among other things, “not very Judaic, or very philosophical.” Wood slices through the new book by the Marxist Catholic literary theorist Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, which argues that the new atheists ought to stop and consider the ethereal, Judaic God described by none other than Maimonides. It’s a deity indescribable by human attributes, “not neurotically possessive of us,” a provider of the power to be our best selves. Which Wood says might be fine, except that Christianity kind of depends on Jesus—and believers like the idea, as Joan Osbourne put it, of imagining God as one of us. So how to be a good atheist? Woods offers up a religious approach he calls “disappointed belief.” “Such atheism, only a semitone from faith,” he writes, “would be, like musical dissonance, the more acute for its proximity.” That, of course, is something the vast tribe of two-day-a-year-plus-Seder Jews can swallow—literally.
God in the Quad [New Yorker; subscription only]
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.