The eight-day Jewish festival, which began at nightfall yesterday, is also known as the festival of lights, or the Feast of Dedication. It commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem and rededication of the Second Temple at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt.
As a child growing up in a relatively “strict” Roman Catholic family, I recall all the “Christmas” cards we received during December. Mom used them to decorate our home. I recall many of the cards wishing us Happy Holidays and Happy Hanukkah. This was from the late 1940’s through the 1960s.
While I attended a Catholic parochial elementary school, I also recall saying “Happy Hanukkah” and playing with dreidels (or similar toys). A dreidel is a four-sided top bearing Hebrew letters. I ate some Jewish foods (year-round) and drank sweet kosher wine, but I did not learn the full meanings and traditions until years later.
When my children were growing up, they (and we) had Jewish family friends. During the holiday season one Jewish friend went to our children’s public schools and explained the Hanukkah festival. During the eight-day festival, my children spent many evenings at their friend’s home learning about Jewish traditions, eating the special foods, and participating in lighting the nine light menorahs (Chanukiah).
While Hanukkah is a minor Jewish religious holiday, for me it is full of happy (and a few sad) memories, and I ponder the possibilities. One more time, Happy Everything, Everyone.
Look both ways to learn the stories our friends and neighbors have to share.
Mind the gaps because no two are exactly alike.
Last Monday evening, I attended a community forum panel discussion about “does god answer prayers?” I wanted to hear what the atheist member of the panel said.
Panel members included:
1. A retired Presbyterian minister,
2. A female Jewish Rabbi (this lady),
3. A Messianic Jewish Rabbi/pastor (this guy), [Note: Messianic Jews are Jews for Jesus and are not recognized as Jewish.]
4. I didn’t hear the word atheist said all evening, even during the moderator’s intro of him. He authored this.
I would say the panel was a representation of the religious minorities in this community. Most people in this county are Nones in that they claim no specific religious group, but few are atheist. Other than that, most others are Christians: Evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and Baptists.
The atheist, retired minister, and moderator were all board members of the Community Forum which sponsored the event. That explains the atheist’s presence on the panel.
It would have been a better panel if it had included a Baptist or Evangelical Protestant, a Catholic, and no atheist or ‘Jews for Jesus’. I think that would have better represented the religious demographic of the overall community.
The three panel members who were religious ministers agreed that god answers prayers. If there were 100 of them, they would all have agreed.
However, having an atheist on the panel may have contributed to attendance. He was why I attended. People enjoy controversy, which was obviously avoided at the cost of quality.
The moderator said that this was the best-attended of the forums thus far. I counted slightly more than 100 attendees.
I felt disappointed with the atheist, an older PhD dude, who said, “God does not answer prayers.” Said like that left too much wiggle room for existence. Gods don’t answer prayers if gods don’t exist.
He offered empirical research evidence, which he said proved that god did not answer prayers. He did a good job of staying on topic and not offending anyone, but that should not have been his goal. The research evidence he mentioned proved nothing, much less the negative (not answer prayer) he proposed.
The Messianic Jewish Rabbi spoke in typical bible-belt, fundamentalist rhetoric. At one point he said that he would make a poor Southern Baptist because he occasionally enjoyed alcohol. I thought that if he removed his little cap and told me he was Baptist, I’d believe him.
His evidence of god answering prayers was that someone with stage IV cancer was cured with prayer. The pastor did not give a name or say if any medical intervention occurred. He also cited Chick-fil-A as further evidence. He said it was the top selling fast food business despite being closed on Sundays, but he was wrong.
The eat mor chickin business is currently reported as 7th in the fast food store sales behind Micky D’s (#1), Starbucks (#2) and four others. While Starbucks is a lightning rod for religious criticism of everything from their holiday coffee cup designs to the occasional idiot store manager, they are doing ok. Number 8 is currently Dunkin’ Donuts, another coffee empire.
The Presbyterian could cure insomnia. He said the amount of faith one has contributes to the likelihood of a prayer being answered. This idea of needing strong faith to be good enough for god translates to god plays favorites.
When the real Jewish Rabbi and Cantor stood up, she did the best of the four, despite (or maybe because of) frequently wandering off topic. Once she had to ask the moderator to repeat the question she was answering.
She wore a stiff, black, sequined, kippah or yarmulke that stood-out in her abundant bright blonde hair. Her floor length, straight, black dress with long sleeves was attractive, but in good taste and appropriate for a person of her position.
Bar none and by far, she was the most attractive Rabbi, or Cantor, I have ever seen. Her focus was more on style of, and reason for, prayer. She did not present arguments about whether god answers prayers, which she seemed to take for granted.
She favored chanting or singing of prayers in the original language (Hebrew in her case), a proposal I support over the random, impromptu wanderings of many long-winded lapses of reality proffered by Evangelicals and Baptists.
While there was potential for interest, the vanilla, shallow, and predictable comments of panel members were disappointing. Maybe the community forum should pray for enlightenment and better clerical participation in similar future endeavors.
Look both ways and reflect on what is real. Mind the gap.
I was asked a good question. This is my response, which is based on my religious views and my personal version of atheism. I cannot speak for any other atheists. The person asking was sincerely curious.
I don’t like the word atheist, but I know none better. So, I’ll roll with it. We have varying concepts and definitions of what an atheist is and what one believes or should think. That’s why I’m writing this explanation. Those differences aren’t going to change soon.
I was asked because I had linked to a song in last week’s blog on questions. The song was Spirit in The Sky by Norman Greenbaum. (Linked again here.) It’s tied to my answer to “What happens after we die?” (Answer: I don’t know.)
I enjoy spiritual music and I’ve liked this song since first hearing it in the 70s. It’s uplifting and has a lot of hand-clapping and singing about what happens following human death. All of that is good, based on the song. However, there’s a condition.
The lyrics say I “gotta have” a friend to intervene for me if I plan to make a deal with the spirit in the sky.
Prepare yourself you know it’s a must Gotta have a friend in Jesus So you know that when you die
He’s gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
Never been a sinner I never sinned I got a friend in Jesus So you know that when I die
He’s gonna set me up with
The spirit in the sky
My friend asked, “How does being a friend of Jesus resonate with an atheist?”
Resonate means “to attach particular meaning or importance for someone, or to affect or appeal to someone in a personal or emotional way.”
I can’t say that Jesus or an afterlife resonate with me. My personal belief is that when we’re dead, we are simply dead and gone. There are no fires, no trials, no judgements, no hooking up again with the old bod – it’s simply over. If there is more to it, as with my answer to the question, I’ll have to wait to find out. I’m in no rush to learn the answer.
To be clear: I am an atheist, Norm Greenbaum is a Jew, Jesus (actually Yeshua) was also a Jew.
Now, consider these three points of view.
Atheists do not believe in any gods. Any belief in a historical Jesus is personal. And for an atheist, that is only a belief that the man existed. Any opinion or judgement of that man is also a personal opinion.
Most observant Jews (that I know of) do not believe that Jesus was the messiah, or is God. Yet, one of them wrote and sang this song – Norm Greenbaum.
Christians seem to believe Jesus was the messiah prophesied in scripture for the Jews. They also seem to believe that Jesus was, or is, the Son of God. Thus, as the second person of a holy trinity, also God. But, this is about me, not Christianity.
Notice anything? I never said that Jesus never existed. I never said he was not a nice guy, or a great religious prophet and leader, or a Jewish Rabbi. Simply not believing that someone is a god isn’t as negative as some folks may think.
Jesus also allegedly said and did a lot of cool things that I, and many other atheists, do agree with. Whether Jesus existed or not, I’m not, and never have been, anti-Jesus just because I don’t think he or anyone else is a god.
Besides, if Richard Dawkins supports Jesus’s philosophy (contrary to what many Christians may think), I certainly feel comfortable plugging songs that may include the name of Jesus.
I’ll not dismiss music simply because it uses his name, is religious in nature, or invokes any other god. I may for other reasons.
Here is another great Jesus song I like: ‘Jesus is Just Alright,’ covered most famously by the Doobie Brothers in the early 70s. It’s not much for lyrics, but was an upbeat hit.
I neither hate nor love Jesus. I accept that he probably lived about 2,000 years ago and he may have been one of the world’s first hippies (something I like). If so, I also think he is long dead.
May we unite in love and friendship. Let’s end dividing into tribes and against each other. Would Jesus want us to join our humanity together with peace and love in our hearts? May we acknowledge what we need from, and share with, each other. And, let each of us also be true to ourselves.