Over the last week I’ve had an interesting conversation in the comment thread to Frum Satire’s post, Is the Torah outdated and irrelevant? I’ve found myself in a debate over the existence of God, arguing for the unlikelihood of His existence. Frum Satire’s blog is an interesting place to have conversations like these because he draws a diverse group of people, who range from strong believers to atheists and from educated intellectuals to… those who are not so intellectual.
I have to ask myself, why do I do this? Part of the answer is because it’s fun. I enjoy debating (especially winning). Part of it is that such conversations force me to think about other points of view and to articulate my own beliefs, which leads me to a better understanding of issues surrounding religion. But I had to ask myself: could part of it be the zealotry of a recent convert?
I’ve been a skeptic for as long as I can remember, always insisting that what I learned in school make logical sense. I’ve always tried to relate what I learned to the real world, and thought about the practical implications of the various things my rabbeim would teach me. I’ve had serious doubts about religion and God since I was sixteen. Yet I’ve always had this hazy notion in the back of my head that God was out there. There were a few arguments for the existence of God that I had heard as a teenager, thought were pretty good, and never really let myself examine. Everyone around me didn’t have any doubts. I couldn’t deny the basis of my culture. And yet, I remember writing papers in college for a writing class where I discussed arguments for various religions and concluded that Hashem was the Creator of the universe and Judasim was the One True Religion. And I didn’t buy it. (The professor, a frum woman, loved it. I got an “A” in that class.)
It wasn’t until I discovered the blogosphere that I realized I wasn’t unique, that there were other people out there who agreed with me, and that it was okay to think the way I did. I found myself drawn to the blogs of fellow skeptics, both those who had left the frum lifestyle and those who, like me, continue to live in the frum community. We all love to hear opinions that confirm our own, and I was eating it up. Very quickly, I came to identify myself as a skeptic and even as an atheist. All this within the last couple of years.
So while the skeptical mode of thought is not new to me, my interest in science, logic, history, and theology are not new, my self-identification as a skeptic is new. And maybe, just maybe, part of why I’m drawn to theological debates is a compulsion to defend my new identity.