Rachel Silberstein explores the philosophy of David Silverman, president of American Atheists, who argues that one can’t be a Jew and an atheist at the same time:
The late Christopher Hitchens once observed that a great number of the most influential atheists throughout history, from Marx to Einstein, were Jews: “I think it’s a Jewish duty, since the curse of monotheism was first inflicted on us by the Jewish people,” he told Jeffrey Goldberg in one of his final interviews. “It’s very good that it should be repudiated by them to a great extent.” Silverman disagrees, but only slightly. “He used the word wrong,” he said. “They are not Jews, they are children of Jews. Just as I am not a Jew, I am a child of Jews.”
This is the conclusion Silverman came to over the past two years while writing his new book, I, Atheist: America’s Loudest Heathen Fires Back. … Previously outspoken about the compatibility of cultural Judaism and atheism, Silverman found that, in trying to write his chapter on Jewish atheism, he … ultimately concluded that Judaism is, at its heart, a religion—one that is incompatible with atheism. He notes that much of what is defined as Jewish culture, such as music or food, is simply Judaism-the-religion “taking credit” for a geographically specific regional culture—Ashkenazic culture primarily being simply Eastern European, for instance. The only thing world Jewry has in common is the Torah, he says, and as a religious doctrine, the Torah cannot be reconciled with atheistic values. “I see Judaism more malevolently than I used to,” he said. “Judaism is no better than any other religion.” And so, the man who was once America’s most prominent Jewish atheist now says he is no longer a Jew.