• Godless thinking

    by David Weinshilboum

    I don’t believe in God. I just don’t.

    I’m not coming to your door to proselytize. I am not saying that my belief is any better than yours. Goodness knows I’m not going to file a lawsuit to redact the term “God” from the Pledge of Allegiance or currency. I’m just letting you know what I think.

    When I was younger, I had no qualms about revealing my atheism to others. A few times, I received raised eyebrows. Once I got a loud retort of “REALLY!!?” — a response two parts exclamation and one part query. My favorite response was, “Not even agnostic?” I had to acknowledge that, no, I wasn’t even hedging my bets.

    Regardless of what was said, virtually all of the responses I received carried the following subtext: You are different.

    I get that. I am different. Unlike 92 percent of Americans, I don’t pray. Hell is nothing more than a metaphor — a metaphor that usually means I have a late-afternoon meeting with administrators. My Sunday mornings are wide open. What happens after death doesn’t influence my worldly decisions.

    These differences are significant. Polls in recent years have shown that the average American doesn’t trust atheists and don’t want one as president. Aware of these facts, I’ve played my godlessness close to the vest in recent years.

    But really, why should I? I’m not all that different from my spiritual counterparts.

    My lack of belief is rooted in my youth. My mother was a devout atheist. She arrived in America from China at the age of 16. The people with whom she lived performed a fire-and-brimstone hard-sell of religion on her. My mother rejected it. Big time.

    My father, always the pragmatist, viewed his Judaism as his heritage as much as a religion. Put it this way: While I grew up, the only things kosher in our fridge were hot dogs because they simply tasted better than their non-kosher counterparts.

    Per my father, I attended temple. My skeptic ways — learned from both parents — infiltrated my Sunday-school experiences. When a rather conservative instructor at the synagogue informed my 11-year-old self that Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer were dangerous symbols of a Christian-dominated society, I demurred.

    I will never forget when the instructor barked, “There’s no way to avoid these evil symbols of Christianity. They’re on television. They’re in the malls!”
    My response: “Why not shop less and turn off the TV?”

    The actions and words of the more conservative Jews in the synagogue seemed to stick with me the longest. In fact, according to Jewish Orthodoxy, my non-Jewish mother precluded me from being a “true Jew.” Needless to say, this highly starched brand of religion wasn’t terribly appealing to me.

    But here’s the thing — just because I don’t believe in god doesn’t mean I’m a soulless heathen who does whatever he wants. You’re mistaking me for Charlie Sheen. And some people do mistake me for Charlie — if a conversation I had not too long ago is any indication.

    The man was highly educated, on his way to a doctoral degree. Our discussion was lighthearted. The talk shifted to our pasts. I happened to mention that my mother was an atheist and my father was Jewish — more in terms of heritage than religion. After a few minutes of banter, this man looked at me in all seriousness and said, “So what was it like to grow up in a household devoid of morals?”

    I did a double-take. I searched his face, seeking out some hint that his words were a ruse.

    The man was not joking.

    “Whoa, whoa whoa,” I said. “Devoid of morals?!” (Two parts exclamation, one part query.) I informed him that godlessness did not mean rudderless or without morals, that my parents raised me properly, thank you very much. He backtracked. I seethed.

    I only hope that this man’s Philistine thinking is not representative of the larger populace. My parents’ upbringing should in no way be challenged. My father believes. My mother doesn’t. And guess what? They were both fantastic parents who raised me well. They believed — and continue to believe — in the importance of family. They believe that — hell or no hell — you should conduct yourself honorably, without unduly hurting or marginalizing others. The ethical system that I learned is just as valid as morality that might stem from Christ, Vishnu, Allah or any other god.

    Even as one who is without god, I still hold myself to high expectations. When I shave, I look in the mirror and see if I can live with the face staring back at me. Some days that face is easier to live with than others. Some days I wish that I had treated my friends and family better; other days I wish I had handled a tough situation at work with more grace.

    You see, I might be without god, but I remain full of belief — belief in my friends to help me become a better person, belief in my family to accept me even in my most human of moments — and belief in society to view my atheism as but a mere fraction of who I am.

    David Weinshilboum, who might redefine his atheism as “extreme Unitarianism,” can be contacted at weinshd@crc.losrios.edu.

    • David, I could have written this as well. But both my parents were Jewish and I was raised Jewish but as soon as I was able (teenager) I gave up religion. I became more spiritual and believe in all the goodness of nature-just not god. Loved your article today.

    • Me too.

      • Carolyn Wyler

      • June 24, 2012 at 5:44 pm
      • Reply

      You’re an atheist? That explains a lot, er uh wait no it doesn’t. ; ) You are an incredible kind, considerate family loving person. Loved this, I’m working on a piece that weighs the pros and cons of being a theist vs an atheist. ( If you see it in a couple of weeks I didn’t really steal your idea cause I’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks.) Just taking me awhile due to overtime at work.

      Glad you’ve been such a part of my son’s life for so long.


      • Tammi Kolesinski

      • June 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm
      • Reply

      I can’t believe this educated person called you devoid of morals. Wow.
      As an athiest, people have referred to me as a devil worshiper and that cracks me up. It makes me want to do devil horns with my fingers and chase them down the street yelling boogedy boogedy, haha.
      Live and let live, for sure.

      • John Rooks

      • June 24, 2012 at 9:20 pm
      • Reply

      Great piece I really enjoyed it!

      • Ana

      • June 24, 2012 at 9:34 pm
      • Reply


      • Weinshilboum

      • June 24, 2012 at 11:28 pm
      • Reply

      @Madgew: Glad you found your own way–it sounds rather Spinozan!
      @Carolyn: Thank you so much for the kind words; there’s no doubt that, while I do not invest in god, I have a great deal of belief in my friends and family, and goodness knows that I draw strength from my relationship with your son. (Also, looking forward to *your* thoughts on theism & atheism!)
      @ Donald & Ana: 🙂

      • Jodi

      • June 24, 2012 at 11:49 pm
      • Reply

      I will pray for you.

      Just kidding! 😉

      I would like to hear more about this “extreme Unitarianism” you speak of. Let’s start our own church. I think it’s a tax write-off.

    • As usual David, your writing is “right on!” Eww, that pun was so stciky I need to go wash my hands beofre I continue typo-ing. I totally get the concept of “coming out” as an atheist, and then stepping back to observe the “shock and awe.”

      I’ve been so “out” about nearly everything I am, do, or did that I’m rather immune to reactions and responses that don’t smell roses. And yes, I actually do think that reactions and responses can emit scents,aromas and stinky stuff.” But my latest “coming out” seems to be shaking the ground on which some of my “friends” stand.

      Are ya’ ready David? Are you ready readiing world? I am a believer. I am a person of faith. I even go to church–the DCC ( Davis Community Church )

      “Cathy Speck!? But she’s a lesbian! She’s an activist for gay marriage and LGBT equal rights! And her humor can be so irreverent, provocative and even raunchy!”

      Yup, I was raised strict Catholic, but left the church after I was told repeatedly that I was told that I could be a gay person,but could not
      enagage in “gey behavior.” What?! No leather chaps straddled across my Harley with my grrlfriend sitting snggly behind me with arms wrapped around my torso, support my free-ranging breasts. No going to WNBA games, and cruisng the lobby at halftime?

      You mean I can’t wear Birkenstocks, plaid flannel shirts or work boots?
      I can’t even watch the Ellen Degeneres Show, or God forbid, Glee? I’d rather die…Oh wait , I am dying. And that’s why I say:” i’ve learned so much about Love/God on my spiritual path, that I do not need to identify myself as Buddist, Sikh,Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Pagan, Hindu, Agnostic or Quaker. I am no longer Catholic, but some members of my family still are “pawns of the Pope.” Okay, that was snarky and necessary, and…I’m not deleting it.

      I don’t need a label, and I don’t need to give anyone else a label about their belief system. It doesn’t “bother me” that you say you’re an atheist. Nor do I tthink heterosexual marraiges are wrong.

      My wife Linda and I love you and your family–religion doesn’t change that fact.
      Your writing is excellent, and I miss reading it in The Davis Enterprise.
      Linda is looking at me, now with the LOOK: time for me to take a nap. And so I shall nap, hoping to dream like the late Rodney King said; Can’t we all
      just get along?”
      Love (and you now I mean it)

      • Weinshilboum

      • June 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm
      • Reply

      @Tammi: Devil worshiper? Really? It’s as if some people can’t help but assemble all the worst stereotypes about atheists and accept them as truths. I just hope that Charlie Sheen doesn’t come out as an atheist. I might be forced to go back in the closet!
      @Cathy: OMG that is the most incredibly hilarious and spot-on post I’ve read in awhile. Sorry, but I’ve got to label you: WRITER–in CAPS! 🙂
      @Jodi: I think you’re on to something. My people will get together with your people!
      @John: Thanks for reading. I promise we’ll reconnect for dinner soon.

      • Ken Welton

      • June 27, 2012 at 11:31 am
      • Reply

      I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about your piece.

      • Jesse

      • June 29, 2012 at 8:14 pm
      • Reply

      I share your faith. When I was dating and looking for a significant relationship, my main exclusion was that I wouldn’t date a Christian or a Republican. I just have found who wear religion on their sleeves are generally judgmental. I am maybe a little on the Wiccan side of life… I respect plants, nature and the environment. My kids have high morals and self respect, I help my neighbors… My husband is the finest human being I have ever known. I still love nature and celebrations of nature, but the whole fire and brimstone “Amway” presentation, just isn’t for me.
      I loved your editorial. Jesse

      • David

      • June 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm
      • Reply


    • There’s an old saying that Catholics make the best atheists. I have to concur somewhat, though I don’t even consider my atheism as a true belief. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that my religious ‘condition’ is actually that I have never been introduced to anything that I can remotely believe in. There certainly is no organized religion that can pass even the most basic litmus test in my book. If there really is God we should have some lovely conversations, he/she has a lot of ‘splaining to do. At the moment I am content with my place in the universe and constantly amazed by this gift of life and the wonders that surround me.

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