Be a Mensch, Be an Atheist

CiceroAccording to Michael Grant (wiki), “the influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language”. Yet I have never read Cicero and have barely heard of him. Though some consider “The Bible” to be great literature and necessary to truly understand Western Literature, what of Shakespeare, The Greek Myths, Plato and now Cicero. There is apparently so much to read in order to “truly” understand Western Literature, yet 90% of us morons (or more) get along just fine without it and novels keep getting written and absorbed.

Well, let me just quickly say something about Cicero, since I doubt you or I will probably ever read him. Apparently his works were rediscovered more than 1,000 years later by Petrarch (1304 CE – 1374 CE) who, under Cicero’s influence, is known as one of the first “humanists” and is credited with initiating the European Renaissance at that time. So Cicero has been a huge influence in theist-free thinking — freethought — atheism.

Indeed, the word “Humanism” was coined by Cicero (“humanitas“). In German, the word for “humanism” is “Menschlichkeit” which was absorbed by Yiddish (a German dialect used originally among Northern European Jews and thus mixes much Hebrew) and became “Mensch” which also simple means “person”.  It seems that Jews feel that being a person (a real person) is enough — or do they need the Torah?

Did you know that a huge percent of Jews consider themselves having “no religion”. Indeed, being “Atheist” and being “Jewish” are not incompatible among many Jews. See this Pew Report on Jewish Identity. “The Tablet” a fantastic Jewish web publication, just did a post entitled “Can you Be an Atheist and a Jew at the Same Time” David Silverman Says No.” Well, I will let others fight out their identity labels, but it clear that many Jews disagree with Silverman. Yet his influence is positive in helping people see behind the subtle and dangerous ideas snuck in on the coattails of both liberal Judaism and Liberal Christianity — not to mention with the conservatives.

Interestingly, as I went to read The Tablet, a plea for financial report popped up saying, “Be a Mensch [and support us]”. I love that phrase, because it is atheistic — it is a request to be a humanist, to be a good person and all that without any appeal to motivations by gods, demons, spirits, ancestors or the like. I felt it an irony to find Cicero’s atheism broadcasted loud and clear on a Jewish website with an article discussing being an Atheist Jew.




Filed under Philosophy & Religion

2 responses to “Be a Mensch, Be an Atheist

  1. Indeed, many outside of Judaism can’t think of “Jewish” without the religious baggage. The Humanists rabbi’s are addressing this quite well, i think; focusing on the “actual” history of the Jewish people, including their mercantile acumen and wisdom traditions.

  2. You should read Cicero, though. Maka is a hopeless fan and has many great articles on his thoughts and writings.

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