For some, God is surely a part of the universe. For others, belief in God wavers over the course of a lifetime. Many people believe that the question of God’s existence cannot be answered. And for some, God does not exist.
The question of God’s existence is one of faith, not one of proof. We cannot demonstrate with absolute certainty that God is out there. God has not appeared to me or to anyone I know. There are people out there who claim to have spoken to God, but in our modern day and age, we regard them with skepticism.
We will never be able to prove scientifically that God exists. Science tells us how many miles it is from the earth to the sun, or how long it takes for a ball to fall from a window to the ground. But no mathematical equation will ever demonstrate with certainty whether God is real. And no matter how advanced our science and technology becomes, we will never prove that God does not exist. Our world will always contain mysteries that even the most powerful science will not be able to explain, leaving a place for the Divine.
Even though we cannot prove that God exists, Judaism affirms the belief that God is real. So what happens if you do not believe in God? Can you be a member of a religion even if you are an atheist?
I know plenty of people who are Jews and atheists. They belong to a Temple, they celebrate the holidays and they do all of the Jewish things. They also do not believe in God.
What would Judaism be like without belief in God? Much of the religion would still be relevant. All of the ethnic elements of Judaism would remain the same. We would still eat the same Jewish food, and use the same Yiddish expressions. The synagogue would still have an important place in our lives. Temple becomes a community center, a place to meet friends, share our lives together and help one another through hard times.
It is even possible to study Judaism and the Bible without believing in God. Our holy books contain great ethical wisdom such as the oft-quoted line, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We can talk about morals and ethics without God.
It is possible to be Jewish and an atheist. Yet the person who closes him or herself off to God neglects much of what is good, beautiful and elevating in Judaism. Prayer devoid of God seems quite difficult. For some, prayer is a time to sit with your thoughts. That is a wonderful thing. But to pray is also to get in touch with our own humility and to realize that there is a power greater than us in this world. And this type of humility makes us better people. I fear those who lack a sense of their own limitations.
Belief in God also makes us more ethical. Of course it is possible to be a good person and not believe in God. But God gives authority to our moral values. The fact that God demands ethical behavior makes us more likely to do the right thing. Our conscience may one day tell us to do something good, the next day to follow our most base desires. Yet God demands constant ethical behavior.
Must you believe in God to be religious? Perhaps the answer is that we must keep trying to believe in God. Our task is to continue to search for that power or force or being in our lives and in the universe. To be a Jew means to always be searching for the divine and to never to give up on God.