In a Pew Forum survey released Tuesday, atheists and agnostic surpass all other groups in their knowledge of religion. How do you explain this? Educational level? That they have given more consideration to the religions they have rejected?
Is knowledge of religion important? Why?
The Daily Show host Jon Stewart (born Jonathan Leibowitz) recently revealed to great laughs that the actual meaning of Sukkot is “how many holidays can Jews fit into one month.” While a comedian, Stewart’s words are often accorded journalistic integrity. In this case, after articles in both the New York and LA Times scorning Israel’s UN delegation for not attending a speech by president Obama which occurred on Sukkot, a well known commentator on Middle East affairs actually referenced Stewart’s joke as evidence of the absence’s sinister meaning. It was a frivolous political gesture, these observers reasoned. After all, Sukkot is not a real holiday, right?
Wrong. Sukkot is one on the major Jewish holidays in a cycle, as Stewart’s joke implies, of major events that start the Jewish New Year. In fact, Sukkot is one of only three holidays mentioned in the Torah mandating Jews to visit the Temple in Jerusalem.
Stewart’s brand of ignorance is not only commonplace in our society, it is elevated to the position of hilariousness and special insight.
To be fair, active atheists and agnostics like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris (both of Jewish descent) present in fact quite the opposite of Jon Stewarts antics, indeed taking their studies of G-d very seriously. Both have devoted their lives, careers and all of their intellectual might to pondering the questions of our prophets and sages from Abraham on, namely: What is the nature of G-d and His relationship to humans? Atheists make a case against G-d (though surely would find it a bit odd to argue that the fully assembled car in their driveway had no designer). These writers can even do religion a service by bringing the G-d conversation to Americans that is lost as so many abandon their houses of worship and lives centered on divine principles.
It’s up to religious leaders to educate the people who claim attachment to their faith, and even, especially, apostates should know exactly what they are rejecting.
And just to give Jon Stewart the (yarmulka covered) heads up: As of this writing there are still two days left of Sukkot and, even more, we still pack in another festivity; Simchat Torah, which is 1) a major holiday and 2) not just an excuse to drink and dance. Simchat Torah is rather our yearly excuse to drink and dance with the our Holy Scroll, celebrating another cycle of its unbroken reading by Jews all over the world.