Israel: The Atheist’s Promised Land

When one thinks of Israel, what comes to mind?: the bible, religious conflict, Judaism, the Holy Land. I just got back from a week long business trip to Tel Aviv, and found the people of Israel to be very secular and free thinking.  Americans can learn from the Israelis about religious tolerance and keeping religion out of secular affairs.

This was my second trip there for work, with time set aside each trip for site seeing.  This trip I went to the Dead Sea and to the mountain top fortress of Masada.  I enjoy the country, the people, and the sites there.  Tel Aviv reminds me of urban San Diego, and the rural parts are like San Bernadino county.  I have been all over and around Jerusalem, the West Bank, and around Tel Aviv-Jaffo, and have never felt unsafe (except as a passenger in a car zig zagging through crazy traffic).

For a nation founded by and for the Chosen people, Israel is one of the most secular places I have been.  In fact according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics 42% of Jews identify as secular, and 55% of Arabs are not very or not at all religious.  Since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1947, the “status quo” proposed by David Ben-Gurion has been the norm.  This has not separated church and state, but has kept the religious political parties from pushing religion further into the political sphere.  Additionally, there is a constitutional freedom of thought and speech.

In two separate studies, atheism is very high in Israel: 15-37% of the Israel population identifies at non-religious (Cambridge University, 2005) and 25.6% are atheists in a survey by Greeley/Jagodzinski in 1991.

Compare this to a measly 3-9% non-believers in the United States. Israel is 4X more atheist than the US!?!

In the US, Politics are too frequently the battleground of the faithful, imposing their beliefs on to the masses via democracy.  There is not a secular-religious status quo in the US.  Altruism, censorship, forced sacrifice, proscription, warped science, and intolerance are the political platforms of the religious.  Though we have a constitutional separation of church and state, our brute force democracy often puts that into flux.

We all deserve our freedom of and from religion.  And of all places, Israel in the Middle-East can teach us about secularism.

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