My Exodus to Secular Humanism

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Adolf Gr[ddot{u}]nbaum

A native of Cologne, Germany, I was ten years of age when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Shortly afterward, I wondered how a purportedly omnibenevolent and omnipotent God could permit so much evil to exist in the world, throughout history and not just in the form of the ominous Nazi regime.

Reading some of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's essays soon disposed me toward atheism. And when I turned to Moses Maimonides's Guide of the Perplexed, my lingering hopes for finding a reasonable vindication of Jewish theism were harshly dashed; indeed I found that the title offered false advertising. Furthermore, whatever theodicies were known to me then as an answer to the problem of evil struck me as lame.

Thus, after World War II, I was not surprised when the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber and an array of well known orthodox rabbis (e.g., Lord Immanuel Jakobovitz, Chief Orthodox Rabbi of Great Britain) [1] offered theologically exculpatory explanations of the Holocaust that are either outrageous (Buber) or nothing less than obscene. [2] Suffice it to say here that Buber invokes the "eclipse of God" doctrine, according to which God unaccountably and irresponsibly goes into eclipse periodically, thereby turning his back on the doings of the world. Jakobovitz et al. regard the holocaust as deserved divine punishment of the Jews for departing from orthodoxy.

By age 13, when my BarMitzvah was due in 1936, I had become a full-fledged atheist. But, under the increasingly vicious Nazi government, it was imperative to show solidarity with the Jewish community in Cologne. Thus, it would have gravely embarrassed my parents and relatives if I had declined to go through with the Bar-Mitzvah, so I did. I should point out though that my attendance at a Conservative, non-Orthodox synagogue in Cologne (it was demolished during the infamous Kristallnacht in November 1938) exposed me to rabbinical sermons in which I first heard about the doctrines of a whole range of great philosophers. That exposure piqued my curiosity and led to my aspiration to become a professor of philosophy.

I have remained a lifelong atheist for two reasons: I do not know of any cogent argument for the existence of God, and I think there is telling evidence against it. As to the first reason, I find no merit at all, for example, in recent attempts to invoke the Big Bang cosmogony as a basis for divine creation of the universe. [3]

The intellectual history of the debate on the merits of theism leads me to believe that most of those who argue for it have antecedent psychological motives for wishing theism to be true. …