Uri Misgav
Haaretz (Opinion)
January 31, 2012 - 1:00am

According to John Lennon, "God is a concept by which we measure our pain." That means that Israel is apparently a nation in great pain. According to a sensational survey by the Guttman Center, 80 percent of Israeli Jews believe in God. Ostensibly this is a harsh statistic. Gideon Levy's heartfelt moan, as expressed in his opinion piece "God have mercy on us," which appeared in this newspaper earlier this week, is understandable.

But there are extenuating circumstances. Israelis have never been offered an ideological alternative in an orderly and consistent manner. People with good intentions have confused them with discussions of "secularism," "religious coercion" and the "status quo," thereby restricting discourse to matters of lifestyle. Nobody bothered to explain to them simply that there is no God. In the Western world, atheism is a living and vigorous concept, a worldview. In Israel, it is a private experience.

We also have to factor in the existential confusion created by Zionism. The Jewish nation is the only one in the world defined by religion. We can't expect the average Jewish Israeli to pave his way independently through the maze of identities, and to understand whether and how it is even possible to belong to the Jewish people and the Jewish state without believing in the Jewish religion.

In national terms, Levy did a good job of pointing to the truly disturbing statistic in the survey - 70 percent of those polled seriously believe the Jews are the "Chosen People." He rightly derived the far-reaching political meaning of that fact. But what is disturbing about those who believe in the theory of the Chosen People is the fear that they are not particularly smart. It's not only the infantile theological level that a Western person is capable of reaching even today, but also the strange disregard of the Holocaust and its religious implications. The methodical and efficient murder of six million Jews should at least have constituted a challenge to this arrogant belief in "You have chosen us."

But believing Israelis choose to repress that - selective repression, of course. After all, this is the same Holocaust whose memory - 98 percent of them are convinced - should be the country's leading principle, as explained by Merav Michaeli in her opinion piece "Our never-ending Holocaust," on Monday in this newspaper.

The question remains as to what should be done in this depressing ideological situation. Surprisingly, there's an answer to the question. Not a particularly complicated one. Even the Jewish genius that invents new ideas for us can take a break this time. This answer has already been tried out successfully in leading Western countries: separation. Religion in one place - in private homes and places of worship - and the state in another.

America is a very religious nation. And many Germans and Frenchmen believe in God, too. But they don't involve Him in the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Large numbers of Israelis are convinced that black cats bring bad luck, or have an extreme emotional attachment to their soccer team. They don't dream of passing regulations that will require spitting on the sidewalk each time a black cat crosses it, and don't expect their personal identification with Hapoel or Beitar to be embraced by everyone.

But the vast majority of Israelis consider it logical to organize the entire life cycle - marriage, divorce, military service, diet, transportation, burial - according to comprehensive religious regulations, without any possibility of choice.

This religious steamroller, which is financed and operated by the state, constantly subverts its sovereign and democratic foundations, and meanwhile is really channeling it into belligerent and ethnocentric ultra-nationalism.

"In the beginning, man created faith, a different god for each country," Eviatar Banai once sang. "I don't believe that peace will come as long as God is on television every night." A few years later, he became religious. Here you have the story of self-defeating Israeliness in a nutshell.


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