“It’s courageous to choose the truth, even if it means abandoning what you know”: a Jewish woman becomes an atheist at ninety

June 20, 2016 • 10:00 am

As 90-year-old Razie notes in this entertaining documentary, “Bacon & God’s Wrath”, her deconversion from Judaism began with her foray onto the Internet, seeking recipes. When she began typing things into the Google search box, the Big Changes Began. (See the video by clicking the screenshot below, which takes you to a New Yorker piece containing the whole 9-minute film and some commentary.) Razie explains:

“That feeling of connectedness. . .i t was more than I ever got from going to synagogue! Well, as you can imagine, it was the first step on a slippery slope, and I went very quickly from Julia Childs [sic] to Christopher Hitchens. It soon became very difficult for me to believe such incredible nonsense any more.”

Chalk up another convert for the Hitch, despite his so-called stridency. She continues:

“What you’re filming now. . .is a symbolic advancement of reason over faith. Now and then I hear people say that it takes courage to be faithful! But there’s nothing courageous about it. Faith is belief without evidence. It comes from Iron Age superstitions: our fear of the dark. But we know better now. It’s courageous to choose the truth, even if it means abandoning what you know.”

Later in the film, Razie converses with a pig’s head (below) and, in a symbolic gesture of freedom at the end, tries bacon for the first time in her life (click below). Her reaction is amusing.

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 6.52.39 PM

UPDATE: I’m sorry some viewers couldn’t see the New Yorker embed. But I’ve now found it on YouTube, so everyone should be able to see it:

The documentary is by the Canadian filmmaker Sol Friedman, and the short New Yorker essay about the film is by Joshua Rothman, himself an atheist. Sadly, Rothman’s take on the movie undercuts its message, but what else do you expect from the faith-coddling New Yorker?:

. . . the title also contains, at least for me, a hint of sadness. Religious faith is a consolation; if you trade it in for bacon, have you made a good trade? I’m an atheist, and I think I would give up bacon in exchange for the conviction that the universe has a purpose. Razie, of course, hasn’t traded belief for bacon; she has traded it for the freedom to follow her own conscience, to do and think as she sees fit. These, the film seems to say, are the signs by which we communicate, to others and ourselves, our ideas about the fundamental questions of existence. Look how small they are!

I wouldn’t give up bacon, or nonbelief, for some phony conviction; the fact is that there’s not a scintilla of evidence that the Universe has a purpose. “Purpose,” of course, implies a Planning Mind, and what Rothman expresses is what many believers would like athiests to feel: a profound sense of loss at not having a god. But Razie has no sense of loss, just an ebullience at embracing the truth, combined with a lingering feeling that she just may have lost Pascal’s Wager. But she forges ahead bravely, showing us that it’s never too late to embrace reason.

I’m not sure what Rothman means about the fundamental questions of existence being “small.” The meaningful questions of existence, which include inquiries about evolution and The Big Bang, are certainly not small, and I for one, felt no loss as the idea of God vanished when I was sixteen.

h/t: Hempenstein

50 thoughts on ““It’s courageous to choose the truth, even if it means abandoning what you know”: a Jewish woman becomes an atheist at ninety

  1. I don’t think even The Onion could come up with something like – Jewish woman converts from Judaism to Atheism aged 90 after conversing with a severed pig’s head and trying bacon.
    I’m giggling 🙂

    1. This is true. It’s quite telling, I think, that the Onion frequently gets blown out of the water by an assault from real news events.

      1. Early in his career, Philip Roth wrote a famous essay for Commentary magazine saying that he had given up on writing realistic social fiction — fiction in the manner of Dickens and Thackeray, of Balzac and Zola — for this same reason: that the bizarre current events streaming through modern life far outstrip a novelist’s meager imaginative repertoire.

    2. Maybe but I have the utmost admiration for the organization that pretty much scooped Edward Snowden with this:

  2. There’s an analog to Clarke’s First Law at play here:

    When a distinguished but elderly Jewish lady undergoes a deconversion experience, she is almost certainly right. When she embraces religion, she is very probably wrong.

    A slippery slope from Julia Child to Christopher Hitchens — Hitch would’ve gotten a good belly laugh out of that one, no doubt. I know I did.

    1. Video would not play in NZ either – I’m very disappointed. I’d love to have seen it.

      And like Jerry I’m disgusted with the idea of the writer that he’d give up bacon for certainty about heaven or whatever. As he (our host) says, that’s exactly the image the religious have of atheists – I’ve been having that debate with one on my website for the last few days – and we can do without atheists who suck up to the deluded to get their articles published.

      1. Thanks Jerry – they’ve fixed that one so NZ can’t see it too! I guess they don’t want to risk influencing the 3 or 4 90-year-old Jewish women in NZ!

  3. Despite all the hubris mired antagonism directed at New Atheists, they are one of the chief inspirations to follow science and reason in our society.

    I feel only immense pride for being apart of this existence when I hear Hitchens or Dawkins speak directly to the point that scientific discoveries and the pursuit of rigorous thought are what make a meaningful life.

    1. There is a hilarious part in Stephen King’s novel Dreamcatcher (not one of his better novels btw) where the alien creature who possesses one of the characters eats bacon for the first time. After the experience, the alien had second thoughts about wanting to destroy the earth because then no bacon!

      1. If the Middle East would partake en masse, a lot of problems might disappear, too.

        And if that happened, we might rightly regard the pig as Our Savior (at least of the moment).

        And from that we could find that Ambrose Bierce was more spot-on than he thought. (See here, under Piety, last line.)

  4. I gave up bacon, but only because I gave up meat in general. The stuff is quite tasty.

    (Confirmed a couple of months ago when I ordered a salad without bacon but it came with it anyway. Rather than send it back to be thrown out, which would have defeated my reasoning anyway, I ate it. It was very good.)

    1. Well done. When I was a vegetarian and previously vegan, I did the same thing. No point in fussing and/or wasting. It is funny how I am a normal eater now and yet I still only eat meat about two or three times a month and almost never at restaurants.

    2. A couple of years ago I went into a bakery and bought what I thought was an orange cranberry scone. Turned out to be a cheese and bacon scone. I ate it anyway, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it.

  5. If the purpose of the universe is to deny me bacon I am happy to have no conviction of such a purpose.

  6. Chalk up another convert for the Hitch, despite his so-called stridency.

    “despite” is the new “because” ?

    1. It’s a reference to those who say the “stridency” of New Atheists does not convince anyone, we just drive people away from atheism. Apparently never mentioning our lack of belief unless asked works better. I say to that: if they don’t know you’re an atheist, how do they know to ask?

      1. I recognised the reference. Someone, somewhere (newspaper, TV breakfast trash, somewhere) dragged out the old saying that “Orange is the New Black” as if it were some pop culture reference, so I thought it might be appropriate.

        if they don’t know you’re an atheist, how do they know to ask?

        Why, in a rational world, would anyone believe that Joe Randomised Sixpack was anything but an atheist.
        Just a second – I checked the bottom of my coffee cup – it doesn’t guarantee that we actually live in a rational world. Damn – that one always gets me. And there I was taking political advice from cats earlier.

  7. I understand there is a seaweed that tastes like bacon.

    Isaac Asimov wrote about a future in which all food is made from genetically engineered fungus. He also wrote a comic story which strongly hints that such engineered products will be inferior to the original.

    Is fungus vegetarian? Vegan?

  8. I’m an atheist, and I think I would give up bacon in exchange for the conviction that the universe has a purpose.

    The Game Of Thrones universe has a purpose, but I don’t think I’d give up bacon to be a villager in Westeros during the War of the Five Kings.

  9. “Religious faith is a consolation; if you trade it in for bacon, have you made a good trade?”

    Seriously? Bacon vs consolation? No contest.

    “Life is hard. But, there’s bacon. Then you die. Then they throw dirt on your face. But that’s OK, because there was bacon.”

    1. Religious faith is a consolation; if you trade it in for bacon, have you made a good trade?

      Oh, yes! Bacon. And ribs. And pork chops. And ham sandwiches.

      Heaven may hate ham, but I don’t!

      1. I look at it a little differently. In a universe where Heaven existed, there would be bacon there, because how could it be Heaven otherwise? Now K. Ham, that would be a porcine of an entirely different colour.

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