How to Be an Atheist...

This week's dvar Torah is by Yonasan Kenton.

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YU RIETS Israel Kollel,

"I am the Lord your G-d"

Here is an exercise for discovering the truth of the universe.[1]

Go out into the countryside on a clear, calm night. Lie down on the cool grass and stare up at the night sky. Allow yourself to relax and let all extraneous thoughts melt away. In this state of equilibrium, you cannot help being struck by the awesome beauty of the universe. 

As your mind begins to wonder how such a vast and elegant world could have been created, gently push those thoughts away. Be alert for questions such as “Who is guiding this universe?” and “What is the purpose of creation?”

If you want to be an atheist, you must learn to immediately dismiss these thoughts as idle fantasy, however difficult this may be.

Now you are ready for the second exercise. Look around at the plethora of diverse creatures that surround you. There are inanimate objects such as trees, rocks, hills and valleys. Then there are the living organisms: The birds tucked away in their nests, the ants crawling between blades of grass. Take a look at single ant. Examine every intricate detail of its glossy black body, up to the end of each glistening antenna.

But beware – your mind will already be niggling with questions.

Again, you must repeat to yourself, “There is nothing behind it all, it is all pure coincidence.” As soon as you begin to feel that there is something more than meets the eye, something beyond this world, you must stop the exercise. You see, if you think about it for too long, you may even begin believing in a supernatural being, G-d forbid. The only way is to train yourself to dismiss your imagination before it takes hold of you.

The last exercise is the hardest of all. It should only be undertaken once you have mastered the first two, since it is extremely difficult to keep the questions from bubbling up. It is now time to take a look at your own body. Start by focusing on your toes, either visually or in your mind’s eye. Scrutinize each hair follicle, each pore. Feel the blood running through it, the cool air surrounding it, the hard ground against it. Now work your way up your body, to the rest of your foot, etc. Try to picture the bones, the nervous system and the wondrous network of organs, connected by blood vessels. Once you get to your eye, try to visualize every last detail of this astounding instrument. Try to imagine how it functions.

Picture how someone might go about designing such a thing, if it were possible. At this point, you have to fight with all your strength to keep your feelings in check.

You must remember that all this could theoretically happen by complete accident – perhaps there is no Creator at all. True, the whole world appears to have been carefully planned out to the minutest detail. True, the universe seems to be running in harmony, as if a Great Being were running it.

But couldn't the opposite also be true – perhaps it is only happenstance, as if to deceive us into believing that it was created for a purpose. Can anyone show that this is impossible, beyond a shadow of a doubt?

If you have successfully completed all three steps, you indeed worthy of the esteemed title, ‘Atheist.’ You see, it is possible to deny the whole idea of a Creator – all you need is a leap of faith.

[1] This article is loosely based on ideas found in Sefer Emunah U’bitachon of the Chazon Ish.