April 16, 2024
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A New and Potent Argument Against Atheism

It is critical to be aware of the threats to our way of life and know how to effectively respond to them. In prior generations, other religions often pulled at some of our youth pining to fit in with the broader society. Today’s challenge is not other religions but rather atheism.

Just as other religions had their extremist zealots and crusaders, such as Pablo Christiani who made every effort to lure our people from their ancestral faith, today we face a phalanx of militant atheists who zealously seek to pave the way to a godless society. Today’s radical atheists combatively argue that we should free ourselves from religion in order to be able to live a happy and enjoyable life.

However, Harvard researchers in a new study published in 2018 in the American Journal of Epidemiology found:

“Compared with never attendance, at least weekly service attendance was subsequently associated with greater life satisfaction and positive affect, greater volunteering, greater sense of mission, more forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation.”

It turns out, then, that happiness will more likely follow an embrace of religion than its rejection.

Moreover, a Manhattan therapist named Erica Komisar contributed a thoughtful opinion piece to the Wall Street Journal last week on the heels of this research that connected increasing anxiety and depression amongst American youth with decreasing attendance of religious services amongst this age group.

In a provocative heading, she writes: “Don’t believe in God? Lie to Your Children.” Ms. Komisar explains that children cannot bear the atheistic version of what happens after death. She observes from her practice that children cannot handle the secular idea that after they die they will simply turn to dust.

Tehillim 42:1 teaches “K’ayal ta’arog al afikei mayim, kein nafshi ta’arog eilecha Elokim, like a deer craves water brooks so too does my soul crave You, Hashem.” The human being is created in a manner that cannot function without Hashem. Depriving a person of spirituality is akin to depriving him of water. Thus, it is not surprising to find rising rates of depression and anxiety amongst the spiritually disconnected. Children cannot stomach the atheist version of what happens after death, because children are designed by Hashem to believe in the religious view of the afterlife.

However, the Gemara (Yoma 72b) teaches that Torah can serve as a “sam chayim,” an elixir of life, and also a “sam mavet,” an elixir of death. The Gemara here is delivering a sobering and vitally important message that is crucial for parents, grandparents and educators to constantly bear in mind. The Torah is supposed to be a life-nourishing force. However, if practiced and/or presented improperly, it can be poison!

In perusing the literature authored by those who left observance, one encounters stories of people who flee a Torah life due to a terribly abusive parent. One writer abandoned observance due, to a great extent, to a parent whose anorexic inclinations became inextricably interwoven with his halachic observance that he essentially starved himself to death. Being raised in such an environment poisons the life-giving waters of Torah.

Of course, the younger generation has the responsibility to make good and life-affirming choices as well. However, we adults have the responsibility to model a proper and consistent halachic lifestyle observed in a most joyous and attractive manner.

Overall, spirituality is a most ennobling and life-enriching part of life. It is a pity to see people deprived of this most central beautiful aspect of life. The Harvard researchers have shown that spirituality most often paves the road to mental health and happiness. It is our job, young and old, to keep Torah learning and Torah living an etz chaim for all those who fully embrace it, lamachazikim ba.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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