Though I don’t hold with the theory that a craggy, white-haired deity, stooped no doubt from endless millennia spent shouldering humankind’s antics, now ceasing to tolerate our shocking misbehaviour and disregard for any of the precepts he so meticulously carved into those tablets for us, when I’m in trouble, when the airplane unexpectedly coughs or rolls or dips, I am the first to recite the “shema” silently, urgently: “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One.”
What sense does that make? you ask. None, but like seventeenth-century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, I can’t stop from hedging my bets. Just in case He does exist, I better be on speaking terms with him.
So, yes, I pray and shame-faced, have to agree: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Once out of the trenches however, closer to home, to ordinary life, I admit it is very difficult to confess, “I don’t believe in God,” proclaim it out loud. Though statistics show Americans are less and less likely to be religious— four percent of Americans insist they’re nonbelievers and five percent are undecided, it still feels like blasphemy as I gaze anxiously over my shoulder, scanning the horizon for errant thunderbolts.
“She-ma Yisroel . . .”
V IS FOR VIRUS
So Jewish atheist that I am, in this disquieting age of microscopic assaults, I steel myself to withstand the threats, do combat with the enemy. What do I have in my arsenal? Not much. At the first sign of a sniffle, sneeze, headache, chill, I focus on visualising my standby armies of antibodies, praying they won’t overreact, something they are wont to do. I don’t know why but I picture four knobs on each side of a rectangle and one on each end. Carefully I turn each knob, top, bottom, sides. My trusty troop of killer cells obligingly streams out, covering the little room I have them in with white foamy substance. With a mop I scrub down the room, up and down, side by side, clean enough I pray. And I tell myself that this act of faith in myself, in my body’s ability to do war with the enemy, will be enough to ensure survival. Amen.
You know, I may sneak in a shema here and there just to be on the safe side. And religious or not, I work hard at being a good citizen of the world: giving to others, offering a helping hand, just not the one that’s busy turning those knobs!
Shema Yisroel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai, Echad!