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The reactions of an atheist who discovers that he is Jewish

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A very intelligent atheist's reactions to discovering that he is Jewish

  • Jul 6, 2010

The noted atheist, the author of God is not Great, reveals his reactions when he discoverers that he is Jewish in 31 of the 435 pages of his best-selling memoir.


            Hitchens’ mother decided before her marriage that she would hide being Jewish from her future husband and other people to make her children’s acceptance by society easier. Hitchens’ grandmother revealed the truth to his brother, after his mother’s death, when his brother decided to marry a Jewish girl. What were Hitchens’ reactions?


Hitchens never realized that he was Jewish before the revelation. His visited his grandmother to discuss it. She told him, “I could always see it in you and your brother: you both had the Jewish brains.” Interestingly, once he knew his history, he says he was able to see that his grandmother looked Jewish. Thinking back, he recognizes that he never had any curiosity about Judaism, and no feelings of anti-Semitism even though he heard some derogatory remarks from some of his friends. He always sympathized with the Jewish need to have a State of their own, but he was and is bothered by the Jews dispossessing Arabs from properties that they legally own.


He now felt a curiosity about the history of Jews and visited the lands of his “mother’s Polish and German ancestors” and he describes what he saw in his memoir. But, what impressed him most of all about Jews is exactly what had impressed his grandmother: “Judaism forces its adherents to study and think, it reluctantly teaches them what others think, and it may even teach them how to think also…. I still feel that the sheer exercise (of thinking) can command respect.”


But Hitchens is an atheist. Therefore, he writes: “The sage Jews are those who have put religion behind them and become in many societies the leaven of the secular and the atheist” producing the good, sustaining, nourishing, and necessary bread.


Be this as it may, Hitchens states that he would never deny that he is a Jew. He ends this discussion by quoting a friend’s assessment of Jews: “They are, or we are…condemned and privileged to be ‘a seismic people.’ A critical register of the general health of civilization is the status of ‘the Jewish question.’”  

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Israel Drazin ()
Ranked #64
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of twenty books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four … more
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