Being that I often offer my unsolicited opinions both online and in life, it seems only fair that people would offer their unsolicited opinions right back at me. Which is fine. I can take it. And so I recently received a message from a Jewish man, a self-professed atheist, who apparently doesn't like people of my persuasion very much. He described to me the regret that he was feeling due to having sold his house to the Orthodox. What, you ask, is his problem with them? According to this man:
…their kids are made to feel guilty for not following every one of the "daily laws" [; this] makes me sick and ashamed to be of the jewish culture. I am relieved to be from an atheist, free-thinking, jewish family.
(To his credit, it should be noted that my online atheist friend did end his message with "Have a Happy Passover", so although he seems to have a strong dislike for Orthodox Jews, at least we know he has a thing for matzah!)
Despite that fact that this man wrote very little, his email actually told me quite a lot. The first thing it told me is that he most likely doesn't personally know anyone who practices Orthodox Judaism. If he did, he would have furnished his message with actual examples of the "guilt ridden" life that Orthodox Jews live. It would have made for a stronger argument.
More to the point, guilt has no place in traditional Jewish education. Sure, there are myriad jokes of the Jewish mothers who make their sons feel guilty for never calling. But I've never met a family that motivated their children to observe Judaism based on guilt. Instead, children are taught to perform mitzvos (commandments) through the joy and positivity. (Ironically, the only real guilt that I see in this message comes from the writer himself who describes the sickness and shame he feels from his Jewish culture.)
Another interesting point that can be gleaned from this email is that although the writer criticizes Orthodox Jews for not being the free thinkers that he claims to be (since they end up how their parents raised them), the writer also seems to have ended up how his parents raised him, as he mentions that he's an atheist from "an atheist…family".
Atheism, in general, does not imply too much "free-thinking" to me. It's a philosophy that purports to know everything that there is to know in the universe and then to be certain that God is missing from the equation. Agnosticism is far more of an open-minded outlook which acknowledges that although a person has not detected the Almighty yet, the possibility remains open as there is always more to experience in life.
Maybe my response will have the ability to open up the closed-mind of this free-thinker. Until then, he and I will just have to agree on Passover.