Dear Pew, What of Jewish Agnostics?

I don’t know about you, but for all the pre-midterm election gloom, I’m feeling a little smug. The world may be going to hell, but Atheists/Agnostics and Jews aced the Pew Forum’s survey on U.S. Religious Knowledge, scoring a respectable 20.9 and 20.5 (on 32 questions). The national average was 16.

As a Jewish atheist/agnostic,* I’d feel a bit smugger, though, if my own category was represented, or if I didn’t have to distribute my cultural, ethnic, and theological narcissism between two apparently separate categories. It’s true that they were the top two, but still.

Does the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life not actually know that there are Jewish atheists and agnostics? Have they ever heard of Freud? Taken a course at a university? Been to New York or Tel Aviv? And these are the people in charge of figuring out what we know?

Please don’t tell me that the survey allows people to “self-identify” as Jewish or agnostic, and thus isn’t actually imposing anything as much as letting respondents slide into whatever slot they freely choose. If I were lucky enough to have been asked to take their test (and I keep hoping someone will give me a test like that, but no one ever does), it would have been up to me to decide which is MORE true, that I’m Jewish or that I’m an atheist/agnostic.

If Jewish is just my “ethnicity,” and this was a quiz about religion, then maybe the atheist/agnostic category was more relevant. Or if the categories assumed that atheist/agnostic also meant someone who doesn’t fast on Yom Kippur, doesn’t (at this moment!) have a sukkah up on my back porch (for extra credit, Mormons, what’s a Sukkah? I know all you agnostics know), then yes, I’m a Jew. I might have failed the test, or sunk to the level of mere mainstream Protestants, just trying to figure out which of those first boxes to check. And that’s just not fair.

It’s also wrong, at least in my particular case and that of, oh, almost everyone I know. What’s wrong, I should point out, involves “religious knowledge,” one might say. Jewish does not mean “those people who believe in (a Jewish) God.” If any religious definition pertains, it’s the old one: Jews are people who believe in one God AT MOST; or Jews are the people who don’t go to synagogue (as opposed to other people, who don’t go to church); or Jews are those people who have a mother who says she’s a Jew. Who are you, Pew Forum, to tell me that Jews aren’t (often, in sizable numbers, famously, proudly) atheists/agnostics? Or that atheists/agnostics aren’t (often, in sizable numbers, famously, proudly) Jews?

Happy belated Sukkot, Pew.

*And what’s up with adding “agnostic”? Doesn’t that just mean people who aren’t all that sure? Does that mean that all those other people who checked a box (including “Jews”!) are so sure? Really? Could that be because they apparently just don’t KNOW that much about religion? Just asking.

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