Greg Epstein on faith, ideology, and Humanism

Rabbi Greg Epstein, bestselling author of

FLORIDA, December 13, 2012 — Whether we would like to admit it or not, ideologies have a way of attracting people. The search for an absolute truth of some kind can be difficult to resist. In the long run, though, what does this sort of thing do to society? 

From one end of the earth to the other, untold billions rely on faith just to get them through the day. This faith does not have to be rooted in notions of the divine, however. In a general sense, what can really be said about the concept of faith? 

Judaism an indisputable cornerstone of Western religious life. There are more denominations than Orthodox and Reform, however. One of these is Humanistic, which has managed to blaze its own very unique trail. So, what is it all about?    

In this second part of our discussion, Rabbi Greg Epstein shares his views regarding all of the above. He also tells us a bit about his life and career, as well as the politics of secularism.   

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Joseph F. Cotto: Whether they should be rooted in theism or politics, various ideologies often attract droves of willing participants searching for a universal truth of some kind. In the long run, what do you think that this does to any given society? 

Rabbi Greg Epstein: The litmus test should be: does a leader or ideology promise you perfection? If anyone tells you they have all the answers, run for the hills or at least hide your wallet. But to say that therefore, smart and savvy people can’t organize themselves, is just self-defeating. Progressive, realistic, intellectually humble people can and must get organized. Humanism is one of the movements they might consider getting involved in.

Cotto: Across the world, untold billions rely on faith just to get them through the day. Said faith might be in the divine, another person, or a social construct. What are your opinions about the concept of faith in general?

Rabbi Epstein: The issue isn’t whether you have faith, it’s what do your place your faith in. I want to have faith in things that deserve my faith—things that actually might exist. I don’t know for sure if you, my fellow human being, are going to care about me, but I want to put my faith in you to do so until it’s been proven otherwise. That takes so much work and focus and passion that I don’t have time or energy for the idea of the divine, which has already been proven to me to be a human-created concept that we can’t rely on.

Cotto: When it comes to politics, do you find that the traditional left-right spectrum is a valid way of approaching secular issues?

Rabbi Epstein: Sorry, not sure how to answer this question the way you’ve phrased it. There are secularists who are more to the left and more to the right in US politics, but most of us are very progressive when it comes to social issues.

Cotto: It is not too often that we hear about Humanistic rabbis. What is Humanistic Judaism, exactly?

Rabbi Epstein: It is an organized movement that celebrates Judaism as the culture, history, and civilization created by the Jewish people. Judaism is my culture, Humanism is my philosophy of life—so, no prayer or ideas of chosen people, but I still value my heritage even though my people are no better than any other people.

Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering exactly how it was that you came to be such an outspoken voice for secular Americans. Tell us a bit about your life and career. 

Rabbi Epstein: Ha, I think they’ve heard more from me than they bargained for already! I tell plenty of my personal story in my book and they’re more than welcome to follow my work and career at facebook.com/gepstein. Thanks for the opportunity to discuss Humanism and secularism!


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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