Recently, because of his Parkinson’s disease, Father Tom Hartman was forced to retire from active duty co-writing the God Squad syndicated column with his partner Rabbi Marc Gellman, leaving the rabbi on his own. It did not take the rabbi long to find a way to demean atheists, one of his long-time favorite targets of derision in his typically passive-aggressive manner.
A reader wrote (Newsday, Saturday, October 6, 2007) to the God Squad that she was sending her best thoughts and “vibrations” to the ill Father Tom with whom she often agreed. She added that the “strange thing is, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in a god… I believe ‘god’ is the sum of all the souls who’ve ever lived, most over and over, until they got it right and entered a state of perfection…”
Of course, Rabbi Gellman responded as expected, with a “nice” sounding insult. He wrote, “Even atheists can find their way to virtue and kindness as long as they have what you have – a belief that there’s something more than dirt and death in our lives and in our world…” Would he have written “Even Muslims” if the writer had been a Muslim? Or “Even Jews” if the writer had been Jewish? You get the idea.
Just as Bill O’Reilly “could not get over the fact” that African-Americans could behave civilly in a restaurant, Rabbi Gellman seems to be amazed when an atheist appears to be moral. But Gellman, in a sense, is worse than O’Reilly, who at least did not require any particular qualifications for the moral fitness of the African-Americans who so impressed him at Sylvia’s. Rabbi Gellman did have such requirements: atheists can be virtuous as long as (and by implication, only as long as) they believe in some supernatural nonsense, such as, in this case, reincarnation.
There is one more thing; are these letters to the editor legitimate? I for one would love to know if the writers of these fastballs-down-the-middle questions truly exist or if they are merely figments of the God Squad’s dogmatic imagination. Is there really a reincarnation-believing atheist, Claudette from Boca Raton, Florida, who loves the God Squad? I think it behooves Newsday to do a quick check on the facts. (For the Newsday column go to http://www.newsday.com/news/columnists/ny-lsgod5402454oct06,0,2428350.column ; for the TMS version, go to http://www.tmsfeatures.com/tmsfeatures/subcategory.jsp?file=20070927ctngs-a.txt&catid=1709&code=ctngs .)