Recently, the findings of the third Guttman-AVI CHAI report—A Portrait of Israeli Jews: Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews—were presented to the public. The findings have drawn much media coverage because they revealed that an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews believe in God. In an op-ed from Haaretz, IDI Senior researcher Yair Sheleg responds to columnists who were alarmed by the findings regarding belief in God, and argues that what is really of concern is the inverse relationship between this belief and belief in democratic values.
"Outrage has erupted over the Guttman Center's recent study of Israelis' attitudes toward religion and tradition.
In particular, the finding that 84 percent of Jewish Israelis believe in God has attracted special attention. (Full disclosure: I work as a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, where the study was conducted, but I did not participate in the study itself. ) It seems that many people consider this finding to be despairing testimony regarding the inability of Israelis to maintain a rational policy and/or democratic worldview.
Yet it is precisely this reaction that endangers the future of democratic and even rational discourse in Israel, much more than the actual belief in God. This is because anyone who relies on a rational outlook that is not just philosophical, but also considers the human reality with open eyes, immediately understands that those 84 percent are not expressing devotion to any orderly theological doctrine. Rather, they are expressing a psychological need for belief . . ."
Yair Sheleg is a Senior Researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute who is conducting research as part of IDI's Religion and State Project.