My first choice, when I rag on religion, is Judaism, just because I know it first-hand. Of course, there’s always more to learn. Through my current wife, I became aware of what goes on in Jewish enclaves/ghettos (depends on who’s herding Jews together, Jews or gentiles) — the threats, the ostracism, the mind control, the obsession with ritual (these people REALLY observe all the Sabbath and milk/meat separation rules, and it is a major pain in the ass).
I also became aware of sectarian rivalry — no, make that contempt — between the two major Jewish gene pools, the Ashkenazic (Eastern Europs/Poland) and the Sephardic (Spain/Muslim world). My wife’s family includes rabbis from both. The Sephardic one thinks the Ashkenazic a bunch of dolts who can’t read or understand Scripture and commentary properly. I would assume the disdain is mutual. At least they don’t blow themselves up.
Needless to say, none of these folks would consider my family, with their four-day-a-year observance and opulent bar/bat mitzvahs, to be real Jews. The same for everybody to the left of conservative — Reform Jews, humanists, Reconstructionists, etc. You don’t count. But in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. If you say you’re Jewish, that’s enough.
One bit of Jewishness that seems ubiquitous (I have to believe that the Orthodox, with all their superstition, use it) is what jewniverse.com called “the three most important Jewish words” — kein ayin hara, pronounced colloquially “kenna hurra.” It is to be uttered right after reporting or remarking on anything positive, e.g., “Your kids are getting so big, kenna hurra.”
It’s purpose is to ward off the Evil Eye, hard to pin down, but apparently a traditional malevolent force that seeks out good and gleefully balances it with misfortune.
Our language is the product of our history, so it’s no surprise that there’s so much God-talk. Each atheist has to adapt his/her own strategy, and this has been a fruitful topic at A/N. Along with other substitutions, I advise not shouting God’s name at the moment of orgasm, but rather the name of the person who is giving you said orgasm.
Atheists also have to deal with the remnants of superstitious ignorance that still occur in the language. It’s amazing (to me) that so many liberal Jews use “kenna hurra.” I’ve even had doctors usher me out of their offices with it.
On the jewniverse site one article proclaims, with some pride, that the writer and her husband are getting more superstitious, using the phrase more and more (along with the old-country pu-pu-pu spitting gersture). Yeah, well, the older you get, the more uncertain life looks. But that’s no reason to fall back on religion. Sorry, but I find it the path of weak people.
Intent of “kenna hurra”
I can understand the desire that another’s circumstances go well (or continue to go well). I can understand our powerlessness in the face of chance, and I can understand the need to acknowledge it. And maybe uttering “kenna hurra” says to the listener, “Hey, I’m just as aware as you of the fragility of life.”
But I’m all for dropping the superstition. I’ll try to come up with alternatives, but for now, I replace the “kenna horra” with an expression of approval (”Your kids are getting so big - that’s terrific!”).
Of course, I have geography working for me. Here in New Hampshire, nobody says “kenna hurra” to me (so I don’t have to be a wiseass and say, “The Evil Ey isi here??? Where???”). And nobody knows what it means.