A Jew’s First Bacon November 18, 2008

A Jew’s First Bacon

Penn Jillette tells the story of a former Orthodox Jew who finally ate non-kosher food — including bacon — for the first time. It’s a bit lengthy, but well worth it:

I’m still a vegetarian, but I found the story really touching.

It’s nice to hear about someone finally jumping that last hurdle away from religious dogma — even if that hurdle involves something as seemingly inconsequential as a bacon cheeseburger.

What was that hurdle for you?

When did you know you were finally free from the shackles of your former faith?

For me, it was the first night I went to bed without saying my prayers.

The next morning, I woke up an atheist.

(Thanks to Sam for the link!)


Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • David

    I was an Orthodox Jew also. Eating non-kosher was the last hurdle for me, not the first. Keeping kosher had been the first thing I took on back when I was a kid and becoming more religious than my just-barely-traditional family, and in retrospect it seems that I took off the layers in the order you’d expect from that in which I had put them on.

  • Van

    I knew I have shaken off my religion when I came close to having an accident and I did not think of asking an almighty being to save me…

  • *gasp* I was view 666 on this video! *shifty eyes*

  • Dave

    My “big moment” in being free (from being raised in a biblical literalist faith) was in deciding I didn’t care whether God existed, because even if he did I found his moral system lacking and did not want to be judged by him.

    What’s funny is that I can remember the decision, but not when I made it. 17? 19? Somewhere before 20. So maybe it wasn’t a moment so much as a growing realization.

  • Cass

    I am baptised as RC (it seems like I can only become a lapsed catholic). While I never bought into the personal god thing I enjoyed the ritual of the catholic service and was respectful of other religious services. My last hurdle was when I went to a catholic wedding this summer. Not even residual sense of “something else” out there.

  • Renacier

    My Baptist sect believed that God would forgive you for sinful thoughts, but not for sinful words. (Based off some interpretation of Job.)

    So, I knew I was free when I committed the one unforgivable sin and said “There is no God” out loud. Simple, but very hard.

  • Christophe Thill

    I just have to tell the story of the Catholic priest and the rabbi, in case someone hasn’t already heard it.

    A Catholic priest asks a rabbi :
    “Is it true that you Jews aren’t allowed to eat pork?
    – Yes, it’s true. And is it true that you aren’t allowed to have sex?
    – It is. But tell me… have you really never, ever eaten a slice of ham ?
    – Well, I confess I have. And you, have you never, ever slept with a woman ?
    – Well, I confess I have.
    – And isn’t it better than a slice of ham?”

  • TXatheist

    I find it just weird that a orthodox jew can’t eat bacon but a reform can(or at least the one I know).

  • Jesse

    I’m with Van, when I no longer felt like I should pray in tough situations I knew I was free.

  • I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. My last big hurdle was voting. Though, actually, there’s still a hurdle I haven’t jumped. I’ve yet to give blood. I don’t even have a reason not to. I just haven’t yet.

  • I don’t remember ever not eating bacon. But I grew up in a very secular home.
    My father was funny though, bacon was OK with him, but the idea of eating ham made him ill.

  • geru

    Yay, Penn mentioned Finland. 🙂

    What a great story. And people always complain that there’s nothing positive about atheism, how about the experience of discovering the beauty of reality for the first time, after living years in delusion and self denial? Or helping others to achieve this.

  • N

    I’m with Hemant. I knew it was over when I could fall asleep without my prayers.

    I was a Christian, but I gave up eating the “unclean meats” of the old testament because of a conversation with a Church of God friend. Now I’m grossed out at the idea of eating the non-kosher meats, so I doubt I’ll ever go back. It’s not a vow or a promise or anything, just an “eew” factor.

    There are secular reasons not to eat pig and shrimp. I’m just sayin’.

  • I was pretty much the same as you Hemant, but for me it was the first time I went to bed without saying my prayers and didn’t feel guilty about it.

  • Alycia

    I had given up on all superstitions: opening umbrellas indoors, walking under ladders, bad luck for breaking mirrors, etc. One day I realized that believing that I had to do or say certain things in order to not piss off an invisible man and “save my soul” was just as superstitious as knocking on wood. That epiphany ended the tiny bit of religious belief that remained.

  • Being raised pagan/spiritualist, I had a STUNNING array of superstitions imparted to me by my upbringing and nurtured by my own OCD-tending personality.

    I knew I was an atheist the first time I did not say “bless you” after every sneeze.

  • Alycia

    Oh, yes- the “bless you” has been one for me, too. Hard habit to break and people think you’re rude for not blessing a bodily function.

  • I was raised as an Orthodox Jew and my first step was touching a guy I liked.
    The last thing is something I haven’t done yet, because I can’t afford it, but I have always loved tattoos and plan to get one. Even when I was religious I admired the beauty and symbolism of expressing yourself permanently on your own body. It’s like taking your insides and making them into art that everyone can see.
    I plan to do that someday.
    But bacon was really hard to do, LOL. Cheeseburgers were easier. I kind of had to make myself eat the bacon the first time, to show myself that I practice my beliefs.

  • Don Pope

    Mmmmmm, bacon!

  • The biggest hurdle for me was eating non-kosher meat at all — even beef or poultry. Once I finally got that, the step to bacon and shellfish wasn’t too hard.

    It is funny how things stay with you. I remember one Saturday (Shabbat) riding a bike (not allowed) 40 miles, eating a non-kosher sub with meat AND cheese, going to the bathroom, and then hesitating when I reached to turn on the light.

  • Saying out loud, “I’m an atheist” in a conversation was the most freeing thing I’ve ever said.

  • I just wanted to comment on the “Bless You” & sneezing thing, since other commenters mentioned it.

    I made a decision years ago to not say “Bless you” when someone sneezed. Some people think it’s harmless, even if you don’t have faith, but I think it’s just silly.

    I say Gesundheit instead. Depending on where you live, it may be less common to hear it, but it’s generally understood. And it’s entirely secular; it’s a wish for good health, no deity required.

  • Why aren’t Jews allowed to eat bacon? I’ve heard of it but I’ve never known why?

    Anyway for me thare was no epiphany of lost faith. I’ve never believed because I was never taught to believe.

  • I’m with you, Perky Skeptic and Alycia. “Bless you” has always made me cringe, so I chose “gesundheit” long ago. Literally means “good health” (in German) and makes more sense anyway. Also, it gives my 4 year old something impressive to say. The supercalifragilisticexpialidocious for sneezes, if you will.

    My Freedom Event came when I was in 7th grade, and was pretty sure this religion stuff was nonsense. My mom reeeeaaaaalllly wanted me to get confirmed in her church, and I was dragging my feet. So, she had her pastor come over to our house to talk to me. Instead of addressing my questions, the guy told me that religion was not my choice, that I was required to believe as my mother told me to.

    I don’t respond well to bullies, and from that moment decided none of that god stuff mattered one way or the other. Mom still dragged me to church, still got me confirmed, and was happy. After awhile, I got my Sundays back was none the worse for wear.

    My mom is a minister now, and does not bully kids. I like to think that living in a family of atheists (my brother and dad are also freethinkers) helps keep her moderate. I also like to think that Mom helps me stay respectful of people even when I think their religion is ludicrous.

  • Polly

    As soon as I came to the conlcusion that I didn’t believe in a god and my wife was in ear shot, I declared, “I’m an atheist. that’s it.” And lo, it was so. Since, there was really nothing verboten in my version of xianity, I didn’t really have anything to rebel against that I wouldn’t do anyway…except blasphemy, of course.

    @JoseMonkey,

    Same here. I made a conscious decision to say Gesundheit instead of a blessing.

    I still say “god-this” or “god-that” in every day speech, but the “blessing” thing was too much.

  • Heh-you beat me to it, JoseMonkey. 🙂 Gesundheit!

  • Larry Huffman

    Well…mine was removing my garments…yes the magic underwear.

    I have to admit that the magical underwear view of the outside is not quite how mormons view them. They are not really magical…though some people in the mormon faith feel that they are. Most people use them as reminders to be close to god. The markings on them have very innocuous meanings…remember to kneel in prayer…keep yourself pointing in the ‘right’ direction…remember to thank god for nourishment. The markings are really meant to remind, nothing magical.

    But I was a pretty high ranking priesthood holder and so when I left the church I had to do so rather abruptly. I could not just quit going, as each Sunday really depended on me for our ward (Congregation). But after that, I still wore my garments. My wife asked when I would be stopping that tradition after I had been away a couple of weeks…and I told her as soon as I had some ‘civies’ to replace them. So we went to the store, bought enough to replace all of them, I took them off and very unceremoniously tossed them in the garbage.

    Mormons are fond of having rituals to dispose of their garments…so that act was also very rewarding. And in taking them off, I realized, “I have really done it. I am free of mormonism”.

    I was free from christianity a couple short months later. I will have to think whether there was a time when I realized I was not longer christian.

  • Larry Huffman

    My first real moment as an atheist? When the doctor slapped my ass and I took my first big breath. Several years later my parents screwed that all up and I spent 30+ years trying to get it back. 🙂

  • David

    Me again. So eating pork & shellfish was the last thing. The first thing was, a friend asked me if I believed in the existence of god, and I told him I didn’t know one way or the other — but I was sure it didn’t matter. I remember watching myself say that (you know what I mean by this, I hope, if not, yelp) and saying, “Day-um, boy, you really have stepped off the curb.”

    As for “bless you” — it makes me cringe, too. I now use the Yiddish term I grew up with, “Tz’gezunt” which means, “Be healthy.”

  • Larry Huffman

    So…this may be off topic, but it certainly begs asking considering some of these responses.

    Why does everyone feel the need to say anything when someone else sneezes? I mean the entire reason for a response was based on superstition about sneezes anyway, from what I have heard about it. It has always seemed kind of silly to me, even while religious. After all, no where in the bible does it talk about blessing people or making any comment at all when someone sneezes. It just has always felt like some quiant tradition that got pulled into mainstream with no real rhyme or reason.

    I do not say anything when someone else sneezes. I do not know if they think I am being rude, but…well, I sneeze too. It is nothing special. I do not comment when others burp, cough, yawn (well I may tell them to stop if they get me going), or any other bodily function. I figure that is between them and their own bod. If I sneeze, I may say excuse me, but I do not really want people blessing me or telling me gesuntheidt or anything else.

    Has always puzzled me.

    Well if a friend sneezes big enough I might be heard to say, “Damn, your face just farted!”

  • Old Beezle

    First step: putting down the scriptures thinking, “Reading this is non-essential to being a good person.” Never read them on a regular basis again (after years of DAILY reading).

    Last step: taking off the “magical” Mormon underwear. When you peel off that last layer closest to your own skin, you feel like you’re your own person again.

  • Jainists pray? To whom?

    Larry Huffman, I think the idea is that when you sneeze, your soul leaves your body for a moment, and someone’s got to say “bless you” to scare away any demons that might possess you. 🙂

  • Epistaxis

    New student group activity: bacon for ex-Jews!

  • For me, it was the first time I masturbated and didn’t feel guilty or have to go to confession.

  • Catherine

    no longer feeling a need to pray was a big one for me as well.

  • Richard Wade

    My hurdles weren’t very big because I didn’t have much of a religious background to overcome. A few experiences are landmarks for me:

    Seeing the building that I worked in that had collapsed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, where I would have been working just a few hours later was a life-changing moment, focusing me on the profound importance of the here-and-now because of the randomness and unpredictability of life.

    The attack on the World Trade Center was another one, ending the last of my dwindling interest in religions.

    But as others here have shared, just saying “I am an atheist” to friends was quite surprisingly a scary moment, and I feel much more free now.

  • Indigo

    An interesting moment for me, not exactly a moment of “I’m an atheist now”, but a minor epiphany of sorts. I remembered how as a child I’d read a lot of Judy Blume books and really liked them, particularly “Are you there God…” So I decided to go back and read it again.
    There’s a line where Margaret’s grandmother says that a child belongs to the faith of its mother, so Margaret must be Christian. Margaret’s mother says that she and her husband have decided to let Margaret choose her religion, and the grandmother says, “Nonsense – a person doesn’t choose religion, they’re born into it.”
    When I first read it at about the age of ten, the line didn’t stick out for me at all. I don’t remember whether I specifically agreed with it or not, but it didn’t strike me as “that’s a dumb thing to say”.
    A few years later, when I went back over it, it did. I don’t recall offhand whether I was already an atheist at the time, but it definitely meant I’d changed how I thought about faith.

  • Beetle

    We still have one vestigial habit: our kids (6 and 9) are asked to say grace (they are creative) before eating. It just feels civilized to have a formal start. Can anyone suggest an alternative secular ritual to begin the meal?

  • Lynx

    It just feels civilized to have a formal start. Can anyone suggest an alternative secular ritual to begin the meal?

    How about thanking someone more directly responsible for the meal? “We thank the cows that made the cheese, we thank the grocer for giving us what we please, we thank the farmer for all the beets, we thank you all for what we eat”

    I dunno, I’m terrible at rhymes, but for kids that age you can give thanks to the things that bring food and abundance that have some confirmed relation with reality.

  • Kaitie

    I’m not exactly sure when I became an atheist, but the moment I admitted it to myself (and to others) was during a summer gifted camp thingy after my sophomore year in high school. We were doing this activity where the leader would say a controversial statement and we had to go to one end of the room or the other in response to the statement. One end of the room was completely disagree, the other end was completely agree, and we could also choose to go somewhere in the middle to convey varying degrees of agreement. One of the statements was “You have to believe in God to be a good person.” Another girl and I went to the ‘totally disagree’ end of the room while the rest of the class went to the ‘totally agree’ end. Another part of the activity was that we were allowed to give a very short reason for why we were standing where we stood. My answer was “well, I don’t believe in God, and I think I’m a good person.” Before that all my non-believing thoughts were completely internal and I’d never acted on them.

  • I read about the Greek myths before I ever read about the Bible, so I thought all of those stories at Sunday school were also myths and that Sunday School was really storytime. XD

  • Beijingrrl

    You’re so good-lookin.

  • N

    LOL @ “Damn, your face just farted!”

  • Polly

    I read about the Greek myths before I ever read about the Bible, so I thought all of those stories at Sunday school were also myths and that Sunday School was really storytime. XD

    I envy your upbringing.

  • philosophia

    I didn’t exactly grow up within a specific faith, just a mish-mash of my mother’s ever-changing belief systems, so I didn’t have any “defining moment” in the same sense. But there is one point which stood out for me. When I was sixteen, I finally admitted (in an online forum, but still) that I was an atheist. It made me a little nervous, but it wasn’t really a huge deal at the time: innocent that I was, at that point I sincerely viewed the Believers as the unconventional ones. My friends and my parents were weird; surely the rest of the world was more sensible?

    It was the response I got – from an agnostic, who dryly congratulated me for being “so certain” that there was no god or godlike force – that actually changed things. I was immediately ashamed that I did not remain in the limbo of agnosticism, where I had been until I actually considered the question, forever. Instead of retreat, however, I figured that since I had taken this step, I should find out why I was an atheist. Why was it that I did not believe when so many others did? I didn’t know. All I could do was report on my own state of mind, and that was, irrevocably, godless. And thus the Great Quest for Answers began.

  • I remember how shocked I was the first time someone asked me “Are you a Christian?” and I realized that the only honest answer was “No.”

  • vivian

    The thing about sneezes bothers me also. I always say “excuse me’ when I sneeze as I do when any other part of me makes a noise. But I have taught me kids to say “Ramen” when someone sneezes (Flying Spaghetti Monster”), because my mom is bent on them saying “God Bless You”, and I think it irrates her when they say ramen instead.

    As for knowing when I was truly an athiest, I never believed in God, or Santa, or the Easter bunny. Call me pessimistic.

  • Josha

    I was raised to believe that it was even a sin to think a sacriligious thought. And I was taught by my Sunday school teachers that when you flip someone off you are actually offending God. So the day I became an atheist I flipped the bird and said, “God doesn’t exist”. Simple, I know, but my heart was beating fast and it was difficult at first to do. Which proved to me how much of a hold religion had on my mind.

  • hmm… Saying anything when someone sneezes has nothing at all to do with religion. It has no real meaning anymore than when someone says, “how are you?” with no real interest in what the response may be. It’s just a polite greeting. I see it as another way to acknowledge each other… a way to look up and smile at a stranger. What is wrong with that? Raman, Gazunheit, I don’t care…

    For me, it was the first night I went to bed without saying my prayers.

    The next morning, I woke up an atheist.

    And as far as following religious rules, such as praying… When I went to bed without saying my prayers, I had the opposite effect. I woke up with no shame or guilt, and God made so much more sense without the “religion.” Believing is not about rules, traditions, morals, or performance. And like most people, I believe what makes sense (to me).

  • Richard Wade

    Welcome back, Linda. Good to see you again.

    One morning I woke up an atheist, but he told me to be quiet so he could sleep.

  • Indigo

    “We still have one vestigial habit: our kids (6 and 9) are asked to say grace (they are creative) before eating. It just feels civilized to have a formal start. Can anyone suggest an alternative secular ritual to begin the meal?”
    My parents are liberal Christians and at their table we say “For food and friends and all God sends, we are truly thankful, amen.” I sometimes say it with “life” in place of God and drop the amen.
    You could also go for something more solemn, like: “When we have food, let us not forget those who are hungry; when we are at peace, let us not forget those who are at war; and when we are together, let us not forget those who are alone.”

  • AxeGrrl

    Lynx Says:

    How about thanking someone more directly responsible for the meal?

    Indigo Says:

    “When we have food, let us not forget those who are hungry; when we are at peace, let us not forget those who are at war; and when we are together, let us not forget those who are alone.”

    I really like both of those ideas 🙂

  • Jamboh

    People have asked why we say “bless you” when we sneeze.
    The Great Plague or Black Death which decimated Europe in the middle ages was a rat-borne infection which had excessive sneezing as one of its symptoms.

    This was said to have led Pope Gregory VII to coin “God Bless You” as a holy response when someone sneezes.

    The old English nursery rhyme “Ring a ring of roses” is based on the plague and contains the macabre line “Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down (die)”.

  • Steven

    Jamboh writes:
    “The old English nursery rhyme “Ring a ring of roses” is based on the plague and contains the macabre line “Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down (die)”.”

    Excellent, I’ve never met anyone else who is familiar with that particular aspect of a seemingly innocuous childhood rhyme. I wonder if you know some of the original plots/endings for various fairy tales? Childhood, it seems, was not for the faint of heart once upon a time.
    I think my atheism is at least in part based on the realization (about 30 years ago) that the stories in the bible are no more valid than any of the Greek, Norse, or Amerindian myths that I read as a child. I still love myths and fairy tales, and even my six-year old knows they’re not real. I sometimes wonder why it’s so difficult for so many adults to realize the mythical nature of their beliefs.

  • Welcome back, Linda. Good to see you again.

    One morning I woke up an atheist, but he told me to be quiet so he could sleep.

    LOL! Thank you, Richard! I see that you’re still making people laugh. 🙂

  • Ross

    Religion was never an issue in my family. Though I was baptized Methodist, we never went to church as a family. I remember church mostly as that place we dressed up for when visiting my grandparents on Sunday mornings a couple of times a year. I wasn’t ever asked about my religion until we moved to a new city in high school and all my classmates asked me what church I went to.

    They were astounded to learn that I didn’t, and didn’t want to accept their offers to go to theirs either.

  • sc0tt

    “The old English nursery rhyme “Ring a ring of roses” is based on the plague and contains the macabre line “Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down (die)”.”

    You’ll want to check that one on Snopes (it’s false).

  • Jeff Satterley

    @hoverfrog:

    Why aren’t Jews allowed to eat bacon? I’ve heard of it but I’ve never known why?

    Jews follow all of the Old Testament laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Bacon isn’t kosher because pigs don’t “chew the cud” (Leviticus 11:7), i.e. they are not a ruminant. Water fauna without fins and scales also can’t be eaten (such as shellfish), as well as most insects (except for some locusts).

    Kosher foods also have to be slaughtered and prepared according to certain rituals. Don’t know much about them, though.

  • Soitgoes

    vivian,
    Finally I get to hear that there is at least one other that has never been a believer!

  • Steven

    scOtt wrote:
    “You’ll want to check that one on Snopes (it’s false).”

    Regarding the notion that the nursery rhyme “ring a ring of roses” has plague references. So, I checked Snopes and apparently it is false. Sigh – which sources do I believe? I lean towards the Snopes explanation since it relies on logic and seems to have some solid references. It’s a real challenge in the information age to determine which sources are valid and which are talking out of their back passage.