Friday, September 02, 2005

Wrestling with God:

I really love this article by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (gasp! it's on Worldnutdaily). It's about the attributes of the God of the Bible, particularly whether that God is just, and how His believers deal with issues of God and Justice.

For many of the faithful, the closer they come to God, the more they become enemies of man. When a cataclysm renders tens of thousands of innocent people homeless, it is the victims who are guilty while God is always innocent. Perhaps these communities tolerated large homosexual populations. Maybe they allowed an abortion clinic in their midst. While God is perfect, man is inadequate. While God is righteous, man is sinful. I call this the submissive man of faith, the man or woman who believes that the foremost calling of religion is the erasure of their individuality and total blind obedience in the face of the divine will. And the principal characteristic of the submissive man of faith is to always implicate man and exonerate God.

The unique contribution of Judaism to world religion is a total rejection of a dejected and compliant religious posture in favor of a brash and audacious spirituality that is prepared to wrestle even with God in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice. In Christianity grace is not achieved without the total surrender of the believer to Christ. Likewise, the very word Islam means to submit. But "Israel" translates literally as "he who wrestles with God," the man or women who is prepared to rattle even the foundations of the heavens in the name of life and justice.

Judaism gave rise to the defiant man of faith, the man who like Jacob spars with angels and defeats them. The Jew is a child of Abraham, who went so far as to accuse God of injustice when the Almighty sought to the destruction of both the righteous and the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah at once. He or she is the disciple of Moses who thundered to God that he wished to be disassociated with God's holy Torah if the Creator would proceed with His stated intention of wiping out the Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf. Like King David who declares in Psalms, "I shall not die for I shall live," the Jew has achieved immortality through an impudent insubordination in the face of historical inevitability, daring to defy fate and forge an audacious destiny.

The world today is replete with too many negative religious stereotypes that have gravely harmed the cause of faith. Secularists point to fanatical Islamic terrorists who blow themselves up as proof that religion is dangerous to the body. On the other side, they point to crazy statements like that of Pat Robertson -- who last week said that the United States should assassinate Hugo Chavez -- as proof that religion is equally dangerous to the mind, causing one to suspend rational judgment in favor of the irrational and the idiotic.

What is finally needed, after thousands of years of religious unrest, is the defiant man of faith, who believes that his principal religious calling is to defy the heavens in defense of human life. The orthodox Jew, who when Israeli soldiers die never seeks to blame such deaths on Israeli desecration of the Sabbath. The religious Christian, who does not see America as a land of abortions and homosexuality that may therefore be punished by terror, but as a benevolent land whose soldiers fight and die for complete strangers on the other side of the globe. The moral Muslim, who despises and condemns Islamic terrorists who defile his glorious religion and commit an abomination against God by murdering in His name.

Like I've said before, unlike some on this site (Positive Liberty), I'm not an atheist. But if there is God, then I believe either a) He, She or It must be just, or b) ought to be just. And there are certain things written in the Bible where God appears to be not just unjust, but fundamentally immoral. Moreover, certain traditional religious doctrines like eternal damnation are morally unjustifiable. Unless you accept, as many orthodox believers do, that there are no independent standards of justice apart from what is literally written in the Bible (or more importantly -- how they understand and interpret what is literally written in the Bible). So if God tells you to murder your son, or another race of people or to practice slavery or incest, then that, ipse dixit is just because God said so.

Jefferson, Adams and other Enlightenment influenced founders questioned and downright ridiculed these traditional religious orthodoxies. Neither of them believed in eternal damnation because they knew that would make God into a vicious, sadistic monster. Jefferson wrote to Adams that Calvin's God was "a false god" and "a daemon of malignant spirit," that Calvin's religion was "Daemonism," and "[i]t would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin." Instead, Jefferson wrote to Adams, "The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknowledge and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world." And Adams in his correspondence was in entire agreement with Jefferson.

If I ever do convert to Christianity, I'll probably become a Quaker or a Unitarian.

Speaking of Hell, one thing I've discovered by reading various interpretations of it by the traditional Christians is that there is absolute disagreement on the concept. Some say Hell is so bad because God isn't there. Other say Hell is bad because God is there. Some say it's eternal. Other's say Hell is finite and then souls simply don't exist. Some say Hell is a soul not existing at all while believers' souls go on into eternity. Some say Hell may not be so bad, a clear way to make God not seem so unjust: Hell is just like being unsaved on Earth, living separate from God. Well many people are quite happy being not religious on Earth; so that would make Hell like a place where you could play pool with your buddies or hang out with John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Voltaire, Jefferson and the other key framers -- Franklin, Adams, most likely Mason, Washington, and Madison -- who weren't orthodox Trinitarian Christians. Other fundamentalists take strong umbrage with that latter view (perhaps because they think people ought to be scared into salvation) saying Hell isn't a place where you play pool with your buddies, but an unimaginably terrible place.

It's this latter view which I cannot comprehend. Such a God in my mind would be worse than Hitler. In order to accept this as "Just," one must entirely detach oneself from rational, independent standards of justice. And these folks scare me because, even if such Christians are more "well behaved" than Islamofanatics, this belief they hold is no more rational, moral or Just than believing in an Allah that would command Mohammed Atta to fly a plane into the WTC and then reward him with Virgins in Heaven. It's this type of irrational fanaticism that leads to mass slaughter and terrorism.

Finally, if your personal faith operates in this latter tradition -- you believe that non-believers are headed to a Hell that is not like Earth, but unimaginably horrible place -- as a moral individual, wrestle with this belief. Don't be certain that it is true. If you believe you will die and immediately see the Trinitarian God, one of the first things that you should do upon death is stare Him straight in His eyes and demand the immediate release of most if not all souls from Hell (or their eventual release). If not, then you will be complicit in the greatest of "divine miscarriages of justice" ever.


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