Back in September I wrote a response to Rabbi Alan Lurie’s HuffPost blog about how God is only hiding because we don’t know what to look for. Lurie is a liberal “non-denominational” rabbi who is actually a very successful businessman and architect. I am certain he applies sounder thinking to his business interests than to his teaching about God.
Last week he took up the topic of “How Could God Have Allowed the Holocaust?” He began in the expected way:
All Rabbis hear variations on the following questions: “How can anyone believe in God after the Holocaust? How can a supposedly loving God stand back and let such a horrible thing happen? How can you reconcile the death of even one innocent child with the existence of a just God?” For many, these questions are proof that a personal God does not exist.
In the paragraphs that follow, Lurie explains that there is a field of theology known as “theodicy” that deals with God and the presence of evil. Then this:
…the very question of “How could God have allowed the Holocaust?” represents a profound misunderstanding of the nature of God, creation, and the spiritual dimension, because it is based on very faulty assumptions. It posits God as a being who is totally separate from us, who observes our behavior, preventing harm from coming to those who follow certain rules (usually written in books), and punishing those who do not.
…But God is much more than that, and we are much more than that. This image of God and humans, frankly, is childish and primitive, and from this perspective there is no God….
He then walks us through his arguments for the existence of God, featuring the ACTUALLY childish and primitive assumptions that “some thing” cannot come from “no thing.” This is followed by a pre-emptive attack on asking who created God, calling this “a misunderstanding of the nature of God.”
So who is his God? He finally offers a definition. Sort of.
…prior to creation there was only God; undifferentiated, timeless, pure consciousness, irrevocably alone. And yet God’s greatest yearning is for connection – for something in which to be in relationship and to experience love. But there was no possibility of anything to connect to because no thing could exist, as the only existence was the completely indivisible God. This yearning, though, led to the paradox of creation, as God removed “His” presence from a point, making physicality possible. This was the Big Bang, and long before it was discovered by Edwin Hubble in 1929 it was seen by mystics from many traditions, especially by those in northern Israel in the 16th century.
Where do I even begin with this nonsense? First of all, how does he know what God was feeling or yearning for? The human behavior of yearning for love or companionship is an accident of evolution. Its roots are evident in the social behavior of other animals, too. As for supposed ancient precursors of the Big Bang theory, I’m pretty sure that the mystics of ancient Tz’fat were not sitting around measuring cosmic background radiation or they would have been awarded the Nobel.
The Universe was therefore set in motion with the purpose of developing creatures who would arrive at self-consciousness – the awareness of being aware -, see the obvious design in creation, feel the presence of a loving Designer, and reach out in gratitude. This connection in love is both ours and God’s greatest pleasure and delight (and, I believe, also for countless beings on planets scattered throughout the Universe).
The purpose of creation, then, is to be in a loving relationship with its Creator.
There is NO obvious design or purpose in any part of nature. And this includes biological organisms, except to the extent that they are “designed” by the process of natural selection. What kind of “loving Designer” would rig the urethra right through the prostate?
And how does he know what God’s “greatest delight and pleasure” are? Maybe what God really likes is smelling animal fat burning on an altar. That’s what ancient Jews thought. While we’re at it, we can just say anything we want to about him. Maybe he really gets the greatest pleasure and delight by watching suns explode. That happens all the time in the universe so he must really love it.
All of this is typical of sloppy theology – and there is no other kind. It makes evidence-free assertions about the nature of God based on poor understandings of scientific discoveries and wishful thinking.
Here’s another great example:
This does not mean that God is not omniscient. God does know the choices that we will make because our consciousness is in constant connection to God, and for God time is not a limitation, so our future choices are not hidden. Yet God deliberately does not interfere – not out of indifference, but out of great love. God must “watch” in pain as we commit atrocities, because to interfere would negate free will, terminating the relationship and hence the very purpose of creation. This is the reconciliation of Rabbi Akiva’s famous paradox, “All is foreseen, yet free will is given”.
Rabbi Akiva’s paradox and the mounds of commentary it yielded are the very epitome of the “childish and primitive” understandings of God that Lurie so abhors. Here God is a parent who loves us very much. However, as a loving parent he won’t interfere, even though this causes him pain.
By now I hope you can quite easily spot all of the problems with these claims. For example, who says that the Jewish God doesn’t interfere? In the big book about him and much of the commentary that accompanies it, he interferes all the freaking time. We can’t move right or left (or even eat shrimp for that matter) without him interfering. And a lot of what he tells us to do, in the bible anyway, is to commit the very atrocities that he supposedly watches in so much pain (see here for a partial list of God’s terrific biblical role modeling).
As for the Holocaust, Lurie states:
Where was God in the Holocaust? As God knew the terrible choices made by too many, and wept at the horrific consequences, those who chose love and service in the face of this horror were strengthened and consoled. Good eventually did win over evil, by our own hands.
I’m sure he needed a really big imaginary tissue. Seriously, the last sentence is starting to approach the truth. Good did win (and some evil won, too, given that Stalin was among the winners). But God had nothing to do with it. When people accomplish anything in this world, good or evil, it is always “by our own hands.”
Why do I harp on liberal rabbis the way that I do? Because liberal Judaism was born of a need to create a spiritual approach to life that was based upon reason and rational thinking. This is a promise that is now lost. Modern liberal rabbis are leading their followers down a path that ignores modern scientific discoveries and their implications. While they posit a God who is much more palatable to modern morality, he is no less imaginary. When will they finally cease this silly prattle? Making up newer and improved versions of God isn’t fooling anyone who bothers to really think about it.
I want to close on a positive note. Allow me to take a stab at the question, “How could God have allowed the Holocaust?” Try this on for size…
When people once lacked sufficient evidence-based paths to understanding our presence in the universe, they posited supernatural causes. They imagined that these supernatural “gods” made claims upon them because the gods created them and provided for their needs. Over time, the Jews consolidated these many gods into one. We’ll just call him God (he was generally described and addressed as a male). All of our questions and theories about humanity and nature were answered by what we came to believe God said and did.
Jewish history proceeded and it was not a ball of laughs. We endured a lot of crap and we luckily managed to overcome it. We often ascribed both the crap and our survival to God, but it was always we who were enduring it. When the absolute worst crap hit us, we always asked ourselves why he would allow it. We came up with a bunch of answers. Some said it was to punish us. Others said that we had somehow turned away from him so he was powerless to prevent it. Still others posited that he just wasn’t in a position to help.
A small group of people realized that we were looking in the wrong direction. Science was already explaining our presence without recourse to him. So shouldn’t we explain human behavior, both good and evil, in the same way?
The faithful like to assert that non-believers are angry at God. How can we be angry at a non-existent being? If we are angry at all – and everyone should be able to get their hackles up about some injustice in this world – it’s that some people keep waiting for God to make the big difference. Notably and to their credit, Lurie and most liberal rabbis have had the good sense to drop that part of our ancient fiction. They now rightfully place all of the burden on human beings, reducing God to no more than a moral inspiration. Why they continue to waste their time on that is beyond me.
No matter how much we are drawn to ascribe it to an outside source, morality comes from within us. It is an evolved behavior. And in ITS absence, holocausts occur.