Re-JEW-venating the JEW: Bad Theo-LOGIC by Rabbi Michael Shevack
- By Rabbi Michael Shevack --
- 26 Oct 2018 --
It’s time to finish up our discussion of those core theo-logical confusions that must be corrected if we’re going to re-JEW-venate the contemporary Jew.
These confusions are very subtle, so subtle that most people ignore them or think them irrelevant. But, classic theology has invested itself in two related ideas that are critical to clear up or intelligent minds cannot illuminate God intelligently.
Re-JEW-venating the JEW: Bad Theo-LOGIC[/tweetthis]
The first classic confusion– bad theo-logic– is something touched on earlier in the previous series: creatio ex nihilo or, in Hebrew, yesh m’ayin, “something from nothing.”
This doctrine proposes that “creation comes from nothing”. Philosophers have taken this to mean that God is not a part of our universe, i.e. No-Thing. God is apart! Transcendent in extremis. God must be “All Alone” before creating, as the words of our poetic Adon Olam refrain.
Moreover, since God is Echad, One, i.e. Unity Itself, God is not internally divided. The luminous Aryeh Kaplan asserted, God must be some kind of “simple substance.”
This model– and it is a model– results in a conundrum that doesn’t make sense to intelligent minds. Since God is totally apart from Creation, we cannot “figure out”, at all, how God created our world. So, human life, science, and even our moral laws or Torah, cannot be logically-related to the essence of God. We’re forced to accept the truth of anything just “on faith.”
Because there is an abyss between God and our world, this requires some bad theo-logical gymnastics: A Revelation, including flames and thunder. Angels to mediate God and Creation, so God remained pure yet Creative. Messiahs and a Celestial Torah that existed prior to Creation. Or, maybe Tzimtzum God who somehow contracts itself (without divisions?) to “make room” for something “beyond itself”.
At issue is how God could be so apart, so simple, and yet create a scale other than itself. God may “make sense” here, but Creation doesn’t.
Compounding this problem, the re-JEW-venated thinker recognizes modern biblical criticism, which contradicts the singular revelation of the Torah. Our view of scripture is based upon archeologic findings that show the scripture was assembled from different “body-parts” at different times and for different purposes.
So, unfortunately, and unnecessarily, we contemporary Jews often have a problem putting God back into our scripture. We become lost in our progressivism. We populate our synagogue with agnostics and atheists, who are attached only to Jewish sentimentalities or ethnocentricity.
The model I suggest is more enlightened. It accepts facts that have been discovered. It is a variation of what is called “pan-en-theist.”
Imagine God creating our universe and that our universe is an extension of God. Our universe was born of the Nature of God. God, in this very real sense, GROWS. God could have created another universe or any number of universes, with their own unique natures, by which God grows.
Hard to imagine? A God that Grows? A Living God? Why? Jeremiah 10:10! A Living God, indeed!
This enlightened, prophetic, model does not require an austere separation between God and our world. So, there doesn’t have to be a magical intermediary between God and Creation. There is God, who has/is a Nature, and this Nature precedes the nature of our particular universe. The Creator is an Unlimited, Creative, “Universe” of universes– an “All-Together”– a Nature Beyond any particular nature, such as ours, yet, inseparable from it!
God is now fully in Creation, and fully distinguished from it, simultaneously!
Now, because God is intrinsically connected to our world, we may make discoveries or have revelations of God by observing our world. We may discern Godly characteristics in our world, and from these observations of God’s imprint on our world, we can discover many “laws” to govern our world. We can discover laws that govern how human beings should interact with the nature of our world, for the benefit of humankind and the world. We can discover, from experience, that by not following such laws this will be a detriment of ourselves and our world. We discover “blessing” and “curse”. We learn about God’s quality of “Unity”, and our ability to create dis-unity, simply by studying our world.
Now, Torah, however it was written, can truly be viewed rationally! It is now innately teachable to contemporary young minds. It doesn’t stay enshrouded as some mysterious religious document. It becomes seen as a human view of Truth, discerned from Life experience. And this experience, because it is innately connects to God, teaches us, truly, “God’s Ways”, at least here on earth, and the related environs.
We need no “faith” for this model. Morality just pops out of this model! So does, in principle, any “revelation” or discovery of God’s Laws. The essential Truth of Sinai can be maintained, rationally, even if the events at Sinai were not themselves fact!
Out of this model pops the re-JEW-venated “Jew”. All it requires is good theo-logic!
The other critical confusion in classic theology that must be cleaned up in order to re-JEW-venate the contemporary Jew, is the relationship of the individual to the group.
In the second chapter of Genesis, God creates “Adam”, which means “humankind”. So, Adam is both a group and an individual. God is directly connected to Adam, as Adam is created through dust, the elementals of our world.
But, what is not clear, is whether there is a direct connection of each individual person (each “adam”) to God. While humankind (“Adam”), as a group, is clearly connected to God, is each person’s connection to God only mediated through the group-Adam? Notice that in the Bible, God does not speak to Eve directly, but chooses to communicate to Eve through the individual Adam (“adam”).
Also, in the second chapter of Genesis a kind of “species consciousness” is framed, which mediates the individual members of the human species, and also sets up God’s model for patriarchy. This chapter does not really handle the problem of individuality well.
If the individual is mediated exclusively through other individuals, or exclusively through the group to which he/she belongs, this sets us up for the possibility for religious authoritarianism or even cultism! It might even be construed that the Jewish claim to be chosen, is fascist, not unlike Hitler’s claim for Aryan superiority.
This is not just a religious problem. This is a severe problem for science too. In Darwinian evolutionary theory the individual organism is the primary “structure” through which evolutionary adaptation takes place. The individual has its own relationship with nature, unmediated by other individuals.
This is also an obvious problem for democracy. If each of us has “rights endowed by the Creator”, then there is a direct relationship between God and each of us. But, do we have such a relationship? Or, do we only have this mediated through the group, religious or secular-governmental authorities?
The correct theo-logical model for contemporary Jews has to be one in which the individual has a direct relationship to God, as well as the individual has a direct relationship to each other as a species.
In this model, there can be authority determined by the group, and freedom of each individual within and from the group! Both group norms and individual self-expression is determined, including that of males and females, separately and together! Indeed, separate and together, are not held as intellectual contradictions, which is the fundamental problem.
In the previous issue, God cannot be exactly the same as Creation, but, must be distinguished, yet intimately-connected to Creation. In this issue, individual human beings cannot be exactly the same as our species, but must be distinguished individually and still be intimately connected.
Only by correctly understanding these two massive boundaries, God to Creation and the individual to the group can the contemporary Jew enter into his/her own identity, and avoid being prey to the backwaters of still medievalist Jewish traditions, no matter how so-called “modern”.
How we handle these two boundaries is the difference between religion of the past, and religion for our post-modern era. How we handle these two boundaries is the difference between ordinary religion and enlightened religion!
Enlightened religion is where both the scientific model and the theological model, cohere, seamlessly. There is a Truth that is consistent between both scientific and theo-logic understandings, so our tradition can be taught meaningfully. Our so-called ‘belief” in God, and our “experience” of God in the world, are no longer disjunct.
And Truth is something to which each individual human mind can ascend, while working together, respectfully and lawfully, with others who are members of their group. Truth is not defined by either the individual or the group! There is no intellectual fascism; there is no “anything goes” individualism.
The re-JEW-venation of the contemporary JEW follows the following simple, criteria:
Enlightened Judaism teaches a new Wissenschaft der Judentum, a new Science of Judaism, to help teach contemporary Jews see their way out of the bad theo-logic of the past.
Enlightened Judaism can reinvigorate the Reform movement, the Orthodox movement, Conservative movement, Reconstructionist movement, as well as all our sister religions that grew from our Hebrew roots and early rabbinic theologies.
Enlightened Judaism can re-Jew-venate both the Jew, and a secular World that has deviated, dangerously, from the spiritual knowledge of the Jew. The secular, materialist, culture in which we currently live should not be allowed to strangle our individuality either in the name of cultic governments or religious sects or secular cults that exist in our world.
It is for this task that The Association for Universal Judaism has evolved. We are now The Alliance for Enlightened Judaism. Please look us up on our new website: www.enlightenedjudaism.org
Spiritually awake! Intellectually alive! Enlightened Jews! The world needs us, and enlightened others.
Can you hear the Voice in the Wilderness calling us?