25 July 2007

Let's talk about God, baby...

More discussion growing out of a religion thread on That Message Board -- I've said things like this before, but not sure if I've posted them here, so for what it's worth here it is!

My advice to you, Jewel, is to focus on how you would like to live your life more than on abstract questions of belief, doctrine, or theology.

The joke version of Reconstructionist Judaism is "There is no God, and Mordecai Kaplan is his prophet."
But there's an element of truth there, and it's pretty close to what I "believe" (i.e., the model that works best for me in terms of intellectual honesty and my understanding of the world) about God -- that God has no independent or transcendent existence, but is valuable to me as a conceptual and poetic embodiment of our highest and noblest ideals, a divine force that represents the best in us. Kaplan called it "the Power that makes for salvation," among other things -- but he didn't "believe in" God as an anthropomorphic SuperPerson.

You could call this "belief" of mine a species of atheism. I don't believe in the God that many theists believe in, and "God" doesn't mean to me what it means to them.

And yet you'd be hard pressed to look at me and see what people think of when they say "atheist," or even "secularist"/"humanist" (which are terms I would embrace in some contexts, though not so much in opposition to religious identifiers). I work at a synagogue, I'm a leader in several different member-led (not clergy-led) Jewish worship/study communities, I keep kosher, I keep Shabbat, I wear a kippah most of the time now...

I live a life in which "our God and of our ancestors"--words that open the Amidah, the central prayer that traditional Jews say 3 times daily as the core of the prayer service--has a meaningful presence. I've said those words twice today (afternoon & evening services--I skipped the morning, and the only day of the week I regularly make it through all 3 of the prayer services I'm "supposed" to do is Shabbat...), while fasting in observance of Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av--commemorating the destruction of the Temples and other historical disasters).

I hope that the spiritual preparation of this practice of prayer, and my engagement with the ethical teachings of my religious tradition, contribute to making me a better person, one who will make her world a better place -- which is, in my book, an act of godliness.

So if the God-who-does-not-exist-independently-of-us-all speaks to me through my involvement in the tradition, through the love I feel for friends and family and the love they feel for me, through natural beauty and music and art... is it really accurate to say that God has no place in my life, because I don't "believe in" God?

I would say not. But I would also say it doesn't matter. I know what my God, who does not exist, wants of me, in the words of the prophets of my tradition (not because they saw God, not because they were especially holy -- but because these words are true and beautiful and right):

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8)

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