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Even of there Is No God, Act as if there Is: Thinking In Jewish XXXI

Even of there Is No God, Act as if there Is: Thinking In Jewish XXXI

Even of there Is No God, Act as if there Is: Thinking In Jewish XXXI

This past Saturday while sitting in my Rabbi’s Library after Shabbat morning services I listened to a most disturbing proposition, that God allows tragedy in the world in order to create a vital need for God. At the same time one of the congregants proposed the grand idea that even though God knows the results of all actions, God allows us to have free will which includes the ability to act with evil intentions. Let me tackle the free will issue first and then I’ll try to address the former idea that God allows evil in order to create a place for God.

The issue of free will is an easy one for me. Either there is a God who is omniscient, all knowing, in which case there can be no free will simply because God knows every action one takes and therefore one’s life is pre-determined. All that exists under this construction is the illusion of free will; the human being acting freely without external constraints or conditions controlling one’s choices is but an illusion if the outcome is predestined. Claiming an omniscient God who surrenders the ability to determine the will of any or all human beings affording humanity free will is like having one’s cake and eating it too. The very concept is a contradiction in terms. Omniscience and free will cancel one another out. Either one has free will in which case there is no room for an omniscient God or one’s life and actions are predetermined by an omniscient creator God and there is no way out of the destiny one is created to complete.

For my part, I reject the very notion of omniscience and therefore reject the very idea that a creator God controls anything in my universe. I have free will and yet I choose to act with ethical intentions. I am not, however, surprised when others act with evil intentions. Free will provides one with a choice and sometimes that choice is rather difficult to make. But because I am able to act freely I must also embrace the very idea that the universe in which I live, for a brief time, is quite random and without teleological purpose. I live in an absurd universe, a universe of chance, of probabilities, of good, of evil, of risk, of reward, a universe without meaning except for the meaning that each individual contributes to the fabric of our intertwined lived-experiences.

The very idea that a God allows evil in order to create a place of God is obscene. If this is the image of the creator God of monotheism then that God is a sadist and unworthy of worship. That God allows bombs to be placed behind children and adults to create a desire for God’s protection in survivors and witnesses to the tragic outcome of a bombing as took place at the Boston Marathon is without honor, ethics or morals. A God that is so insecure that God requires tragedy to induce desire (I think fear is a better word here) makes that God unworthy of worship. A God that allows women and children to be destroyed and maimed by the actions of one predestined to plant such a bomb fails to follow his own edict that one has the obligation to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger; to violate one’s own commandments is to make one unworthy of worship. The very idea that God allows violence, war, pestilence and famine raises some interesting questions. First, If God is God and can stop the violence and doesn’t, then God is a sadist. If, secondly, God is God and cannot stop the violence then God is not omnipotent and is, therefore, unworthy of fear and trembling. Finally, if God is God and is simply indifferent to the violence then God is nothing but a passive deity unworthy of worship for God will not interfere with the ways of mankind. Violent acts, wars, and other acts of evil do not turn me toward God rather they act to turn me away from a creator God.

So what am I doing in Synagogue on Saturday morning. Yes, I am still an atheist but I am also a Jew and I enjoy the company of the congregation. There is a great deal of joy in the congregation and if the price I have to pay for the congregation is to sit for an hour and a half in prayer (I actually use the time to meditate rather than to pray) that is a small price to pay. As Emmanuel Levinas argued, even if there is no God, one is obligated to act as if there is.

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6 thoughts on “Even of there Is No God, Act as if there Is: Thinking In Jewish XXXI

  1. I was just getting ready to write a blog on this very subject! Of course with a different twist than your thoughts, but you do bring up many valid points that do disturb me about God.

  2. Alesia:
    I am not surprised that you struggle with the same questions I do. In fact, these are quite disturbing issues that require a great deal of ‘wiggle’ to answer for a believer. I was struck, for example, by Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence for God when, in his introductory text, he makes it clear that none of the proofs make any sense unless you first believe in God. It is that kind of argument that denies credulity. Of course, if I am a believer in anything, it takes little to convince me of the truth of the story. It is for convincing the non-believer that a straighter line is required. Dancing in circles gets one nowhere. I also remember an introduction to philosophy course I took a very long time ago. The professor asked the following question, “Can God create a mountain that God himself cannot move?” His point at the end of the day was that one must be quite careful when assigning the power of omnipotence to anything. No for me, it is not enough to believe first and create proofs thereafter. To the contrary, first evaluate the extant evidence and then convince me through rational argumentation, a task that appears impossible for the true believer.

    I think there are two things that bother people more than anything about atheism. The first suggests that one cannot lead an ethical or moral life without there being a consequence or reward for a life lived; an eternal end-game as it were. Without God there would be no morality. I am troubled by the very idea that God appears to reside outside of the commandments made for human beings to live by; in this sense, God is a poor role model. The second thing that bothers people is that atheists have no regard for purpose, that the universe is essentially absurd, without reason for being, and appears to act (if that is the right word here) in accord with statistical probabilities rather than ordered purpose. For me, the evidence points to randomness and not to purpose. Just a brief look at the history of the earth points to the randomness of creation, the reliance on slow, evolutionary change over unimaginable periods of time that, to human beings living less than 100 years appears quite static and unchanging. Yet even in my lifetime, a brief 70 years, I have witnessed phenomenal changes both in nature and from the hands of mankind. Guy Clark, one of my favorite singer-songwriters from Texas, said it best when he wrote these words: “Nothing lasts forever say the old men in the boat yards, turning trees into shrimp boats hell I guess they ought to know.”


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