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Day 3: Is God Still Necessary?

From: Douglas Rushkoff To: Andy Bachman Subject: Are we ready to take the next step? Dear Andy, Fascism wasn’t godlessness at all—simply people worshipping a different god. Fascism isn’t monotheism, of course, but obedience to a natural order, and expressed … Read More

By / December 22, 2006

From: Douglas Rushkoff To: Andy Bachman Subject: Are we ready to take the next step?

Dear Andy,

Fascism wasn’t godlessness at all—simply people worshipping a different god. Fascism isn’t monotheism, of course, but obedience to a natural order, and expressed through allegiance to the Führer, the One True Race, or the Party. Not so different from the One True God cult of Deuteronomy-era Israel. It’s the exclusivity and one-pointedness of primitive monotheism and totalitarianism (as well as that of Pharaoh-worship) that make these belief systems so ripe for exploitation by warlords, like those in power again today.

That’s why I can’t help but feel that true godlessness—even atheism—is a more accurate and ethical way of living than belief. Even if there is a God, we are utterly incapable of conceiving of him. Merely to try is to ask for a delusion. When I’m in my most tribally identified and belief-stricken state of Jewishness (as sometimes happens at a great circumcision or whatever), I find I suffer from an air of superiority and exclusivity. And I don’t like that.

Abstract monotheism is great for its ability to get us off our concretized notions of God and into caring for one another, instead. We smash idols—and this includes mental ones—in order to focus more on action. Doing God, if you will.

So, when I’m in what I consider to be my highest state of consciousness and ethical readiness, God isn’t an issue. The focus is outside myself, beyond whether what I’m doing is an official mitzvah, past any association with Jewishness, and towards a more universal acknowledgment of the good in all things.

When I’m stuck, sure, I like to have a point of focus, and I like to believe there’s something aware of me. But when I’m at my healthiest, boundary states like this don’t even exist. There’s no perspective from which some God would watch or be worshipped.

It was healthy for us, the Jews, to move from child sacrifice to ritual blood sacrifice and then finally to prayer. Are we ready to take the next step? What if we spent three hours of every Saturday morning building homes for the sick instead of sitting in our air-conditioned synagogues? Wouldn’t that be a more ethical use of the time and energy?

What I’m saying is that at either end of the spectrum—from my most intensely secular-humanist endeavors to my most spiritual state, I find I don’t really think so much about God.

—Douglas

From: Andy Bachman To: Douglas Rushloff Subject: God is Present at the Root of Our Highest Ideals

Dear Douglas,

Fascism is not “obedience to a natural order.” It is obedience to a materially constructed order that uses the perception of natural order to declare who is in and who is out. Theories of fascism tend toward the uses of myths and cults, reconstructed, to make a new order. My teacher George Mosse used to love pointing that out.

Having said that, Judaism, or religion, is not God-centered fascism, though it is fashionable among today’s (and yesterday’s) skeptics to declare it so.

Let’s cut to the chase.

I believe in God. Not as a punisher (though it helps sometimes to imagine that, especially when evil abounds in this world), nor even as a rewarder (I’m a nice guy and that don’t pay the bills). I agree that certain perceptions our ancestors had of God are reflections of an ancient culture mediating its perception of the Divine through a contemporary lens. Maimonides really laid it on the line, didn’t he? In rooting the encounter of God in the intellect, he broke new ground in our understanding of who or what God is.

But in the day to day, I rely upon the Rabbis in Pirkei Avot and phrases like the one I mentioned: “Where two or more sit and study words of Torah, the Divine Presence dwells.” Do I believe that God is a happy Grandpappy, kvelling that his children are studying Torah? No. But is there more than the readily discernible in our strivings after full human potential, rooted in ethics—in the innate desire for justice, love, and peace?

God is present as the root of our highest ideals. That doesn’t mean God is only ideals, because I also believe that our human capacity for empathy, for an ability to understand one another through the subtle language of emotion, is also a mark of God’s presence in the world.

Go back to the Garden of Eden. In the story, God gives Adam and Eve the ability to know Good and Evil; they just can’t live forever. It’s amazing to think that so early in the Torah, our tradition articulated an idea that we’ve yet to really improve upon.

Humans will never achieve immortality; our great challenge, rather, is to navigate between our impulses to do Good and Evil. That's what Hillel meant when he said, “What is hateful to you, don’t do to your neighbor; all the rest is commentary."

So let’s learn, because where two or more sit and study words of Torah….

It may seem circular, but it works for me.

Andy

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