Yesterday I listened to a debate between Sam Harris and Rabbi David Wolpe. It’s not unusual for me to listen to these debates, though I’m not quite sure what deeply felt need I have that motivates me. Typically they are held between non-theistic thinkers and Christians and Muslims, so identifying with the non-theist is easy.
This debate, however, made me very uncomfortable for a number of reasons. If I’m being honest, part of it is because I’m jealous that there does not exist a non-theistic rabbi with Wolpe’s national platform to teach our very different way of being Jewish. It is an approach that I just know would take off if it could just get some momentum.
My jealousy was only intensified by the fact that I honestly felt that a lot of what he said was just dumb. He invoked irrelevant arguments about social Darwinism, eugenics, Stalinism and North Korea. He made statements about the existence of the soul and then denied that these were scientific claims. He rejected elements of the modern evolutionary synthesis. He elevated monotheism to the status of savior of the world. At one point he said that the moral sense of the bible was against some of the very things it prescribed.
I have no doubt that Wolpe deeply believes what he says, no matter how non-sensical it seems to me. I’m also increasingly convinced that as American Jews become more and more non-theistic and secular in their Jewish identities, the many rabbis like him will scare some of them away.
Where are those rabbis who are willing to take a stand and say that their congregants are RIGHT about their growing secular beliefs? I know for a certainty that they are out there but they refuse to speak up. Do they think that it will screw up their “authority” as interpreters of God’s word? Don’t they know that nobody thinks of them that way anyway?
Maybe I sound like a broken record on this issue. After all, with so few openly non-theistic rabbis in the world, I do feel a bit lonely.