One of the truest statements in the Hebrew Bible is in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Once upon a time I thought there was great new-ness to Reform Judaism. I was taught that it was the truly evolutionary and revolutionary way to be a Jew. Rabbi Eric Yoffie is the soon-to-be retiring head of the Union of Reform Judaism. What he writes could have come from any traditional rabbi:
For most of us, the hunt for God never stops. We deny God, curse God and demand proofs of God’s existence that we will never get. But the search continues….
So just how do we find this God?
Begin, I suggest, with a new openness to the world around you. Reawaken your capacity for wonderment. Make room for the sense of awe that you felt as a child when you considered the beauty and the mystery of the natural world. There are divine sparks there, if you will allow yourself to experience them.
Why do the religious always assume that if we would just feel some wonder and awe we would discover God? Maybe we would discover science instead. One of the most awe-inspiring individuals of our time was Carl Sagan. Apparently he was pretty attached to his Jewish heritage, too. But not to God. Just because you find beauty and mystery in nature doesn’t mean you have to ascribe it to an imaginary source. Especially when truer explanations, even while incomplete, are so much more compelling.
He goes on to recommend that we study “sacred texts.” I can check that one off my list, too. I’ve got a library full of them. They’re mainly valuable as historical artifacts. Pretty interesting ones, too, if you keep that in mind.
Here’s the part that raised my hackles:
Remember, too, that God is not only a noun but a verb, not only a presence but a process. We may not know precisely what God is, but our tradition clearly tells us what God does: God heals the sick, clothes the naked, houses the homeless and pursues peace. We cannot be God; we are weak and imperfect human beings. But we can, within the limitations of the human condition, emulate God’s behavior, and, in this way, bring God into our lives. Consciousness of God, of course, is hardly a requirement for ethical acts. There is, thankfully, much “do-goodism” in our society. But those who pursue justice with the express intent of testifying to God’s existence are those who find the greatest satisfaction in their actions and who are least likely to fall victim to exhaustion and despair.
First of all, God is not a verb. That’s just dumb. Secondly, no god ever did any of the wonderful things on that list. If they ever do get done, it’s only when people do it. We are “weak and imperfect?” Maybe so, but we are considerably stronger and more perfect than something that doesn’t exist and does nothing.
At least he acknowledges that being a believer is no prerequisite for ethical behavior. But the idea that only believers are immune from exhaustion and despair is just silly empty rhetoric. Did he do some kind of study? Or, like most of the religiously motivated, is he just making it up because it sounds good?
Reform Judaism is going to be looking harder and harder for ways to be relevant. I have a suggestion for them. Stop sounding like Orthodox Jews.