In Defense Of God
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God knows, God doesn’t need my advice or help. But the fact is the Almighty has been taking it on the chin (anthropomorphically speaking) of late, and maybe it’s time to speak up. The fallout from the death and destruction in the world in the name of Allah is taking its toll. Most dramatically and horribly, there has been the terrorism from militant Muslims, underscored by the killing of thousands of innocents on 9/11 as part of jihad, or holy war, against the heathen culture of the Western world. The terror continues and spreads, with imams calling on believers to murder men, women and children — and themselves — for God’s sake, from the intifadas in Israel to the daily suicide bombings in Iraq. On the domestic scene, the rise of Evangelical Christianity and the perceived threats to the separation of church and state have added to a sense of unease among many Americans in recent times. It all adds up to giving God a bad reputation. Nothing new, of course. The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition are only two examples of how history has been darkened by the widespread slaughter of innocents in the name of God. On the intellectual front, a look at the best-seller list shows that we are creating an anthology of anger, adding to the Omnipotent’s image of a vengeful, spiteful and deadly deity. Take Christopher Hitchens’ book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” which has been described as the primary “atheist manifesto.” The proud intellectual contrarian skewers organized religion for causing so many wars and deaths throughout history, and he mocks the lack of logic in religious tenets. But his refusal to allow for any benefits from believers, as the subtitle of his book suggests, proves how unreasonable he is in attributing all good to secularists and all evil to followers of religion.  A brilliant man and entertaining writer, Hitchens nevertheless is blinded by his anger, consistently confusing religion with zealotry. In fact, it is that anger that is most evident in several other popular books lambasting God-believers, such as “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris and “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins, which blame virtually all of society’s ills on organized religion while praising atheism as the epitome of reason and morality. For believing Jews, Shalom Auslander makes Noah Feldman, the summer’s poster boy for ingratitude toward Modern Orthodoxy, look like a chasidic rebbe by comparison. Making a literary mark through his collection of stories (“Beware of God”) and new memoir (“Foreskin’s Lament”) based on his deeply unhappy childhood as an Orthodox Jew in Monsey, Auslander blends bitterness, rage and humor in his writing. In one story, called “God Is A Big Happy Chicken,” a pious Jew dies, goes to heaven and discovers that God is a 30-foot-tall chicken who cares only about getting his feed delivered in the morning and his droppings cleaned in the afternoon. Allowed to return to earth, the Jew is eager to tell his family that they can eat bacon, watch television on Friday night and lead carefree lives. But when he sees them seated happily at the dinner table on Friday night in their Shabbat finery, he cannot bring himself to tell them “the truth.” One need not be a Bible believer to suggest that not everything about religion, or life, is black and white. Indeed, there may be as many immoral churchgoers as there are deeply humane atheists, but that doesn’t prove anything about God’s existence or what, if anything, God wants from us. Whether one believes that the Bible was divinely written or inspired, its stories are bloody and disturbing in some places, and tender and insightful in others. The Ten Commandments embody a life of law and morality, but the overall message is that those who follow God’s command will be rewarded and those who do not will suffer. How, then, does one explain one of life’s deepest mysteries, the fact that in so many instances the opposite seems true, with the good dying young and the evildoers thriving? We have no satisfying answers, but the foundation of all religion is faith. That means believing in something one cannot prove empirically, for what kind of conviction would be required of us if God were a tangible, palpable presence in our lives? The rabbis teach that after speaking directly to our forefathers and prophets in the Bible, God has chosen to “hide His face,” and make His presence felt in more subtle ways, through the miracles of nature and science, the genius of the human brain and the grasp of an infant’s tiny fingers. The Bible’s code of living is a roadmap toward exploring the depths of our humanity, though we well know that we can also use our powers for destruction and evil. As Jews — religious or secular — we believe in free will and the freedom of choice in our lives. In the end, then, it’s what we do with our hearts and minds that matters, God knows. E-mail:

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10/09/2009 - 11:17

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