Tag Archives: Prophets

Criticism, Self-Criticism and Antisemitism

A common thread of modern leftist anti-Israel anti-Semitism is the claim that Israel has only itself to blame for Jew-hatred. If only they had been “nicer” to the Arab armies and terrorists committed to their annihilation! A preposterous but familiar excuse for leftist racism.

But in another sense, anti-Semitism does indeed have roots in Jewish history. For Israel, in addition to discovering monotheism and the concept of a meaningful history, also invented self-criticism. The first references to Jews as a stiff-necked, materialistic, ungrateful people may be found in the words of the Prophets of ancient Israel, quoted in the Jewish (and Christian) bible.

In a PBS series on Jewish history, host Simon Schama (a respected historian) cited as proof of St. Paul’s anti-semitism his claim that the Jews had often slain their own prophets. Schama seemed unaware that Paul was quoting Jesus, and Jesus was quoting the Prophets Nehemiah and Elijah, criticizing Hebrew ingratitude:

“They were disobedient and rebelled against Thee, and cast thy laws behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations.” (Nehemiah 9:26)

“They children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword.” (1 Kings 19:10, quoting Elijah)

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What If God Is NOT Omnipotent?

Much thinking (and prayer) goes into the matter of Theodicy: Why does God allow suffering of the innocent?  Great minds have been working on this for a long time, and I have nothing to add to this debate.

But I find myself wondering otherwise.  What if God cannot stop accidents of nature (disease, flood, etc.) from hurting the innocent? And what if He cannot stop me from hurting others?

In giving me Free Will, He has certainly given me the ability to choose to hurt others.  So it seems reasonable that He cannot stop others from being hurt by me without robbing  my choices of their reality and their results.

And perhaps, in creating a rational world of cause and effect, He has also set in motion physical events that He cannot prevent without making His world irrational. 

The Bible shows God consistently acting out of love for us.  When we seem to suffer unjustly (as does Job), then God wants us to accept that it is part of His higher reason, His divine wisdom.  We are to accept and trust in His divine wisdom, even though it be incomprehensibly beyond our own human reason  We are to accept and trust.

Islam simplifies the matter somewhat. God (Allah) is pure will.  Our only choice is submission (Islam). Even seeking o understand His will is presumption and blasphemy.

Acceptance. Trust. Submission.  God’s divine wisdom.  The will of Allah. 

Is there really any difference?

But what if God is not omnipotent?  What if He made us as we are, and the world as it is, and he must let us, and it, play out as our choices, and nature’s cause and effect, play themselves out?

Clearly, as regards us and our choices of good and evil, He who created us must care which we choose.  If we choose to hurt others, He must feel pain – for the suffering of our victims, and also for our own failure to see and choose the right path.

Certainly, the God of the Prophets is one who suffers greatly, in both sorrow and  anger, when His chosen people choose badly.  (Abraham Heschel wrote beautifully about this in The Prophets.)  This feeling, indecisive god seems so human, and so far from the unchanging, eternal first cause of the philosophers, that one wonders if they are even related.

Could God be all-powerful in creation, but an emotional basket-case in dealing with his self-determining creatures?  Could He be like a parent of a willful child?  Full of good advice but unable to stop His child from making its own mistakes?  And in the end, having only His perfect love to offer?

Morality without God

I have often heard the adage that “Morality is what you do when no one is watching.” I now think that is more a definition of immorality.

What got me thinking about all this is that recently I saw Mel Gibson’s movie What Women Want. The plot involves an advertising executive who experiences an electrical accident that somehow leaves him with the ability to hear the internal thoughts – of women. Unsurprisingly, he uses this ability to seduce, steal ideas from, and finally understand women.

My first afterthought was: what would it be like to have this “superhero” power? But then I wondered: what would it be like to know that MY thoughts were being heard?

Morality – moral behavior – has its basis in the sense that someone is always watching my actions and hearing my thoughts. Not just any random person, not a government agency with spy cameras; those breed fear, not morality. Societies that try to enforce all morality with fear end up in totalitarianism or (if they lose their nerve) in anarchic chaos.

No, the watcher/listener must be a loving person, and one who knows us well. It must be God.

Those of us who have lived in both small towns and big cities have noticed the difference in (among other things) drivers’ behavior. The bigger the population, i.e. the more drivers, the ruder their behavior. The reason seems plain. Driving in a big city, you are surrounded by strangers you are unlikely to see again. In a small town, the driver in the next car may be a neighbor, or friend, or even relative. Honking and fingering to show disapproval of their driving may boomerang into a real embarrassment.

We all tend to censor our actions and speech to some extent when dealing with others, but not our thoughts, since they remain private. But what if our thoughts were heard, and by someone who knew us and loved us? Would we not try to learn as a habit not to pursue thoughts that we are ashamed of? Anger, greed, lust, envy…all the Deadly Seven?

If Big Brother were listening, we would be self-censoring out of fear. But if a truly loved and loving one were listening, it would not be fear we would feel, but sadness at causing hurt.  Abraham Heschel, in The Prophets, explains the importance of the Jewish vision that God suffers from our sins.

That is why a loving God, rather than a punishing God, is what wise parents teach and children respond to best.

Atheists reply that they, too, can behave morally, despite the loneliness of existing without watchers/listeners. They rely on an inner conscience which they cannot explain, and on a well-run and affluent society they inherit. They argue that society evolved morality for evolutionary reasons, despite the fact that Darwinian Survival of the Fittest has no place for The Good of the Species.

Morality is the atheists’ stumbling stone.  They know that human society cannot survive without it, and they know that morality not based on a higher authority (religion) seems unattainable for most common folk.  So they are forced to the uneasy conclusion that society must be based on a lie unrecognized by the masses but encouraged by the rulers.   Or, to avoid this ugly conclusion, they take refuge in a theoretical evolution of society in complete contradiction to real evolutionary science.

But the question remains: Can there be morality without God?  Or was Dostoevsky correct, that “if God is dead, everything is permitted?”