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The topic that I picked was God science and religion. But it’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about and I’ve been sort of studying it and writing about it so I thought that I would like to share some of the ideas that I have on this topic. But for me the easiest thing is not to begin with God or with science but to begin with religion for the very simple reason that I think the best way to talk about God is if you first start with religion then let’s talk about science and then let’s see how the two of them, somehow, give us some sense of what we mean by God.
Now I had the good fortune years ago when I was a student at the Hebrew Union College that Erich Fromm came to visit and he needed someone to drive him around Cincinnati and I said, look I volunteered, it turns out he said no, why don’t we just go for a walk and I had the good fortune of spending four or five hours with Erich Fromm he was a great psychoanalyst a great teacher and I never had an experience of anyone who was able to listen the way he listened. It’s almost like whatever you said to him he could see exactly where you were he was able to penetrate into your inner sense he had a sense of the inner and so as a result I started reading a good deal of his works and one of them in psychoanalysis and religion he came out with a definition of religion that I’d like to begin my lecture with that definition.
He said that religion provides a frame of orientation and an object of devotion. And he says everybody in that sense is religious because everybody in one form or another has to find some way of fitting into the world. We stand in relationship to the world, in relationship to the past, to the present, to that which is beneath me, to that which may be above me, in other words, I need to connect all kinds of different areas. Just keep in mind I’ve got to deal with facts, I’ve got to deal with values, I’ve got a deal with the ethical, I’ve got to deal with the beautiful, I’ve got to deal with the Holy. And how do I put all these things together? And then he said that is not enough… what actually puts these things together is that you have an object of devotion. Now the problem, of course, that many people have objects of devotion there are anything but God. They may have objects of devotion, that are very self-destructive or destructive of others, so he therefore said religion isn’t necessarily a good thing and so he made a distinction between authoritarian religions and humanistic religions.
Well in thinking about what Fromm said, I sort of revised it a little bit, and in the book that I edited called “The Inner Journey” I actually said there you can provide this statement into four questions.
And let me indicate what I mean. I think that religion basically is a way of satisfying certain needs, certain basic needs, and here are them:
First, as Fromm said, you need intelligibility, you have to have some way of putting the world together. Now that intelligibility could either be done positively or it be done negatively. Let me indicate what I mean. I think that Judaism … Christianity also is a religion that seeks understanding, not certainty, there’s a difference between a search for certainty, where I’ve got to have the truth the absolute, the real truth. And a religion that says no, I am open to experience, I am open to logic, I am open to reason and I have to find a way in which I can come to the truth with that in some pray not be able to find some way of revising that truth. So that I can come up with other attitudes and other positions, you see. So, the first thing is you need to have some sense of understanding the word.
Secondly, I think that every human being needs reassurance. What does that mean you need reassurance? Let me ask you a question: did any of you go to a doctor because you were sick and you were concerned about your sickness without asking or at least, if not openly at least to yourself, you asked the question is this serious? Is this really something serious? You want reassurance, don’t you? I am distorting anything, is not that your experience you want reassurance. So in a way religion is the search for reassurance but of course you may be reassured by believing in a lot of things that aren’t true or you can’t be reassured because you are basing your reassurance on something that a value hear by the way. Let me just switch to science I will get back to it. That’s one of the reasons we need science and the reason religion needs science is because we need scientific investigation to give us some sense of what really makes sense, in a whole range of areas that religion really has very little to do with. You know it is not a matter, if you really want to get healthy you need to go to a doctor. If you want to know that you want to fix your sin, you need to go to someone, of course today it is very hard to find anyone that can fix anything.
You know they tell the story about this guy invited this plumber and he charged the fortune and the guy said listen, he says, my God I am a doctor I don’t charge that much. So, the plumber says that is true, when I was a doctor, I was not charging that much either. So, the real question of course is that you want this reissuance.
The third thing you need is recognition and what does that mean recognition? You have to feel that somehow, you’re worthwhile. I sometimes say that what people really want it is not necessarily to be praised. Yes, they want to be praised but in reality, they want to be known. They want to be known, they want to know that there is someone that understands them, that understands, what it is that is driving them. You know I was complimented by my oldest son when I was 85, they get a little party for me and he said dad I didn’t know what it means to be a father until I have children. All the time I thought you were too worried, you were too control in. Now that I have children, I understand you, the reality is we want to be known and there is this need to be known.
So, there’s: we have to have intelligibility, we have to have reassurance, we have to have recognition and finally we also have to feel that we’re part of something greater. Something that will feel that we can devote ourselves to and what we devote ourselves to is something worthwhile. Now whether we like it or not, whether we are religious or not, the reality is that every human being needs to satisfy these basic needs. Now I think personally that it is an authentic religion that satisfies this best of all. Now what makes a religion authentic and here I would say there are two elements that are foundational in Judaism and I think to a degree are foundational in Christianity and that is that the religion has to be rational. You cannot have a religion that is irrational, you cannot have a religion that is based on superstition, you cannot have a relationship that is based in magic. One of the clear statements that you find especially in the book of Deuteronomy the 18th chapter is the condemnation of superstition and all kinds of things that go against reason. I do not know any other religion, and here perhaps I can be corrected, that goes as far as Judaism in that sense. Should I give you the reason? Would you be interested in knowing? If you look at the Talmud in Shabbat it says that on Judgment Day when you die and you face God and you have to confront God guess one of the questions that God asks you? Take a guess. The first question is which is I think a legitimate question: did you give up hope? In other words, look I know life is hard, I know you have got struggles but if you trusted me on some level you would not have given up. I love that. Did you conducted your fairs with honesty and integrity? I even loved that more because I think but really what counts is whether you live your life with integrity, whether you live a life that you can say somehow I can go to bed at night and feel that you know even though I’m not perfect even I make mistakes I’ve done my best.
Now here’s the kicker, you know what the third question is? Did you think logically, did you derive proper inferences from your premises? Hello, can you believe that God would go to you and ask you are you thinking logically? That is not the kind of think that God would ask. But the reality is that the Judaism is basically rational, and it believes that logic is foundational to religion that you cannot have a proper religion unless you have reason. Why? Because otherwise you will believe a lot of nonsense and therefore you have to be able to question. And if you do not question and if you do not have the proper way of questioning, if you do not have logic then you’re not going to get anywhere. Now here it seems to me science is very important. But secondly Judaism takes ethics as central then in fact if a person and a people do not live ethically and act ethically, they are being irreligious.
I think that in that sense prophetic Judaism, biblical Judaism, is uniquely a religion that teaches the significance of individual and social Ethics. Here is what Judaism say: try to fulfill your obligations, try to fulfill your promises and you will have a much clearer idea of who you are and what you can do. Take upon yourself responsibility if you take upon yourself responsibility then you can see. You can talk a lot about but try it. You know really immerse yourself in it. Now let me push that a little bit. Akiba was asked this question and Rabbi Akiba was one of the great teachers of Judaism. He was asked what is more important? The work of God or the work of man. That seems like a strange question. God creates the world, what is more important. Now being a good Jew, he answers a question with a question. You know they say why do you Jews always answer a question with a question. If the answer is why should not, we. But in any case, ask this question, you know, is that better the works of God or the works of man. Guess what a keeper says, he says… he asks what do you say a blessing over the wheat or over the bread. Do not say a blessing over the wheat, you say blessing over the bread. Do you say a blessing over the grapes, or do you say over the wine? So if we’re saying a blessing over the bread and over the wine and not the wheat it’s certainly the case that it is the work of man that has to be taken most seriously and throughout the profits. You have all kinds of saying that to really know God. Here let me just quote with Leo Beck says, one of the great teachers of Judaism. Leo Beck says this: to know God and to do right have become synonymous in the prophets. Jeremiah says he judged the cause of the poor and needy then it was well with him. Is not this to know me saith the Lord also for example when Jeremiah says, the Lord let not him that glories glory in this but that he understands and know me that I am the Lord who exercised loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth. Now to translate the concern for the ethical so that every human being can experience it, you will be surprised that what I am going to say next. You know what the greatest revolution in history is the Sabbath. Why, he would say. I will tell you why. With the Sabbath every human being, every single human being, a man, a woman, a slave, even an animal, a stranger was in control of his or her time. One day a week they were no longer slaves. One day a week they could make decisions about the life. It was not somebody else that was telling them how they should live their life, all of a sudden, they have a different sense of what it meant to be a human being. That is an incredibly important thing and so therefore I think that Judaism tries to impress upon us the importance of reason and ethics. Now in that sense it seems to me that science is essential, so let me now move a little bit from religion to science.
Now I have to acknowledge to you that I’ve spent a lot of time teaching philosophy of science when I was teaching at the University and so I have a very profound respect for science and you need science. Should I you why you need science? You need science because you have religions teaching things that they should not be really you are forcing people to do. I cannot tell you how often I have had to confront individuals who were you know Jehovah’s Witnesses who actually refused to give their children transfusions. Fortunately, laws changed but you know, that is of a religious belief, isn’t it true? You know I mean it is like the Christian scientists. One guy Christian scientists meets another man, and he says I war I am fine he says, how are you? So so… What do you mean so so? Well my father’s not feeling good. What mean your father is not feeling good. I am a Christian scientist tell your father that he thinks he is not feeling good, that he should think that he should feel well, and you will be fine. Never thought about it try it you will see, if he thinks he is going to be fine, he is going to be fine. A few months later they meet, he says, how are you? Fine! Oh, by the way how is your father? Well he thinks he is dead. So, the reality here of course is you do not want it. So, look at where we are going in in the Orthodox world with vaccinations. I cannot imagine why you have ultra-orthodox Jews who will not vaccinate their children, that’s madness, that is why you need science, isn’t that right? Take for example the issue of climates change. It is a disaster what is happening in the world today in terms of the destruction of the environment. So, science seeks to develop general laws and regulations stable patterns of predictability and you need this eventually as an arena and as a foundation for our actions. You see you need science not simply as a theory you need science also as a practice and so in order for us to do ethics in order for us to do achieve anything we need to have a proper understanding of the order of things. If we do not understand the order of things, we cannot function in that. The scientist does not ask thus the world have order and intelligibility, they assume that the world has order and intelligibility.
What the scientist asks is how does this particular problem, how does this particular disorder, how does this fit in the overall order so that we can change it so that it becomes intelligible. And so here it seems to me that always science make certain presuppositions namely that presuppose the laws and regulations as stable pattern ease of predictability and these patterns are essential for human purposes. An arena of order which serves as a foundation for the possibility of ethical action plus these realizations become elements in future developments. And you see all science, now I’m quoting something I wrote years ago, all sciences presupposed being an order it takes them for granted and that’s not the cost discussed a more radical question of the ground for the being an order of what is. We stuck with this question, why is there something rather than nothing and what is the ground of the being that is, why is there order and not chaos and what is the ground of the order that is. These questions go beyond the scope and range of science, as he has stated the order of the world is no accident there is nothing actual which could be actual without some measure of order. It is not the case why he says that there’s an actual world which accidentally happens to exhibit an order of nature, no actual world because there is an order of nature, if there were no order there would be no actual world. And so, the very presuppositions of science are presuppositions that presuppose an orderly universe and it is when human beings emerge that a new level of awesome and magnificent possibilities of a self-conscious being who can begin to understand.
And here my dear friend and professor Hans Jonas put it best of all. Here’s what he said: “If human beings or if man had been a blind result of an uncaring and meaningless process then”, here’s what he says, “the seeing is the product of the blind, the caring the product of the uncaring does not this paradox cast doubt on the very concept of an indifferent nature that abstraction of physical science. As the product of indifference human beings too must be indifferent then the facing of his mortality which simply warrant the reaction let us eat and drink for tomorrow, we die. There is no point in caring for what has no sanction behind it in any creative intent but if facing our finer too we find that we do care not only whether we exist but how we exist. Then there must be something being, a being with a supreme care this being the very fact that we care must qualify the totality which harbors that fact. So, I think when we really take a look at science, we see that science and large measure, in fact bolsters religion. It’s a way in which religions somehow can find a way of justifying its belief that God is a creator of the world, that God is an order in being, that there is something rather than nothing, that there’s value in the world that’s been created. And so, I think that we have to then now talk a little bit about God okay. Here I must say it’s very interesting that if you look at the body had it ever occurred to you that the Bible brings forth a new concept of God and this new concept of God is a concept that was in opposition to paganism to idolatry and the multiplicity of God.
The first thing is very interesting when Abraham goes, and he is told about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 he says if there are fifty righteous people would you destroy? No… if there are forty-five, if there were forty, if there are thirty, if there were twenty, if there are 10 and then Abraham says something which is fantastic. He says I who am but dust and ashes from the point of view of being I am nothing but from the point of view of ethics I have every reason to ask shall not the judge of all the earth do justice. If you are really the God that needs to be believed in, you have to be a God of justice. Who believed in the God of justice in those days, nobody? The gods were whimsical gods, irrational gods, gods of jealousy this is what the gods were those days, right. And then what about Moses? When the children of Israel want to get a leader after they spy out the lamp and the gland and they come back, and they want to build a leader to bring them back to Egypt. And they start stoning Moses and Joshua and Caleb, Numbers 14 if you want to look it up. It is interesting, God says to Moses: “I don’t want to have anything to do with them, ok?”. You know what Moses said: “I’m going to make a great nation out of you”, He says to Moses. And what do you think Moses says: “So you can’t do that”. Why? “Because you made certain promises, you promised that you would take them out of Egypt and bring them to the promised land”. So, Moses asked God this question: “Are you the kind of God that keeps his promise?” and then he goes even further. He said: “You, yourself have told us that real power is in forgiving not in destroying”. Did not you, yourself say that you are a ………. that you are compassionate and gracious, patient, full of steadfast love, and truth and forgiving. That is real power, real powers forgive not to destroy. Wow… well who do you think he was criticizing; he was not criticizing God. Who he was criticizing the pagan gods, I mean it is just amazing and what do you do with Job, the kind of questioning the Job raises in the book of Job? It is one of the most profound books in all religious literature. He says: “if I had done any of these things, I would have deserved to suffer but I didn’t do any of that”. Now you either ask me and I will answer, or I will ask you and you answer. Well that’s quite something, isn’t? It of course, God’s answer is an interesting cancer, you know what God’s answer is, did I tell you should I tell you? You see the problem is that the friends who are saying everything is just, everything is just, everything is just do not put themselves in Job’s place. Because Jobe is suffering right? So, what God says to Job is: “when was the last time you created a world, tell me. When was the last time you create the world, huh? You know…, have you ever put yourself in my place? Do you really know what I have to do to create the world, did you have any idea? What I am saying is that the Bible gradually builds up an idea of one God, and that idea of one God is an idea that is monotheistic.
Now, what does monotheism teach? What monotheism teaches is not that there are not many gods. Monotheism teaches that there are not many people, because what monotheism has contributed to the world, is the idea of humanity that every human being is made in the Divine image. And every human being counts so it is no longer that I have a tribal God with one tribe lording over another tribe. What you have finally is the concept of one God. Now there are a lot of implications of the concept of one God. If you have one God, a spiritual creator but God, who creates human beings in the Divine image. Then it means that God created man, human beings and these human beings are co-creators with God, they are co-spiritual beings. If you look at the first chapter of Genesis, the one thing that is clear about the first chapter of Genesis that God is a Creator. You don’t know anything else about God and then what does it mean that human beings are made, but selling although him, in the image of God? Means that human beings are co-creators with God. That is why Kiba could say what you’re doing is excruciatingly important and so if you have one God you have one world, if you have one world and you have one humanity. If you have one humanity, then you have one goal of peace and realization.
Let me ask you this question: why is it that the concept of the Messiah and the concept of the messianic. Which is the idea that there would be a time when as Isaiah says beautifully, they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation. So, they will they learn or go across them to war anymore and as Micah ask, but each man, each individual shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. One God also believes that ultimately the goal is peace. Why peace? Because if the gods are fighting, if the gods are plural, where there is no unity then they cannot be on the peace. The very fact that you cannot have an idea of a peaceful world without monotheism is amazing, think of it.
Look I am a lover of Plato, I started reading Plato when I was a teenager my uncle did me a great favor he sat down with me and read the apology with me when I was 13 and I never got over it. Now maybe if I read it, I will understand it, you know it took near 73 years to get there. But anyhow, Plato himself in the ideal state, what does he say? You have three classes: governor, warriors and workers. It never occurred to him that you could have a society with a warrior what I am saying to you is the ideal of a vision of peace, the ideal of the vision of humanity. The ideal that we should strive to bring about a society which really brings in peace and really brings in compassion and caring and justice and righteousness. And things like that nature, and I think this is really the issue, the issue is do we believe in the kind of a God, or do we want a hero, or do we want a cult leader, or do we want someone that we can say you take over for us. We do not want to accept responsibility at all, that becomes it seems to me the fundamental issue here. Now we construct our experiences, we construct our experience. Do not think that experience comes to you, everything we do is a construction of experiences. And we can construct our experience in terms of the virtues, in terms of compassion, caring, kindness, love… or we can construct our experience in terms of the vices: hatred, resentment, complaining itself. That is up to you.
I think in large measure we decide how we construct the experience in our life, and it will determine the kind of being we will have, and the kind of being that we are. And so I think that our belief in God is the following, since God is the last thing I wanted to talked about: God I think is the source of power working through us if we but let him for good. Faith in God provides us with a source of confidence, so that even defeats will not defeat it. When we face the bitter experience of evil, the sense of the senselessness of events. A world not of value but of this value, what is needed is de mobilizing again of the resources of confidence and a value which seems to have been eclipsed. Our faith in God and creation enables us to face the experience of suffering such that particular suffering does not embedder all our experience. Our faith teaches us that the best way to face our own suffering is to engage in some unselfish action revealing the confidence that the world could be made better through our own action for good. Thus, the belief in creation that in spite of all the sin and evil there is still a sense of the pervading value of the world, the ultimate worthwhile fulness of life. Religion must affirm its ethical essence but here again that essence must be based on the ethics of the prophets with the realization that ethics does not stand by itself. In the words of Boskee, a philosopher that I loved when I was a teenager: “Religion and owls and morality nothing but its failures, the ideal goal of ethics, the demands for justice requires a transcendent source, a transcendent guaranteed. Only religion can provide us with an ultimate ground for Hope”.
In conclusion let me repeat a conversation I had was one of the great giants of the 20th century Hans Jonas, who was one of the greats. I remember asking him: “Professor Jonas…” I was relatively young when I asked him. I said, and I will conclude with this: “in the Bible it says in the sixth chapter of Genesis it repenteth of God that he created man and it grieved him to his heart. What does that mean that repenteth of God that he created man and he grieved them to his heart? Here is what he said: “live your life in such a way that God does not repent that he created you”.
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Watch the stream video for the conference and post your question now. The lecturer Rabbi Jack Bemporad will answer the questions that you post here today. We are gathering your messages. Q&A session scheduled on November 5, 2020