Take Back G-d? Give Back G-d!

j. reports,

“The right is correct; there is a huge spiritual crisis in America,” said the editor of Berkeley-based “Tikkun,” Rabbi Michael Lerner. “And the left doesn’t get it.”
Republicans and their allies on the religious right have “done a good job” of articulating that crisis, Lerner said, but their analysis is “fundamentally flawed” because it’s based on demonizing “feminists, gays, liberals, African Americans.”
Lerner made his comments before an opening-night crowd of 1,200 attendees at a four-day interfaith conference on spiritual activism.
An initiative, as several speakers put it, to “take back God” — and the White House — from the religious right was the principle behind the forum, held July 20-24 at the University of California at Berkeley.
The real crisis in the United States, according to Lerner, is generated by the “ethos of greed and materialism” that drives Western culture and impoverishes human relationships. And until the left and the Democratic Party understand that deep human hunger for meaning, the religious right will continue its ascendancy.
“We have not yet built a movement that speaks to those human needs, and until we do, the right has cornered the market,” he said.

This is a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately, particularly after watching The Power of Nightmares, a documentary which discusses the impulses behind neoconservativism and radical Islam — both of which share this same concern.
Generally, the greatest tension between right and left, on the religious issue, is the right’s desire to impose religiosity on the left, and the right’s claim that the left wishes to impose secularity on them. For the right, permitting gay couples to wed or allowing women to have abortions is an imposition on them. They’re the ones being persecuted if their taxes pay for such things, let alone the price some believe they pay with their own souls by permitting such things to transpire in the world. If it dawns on them that they’re actually imposing on the other, by restricting their freedom and imposing their religious beliefs on them, they offer faith-based excuses for their ‘righteous’ intervention: “These people are heathens, what do they know?! I am obligated to save them from themselves!”
The left, on the other hand, desires a society in which people are free to believe and others are free not to. And so they are losing the battle against the imposing right, because — as one Jewschool reader recently put it — the left isn’t out to push its beliefs on the right. The left simply wants to live and let live. The problem with such liberal comfort — this “live and let live” credo — is that it results in apathy. (And I’m not talking about the radicals who are out taking the streets, I’m talking about your run-of-the-mill Democrats.) Without a faith, without a belief in a mission, without a will to change the world, they are powerless. This is because kavanah is the impulse which drives the world, and the left has no kavanah. They just want to “be” without “being” anything.
What is a religious left? What does it look like? Flaked out, pseudo-intellectual, new age hippies standing in a circle holding hands and singing? Or Rabbi Arik Ascherman leaping in the path of Israeli bulldozers as they move to demolish a Palestinian civilian home?
Religion is a Rubik’s cube you’re ready to peel the stickers off. Depending on how it’s taught and applied, it can be a great source of power and conviction. It could also be a mechanism of control and powerlessness. What’s lacking, as such, is not a religious left, but a religion which transcends the fallacies of the left and the right, and which upholds a greater truth.
This boils down to the “who owns Judaism” question. Does Torah mean squatting the casbah in Hebron with M16s? Does it mean awaiting Moshiach before we move to Israel? Who dictates the meaning of Torah? Does anyone dictate the meaning of Torah? Is there an answer somewhere inbetween? Is there a definitive answer?
Yes or no, what we need is a creative halakhic solution to the quandry of “who-knows-better-than who.” What we need is a definitive and valid legal position which says we’re free to think differently, and free to not believe if we so choose, knowing that these choices are ultimately between each of us and G-d.
Then we can have a conversation with the right about whether it’s legitimate or not to subvert democracy in order to impose your religious views on the rest of society.
Other than that, I don’t know what you mean by taking G-d back. I know rabbinical students who live in Ramallah and organize demonstrations against the wall cutting through Arab villages. G-d’s with whoever wants to be with G-d. You don’t need to take G-d away from people, you just need to give G-d to everyone. Make G-d accessible. G-d isn’t “someone” who tells you who to be. G-d challenges you to be the best you that you envision yourself being.
Which brings me back to my previous point, who does the left want to “be?” Therein lies the graver question. This is why I consider myself a post-leftist. Because I know what I want. What the left wants, I have no idea. The difference between the mainstream right and left at this point is cosmetic. Neoliberalism is part and parcel of the “greed and materialism” Lerner mentions, and that’s their common thread. You tackle that monstrosity and maybe then there’ll be a left to speak of. Until then…

16 thoughts on “Take Back G-d? Give Back G-d!

  1. “What we need is a definitive and valid legal position which says we’re free to think differently, and free to not believe if we so choose”
    The goal of any belief system, religion, philosophy, or science is not (or shouldn’t be) to create a cozy ideaological space that makes everyone happy, rather its goal is to define the real absolute truth of our existence. It’s impsosible to request a science that proclaims that we’re “free to not believe if we so choose” in, say, gravity.
    Of course, I AM free to disagree with any scientist, rabbi, or philosopher. But, I can’t ask their ideology to accept my opposing view, without clearly saying I’m wrong.
    It seems, Mobius, that you’re asking for a Judaism that doesn’t try to define any system of understanding the world, a Judaism that lets each person define his own reality (at best) or ignore any obligation to what’s True and stay a spiritual infant (at worse). An ideaolgy that believes that each person can define their own world and their own truths without any obligation to anything absolute, is the ideaology called “Secularism”. In that vein, a true secularlist would regect any obligation for a person to belive in gravity or science or “murder is bad” theory. I’m left with a question, why do you want to gut out Judaism and replace it with Secularism that goes by the name “Judaism”? Why not just belive in Secularlism and leave it with its original name? As I’m typing, I think the problem might be the resulting spiritual emptiness that intiated your post.

  2. the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. ie., the greatest trick the artscroll revolution ever pulled was convincing the world it never happened.
    “you’re asking for a Judaism that doesn’t try to define any system of understanding the world, a Judaism that lets each person define his own reality (at best) or ignore any obligation to what’s True and stay a spiritual infant (at worse).”
    um, hi, that would be judaism. every sect defines its own reality communally, and ignores any obligation to what’s “true” that doesn’t match up with their reality imprint. that’s because there’s 70 faces to torah, and no “true” version. truth is, was, and forever will be subjective. and while judaism is objective about what a person’s obligations are, its prerequisites of belief have been evolving and changing from one generation to the next. 40 years ago, to be a hareidi zionist was unheard of. somehow, “truth” changed. all i’m saying is, “truth” should be kept open to changing.

  3. mobius, I agree with you that truth changes, but that’s not the whole picture.
    I understandstand Judaism like this: There are two type of rules: axioms and applications (of those axioms). The axioms are absolute and unchanging, and the application of those axioms are different and changing for each situation.
    So, we can say not lighting a fire is an axiom of Shabbos, that it’s an absolute, unchanging rule. However the application of that axiom might differ greatly from situation to situation. Take light bulbs, for example, is that a fire? How about a timer that lights a fire, etc, is that called “lighting a fire on Shabbos”?
    In short, there may be many different situations, and individual needs that do need to be taken into account, however, the underlying rules remain and are left unchanging. This is clearly the sytem used in the gemara. No one argues certain foundational rules of halacha and rules of logic, but the application of any of those rules to real life fills volumes.

  4. “So, we can say not lighting a fire is an axiom of Shabbos, that it’s an absolute, unchanging rule.”
    That is of course unless we decide to utilize the method of לעקור דבר מן התורה, (of abrograting biblical law) —

  5. Let’s not ask *who* owns Judaism or knows halakha best.
    Let’s do examine halakic creativities and inovations past and present.
    Let’s also, perhaps, begin by concentrating on the positive commandments.
    Winnow what is manifestly desired down to something all (and perhaps a few secularists) find desirable. Do not “add or take away” from these, but reintegrate the remaining positive and negative commandments while maintaining and sharing the evolving halakhic discourse.
    Maintain the broad sense of inclusion to all who want to do this work, ie. not those merely content to “be” Jews, but those interested in “being” Jewish.
    Being Jewish is not driving a tractor or standing in front of someone driving a tractor, it is coming to terms with an issue and eachother whilst neither pissing upon halakha nor calling halakha one’s own.

  6. Heres the deal; the only thing that unites the left is that they do not agree with the right. However, the right winged Republicans are united because they are, as the man Howard Dean said, “a pretty monolithic party. They all behave the same. They all look the same. It’s pretty much a white Christian party.”
    No, this is not 100% true — but pretty close. The rest of us (including many white Christians) are thrown into the “left.” To say the left needs more religion will only divide it further. I do not think the left needs a religious base, they already have morality and ethics and a motivation to do good, as explained in the article. It is wrong and unethical to use religion as a means of marketing the party.
    There are many reasons why the Democracts did not succeed in 2004; for one you need a good candidate. Not all of it can be blamed on the Democracts though – media (and the exploitation of Howard Dean) is one, and another is the agressive religious right. You could say the Democracts had no common ground, and they need unity before they can take charge. So be it, but let them unite under the grounds of Socail Security, or equal opportunity, or anti-war. Do not use religion, because religion does not unite different types of people; we should know this, were Jews who onced lived in ghettos!! The thing that attracts many people to the left is its secularity. So please, keep religion in your hearts, not in your political agenda.

  7. I know y’all know this already….
    Reuben, you’re right on!
    Nevertheless, (as you suggest) a little Kavanah is good for everyone.
    Now that i’m thinking of it … republicans (when they are not pretending to be christians) are rather darwinist. They are not as interested in intent or conditions as they are in “law” and loopholes.
    …. generally 😉
    – mason

  8. i think lerner is onto something- we Do need to reclaim Gd. And America. And the flag. No, that doesn’t mean taking Gd FROM anybody else, but reminding ourselves and everybody around us that the are OURS.
    Every time i see an (american) flag on another freaking hummer, i don’t think about patriotism, equality, the constitution, freedom, or any of the other things it is supposed to represent. and neither does the person in the suv. we all think, republican. iraq. bush. lies. if you’re me, you might think, that poor uneducated shmuck! how can s/he not see what’s really going on?
    the same with Gd. When dubya says the word, i know he’s not talking about my Gd. he’s definitely not talking about allah or shiva or buddha. he’s talking about his. and i’m pretty sure he’s not sharing. so yeah, i want to take Gd back from him. because neither dubya, the christian right, nor anybody else has the right to take that word or concept from me or my people (or anybody else’s people) and change the meaning to something they decide, to pervert it for their political and financial gain.
    I am Gd’s, and Gd is mine. That certainly doesn’t keep bush from having Gd too, and shouldn’t, but he has to at least share the term.

  9. The left historically oppossed 2 things :
    1) Religion
    2) Religious Institutions.
    Here’s why:
    1) Religions was oppossed because religion shows people that the misery and seeming injustices on Earth are actually all part of G-d’s masterplan. Therefore, they shouldn’t be oppossed, but humbly accepted. The Left said “wake up and look around : there’s injustice and we must fight it. Throw off the intellectual shackles of religion and fight for social justice in this temporal world!”
    The left also oppossed religion because they wanted their modernist ideology – socialism, secularism, anarchism – to replace religion as a source of meaning and destiny.
    2) Religious institutions were oppossed because they preached religion, and always defended the repressive regimes of the status quo. In all the revolutions eg Cuba, Russia, Spain, the Catholic clergy always took the side of the reactionarys because the structural work of religious instituions is to sanctify the status quo rather than fight for revolution.
    The problem today is that the Left no longer takes itself seriuosly as a religion : ie as a source of meaning and self-realisation. Thereofre it can’t speak as authoritivly of a vision and programme compared to the right. I don’t know the way foreward, but its not through embracing religion. And i don’t see how the Left can assume anymore – in this post-modern culture – the positions of religious destiny it once did…..

  10. Mobius,
    You seem destined to be eternally torn between your worlds of anarchy and Judaism. As much as you may want them to mesh, as much as you feel compelled (by yourself? by God?) to see their ideals as one and the same, that won’t make it so. Anarchism, at least in a limited way, holds up personal autonomy and lack of a centralized authority with communal decisions, if made, based on consensus. Religion, Judaism specifically, posits the existence of a universal, unifying Being. God, by definition in a way, is a centralized authority, demanding a type of behavior (though which behavior, exactly, is up for dispute 😉 ) from all of us. The nature of Judaism demands a unity of purpose from Jews, not disunity of varied purpose.
    I agree strongly in the need for a more vocal religious left. But, I would define that much differently than you. My dream for the religious left might look something like this: Orange-clad younsters all around Israel get up from lying on the roads, head to their local soup kitchen or battered women’s shelter and get to work. In the evening, they hike over to the Knesset and vocally protest corporate corruption as against the will of God, perhaps while throwing in some demands for good social safety net legislation. Ahhh…I wish.

  11. Anarchism asks for a societry composed of a free federation of autonomous communes. As such, there is no reason why some communes can be run as religious societies as long as they federate freely, rather than co-ercivley.
    i like Mobious’s tension.
    There is a long history of relgious groups – Jewish and otherwise – involving themselves in anarchism particularly, and socialism generally.

  12. 1.5, Moshe’s Ayin vs Yesh post is interesting, but until we adapt the praxis exemplified in Moshe’s audio, Mobius and the possibility for a broad anarchi-judaism will have a tough road.
    my spamblock is “impossible” but this is not necessarily so…
    – mason

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