Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 3/29 Posting

You raise an excellent point: I am indeed speaking of religion from the outside, and I’m doing so consciously and as clearly as I can. Whenever we speak about something we are, by definition and necessity, standing “outside” of it.

And, since I believe God is not an object from which one can stand apart, God is not something one can speak about. So, again, I am back to Lao Tzu, “The tao that can be named is not the Eternal Tao.” Any god we can name, define, and cram into a theology is not the Eternal God, or what Meister Eckhart calls the Godhead. We cannot talk about the Eternal God, we can only deal with our ideas about this God, no matter how strongly we insist we are doing otherwise.

For me, then, your position that the living God reveals himself most fully through the story of the Jews is not verifiable outside the claim itself. The fact that the Jewish Bible says the Jews are God’s chosen, is no more convincing than the fact that the Gospels claim Jesus is the Son of God. What else would they say? Sacred texts are held sacred by people who benefit from calling them sacred. There is no way around this.

Like you, I, too, am wary of tribalism, but all religion, in so far as it promotes in-groups and out-groups—Chosen and not chosen, saved and damned, believers and infidels—is tribal. Yet tribalism in and of itself need not always leads to conflict and war.

I think war is inevitable when tribalism embraces a zero-sum worldview: salvation is restricted to the few who do God’s will as the tribe defines it. Tribes within a polytheistic frame do not have this zero-sum problem. The gods of Canaan were not at war with the gods of its neighbors. War came with the Hebrews and their zero-sum God who commanded them to destroy the Canaanite gods and those devoted to them.

I also agree that the Second Commandment insists we take idolatry seriously, but I would then say, given the ineffable nature of the Godhead, all gods are idols reflecting the imagination and bias of their inventors. For me the Second Commandment is arguing for radical humility when it comes to theology and the idols theologians imagine and worship.

Saying all this does not, however, mean that all gods and religions are equal. I rank the quality of religions and gods by one criteria: the extent to which they bring people to an ever deepening commitment to justice and compassion for all beings.

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