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BEYOND A CEASEFIRE, WHAT’S NEEDED IS COURAGE
Two years ago, when the Palestinian Authority and Hamas agreed to form a unified government, Israel had a golden opportunity to lay out a lasting blueprint for peace. Finally, they had a true partner. No such luck. In Israel’s mind, why back a peace process? It is far easier to keep Hamas as an enemy than to give up land to the Palestinian Authority, uproot settlers, deal with Jew-on-Jew violence, and even risk a civil war. The whole notion of giving up something tangible, such as land, for something abstract, such as peace, just doesn’t compute.
As a Jew—a Zionist—it pains me to see what Israel did in Gaza and then what happened at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Again, Palestinians were being singularly criticized for killing Jews when, while not for a second condoning those killings, we have to ask ourselves what Jews were doing there in the first place. After the 1967 war, no one less than Defense Minister Moshe Dayan clearly laid out the boundary lines: Jews would pray at the Western Wall and Muslims at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Chief rabbis honored these boundaries for years and forbade Jews from entering the mosque compound. With the rise of the religious Zionist movement, all of this has changed. And sadly, the cycle of violence continues. What next?
Until the United States is willing, in earnest, to put pressure on Israel, little if anything will change. Our uneven support for Israel and the Netanyahu government, with its disingenuous efforts for peace, is doing little to change the dynamics in the region. With our leverage, we are the only ones who can help bring about change.
Let’s urge Congress and the president to exercise the strength—and the courage—to stand up to Israel instead of blindly standing behind it.
AN ABUSIVE GOD
Walter Brueggemann writes with stirring eloquence in his contribution to Tikkun’s Summer 2014 issue. As his former colleague, I remain inspired by his faithful, virtuoso attention to texts on their own terms and in dialogue with our world. Yet after years of friendly debate, I remain entrenched in my resistance to his view that God actually punishes and abuses. If this is so, those shattered by abuse, oppression, and affliction have no recourse, for God becomes the agent of dehumanizing anguish. It is undeniable that biblical texts say God abuses, but are these texts to be taken as ontological statements about divine character or agency?
In my work on Jeremiah, I have argued that the prophet’s fire and brimstone is a form of contextual theology. The abusive God functions to mirror experiences of trauma, to create narrative frameworks for chaotic destruction, and to show that the Holy One is not impotent against the gods of Babylon. Such theology is a survival strategy, a way to move toward the future, or as Robert Frost said about poetry, “a momentary stay against confusion.” To recognize that biblical views of God are as historically conditioned as the cultures that produced them does not turn God into a figure of “sweetness and light;” it points toward the Holy One, who is all the more wild and mysterious and other.
—Kathleen M. O’Connor
FEMINIST VIEWS OF GODDESS AND GOD
I deeply enjoyed reading “Two Feminist Views of Goddess and God” (Summer 2014) by Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ, two scholars whom I admire greatly. As a spiritual feminist, I resonate with Christ and Plaskow’s shared commitment to supplanting patriarchal images of God with more immanent and egalitarian concepts of the Divine. I also would like to offer a third feminist view, drawn from my own standpoint as a Hindu woman raised in the West.
I was intrigued by Christ and Plaskow’s debate around whether God/dess is personal or impersonal, as I found myself agreeing with both of them!
When Plaskow writes, “I see God as the creative energy that underlies, animates, and sustains all existence,” I thought YES. And when I read Christ’s description of a personal Goddess who “is always with us, encouraging and inspiring us to love and understand each other and the world more fully,” I also thought YES. From a Hindu standpoint, there need not be a contradiction between these two views because the Godhead is infinite—it has the infinite power to produce infinite forms, including personal gods and goddesses who take an active role in our lives. However, because personality necessitates finitude, the Ultimate Reality must be vaster than any personalized concept.
My view on Divine gender also differs somewhat from both Plaskow’s and Christ’s. I wholeheartedly agree that “symbols matter,” and that feminine symbols of God are needed to empower women and bring a much-needed balance to society. Nonetheless, I find the concept of Goddess, if understood in monotheistic terms, to be incomplete. Western feminists coming out of Abrahamic traditions have focused on the importance of Goddess symbols for women; while this has been an important move, it can lead to a type of spiritual segregation wherein the patriarchal God is left intact to serve men, while the Goddess empowers women. Further, those who are gender nonconforming may then find themselves adrift as the Goddess exemplifies traditional feminine traits. Rather than having to choose between a monotheistic personal Goddess or an abstract neutered God, I propose that men, women, and people of all genders need images of the Divine that are multiply gendered—and we also need nature deities, animal deities, and nongendered, “transcendent” concepts such as Divine Love, Justice, or Peace.
Reclaiming Goddess images has been an important part of my own spiritual disengagement from patriarchy, as it has for countless other women. Ultimately, however, I believe that the Divine Mystery is ineffable. While we need language and symbols to relate to it, any one symbol can become totalizing. I thus advocate a broader concept of the Divine that holds both sides of the personal/impersonal paradox, as well as a plurality of images that can help support our efforts for full spiritual and social equality.
San Francisco, CA
“GOD AND GODDESS EMERGING” AND “A BEAKED AND FEATHERED GOD”
I enjoyed both of these authors. They reminded me that the “gentilization” and Hellenization of Christianity changed what the biblical writers had in mind.
I certainly support using both nature and the bible to support a conclusion as to what human life should be about. However, I would go about it in a slightly different way. We have the consciousness that we have, which is informed by input from our senses and our intellectual and emotional capacities. The best we can do is to use these facilities to answer life’s ultimate questions. For me, the important thing is that the prophets, Jesus, and Heschel, among others, got it right. In modern terminology, we could express these ideas as being simply the best model we have. However, we have spiritual needs and capacities that should be part of the picture. Saying that we should do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with however we define our ultimate concern seems simple enough. However, we need to engage our spiritual side. We need to get over the “true” vs. “false” dichotomy. Who says a story isn’t true even though it works? The biblical writers didn’t.
“THINKING ANEW ABOUT GOD”
The articles by several theologians and biblical scholars about “G-d” are individually fine and, together, stimulating by their diversity. I find myself helped by many points each of them makes as I experience my own inclination toward defining my “belief,” or my relationship with the sacred, as well as my own skepticism and hostility toward traditional positions. An excellent anthology that allows space for agnostics and atheists. This is critically important now, as religion is stuck in many popular manifestations as a rigid credal force that is divisive and destructive. We who seek nourishment for relational community-building spirituality can rejoice over such a resource as Tikkun provides us.
–Rev. Ralph Moore
To me, a much more interesting and productive question than “Does God exist?” is, “If there is a God, what are its attributes?”
–John Wheat Gibson Sr.
It will take me quite a while to digest the all of the articles concerning recent thought concerning the nature of God in the summer 2014 edition of Tikkun. After perusing the magazine I am grateful for the diversity of thought about current ideas about God that you published. However this collection of individual articles manages to miss several points concerning what is called God; the way concepts of God have changed over eons of time, the likely future changes of the concepts, the effect the crowded world with resource competition and of course the basic question of “what is God?”. While the articles present useful insights that apply to educated individuals who live in a postindustrial society they do not discuss the question of God from a societal, as differentiated from an individual, perspective. I also did not find any mention of the concept that God is merely a concept that only exists in the minds of people and not as an entity that existed millions of years ago.
Historically (“the bearded old man on a throne”) concept of God prevailed for a very long time; and it is likely that even now the majority of people who believe in God have this belief. Now that writing and literacy are widespread, printing is ubiquitous and Internet and cell phone communication have become fast and inexpensive it appears that societal concepts often change frequently and rapidly so that the concept of God now might be better thought of as a dynamic process with frequent changes rather than a static goal. Of course some strongly want to freeze the concept of God and forbid it from changing.
In western society we are blessed to live in an era that already has the concepts of pluralism and tolerance. I pity those who still are under the thumb, or gun, of groups who act on the basis that there is only a single answer to the question of “what does God want” that cannot change. Humans are the only beings that have developed the physical ability and mental capacity for speech, organized society, government with laws and justice, societal concepts of compassion and tolerance sufficient for there to be a concept of God. There are parts of our planets where these concepts of social order are more primitive than in the locales where Tikkun is read. As our planet becomes more crowded, and resources more strained, we may have the choice of global cooperation or war-like clashes. In order for humanity to survive and continue to grow intellectually we must develop institutions for peace, stability and harmonious relations rather than terror, genocide and monoculture.
Many basic beliefs that were born in primitive society in a world with empty space; now we have to evolve into societies which live in harmony with their neighbors rather than in competition for resources. This includes the concept of God.
Peter Gabel speaks about the God of Martin Buber in his new book Another Way of Seeing. According to Buber, God’s presence is found in the psychological space between two people who exist in a relationship of mutual recognition. When we see and affirm another person as that person wants to be seen and the affirmation is reciprocal, we encounter God.
Peter found this God through his intense involvement in the social movements of the 1960s. He continues to participate in I/Thou relationships in the special community surrounding his synagogue.
Synagogues and churches thrive on the spiritual energy created in their communities. The challenge is to harness that energy to achieve social change. The love, the sense of goodness, the awe and wonder people encounter in I/Thou relationships is not well defined. What does it mean? How does it apply to life?
Here is where Peter and Tikkun Magazine enter the picture. They tell us what the world is like and what it can become when life is seen through spiritual eyes. Peter tells us what legal justice could look like. In a more general way, Tikkun tells us what politics will look like if we heal our alienation and learn to love and trust our neighbor. It’s a prophetic role. Peter’s book both inspires and challenges us. It gives meaning, purpose, and direction to the spiritual life. It’s a wonderful achievement.
Oak Bluffs, MA
“RISE OF ANTISEMITISM IN EUROPE”
I am alarmed at the emotions that are stirred in me by the scenes a
see from Gaza. Emotions that make me wonder what would be my reaction to “an older
man quietly standing on a corner holding an Israeli flag” [to quote Deborah E Lipstadt] near a protest against the Israeli shelling of Gaza. It might well take on a form hardly to be distinguished from antisemitism. Can I claim that so patent an identification with the State of Israel (in the neighbor of a protest march against the actions of the State
of Israel) is a provocation? In the event according to Ms Lipstadt “a pro-Hamas marcher in Berlin broke away from the crowd and assaulted” the man with the flag.
“MOURNING FOR A JUDAISM BEING MURDERED BY ISRAEL”
Rabbi, give us hope
I don’t want to write something that has already been written. There are so many profound, nuanced, articulate articles that have been written about the current cycle of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Read Donniel Hartman, Menachem Creditor, and David Horovitz, for example. There is no need for me to delve into Israeli history, policy, and the specifics of the current conflict. I’ll also refrain from going into detail about the complexities of asymmetrical warfare and the muddy rules of engagement of Israel’s war with Hamas. Michael Walzer does a great job of addressing that.
I strongly disagree with your insulting thesis that Israel and her “worshippers” are “murdering” the Judaism of love, compassion, generosity, peace, and justice. I actually think Israel continues to actively cultivate the Judaism you say it is destroying. But you are entitled to your opinions and I know I am not going to change your way of thinking.
So instead, I want to address the hypocrisy and unproductivity of your writing. In “Israel has broken my heart: I’m a rabbi in mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel,” you call for the return to the Judaism of love and justice, and declare that “healing and transformation” need to become the “first agenda items.” You talk of love, but your words are offensive and hateful. You talk of compassion, yet you fail to recognize and empathize with Israeli loss and trauma. You talk of peace and justice, yet the tone of your writing is violently accusatory and one-sided. You talk of healing, transformation, and the potential for a better world—but you fail to offer any constructive, productive, or realistic remedies. You say that Israel is alienating young Jews around the world, yet as a young Jew, I find your words incredibly divisive and estranging.
Throughout your article, you justify and dismiss Hamas’s actions and undermine their motives. You judge the Israeli government and the IDF’s actions as if you have the credibility of an agent in the Shin Bet. You mistake genuine and refreshing Jewish pride for some kind of idolatrous worship of Israel. Your melodramatic eulogy to the Judaism of love reeks of the pessimism and cynicism that you accuse the fabric of Israeli society guilty of.
I recently read an article in Ha’aretz by Rabbi Michael Knopf. He wrote: “Only through hope, only through believing that our world can be repaired despite its prevalent and stubborn brokenness, will we remain committed to doing what is necessary to fix it.” I wholeheartedly agree with Knopf—the world is stubbornly broken. It seems like you agree with that statement as well. But the real wisdom of the quote lies in Knopf’s insistence that only the power of hope will allow us to fix our broken world.
As a rabbi—as a teacher and a counselor of the Jewish world—I think you have a duty to induce hope in our people. True leaders and revolutions are driven by the forces of hope. By speaking out against Israel from a place of such intense cynicism, judgment, and aggression, you are not exemplifying the Jewish values of love, peace, and hope that you preach. By mourning a Judaism that you accuse Israel of murdering, you neglect the principle of peace and hope. Elie Wiesel teaches that “Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.” So, Rabbi, give us hope. Do not drive out darkness with darkness. Do not drive out hate with hate. Be loving, especially towards your brethren, and lead us on a path to healing and hope so that we may stand strong, free of divisiveness and full of genuine understanding and compassion.
–Adi Reicher Alouf
New York, New York
SAMI AWAD’S PROPHETIC VOICE
As I listened to your phone conversation with Sami Awad, I wondered who will recognize the prophets voices that Mr. Awad summons forth to speak. Will those voices be on the same page as other folks Mr. Awad recognized had spoken as elites, VIPs, negotiators of compromise and other members of the status quo who jockey for positions of power and persuasion just like other politicians? Or will he or she or they speak with purer motives and from different, visionary viewpoints with no desire for fame or fortune but with a single-minded, single-hearted passion for serving God as message-bearers of God’s wisdom and understanding about how to resolve the issues that plague modern society? Will those prophets have so little regard for social approval that their societies will look upon them as radically undesirable on account of their disdain for normal values and pursuits? Will they be social conformists or nonconformists? How will conformists in normative modern societies recognize the prophets of God among them and not mistake them as social deviants to be banned, punished and silenced rather than welcomed, rewarded and listened to? Who among those raised to survive in modern violence-prone, fear-based, social-approval-addicted societies will make it their purpose to seek out, accept, welcome and protect the prophetic voices that politicians and powerful elites who run the show from behind the scenes will find to be so unlike their own and therefore interpret to be threats to their privileged class status?
I suggest that modern conformist societies with their class-based hierarchies that so desperately preserve the ego’s violent status quo as it spirals out of control will reject the prophets this time around as surely as they rejected them in times past unless there are wise, spiritually attuned leaders who with quiet determination and steadfast resolve create conditions under which the prophets may step forth and speak the messages they bear without next being assassinated.
As a prophetic voice that has been crying in the wilderness for decades, I report to you that the lack of welcome extended to the prophets guarantees that they will not eagerly present themselves or be heard if they do. Those who do not intentionally tune their ears to hear will not hear. Perhaps it is time to prepare a place for radical voices of Universal Shalom at the table to celebrate their arrival and consider what they share. They will be totally the opposite of the socially aggressive, self-promoting personalities and narcissistic egos who have dominated the dialogues thus far in their attempts to hog the limelight and draw flattering attention to themselves under the guise of serving others. They will be shy, quiet, unnoticed but observant people whose wisdom runs deep and whose survival has depended upon their remaining silent until welcomed to speak up.
If Mr. Awad is correct about calling forth the prophets and assumes correctly that prophets will be wiser than the norms now prevailing in society, would it not make sense that such prophets would be wise enough to be extremely selective about the folks to whom they present themselves because it would be foolishness personified and risky beyond reason to come out more boldly in an age when violence is so commonly the response to any voice that elites to do not believe flattering to their continued elitist dominion? Why would a wise man or woman volunteer to be a martyr or declared mentally ill and confined to an institution or given psychotropic drugs involuntarily because he or she claims to hear God’s voice and speaks openly about what God says to him or her? Is this not how prophets declared themselves and acted in the past?
Even Mr. Awad desires no more martyrdom. So how does society invite its own hidden wisdom-bearers to emerge when foolish egos have so long attacked wise men and women as threats to their domination of the social pecking order? Wise men and women will espouse a sharing of power and resources that will conflict with the status quo that wealthy, powerful men and women prefer to preserve. Who will provide shelter to the wise men and women and preserve them long enough for them to speak of what they’ve heard from God? Until there are conditions under which they may speak in safety, they will wait, for wise men and women have the patience of Job and will come forth as gold only when summonsed to lay their golden messages before those prepared to listen and be considerate of the wise men/women’s sensitive nature. We, too, desire to be appreciated and treated right no matter how we no longer care to be flattered and cajoled. Prepare to honor the prophets or expect them to remain invisible.
I was recently reintroduced to your work. I was originally introduced between 2001 and 2010 when I was the Director of Pastoral Care in a hospital in New Jersey. There are several experiences that have shaped my thinking and beliefs while there and were brought again to the surface by the article in Summer edition. The article by Tirzh Firestone.
The first was the discovery of the sculpture outside the InterFaith Chapel. It had the symbols of the Buddhist, Baha’i, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Shinto faiths with the words: “Love One Another” across the front. The artist when I asked her stated she had a doctorate in Comparative World Religions, and most religions had Golden Rules which could be broken down in the three words.
I went to visit a female patient in early 2006 who was listed as “Unknown Religion”. When I entered her room and introduced myself – we reached out to shake hands and I froze when I spotted on her forearm a series of numbers tattooed there. After shaking hands, she quietly stated: “Ugly as hell isn’t it.” The proceeded to tell of the losses she had suffered as a result. She ended by stating she kept the tattoo as a reminder of the evil each of us can inflict on others and our need to forgive others and the injuries they inflict. Her second husband was also a Holocost survivor.
The third event happened during the 2006 Israeli – Hezbollah war. As I came down the hallway one day, I saw her husband and a Muslim standing in front of the sculpture obviously discussing it. When I came to them, they in unison stated: “If this is the foundation of our faiths”, they asked again in unison, “Why can’t our peoples learn to live it?” Their question has challenged me, guided me, and haunted me since.
The last experience that comes from the sculpture was the bringing together a group I called – The Diversity and Religious Tolerance Team. On the Team were three Muslims, two Jews, a Hindu, and myself. Our purpose was to get to know each other well enough to then design an educational program to educate and train the staff in a highly diverse area about various faiths and their practices. As someone said after the introductions; “Only in America could we get such a group together.” We began with the phrase on the sculpture: “Love One Another”.
It is out these experiences I have subscribe to Tikkun. Thank for your wonderful and difficult undertaking.
Chaplain Howard L. Hinman
PERSPECTIVES ON GOD
Only recently have I begun reading the magazine Tikkun. Some of the articles are thoughtful and interesting, though I find that the publication relies heavily on the very well educated, but not always by individuals who have intelligent insights and ideas. Most writers seem to rely heavily on the intellectual seemingly without having any personal experience to back up their intellectual writing. What a person has done in life is more important than what one has learned from our higher educational institutions. Just as many professors, as are many judges, not exceptionally learned about everyday life in the trenches.
All too many intellectuals believe that they are above those of us who are believers in God based on foolish intellectual secular notions. Just because one has been well educated in secular higher learning does not give license to dispel the spiritualism of others. It is important to understand that our own spiritualism in God must be based truthfully and logically, and not simply follow God out of fear for one’s life that many religions adhere too.
My father always told me think with your head and not with your heart. Emotionalism gets in the way of objective thinking. It is important to see world and events as they really are and not as we perceive them emotionally. For that we must have greater perspective by opening our minds to more objective minded possibilities, than on the one hand (emotionalism) or other on the other hand (subjective) that we often view things from.
In your summer issue of 2014 there are articles under your title “Thinking Anew About God.” There are eleven articles written on the subject of God in this issue. You are correct that, “spirituality is a slippery slope back to God.” You simply cannot have spirituality without God. Religious radicals of all stripes have beliefs of a God that is to me very repugnant, hateful, conceited, war like, evil, deceitful and absurdly childish.
This takes us to how we believe in God. In the beginning we took him to be respectful, kind, decent, loving, sharing and caring. Somehow that later got distorted to be vengeful, hateful, venomous, spiteful and above all we must fear Him for our own good. This shows how we as people can jump from one end of the spectrum of good to the other end that is evil, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground, especially among secular progressives. A God of love and caring then became a God of hate and evil. Over thousands of years this hate and evil had become ensconced in our human psyche. This lead us to be quite evil and hateful among ourselves. Then two thousand years ago Jesus comes and tells us that what we believe is wrong. That Jesus returns us to a God who is respectful, kind, decent, loving, sharing and caring again. Now we are right back at the beginning where we should belong, except that religious leaders indoctrinated to a God of evil and hate for so many thousands of years didn’t want to break with tradition. Jesus believers took us to a new plateau for several hundred years and were persecuted for their beliefs. That was until Rome found a way to control the faith of the believers for their own evil purposes. As this new Romanized Christianity (365 AD) takes hold of the faith of the believers, the believers continued to worship as they always did in synagogues because most of the believers were Jews and others converted from other faiths. As the newly ordained Christian priest John chrisostomos found when he entered Constantinople the believers were still worshipping in synagogues. Thus he began the repression and oppression of believers who refused to to accept Romanized Christianity. Somehow God got lost in all the shuffle from Judaism over to Christianity. That is why Christianity only pays lip service to the faith of Judaism. Truly Christianity is not part of the Hebrew faith even though Christianity borrows heavily from Judaism. Jesus is said to be a Christian by many Christians, but that is a fallacy. Jesus was never anything other than a Jew who preached in synagogues and among the people. Islam would follow after Christianity borrowing heavily from Judaism, Christianity, Greek mythology and Buddhism. For 1500 years the majority of religions were constantly at war with each other, including infighting among different sects. The world relied heavily on war as a means of commerce to enrich the elite and the clerical at the expense of the lesser beings.
One should not confuse what God is with what religion is because religion can be different in scope, magnitude and ideology that moves us further away from God. Many of the world’s monotheistic religions are plainly evil in scope, magnitude and ideology. Remember what the Bible says about false faiths, “That you will know them by what they do.” Simply put, faiths that do injustice and oppression in God’s name are purely evil. Today there is only one monotheistic faith that does injustice and oppression in God’s name: That is Islam. More on Islam will follow as I speak about the article “Allah” by Haroon Moghul.
The Bible says, “And a child shall lead.” If you want to understand who God is just ask a child who has been exposed to Him. Listen not to those who have much education and little life education. A man who knows not God and the world, knows not himself. Children have been exposed to far too much nonsense spread by people who seem to have an irrational hate for God and religion. In my experience these people do themselves grave injury spiritually. Never do I listen to talk show hosts that are so full of themselves that their beliefs stem from their own egos. Thus, God gets in the way of their egos and intellectual lives. Most of intellectuals take the Bible far too literally and that says as much about their lack of intelligence, they see things in a literal sense about everything religious so they can ridicule people who believe in God, from a safe environment where they rarely will square off with someone who believes in God.
To be as one with God is a good thing, but to be as one without God is a terrible thing, indeed. We must always remember that spirituality and God go hand in hand. However, religions should always be read and understood from historical perspective and with clarity of spirituality. We should never take religions verbatim from clergy no matter what religion it is. As intelligent persons we must read and understand our religions, but we can still have faith in God as just and good without reservation. Why do we need to think about God anew? We didn’t make up God as God was already there long before us. To suggest that we should rethink God is to say that we invented Him. If we invented Him then we can just dispose of Him at will. We need to think about God as he really is and not some made for intellectual television heaven. If you, like millions of other people, think that God is there to stop every bad thing in the world you do not know God. If you think he should stop every bad thing in the world, then you have lost sight of the freedom that God gave us. For who did we need real freedom from? God. We are not children who need to be dressed and pampered. We must learn to be responsible for our world and everything in it. The sole proviso in this is that God controls heaven. If you desire His heaven you must show you belong in His heaven. Believing in God is a good thing. We can control our belief in Him, but not His belief in us. What all of us should hope is that God believes in us. When we think this way we come to the understanding that God does not wish to control what we do on earth, though He does control entry to Heaven and if we value our souls we should look to working hard to save our own souls. What we do here on this earth is of our own doing and making: We have to clean up our own damn mess because God is not going to do it for us. God will sort us out after we passed from this life into the next life.