The 20th Century and the Post-Modern World ‎

What is God? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 8

			It is probably not an exaggeration to say that the social and technological changes that took ‎place in the 20th century dwarfed whatever had occurred in the past. Other centuries ‎experienced major changes. At some point in the distant past there was no writing. At some ‎point they learned to work metals and glass. They developed new concepts in religion and ‎philosophy, new ideas about nature and the role of human beings. Methods of mass ‎production were invented as were countless inventions to give man power over the earth and ‎the environment. ‎
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But this was all just warm-ups for what was to come. Electricity paved the way, but it was ‎only a tool for the vast technological changes that came down the pipeline. Antibiotics, ‎vaccines, and countless other sophisticated medical advances took place almost annually in ‎the first half of the 20th century. Unheard-of machines forever altered the industrial landscape ‎of the already revolutionized workplace. These machines entered the home, with radio, ‎telephones, television, and recording devices. Quantum theory, first uncovered in the year ‎‎1900, eventually gave the world lasers, semiconductors, computers, and atomic power. ‎Energy became virtually unlimited following the second World War, and was soon followed ‎by huge advances in food production. Population boomed, as did all the problems of ‎overpopulation. Genetic engineering, the genie that was let out of the bottle in the early ‎‎1950’s, became the replacement for God by the end of the century. ‎
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In addition to being major steps in human progress, these changes came with a price. Social ‎alienation was a direct result of the computer, as were shorter attention spans and addictions ‎to numerous forms of instant gratification. Drugs went from an aberration to another version ‎of normalcy. Ethical and moral problems arose from the ability to play God and to determine ‎life and death. Wars reached unheard of scales as did the use of technology in killing. ‎Nobody knows where it will lead. Unlike almost every century before us, we have only the ‎foggiest notion of what life will be like in 100 years. ‎
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Religion took the biggest hit of all. It would be an understatement to say that it became ‎irrelevant in much of the modern world. It became an embarrassment. There are still huge ‎numbers of people who were religious, but much of the modern world labels them extremists, ‎fundamentalists, or flat-out nuts. They have their heads in the sand regarding evolution and ‎the age of the universe. They are completely out of touch as far as marriage and sexual ‎restrictions are concerned. Even their basic belief in a higher power smacks of an almost ‎childlike ignorance and exudes an impression of being totally naïve. ‎
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Judaism was no more immune to these challenges than Christianity or Islam. Judaism would ‎struggle in many different ways to accommodate the modern world. Some of these would ‎involve abandoning cherished traditional beliefs with others staunchly maintaining them, ‎along with numerous compromises in the middle that altered tradition without jettisoning it ‎altogether. ‎
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These various approaches run the whole gamut of Judaism, from ultra-Orthodox to Modern ‎Orthodox to Conservative to Reform to Reconstructionist to New Age to Atheist. By and ‎large the further one goes along that list the more willing Jews are to ditch traditional notions ‎of God. For atheist Jews, of course, there is no longer a question. For ultra-Orthodox, there ‎never was a question. For Reconstructionist and Reform, there is no longer any taboo against ‎non-belief, regardless of whatever any mission statements might say. Conservative has always ‎sat on the fence on this and other issues, though hardly any Conservative Jew today would ‎bat an eyelash upon hearing the person sitting next to them in the synagogue whisper that ‎they no longer believed any of this nonsense. Modern Orthodox Jews are probably in the ‎toughest position. They have to accommodate both the modern world and the traditional ‎beliefs. It is frequently an uncomfortable partnership. The questions are strong, and the ‎answers leave much to be desired. ‎
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In this section we will no longer be covering distinct images of God. We’ve covered all that ‎already. There are other images out there that we have missed, but we managed to get the ‎main ones. This section will focus on specific questions concerning God in any image. They ‎are not necessarily exclusively 20th century questions, but they did become front and center ‎issues during the last 100 years. These questions will be difficult. Not everybody will want to ‎hear these questions, though almost everybody is familiar with them by now. There may be ‎other tough questions concerning God that could or should be asked, but these are the five ‎that we have selected. We believe that facing these tough issues is a fitting conclusion to this ‎project. ‎
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The five questions are as follows: ‎
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‎1.‎	How do we fit God into the scientific model of the world? ‎
‎2.‎	What, if anything, is the answer to the question of the Holocaust? How could an ‎omnipotent and all-good God have allowed such evil? ‎
‎3.‎	Where is God? Is God still to be perceived as ‘out there’ – a removed and ‎transcendent entity that is totally distinct from us; or is God perceived as ‘in there’ - ‎part of us in every way and not distinct at all? ‎
‎4.‎	How can an educated modern person maintain a traditional belief in a God who ‎directly intervenes in the running of the world?   ‎
‎5.‎	What is God? When all the dust clears, is God personal or impersonal? Is God as real ‎as us or is God just a figment of the imagination? ‎
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In attempting to deal with these questions we take no particular image of God as the ‎definitive Jewish image. All bets are off and all prior assumptions are laid aside. We are ‎looking for answers, not trying to justify tradition. How the cards fall is not our prime ‎concern. We are groping for solid answers to difficult questions and cannot worry about ‎proper decorum and political correctness. Our guides will be logic, common sense, an intuitive ‎idea about truth, and gut feelings. ‎
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The first question concerns God and science. This is not a new issue. It has certainly been ‎around since the Renaissance and probably a good deal before that. Spinoza focused the ‎world of philosophy in on the matter and it never went away. Spinoza equated God with ‎nature; though he viewed nature in a much broader sense then we do today. Since then the ‎question has only gotten stronger. It boils down to this: if nature and its laws guide the ‎universe, who needs God? If God is existence, then why not just call it existence and leave ‎out the G-word? There are several approaches to this question and we will attempt to steer a ‎course that takes science at face value and does not disregard its discoveries. We will also try ‎to remain faithful to an idea of God as a supernatural being and not simply the sum-total of ‎everything natural. It won’t be easy. ‎
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The second question is the toughest. The Holocaust, for better or worse, is the show-stopper ‎when it comes to traditional belief. The answers that may have been acceptable in previous ‎centuries for the presence of evil in the world lost almost all their credibility during the ‎Holocaust. The Ramchal’s image of God being the ultimate good puts this question right in ‎the bull’s-eye. Is it still possible to maintain such an image after the Holocaust? Is that image ‎just naïve wishful thinking that the modern mind can no longer stomach? If God is good and ‎omnipotent, how could God have allowed this to happen? Maybe God is not omnipotent. ‎Maybe God is not good. Maybe the Holocaust wasn’t all that evil. All three approaches seem ‎either heretical or impossible, but something has to give. Which one will we drop? ‎
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The third question is one that most people are not particularly bothered by. People who are ‎interested in religious questions want to know if God exists or not. They are not so concerned ‎with the details. But God is in the details. The question about whether or not God exists is ‎intricately linked with how one understands God. If God is ‘out there’, one version of God is ‎presented to either believe in or to reject. If God is ‘in there’, a completely different choice ‎has to be made. The panentheist image that we saw from Kabbalistic and Hasidic sources ‎asserts that both are true. God is both ‘outside’ and ‘inside’. As all-inclusive an approach as ‎this may be, is it really possible to accept and to believe in? Is it simply a type of theological ‎hand waving that brushes over the problems without really answering anything? This is not ‎just a theoretical question. The way that a person understands where God is determines how ‎they relate to God. If God is ‘outside’ it means that God is really separate and apart from us. ‎If God is ‘inside’ no such distinction is possible. How could both be true? ‎
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The fourth question is the most controversial. This question cuts to the core of whether ‎traditional religion still has relevance in the modern world. There is no denying that even ‎asking this question is threatening to religious people. Bringing the subject up obviously puts ‎them on the defensive. Since the modern outlook is so diametrically opposed to traditional ‎religious beliefs about God’s interaction with the world, such beliefs seem little better than ‎superstition. The modern religious person has to walk an intellectual tightrope. This person ‎either has to draw very narrow limits of what is acceptable from tradition, or they must ‎compartmentalize religious beliefs so that they do not infringe upon ‘facts’ like science, ‎history, or other forms of knowledge. The question is whether there is any way to fit a ‎modern image of God within traditional Judaism, or if the two are totally incompatible. If ‎they are incompatible, what does this say about the ‘truth’ of the earlier images? ‎
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The fifth question is really the purpose of this project. What is God? We have plenty of ‎images, but for many, an image is not enough. Some want to know the reality of God in ‎whatever way they can. This may be impossible, but that does not stop the desire to know. ‎This question will attempt to get down to the basic nature of what God actually is, as ‎opposed to how we choose to perceive God. The personal/impersonal divide is crucial to this ‎question. Equally vital is the reality of God’s involvement in the world, which is really the ‎same issue from a different angle. But there is a third aspect to this question which concerns ‎the actuality of God’s existence. At the end of the day, is it real or is it something that the ‎human mind had to imagine? If the latter is the case, its existence is contingent upon us. Does ‎that make God any less real? ‎
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These are questions that go beyond the scope of Judaism and even beyond the bounds of ‎religion in general. They should be the concern of all human beings, regardless of their ‎personal beliefs or religious convictions. They cut to the core of what it means to be ‎human. They force us to confront our own true reality and to try to understand what it means ‎to exist and to be alive. They confront the nature of morality and the definition of good and ‎evil. These questions may not have definitive answers. In all likelihood, none of them has an ‎answer that will satisfy everybody. Where we go with any of these questions is a matter of ‎personal choice. But to make those choices we need to understand the issues. The questions ‎are about God, but they are also about us. When we examine God, we examine ourselves in ‎kind of spiritual mirror. What reflection do we see? ‎


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