Aron: Lest someone think all we do is bash Jewish institutions we grew up in, I want to make a sharp pivot and talk about Genesis and loneliness for a bit (who doesn’t?).
As we discussed the other day during dinner, the author of Genesis 2 offers what seems to be a strange justification for the creation of Eve. In the text, God says that God makes Eve because “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). This is a pretty surprising statement. Most of the Jewish and non-Jewish theology I’ve encountered has typically asserted that one is never alone because of God’s presence. Here, though, right at the beginning of the Torah, we find what appears to be a subtle rejection of that idea. In spite of God’s existence and closeness, Adam is alone. God seems to decide, though, that there is something objectively “not good” about his aloneness.
You might say that this is reading a lot into the text. Is it reasonable to assume that the author of Genesis intended to make this radical statement? I don’t think it matters. If it’s a throwaway line rather than an intentional assertion, it just suggests that the author took it for granted that God’s existence doesn’t bear on Adam’s inherent aloneness. What implications do the ideas in Genesis 2 have for how we understand our relationships with each other? Do these ideas influence our understanding of God?
Allen: You’re right- no need to tear down Conservative institutions. The JTS construction team already has that covered.
Before we complete the pivot into a more theoretical discussion, a word of warning. Especially in university settings, there’s a tendency to get lost in the weeds of abstract thinking with little relevance to our actual lives. So the question in the back of our mind should always be: what’s at stake here? In this case, I hear you raising two points.
- Are we, human beings, alone in this world?
- Does God’s presence make us less alone?
For anyone who’s ever felt lonely in some way, shape or form, (i.e. all of us), these are important questions. Let’s take 2) first. No, God’s presence does not make us less alone. The authors of Bereshit are right, but not for the reason they thought. The traditional God doesn’t relieve our loneliness simply because the traditional God doesn’t exist.
In the end of the day, though, the traditional God isn’t so important here. None of us is really alone in the sense that the mythical first man was. We’re born into a web of relationships to other human beings. We share their hope and disappointments and sufferings. We lay claims on each other. Husserl calls it the “life-world,” the unavoidable feeling of human interdependence we experience just by being alive. A young Obama said it well at his 2004 convention speech: “Alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child.” You said it well: there’s something objectively “not good” about Adam’s aloneness, and something good about the rest of our togetherness. We’re not Adam, we’re not alone, because we share a common story – a story which the rest of Bereshit begins to tell. That’s my faith in a nutshell.
Aron: Re: JTS — yikes.
On another note, what do you mean by “traditional” God? If you’re talking about a God who tangibly acts in our lives and responds to our pleas and prayers, then I certainly don’t think that belief is dead, even if it has a far smaller number of adherents than it had a few centuries ago. Let’s also separate two a few things:
- Loneliness (a feeling) vs. aloneness (a state of being)
- God vs. belief in God
If I (the royal “I”) believe in the “traditional” God, then I may believe that, regardless of whether you believe in God, God can make you feel less lonely, either by affecting your feelings, making you aware of God’s presence, or changing the conditions of your life. If I’m an atheist, agnostic, or a believer in a silent and indefinable God who doesn’t act tangibly in our lives, then the most I can say is that I believe that if you believe in God, you might feel less lonely.
Another thought: what if I (royal “I,” again) were to argue that God is present in our relationships as a sort of effervescent, sacred glue? Maybe God is the force that makes it possible for us to be interdependent. Is that a God you could believe in?
Allen: As what’s most likely my last pre-election blog, I want to urge all everyone to vote on Tuesday for the candidate whom you believe best stands for cavod habriut, menschkeit– just plain, basic decency. Not that any of our three blog readers need the reminder, but even so, every vote counts.
I’m less interested in what the “royal I” believes than what you, Aron, believe. The million-dollar question here is: do you believe in God? And if so, what do you mean by the word “God?” What difference does any of it make in our lives? I have nothing to dispute regarding your points about how God “could” make religious human beings feel if God “were” to exist, but let’s move beyond the subjunctive tense here. We liberal Jews owe it to ourselves to state our convictions clearly.
There’s my reservation with the tentative definition you offer in your fourth (?) paragraph. It’s not clear to me what you mean by the words “force” or “thing.” I’d push you to be more specific: is God a force in the same way gravity is a force? Where does that force come from? What does it look like? And does a “force” really deserve the name God to begin with? (The last question in particular goes back to your earlier point of whether there’s a “traditional” concept of God.)
So for the next post, I’m interested in hearing your theology while you stand on one foot. Then we’ll tear it to shreds together. Happy voting!