Thursday, 5 April 2012

Does God have Multiple Personality Disorder?

God seems to be on several bloggers minds lately.* What I've found interesting in the conversations, are the vastly different and, at least superficially, incompatible ways God is characterized. My antennas perked up when I read and exchange between Rabbi Lurie and Rabbi Falick on The Atheist Rabbi blog. In it, Rabbi Falick writes: When you write that "...the very question of 'How could God have allowed the Holocaust?' represents a profound misunderstanding of the nature of God, creation, and the spiritual dimension, because it is based on very faulty assumptions," you're stating that hundreds of millions of people don't understand the God in whom they profoundly believe. I had recently brought up the question of God and the Holocaust in this post, and echoing Rabbi Falick's statement some responses presented interpretations of God that allowed for Holocaust scale atrocities in ways that I had not previously considered. In the meantime, in the blogs  Yeshiva Forum  and Off the Path and onto the Road, two blogs by authors who grew up Orthodox, present God in a less than flattering oppressive light.

In any case, here are the God personalities that I have encountered both through comments on this blog and the posts and comments to other blogs listed above.

God the Busy CEO

Please watch Mr. Deity if you haven't already!
This is the God who created the world, and then sits back and watches it unfold from a distance. This God built an empire, and employees should consider themselves lucky to have a job! Though he occasionally steps in to tweak things in the company, for the sake of free will, he prefers not to micromanage. Nevertheless, you can send messages via prayer, and, if you're lucky, and his inbox isn't full, he may answer. Upon leaving the company, every employee will be assessed based on his/her performance in the company and will be rewarded for eternity accordingly.

God the Force of Life and Love

This is the most abstract of the God personalities. In it, God is described as "undifferentiated, timeless, pure consciousness, irrevocably alone". This very abstract consciousness then becomes concrete: "And yet God's greatest yearning is for connection - for something in which to be in relationship and to experience love."  (My inner atheist asks:  How can you possibly know what this consciousness wants?). This is Rabbi Lurie's characterization of God, and he points out that this God is quite different from the other versions of Gods who: [are] totally separate from us, who [observe] our behavior, preventing harm from coming to those who follow certain rules (usually written in books), and punishing those who do not. 

God the Jealous Despot

This is the jealous, vindictive God who yields his authority by wiping out people en masse. The God who after turning water to blood, sends locusts, boils (wouldn't this have sufficed?), and ultimately kills all the enemy's  first born living creatures - from human to bovine. This is the God we are to fear because though the display of cruelty was in our interest in the instance above, we have been forewarned that if we do not obey, we too shall be punished.  This is God the Big Brother - you must show your love, but that display of love is the product of fear. 

God the Godfather

The God who makes you an offer you cannot refuse. Who binds you with a contract, and a promise for protection. In exchange, you are part of his Family. Nevertheless, you are constantly under surveillance. Whereas God the Jealous Despot will punish you for the crimes of others in your group, The Godfather God pays special attention to each individual member of his Family. And so, even when you are not with the God the Godfather, you feel your phone may be bugged, and your every word and action recorded.

The very concrete last two conceptualizations of God are not accidental. As one commentor pointed out in a post: "Read Leviticus, chapter 26. It goes through how God will punish the Jews in detail. Plenty of things mentioned happened to Jews during the Holocaust".  In other words, the Torah is replete with examples of God the controlling overseer capable of extreme retributive punishment.  The first two versions of God, soften his role in evil action, by reducing God's direct involvement in the physical world. Thus the very concrete versions of God, are replaced with more abstract - lovable - versions. Some questions: which God are FFB children taught to believe in? Does the conceptualization of God shift from the power of life/love God to be loved/adored, to overseer to be feared as Orthodox streams become more stringent? Or is God never really defined, and my four categories totally a product of my imagination and the random blogs I've been reading?

So, which God does the atheist not believe in? To me each of these four Gods  - like the Four Sons we'll read about tonight - is "true" - since they are inventions of man; nevertheless, none of them exist.

*of note for me since the blogs I'm reading are primarily by atheists)


  1. I actually like this post. Sort of reminds of the meaning behind God's name loosely translated as " i shall be as I shall be"

    1. >I actually like this post.

      Thanks! Hag Sameach!

    2. Something more along the lines of, "I shall be whatever you think I shall be" is more appropriate. He's just like the many personalities of Batman: from the happy go lucky Caped Crusader of the TV show to the Dark Knight.

  2. "So, which God does the atheist not believe in? To me each of these four Gods - like the Four Sons we'll read about tonight - is "true" - since they are inventions of man; nevertheless, none of them exist."

    Right on :)
    Another wonderful post. As I said, you should be very proud :D

  3. which God are FFB children taught to believe in?

    My impression is that Hashem is looked at not as any of the above, but rather as a PARENT, who loves us, and also tells us what to do and what not to do. If we do it, it makes Hashem happy. If we don't, sometimes Hashem has to give us a "potch". Hashem is both Father and King, which makes us beloved children of the all-powerful ruler. But this is a fair and just ruler (not a despot), and one who has special compassion and forgiveness for His children. Additionally, Hashem is the one you ask for stuff from, e.g., "please give me a new bike!"

    Which reminds me of an Emo Phillips joke (paraphrasing): "When I was little I prayed and prayed to God for a new bicycle. But He didn't answer me. And I realized that God, in His infinite wisdom, doesn't work in that way. So... I just stole the bike and asked Him to forgive me!"

    The above depiction of God as parent is carried through into adulthood. Just that we begin to look at "what exactly" Hashem wants us to do vis-a-vis the specifics of Halacha, and occasionally "why" does Hashem want us to do X and not do Y. "Potch" is replaced with "karet" or "chayav mita" or questions about one's Olam Haba. And rather than pray for a bike, we pray for "refua" and "parnasa". So it's the same thing albeit with some more details and technical language. I would say that's a fairly typical "frum" theology, at least from my experience.

    The CEO, despot and godfather depictions are the product of skeptics. God as the force of love/life is the product of apologists. The skeptics have an advantage insofar as offering a more accurate depiction of the Biblical God. Apologists have the advantage of offering a God which would be most worthwhile striving to emulate.

    Actually I think we have material for a good PhD dissertation here - to examine how various aspects of human consciousness (love, jealousy, control, compassion, etc.) are represented in how individuals and groups conceptualize God.

    1. Great observations AJ! And I love the Emo Phillips Joke :) ... It reminded me of Woody Allen's line about God how works: "If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever."

      >The CEO, despot and godfather depictions are the product of skeptics. God as the force of love/life is the product of apologists.

      Interesting. I was familiar with the parent/king analogies, and I had translated them to CEO role . . . in doing so I just proved your point :)!

      >The skeptics have an advantage insofar as offering a more accurate depiction of the Biblical God.

      Seems a bit ironic. Do you think it's completely a stretch to say that skeptics take the Bible more seriously than they do the commentary, and vice versa for believers?

      >material for a good PhD dissertation here
      Agreed! I think it would be a really fascinating area to research.

  4. And then there's Kabbalah which is all of the above...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...