Monday, April 2, 2012



Before I say what is “wrong” with God, I want to state that I recognize that there are many positive functions which God serves in people’s lives. God helps people feel that the universe has a purpose, and that they have a purpose. God gives people the sense that they have someone watching over them, protecting them, that they are never alone. God is that someone they can call out to in times of pain and desperation, a hope for salvation. God is a focal point to which to attach awe and wonder at the world, to whom to direct gratitude for any and all positive things in life. All such beneficial psychological effects of God-consciousness are the source of immeasurable comfort and strength for people, certainly not things to be tampered with lightly.

God also serves the function of “ultimate authority,” the final arbiter of good and bad, and the one who doles out reward and punishment. A “God-fearing” person is one whose fear of Heaven keeps her/him on the straight path. For such a person, crime is “sin” and worthy of divine wrath, so that even if the person manages to evade flesh and blood authorities here on earth, what comes around will eventually go around in the next world. For many, the belief in a punitive God may be the only thing standing between them and criminal, violent, or otherwise harmful behavior. This is also something not to be uprooted without at least first giving the matter some careful thought.

In addition to the psychological comfort that God provides, and the role of God as the ever-present “eye in the sky” which helps to keep us adhering closely to the mitzvot, there are other benefits of having God in one’s life as a religious Jew. One is quite simply that Orthodox communities are faith-based, God-believing communities, and it certainly is far easier to have one’s beliefs fall in line with the people around them – neighbors, rabbis, teachers at their children’s schools, etc. To reject God and live in a God-centered community is a formidable challenge, and can lead to feelings of deep alienation, the sense of being very much alone in a crowd. And one who attempts to alleviate this loneliness by being honest about their non-belief, may (depending on the tolerance-level of their community) eventually find themselves ostracized, no longer welcome. Such friction is potentially no more acute than in one's own home. To be a non-believing child in a religious household is a supremely challenging position, especially given the innate desire to be a source of "nachas" for one's parents. And to be a non-believer when one’s spouse is a believer can very possibly interfere with the couple’s level of friendship and intimacy. Practically speaking, it can make for great difficulty in running a home, raising children, and interfacing with the rest of the religious community. In short, being a non-believer can have grave social and communal repercussions.

Apart from all that, a God-orientation suffuses one’s Torah learning with an air of cosmic importance. When the secrets of God and the universe are bound up in a verse in the Torah or words of the Sages, when their significance is greater than any words can truly describe, this brings an air of fantastic weightiness to one’s Torah learning, infuses it with meaning, energy and excitement. To take God out of the equation has the potential to deflate that excitement, or to bring a person to abandon Torah learning altogether. Again, it goes without saying that non-belief can negatively impact a person's Torah observance every bit as much as their learning.

The above of course begs the question: If being a believing Orthodox Jew gives one vital psychological, moral, and communal support, and makes one's connection to Torah and mitzvot more impassioned and secure, why tamper with a good thing? What's wrong with God? 

The short answer is that, I believe, we can do better. Judaism can do better. The longer answer comes next...


  1. A persuasive summary, but it's rather unfortunate that you use the word "God" in contexts in which what you write makes sense only if "belief in God" or "theism" is substituted for it. E.g., the subject of the article is not, as your title has it, "what's wrong with God," but what is wrong with belief in God. The sentence "there are many positive functions which God serves in people’s lives" contradicts your declared atheism, unless it is construed as a misleading way of saying "there are many positive functions which belief in God serves in people’s lives." Similarly for "God helps people [etc.]," "God gives people the sense that [etc.]," and so on.

    1. MKR, That is a very fair point! Thanks for the observation. You're right, I often use "God" as a shortcut for "belief in God", assuming the reader will understand what I've meant. I'll give the posts another read-through with that in mind and make changes where I think it may mislead. As for the post/chapter titles, I'll have to think about that, since shorter titles work better. Thanks again...