A Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology

A Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology

MITCHELL SILVER
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0bq8
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    A Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology
    Book Description:

    At least since the seventeenth century, the traditional God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has been under pressure to conform to the scientific worldview. Across the monotheistic traditions there has emerged a liberalconception of God compatible with a thoroughgoing naturalism. For many, this liberal new God is the only credible God. But is it a useful God? Does belief in so malleable a deity come from, or lead to, different political, moral, psychological, or aesthetic phenomena from atheism?A Plausible God evaluates the new God by analyzing the theology of three recent Jewish thinkers -Mordechai Kaplan, Michael Lerner, and Arthur Green-and compares faith in the new God to disbelief in any gods. Mitchell Silver reveals what is at stake in the choice between naturalistic liberal theology and a nontheistic naturalism without gods. Silver poses the question: If it is to be either the new God or no God, what does-what should-determine the choice?Although Jewish thinkers are used as the primary exemplars of new God theology, Silver explores developments in contemporary Christian thought, Eastern religious traditions, and New Agereligion. A Plausible God constitutes a significant contribution to current discussions of the relationship between science and religion, as well as to discussions regarding the meaning of the idea of God itself in modern life.A wonderful piece of work. . . . Many wonderful passages, with very clear and original thoughts, excellently put.-Daniel C. Dennett, author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4724-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. PART 1
    • 1 THE NEW GOD’S RELEVANCE
      (pp. 3-13)

      The work of Michael Lerner, Arthur Green, and Mordecai Kaplan reveals a new God. So what? Who are the adherents of this God? These theologians are not even identified with the three major American Jewish denominations, let alone central to historical Jewish theology.¹ They have hardly made a dent on the larger, gentile world’s religious traditions. Measured by its direct influence, the new God of Lerner, Green, and Kaplan is of little interest to a general reader. It is merely the God of a few, highly educated, contemporary American Jews.

      Direct influence, however, is not the only measure of significance....

    • 2 A FIRST PASS AT DEFINING “GOD”: THE ALL AND THE ONE
      (pp. 14-20)

      I have no quarrel with the view that the experience of God is more important than the concept of God, but as one of my primary interests is how a particular kind of God concept affects human experience and practice, definitions, descriptions, and conceptualizations seem the right places to start. There are those, including Michael Lerner and Arthur Green, who are uncomfortable with attempts to define God, holding to some version of the doctrine of “ineffability,” the view that words cannot encompass God. In appendix A, I discuss why we should be dismissive of the doctrine of ineffability, a doctrine...

    • 3 A SECOND PASS: GOD AS THE POTENTIAL FOR GOODNESS
      (pp. 21-30)

      The dominant doctrine common to our theologians is that God is that feature of the universe that makes good things possible. Each of the theologians offers a number of suggestions regarding which potential-realizing features are divine. The possibility of love, justice, personality, full personality, peace, contentment, autonomy, altruism, as well as the potential for conquering pain, overcoming evil, ending alienation, and realizing bliss have all been put forth as descriptions of God. We will take some of these candidates up in detail after first exploring the general idea of God as potential.

      There is an ambiguity in thinking of God...

    • 4 THE USES OF BELIEF IN GOD
      (pp. 31-39)

      What use is the new God? More precisely, what use isbeliefin the new God? Is belief in the new God as useful as old God belief ? If it is not, might we do just as well as atheists as we would do as new God believers?

      Answers to these questions must begin with a survey of the uses of belief in the old God, the person-like God of our fathers, who was both the source of our existence and the grounds for hope, perhaps even the guarantor, of the triumph of the good. A digest of the...

    • 5 THE USEFULNESS OF A PLAUSIBLE GOD
      (pp. 40-57)

      Not only must a God worthy of belief be credible, so too must a God worthy of disbelief. That is so because, in the modern world, only such a God is a candidate for belief.¹ It hardly pays to disbelieve in something that is not in the running to be believed. So our concern is with a credible God, and our interest in the theologians’ theology is due to their God’s credibility. However, as we have seen in the previous chapter, credibility of belief is not the only measure of a belief’s value—usefulness is also important. A candidate for...

    • 6 SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME
      (pp. 58-71)

      In chapter 4, we catalogued the ways that belief in God could deliver one from the fears and sorrows that accompany the mundane human condition. God could guarantee a good personal ending: an ultimately happy life; a good general ending, universal peace and justice; and, if you don’t like endings, no ending at all—life everlasting. Even without guarantees, God keeps hope alive. Indeed, long after the race is run and the losses are suffered, hope stays alive because God can reverse any loss and compensate for any injury. Furthermore, all losses are justified and given meaning by contributing to...

    • 7 TALKING TO AND ABOUT GOD
      (pp. 72-90)

      Self-expression is widely held to be a good thing. Although some ideas are better kept hidden and some emotions are better suppressed, we think that there generally is value in manifesting our thoughts and feelings. Why do we think this is so? First, because until given expressive form, thoughts and feelings are not fully realized or fully experienced. If they are valuable thoughts and feelings, they merit such full realization. Second, it is often good to let others know of your thoughts and feelings, and their communication requires that they take a communicable form. Third, the expression of our thoughts...

  6. PART 2
    • 8 AVOIDING IDOLATRY
      (pp. 93-101)

      The theologians’ turning from supernaturalism is simultaneously a turning from metaphysical transcendence. Although they toy with transcendent themes (see chapter 3), the theologians’ most prevalent descriptions of the divine are of an immanent God. God is not outside of nature. We are not to look for God in a ghostly, otherworldly realm. God is in nature. Although God is usually viewed as in all of nature, typically this pantheistic tendency is given a more or less humanistic emphasis. For the theologians, insofar as God can be said to be more in one aspect of nature than another, God is most...

    • 9 A MATTER OF TASTE
      (pp. 102-113)

      The nineteenth century’s two most influential adversaries of theism were Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche. Neither would have called himself a humanist, so neither should be called on to defend himself against the accusation that humanism is idolatrous. However, each of these critics of religion had at the heart of his critique the claim that theism is antihuman, or more precisely, “anti” the most fully, the most truly, the most healthy, the most beautiful, the freest, the “highest” form of the human. Do their humanistically flavored critiques weigh as heavily against the new God of the theologians as they do...

    • 10 TRUTH AND BEAUTY
      (pp. 114-122)

      The Talmud reproaches those who would inquire into what is above and below, what is before and after (Cohen 1973, 27). Classical Buddhism is also dismissive of metaphysical speculation. But, such ontological abstemiousness in religious thought is exceptional and goes against the dominant religious grain. Concern with first things and last things is central to most religion, and ultimate reality is religion’s special province.¹ Religion is about “the Truth,” especially when that word is capitalized.² Hence, to “reduce” religion to judgments of taste, if religion is not to be robbed of its essence, would seem to turn judgments of the...

  7. APPENDIX A: THE INEFFABLE
    (pp. 123-130)
  8. APPENDIX B: THE UNTENABLE GOD
    (pp. 131-140)
  9. APPENDIX C: THEORIES OF TRUTH AND CREDIBILITY
    (pp. 141-148)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 149-174)
  11. REFERENCES
    (pp. 175-178)
  12. Index
    (pp. 179-184)