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A Scientist Embraces God: The Language of God by Francis Collins, A Review

Thinking Outside the Box- Winter 2007

Can anyone prove the existence of God? Theologians have been obsessed with this project for the past two thousand years.

When gods began, nobody had to prove their existence. People believed that the gods were as real as the land they farmed and the family that nurtured them. Proving their ex­istence would have seemed silly.

But excessive touting led some people to claim that their god was the one and only god. Even more touting led passionate devotees to claim that the one god made and managed everything. Because flattery costs nothing, the one god ended up being all-mighty, all-perfect, and all-good. An Almighty God is respon­sible for everything. And if he is all-good, he uncomfortably ends up being responsible for evil. In a polytheistic world, undeserved suf­fering can always be blamed on an enemy god. But the divine dictatorship of monotheism offers no such alternative. God needs apolo­gists to rescue his reputation and to explain away his “bad behavior.”

Now, theology starts out with a certain level of absurdity. It is the only discipline I know that needs to prove the existence of its subject matter. Ichthyologists do not spend their time proving the existence of fish. Ornithologists would feel ridiculous having to prove the ex­istence of birds. Anthropologists would laugh if asked to prove the existence of people. But theologians have no sense of humor.

Modern science has not been friendly to either God or theology. Most scientists are consistent empiricists. They require more than faith or wishing to demonstrate the existence of anything. They have discovered no substantial, or even modest, evidence to demonstrate that a Moral Creator and Man­ager of the Universe exists. Like the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1801), they find most of the traditional arguments for the existence of God to be flawed.

Francis Collins is a famous scientist. He was the chief of the Human Genome Project. But he is also a believer in God. He is a believ­er in a personal God who loves and cares for his creation. He is also a believing Christian, the child of eccentric freethinkers, a man who freely chose the Christian faith. In his latest bestseller, The Language of God (Free Press, 2006), he plays the role of a theologian.

Can a famous Christian scientist playing theologian do what Kant was unable to do? Can he prove the existence of God and simul­taneously rescue God’s moral reputation? Can he prove the existence of a God who loves all human creatures and who wants to rescue them from undeserved suffering?

Many Christians who bought Collins’ book were conservative Christians who hoped that he would place the endorsement of science on their problematic beliefs. But he is an enormous disap­pointment to the religious right. He repudiates creationism as unscientific. He endorses Darwin­ian evolution as valid, accepts the principle of natural selection, and rejects Intelligent Design. Collins endorses all of modern cosmology, with its “Big Bang” explosion and its fourteen billion- year-old universe. A scientific atheist would be very comfortable with most of his conclusions.

One would expect something fiercely original from a man of Collins’ caliber. But his presentation is disappointing. It is a rehash of familiar arguments offered by former skeptics who embraced God and Christianity. Much of his case is derived from the writings of C. S. Lewis, a clever Anglican apologist, who was the rage among sophisticated defenders of religion in the 1930s. Lewis’ audiences were people who feared Communism and who imagined that faith would provide a firm resistance.

Collins embraces all the old stale theo­logical tricks of conventional theologians. He denounces science because it cannot answer the question “Why did the universe come into being?” But this question has a premise. The hidden premise is that the universe must have a purpose. But what if the universe has no purpose? What if it was not created? What if it emerged by chance with no conscious interven­tion? What if there is no Why, only How? Sci­ence is perfectly capable of handling the How.

Collins maintains that the natural world cannot be the foundation of morality. Only God can. But ethics did not arise in a vacuum, a proclamation from a mountain top. All animals living in groups depend for their sur­vival on the survival of their group, whether they are ants, wolves, baboons, or people. To imagine that human ethics has no connection to our animal past, to assert that guilt has no genetic basis, to claim that love is not rooted in human survival but is a message from be­yond space and time is to abandon reason. The moral law is not some prescription for love and compassion floating around in some supernatural never-never land. It is one of evolution’s children in the relentless struggle for genetic survival. The love of strangers is new. It competes with the old fear and hatred of outsiders. That is why it is so difficult. But the love of family is old. It is the foundation of all other love. If God championed the moral law, he most likely learned about it from hu­mans and other animals.

Collins insists that the desire for God is evidence that He exists. It is hard to believe that Collins said this. Wishing obviously makes it so. If I want and need immortality, then I am immortal. If I want and need to be strong, then I am strong. If I want and need God then God exists. Why else would I long for him if he was not there?

Collins asserts that God cannot prevent human suffering because he gave human be­ings free will. People are responsible for what they do because they have free will. God could do nothing to prevent the Holocaust because he gave Hitler and his cohorts the wonderful gift of free will. What silliness! Intervening to prevent a person from harming others other does not deprive the criminal of his free will. It is an act of compassion. It is the moral demand that God presumably makes on all human be­ings. Why will God not do what he requires humans to do? A God who uses the excuse of human free will to stand as a spectator before human suffering lacks moral authority. Love by determinism is better than hate by free will. Collins discloses his daughter’s traumatic and tragic rape. What a horrible injustice! But no – Collins transforms tragedy into absurdity. Invoking one of the age-old apologies for God’s bad behavior; Collins justifies the event. He describes how much he learned from his daughter’s suffering. God uses his innocent daughter and her suffering to teach her father to forgive a criminal. What next? Plane crashes in which hundreds die, so that the survivors can be ennobled by their pain?

The last absurdity is the Anthropic Prin­ciple. The Anthropic Principle maintains that God created the universe in order to arrange for human intelligence. There are many mo­ments in the past fourteen billion years when a different turn of events would have precluded the appearance of our solar system, the planet Earth, and the air pocket on the surface of our planet that makes human life possible. Col­lins asserts that these amazing coincidences are not coincidences. They are the evidence of God’s deliberate plan and of God himself. But the Anthropic Principle reduces God to an incompetent bungler. If God’s intention is to create human intelligence why would he force human intelligence to undergo the ghastly process of evolution, with all its struggle, suf­fering, and enormous waste? The Anthropic Principle is like the Charles Lamb story where you arrange for roast pork by placing a pig in a house and burning the whole house down.

Collins’ book fills me with great sadness. Why would a brilliant biologist risk his intel­lectual credibility by consenting to play the part of C. S. Lewis’ parrot? That he is a nice man is clear. That Collins is a wise man is doubtful.

The New Humanism: What Is It?

Humanistic Judaism: Beyond God, Beyond No God – Summer/Autumn 2007

Is there any connection between Salman Rushdie and Humanistic Judaism? Now there is.

During the weekend of April 20-22, 2007 Rushdie was at Harvard, together with hundreds of hu­manists from North America and Europe. The occasion was the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. The mobilizer of the event was Rabbi Greg Epstein, a recent graduate of our Interna­tional Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and the current Harvard Humanist Chaplain.

Rushdie is an atheist and a humanist. He is also the man the Ayatollah condemned to death in 1989 for writing the book Satanic Verses. Born into an Indian Muslim family in Bombay and educated in England, Rushdie had already achieved fame as a novelist and commentator on Indian life. His surrealistic style of writing celebrated the absurdity of the human condition. Only laughter could do justice to the internal contradictions of Indian and Muslim life.

Condemned to assassination, Rushdie went into hiding for many years. Any public appear­ance was fraught with danger. Rushdie’s plight was testimony to the frightening terrorism of fundamentalist Islam. Rebelling against the life of recluse, Rushdie defied his enemies and be­gan to speak in public. Nothing has happened. But the decree of death has never been fully withdrawn. Courage now needs to be added to brilliance as one of his virtues. Rushdie’s ap­pearance at Harvard for a humanist conference was certainly an act of courage.

The theme of the celebration was the New Humanism. What is the difference between the “new humanism” and the “old human­ism”? The difference lies in the rejection or acceptance of the cultures of the past.

Humanism arose out of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was an eighteenth-century European intellectual movement that ushered in the Age of Science. It championed reason as the best method for the discovery of truth. It identified the consequences of human behav­ior as the best criterion for the determination of moral behavior. It celebrated human empower­ment and human dignity. It was this-worldly and optimistic, promising the improvement of the human condition here on earth.

The chief enemy of the Enlightenment was organized religion, especially organized Christianity. The war between reason and faith turned into an intense hostility between the two sides. The clergy saw secular human­ism as the ultimate foe. Secular humanists saw organized religion as the chief barrier to emancipation. The events of the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution gave testimony to the intensity of this battle.

When humanism was first turned into an organized movement in North America and Europe, humanists insisted on a clean break with the religious past. To be humanists was not to be a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or even a Jew. Humanists must organize themselves in opposition to traditional religious systems. This decision produced the “old humanism,” a movement profoundly hostile to churches, synagogues, and clergy.

But the old humanism was unable to mobilize most of the people who had become secular in the Age of Science. It cut people off from their cultural roots. It severed their con­nection to holidays and ceremonies, family memories and customs that possessed great cultural power. Whatever new celebrations were invented were sterile, lacking emotional and cultural depth. Humanist societies were small collections of intellectuals who felt especially wounded by dogmatic and fanatic clergy. The secularized masses that bore no conscious hostility to their roots were turned off by the perceived negativity of the old hu­manism, by the continuous denunciations of the religious enemy.

The dilemma lay in the word religion. Most secularized humanists resisted being called religious, even though they felt strong emotional connections to their religious past. Perhaps Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were more than religions. Perhaps they were cul­tural systems as well as religious systems. If you imagined that each religion was attached to a unique ideology, then such an assertion was invalid. But if it was the case that each religious system ultimately embraced many philosophies of life – some of them contradic­tory one to the other and all of them united by a single international culture – then the assertion corresponded to reality.

In every great world religion you can in­deed find many philosophies of life. That is how they became world religions. In Judaism you have Maimonides and the Kabbala. In Islam you have Osama bin Laden and Omar Khayyam. In Christianity you have Paul of Tarsus and Harry Emerson Fosdick. All that unites these dichotomies is a shared cultural system of family memories, holidays, cer­emonies, and literature. Philosophy is one thing. Organized religion is another, a cultural system that connects us to our ancestors.

Cultural religions were created by either conquest or dispersion. Christianity and Islam started with conquest. Judaism began through dispersion. World religions embrace many national traditions. Christians include Greeks, Romans, Germans, and Russians. Muslims include Arabs, Persians, and Turks. Jews embrace Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and the new mixed gene pool of Israelis.

Humanistic Judaism is part of the New Humanism. It does not protect the culture of the past. It does not repudiate ancestral roots. It embraces them and makes them a home for humanistic convictions and hu­manistic integrity.

At the Harvard conference, a Unitarian leader identified Unitarians as a version of Hu­manistic Confucianism and a Hindu scholar saw Hinduism as a cultural system that could offer hospitality to a Humanistic Hinduism. In all cases, the accommodation to roots is a bal­ancing act between continuity and integrity.

Can there be a Humanistic Islam? Given the prominence of fundamentalist Islam today, many people claim that such a designation is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. But Salman Rushdie, the man who was condemned to death by fundamentalist Islam, disagreed. He recalled his own childhood of secularized Muslims, of pious Muslims who preached toleration, of Muslim teachers who were more comfortable with the natural world than with the supernatural world. He saw himself as a secular Muslim, a secularist by conviction, a Muslim by culture. He saw value in presenting the connection with the past as a way of reach­ing millions of secular Muslims who could not be reached by rejectionist Humanism.

My dialogue with Salman Rushdie was one of the high points of my life: It confirmed my commitment to Humanistic Judaism and to the New Humanism.

Humanistic Judaism and God

Humanistic Judaism Anthology – Spring, 1986

Judaism without God is a difficult con­cept for many people to grasp. If they are not outraged, they are puzzled.

For traditional Jews who see Jewish history as the evidence for the presence of God in the world, removing God is remov­ing the reason for Jewish survival.

For people who view Jews as a religious denomination and who see religion as the worship of God, an atheistic secular Judaism is a contradiction in terms.

For religious naturalists who have re­jected supernatural beliefs and who have redefined the word God to refer to nature or to some part of nature, the elimination of God is an unnecessary step.

For traditional moralists who derive their ethics from divine authority and who insist on clearly defined rules with ab­solute certainty, morality is not possible without God. And Judaism without moral­ity is not much of a Judaism.

For atheists who agree that there is no God but who cannot imagine a religion without one, doing religion without God is like doing elections without candidates.

For people who may not be sure about God but who are sensitive to human needs, dispensing with God violates the requirements of human happiness. A Judaism without God cannot be emo­tionally satisfying.

To understand Humanistic Judaism is to understand why these six responses are inappropriate.

  1. Finding a just God in Jewish history is like finding icebergs in Brazil. If God has been the friend of the Jewish people, we do not need enemies. In the century of the Nazi Holocaust, the Jewish experience is a solemn testimony to the absence of God. If Yahveh is indeed the lord of history, he cannot hide behind the excuse of Jewish sinfulness. Too many innocents perished in the slaughter.

Some theologians seek to rescue God in strange ways. The Lubavitcher Rebbe sees the Holocaust as a fitting punishment for the secular Jews of Eastern Europe. Richard Rubenstein views him as so high and mighty that the petty events on the surface of a small planet invite only his in­difference and moral neutrality. Harold Kushner describes him as limited, a deity who means well but who does not possess the power to get what he wants. And his desperate defenders see him as the in­genious divinity who arranged the Holocaust so that the state of Israel could follow.

What can be said for such ludicrous defenses? Why would a just God slaughter the “innocent” religious together with the “wicked” secular? Why would anybody be interested in a God who did not care what happened to people and who viewed our suffering with the same indifference as he viewed our pleasure? Why would an in­competent and powerless God be more important to people than an incompetent and powerless human being? As for ar­ranging a Holocaust to guarantee a Jewish state, that behavior is about as intelligent as burning down a house to get roast meat.

If there is a God and he is either unjust, indifferent, or dumb, then he does not deserve our praise and adoration. At the most, he deserves the appeasement cere­monies of frightened victims. At the least, he is worthy of our indifference and con­tempt.

  • Defining Jews as a religious deno­mination is as appropriate as defining Anglo-Saxons as a theological persuasion. Even the Bible views the Jews as a tribal nation and art ethnic race. Biblical writers may denounce “bad” Jews who refuse to worship Yahveh exclusively, but they never deny the Jewishness of the people they denounce. From the very beginning, Jewish identity was a kinship identity, in­dependent of theological beliefs and reli­gious commitments.

Even the rabbis preserved the “racial” classification of the Jews. Despite their in­sistence on public religious conformity, they conferred Jewish status on the children of Jewish mothers regardless of the personal beliefs of the child or of the mother. Bible-believing Gentiles needed conversion. Atheist children of Jewish women did not.

Anti-Semites who refuse to accept the conversion of Jews to other religions as a sign of genuine change are simply follow­ing age-old Jewish tradition and popular practice. Changing publicly proclaimed beliefs does not alter Jewish identity earned through birth. As for converts to Judaism, they are less converts than adopted children; they must change their ancestors as well as their religious prac­tices. In traditional conversion, Abraham and Sarah become their “parents.”

If Mr. Cohen decides to indulge himself in Zen Buddhism, neither he nor his neighbors will think of him as any the less Jewish. And if he decides to take Jewish history seriously and to dispense with God, neither his friends nor his enemies will see any significant change in his Jewish identity.

Jewish identity is a kinship identity, in­dependent of theological beliefs and religious commitments.

  • Saving the word God by redefining it is both evasive and immoral.

It is evasive because a word that can mean anything the definer wants it to mean is no longer intended for communi­cation. Its purpose is either psychother­apy or social security. Either the definer “needs” the word for emotional reasons that have nothing at all to do with its historic meaning, or he finds it useful for social respectability. (Many people are afraid of being accused of atheism even if they are atheists.

Redefining God is immoral because or­dinary words are entitled to their ordinary meanings. God is an old word with an old historic denotation. For the ordinary user, God refers to a supernatural father figure who made and runs the world and who consciously interferes with the operation of his creation. The vocabulary of prayer is directed to a personal power who can respond to praise and petition. Even after all the liberal theists redefine God to their personal satisfaction and social comfort, even after they insist that the term refers to some abstract non-anthropomorphic natural force of goodness or creative energy, they still end up talking to it as though it were a personal “papa figure.” The historic meaning of the word makes that response inevitable.

It is immoral to steal words from every­day communication and to alter their meaning arbitrarily — especially if the ac­tion serves your personal advantage. Theology as a cloak for atheists is like the emperor’s clothing in the Anderson fairy tale. It is shoddy business.

The traditional God — if he is believed to be real — makes a difference. A per­sonal God who watches our behavior and who judges it with rewards and punishments may be terrifying, yet he cannot be ignored. His presence is related to our survival and happiness.

But a God who is no more than the One, the Absolute, the Potential for Goodness and Creativity, the Ground of Being, Universal Love — or any of a dozen and one liberal redefinitions — is either too vague to be interesting or too familiar to be unique. If God is Love, how is that dif­ferent from Love is Love? And if God is Nature, how is that different from Nature is Nature? Conservative theists need the word God because it refers to a being that no other word denotes. But liberal theists do not need the word. Perfectly ordinary words already exist for whatever they mean by God.

  • As for morality, God is hardly indis­pensable.

It is quite obvious that the word God does not, of necessity, imply good. Gods can be wicked as well as benevolent. Otherwise, why all this insistence on demonstrating from human experience the “goodness” and “justice” of God?

If God’s behavior can be evaluated, then the evaluator must already know what good means. He does not need God to tell him what is right or wrong. He is aware of what is right or wrong before he judges God.

Notions of right and wrong arise out of the social setting of parental discipline and are later attributed to a heavenly superparent. The human need to live in groups for survival demands trust, worthi­ness, sharing, and abstinence from vio­lence. Social groups in which promises are never kept, food is not shared, and children assault their parents have little chance to survive.

Even the Bible recognizes that divine endorsement is not enough to make com­mandments morally convincing. The system of rewards and punishments that the authors of the Torah so neatly ar­ticulated is evidence that divine authority is inadequate. The Hebrews are promised fertility and prosperity for their obe­dience, drought and devastation for their resistance. The satisfaction — or frustra­tion — of human needs becomes the sell­ing argument. The implication is clear. Right behavior leads to pleasant conse­quences. Wrong behavior leads to unpleasant consequences.

In the reward and punishment system, the importance of God does not lie in his moral authority. It lies in his power to satisfy human needs and to provide for human pleasure — which, quite obviously, have their own intrinsic moral merit. A god that does not care about human welfare has no moral clout.

Practical humanism is the harsh aware­ness that the quality of human life is up to human beings.

  • A religion without God, a secular re­ligion, appears to be a contradiction in terms. After all, religion is often defined as a belief in God. But equating religion with theology is sociologically incorrect. Beliefs are private, passive, and not easily detected. Many people, for social safety, pretend to believe in God even when they do not. Although their behavior is reli­gious, it may not reflect internal convic­tion.

Religion — as opposed to theology — is a behavior, generally a publicly observed behavior done in groups. Worship and submission are postures that most people describe as religious, even when their spoken theology is insincere.

Religious behavior is an appeasement behavior. It is the human response to situations of helplessness, when human power seems inadequate to deal with over­whelming danger or disaster. The more helpless people feel, the more religious they become. People tend to be most reli­gious when they are confronted with the reality of death.

Now, “submission” or resignation is a perfectly rational response to situations of helplessness. What is irrational is imagin­ing that the assaulting forces are a super­human person you can talk to.

A non-theological religion would cer­tainly recognize that human beings are limited, that certain life situations are ir­reversible, and that there are times when “surrender” or resignation is perfectly ap­propriate. We cannot bring back the dead. We cannot prevent earthquakes. We can­not abolish the law of gravity.

But a non-theological religion would avoid theological descriptions of “destiny” that transform the impersonal forces of nature into superhuman parents. Worship — with all its verbal flattery, de­meaning postures, and endless gift- bringing — would be avoided. In its place would appear the good-humored submis­sion of shoulder shrugging.

Theological religions, by their ex­cessive use of worship behavior, tend to make people feel more helpless. If humanists do submission from time to time, they do so reluctantly. They much prefer problem-solving.

  • Being nice to the masses because you think they need God even though you do not believe in God is an excuse for cowar­dice. It provides people who are afraid of revealing their humanism with a reason for not doing so.

Therapeutic strategies that turn people into protected children undermine their rights. To be sheltered from the truth is to lose your dignity. If indeed there is no God, pretending that there is one neither enhances your self-esteem nor improves your ability to deal with reality. Yielding, without question, to an authoritarian superparent is hardly the avenue to decent maturity.

But, even if you prefer security to digni­ty, the God-route is, most likely, the wrong way to go. Living with a cosmic “peeping Tom,” who continuously watches your behavior and judges it, is liable to make you nervous. And praising a Power that is ultimately responsible for all events, even the unjust ones, may lead to the pent-up anger we call depression.

Judaism without God may be a surpris­ing concept. But it is a perfectly appropri­ate one. It is a healthy non-theological religion that derives its morality from human need and that finds in Jewish history a reflection of the “absurdity” of the universe.

Judaism the Old and the New

Humanistic Judaism, Spring/Summer, 1975

How can you call it Judaism if you don’t believe in God?

The eternal question.

A tiresome question.

But valid. If religion is identified with a set of theological beliefs, it is the ultimate logical challenge.

If Judaism is identified with the implicit creed of the Biblical and Talmudic authors, is the most rational of responses. The humanist cannot ignore the question. Not only because of the badgering of people in his environment. But also because he cannot, in good conscious, my call his religion Judaism if it is unrelated to the essentials of the Jewish religious experience.

Non-traditional Judaism, including Reform, justifies its label by establishing its adherence to the Torah. The Torah is on the peg on which all “real” Judaism supposedly hangs. The holidays and other ceremonies derive their “kosher” character from their presence in the Bible.

Traditional Judaism depends on an acceptance of the stories and the Torah. The Jewish religion begin with God who transmitted his commands to Abraham and Moses. Abraham’s son Israel had 12 sons each of who became the ancestor of a tribe. Ultimately all 12 tribes want to live in Egypt where they were enslaved by the pharaohs. After their liberation from bondage, the new leader Moses led them to Mount Sinai. At this mountain they receive the full doctrine of the Torah and pledged themselves and their children to fulfill the commitment.

By the official story the Bible came first. The religious regimen of Jewish life came second.

Humanistic Judaism, on the other hand, denies the truth of the story. It denies that the holiday and life-cycle ceremonies which express the rhythm of Judaism are the result of the Torah. It denies that the origin of Judaism is in the Bible and in the historic events described in the Bible.

Using the result of a scientific survey of the Jewish past, a humanistic Judaism presents the counter-story to the story of the Torah. In the discoveries of archaeology and of the higher Bible criticism lie its scriptures.

Humanistic Judaism affirms 10 historical observations which are in conflict with traditional claims.

Here they are.

  1. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never existed; they are mythical figures. In ancient Palestine there were three somatic peoples who spoke the same language. There were the Canaanites (also called Phoenicians), the Amorites, and the Hebrews. Their difference was not racial, but occupational. The Canaanites were city-dwellers, the Amorites hill-country farmers, and the Hebrews wandering herdsman and shepherds. The Hebrews conquered the Amorite Hill-country in successive small invasions lasting over 1000 years. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are personifications of three important invasions. Although the authors of the Torah try hard to deny the ethnic and cultural connection between the Hebrews and the Canaanites, objective research proves them wrong.
  2. Most Hebrews never went down into Egypt. The exit is a story is a myth. There is no historical evidence the subs tonight a massive Hebrew departure from the land of the pharaohs. As far as we can surmise, the Hebrew occupation of the hill-country on both sides of the Jordan was continuous. The 12 tribes Joseph considered us to never left their ancestral land, never under 400 years of slavery, and never wonder the Sinai desert. The origin of their custom ceremonies had nothing to do with an Egyptian experience.
  3. Moses was never the leader of the Hebrews. One Semitic tribe called Levi did spend time in Egypt. They may have even been slaves. However by 1200 B.C., long after the Hebrews had been settled in Palestine, this tribe was wondering the Sinai desert. Their leader and shaman was a man called Moses (an Egyptian name) and their chief god was either a snake god called Nehushtan or a wind god called Yahveh. Under the leadership of Moses they infiltrated the Hebrew land of Judah (the south of the Hebrew territory was called Judah and the north is called Israel). Famous for their magical powers they were invited by the people of Judah (the Jews) to become their priests. After Moses died, his descendants, in particular, were in demand as priests. In time, the Levites, like the Magi in Persia, specialized in soothsaying and in the conducting of religious ceremonies. All the Levites remembered their leader Moses, the Jews had, for obvious reasons, no historic memory of his leadership.
  4. The Jewish religion was old before the Bible was written. Long before the Levites ever set foot in Palestine, long before the story of the Torah was written, the Hebrews had an ancient religion and an ancient set of religious ceremonies. The Torah was not even written by Moses (who is most likely illiterate). It’s written by a group of Levitical priests 700 years after Moses had died and centuries after the basic religious calendar of Judaism had evolved.
  5. Sukkoth, Hanukkah, and Passover were established holidays long for the Torah was dreamed of. In ancient Palestine there were three moments of the seasonal year which were suspenseful. The first was at the fall equinox when the rainy season was scheduled to begin. The second was at the winter solstice when the dying light of the sun was scheduled to renew itself. And the third was in the spring when the herds and the flocks regularly conceived. The failure of either the rain or, or the sun, or animal fertility to fulfill its promise spelled disaster. Therefore our Hebrew ancestors set aside a week of celebration at each of these annual crises to ensure success. They danced and they sang and sought to urge the natural forces on through imitation. They poured water on Sukkot, light candles on Hanukkah, and ate eggs on Passover to urge the rhythm of nature to assert herself. The Levitical authors of the Torah sought to deny the natural origins of these festivals and to attach them (with the exception of Hanukkah) to historic desert experience of the Hebrews never knew. But modern research gives the lie to the tampering.
  6. Judaism began as a series of nature experiences. Judaism is as old as the Jewish people. It began with the natural experiences of the Hebrew people in their own land. It began with a Jewish response to the season crises of autumn, winter, and spring as well as to the individual crises of birth, puberty, marriage, death. What the Bible denies, the evidence of history affirms. Although the orthodox leadership, both historical and rabbinical, sought to turn the attention of the Jews from nature to their god Yahveh, it could not erase the nature experience. Even when officially demoted to insignificance, it persisted as the major motivation for celebration.
  7. The Torah is an attempt to explain the already established Jewish calendar. After the destruction of the northern Hebrew (Israel) by the Assyrians and the defeat of the northern Hebrew (the Jews) by the Chaldeans, a power vacuum existed. Since the Chaldeans and their successors the Persians did not wish to restore the military leadership of Judah out of fear that revolt would be encouraged, they removed the royal house of David and replaced them with a group of harmless collaborators. This collaborators were the Levitical priests who were hungry for power. (We forgive their modern descendants, the Levines and the Cohens).
  8. The Levites had a problem. In the eyes of the people they were usurpers, opportunistic replacements of the legitimate house of David. They therefore had to prove the right to rule.
  1. The Torah is a deliberate attempt by the Levites to prove that Moses and his relatives (as contrasted to David and his descendants) are the rightful rulers of the Jews. A fictional Moses was created to become the leader of all the Hebrews and the start of a supernatural spectacular at Sinai.
  1. In order to re-enforce the authority of Moses the Levites deliberately associated all holidays with Moses and with Yahveh, the god of Moses. Passover emerges as the anniversary of the mythical Exodus. Sukkoth emerges as a commemoration of the never-never 40 years wandering in the desert. And the rest day, sacred to Saturn, the God of Jerusalem, is justified as the Sabbath through a childish story of creation. When the Levites get through with their book, but the history of Judaism is totally distorted. A non-hero called Modes arises as the savior of Israel, and the ancient Jewish calendar with all its pagan gaiety is reduced to a solemn desert travesty.
  2. The Biblical point of view is the Levitical point of view. The Bible is a series of 24 bucks either written by or edited by the Levites. It is an attempt to explain ancient Judaism through the vested interest of the priestly clan. If read uncritically, it distorts the truth and makes the origins of Judaism to appear as they weren’t. The Torah is not the source of Judaism. It is a clever and successful attempt to rationalize Judaism for the benefit of a small power elite.
  3. The Jewish religious experience precedes the articulated belief about the gods or God.The religious experience in all cultures is the attempt to celebrate the unchanging rhythm of life, whether seasonal or personal. Before there was a Moses or Levites, before there was any formal theology, there existed an ancient Hebrew calendar of life. The dramatic experience of this calendar, with all their sense of identity with the events of nature, were independent of any theological explanation. Only later when the caretakers of religion tried to articulate the significance of these experiences that they conjure up fantasies about the gods. Judaism preceded the gods and will survive them.
  4. Historic Judaism is not the Bible. It is the celebration of life through the seasonal and personal calendars of Jewish experience. An authentic Judaism seeks to go behind the official theological rationalizations. It seeks to articulate the human experience which makes Sukkot, Hanukkah, Passover, and the other celebrations significant. It finds the ethical values of these holidays and no mythical story but in the human response to this season. Reflection is natural to the autumn, hope is essential to the winter, and freedom is the imitation of spring.

And so, there they are. 10 historical assertions. 10 humanistic interpretations of Jewish history. Just as the modern Jew is utterly distinct from the man official theology described, so was the ancient Jew vastly different from the pious image the Bible prefers.