Lucian J Hudson
13 October 2010
The faultline is deepening between those who see themselves as having a faith and those who do not. And it is deepening in part because of a mistaken perception one side has of the other: that only one world view can prevail. We must challenge the assumption that one side has to be wrong for the other side to be right.
I converted to Judaism after being brought up a Catholic, educated by French Jesuits in Paris. My religion may have changed, but my faith in God has provided a fixed point, as has my faith in the power of reason and choice. I was not driven away from Roman Catholicism, but was drawn to Judaism, especially Liberal Judaism, its blend of tradition and modernity, its elegant mix of questing and questioning.
Far from seeing that it was a choice between the two, I spotted similarities, much to the surprise of my rabbinic board. My Jesuit education encouraged me to use the power of reason, and test it to destruction, but also to revere that which is beyond reason and can be good. Liberal Judaism gives greater weight to ethics than to ritual, even though ritual, invested with thought and purpose, is most precious. Both the Catholicism of my youth and Liberal Judaism value the exercise of an inquiring and resourceful mind.
God is integral to my world view, making me see the world in HD. If you feel awe when you see a rainbow, it is that, and more. It is somewhat redundant to ask: but does God exist? The felt experience provides its own evidence. Life is not just about probabilities, but possibilities. We can transform the odds. A belief in God can enhance that view.
Stephen Hawking has been wrongly criticised for his view in his latest work, The Grand Design, that God is not necessary for understanding how and why the universe came into being. The main charge against him should be the claim that “philosophy is dead”. His argument is that because reality is model-dependent, if a model can be found to explain the universe, we need not have recourse to God. This merely questions the relevance of God in that context, but does not rule out such a possibility. Hawking is making a philosophical assumption on what it is to know reality. Ironically, his very hypothesis presumes that there is a reality which it is possible to have a model of. We cannot speak our thoughts without language, but this does not mean that language is all that there is.
Equally important to me are certain human values that transcend any religion. This is the common ground which faith leaders ignore at their peril. What the Greeks called agape, wanting the good and growth of the other, is special regardless of whether there is, or is not, a god.
The pope argues that many of the values a secular society takes for granted – not least freedom – are born of Christianity. But no one faith holds a monopoly of universal values. According to a 10th-century midrash (rabbinic commentary): “It matters not whether a person be Jew or gentile, male or female, free person or slave – it is according to their deeds that the Holy Spirit rests upon a person.”
Perhaps one can only give expression to what is important by appreciating the tradition which gives rise to it, but if something is really that important, it stands the test of time and tradition. The Torah stands above all other texts because it reminds Jews of their history as a people and their relationship to God.
Liberal Judaism is progressive, not just in the social and political sense of putting value on the equality of women and gay and lesbian rights. But it is also progressive in the theological sense. Revelation is not limited to the single occasion of God’s giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Judaism has never stood still, and its dynamic and developing character makes it today one of the most timely of faiths.
I welcome atheism and secularism when they fillet out mystification, superstition and blind absolutism. But moral relativism the pope is right to condemn. It is also limiting to rule out what you cannot know, and to lose a sense of mystery, whether it is in religion or science.
The main split is not between believers and secularists, but between those who approach life by testing their theory against reality, and those who interpret reality only to support their theory of it.
Doctrine has its place in religion, politics, science and indeed the workplace, provided it is a tool that we consciously use, rather than something to which we surrender individual conscience, judgment and discretion. A good pope, prime minister and metropolitan police commissioner is one who sees that people are at their best when they exercise choice rather than unthinkingly follow the rules.Click here to see the original story
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