Uniting Science and Religion
to take Judaism where no religion has gone before
“Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind”
The great Jewish physicist Niels Bohr, began his lectures by telling his students, “Consider everything I say as a question, not a statement.” Scientific skepticism accounts for its great success, and blind acceptance of myth, causes religion to be “mythguided”, “mythinformed” “mythled” and “mythogynistic.”
Most religions discourage questions about God and demand blind faith, i.e. belief in the absence of evidence, which is notoriously prone to error. This is like a politician saying “Trust me” and should be rejected by any thinking person.
Most religious authorities fear questions as witches fear the rising of the sun, because their concept of God does not hold up to rational inquiry, and they seek brainwashing and indoctrination, not truth. They respond to those who challenge dogma with evasion, anger, and even murder. Many people erroneously believe that all religions are the same, which is as false as equating all governments from fascism to democracy, and reflects lazy thinking, prejudice and ignorance.
Beginning with Abraham, Jews have always asked questions, and modern Jews even question the Biblical account of Abraham, but for the sake of argument, let’s take the story of his life at face value.
According to the Torah, when God told Abraham that he would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham challenged God asking “How could the master of justice not act justly?” He then negotiated with God, who agreed to spare the cities if Abraham could find 10 pious men, which is the origin of the minyan, a minimum of 10 good men necessary to save a community.
When Abraham failed to meet the quota, these depraved cities were destroyed, but God rewarded Abraham’s chutzpah in challenging God by making him the first Jew, and giving him the “privilege” of circumcising himself and his sons.
Abraham was an iconoclast, i.e., “one who smashes idols”, and our people has been a smashing success ever since due to our refusal to capitulate to any authority, placing reason and justice even above God. Judaism and our concept of God has always been evolving and any effort to freeze Jewish development into some type of Orthodoxy is aberrant and abhorrent to Jewish tradition.
Albert Einstein said that “blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of the truth” and those religions that demand blind faith have wrought tremendous evil in the world. Those who claim to speak for God through an inerrant book that must be obeyed, have convinced God-fearing people to inflict upon humanity such horrors as genocide, slavery, war, oppression, inquisitions, crusades and exploitation of people, our planet and all living things.
The name “Yisroel” (Israel), means “one who struggles with God” and reflects the Jews’ evolving understanding of a Creative power that pervades the cosmos that is within all, unites all and transcends all. Thus, one who struggles with and after sincere reflection accepts or rejects God, is more Jewish than one who blindly obeys, accepts past notions without thinking, and refuses to grow.
In Judaism, God first demanded human sacrifice, then renounced this odious practice when Isaac was spared from his father’s blade. The Hebrew word “Melech” or “king”, referring to God, is similar to Moloch, the Canaanite God who demanded human sacrifice. The prophets taught that God was literally “fed up” with sacrifices and simply required us to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. With the Babylonian exile, God was transformed from a local Jewish deity to a universal God, who used the Babylonians to punish the apostate Jews.
Einstein traced this evolving belief in God through three phases: 1) a scary God who requires sacrifice to appease his wrath and ward off disasters like flood, drought, famine and disease; 2) a father figure who rewards good behavior and punishes the bad, and 3) a “cosmic religious feeling” he described as follows:
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”
Einstein referred to this sense of awe and wonder as Cosmic Religion but he did not develop the concept. The time has come for Jews, whose mission is to serve as a light unto the nations, to follow in his footsteps by developing a new phase of religion that we might call “Cosmic Judaism”. Its motto could be Einstein’s observation that “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.” Carl Sagan, who had a Bar Mitzvah, believed that religion could be transformed by reverence, awe and reason that would dwarf Bronze Age mythology, by tapping into the astonishing revelations of science. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, revered by Jews of all denominations and a friend and ally of Dr. Martin Luther King referred to this feeling as “radical amazement.”
The creed of this new outlook could be “There is no God but the creative process in all, beyond all and uniting all and Spinoza, Einstein and Sagan are among its prophets”. This approach, also known as Evolutionary or InspiRational Judaism, could lead our people to not only be wandering Jews but wondering Jews, filled with awe and wonder, to begin a wonderful new phase of religious evolution, guided by the prophets of old and the science of today, to replace walls of ignorance, conflict and hate with bridges of reason, understanding and love. This expansive view could transform religion from the tribal to the global to unite the people of the world on a sacred mission to establish peace, promote harmony among all people and to protect our precious planet and all its diverse species.
Cosmic Judaism is offered by Rabbi Barry Silver and Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor live and on the internet with weekly Shabbat celebrations, discussions, social events and opportunities for public service and activism. For more information go to firstname.lastname@example.org and ldorvador.org.