We shouldn’t adopt an ‘anything goes’ philosophy
Do you know that old joke: God created us in God’s image – and we returned the favor?
We rarely think about this, the ways we imagine a God who fits our world and values. And so, I suspect, few Jews believe any longer in a wrathful, punishing God. And perhaps because of this, we have difficulty experiencing fear of God. (Awe I can grasp at, but fear seems out of reach.) Indeed, I think many of us have a hard time imagining even a judgmental God.
The theology that fits so well with early 21st-century America is one anchored in non-judgmentalness. I’m okay, you’re okay. Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, and let’s not allow facts to get in the way of the truth. Or, is it let’s not allow truth to get in the way of the facts? So, if you believe Obama is a Muslim, that’s your right; whether this is a matter of fact, and not belief, whether it is either true or false, no longer seems to matter to many people.
Our willingness to forgo judgment thus extends to basic issues of truth and fact. To each his or her own, and who am I to judge?
And yet, here we are, on the eve of the High Holidays, of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Ha-Din, the Day of Judgment. How can a non-judgmental God and a non-judgmental theology start the year with a Day of Judgment?
Maybe we can escape the conundrum in this way: we judge ourselves, and self-judgment is appropriate, whereas we have no right to judge others.
But I think the Jewish tradition claims more than this. Certainly, we are encouraged, even obligated, to be introspective, to understand the ways we fail – and too seldom succeed – to meet standards of judgment. But our tradition indicates that such standards are not merely or only set by us. We have a potential, and it is against this that we ought to be judged.
Yet I stray from my original line of thought: That the very notion of a non-judgmental God is of relatively recent vintage.
I would then ask whether, as much lip service as we give to the virtue of non-judgmentalness and as much support as we voice for the claim that everyone’s entitled to her or his opinion, do we really believe this? Do we really embrace the moral chaos that is the logical outcome of the refusal to judge?
If so, why do we have courts of law at all? Why convict someone for stealing? Perhaps according to the thief, stealing is morally unproblematic – and who are we to judge? And a homicide-suicide bombing? Do we not agree this is a moral evil? (And even those who do not think such acts are evil justify them on moral grounds as the last and only resort of the victimized, at least as long as those killed are Jews or Shiites or Sunnis or whatever group, where the victims of terrorist acts are redefined as the guilty parties.)
I am not saying we should rush to judge others with no focus on our own faults. And we should never abandon humility by supposing or assuming our own judgments are the same as those of God. Yet I do think, as we approach the Days of Awe, that we consider the implications and consequences of rejecting the ability or responsibility to judge.
And once we acknowledge that there is such a thing as evil, and there is a responsibility to judge, we must assert that God is indeed a judgmental God, if often merciful at the same time. Yet what does this do to our image of God? What happens to the God of Love who accepts everyone as they are without judging them? And how might this change our behavior, as we approach Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the year ahead?
How would we live our lives differently if we truly believed we were being judged?
Providence resident Alan Krinsky works in healthcare quality improvement. Contact him at adkrinsky@ netzero.net. His new essay, “8 Reasons Leftists Should Be Pro-Israel,” is on The Huffington Post Web site.