This is copied from something I posted on Indi’s blog. Long enough to deserve a repost, and a riposte too. Bring it on.
Have your faith and eat it too
I think we can safely say that each of the Big Three Mosaic religions has a similar orientation towards violence—yes, you can do it in God’s name; yes, you can do it in self-defense; yes, God is not pleased with the non-believers, especially the polytheists, so go convert/subdue (!!) them first. This of course speaks to their all having come from the same part of the world, a place where life really was materially harsh and historically violent, filled with rapacious tribes, competing vengeful deities, and extremes of environment. There was a lot to fight over.
I’m a little shaken by people’s interest in a “realistic approach to God.” To me there can be no realistic approach to God, or if there is, it will necessarily be an approach I don’t want to take. Life is not, I think, “simple.” There are some moral precepts which are, but so much more that is not. I look for something of the sublime in religion; something that takes me beyond the ‘harsh realities’ of the world. It’s perhaps an opiate-of-the-masses approach, but as a Jew I’ve never been taught to believe in an immanent and jolly Heaven, so I find transcendence to be deeply impelling in this life, thus strongly anti-narcotic.
Without being a chauvinist about it, I find it deeply sad that Christianity and Islam ‘inherited’ or developed such watered-down versions of the Jewish conception of salvation. Early Judaism posited the future coming of the Messiah, after which the pious dead would be resurrected and all would live in a glorious Kingdom of God; mediaeval and modern Jews often believe(d) something more along mystical lines (in a strong parallel to Mahayanist Buddhism), wherein the universe and its contents are to be perfected at a future time, which requires the diligent work of all beings. Anyway, next-door Heaven of today’s Christians and Muslims, being judged at death according to your personal life, is sort of petty to me.
(Can you begin to imagine the bureaucracy? See Albert Brooks’ film “Defending Your Life” wherein he and Meryl Streep meet cute in Judgment City, a sort of bathrobed-denizened Los Angeles, where all the dead screen film clips from their lives to prove themselves worthy of moving “up” rather than going “back.”)
I don’t turn to faith only when things fall apart, though it is deeply in need at those times. Indi says “People seem to treat God like a candy shop, here to give people whatever they want..” The God-as-candy-shop image is one I like, but I’d expand it to include the incredibly petty idea of “fairness.” It’s a terrible irony that religions which acknowledge (nay, promise) suffering-in-life are still called upon to account for colossal unfairnesses. I feel like religious people should, you know, look back at Exhibit A; you got told up-front that shit would go down, you know?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it is/can be possible to “be” several theoretically exclusive religions. For example, I believe that there is no God but God, and Muhammad is (God’s) prophet, but not that he was the last one. I also believe that Jesus was a prophet, and in the rightness of what he taught, but not that he was the Son of God. I also believe that there is a destroying/creating force in the world, which I can conceptualize as Shiva. I won’t say what I “believe” about Buddhism because a good Buddhist doesn’t believe anything, according to my (devout) yoga teacher. And so on—I should become Bah’ai, but even that’s too narrow. Judaism is the skin and culture and religious lenses I was born into; I was also born into Catholicism and that too is appealing but so institutionally corrupt as to be unpalatable.
Then again, I said above that ‘palatability’ (practicalism, realism) is not a good yardstick for faith. Well, like all good theological arguments, I’ve come full circle and found that I can easily undermine my own point. Thus: life is not simple. Faith is not easy. I only wish I had the (personal) discipline to spend more time practicing and deepening my faith(s). The last time I had a proper religious community and attendance record (Protestant values, I know!) was as a freshman at Swarthmore and went to Meeting regularly.