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Old 04-02-2011, 07:45 PM   #436
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I've not read the play, but it sounds very similar thematically to the story of Job...When God arrives, He does not answer the questions Job has asked in the previous chapters, nor does he rebuke Job for asking them
Oh absolutely, the plot is unmistakably based on Job--some of Sam's arguments are even directly lifted from the words of Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz. But there is a twist: this time God never arrives at all--the whole thing is stage-managed by Satan, at once the leader of the murderous mobs, the adversary who seeks to undermine Berish, and the advocate for God's justness. When one of the minstrels questions the appropriateness of a trial seeing as how the defendant is not present, Berish sarcastically retorts, oh don't worry--He's used to that.

I'm tempted to say, and I don't think it's wrong to say, that God is present there nonetheless--in the reluctant assists of the minstrels; in the protective instincts of the priest; in the fierce loyalty of the inn's maid (another Catholic) who vouches for Berish's character, testifying how kind and compassionate all in town knew him to be before the pogrom; and ironically most of all in Berish himself, whose stubborn refusal to let God off the hook is in a way the ultimate affirmation. But I think Wiesel might say that's a bit too easy, that Satan's upper hand from beginning to end (in the play, in Auschwitz, fill in the blank...) poses a deeper problem for creatures allegedly 'made in the image of God.'
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...And maybe that's the point. Beyond the theological arguments and the rationalizations and the attempts to be God's spin doctors, perhaps the most spiritually profound thing we can do in moments of suffering is sit and be with those who mourn, and quietly recognize the God who is there with us.
And in us, and in the victims. I agree.

My father, the only member of his family to survive Auschwitz, used to say that while he found the question of 'where God was' profoundly important, the ensuing theodicies were not really interesting to him; that he felt the more urgent question was, How does one learn to live as a human being again; how does one live with the shame and the guilt of being unable to account for why you survived even as you witnessed thousands and thousands of far better people dying in the cruelest of ways, the horror of your own retreat into animal self-protection in the face of insurmountable enemies, and the damage that does to your faith in man including yourself ("made in God's image").

The Jewish mourning ritual is called shiva, and one of our customs when visiting someone sitting shiva is not to speak to them unless and until they speak to you. Sit with them, be with them, be ready to speak--to answer their memories of the deceased with your own, perhaps--but only because it is an honor to share their testimony, not because of any delusion that anything you can say will actually 'help.' At times being close to survivors is like sitting shiva with them for a lifetime.
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Old 04-02-2011, 08:18 PM   #437
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Does the notion that God is in us and around us in times of suffering and present in our actions do discredit to ourselves in that it may be our own sense of justice and love for others that makes the priest protective, or the inn's maid protest for Berish's character. Why does it have to have anything to do with God? (Unless you're just looking at it in the story where there is an assumption that God exists and is present).

God gets the credit when we do good and satan (or just ourselves) when we do bad.
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Old 04-02-2011, 10:19 PM   #438
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I recently read Carl Jung's perspective on the Book of Job. In it he is highly critical of God's decisions and handling of the situation, but he also sketches out an interesting view of Job's relationship with God. That being Job's ability to see God's capacity for both good and evil, and God's inability to reflect on himself.
I haven't read it. But that's a fascinating way to put it, that last clause there. I'm not fond of the God portrayed in Job either (I've heard Ring Lardner's line "'Shut up,' he explained" associated with the Book of Job so many times I used to assume that really was its original referent, and it does make an apt summary). I have my own sketchy interpretation of it, but it's not one I'd feel confident ascribing to the fifth-century Persianized authors of the text. It's a fascinating question, what divine self-reflection might look like.
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Does the notion that God is in us and around us in times of suffering and present in our actions do discredit to ourselves in that it may be our own sense of justice and love for others that makes the priest protective, or the inn's maid protest for Berish's character. Why does it have to have anything to do with God? (Unless you're just looking at it in the story where there is an assumption that God exists and is present).

God gets the credit when we do good and satan (or just ourselves) when we do bad.
No, of course they should be credited with whatever good they do. The connection between the absence of good and the absence of God is relevant here because Berish himself believes God exists but not that God is present (hester panim, this paradox is called in Hebrew). Satan is "in charge" in this situation (the killers' will to commit the pogrom, as well as the victims' helpless vulnerability to it) in the sense that humanity itself appears absent; the felt mutual obligation to act justly towards others seems to have broken down, so that Berish is left unable to trust in anyone or anything, which enables Sam to exploit him. In classical Jewish thought, people do good in response to the recognition of themselves in others (the Golden Rule, the basis for justice and compassion), which in turn is understood to go hand-in-hand with seeing God in others. Obviously one doesn't have to subscribe to the latter part to act justly and compassionately, that's not the point. The reason I suspect Wiesel would find my suggestions "too easy" is not because they don't give humanity enough credit, but if anything because they may be too glib in assuming the adequacy of individual human goodness to meaningfully address radical human evil on this scale. Just as Sam's theodicies are glib in asserting the adequacy of 'God Will Provide, God Has A Plan, They Shall Get Their Reward' etc. to meaningfully address it.
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Old 04-02-2011, 11:13 PM   #439
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Isn't this more broadly the problem of evil? If God is all omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, in that he can't be all these things at once.

Just from reading this thread it seems to me that God at least in the Jewish sense is much more human, or less perfect perhaps than the Christian idea of God.
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Old 04-03-2011, 06:44 PM   #440
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Isn't this more broadly the problem of evil? If God is all omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, in that he can't be all these things at once.
On an atheist forum i used to frequent, I remember someone semi-seriously putting forward the hypothesis that if God exists, he must logically be rather malevolent, but also, fortunately, relatively incompetent. Evil but thick as pig-shit, basically, rather like the Demiurge of the Cathars:

Demiurge - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 04-04-2011, 12:41 AM   #441
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Isn't this more broadly the problem of evil? If God is all omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, in that he can't be all these things at once.

Just from reading this thread it seems to me that God at least in the Jewish sense is much more human, or less perfect perhaps than the Christian idea of God.
One of the areas where Catholicism and Judaism intersect seem to be in the subject of darkness. As far as Christian denominations are concerned, fundamentalists believe that darkness is to be denied; evangelicals believe that darkness is to be conquered. Only Catholics, like Jews, seem to believe that darkness is something to be wrestled with, questioned, but also (perhaps?) embraced. I don't necessarily believe that darkness or suffering is anathema to the experience of the living. Even Jesus, before He died, told His followers, "in the world you will have trouble."
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Old 04-04-2011, 12:45 AM   #442
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This says a lot of what I believe on the subject:

Mars Hill Church | Luke's Gospel: Investigating the Man Who Is God | Heaven and Hell
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Old 04-04-2011, 01:07 AM   #443
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Originally Posted by LJT View Post
Isn't this more broadly the problem of evil? If God is all omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, in that he can't be all these things at once.

Just from reading this thread it seems to me that God at least in the Jewish sense is much more human, or less perfect perhaps than the Christian idea of God.
I think it's more that Judaism broadly speaking takes a more optimistic view of man (or if you prefer, Christianity takes a more humble view of man; we could talk of pros and cons either way to be sure). Frankly, while I've never attempted a serious comparative study and am entirely lacking in qualification to do so, my guess is an 'objective,' in-depth scholarly comparison of the canon of Jewish writings on 'the nature of God' with Christian canon on the same would find that Jewish canon is overall far less coherent, explicit, and prolific on the topic, because Judaism is much more about how to live than how to understand God.

Within the Conservative, Reform, and smaller movements (denominations), which altogether 78% of religiously affiliated American Jews belong to, it's pretty commonplace to hear rabbis explicitly teach that God is NOT truly omnipotent; for example, William Kaufman and Harold Kushner (of When Bad Things Happen to Good People fame) are two reasonably 'famous' proponents of this view. This is not a 'new' view, it's a strand of argument (often though not always associated with panentheism) which dates back to medieval rabbinic literature, though as you'd expect more recent influences, like Holocaust theology, are apparent in more recent works on the subject. Many Hasidim would be comfortable with such arguments, as well. However, I'd guess most Orthodox Jews (and I was raised Orthodox) would automatically deem any such arguments heretical, even as they simultaneously subscribe to doctrines, like for example tikkun olam which I mentioned earlier, that are very difficult to reconcile with omnipotence. Again, practice over theory.

Anyway, I'll leave it at that, because I'm afraid I'm pulling the thread away from the original topic and prattling about stuff that means very little to anyone else at this point.
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Old 04-04-2011, 01:29 PM   #444
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On an atheist forum i used to frequent, I remember someone semi-seriously putting forward the hypothesis that if God exists, he must logically be rather malevolent, but also, fortunately, relatively incompetent. Evil but thick as pig-shit, basically, rather like the Demiurge of the Cathars:

Demiurge - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Fortunately relatively incompetent? How did he come to these conclusions by the way?
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