Concern With Goodness Without God Leads to Evil!
This column is being written during the 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) -- two Jewish holidays known together as the "High Holy Days." Just as many Christians who do not generally attend church do so on Easter and Christmas, many Jews who rarely attend synagogue do so on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
This year, for the 17th consecutive year (except for 2020, when I could find no open venue due to government-induced lockdowns), I conducted Rosh Hashanah services and will conduct Yom Kippur services (pragerhighholidays.net). In Jewish life, the sermons on those two holidays are the most important of the year. The following is a summary of the talks I delivered on Rosh Hashanah.
What does God most care about?
The answer is: good and evil, i.e., how we human beings treat each other.
Here are some proofs from the Bible, the book that gave us God:
1. The reason the Bible gives for why God brought the flood that destroyed the world (saving only Noah and his family) is that humans were evil. Virtually every ancient society had a flood story but, as far as I could deduce, only in the Bible's story did God destroy mankind because people were evil. For example, according to the contemporaneous ancient Near East Babylonian story, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods destroyed humanity (except for a man named Utnapishtim) because humans made so much noise they kept the gods awake.
2. In every flood story, the gods saved an individual and a mate (otherwise, the flood would have ended human life). The only reason God saved Noah was that he was "a righteous man in his generations." Again, the sole concern in the Bible's flood story is moral.
3. God is repeatedly described as a moral being. One example: "The Lord your God is... mighty and awesome, not partial and takes no bribe, executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing them with food and clothing" (Deuteronomy).
4. The fundamental human division in the Hebrew Bible is not between Jew and non-Jew but between good and bad people. That is why the Hebrew Bible describes so many non-Jews as good -- in addition to Noah, the daughter of Pharoah; Jethro, a Midianite priest; Caleb (whose ethnicity is not Hebrew but Kennizite); Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute who hid the Hebrew spies; and Ruth the Moabite (who becomes the ancestor of the Messiah) -- and so often criticizes the Jews for their bad behavior. No holy work is so critical of the people of that holy work's religion as the Hebrew Bible is of the Hebrews. Again, that is because God is preoccupied with moral differences, not with differences of ethnicity or even of religion. As Viktor Frankl wrote in his seminal book, "Man's Search for Meaning," there are only two races: the decent and the indecent.
5. The Hebrew Bible -- and therefore God -- is also preoccupied with moral treatment of animals. Most people do not realize that treatment of animals is included in the Ten Commandments. Not only must one's animals be allowed to rest every week on the Sabbath, but there are also laws in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) that prohibit muzzling animals while they work in the fields, so that they are free to eat while they work; yoking animals of two different species (and therefore having different gaits and sizes) to the same plow; and eating the limb of a living animal.
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