Some Members Talk About God

HOW SOME MEMBERS OF VASSAR TEMPLE VIEW GOD – Compiled from notes taken by Lou Lewis and Joel Kelson
After morning services on December 8th, 2012 a group of Temple members gathered for a discussion about their personal beliefs in God. This gathering was engendered by an article and survey by Rabbi Mark Shapiro that appeared in a summer issue of the magazine Reform Judaism. Marian Schwartz led the discussion and read Rabbi Shapiro’s preamble to the survey of his own congregation. He concluded that statistics on faith are problematic – but the survey did stimulate good discussion. Reform Judaism magazine will be compiling and publishing the results of a reader survey. See the text of the Survey at
Present at the discussion were: MS = Marian Schwartz, AF = Alan Fink, SF = Susan Fink, DC = Doi Cohen, ML = Muriel Lampell, RS = Ralph Schwartz, AK = Alan Kaflowitz, JK = Joel Kelson, LL =Lou Lewis, EL = Elaine Lipschutz and “Rabbi” is Rabbi Golomb.
First question: Science explains everything; therefore God is superfluous? JK : This is the notion of the universe as clockwork and doesn’t explain randomness. LL: Science to date has not explained everything. AF: But why are there the laws of physics, etc? RR: Those laws have evolved – quantum mechanics from Newtonian physics. RR: Science is a perception of the universe that keeps changing. SF: Art is a separate realm than science. We are animated by creativity and the unknown. Science does not explain Rothko or Mozart. DC: We create God to explain what we do not understand.
Second Question: We would understand why there is suffering if we could see the complete story. True or false? AF: Evil may be a manifestation of free will. There are things that just happen. LL: This question is actually answered by Darwin’s theory of evolution. There can be no evolution without death and birth. DC: See the children’s version of the Book of Job. Her nine year old granddaughter said “He must have done something bad or he wouldn’t have been punished.” I told her that I had been sick – did that mean I was being punished? She said, ”Yes, you did something wrong.” SF: You cannot eradicate evil or bad things in life. God is not directly involved in the details of our lives. The idea of God is a force for doing good for others. ML: I think that all people need something to hang onto to give them strength – that gives you the ability to get through it all. RS: There are no atheists in a foxhole or in the cancer ward.
Third Question: When did you feel closest to God? Or most distant from God? RR: The grandeur of creation is sublime and engenders a feeling of closeness to God. MS: That was the most common response to the survey. SF: The presence of family and community is part of the feeling that I have of God’s presence. LL: Read Karen Armstrong on the golden rule, compassion, love and community. This is a different view than the traditional anthropomorphic view of the divine. ML: That feeling of community is something that I felt today during services. Worship creates a feeling of community. AF: I remember, as a five year old, attending an Orthodox ceremony with my grandfather – it was another world that sunk in on me. SF: I practice tai chi – I feel like I am in synagogue by focusing, having intentionality, energy, a spark. MS: The notion of a special place seems important – you have to create a space for God to enter. That was probably why Shabbat was created. AK: As a teenager, I went on a religious retreat once with Temple Beth El and expressed my view that I couldn’t believe in something I couldn’t see. When I got home I found that my pet rabbit had died. Somehow I connected the events and felt I may have been punished for my disbelief.
Fourth Question: If you could ask God any question what would it be? AF: Did you have parents? LL: That response raises a cosmological question about the origins of the universe. Wittgenstein said that the core of many of our theological and philosophical problems is the way we pose questions, which are frequently nonsensical. RS: I see God as someone with a great sense of humor. Rabbi – that’s why you image God as George Burns. AF: How can he have knowledge or experience? DC: We created God. RR: Perhaps the image of God as a white-bearded old man is not something we should be teaching our children. AF: Why is the Torah so convoluted? There are five books and fifty books of commentary. MS: This is what we do as Jews. We need to be God wrestlers. EL: We are asking why when we should be asking how. How do we get the strength to deal with life and its vicissitudes? Like the Holocaust. What did it take to survive? AK: Because they could not take away your thoughts or your faith.
Rabbi Golomb: we encounter God philosophically – like the problem of good and evil – and experientially. There are things we can say and things we must be shown. God eludes articulation. The Torah is elliptical and so is our worship. Our words are never sufficient. The critical question is: what do we feel? That feeling can come about in a variety of ways. The question is the authenticity of the experience. Rabbi Golomb then passed out the following quotations from a variety of well known thinkers:
Note to readers – the handout from Rabbi is a PDF and I have been unable to “paste” it into this text. I will try again on Monday.

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1 Comment

  1. ibritter

     /  December 23, 2012

    Rabbi, In your closing remarks I find an interesting irony. I agree with them. God eludes articulation and words are insufficient. And yet, so much of organized religion is given to scripture and text. I may suppose that they are provided in order to provide for or to stimulate a feeling of God, rather than to explain God. Perhaps the texts helps us to experience God through empathy with the stories of other people’s experiences with God. And song which is so prevelant in religion, while lyrical, evokes feelings and thus a sense of experience. It all leads me to realize the a “survey” is not a way to find God. Funny, if someone was looking for God this way they would be disappointed. And an atheist might use the survey support their view. Leading me to wonder the most useful purpose of the survey, and whether there is a different take away we are missing?


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