Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Am I Really a Deist?

During the past few months, one of the things that has been bothering me the most about Judaism is the prevailing belief of G-d's interaction in the world, meaning that Judaism advocates a personal G-d.  It's all over the siddur, the Jewish prayer book.  "G-d will be your protecting shield," "Thank you, G-d, for providing me with everything," or "May G-d heal my friend from such and such an affliction."  Reading a Jewish prayer book makes me feel as if G-d is a micro-managing interferer.  He stubs your toe to teach you a lesson.  He allows you to get accepted into a good university or a good career path to reward you.

If G-d does get involved in the world at this extent, then I am bothered by a plethora of things.  For instance, He brings you on the sidewalk at the exact moment to find a $50 bill, but He won't help the terminally ill cancer patient who has performed many mitzvahs and who could perform more if you heal that person?  Why would G-d cause one plane to crash and not another?  Odds are that the people on one plane are not any more guilty than the other, and odds are that both planes had small children on it.  It seems a bit haphazard to me.  The point I am trying to make here is if G-d does interfere as such, then this makes me question the nature of G-d.  I question such a G-d because I am an observer of politics and the world at large.  Justice, peace, and love are not consistently applied across the board.  Why would 6 million Jews and 5.5 million non-Jews be brutally murdered in the Holocaust and Hitler gets away with a nice, easy suicide?  Short of a postulation of an afterlife and/or reincarnation, G-d comes off as unjust.  But even with that set aside, after observing the ongoings of the real world, a personal G-d comes off as capricious, which leads to believing in an absent-minded, inconsistent, intellectually deficient deity.  If G-d is indeed a personal G-d, He certainly does a terrible job at being either all-just or all-loving.  Not only that, but such a meddling personality would negate free will, which just so happens to be a cornerstone of Jewish ethics.

All of this has led me to conclude that G-d is not a personal G-d.  I believe that G-d created the universe in a certain manner and left it for man as a gift to figure out everything on mankind's own time.  For this belief, I have been called a deist on more than one occassion.  But does that automatically make me one?  Not necessarily, as I will illustrate shortly.  And this frame of thought does not exist within mainstream Judaism, so would this be considered heresy?  I really don't think so, but I wouldn't be surprised if somebody thought it were.  And if it were deemed as such, at least I can be in good company.  In the Guide for the Perplexed, particularly in Part II, Chapter 48, Maimonides explains that due to the nature of G-d, mainly that aspect of his infinity, anything describing Him, whether it would be His actions or His character (e.g., He is angry or He regrets doing something) must be taken figuratively.  A point that Maimonides brought up that I did not previously consider is that if G-d created a world that, as Genesis 1 states, is "very good," a world in which everything considered as such has been implemented, there would be no need for G-d to interfere.  To suggest as such would be tantamount that G-d lacks the intellectual capabilities to act and create correctly, which defies any notion of an omniscient, omnipotent G-d.  For instance, when we read that G-d stretched His hand against Egypt, Maimonides opines that we are meant to read that as "the Egyptians were defeated with strength."  G-d did not cause the sun to stand still for Joshua, according to Maimonides.  It was a natural occurrence in which Joshua thought that the day lasted longer than usual. 

This also lines up with the Maimonidean notion that when G-d created us in "His image," that means that He gave us the gift of divine-like intelligence to figure out and solve life's problems.  This anthropocentric view of religion does not scare me.  Knowing what G-d has instilled within me gives me the strength to not only deal with the randomness that is so observable in life, but to deal with life's uncertainties.  Does this mean that I throw G-d out of the picture?  Absolutely not!  Every time I say a blessing over my food, it's an awareness moment for me, that G-d created nature in such a way to grow food to nourish us, that G-d created the laws of economics that allows mass amounts of food to reach such distances in such a short time, and that He made such knowledge accessible for farmers so that they are able to harvest food.  I thank G-d for giving me the intellectual capacities and faculties to figure out life.  I realize and recognize the gift of life G-d has given me, and that it should be used to its maximum potential.  I don't deny G-d.  I thank G-d for everything He has given me.  But I also know He expects me to figure it out on my own, to spiritually stand on my two feet, and to put in my fair share in the covenantal relationship.  I'm not a deist--I'm a metaphysical libertarian who has had a major theological paradigm shift.  Not only does this ennoble me to perform as many mitzvahs as possible, but it also eliminates a lot of theological headache.

11-15-2010 Addendum: After some further contemplation, it turns out that believing in an impersonal G-d makes me a deist after all.  A part of me subconsciously was in denial for the fact that somehow labeling myself as a deist would have somehow made me less of a [practicing] Jew.  It doesn't.  I still keep a kosher kitchen, observe the holidays, give tzedakah, and do my utmost to maintain a Jewish lifestyle.  What all this means now is that I have to view my religion and my relationship with G-d in a different way than I did in the past.


  1. you and me both!

  2. Good for you, I think Jewish Deism is an interesting and powerful combination in terms of freedom of thought.

  3. I also am a Jew who is a Deist. I am wrestling with the services , rituals and even traditions of Judaism. I have found no answers so far.

  4. Think about it this way. The rituals and prayers that make up the daily life of the observant Jew are not prescribed for G-d's benefit; instead, they are the result of careful planning by wise human hands to serve as constant reminders---as lights along the path that leads the thoughtful follower to a better understanding of his/her place vis a vis G-d. In a world where we are surrounded by falsity, materiality and difficulties, regular worship and communal celebration can provide the framework for a very well-lived life. The idea of a personal G-d, although inconsistent with pure Deism, nevertheless, helps to keep us focused. We cannot know if G-d is paying attention to us, but it is wonderfully fulfilling for us to pay attention to G-d.

  5. "Short of a postulation of an afterlife and/or reincarnation, G-d comes off as unjust."

    Can you direct me to the post explaining why afterlife/reincarnation is dismissed out of hand?

    1. Dear Why Kay,

      I did not dismiss the possibility of an afterlife. If we knew there was an afterlife, it would then be a fact, not a belief. A few months prior to writing this blog entry, I actually wrote about the Jewish responses to whether there is an afterlife or not.

  6. Do you still feel this way?

  7. Humanistic Judaism is the thinking I have found insightful. I agree with so much you say.

  8. I too have come to the conclusion that Deism is really the only solid basis on which to live a productive rationally moral life. I am an "orthodox" Jew, but am struggling with the observance part in various ways. It's like I had an epiphany about the magical worldview I used to have and while I have serious moral and rational clarity for the first time in a long time, it feels as though the ideological rug has been pulled out from underneath my traditional observance. How have you coped with this? Have you found any cogent rabbinic support? Are you still MO, or have you left since this post? Any info or guidance you would be willing to share is very much appreciated. Thank you.