December 25, 2005


God's old neighborhood a review of Where God Was Born A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion by Bruce Feiler (Jonathan Kirsch, December 25, 2005, LA Times)

Feiler tends to dramatize his own experiences. Thus, for example, an excursion by helicopter above the land of Israel is rendered as a moment of crisis and then revelation: "I feel as if I'm in a full-body migraine," writes Feiler. "And then, just as suddenly, quiet. The sound dissolves, my body relaxes. I'm in the air, in a war. I'm at peace," he continues, referring to the armed conflict between Israel and its Palestinian-Arab adversaries. Indeed, "Where God Was Born" is essentially a confessional work. [...]

Nor does Feiler shrink from the harsh theological implications of violence in the name of God. "There is one God, and God controls the world," insists a Hasidic Jew in the aftermath of a terrorist suicide bombing in Jerusalem. "God controls the bomb, and the bomber." In fact, Feiler, who is Jewish, experiences a soul-shaking spiritual crisis after visiting the Jewish homeland, and he ends up distancing himself from the Bible: "I was learning that I could no longer rely on the once familiar pillars of my religious identity: King David, the Temple, the Western Wall. I had to find my own route to God."

But Feiler is always looking for points of connection and reconciliation among Jews, Christians and Muslims, all of whom share a scriptural tradition that seems only to sharpen the conflicts among them. He acknowledges that King David is depicted in the Bible as a bloodthirsty warrior and conqueror, but he also reminds his readers of the linkage between David and Jesus: "The interfaith roots of David run deep in this soil." He shows us the contents of the field kit issued to chaplains who accompany U.S. troops into battle: "a crucifix, a screw-together chalice, communion wine and wafers, a rosary, a kippah [Jewish head covering], teffilin (Jewish prayer boxes), and Muslim prayer beads."

For Feiler, the contrast between the Promised Land and the Babylonian Exile is especially instructive, and he explicitly defends the Diaspora as a crucial element of Jewish identity. Indeed, he seems to suggest that "Holy" and "Land" ought to be decoupled. "The surprising lesson of the Exile is that God does not abandon us in moments of despair, nor does he save us," affirms Feiler. "Only we can save ourselves from exile. By the rivers of Babylon, we should not weep for Zion. We should not seek vengeance on our enemies. We should redeem ourselves."

An especially powerful Psalm and a rebuke to those, like Mr. Feiler, who seek a cuddly God, 137: The Mourning of the Exiles in Babylon
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 25, 2005 9:38 AM

Who said anyting about cuddly? I'd be happy with a God who isn't a genocidal murderer. Fortunately He isn't. Unlike too many of His followers.

Though I must say it is revealing of the author's psychology that he equates anything less than a blood thristy God with "cuddly". Religious beliefs tell us more about the believer and his psychological and emotional state than they do about God.

Posted by: bplus at December 26, 2005 9:01 AM

See, that's the point, daniel, you hate the God we have.

Posted by: oj at December 26, 2005 9:08 AM

Bottom line: when you read the Bible literally all you have is an evil god.

Posted by: bplus at December 26, 2005 10:11 AM