Why, asks Hartman (The Boundaries of Judaism, 2007, etc.), do so many religious groups and individuals fail to live up to the standards of their faith traditions?
Why do people who purport to follow an almighty and benevolent God so often resort to contention at best, violence at worst? Hartman asserts that religion maintains innate “autoimmune diseases” that stem not from the ethical failings of individual believers but from built-in faults of religion itself. He identifies two such problems. First is “God intoxication,” which causes followers to place God ahead of all moral and ethical decisions. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son without argument or hesitation is the prime biblical example. Such thinking leads to individual acts of injury against innocent people in the name of God’s honor. Second, “God manipulation” is characterized by the belief that God is on the side of a particular faith tradition, blessing and nurturing that group’s actions over and against those of other faiths. This thinking has led to the cycles of religiously induced violence seen throughout human history. Hartman addresses ways in which faith traditions can break free of these “diseases.” Namely, he advocates putting God second while putting ethical considerations first. “Religion will be saved from itself, its autoimmune diseases cured once and for all,” writes the author, “when we recognize that by putting God second, we put God’s will first.” As Hartman notes, “God is not in competition with the ethical, for God desires the ethical above all else.” The author realizes that some of his conclusions will lead to controversy, but he believes religion must overcome these problems in order to flourish in modernity. By invoking a wide array of ancient Jewish sources, Hartman forms a learned, solid argument for changing the direction of Judaism and, more widely, of monotheism itself. By challenging religion’s deepest understanding of its role, Hartman pleads for change.
A stimulating and sure-to-be discussed critique of monotheism.