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HOW GOOD DO WE HAVE TO BE? by Harold S. Kushner


A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness

by Harold S. Kushner

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1996
ISBN: 0-316-50741-5
Publisher: Little, Brown

 An unconventional reading of the Garden of Eden story, offering the best-selling rabbi's suggestions about its psychological implications for the children of Adam and Eve. Rabbi Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People, 1981; To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking, 1993; etc.) contends that we demand too much of ourselves and forgive too little. The traditional reading of the Adam and Eve saga as a paradigm of disobedience and divine punishment is responsible, he feels, for much of the unnecessary guilt that we heap on ourselves. We must free ourselves of the notion that God demands perfection of us. ``It is the notion that we were supposed to be perfect, and that we could expect others to be perfect . . . that leaves us feeling constantly guilty and perpetually disappointed.'' The purpose of religion, contends Kushner, is to ease our troubled souls and not to exacerbate our doubts and conflicts. Religion ideally teaches us that not only does God forgive our mistakes, but that our mistakes have a divine purpose, as experiences from which we can grow. ``Religion properly understood is the cure for feelings of guilt and shame, not their cause.'' And just as we must learn to forgive ourselves, we must be more forgiving of others. The alternative is to turn ourselves into victims and others into victimizers. Sin and punishment are not our inheritance from Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve's legacies of work, love, and the awareness of mortality make up the ``burden and challenges of being truly human.'' Nowhere, however, does Kushner consider more complex questions, such as how society should handle those who suffer not from an excess of guilt, but from its absence. Replete with personal anecdotes and references to contemporary literature, this is an appealing but ultimately shallow piece of feel-good pop theology. (Author tour)