I remember once, when in college, of a debate between an atheist liberal and a conservative fundamentalist. They argued, “Can God create a rock so big he cannot pick it up?” “Can God kill himself?” “It is against his nature. Imagine something of which nothing greater can be imagined. To be so great, it must exist. Therefore God exists.” “It is against his nature, is an evasion.” No, it is not…” Each one yelled at the other, “You are wrong…” They were like little kids yelling, “Yes it is!” “No it is not.”
Then they brought up the pro-life debate. All the arguments for and against are so hot and so debated, it is not advisable to mention them here. Faces became red with anger as each used the same arguments that have been thrown back and forth since before you the reader or I the writer were born. Each person many times in this debate also used the argument, “You are wrong…” only to be met by, “No, you are wrong.”
Finally, after much jostling, the atheist liberal asked someone named Pam, a nice Jewish girl who hated debate, what her answer was. She retorted, “Pharaoh and his army he threw into the sea; the Babylonians tried to destroy us, and they are no longer around. Then came the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Inquisition, and the Nazis of a few generations ago. They are all gone now and we are still here.”
As the liberal atheist stood there with his mouth open, Pam added, “I don’t know if God could create such a rock, or do such a thing, and I don’t know if I can think God into existence, but he is the biggest guy on the block and I am picking no fights with him.” The fundamentalist stood there angry, being upstaged in this way.
Pam pointed to the fundamentalist and stated, “Your God is too small. Our God is no intellectual abstraction. He is far grander than that. He is far too large for words.”
Pam gently added, “The problem with each of you is that if God is transcendent, he transcends logic; if he transcends logic, he transcends what we can say about him, including whether or not he exists. You use the wrong tool for the job. When you use words to describe the indescribable, you end up saying gibberish. You end up with meaningless mind games proving nothing, with self-contradictory, meaningless sentences. You both speak with your heads, not your hearts. If you looked into your hearts, you would have your answers. God both transcends everything, but is also in transcendentally imminent. If God is everywhere, he is imminent, for us to see him, now.”
The fundamentalist argued, “You are a Pantheist.” Pam retorted, “Not Pantheist, but Pan in Theist. I am not God and you are not God, but God is in each of us, guiding us, if we will but listen. If God is in everything, nothing is evil. Everything is a mix, good with evil. The world is good, though never perfect, at least in this cosmological time. You use your heads and not your hearts or your eyes. This means neither one of you experiences him.”
The atheist argued, “And what are you doing as you describe God this way?” Pam stated, “The difference between those of us who have experienced God and those who have not is that we describe our religious experience. We do not describe God. Instead, rather we describe our experience of him. We speak stories and poetry to describe an experience, not the person experienced. ”
Both fundamentalist and atheist shot back, “You are wrong.” Pam gently continued as she addressed her comments to the atheist, “There is only one proof for the existence of God, and that is when he comes down and touches you on the shoulder and says, “Hi!” One place he does this is curing Passover liturgy, when we commemorate our liberation from Egypt. For those, such as myself, whom he has touched, there is no room for doubt. For those of you he has not touched, no proof is sufficient. There is always an alternative explanation for our religious experience.”
Pam retorted, “You argue for the rights of the mother in the abortion case, and you are right in arguing this way. As Jews, we follow Deuteronomy 30 where it commands, “Choose life.” In our language, the verb is in the perfect case. This means it is completed action. Each time we see a person we choose life for that person. All life is life in potentiality and our job as Jews is to bring that life to its fullest potentiality. You fulfill this commandment when you argue for the fullness of life for the mother in relation to childbirth. You also do so for her spouse, arguing for a just wage, and physical, mental, emotional, and spiritually healthy working conditions. You do the same in your love for animals, for quality education, and for care of the planet.”
The fundamentalist argued, “You are throwing us under the bus. The fetus is not potential life; it is life.” Pam continued as she looked at the atheist, “You argue that the fetus is only potential life. For the sake of argument, let us say you are correct. The fetus is only potential life, but as Jews we are still commanded to bring all potential life to its fruition. God still commands us to choose life.”
The atheist retorted, “You do not argue as fundamentalists do. Your arguments are reasoned, and show thoughts of being thought out. What is your solution?” Pam replied, “You are way ahead of yourself. Deuteronomy argues, the truth is not in our heads, and it is not out there for science to research and find. It is in our hearts. If we strip away all the concepts and simply look into our hearts, look at those dead baby pictures, and if our fundamentalist friend would just look at pictures of those in poverty, and drop the excuses, ‘But they did this, or will do that,’ and just look, we will find our answer.”
The atheist argued, “You are saying I have the Spirit of God within me, so should convert to your religion?” Pam gently replied, “No, that would be off topic. I simply argue that your eyes and ears pull at your emotions, telling you the picture is that of someone. I argue, the person pulling the strings is God, but as I said earlier, their are other interpretations. I simply argue that you listen to your heart.”
Pam continued, “The answer of when life begins is in your heart, and that is why you are offended by those pictures, and your fundamentalist friend who is offended by pictures of people in poverty. You are really so much alike you cannot stand each other.”
The fundamentalist blurted, “So you are religious and you are against capital punishment?” Pam stated, “If you look far enough behind the rough mask of the scrub cattle, the rough people who did really stupid things, you will find, first, a scared little kid trying to find his way. If you look even further, you will find the image of God.” The fundamentalist, thinking he could destroy this Jew, added, “So you would let him out on the street to do it again?” Pam shot back, “That would deny the image of God in himself, and in all his victims, past, present, and future. If he is a threat to himself and others, if he cannot restrain himself, we need to restrain him. God only asks that we see the humanity, the image of God in him as we do it.”
The fundamentalist blurted, “So, what is your answer!” Pam finished, “It is an act of hubris to come up with that answer. That is for God working through us as a community to answer. I challenge you, not to accept my answer; I do not have one, but to come with me, in love, as we look for the answer, ‘how do we create true life for everyone? Who all is with me?