Imagine for one second that the following statement was issued by a major Christian denomination: There is no such thing as divine intervention. The Bible was not inspired by God. The classical view of God is rejected. It’s presently unimaginable, yet these are all (word-for-word) confessions made by Jewish Reconstructionists in their 1986 “Platform on Reconstructionism.” Now imagination a major Christian denomination announcing that there was no such thing as a supernatural God who could “suspend the laws of nature,” but was instead the indifferent, non-personal laws of nature itself, as espoused by the Jewish Science movement. Imagine a Christian denomination which rejected a vast sweep of the Bible as simple mythology, welcomed deistic priests, and even conducted some services which made no mention of a god whatsoever, as in the Jewish Reform movement. Imagine a Christian denomination whose leading figureheads told their congregants that the heroic biblical characters they knew and loved – characters supposedly guided by a god called Yahweh – were all fictitious and never drew an earthly breath, as in the Jewish Conservative movement. Imagine a Christian denomination which jettisoned Yahweh altogether, calling it nothing but the poetic invention of primitive human minds, as affirmed by the Jewish Humanistic movement.
These are not aberrations or the eccentric thoughts of fringe Jewish groups. Against a backdrop of a worldwide Jewish population that is roughly 45% secular, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Jewish Science, Renewal and Humanistic movements represent 80 to 85% of all practicing Jews today. That said, it’s important to note that while rejecting the historical validity of the Torah (and therefore the concept of historical revelation) the larger and older Reform and Conservative denominations still, in principle, hold onto a monotheistic theological worldview. Tellingly though, the newest denominations, those which have emerged in the last century – the Reconstructionists, Renewal, Jewish Science and the rapidly growing Humanistic movement – have all abandoned traditional theological concepts and are either spiritualists, desists or atheists. Here the personal, mindful, wilful, interfering god of the Tanakh – the god Christians and Muslims still believe in – has been redefined as either an indifferent energy, a pantheistic-type nature force, or simply discarded altogether and reassigned to the shelves of human mythology.
It begs the question: What have the present day captains of Judaism seen, and understood, which Christians and Muslims have not seen, or understood? Indeed, what is the lesson here for Christians and Muslims when the very people who introduced Yahweh to the world in 7th Century BCE – the custodians of the only narrative upon which Christianity and Islam are so inescapably dependent – admit it’s all nonsense?
For the overwhelming majority of observant Jews it’s difficult to see any great problem here; a simple compunctious shrug of the shoulders and downturned smile is all it takes to admit the Torah and the Deuteronomistic History of the Nevi’im (including the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel) are fatally flawed as historical documents. What’s ultimately most important to the Jewish people is their cultural identity, and that is as dependent on a fictitious god and mythological characters like Abraham and Moses as much as the Greek cultural identity is dependent on Zeus, Perseus and Mount Olympus. The Jews are on bedrock cushioned with a rich wisdom tradition like that found in the Ketuvim and have no discernable distance to fall; Christians and Muslims aren’t, however, so fortunate. Their central figures of devotion, Jesus and Muhammad, unknowingly erected belief systems upon on a convoluted historical cartoon, and addressing this disastrously awkward corporeality is not going to be at all fun for anyone with even the slightest emotional investment in the god of the Bible… because the only people endowed with the authority to bury that god, the authors of the single User Manual – the Jews – are either in the process of burying, or already have buried him.