Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Personal God

So I watched God on Trial, and thought it was a brilliant TV play. The BBC (WGBH Boston who co-produced) ought to do more individual TV dramas: they can be very potent when well directed (as this was) and well acted (as this, throughout, certainly was). But Frank Cottrell Boyce gets the greatest credit for a brilliant script. True, in some of the earlier sections I found myself thinking, 'perhaps it's ever-so-slightly by-the-numbers, like a sixth-form ethical debate ... look, there's a bit from Dostoevsky! Ah look, it's Darwin's nasty wasp!' But by the time Sher's Rabbi Akiba got to his big speech I was wholly carried along with it. His listing the genocides and mass-murders celebrated in the Torah is powerful, but Boyce deserves a BAFTA for one line alone: 'God isn't good. He was never good. He was just on our side.' That line keeps coming back to me. It's not just that it's a penetrating critique of the crasser tendency to recruit God to one's own war, political campaign etc. It's more. It's a thirteen-line demolition of the very idea of a personal God.

The Greeks styled their Gods as capricious, unpredictable, quick to anger because after all: that's how the universe we live in is. A Tsunami kills tens of thousands, and then next day the sun comes out. JHWH is a little like that, in the Torah. The problems come when we wish to restyle this unpredicatble, indifferent being as all-loving, all-wise and so forth: is a contract signed with an irrational agent ever legally binding?


Rich Puchalsky said...

Adam (if you read these comments) you might want to try a book called Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest. It was interesting because it refuses to gloss over evil yet refuses to give up the idea of YHVH or even on the worship of YHVH.

Here's a quote of the Google books summary: "David Blumenthal maintains that having faith in a post-holocaust world means admitting that while God is often loving and kind, fair and merciful. God is also capable of acts so unjust they can only be described as abusive. Grounding his argument in the scriptures and in the experience of holocaust survivors and of survivors of child abuse. Blumenthal grapples with how to face a God who works "wondrously through us" and who has worked "aw(e)fully against us". Delving into Jewish literary and theological traditions, the author articulates a theology of protest which accepts God as God is, yet defends the innocence of those who are utterly victimized."

But I wouldn't say that the book really accepts God as God is. At least, it's an acceptance of an entity who can, in some sense, be told how futilely to do better. There are prayers at the end that include lines like "May God share with you His anguish and His shame at His own hateful actions."

Mahendra Singh said...

I shave every morning with Ockham's Razor, it's the finest shave in the world and costs mere pennies.

They do say that Jehovah goes about unshaven though. 'Nuff said.

Adam Roberts Project said...

Rich: I do read the comments (only I so rarely get comments that sometimes I forget to check for them). I'll certainly check the Blumenthal book. The main premise of the Trial of God play was that God had entered into a covenant with the Jews; that this was effectively a contract; and that his actions in permitting the holocaust put him in breach of this contract. Necessarily all the characters (except a few people working for the camp) were Jews, so though it covered a lot of ground it didn't address the implied exclusivity of any contract (for signing a contract with one party entails excluding other parties): until the blistering speech by the Anthony Sher character at the end, I mean.