Friday, April 20, 2007

Review of "Who Needs God" by Harold Kushner

What I like about this book is that it is not apologetic in the most Evangelical sense of the word. There are no lectures on "hard" proofs or attempts to make you look foolish if you do not believe. It feels more like a conversation you struck up with someone while waiting for your favorite beverage from the barista. We tell stories of how we got to where we are, we laugh at the way laugh sometimes works out, and we ponder striking moments.

Why do we need God? Basically, because the totally independent human is a myth. We have weaknesses, we need support, and we need companionship from people and from God. So we discuss what it means to live, and to live well.

In keeping with the conversational tone of meeting someone new and interesting, Rabbi Kushner does not insist in being Jewish as the only way to learn to live but offers help and insight that he has learned from the Hebrew bible and those who have studied it.

How does religion help us?

Religion is not primarily a set of beliefs, a collection of prayers, or a series of rituals. Religion is first and foremost a way of seeing. It can't change the facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts, and that in itself can often make a real difference. (p. 28)

This isn't a book describing a world in which getting everything you really want is what you really need and within your power (see previous review of "The Secret"), it is telling us that what we need to be human is already there if we can just see it.
Organized religion deals with our epidemic of loneliness not by telling us that if we pray properly, God will send us a lover, and not by giving us one more spare-time activity through which we can keep busy and make friends. Rather, it offers us a vision of a world where people no longer condemn themselves to loneliness by seeing all other people as rivals. It offers us a place to which we can bring our whole selves, not just that part of ourselves that we bring to our jobs and our hobbies, and to encounter the whole selves of our neighbors in a way we cannot meet them anywhere else. (p. 113)
As it turns out, and I hope this isn't a shock for you, we are rather limited in our ability to make sense of the "why did this happen" or "what is really going on" in this world. By viewing life through the stories of the scriptures, we can connect to not only the community of the past but with the stories and people we find ourselves in right now. How you fit into these stories will determine how you see your purpose in this world.

While there were times I would have liked to have delved deeper, or ask disturbing questions, those are more likely another conversation (see some of his other books) or use this as starter material and bring it up with your friends over your evening drink.

If you are like me, it doesn't sit well for someone who may not know you as well as they think try to force you into some mold. Rabbi Kushner weaves you into the stories and asks you to experience them for yourself.

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