Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

There Is No Such Thing As Atheism

religion

My teenage students often ask me why we need religion. We don’t need it answer questions about why it rains or why the sun shines. Science gives better answers to those. We don’t need it to explain human behavior or relationships. Psychology gives better answers to those. What, then, is religion for?

I tell them this: Religion  helps us answer the most important questions we face. What is the purpose of life? How can it be made meaningful? Why are we here? What does it all add up to?

None of us can ignore these questions. Our lives determine our answer.

We All Worship Something

The late novelist David Foster Wallace put it best when he said,

In the day-to- day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships.

If we choose to worship money and things, there will never be enough. If we choose to worship beauty and sexual allure, we will always feel ugly and when time and age start showing, we will die a million deaths.”

If we worship power, we will feel weak and afraid, and we will need ever more power to keep our fears at bay. If we are not careful, we can slip into this kind of worship, little by little, day by day,… or we can choose to worship, to give our life to, to sacrifice for, to live and die for something else, something good and authentic and important. It’s up to us. We get to decide.

Indeed. We get to decide.

Question: What do you worship?

You can leave an answer in the comments below. 

Three Questions You Need to Ask Yourself

2,000 years ago a great rabbi urged each of us to ask ourselves three questions. Doing so can change our lives.

three questions

1. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” In other words, if what I do does not come from my heart, why am I doing it?

We can be very good and successful at something, yet still find it lacks meaning. Even further, we may not be giving the world our best.

Daniel Pink published a book several years ago entitled Drive. It is about what truly motivates high-performing people. What he found was that money and stature are not nearly as important as the deeply felt human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

We will give our best when we find follow what drives us.

 Is It Possible?

Sometimes what drives us can drain us. We’re not always going to feel in control and creative and great about what we are doing. Every job and important thing in life – like parenting – has its difficulties and drudgery.

There are, however, practical ways we can figure out what brings out our best. If, for example, I go a few days or a week without writing, I know it. My spirit feels drained and my mind wanders. But all I have to do is start again, and the passion returns.

Each of us has similar passions we can follow. When our work touches our deepest selves, the routine, as Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, can become the amazing.

2. “If I am only for myself, what am I?” Satisfaction does not arrive simply when we do what makes us feel good. It comes when we serve others.

As theologian Frederic Buechner put it, “The kind of work God usually calls us to do is the kind of work (a) that we need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done… The place God calls us to is the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Consider that phrase – “the world’s deep hunger.” Each of us brings a dish to help meet that deep hunger. When we help meet that hunger, we also meet our own. Nothing nourishes us like giving of ourselves.

What Will They Say At Your Funeral?  purpose

As a rabbi, I learn this every day through the families of community members who have passed away. When I ask family members about the deceased’s life, rather than talk about work or money, they talk about family and character.

Indeed, I have noticed that the ones who are most missed are not necessarily the most successful and famous. They are the ones who enhanced the lives of others. They are the ones who, like my grandfather, constantly did small acts that helped their communities and the people they loved.

Invariably, family members tell me that the deceased gained more from their kindness than they gave. In lifting up others, they found themselves uplifted. “If I am only for myself, what am I?”

3. “And if not now, when?” One of the best ways to uncover our purpose is to start doing something now.

A story is told of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, the leader of a famed nineteenth century Jewish school. As a boy he was an indifferent student. One day he decided to abandon his studies. He announced the decision to his parents, who reluctantly acquiesced.

That night the young man had a dream.  In it an angel held a stack of beautiful books.stack-of-books

“Whose books are those?” he asked. “They are yours,” the angel replied, “if you have the courage to write them.” That night he began writing. The rabbi was on the way to discovering who he was meant to become.

When we discover our purpose, we discover what God put us on this earth to do.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Can You Pray What You Do Not Believe?

prayer

A famous philosopher once visited a church to give a lecture entitled “A Critique of the Existence of God.” His lecture took place in the church’s fellowship hall. It was very well attended, with over one thousand people.

Yet, after a while, the professor noted that the audience was beginning to leave.

Finally, when only a few people were left, the professor asked the group if he had been talking too long. One man answered, “No, your lecture is not too long. And you have proved to almost everyone’s satisfaction that God does not exist. But it’s almost time for our prayer service. And, God forbid, we wouldn’t want to be late.”

Huh? 

This perplexing story challenges us to think about the meaning of prayer. Do we always agree with the words we say? In Judaism, we say a prayer asking God to revive the dead. Do we think God can and will do so? We ask God to water the plants of the field. Do we believe God makes it rain?

These types of prayers have led many scientists to reject religion as infantile and illogical. Yet, the purpose of prayer is not to teach science. It is to speak to the soul. We can pray what we do not believe by thinking differently about prayer.  Prayer can be symbolic, mysterious and inner-directed.

Symbolic Language

Why do we take offense when a person tramples on the American flag? It is simply a piece of cloth. Yet, when we look at the flag or say the pledge of allegiance, we see it as a symbol of our country and our values.

The language of prayer is symbolic as well. When we say God revives the dead, we do not literally mean God opens a grave and breaths into a person who has died. Rather, we think of the way people live on through others. God revives the dead when we bring new life into the world.

Embrace the Mystery

One of the conceits of American society is the belief we can find all the answers. We can fix any problem with enough hard work and intelligence. This belief improves our world and leads to innovation. Yet, it will never satisfy us. The more we know, the more we realize how much more there is to know.

Albert Einstein wrote that scientists ultimately realize that “some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe.” In other words, scientists know they will never know all the answers.

When it comes to prayer, we can embrace the mystery as well. Prayer speaks to the heart, not just the mind.

Focus on the purpose of prayer

The Hebrew word for prayer suggests that it is not directed only toward God.It is  also directed at ourselves. In other words, we do not pray simply to recite truths or impress God with our devotion. We pray to lift our spirits and move our hearts.

Prayer can transform us in a way ordinary language cannot. Consider the difference between an instruction manual and poem. We read one to get information. We read another to get inspiration. Prayer is like poetry.

But it goes beyond poetry in that it draws it also conveys a moral and spiritual imperative. It is not meant simply to entertain us. It is not meant simply to teach us. It is mean to guide us, to transform us, to lead us to a better life.

We pray not so that God hears us. We pray so we can hear God.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Can Science Prove God?

Can science prove God? For the last several centuries this question would have seemed absurd. Galileo was forced to recant his discoveries before the Pope. Darwin faced vociferous opposition from religious quarters. Today, however, a new way of thinking has found expression among devout scientists.

science god

Perhaps its most articulate representative is Frances Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian. Dr. Collins wrote an astounding book about DNA called The Language of God. Among his arguments is the case for what he calls “theistic evolution.” It sees evolution as the Divine mode of creation.

Divine Evolution

According to this framework, biology does not undermine God. It illustrates God’s creative powers because it shows God implanted within nature a way to evolve. In other words, faith and science are not at odds. They depend on one another. Each reveals the other’s power.

Of course some scientists would argue against this view. How can one prove a supernatural creator implanted the ability to evolve within organisms? Yet, they would have great difficulty finding a counter-argument to it. The beginnings of life remain shrouded in mystery, and will remain so.

As Max Planck, one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated scientists put it, “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature.  And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.”

What we don’t know pales in comparison to what we do know. The ultimate mystery at the heart of the universe lies beyond our grasp, and even if they do not call it God, many thoughtful scientists appreciate that mystery.

Divine Unity

As scientists have learned more about evolution, they have also recognized a truth the Bible described long ago. Creation is vast and almost infinitely diverse. Consider, for example, that earth contains 40,000 types of beetles! The Bible celebrates this diversity in the Book of Psalms, where we read,

How manifold are your works, O God.

You have made them all in wisdom.

The earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and wide.

There the creeping things beyond count, Living things great and small.” (104:24-45)

As we learn more about the world, we are uncovering the vastness God implanted within it. Even more astonishing, this diversity shares a common source. Every organism shares the same genetic code. To use a literary metaphor, we are all part of one dictionary.

As science writer Matt Ridley put it, “Wherever you go in the world, whatever animal, plant, bug or blob you look at, if it is alive, it will use the same dictionary and know the same code. All life is one…This means – and religious people might find this a useful argument - that there was only one creation, one single event when life was born.”

Divine Language

The final area of convergence is language. Language is not simply the words we speak. It is a series of symbols used to structure reality. Recall how Dr. Collins entitled his book The Language of God. That language, in Collins metaphor, is DNA.

DNA are strings of letters array in different orders. The arrangement of the letters creates life. Is it coincidental that God’s creation of the world begins with the words, “God said ‘Let there be light, and there was light?”

To continue this metaphor, we can understand creation as a result of different permutations of letters. We call these letters DNA, and they are really the building blocks of life.

Science may not prove God to everybody. Yet, the more we learn, the more we grow in our awe and amazement at the beauty of God’s creation.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

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