Protesting an Abusive God
Chronicle for Higher Education, January 30, 2011
To the Editor:
Bernard Schweizer cites a position I took in my book, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (“Hating God, The Chronicle Review, December 10, 2010). Schweizer quotes me correctly but, towards the end of the article, he misinterprets my proposal. It seems worthwhile to correct the record.
It is not a humanistic impulse that motivates “misotheists” like myself. It is, rather, a love of God, an acknowledgement of our love for God and God’s love for us, even if that love is, from time to time, abusive. After a session at the Association of Jewish Studies dedicated to the book, Rachel Adler, a psychoanalyst, Judaic scholar, and feminist on the panel, said to me, ‘David, only someone with a profound love of God could have written this book.’ I’ve always thought she was right about that.
Abuse therapists, by contrast, think I am outright wrong: the first rule is, separate the victim from the perpetrator; i.e., one ought to not-love the abuser; one ought to hate the abuser. Hence, anyone in his psychologically right mind should reject God — not deny God’s existence, but assert God’s existence and then reject God. That would make one a misotheist — someone who has learned to hate God. To protest, however, is to engage. To protest is to remain connected. To protest is to love, but to assert the rights inherent in the covenant. That is not misotheism. That is religious monotheism at its best.
The stance of affirming God but protesting is the therapeutic paradox of the book. But, as a religious Jew, I can do nothing else. I think, too, this is Elie Wiesel’s position. In fact, I think it is the ‘silent majority’ position of most Jews: they don’t deny God, they don’t reject God; they accept God. However, almost all of them do not have the courage theologically — or even more forcefully, liturgically — to integrate their protest into their religion. So they remain suspended, accepting God but doubting God’s goodness.
Facing the Abusing God takes the full protest position: love God for the good and protest the evil God does. (The book also claims that this is a traditional Jewish position.) Most Jews cannot do this and that is why they reject the book. Interestingly, Christians find it easier to deal with this love/protest position perhaps because it is in regard to the angry God of the Old Testament. Those Christians— and there are some – however, who understand that Jesus is not only a figure of love and that suffering is not redemptive, very much agree with me and, as good theologians, they are more blunt about it in their own religion.
I admit that I have had second thoughts over the years. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so clear; calling God abusive is a little rough. Still, I am haunted by the theological and liturgical logic of this position. If you love God, you cannot be a misotheist; you have to engage. And, if you engage, with your eyes open to God’s presence among us as we suffer unjustly, you must protest — by stating the truth and by incorporating it into your liturgy.
David R. Blumenthal
Jay and Leslie Cohen Professor of Judaic Studies