Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Chosen People

[This is the fourth of five blogs from Israel where I am currently traveling with rabbis and evangelical ministers from Nashville.]

On one thing we all agree: the Jews are God’s Chosen People. All that is but me. While I certainly grew up with this self-understanding I have not taken it seriously for decades. To me, the idea of chosenness is sociologically common and theologically absurd.

Every people, from the Hopi Indians to the Japanese, calls itself God’s chosen. The reason that we Jews are taken more seriously than the others is that the book that declares this to be true is in fact accepted as true by billions of people. Of course the fact that we wrote this book doesn’t seem to faze people. After all, what else would Jews write of themselves: we are God’s despised? Leave that to Martin Luther.

Being Chosen we are told doesn’t mean we are better than other people; only that God has selected us for a special mission. Somehow this is supposed to make it OK to go around admitting that we are chosen, but to me this is somewhat disingenuous. Despite all the suffering and tragedy that is Jewish history, it is still better to be God’s Chosen than God’s not chosen. God, the Creator of Everything, has made an eternal covenant with only one people in all the earth across all eternity, and we Jews are it. Come in, isn’t that more cool than, say, everything?

Of course it is! It is a gigantic “nah, nah, n’nah nah” to the whole world. It is like getting picked first by the coolest kid at school to be on his team during phys-ed. It is like being allowed to lick the spoon after the icing has been swirled on the cake. It is like… you get the idea. I am not a big fan of chosenness.

Beside the jingoistic silliness of the idea, the theology that is needed to support it makes not sense to me either. God doesn’t choose. This is what people do, and while most theology is simply the projection of ego on an Imax-like screen of self-serving spirituality, I just can’t buy it. I could be wrong of course, but I don’t really think so.

Yes, the Bible speaks of God as having the same characteristics of people. He gets mad, sad, happy, jealous, vicious, pissy, self-righteous and the rest. But this the vision of biblical authors not a literal portrait of God Almighty. Maimonides, the greatest of Jewish medieval philosophers, said we cannot say anything about God. In this Lao Tzu concurs: the Tao that can be spoken is not the Eternal Tao.

While I do not follow their advice and speak of God all the time, still I know that what I say is not really what God is. Yet, I allow myself the conceit that I am at least on the right track. And that track reveals a God who is not self-conscious or willful, not rewarding or punishing, not chosen and condemning, but simply providing for all the opportunity to discover wisdom and walk the way of justice, mercy, and humility.

To me the issue is not who has God chosen, but who has chosen God. And in this the world’s religions agree: those who choose God are those who an open hand to a closed fist, and an open heart over a closed mind.

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