In the Winter 2008 issue of Reform Judaism magazine Rabbi Jack H. Bloom, a Reform Rabbi and practicing psychotherapist, is interviewed regarding his personal theology.
The interview opens well with Rabbi Bloom challenging the unwillingness of Torah commentators to admit rather than gloss over the dark-side of God. His examples come from Numbers 15:32 where God has the Jews murder one of their own for the crime of gathering sticks on Shabbat, and Leviticus 23:29-30 where God threatens to “cut off” from the Chosen anyone who works on Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Bloom goes on to blame our failure to admit God’s dark-side on our “pediatric view of divinity” that looks at God the way young children look at their parents. Little kids see mom and dad as Perfect Parents rather than as complex and flawed human beings. Similarly we excuse God’s dark-side in order to maintain our illusion of the perfect divine Parent, and hence “stay mired in a less mature, dysfunctional, and ultimately disappointing relationship with the Divine.”
As we seek a more mature relationship with God, Rabbi Bloom argues, we will also help God mature as well. Just as parents can learn from their children, so God can learn from us. In fact, Rabbi Bloom says, helping God mature is “an essential part of our [the Jewish people’s] covenantal relationship” with God.
Drawing upon his psychological training, Rabbi Bloom explains that God’s immaturity and violent nature are rooted in God’s low self-esteem. God wants to be loved, but rather than inviting our love by acting lovingly toward us, God demands it: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). God doesn’t understand the difference between love and obedience, and hence cannot mature into a Being capable of engaging in authentic relationship with humanity.
We humans, Rabbi Bloom says, must teach God what true relationship is by modeling it among ourselves. As God watches us live lovingly, God will learn how to do so Himself.
I assume Rabbi Bloom means for us to take him literally, and that Reform Judaism means for us to take his theology seriously. So here is a serious, albeit brief, response to Rabbi Bloom: AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGG!
And here is a no less serious albeit longer response:
Rabbi Bloom assumes that what we read about God in the Torah is true; that Torah actually reveals the nature of God. This is nonsense. Torah is a human document, and whatever its authors say about God tells us much about them and nothing about God, or even if there is a God. Being a psychologist as well as a Reform Rabbi I would have expected Rabbi Bloom to analyze the humans behind the Torah and not the God they imagine at the heart of it.
Here are a few questions worthy of serious psycho-spiritual exploration: Why did the ancient authors of Torah imagine such a violent God? Why did they place themselves in the role of both partner and victim with regard to this God? What does this say about our ancestors? What do we make of a people who imagine and worship a God suffering from low self-esteem? How does Torah’s image of a violent and self-loathing God shape the psyche of the Jewish people as we continue to raise our children with these stories and continue to read them uncritically ourselves?
According to Rabbi Bloom (and others) God creates the world because God wants to be loved. Prior to creation God is alone and lonely, and He seeks to remedy His situation by creating humans who will love and obey Him. And when we don’t do exactly what He wants us to do, He kicks us around until it is time for a nap. Yes, God is a four-year-old. But that was thousands of years ago. Hasn’t God grown up a bit by now? Hasn’t He learned anything from dealing with Jews lo these many years? Rabbi Bloom, by arguing that we humans must teach God how to “play nice” with his human friends, implies God has learned nothing. So what hope is there for us to teach God? If Abraham, Moses, Hillel, and Freud have failed, how are we going to succeed?
Given his reference to pediatric theology, I suspect Rabbi Bloom intends his theology for adults, but I don’t see how it can be so. On the surface it seems demeaning to adult thinking. It takes the Bible, or at least the Bible’s image of God, literally. I doubt most Reform Jews do. It assumes that God is an emotionally stunted Creator Who needs better role models. I don’t believe this, and don’t imagine many adults would buy it either.
So what can we do with Rabbi Bloom’s theology? We can turn it inside out, and argue that the authors of the Torah invented a God that reflected their own childhood experiences with dysfunctional and emotionally stunted fathers. We can argue that reading the Torah as the dreams a client might present in therapy tells us a lot about our ancestors. We can argue that, since their fantasies about their dysfunctional parents, now projected outward as a cosmically dysfunctional God, have shaped the Jewish psyche, we Jews still suffer from their childhood experiences. We can argue that the very fact that Jews continue to read the exploits of this dysfunctional Deity suggests that Judaism fosters a childlike mentality even in its adult members. We can argue that since we cannot admit to the madness of God and continue to blame ourselves for His anger and homicidal tendencies, insisting like the victim of abuse insists, that the Abuser is good and we are bad, that we suffer from a deep trauma at the heart of Judaism. It isn’t God that needs healing; it is we who believe in this God that need healing.
If this is true, we can then seek to heal ourselves. We can begin to analyze Jewish culture, family life, and religion as an example of abused children seeking to appease an unappeasable fantasy parent. And in so doing we might learn something about ourselves and take steps toward spiritual and cultural maturation.
Turning Rabbi Bloom’s theology inside out, might also be of value to our Christian cousins who, perhaps in rebellion against Our Father Who Art Quite Mad, imagined an all-loving God whose Son came to earth to free us from our failed efforts to earn God’s love.
The problem with Christianity, however, is that its early authors were themselves Jews who could not escape the trauma of biblical theology. And because of their Jewishness they abandoned the hope taught by the Son and retreated into the horror of the Father, and imagining an even more dysfunctional God than the Torah’s original.
Where the Torah’s God, after destroying almost all life with a flood, promises not to do so again, the God of the New Testament reneges on that promise and intends to destroy humanity once more. But the New Testament God can be bribed, and humanity can be ransomed. The cost? The death of God’s own Son. Whereas YHVH spared Abraham’s son on one hill, the New Testament God lets His own Son die horribly on another.
The Christian God is too Jewish to be the loving parent Christians want Him to be. And that is why, in the end, the Christian God of love condemns most of humanity to burn for all eternity in Hell, and sends the Prince of Peace to wage war against all those who, once again, refuse to obey the Lord with Low Self-Esteem.
If Rabbi Dr. Bloom had put the Jews on the couch rather than our divine fantasy, we might have learned something. If he had tried to heal us rather than our imagined Heavenly Father, we might turn to him for more insight. If he had argued that mainstream Jewish thinking about God that ignores the dark-side of God is analogous to an abused daughter blaming herself for the abusive actions of her father, then we could talk and maybe heal. But in fact all Rabbi Bloom did was to perpetuate the excuse and the abuse by blaming the victim: If only we would relate rightly with one another, Daddy would see what right relationship is and learn how to be the really really good Daddy we know He is. Please Daddy, we’re sorry. Please, give us another chance.