I'm about 3/4's done with "Unsettled, an anthropology of the Jews" and it's been a frustrating read because it's all over the place. I found myself asking, what is anthropology all about anyway:
"The scientific study of the origin, the behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans."
I guess that was the problem -- that's a lot of territory to cover. I had always wondered how the Shoah (holocaust) was reconciled with the idea that you need to have faith. And some Rabbis have tried to come to grips with this. One Rabbi even added a new prayer:
"May God, Who is our Father and our King,
Who injures, destroys, and harms beyond reason,
Who also loves graciously, and is compassionate, and cares...
May God share with you His anguish and His shame at His own hateful actions.
May God bless you, and may you receive His blessing. - Rabbi David Blumenthal.
By the time you get to that point, where God has become an imperfect, and often cruel God, I begin to wonder whether this is a God at all in any traditional sense. I begin to wonder whether the old timers might have had a more useful explanation with their multitude of Gods that each represented different archetypical traits.
And then I remember that we were made in God's image. But if we were made in God's image, does that mean that we can understand God's nature by looking at ourselves? That is not a promising image for God at all.
Certainly the old Gods and demigods, were projections of our own traits, both good and bad. And you could sort of picture these guys and gals fighting amongst themselves, doing nasty things to us out of spite, etc.
One of the oldest religious ideas was that by making sacrifices to the one God, or the many gods, that we could keep them in line. If I give you something nice -- some meat -- some blood -- some pearls -- like we give the King -- the chieftain -- then you won't hurt me.
Again, these are very anthropomorphic visions of the Gods.
What has happened to our sacrifices to the Gods? Have they turned into political donations? Will we offer our sacrifices over the web? Is that what it has come to -- a sacrifice of cold cash, transmitted in bits, to a digital image that flickers on an electronic shrine?
Tug McGraw ("You gotta believe") died this week. I can still see him walking off the pitching mound, thumping his glove. Tthat was as close to idol worship as I ever got.