Along the way, like many others of my generation, I took an interest inTaoist and Zen thought, fell into a Japanese martial art (aikido), and wasled thereby to some wide reading about religion and religious thought andhistory in general, but on the histories of Christianity and Judaism in particular. In that connection, I learned a fair bit about Judaeo-Christianreligious history but the upshot was that aikido and writing ended up ascentral to my identity, while Judaism is not. And yet, after all this, I remainvery much a New York Jew in some respects, though rather alienated fromthe tribe in some others.There is a lineage of secularized, assimilated, cosmopolitan Jewsgoing all the way back to Josephin the Bible, theadvisor to Pharoah,with
his 'coat of many colors.' More historically, figures like Spinoza, MarxEinstein, Freud, and Derrida come to mind – skeptical thinkers, right aboutsome things, wrong about others but usually outside the mainstream of conventional thought, and contributing greatly to it for that very reason.Of course, there were many lesser people like myself in this same lineagewho, assimilated as they were, and regardless of their talents and merits,shared a certain very Jewish temperament – their propensity and
to'wrestle with God,' like Jacob in the wilderness. Now, with this lineage I identify strongly.I understand that old story of Jacob's wrestling match (initiated by God, notice, and not by Jacobhimself) as symbol, permission and encouragement for existential struggleas such. Read this way, it's of a piece with many other stories in the Bibleand in Jewish folklore afterwards. Abraham had his struggles with God, acouple of generations before Jacob. Moses struggles with God in Egypt,on the mountain, and in the Sinai wilderness. Job struggles with God.Jesus struggles on the cross, notably when he asks why God has forsakenhim.And the Jewish God allows himself to be struggled with
– seems todemand it, in fact.
Muslims, Christians and many Jews have emphasizedthe need for obedience – for ultimate submission to God's will. Yet a peculiar glory of the Jewish tradition is the permission God gave it, or thatit gave itself,
to talk back to God
: to question, criticize the arrangements,complain and negotiate.This tradition of not taking 'God's ways' – nature and happenstance – as mere givens strikes me as the really great Jewish teaching, far beyondmonotheism (which is still, basically a fantasy of the supernatural), andwell able to survive God's 'death.' I am sad that more people, Jews andnon-Jews somehow descended from this Jewish tradition don't takeadvantage of its permission and encouragement to question. And Godhimself seems to be sad, in many of the Jewish stories, that most of thehumans he created are just sheep, sometimes avaricious or power-hungrysheep, rather than worthy sparring partners.So where does this leave me? Today, at 67, I am an atheistic,