“God is on my side. I’m on God’s team”
That’s what it means when a fundamentalist of any stripe tries to convince you he knows — he really knows — what the Almighty thinks. “It’s God’s will,” they’ll tell you. ISIS, Chassidim, Evangelical Christians, it doesn’t matter, they all believe the same thing, “My book is the right one, yours is not. I understand what God really wants and you don’t.”
A devout Roman Catholic once told me her priest explained that if she wanted to counterfeit a $100 bill, she wouldn’t study another counterfeit, but rather a real one. Same with religion, he assured her. No need to look at other (presumably counterfeit) ones, but only the “real” one.
This, of course, raises a profound theological question. Can a truly universal creator establish only one way to worship Him and to hell with His other creations if they choose another path? Just because we may have one God, does that require God to have one people? But that’s what it means when we fight for only our version of God.
So pause a moment and think about how some people attack Muslims for believing Jihad — or even beheading — is God’s will. Is that really so different from the Christian Crusades? Or the ultra-orthodox Jews who demand their wives shave their heads and cover them with scarves or wigs? Aren’t they really saying they surely know this is what God wants.
And consider the televangelist Pat Robertson, whose views, though presumably heartfelt, reek with smug superiority and arrogance when he says:
“I know this is painful for the ladies to hear, but if you get married, you have accepted the headship of a man, your husband. Christ is the head of the household and the husband is the head of the wife, and that’s the way it is, period.”
But if you truly believe God is on your side when you win, what do you say when you lose? Where is God when bad things happen to good people? I have heard people curse God when a loved one dies, blaming God, or rejecting Him. And a holocaust survivor who remained deeply religious once told me, “Ribono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe) has a lot to answer for when I reach the next world.”
But this is more than just hubris. More than presumption. In Hebrew, desecrating the name of the Almighty is called Chillul HaShem. And desecration is exactly what I think it is when people think only they have the right insight into what the Almighty wants.
Onward (fill in the blank) soldiers.
Here’s what I believe: First, I have to admit that we can’t really know what God wants of us. The challenge for each of us is to find in our own faith tradition a way to reconcile this cosmic ignorance with our desire to be honest and true to our admittedly finite understanding of what it means to be a believer. For me, I go with the prophet Micah, who tried to answer that question. His response:
Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
Our faith traditions, if they mean anything, must be a guide for living peacefully and humbly with those who don’t share our worldview. If a belief system fails to do that, whatever its perception of the Almighty, it’s a desecration.
There is a Yiddish expression: “Man plans and God laughs.” Believe me, it sounds better in the original, “a mensch tracht, Gott lacht.” But maybe right about now He’s crying.