I have a friend, a former Orthodox Jew, who is a deist. If I understand her position correctly, she deals with the dichotomy between the world as it is – and, more particularly, the Jewish community as it is – on one hand, and God on the other, by removing God from day-to-day dealings with the world and humankind. So when rabbis hurt little children or Orthodox Jews are rotten to those who left the fold, this is the fault solely of the Jews involved – God has nothing to do with it. It is not God's responsibility.
I on the other hand see God as involved in the world on a much more detailed level. That leads me at times to either blame God (at least in part) for the sins committed by man or to negate God altogether.
Whether God is at fault or not, whether He even exists or not, I think the truth is the world is what it is because we – pretty much all of us – have made it this way.
Nathan Englander tells a story [* please see below] that illustrates this well. He was in Washington, DC recently and found himself near the Sudanese embassy. He sees a lone picket walking in front of the embassy carrying a protest sign. The man seems to be a holdover from the 60s, an old hippie.
Englander's first thought is the guy is a meshuggenah, a crazy person. But to his credit Englander immediately realizes he's made an error in judgment – we who do nothing, who go on with our lives as if there is no genocide in Darfur or famine in Somalia, are the truly crazy ones.
Is God sitting back watching, waiting for us to do the right thing? Waiting for us to feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the sick and frail?
Is God deeply but silently involved in all this madness, madness that one day we will somehow view as orderly and just?
Or is God nothing more than a figment of our imaginations, a near-universal wishful thought, a mass hysteria brought about by evolution?
No matter what God is or is not, no matter if or how He interacts with the world, we are still left with only one sane choice – we have to make this world better, we have to make this world kinder, we have to make this world just.
Whether it's stopping a child rapist or feeding a starving child, we all must be orthodox or orthoprax when it comes to this.
If Jews could somehow stop obsessing with ritual particulars and instead start obsessing about helping people, this world would be a much better place. And that, I believe, would make God, whatever He is, far happier than He is today.
*I wrote a similar story a few years ago and mentioned this to Englander after his talk last week. I sent it out, got rejected, rewrote it, got very strong positive responses from writers but still have not placed it.
(I've been told it's too Jewish for the general market and too controversial for some of the Jewish market because it can be read as anti-Orthodox. Then there is the question of what genre it is, and how it would fit in with other works.)
I'll post it here. Please let me know if you like it.