Saturday, August 11, 2007

Theists, Atheists and Hallowed Secularists

8/11/2007--There is an object lesson in definitions of secularism from the Reconstructionist Jewish Prayer Book. The founder of Reconstructionism, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, could not state precisely and consistently what he meant by God. Mostly, he seemed to follow John Dewey in a naturalistic approach: God is the power that allows for goodness, which means that God is a referent for what men do. This is close to what Dewey stated in A Common Faith. At other times, critics have said, Kaplan attached ontological status to God, that is, some reality outside man. The matter is controversial to this day.

On the other hand, the Reconstructionist movement had no trouble amending the traditional Amidah prayer to remove the praise of God as having power to resurrect the dead. The language in the Amidah probably had nothing to do with the then-new Jesus movement, but rather reflected the growing authority of Pharisaic/Rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple and that group’s endorsement of the concept of resurrection. Indeed, without entering into the question of whether Jesus was resurrected, the familiarity of Jews with the concept of resurrection came from the Pharisaic endorsement of that form of eternal life. They taught that when the Jewish Messiah came, the dead would rise.

So, Reconstructionism had no trouble rejecting any existence after death, but could not say who or what God is.

This suggests that life-after-death is a key to understanding secularism while definitions of God may prove elusive. So, let me suggest the following: a theist, which would include traditional members of the religions of the Book—Jews, Christians and Muslims—and no doubt others, accept some continuance of existence after death and see something outside man that corresponds to the word, God. There remain many differences about what the word God means. Atheists reject both life after death and deny that anything at all could correspond to the usage of the word God. Hallowed Secularists, then, agree with Atheists about life after death, but agree with theists to some extent about God. The distinctions about God are deep and important, but I begin to think that life after death might be a more significant distinction.

The reader should note that the early Hebrews did not have a clear conception of life after death. Judaism developed such conceptions much later.

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