Yoram Hazony–An Imperfect God: More Unnecessary Mental Gymnastics

It Doesn’t Matter if ‘god’ is Perfect

I found an op-ed piece in The New York Times ‘The Stone’ section to be worthy of mention today.  As I read the article “An Imperfect God”, several things really grabbed my attention.  I read the first paragraph, then had to stop to check out who the author was and what his background was.  The piece was written by Yoram Hazony.  At the end of the article we learn that he is “is president of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and the author of, most recently, “The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture.”  Okay, I thought, what the heck is that?  You can learn more about it and him here, but for the purposes of this blog, Hazony is a professor of philosophy and political science.  He has written a handful of books treating philosophy, politics and religion.

Hazony writes, that today most philosophers acknowledge god to be a “perfect being”.  The attributes of such a being would include, “being all-powerful, all-knowing, immutable, perfectly good, perfectly simple, and necessarily existent (among others).”  What struck me about this claim is the use of the word “philosophers”.  Hazony, seems to be hiding the real meaning of who he is talking about.  Upon closer inspection is talking about defenders of the Christian faiths—be they philosophers, theologians, apologists, etc.  The main thrust of Hazony’s argument, as we will see, is an attack on Christianity—though he never mentions the word.  I agree with the main points of his criticism of Christianity, but then we part ways.

Hazony correctly points out that a “perfect” god is “impossible to make coherent”.  He spends some time rephrasing and discussing the famous riddle by Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

This riddle has yet to be solved by any Christian thinker, regardless of what they tell you.  It is important to note that Hazony never uses the word Christian…but let’s be honest, who else could he be talking about? (It’s not Jews as we will see later).

The second issue that Hazony also correctly identifies is that there is no foundation in the Old Testament for a god to be described this way.  Hazony correctly points out that Yahweh is not immutable, he is not all-knowing, he is not all-powerful, and is hardly all-good.  The Jewish god is not the perfect being that Christians portray.  Hazony continues by saying, as I previously noted, that for centuries “philosophers” (and by this he means Christianity defenders) have tried and failed to square this peg.

Hazony next mentions Dawkins and Harris.  It is at this point where he and I start to part ways.  He refers to them as “God-bashers” and that part of the reason why they:

“are so influential (apart from the fact they write so well) is their insistence that the doctrine of God’s perfections makes no sense, and that the idealized “being” it tells us about doesn’t resemble the biblical God at all.”

I agree with his assessment explaining one reason for the success of Dawkins, Harris, and others.  However, I have a serious problem with the term “God-bashers”.  I don’t think that they, or other atheists, are in the business of bashing a being they do not believe exists.  Perhaps a better term would be “religion-bashers”.  This is an important distinction to make.  Many theists ask me, “why do you hate god?”  I am still surprised by the question at times.  I don’t hate god, I don’t even believe a god exists.  Implying that atheist’s hate god is like saying someone hates little green unicorns.  Our problem is not with any god, but rather, with some of the people who believe in those gods.  I have stated elsewhere that I think Cephus over at the blog Bitchspot, wrote a great piece on this the other day.  It is well worth your read and you can do so here: Why Do Atheists Care About Religion?  Moving on…Hazony then asks, “have the atheists won?”  He doesn’t think so.

He goes on to more or less state that Judaism has the right of things (though he never comes out and says it plainly).  They believe in the same god (Yahweh), but acknowledge that he is not “perfect”.  He writes that the biblical authors never intended god to be “perfect”.  He goes on for quite a bit, and it is a good read, explaining why a perfect god is not what was intended and that we can’t know the full nature of what god “is”.  Hazony closes with the following statement, “Today, with theism rapidly losing ground across Europe and among Americans as well, we could stand to reconsider this point. Surely a more plausible conception of God couldn’t hurt”.  It is important to note he never states that Judaism has the right answer as far as god goes, but it is strongly implied.  The point I want to make is that he was not calling for a mass conversion to Judaism.

Two things really struck me as I completed the article.  First, this must have really ruined the breakfasts of folks like Cardinal Dolan and William Lane Craig. I am quite curious to see what their response will be.  In reading Hazony’s assessment of  an “omni-blank” being, it was like he specifically targeted someone like Craig.  While he never mentioned the word Christian in the entire piece, it was clear who he was attacking.  I can’t imagine that will go unanswered.

The second thing that struck me is that Hazony is further contributing to the same time-waste and mental gymnastics required to believe in a god.  The real answer to the problem posed by Hazony is to realize there is no evidence for such a being and move on—as a species.  The answer is not to try and rework Christianity or propose Judaism or any other religion.  He completely ignores the fact that there is zero evidence for a divine being.  His entire article assumes the existence of such a being and it assumes that he has the correct reading of what this being is.

What we really have here more time being wasted, by otherwise very intelligent people, on nonsense.  I have said it before and will say so again–most of the professional apologists, theologians, religious philosophers, etc that I have read are quite intelligent people.  Just think of the amount of brainpower that is going to prop up an idea (god) from thousands of years ago in today’s society.  Hazony would have us revisit and spend more time trying to determine if god is or isn’t perfect and how best to make whatever conclusion we come to fit in the 21st Century.  This is a colossal waste of time.  Instead, what if we realize that no theist today, nor any nomadic people/person anywhere from 2,000-6,000 years ago, has any clue what attributes a supernatural being for whom we have no evidence is really like?  What if we realize that figuring out this nonsensical question has left countless dead and more suffering in its wake—and the tolls are only continuing to rise?  What if we realize that the fact that so many people believe in this god and are sure that they have the right attributes of this god, that it allows governments to use this god, religion, and those same people as pawns in the global arena?  What if we do those things instead of engaging in more nonsense?

May I be so bold as to answer my own questions?  I would answer that, we, as a species will progress.  We will leave the shackles of religion behind us.  We will realize that this is the only life we have to live and we had better make the most of it—not just for ourselves, but also for the people we share this planet with and for future generations.  We will still have war? Of course, but we will have removed a major motivator for war—both in the sense of people’s beliefs and as belief being manipulated by governments.  We will look to science and reason to solve our problems and not towards books written by ignorant people (by today’s standards) thousands of years ago.  That is a world that I would like to see.  I think we will get there someday, not in my lifetime, but today is as good a day as any to start the process.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.


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2 thoughts on “Yoram Hazony–An Imperfect God: More Unnecessary Mental Gymnastics

  1. Grundy from Buford, GA, United States

    The perfect God is the least defensible god, I agree with him there. As we've briefly talked about in the past, if one is insistent on believing in deities, one would need either a very confused deity or multiple deities of different dispositions (with at least one relatively bad) to account for the problem of evil/suffering. A perfect God who is limited by his own goodness isn't omnipotent anyway–in fact, he is less powerful then us in that He can do no wrong and therefore lacks free will.

  2. zensci from Los Angeles, CA, United States

    If you need proof to believe in God, then I think you are "missing the point" in regards to what it means to be religious. Belief in the irrational is one that comes from a subjective place in one's core being. A person who believes in God because of some external "proof" is a person whose "faith" is likely to be resting on a weak, shaky foundation. Religious faith is a risk one takes for the sake of heaven (so to speak). Is this a difficult concept to grasp? Yes, but that's the point. Faith isn't supposed to be easy, simple and clear cut. It's hard and a struggle and a fight and a spiritual war with one's own ego, soul and mind. If you're not up for this struggle, I don't blame you because this isn't easy "stuff."

    I think Hazony's point is that the nature of God (as traditional religion once thought God to be) may be wrong and we must be humble to admit that no one really knows what God is or the reason why anything really exists at all. Additionally, theodicy is an issue that suggests that we will never fully understand the nature of this reality and that God may actually not always be a "nice guy." Thus, we will never know truly what life's purpose is or if it has one at all. Therefore, at best what we can do it try to imitate the better things that emanate from the transcendent such as love, good deeds, intellectual pursuit, being grateful for every moment of life etc etc.

    Do you need to have faith to pursue these virtues? Absolutely not. But there are some who passionately do feel "Life" has meaning and that sense of meaning is most strongly embodied and expressed through religious and spiritual traditions, practices, ideology and through the ethical, spiritual and intellectual growth that a genuine, committed religious life should impose.

    Furthermore, no matter if you are a firm "believer" or an strident atheist, one cannot deny the impact that religion and the profound effect of the claim that is being made by the Bible that a divine experience took place. Humanity as never been the same since. Yes, evil things and wars have been fought in the name of religion but if you look a little closer religious wars and evil people hiding behind a religious title have been fundamentally driven by the lust for power, money, land and wealth. Something most religions continue to rail against. But do humans listen? Thus, in my view, it is human beings who have ruined God, religion and the lofty ideals it espouses not the other way around. On the other hand, I think it can be reasonably argued that many social movements, political philosophies and even the progress of science itself are inextricably linked to the claim the Bible is making about there actually being God. To ignore the claim is to not even consider it. And I think most would rather just ignore the claim. Because to consider it means possibly having to change one's ways of looking at the world or possibly even how one lives one's life and that it just to darn hard for most people.

    Religion shouldn't be easy..I think it should be carried out for one reason only: To learn how to never take one single moment of life for granted.

    And that's it.


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