Does it bother anyone else that G-d’s texts do such a lousy job of convincing people to want to follow Him?
After all, if G-d is perfect, then surely his texts are perfect, too. And if they are perfect, then how come they are not particularly effective? Indeed, given all the competing religions and texts in the world, no one can make a ironclad case that their religion is obviously the “right” one based on the compelling nature of their holy texts.
For me, trying to answer this question leads into some pretty murky terrain. We have a world in which atheists and agnostics and followers of every manner of faith compete for attention, each claiming the one unique “truth,” some doing so on the basis of revelation, others on their own unique understanding of reason. Some, like Maimonidean Judaism and forms of Catholicism, claim to have both revelation and reason exclusively in their corner. But even if this is so, and one of them has the purest rational basis for their faith’s superiority, they have both largely failed to be bestsellers in the marketplace of human ideas. Which returns me to the original question: assuming there is indeed a G-d, why is He so bad at marketing?
One possibility is that the error is not found in heaven, but on earth. Maybe a lot of us are just not interested in learning and growing, are not actually seeking a relationship with the divine? If someone has no desire to connect, then perhaps there is no way to reach that person. Our free will allows us to turn down the offer of a relationship.
I believe that G-d reaches out to everyone. The first person who gave in to sin in the Torah (according to the use of the word “sin” in the text) was Cain. Before he sinned, G-d reached out to Cain:
And G-d said to Cain, “Why are you distressed? And why is your face fallen? Surely, if you do good, there is uplift. But if you do not do good, sin crouches at the door. Its urge is toward you, yet you can be its master.”
What is amazing is what does NOT happen next. Cain does not reply to G-d. He does not even show any sign that he heard G-d! We know that G-d spoke to Cain, but there is no acknowledgement or feedback. Instead, the text reads:
Cain said to his brother Abel, and when they were in the field, Cain rose up to his brother Abel and killed him.
What was Cain’s response to G-d’s warning?! The text does not say! We can very plausibly understand this to mean that Cain did not hear what G-d had to say.
Preposterous, no? Or is it? Leviticus 26 also mentions sin. It starts with all the blessings that come from following His commandments, and then it offers the opposite case:
But if you do not hear Me and do not observe all these commandments; if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, so that you do not observe all My commandments and you break My covenant… [horrible curses follow] I will discipline you sevenfold for your sins.
Notice where it starts: “If you do not hear me.” “Hearing” in the torah means to be mentally engaged, willing to listen to ideas and then cogitate on them. The refusal to hear was where it started with Cain as well. Cain, who committed the first murder, Cain, who gave into his rage, to sin. Cain who refused to listen. Cain, who, as with the curses in Leviticus, was also marked sevenfold for his crime.
Which might go some distance toward understanding an answer to the question: maybe G-d does not seek to be good at marketing to all of mankind. Our free will means that we do not have to pay attention. So maybe He only wants to reach those who are willing to listen.
Listening, of course, is only the first step toward growth and personal development. But it is the critical first step, the step that opens the doors in our minds.
From there, the answer develops further: we know from our own lives and from the lives of our ancestors and children, that most people do not become convinced of something merely because someone spoke at them. Temporarily this can work, especially if fear or coercion are employed to reinforce the message. But over the long term, a person does not change unless they are actually engaged in a relationship. That relationship could be with a spiritual guide, a spouse, a parent, or even with G-d during prayer or meditation. But without such a relationship, there is no revelation, and there is no growth.
Which tells us that the purpose of holy texts is not to provide end results. Texts alone will not “sell” most people. Instead, texts are there to provide the pathway for processes that allow and enable us to grow. We learn how to learn, we learn how to connect with others and with our Creator. We learn through these processes that what we do matters, that it is our choices, not our DNA or upbringing, that ultimately determines what we become and the impact we make on the world around us.
That G-d is bad at marketing is not a bug: it is a feature. He can only reach those who are prepared to listen. And the process of coming close to G-d is not meant to be trivial or simple, because personal growth requires us to shun isolation, and to instead grow through relationships, confronting our weaknesses and insecurities. Such a process cannot be rushed; there are no shortcuts. Growing to a full connection with G-d is a life’s work.
[an @iwe and @susanquinn work]
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[…] text of Western Civilization, the Torah, has not been broadly persuasive. As I have written elsewhere, G-d seems to delegate to mankind, as His junior partners, the task of making sense of the […]