A Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology

A Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology

A Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology

A Plausible God: Secular Reflections on Liberal Jewish Theology


At least since the seventeenth century, the traditional God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has been under pressure to conform to the scientific worldview. Across the monotheistic traditions there has emerged a "liberal" conception of God compatible with a thoroughgoing naturalism. For many, this liberal "new" God is the only credible God. But is it a useful God? Does belief in so malleable a deity come from, or lead to, different political, moral, psychological, or aesthetic phenomena from atheism?

A Plausible God evaluates the new God by analyzing the theology of three recent Jewish thinkers --Mordechai Kaplan, Michael Lerner, and Arthur Green--and compares faith in the new God to disbelief in any gods. Mitchell Silver reveals what is at stake in the choice between naturalistic liberal theology and a nontheistic naturalism without gods. Silver poses the question: "If it is to be either the new God or no God, what does--what should--determine the choice?"

Although Jewish thinkers are used as the primary exemplars of new God theology, Silver explores developments in contemporary Christian thought, Eastern religious traditions, and "New Age" religion. A Plausible God constitutes a significant contribution to current discussions of the relationship between science and religion, as well as to discussions regarding the meaning of the idea of God itself in modern life.


I never thought that I would need to bother with God. My earliest thoughts of God were laced with skepticism, and well before leaving childhood I had concluded that belief in God was a symptom of intellectual immaturity. As an adult, my devotion to Jewish identity shunned all talk of God, and I affiliated with Jewish institutions that explicitly labeled themselves as “secular.” I knew that most of the world was still enmeshed with God, but most of my world found no place for the divine. the stereotype that I stereotypically imagined most Americans had of educated Northeasterners was true of my friends, family, and associates: We were a godless bunch.

I had presumed that our godlessness was a function of our modernism, which in turn I thought had something to do with our attitude toward rationality and science. We secularists were the rational ones, the modern ones. God-believers were still mired in supernaturalism and magical thinking. I knew, of course, that there were many people able to function in the world, even as scientists, while maintaining belief in God. However, I thought of them as either too timid, too needy, or too intellectually sloppy to bring their modern, rational mindset to bear on their entire set of beliefs.

But a change has come to my world. Increasingly, for many years now, God has found a place in the lives of family, friends, and associates who claim to be, and appear to be, every bit as rational and modern as I am. Moreover, they are not obviously more fearful, needful, or intellectually careless than I. They would be offended to be called believers in magic. Indeed, they assert that their belief in God is wholly compatible with a naturalistic worldview. It was neither surprising nor interesting to . . .

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