God of Abraham

God of Abraham

God of Abraham

God of Abraham

Synopsis

This cogently argued and richly illustrated book rejects the dichotomy between the God of Abraham and the God of the philosophers to argue that the two are one. In God of Abraham, one of our leading philosophers of religion shows how human values can illuminate our idea of God and how the monotheistic idea of God in turn illuminates our moral, social, cultural, aesthetic, and even ritual understanding. Throughout Goodman draws on a wealth of traditional, philosophical, historical, and anthropological materials, and particularly on a wide range of Jewish sources. He demonstrates how an adequate understanding of the interplay of values with monotheism dissolves many of the longstanding problems of natural theology and ethics and guides us toward a genuinely humanistic moral and social philosophy.

Excerpt

By God we mean an absolute being, a being of infinite perfection. The synthesis that purges the idea of God of all projections of evil allows the goodness in all things to be understood in relation to God's goodness. All reality, conceived as a value, and all truth, conceived as the adequacy of things to their projects, can then be seen as God's work, expressing his will and idea. The idea of God readily conjures up folklore and mythic images, enriching, diluting, clarifying, or muddying its content. The core idea, I think, is not very far from what many myths and fables seek to convey. Thus the Midrash characteristically brackets its parables of God in an "as it were" (ke-ve-yakhol), focusing on a single point but barring implication to or from the contexts that familiar images might suggest--as if to say: "This sets no precedent." When visions stray from the idea of perfection, however, it is the work of imagination that must yield. For absolute perfection is the sole coherent outcome of the dialectical and moral honing of the idea of divinity. This, then, is the concept that philosophers must address, much as Abraham dismissed all deities that proved to be the mere work of human hands or were subject to diminution. Religiously, our matter must be more than a narrative or natural history of human fears and wishes.

Can We Talk About God?

Is there a being of infinite perfection? The question is natural. Children readily ask about ideas of divinity they encounter. How, after all, can they distinguish God from an imaginary friend, a figure of legend or fancy? Adult responses, whether meant affirmatively or negatively, can foster evasions or hypocrisy--cloaking, dismissing, or shifting the issue. But the question is legitimate and deserves an answer. The logical positivists, like their Pyrrhonist forebears and their many acknowledged and tacit heirs, held that no question is properly framed unless there are specifiable, unproblematic means of determining its answer. They confined such means to the realms of sense experience and mathematical-logical reasoning. Unless perception or deduction or the two in tandem can settle a question, it was taken to be no real question at all, and proposed answers were called meaningless. But an absolute being cannot be confronted as such perceptually, and deductive arguments reach certainty only by postulating their premises. So they can establish no matters of fact. Their conclu-

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