“Putting God Second” by Rabbi Donniel Hartman— Looking at Faith

putting God second

Hartman, Donniel Rabbi. “Putting God Second”, Beacon Press, 2016.

Looking at Faith

Amos Lassen

We are all aware of the tree great monotheistic religions and we wonder why they are unable to practice what they preach— to create individuals who have moral sensibility and to form societies that are governed by ethical standards. Rabbi Donniel Hartman looks at Judaism to try to understand this failure. He does not accept the theories of those who see religion as stopping moral progress and he rejects the fundamentalist view that the moral perfection of religion in inherent and this violates the above statement.

Hartman sees that the primary reason of religion’s moral failure is what he calls its “autoimmune disease”—the way religions so often undermine their own deepest values. As God obligates the good and calls us into its service while at the same time we are blinded morally. The desire to live in relationship with God can distract believers from their traditions’ core moral truths. In order to avoid this, Hartman tells us to put God second. If we indeed want to be part of religion’s idea of humanity, we must make sure that we hold our traditions accountable to the highest possible moral standards.

To be decent to one’s neighbor must always come first over acts of religious devotion. Ethical piety must trump ritual piety. If devotion to God comes first then responsibility to others will come much later. Hartman uses Judaism as a template for how the challenge might be addressed by other faiths, “whose sacred scriptures similarly evoke both the sublime heights of human aspiration and the depths of narcissistic moral blindness”. Rabbi Hartman gives us here a clear analysis of religion’s flaws, as well as a resource, for its repair.

Hartman believes that the causes of the world’s great conflicts have begun to shift from ‘national and secular’ politics to religious ones. We then can only question whether religion actually makes believers treat others with more compassion and kindness. Hartman gives us examples from the Bible that do not see religion as a force for good. He uses the terms, “God Intoxication” (paying attention to the divinity of God does not really allow to know much about the human condition) and “God Manipulation” (We draft God into serving human self-interest in order to help one’s personal interests and agendas. We are to weigh God’s word and let it inspire and teach us but it necessary to put people first. What we really get here is a case in which love of others stands at the center of faith.

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