Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Religion without God (4)

Continuing the previous posts on Religion without God, a very short book (30,000 words or so) by the late philosopher and legal expert, Ronald Dworkin.

Dworkin (p.24) divides religious values into godly convictions, worship, prayer, and obedience, and the value of ethical responsibility. He rejects the first three and accepts the last as a value shared with many who do not necessarily believe in God.  It seems to me that obedience and ethics might well overlap, but he doesn't make the connection. Worship and obedience do not appear in his index. Prayer only appears under the entry "prayer in public schools". In the third entry on this subject, he notes the US compromise of a moment of silence that allows for prayer or meditation, or just resting the eyes.

Worship would focus the dispute if he had addressed it. Perhaps he makes a stab with his appeals to truth and beauty from Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn, but neither the calling out of beauty with a loud voice (A Room with a View) not the engraved for ever panting and for ever young quite does the full job of suggesting a conscious and mature worship. And the brief mentions of Otto and Tillich on the numinous are likewise not satisfying, since many do not come to worship in such a state.

The most moving courses I ever took in school were on special relativity. Time dilation has gripped my soul ever since those heady for ever days. No one can convince me that eternal and everlasting are for ever in a linear sense. Even the universe as we see it in scientific theory has beginning and end. And the ancients also knew that whatever release there was from our troubled lives was for ever in a sense that is different from a linear model of time. So Revelation speaks of the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. And Jewish tradition knows of the primal 'existence' of Torah.

Redemption is thus embedded in creation. (Psalm 75) Who can pay for our damage? (Psalm 49) How can we be forgiven? (Psalm 103) Time as a straight line is quite boring.

Dworkin approaches the beauty of science quite well in his chapter 2 on the universe. Yet even such awe, bordering on the numinous, does not come to the full recognition of that which is worthy of worship. Psalm 19 as I have noted before makes a direct connection between creation and Torah and the human problem of sin. The full recognition of worship is embedded in the story that is in the Psalms. For example, note Psalm 22, known for its famous verse 1: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me. In verse 23, the forsaken one announces your name to my kin. Then in verse 28, the poet proclaims:

All the ends of the earth will remember and will turn to יהוה [the name, YHWH]
All the families of the nations will worship in your presence

Verse 30 then notes:

All the sleek of the earth will eat and worship in his presence
All who go down to dust will bow

The parallel would suggest that it should read all who sleep in the earth. In Seeing the Psalter, I have translated the error into a single character slip in English from a single character adjustment in the Hebrew. Translation really can be fun. [(p. 81) sleek, דשׁן (dshn) fat, feels like a misprint for sleep, ישׁן]. Mind you sleek works too for it shows that the fat are economically exploiting the afflicted (verse 27).

The afflicted will eat and be satisfied
Those who search for יהוה will praise him
May your heart live for ever

Worship is associated with eating and being satisfied. It does not require a religious experience of the numinous. I say this for the majority who do not find such experience. Neither does it preclude the numinous. But justice with equity, and satisfaction, is the key to worship. If nations or tribes or nature or even the universe could bring about justice then patriotism, tribalism and sun worship would be justified. But they can't bring about justice, nor can vague appeals to beauty be satisfactory in themselves.

There's a lot more about worship in the psalms. They end, as is well known, with the great noise of Psalm 150 where all those who are engaged in the birthing of the universe breathe their thanksgiving. It is a remarkable collection of poems.

I have 16 references to the topic of worship in the psalms in my topical index. Read them - in fact, if you have enjoyed this series, read them in my translation with my comprehensive 55 page Hebrew-English and English-Hebrew glossary (471-526) and 7 part index where the wholeness of this poetry can be experienced. I did not shortchange you. The index alone was the work of several months. Software helps but completeness is a manual thing.

If you live in Victoria, you can order the book from me - in fact I have a few on hand. You will not be disappointed in 'the One' who is portrayed in the story and 'who teaches humanity knowledge'. (Kimhi). If you live far away, please order through Energion Direct. At 526 pages you will have plenty to occupy your capacity for poetry.

Now I am done with Dworkin. There is neither satisfaction nor completeness in Religion without God. There is no salvation either. אין ישועה בדת בלי אלוהים

Worship is most effectively expressed with praise and thanksgiving. So among many examples in the Psalms:

I will thank you for you have answered me
and you are my salvation

(Psalm 118:21)