Recently, the famous British mathematician and physicist, Steven Hawking announced in his new book, The Great Design, that the world’s appearance can be explained by the laws of physics and without any reference to a “benevolent creator who made the Universe for our benefit.” Some people are very upset by it, because, they believe, it contradicts the teachings of the Hebrew Bible on this subject. In reality, when Genesis speaks of “God created,” it really means “God brought some shape to it,” and it was only in the medieval period that the question of “creation out of nothing” became popular- but I digress.
I am not at all upset by Hawking’s assertions, and my God concept is not affected by it. As a religious naturalist, who assumes that the universe is energized and sustained by a divine power, I pay little attention to the question of how the universe came into being. I leave this discussion to the scientists. I do not believe in a personal God who cares for individuals, who is involved in history and who seems to operate as a capricious deity, responding to the whims of humanity. For me, the laws of nature reflect the workings of God, and I simply try to adjust my life to these laws.
Hawking is not alone in his position. There are many people in this world who are searching for a meaningful religious experience that is reasonable and rational, one that gives equal weight to the emotions and to the mind. I attempted to expound this way of thinking in my book, Six Jewish Spiritual Paths (Vermont: Jewish Lights, 2000) where prayer is viewed primarily as an introspective activity whose only role is to change the individual and not the world around him/her, where religious ritual is viewed as the primary means to establish personal discipline and to connect one to his/her community and tradition, unencumbered by the specific will of God as reflected in biblical or rabbinic laws (God , I am sure, has other tasks than worry about what I eat, drink or wear!), where religion ultimately means a search for meaning and purpose in life, leading to a high moral life in society.
A couple of weeks ago, Glenn Beck, in his “Restoring Honor Rally” in Washington, DC, asked people to return to God. By that he meant, the traditional theistic view of God. Well, he does not have the exclusive rights to the divinity. As a religious person, I too, invite people to return to God, but to a God concept which is in consonance with science and to a God who, as Einstein allegedly said, does not play dice with the universe. If you are such a person, especially now that we are about to embark on the Jewish High Holidays when religious feelings are at their highest, please join me in my religious quest, with a rational approach. And if you have an interest, please check out my detailed discussion in my book on Spirituality. You may like it.