A kinder way to start thinking about God

Putting the ‘o’ in God — In search of a Liberal Jewish theology, Pete Tobias, Lulu Press, £6.99


Pete Tobias, rabbi of Elstree Liberal Synagogue, addresses his short book to those who find it hard any longer to believe in the traditional concept of a personal Deity manipulating the levers of history from beyond nature. If that is so, what alternative principle is there in which to ground faith? 

This is down-to-earth theology, written in a conversational style and eschewing metaphysics or resort to neo-mysticism. 

Critical of the practice he was taught when younger of writing “G-d” thus, he argues that it is indicative of ritual-obsessed religion based on fear. Instead putting the “o” back into God is vital in order to make explicit the link with “good”. 

While the “breathtaking” chutzpah of the rabbis, who claimed divine authority for both the Written and Oral Law, may have enabled Judaism to survive post-Temple, Liberal Judaism has stepped outside that “bubble” in which Orthodoxy remains, he says. 

Instead, drawing on the ideas of the psychologist James Fowler, who sees the selfless service to others as the highest form of spiritual development, Rabbi Tobias suggests we should rather think of God as a verb — “the generating of Goodness that is possible between all human beings”, which is a based on a practical ethic of kindness. 

What he proposes seems like humanism in a religious coat. The ethics may be admirable but is that enough on its own for a spiritual system to sustain itself?

He cites a saying attributed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, to the effect that the existence of God in the world is dependent on the people who acknowledge it. In other words, the credibility of a faith hinges on the example of those who professs it. If faith were associated with the practice of kindness rather some of the less desirable alternatives, that could be no bad thing. 


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