Archive | June, 2012

The God Survey

20 Jun

There is an article in this month’s issue of Reform Judaism Magazine entitled “The God Survey”, where Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro of Temple Sinai in Springfield, Massachusetts explores the results of – you guessed it – a survey on beliefs about God.

Bothered by the one-sidedness of the pulpit, Shapiro explains that he longed to hear what his congregants believed about God, not simply to preach his own beliefs and what tradition teaches. On Erev Yom Kippur, before Kol Nidrei, Shapiro asked his congregants if they would take ten minutes to complete an online survey about their God beliefs. He wanted to know what they really believed in their hearts.

We learn from various studies conducted in recent years that there is an epidemic of arrested theological development among Jewish adults. Somehow, many Jewish adults remain frozen in their beliefs about God, stuck right where they were around the time they became bar or bat mitzvah or in the unbelieving rejection of God’s existence that often comes in late adolescence.

Philosopher Paul Ricoeur explains that there is a natural and healthy development of spiritual belief: first we believe everything at face value, then we reject it all as false, and finally we come to understand what we were first taught as sophisticated symbols used  to engage in and interpret our beautiful and mysterious world. All too often, however, Jewish adults are not making it to Ricoeur’s final stage, called a second naiveté. 

I read Rabbi Shapiro’s article in print a few weeks ago, but it was not until today when a link to the article appeared in my inbox, buried in the thread of the American Conference of Cantors list serve, that I took the God survey myself. Now, it should come as no surprise that I think a lot about God. I think about what I believe and what centuries of our people’s sages believed. I think about what I believed about God as a child laying in bed at night, what I believed the first time I learned what the words of our prayerbook Hebrew really meant, and what I believed through periods of great personal struggle. I think about the evolution of my own beliefs and my deep desire to remain ever-dynamic in my thinking.

Despite all of this times spent thinking about my own beliefs, when I took the God survey, I got stuck on one question. I wasn’t sure what I believed. Thankfully, there was an option on the survey to say, simple, “I don’t know.” I am so glad that I didn’t know my own answer to that particular question. That question will now be my catalyst to read, study, and push myself more to learn the contents of my own heart and mind.

Sometimes it takes something like a very thoughtful survey to push us forward, further toward spiritual maturity and nearness to God. Often, we need other people to ask us hard questions so that we can say “I don’t know” and head out on the quest to find our own answers.

I encourage you to read Rabbi Shapiro’s article here. But most importantly, follow this link to complete the URJ’s national God survey.

~Cantor Mary