I said the Shema and the Viyahavtah this morning not knowing where it lands. I am not one of the people who "knows" there is a God. I almost know that there is not a God, though I also reckon that somehow there almost must be One. As Allen Grossman once said, "Jamey, you are really dim about some things." My sister Jennifer is a famous atheist author. She has decided. I can't decide. In 2007 I interviewed at a Rabbi's office at the University of Judaism because I was considering Rabbinical school -- in the same month that an atheist poem of mine ("The Round Square") was published in Free Inquiry, the magazine of the Council for Secular Humanism. I love the dance of the intellect in its efforts to come to grips with the spirit, but I also know how irrelevant all of that is to the heart of the matter. Nothing convinces but experience, and that's the part I never get. If I am davening in schul with my wife, I feel my love for my wife, for the Jews, for the world, for the old Hebrew bruchot, and my terror of misfortune and tragedy, but if I start looking for Somebody to be praying to, I just see a mirror over my head on which my ego has already written in lipstick, "Now, now, don't get silly... you will die one day, and it's an adult's work to accept that. There is no God. Any desire for a God is reducible to fear of annihilation."
There is a live album by the MC5 called Kick Out the Jams. On it, there are performances of "I Want You Right Now," "Rama Lama," and "Kick Out the Jams," that I find weirdly compelling. Especially because the subject matter is so trivial, while the ethos is so powerful and oddly lofty amid all the base hedonism. Just about every live version of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" and "Hear My Train A-Comin" are of this stripe for me, and I confess that when I was at Brandeis I used to feel that way about Led Zeppelin (particularly the very ending of "Whole Lotta Love" in the Song Remains the Same movie) which I had discovered strangely late in life at 21, having been obsessed with the Rolling Stones until then. And the wordless female vocal in Pink Floy'd "Great Gig In the Sky," and the wordless female vocal in John Cale's "Captain Hook," and the Catherine Naglestad performance of "Ah, Mio Cor" in the Staatsorchester Stuttgart production of Handel's Alcina, and so on. Rock and Roll meant the world to people for a long time despite the fact that it rarely mentions much of interest. That constitutes a signpost that there is something important going on in there. The Kaddish is a bunch of adjectives, but it glows in the dark like Shakespeare's best.
The atheist books are convincing to me, but incomplete; the theist books are not convincing. What they provide is paradoxes which liberate me from one box only to trap me in a larger and more comfortable one: "People say that God is the greatest of beings, but I say that God is as far above Being and Nothingness as the sun is above a fly." -- Meister Eckhardt. To me, this is Holy because it does not make sense. To me, it is useless nonsense for the exact same reason.
Two POEMS on this subject:
I have taken away the mist from your eyes, Diomedes,
Which until now was there, that you may well know
the God from the mortal. But I still don’t. Gods
maul and haunt and cauterize; this one they guide
and that one they whisper to, deceptively; another
they fill with secrets – math beyond the rest of us,
Cassandra’s paranoia in the truth, chess or epilepsy.
At twelve I used two mirrors, looking at my back
For a single mark of supernatural favor, good or bad.
Now glass bowls burn cool in the autumn window.
The cat sips at the soymilk in the chipped grey plate.
I hold the cloth toy bird with the long beak. I rest
its flannel belly in my hand. I listen for Athena.
The pipes sing but I have an explanation for that, too.
The Round Square
Why is there a world at all? Guy stands up and says,
God made the world, and as for who made God, well,
That’s just a mystery beyond us. Woman says,
A round square is not a mystery beyond us,
It’s neither real nor imaginary, it’s not a concept,
Not an object, neither nothing nor an Entity.
He says, that’s what I’m saying, it’s incomprehensible.
No, she says, there’s nothing there to comprehend.
He says, of course there is, and we both know it.
She says, you’re bobbing for apples of relief, love
And immortality and along comes a word. The word
Is a noun and pretty soon you’re making it the subject
Of a world of verbs, and then the miracles begin. She says,
God is logic’s corpse, a wound in reason, grammar’s empty skin.