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Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself Paperback – February 14, 2017
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“A stimulating and sure-to-be discussed critique of monotheism.”
“In this accessible exploration of how faith in God can determine and influence personality, Hartman (The Boundaries of Judaism) successfully engages with what he believes to be the most fundamental question of our time. He notes that the causes of the world’s great conflicts have begun to shift from ‘national and secular’ politics to religious ones. Given this, Hartman wonders whether religion actually makes believers treat others with more compassion and kindness. Despite his own deep commitment to Judaism, the rabbi does not flinch from exposing many examples, including some from the Bible, that argue against the idea of religion as a force for good. Using his own religion as his lens, Hartman analyzes the phenomena he labels God Intoxication and God Manipulation; in the former, obsession with paying attention to the divine leaves ‘less room...to be aware of the human condition,’ and in the latter, ‘God is drafted in the service of human self-interest’ to advance an individual’s personal interests and agendas. Hartman makes a powerful case that believers should both judge the word of God and ‘be inspired and instructed’ by it, and that putting people first is the real way to follow the divine will.”
“Eminently readable, constructively controversial and profoundly spiritual...This book is not for the spiritually faint-hearted.”
—The Jerusalem Post
“This is an intellectually lively work that illuminates and advances the conversation on religious faith. Putting God Second paints a portrait for religion in the modern world and makes the case for a view of religion in which love of persons and an affirmation of their dignity, integrity, and worth stand at the center of religious faith. In doing so, Hartman rescues religion from both its most reactionary exponents and its ‘cultural detractors’ who would bind religion into fundamentalist straitjackets.”
—Rabbi David Ellenson, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and author of Jewish Meaning in a World of Choice
“Putting God Second addresses the most critical issues facing religion in the modern world. As Hartman brilliantly argues, it’s too simplistic to join Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris in reducing religion to the cause of centuries of bloodshed and hatred, or to side with those who only see in religion the inspiring teachings that ennoble humanity. Instead, Hartman offers a sophisticated and compelling analysis of the flaws within Jewish scriptures as a model for other monotheistic faiths, and outlines a remarkable new way to keep our relationship with God from overshadowing our responsibility to God’s many children.”
—Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism
“A work of deep faith that takes today’s challenges to faith head on—rooted in the tradition, yet alive to the new. Religious self-criticism is essential to twenty-first-century peace. Rabbi Donniel Hartman shows why and how.”
—James Carroll, author of Christ Actually
“Putting God Second is a must-read book for anyone who is looking for a fresh take on religion and religiosity of all kinds. Its powerful argument invites people of all faiths (or no faith) to re-examine the basic premises of religion altogether. Only a faithful Jew could put forth such a challenge, and Rabbi Hartman does it spectacularly.”
—Abdullah T. Antepli, Chief Representative of Muslim Affairs, Duke University
About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and the author of The Boundaries of Judaism, coeditor of Judaism and the Challenges of Modern Life, and coauthor of Spheres of Jewish Identity. He is the founder of some of the most extensive education, training, and enrichment programs for scholars, educators, rabbis, and religious and lay leaders in Israel and North America, and is a prominent essayist, blogger, and lecturer on issues of Israeli politics and policy, Judaism, and the Jewish community.
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Written with a clear love for Bible and God, Rabbi Hartman provides a fascinating view on what man has done to God and what God has done to man. Boldly confronting inherent inconsistencies in religious practice and principle, Hartman speaks clearly to the struggle facing religious leaders legitimately seeking to reconcile contemporary moral imperatives within the complex tapestry of traditional faith and fidelity. As Hartman writes, “it is precisely those who pursue the most intense and consuming intimacy with God who can so often become, as a result of this very form of devotion, less able to hear God’s voice”. Using Judaism as a lens on monotheism, Hartman examines how faith guides us towards “good” but also inadvertently blinds us, at times, to doing good.
Still, Hartman goes further by empowering readers to interpret and to own their religious narrative, seeing the practice of faith as a principled responsibility. By focusing on the credible origins of the cognitive dissonance that many “good” people find in mainstream religion, Hartman validates the struggle many have had with traditional faith. “Putting God Second” provides a compelling explanation and context for that dissonance, and thereby invites those feeling left outside to come back in and to “take ownership of the consequences of their ideologies”. As Hartman effectively argues, “unless we are willing to put God second, we make it impossible for God to fulfill the role in our lives that, according to religion itself, God most yearns to fulfill.” Given monotheism is rich in tradition, durable in foundation, and serves so many so well, it also requires insight from those who love it and long to improve it. Rabbi Hartman’s book is a thorough investigation and invitation to return to the core principles of religion and a call to the “faithful” to re-engage religion with strength, clarity, and humility.
Rabbi Hartman also takes a bold leap in challenging conventional religious authority “from the inside” as as a respected Jewish scholar, author and speaker. He explains that he is driven by the internal cultural war being fought over the moral soul of Judaism, “not merely being waged between competing chapters and verses” but rather “because it defines the essence of ethical responsibility….to save religion from itself”.
In the process, Rabbi Hartman takes us on a compelling journey and makes a profound impact.
As the author maintains we have to go" beyond the law" and follow Deuteronomy 6:18 "and do what is right and good in the sight of God". It is a long standing tradition in Judaism that in the Old Testament ( Hebrew Bible) you can't change or alter any letter or symbol , but you can wall or "fence" off that which doesn't apply or hampers one in following Deut. 6.:18. Another popular filter in Jewish theology for determining whether an argument or scripture passage is worthwhile pursuing or discussion is whether that would be for the sake of God or only for man. So Jews for a long time have been practicing Rabbi Hartman's ideas and approach to God and His Word and the results have been transformative as long as we follow" to do right and good in the sight of God".
I like his idea of characterizing the problem or "autoimmune illness" as God Intoxication or God manipulation. The former is when we become "drunk or infatuated" with God and can't see the good beyond. The latter is when we Manipulate God in our self interest an invoke a "Them or Us" mentality. As another reviewer said this is very similar to Rabbi Jonathan Sack's in his book " Not in my Name" in explaining where violence comes from and it is not God but misusing Him in furthering a "Them or Us'' condition.
I have not quite finished the book which is very short (less that 200 pages) and I am going slow to better absorb the material and compare to my other readings and my own experiences in Bible study, but I did see several references to the "Not in Heaven " passages of Deut. 30.11-14 in which God in his wisdom releases us to interpret the Bible for ourselves in our times and not go to Heaven for all the answers, even if the answers would be more accurate there. We would lose too much of who we are as partners of God created in His image.
To achieve this perspective and approach to life we may have to "Put God Second" to avoid the autoimmune diseases of Intoxication and Manipulation and Follow Det 6.18 and 30.11-14
As I finish this wonderful book look for my additional comments. This journey with God is fascinating and so rewarding and He is so open to our discussions and interpretations and understanding. We are true partners created in His image in the ongoing work of creation.