The Theology of the Carrot and the Stick

Step aside Pat Robertson! You are not alone. You have Jewish friends who think just like you do! Rabbi Avi Shafran, no stranger to controversy, blames the Haitian earthquake on Eli Valley’s comic  that appeared in the Forward newspaper.[1] Writing for the Aggudat Israel, America’s premiere Haredi organization, Rabbi Shafran comments about the Japanese earthquake that leveled Tokyo and its suburbs on September 1, 1923. This earthquake killed over 100,000 people. So famous was this disaster, news about its destruction reached even the small Polish town of Radin, home of one the most pious rabbis of his era–Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, better known as the “Hafetz Hayim.” This rabbi was famous for his ethical tracts on the laws of gossip.  Now, according to Rabbi Kagan, this earthquake struck Japan because of the sin of gossip–plain and simple.

Like the saintly rabbi of the past, Shafran goes on to explain that whenever a natural catastrophe like an earthquake destroys human life, God is summoning His people to repent before it is too late. In fact, Shafran stresses that such  “Acts of G-d” always have a spiritual cause–and in this case are directly related to the sin of gossip.

Illustrating his point, Shafran unabashedly writes, “The very week of the recent catastrophe in Haiti, a national Jewish newspaper published a comic strip featuring grotesque depictions of religious Jews and aimed at disparaging Jewish outreach to other Jews. Those are examples of anti- Orthodox invective. But ill will and its expression, tragically, know no communal bounds – in fact, the offensive comic strip seized upon intemperate statements made by Orthodox Jews about others . . . Had we only eyes like the Chofetz Chaim’s, we would discern that hatred and the misuse of the holy power of speech are not small evils. We would understand that they shake the very earth under our feet.”

As we mentioned in previous posts, fundamentalists of several leading faiths often share a similar myopic perspective on how God interacts with the world.  Is it any small wonder why so many Jews across all denominations find it hard to relate to such a vindictive image of God? As mentioned earlier, Judaism teaches us to believe in a God of life and should not be confused with the Greek daemon Θάνατος (Thanatos, the personification of death). The God of retribution may inspire fear, but such an Imago Dei cannot inspire a sense of security and healthy relatedness.

Consider what Michael Shevack and Rabbi Jack Bemporad cleverly and comically dubbed this theological view of God as the “Marquis de God.” Wanted: Dominant deity for submissive person—must be into pain and bondage. Willing to inflict human suffering in pursuit of satisfaction—humiliation technique is a plus. Sense of humor not required. Inquire P.O. Box G.O.D . . .

Get out the whips, the chains, the earthquakes and pestilence. It’s time for some good old-fashioned fun with a good old-fashioned God. Yes, this is the proverbial God of wrath—the Marquis de God—ready to show you how much he cares by punishing you, for the Marquis de God is simply a god who hates. This is a deity who despises sins and sinners with such a passion that he’ll murder in order to exterminate them. He forces his noblest creation to dance like a trained poodle on the brink of annihilation.[2]

In summary, metaphors of God may inspire relatedness and love of God; or they may cripple or even destroy a life of faith by depicting the Creator in cruel and sadistic terms. Indeed, the metaphors we use to illustrate our relationship with the Divine are of crucial importance. The time has come for Jewish leaders to make a concerted effort in purging these dysfunctional images from our collective psyches. A God Who creates the cosmos out of love does not get pleasure from  seeing His Creation writhe in pain.


[2] Michael Shevack & Jack Bemporad, Stupid Ways, Smart Ways to Think About God. (St. Louis, MO: Liguori, 1993), p 18.