Natalie Shribman is a 2nd year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion
By Natalie Shribman
This past Sunday, Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel R. Primack enlightened many about a different concept of God. Funded by the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati and the UC Judaic Studies department, Abrams and Primack gave a fascinating presentation.
Nancy Ellen Abrams challenged the common predicament: “Does God exist?” This question is pointless to Abrams. Instead Abrams, an atheist since childhood, works to understand the concept of God in her work, A God that Could be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of our Planet. Abrams does this through an analogy with 12-step programs where one is asked to turn to a higher power to recover from a certain addition. Through her own experience of a 12- step program, Abrams acted like there was a higher power and as if the God-like thing is actually God. This changed her life and allowed her to understand the concept of God.
Abrams terms this higher power or God as an ‘emergent phenomenon' that is emerging constantly to distance humans from animals and other organisms. This distinction is made because humans are aspiring beings. To further explain the idea of the ‘emergent phenomenon,’ Abrams made another great analogy with the concept of an ant colony where an ant colony acts like an organism and as the ants build the colony, all of the ants are working together on the same level. The ants are creating their colony through their interactions. Along the same line, an emergent phenomenon is a complexity of interactions. Along with an emergent phenomenon, there is a ‘meaning sphere’ of the mental world which connects us to our ancestors and our descendants.
Abrams believes God gives humans hope, confidence, and new perspective, nurtures our aspirations, opens our minds to our place in the universe, opens our hearts to each other, inspires our personal quest for meaning and bravery, and gives us a common ground. The ‘emergence phenomenon’ is not tied to a single religion, instead it is the God of all humanity. This God does not plan our lives or make miracles happen. However, it does allow humans to find true aspirations, to find oneself, and to help one remember and recommit to his or her aspirations.
Primack offered an explanation of his new theory ‘double dark theory.’ This is the combination of dark matter and dark energy where dark matter is the spiral galaxies and the long filaments of the cosmos. According to his theory, the universe is 25 percent cold dark matter, 70 percent dark energy, and 5 percent atoms.
Abrams used science to argue that God has to be younger or the same age as the universe—13.8 billion years old. She claims that God did not create the universe. But that God created the meaning of the universe. The universe was created by people working together and aspiring to understand the concept of God.
And so, the concept of God for Abrams is not a physiologically comforting God, but an energizer and a God that brings spirit and humans together. As a result, a common ground is created and this common ground can be used to solve environmental problems, for example. In order to further understand God, we have to continue to struggle and wrestle with God. This is the underlying concept of bold Judaism. And bold Judaism requires us to open our minds and hearts to this new definition, allowing us to find and begin to understand God.