THE BLOG
12/10/2012 12:57 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

From Senate Seat or Pew, You Can't Monopolize God

Slipping in the 2012 election polls, and perhaps slipping from his tongue, Richard Mourdock driveled: "Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

Indiana U.S. Senate republican nominee Richard Mourdock surely integrates his religious fundamentalism into his political rhetoric. At all costs, he hangs his heavy-handed theological beliefs on sweeping understandings of all God or not God.

And this premise invites us to ask pivotal questions. Why do Republicans of this fundamentalist strand feel they have a monopoly on God? Isn't it convenient that God always comes down so definitively on the side of their beliefs?

But the fact is, Mourdock's fundamentalist approach to the immanence of God is not the only way we can realize an authentic, theocentric view of reality.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel -- a 20th century Jewish theologian who influenced many faiths -- has trained the way I think about what it means to believe in God. Rabbi Heschel argues that individual, emotional faith is the primary vehicle for belief in God, and that this faith is a distinctively private affair.

In Varnasi, God may have more than six hands. In Iran, God may have no image. And in right-wing America, God may serve as a staunch support to uncompromising abortion beliefs.

Yet whatever these conceptions of God are, they are decisions in faith to be made by individuals.

For me, understanding and qualifying God is a process with which I wrestle. Perhaps that's because I shy away from establishing definite conclusions for myself, which I value because it keeps me challenged. I know that my faith is strong, but am still awed by how God wields His power -- sometimes His power can penetrate the universe; other times it is bounded, and randomness rules.

The difficulty in identifying God and His limits is also illuminated by Rabbi Heschel when he suggests that God cannot be sufficiently described: "The ultimate truth is not capable of being fully and adequately expressed in concepts and words ... The voice of God reaches the spirit of man in a variety of ways, in a multiplicity of languages."

Thus, we see it is not only that everyone has a different opinion about faith, but it is also that the same entity is refracted through the multiplicity of human experiences and is rendered distinct in each person and community.

The Jewish Covenant is a theological model that emphasizes the many God-centered views of reality we can formulate. It is introduced in the Book of Genesis as a dynamic partnership between God and man in which God forfeits some of his ability to act in the world. In return, man takes on further responsibility and strengthens his relationship with God.

The Covenant instructs us to reclaim that religious thought provides a space of nuance, complexity and sophistication, even when talking about the weightiest issues of God's role in our lives. It ultimately renounces Mourdock's "all God or not God" as the only religious model, and allows us to make an accounting of when something is an act of God and when it is not.

Our theological relationships are self-developed, albeit organic. They stretch across a broad range of connections to God, allowing us to stake out where we personally fall on such a range, and denote many unique relationships.

Ultimately, we find that no one's relationship with God is alike; nor is any one's perception of God alike. But, all are in fact relative. Heschel confirms this insight when he writes: "No two minds are alike, just as no two faces are alike."

When we understand that everyone forms a particular belief, or disbelief, in God, we strengthen how we can learn and grow from each other's thoughtfulness. We even see ourselves as a part of something bigger, which inculcates within us a necessary humility that is often elusive in theology.

The religious right lacks this humility. Mourdock and his brethren claim a monopoly on a God that is unreasonably all-powerful. They do not account for other viable theocentric possibilities which emulate God's ways, cultivate fluid religious community, or even pragmatically integrate politics and religion.

They merely epitomize the recurring words from the Book of Prophets: "I am and there is no one beside me."

True. Mourdock's Indiana voters were not beside him this fall either.