41A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

Becoming Like US
August 25, 2008

We have just finished reading Rabbi Michael Berg’s conformist tract “Becoming Like GOD, Kabbalah and our Ultimate Destiny.”  It is a quick, enjoyably debatable read which at times soars heavenward but mostly remains stuck in the mundane.   The Rabbi addresses his message to us the prisoners of the material ego-driven world of pain, suffering and death.  His promise, like the promises of so many religious sects, is to eliminate all these annoyances and deliver eternal bliss.  Lest we sound too dour, it should be noted  that Mr. Berg writes with a bold, easy style and even a touch of humor.  His chapters are punctuated with stories from the bible and the two thousand year old Kabbalah text, the Zohar.  The Zohar, twenty three volumes written in ancient Aramaic, was translated by none other than Mr. Berg himself.  An achievement far above and beyond the writing of this book.

The greatest curiosity of  “Becoming Like GOD” is it’s adamant grip on conformist thinking.  Like many religious cults, Berg relies on the argument that man’s misery (assuming men are miserable) results entirely from human ego.  Variations on this thesis are reflected in a wide variety of religious interpretations including Buddhism, Mohammedism, evangelical Christianity and  many twelve step programs.  Like most theses, there is a kernel of truth hidden deep within the fleshy diatribe.  Rabbi Berg uses a single expression to anchor his premise: the most negative force in the universe is - Desire to receive for the self alone.   In other words, selfishness.   While we do not wholly disagree with this idea, we suggest that a pack of thieves systematically robbing the elderly and sharing the boodle among themselves is far more villainous than a widow praying for a second husband.  Or a young boy begging a dollar to buy comic books and ice cream.  An emergent culture like the human race remains steeped in survivalism until it is fully educated that life need not be a struggle for limited resources.  Education begins with the free and open sharing of knowledge. 

The first major problem with Rabbi Berg’s premise is the idea that any of us are really alone.  We tend to believe that all living beings are interconnected in some mysterious way.  Indeed, nearly all spiritual teachings make this claim and remind us that no matter how alone we might feel, we never really are.  There are always others within or beyond us to whom we are inherently connected.  Hence the teaching: You will never walk alone.   So then, we can never receive anything for ourselves alone - since there is no such thing as being “alone.”  The Rabbi goes on to conform to the dogma that Ego represents darkness, suffering and death, while God represents light, joy and happiness.  He also reminds us that we are created in the image of God.  And that sharing is the most sacred act of God-likeness.  But not of course sharing ill-gotten gains.

With a convolution of simplicity Rabbi Berg tells us that the world consists of only two things: God the Light, and Ego the Dark.  It is a war.  A constant battle between human Ego and God.  But Berg raises unsettling difficulties.  Because if we are created by God in His own image - what did He do wrong?  The Ego is a part of human nature - created in God’s image.  Did God somehow F up??  Or is man in fact an accurate image of God - Ego and all?  Berg ducks this problem with the story of Eden and the Serpent and the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge.  It is unsatisfactory now as it has been for two thousand years.  What an unjust world it is where those who gain knowledge are cast out for learning!  It is after all, only knowledge; not a blind man’s social security check, or the beating heart of a murdered lover. 

The major difficulty with anti-egoists of all stripes is their unwillingness to see the ego as anything but evil.  How much easier would be their vision if they could accept that the ego is an innate part of human nature; in excess it is destructive and in control it is constructive.  It is the ego that sends the explorer into the wild.  It is the ego that drives the artist to his masterpiece.  The ego puts the teacher before her unruly class with the hope a few will hear the lesson.  It is the ego that moves the athlete and ego that inspires the scientist.  We take umbrage with anti-egoists. They simply cannot accept the idea that the image of God includes the semblance of ego.  And that in balance with humility, compassion and love, the Ego is none other than a good cheerleader or head coach to the soul.  The ego is a threat to only one elite school of thought - the school afraid of self-awareness.  Afraid of self direction.  Individuality.  And independence.  God’s creation is not a F up.  His creation includes His very own strengths and weaknesses - because in God’s perfection there is no weakness - only the infinite variability that perfection can assume.

So filled with horror is Rabbi Berg that he makes the following Achillesean statement:

“We vessels, it turns out, were constructed with a defective material called Desire to Receive for the Self Alone."

Little does the Rabbi understand the conflict he makes for himself.  What kind of God uses defective material in His work?  Were this the Dark Ages, we hazard to guess the kind of scolding the Rabbi would receive (for himself alone) due to such heresy!

Next is the book’s idea of sharing.  For the good Rabbi, sharing is key to the universe.  He calls it transforming the desire to receive for self into a desire to share.  Again, as stated earlier, nearly any sage or minister or mystic will tell you that we are never alone.  Aloneness is an illusion.  Thus the entire premise of receiving alone is an impossibility.  The I has transformed to the We and therefore anything we do or give or take - is done together.  Receiving a thing is sharing a thing.  It need not be shared with a physical entity around us (though that is good also.)  When we receive the gift of love from a friend or parent, there is no need to pass it to someone else.  Our gracious act of receiving will share the gift with others near and far from us.  No need to crush or smash ego unless we become prideful or boastful or act with unrestrained egocentricity.  The suggestion that abandoning or giving away material possessions will guarantee eternal life is a fraud.  Opening one’s heart fully and truthfully is a far greater qualification for happiness.

The motivational section of the Rabbi’s book contains a chapter titled: “The Heart of Misguided People is Almost.”  Within this chapter is the following in big bold type:

“Our goal is not to be good.  It is to become God.”

This smacks so loud of cultism that we immediately conjure images of Jim Jones, and Heaven’s Gate (both Kool Aid drinking cults.)  The chapter is a direct appeal to the very ego earlier chapters attempt to smash.  For what could be more egocentric that the expectation to “become God??”  Unfortunately, this is a chapter that tips us off to an utter lack of rational balance.  In our estimation a reasoning God is one that need never acknowledge his/her godliness.  What would be the point outside of stroking the villainous ego?  As to not being good - we take exception.  The simple truth is, God is good.  Nothing more to say.

In the end we found the Rabbi’s book shallow.  It presents it’s arguments in strikingly conformist manner; it demands you to be “with us, or against us.”  It claims you must destroy your self and share ridiculously (excepting perhaps bad karma, STDs or inept klezmer recordings.)   It disparages good in favor of glory.  Nowhere in this book do we find the words, beauty, love or Truth.  The real battle is not between God and man’s ego.  It is between an ancient controlling mindset and contemporary human nature.  We believe that God has made no mistake in His human design.  The only mistake is made by those who cannot accept the emergence of indomitable human spirit.  It is of course flawed spirit, but inherently imbued with good, and the recognition of good greater than itself.  Living a good life is enough for the human race right now.  We can afford to leave God-likeness to frothy motivational speakers, and the bug-juice & cookie receptions that follow their acts.