Logotherapy, Torah Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism: God, man and God-man

In my post “The Spirit of Reconstructionist Judaism”, I said that Rabbi Tani Burton was a reconstructionist Jew. He posted the following question:

… how did you decide that I was a Reconstructionist Rabbi?

My reply:

I’d like to give you a comprehensive response, for two reasons: 1. I am very interested in how you incorporate Logotherapy into your Judaism, and 2. (which is pertinent to your question) in your “About” on your site you don’t come across as a Reconstructionist Jew, but in much of what you say in your “Disillusionment” post you do come across as one, and in one instance as a mirror image of one. For now, let me explain why you are a mirror image of a Reconstructionist. I will give you a more comprehensive reply in my next post or two. For now, a Reconstructionist Jew believes that God is a piece of our souls, whereas you, in your “Disillusionment”, believe that our souls (neshamos) are a “a piece of G-d Above”.

As I said in my reply to Tani Burton above, I am interested in how he incorporates Logotherapy into his Judaism. I also said at the end of my reply that I would give a more comprehensive reply in “my next post or two.” It has turned out that the comprehensive reply has turned into double that number – on Logotherapy I called Tani Burton a “Reconstructionist rabbi.” let me briefly describe what kind of a Rabbi this is. Rabbi Bronstein (see my “The Spirit of Reconstructionist Judaism”) says,

Tradition tells us that the Torah was dictated by God to Moses, and then transmitted through the generations. Reconstructionist Jews see the Torah as the Jewish people’s response to God’s presence in the world (and not God’s gift to us). That is to say, the Jews wrote the Torah.” (My underlining).

I don’t think Tani Burton believes that the Torah is (purely?) man-made. His post on “Jewish disillusionment” does, happily, give me some idea of his Jewish beliefs. In his post, he is dealing with the disillusionment that many Jews must have felt with Jewish leaders who had – or appeared to have – gone astray.

Excerpt from Tani Burton’s “Jewish disillusionment” (I underline parts for discussion)

Retreating into the psychoanalytical shelter of a mechanistic view of people, one might simply dismiss these cases of corruption as manifestations of primal human drives towards lust or power. After all, these people are just human.

Logotherapy gives us a new vocabulary to combat this dim view of humanity. There is no “just human”! In the words of Victor Frankl, “no one will be able to make us believe that man is a sublimated animal once we can show that within him there is a repressed angel.” (Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, 2000) A human being is not merely a higher primate who is simply predetermined by his drives, but is rather a majestic being who, when he rises to “full human stature”, he is recognizably created in the image of G-d.

The aforementioned statement perfectly sums up an idea in Logotherapy, that one can and must take a defiant stance against meaninglessness. We can take such a stance by remembering the following three things. First, G-d is eternal and unchanging. He is the Source of everything, all holiness, and all purity. He remains unaffected by the corruption that has reared its ugly head down here. His Torah is not defiled.

Second, our neshamos (souls) are holy and pure, and they remain so no matter what, being as they are “a piece of G-d Above”. Third, Eretz Yisrael remains precious, holy and pure. It is G-d’s land, and we have been invited to dwell in it. It cannot be defiled by a corrupt government, no matter what.

Let us be defiant against the devolution of values and meaning, and not allow ourselves to become jaded, desensitized and sarcastic. We can still connect to G-d, to our souls, to the Holy Torah, and to the Holy Land.

End of Tani Burton’s excerpt.

When Tani Burton says “G-d”, I can’t be certain if he really believes that “In the beginning G-d…” (Genesis 1:1). What makes me doubt is his faith in Logotherapy. I see Logotherapy as antithetical to Orthodox Judaism. For example, as I said above and argued in “God in Viktor Frankls’ Logotherapy,” Logotherapy promotes the “god within you,” whose creative force is the “will to mean,” which is another way of saying “make the best of it” (Frankl’s term). I find it difficult to reconcile Frank’s ideas about man and God with Tina Burton’s man is a “piece of G-d above.”

There are Jews such as the Ropshitz dynasty (see also the “Ropshitzer Rebbe”) who became famous for seeing God in everything. The Torah says the opposite. I wonder why the Jews excommunicated Barnum Spinach for saying that God was in everything. I suppose because he saw the contradiction between being a pantheist (pantheistic?) and a believer in Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and opted not to live a double life.

Tina Burton’s first rule of comfort is: “First, G-d is eternal and unchanging. He is the Source of everything, all holiness, and all purity.” This is the same G-d that Tina Burton says we are all a “piece of,” which, although is not the same thing as saying that humans and G-d are all “of a piece”, does sound like seeing God in every person, if not in every thing. To see God in everybody, isn’t that the same as seeing God incarnate in everyone, or if that is going to far, a piece of God incarnate in everyone?

Tina Burton then encourages disillusioned Jews to remember that “Erect Disraeli remains precious, holy and pure. It is G-d’s land, and we have been invited to dwell in it. It cannot be defiled by a corrupt government, no matter what.”

I wonder about that. The Tanaka is a long litany of defilement of the land. Why, because of the people in it, whose whoredoms (זנותים znutim – mentioned more than 30 times in the Tanakh) the Holy One of Israel, their “husband” had to endure. The books of Ezekiel, Hosea, Nahum, and on and on are bursting with the defilement and corruption of God’s chosen people, and ipso facto defilement of the land.

And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, וַתְּטַמְּאוּ אֶת־אַרְצִי (vatetam’u et-artsi) and made mine heritage an abomination. The priests said not, Where [is] the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after [things that] do not profit. Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the LORD, and with your children’s children will I plead. For pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed [their] gods, which [are] yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for [that which] doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, [and] hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”

How is the “land”, that is, the people of Israel different today? No different. No different from the whole earth. But, I must leave “the land,” because the main question that concerns us here is the compatibility of Logotherapy with the God of the Torah.

Tani Burton quotes an excerpt from Frankl’s “Man’s search for ultimate meaning” (Frankl, V. E. (1975). The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Originally published in 1948 as Der unbewusste Gott. Republished in 1997 as Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning). Burton says:

Logotherapy gives us a new vocabulary to combat this dim view of humanity. There is no “just human”! In the words of Victor Frankl, “no one will be able to make us believe that man is a sublimated animal once we can show that within him there is a repressed angel.” (Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, 2000) A human being is not merely a higher primate who is simply predetermined by his drives, but is rather a majestic being who, when he rises to “full human stature”, he is recognizably created in the image of G-d.”

I’d like to flesh out this “repressed angel” idea with an examination of Frankl’s view of religion, taken from Goerge Boeree. I number and underline the parts that I shall briefly comment on:

It should be understood that Frankl’s ideas about religion and spirituality are considerably 1.broader than most. His God is not the God of the narrow mind, not the God of one denomination or another. It is not even the God of institutional religion. God is very much a 2.God of the inner human being, a God of the heart. Even the atheist or the agnostic, he points out, may accept the idea of transcendence without making use of the word ‘God.’ Allow me, says Boeree, to let Frankl speak for himself”:

This unconscious religiousness, revealed by our phenomenological analysis,is to be understood as a latent relation to 3.transcendence inherent in man. If one prefers, he might conceive of this relation in terms of a relationship between the immanent self and a transcendent thou. However one wishes to formulate it, we are confronted with what I should like to term “the transcendent unconscious.” This concept means no more or less than that man has always stood in an intentional relation to transcendence, even if only on an unconscious level. If one calls the intentional referent of such an unconscious relation “God,” it is apt to speak of an 4.“unconscious God.”

It must also be understood that this “unconscious God” is not anything like the archetypes Jung talks about. This God is clearly transcendent, and yet profoundly personal.He is there, according to Frankl, within each of us, and it is merely a matter of our acknowledging that presence that will bring us to Supra-meaning. On the other hand, 5.turning away from God is the ultimate source of all the ills we have already discussed.: “…6.(O)nce the angel in us is repressed, he turns into a demon.”

In the light of the above points, I now contrast Torah Judaism with Logotherapy’s (Frankl and Tani Burton) idea on spirituality. There are other movements in Judaism such as Reconstructionist Judaism that are far removed from Torah Judaism. and which share many of Frankl’s ideas on spirituality. See my “The spirit of reconstructionist Judaism,” “Tefillin: the seal of love as strong as death”, “God in Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy”.

Here are my observations based on the Synergy-foundation passage on Frankl above:

  1. Frankl’s religion is “broader” than most, including Judaism.
  2. Frankl’s god is the god of the heart. In Judaism, the “heart” (the deeps of thought and feeling) is a vital organ, but it is not where God originates nor where He ends. The Torah God is a terrible – yare יָרֵא – majesty (Job 37:22).

(Unfortunately, the original meaning of “terrible” has been watered down to mean “horrible”, which itself has been watered down to mean “so very not nice”).

  1. Frankl speaks of the “transcendence inherent in man.” In Judaism, man has a spirit but it is not transcendent in the sense that man’s spirit is more than a human spirit. Tani Burton says man is “a majestic being who, when he rises to “full human stature” (quoting Frankl), he is recognizably created in the image of G-d.” So, for Tani Burton man is a “piece of G-d because he is created in the image of G-d.” Nowhere does the Torah, or any other part of the Tanakh say that man is a piece of God. When the Bible says that man is made in the image of God, it simply means – perhaps too prosaic for the lofty heights of Kabbalism – that he is human – never a god, never a potential god. Here is a (potted?) description of what (Lurianic) Kabbalah teaches:

Ein-sof (literally the “Endless” one – so, no beginning and no end) begets a world so that He, as the source of all meaning and value, can come to know Himself, and in order for His values, which in Him exist only in the abstract, can become fully actualized in humanity.Ein-sof is both the fullness of being and absolute nothingness, but is not complete in its essence until He is made real through the spiritualizing and redemptive activity of mankind (my underlining).

Contrast this with Isaiah 6:

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Is this God in Isaiah one who is “not complete in its essence until He is made real through the spiritualizing and redemptive activity of mankind” (Kabbalah passage above). Am I hearing things? God is waiting for mankind to redeem Him” It’s so very not like the Judaism of the Bible.

Isaiah then hears a voice (now how many Jews belief he really heard a voice?)

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Send him to tell the people what?

9 He said, “Go and tell this people:
” ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

And for how long”

11 Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?”
And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,

12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.

So, LORD, you’re always talking about remnants; can we at least expect you to guard the status quo and not evolve into something we can’t deal with? Sorry, not this time.

13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

This is not Viktor Frankl’s God.

The 4th point in Frankl’s view of spirituality.

4. Here is Frankl: “… it is apt to speak of an “unconscious God.” It must also be understood that this “unconscious God” is not anything like the archetypes Jung talks about. This God is clearly transcendent, and yet profoundly personal. He is there, according to Frankl, within each of us, and it is merely a matter of our acknowledging that presence that will bring us to Supra-meaning.”

The Holy One of Israel is never unconscious; he doesn’t even take forty winks. I’m reminded of Heidegger, Sartre, Spinoza and so many more philosophers, which I poured over during my years of philosophy studies at the University of Cape Town.

Frankl’s 5th point”

5. “.. turning away from God is the ultimate source of all the ills we have already discussed.”

No Torah Jew, not even a Reconstructionist Jew, would disagree with this one. In fact, only the most evangelical of atheists like Dawkins and Hitchins (Christopher, not Peter his brother) would rant about point 5. Of course, it all depends what you mean by “God.” For Frankl and Reconstructionist Jews like their founder, Mordecai Kaplan, “God” is a human creation. For a Kabbalist, God can find no rest for His soul until Kaplan or Frankl, or preferably someone alive makes a determined effort to redeem Him.

And last but not beast, point 6.

  1. (O)nce the angel in us is repressed, he turns into a demon.”

Frankl relates (in “Man’s search for ultimate meaning” 1975, p. 59) that some prisoners in he concentration camp came to realize that they were repressing the feeling that they were much more than animals, that there was something in them that transcended the flesh and the rational mind, a being struggling to burst out of the darkness, a “repressed angel.” The Freudian term or concept of “repressed” doesn’t exist in the Bible, whether in humans, angels or demons. Angels in the Bible, don’t get depressed or repressed.

Demons, in the Torah, are fallen angels. Fallen and unfallen angels can never be human, except in the great man-made literatures of the world, where they not only consort with man, but are often a metaphor for man. You can find cohorts of repressed angels and demons cavorting through the works of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Hugo, Shakespeare, Baudelaire – and of course, everyone’s favourite, Dan Brown. None of these writers think that man himself can be a literal angel or a demon, though there’s nothing wrong with turning – though, it can be quite remunerative, as Dan Brown has proved – humans into repressed angels; or psychotic demons.

Andrew Reid Fuller, in his Psychology and religion: eight points of view,”, p. 266, says that “[u]nconscious religiousness is also found to break through unexpectedly in the lives of psychotics.” Unconscious religiousness can be found in anyone who feels some deep experience; a sunset, or, after arriving from a busy day at the office, plunging your face into a warm froth of kitty fur. But seriously, if one really believes the Bible to be God’s revelation, I can’t see how one can reconcile it with Logotherapy. Logotherapy fits the world like a warm glove; the Bible, like a soggy sock. Frankl gives the world what it wants, what it needs, what it wants to need. Meet clients, patients, parishioners where they are at. If they like talking Torah, encourage them to make the best of it.

Logotherapy and Torah Judaism have very little logos (meaning) or therapia (methods of cure) in common, and in many ways the one is a distorted image of the other. In a similar way Reconstructionist Judaism is a distorted image of Torah Judaism. Logotherapy and Reconstructionism are in essential agreement. One may object that they are different because Reconstructionism is about the meaning of being Jewish, whereas Logotherapy is about the meaning of being human. What do I mean, then, when I say that Reconstructionist Judaism is, in essence, similar to Logotherapy? I mean that they both believe that “God” is of human origin. There is, however, this difference between them. In Reconstructionist Judaism, the Jew creates “God”; in Logotherapy, man is a repressed angel .

Tani Burton agrees that man is a repressed angel, but he also said (at the beginning of this piece) that “when [man] rises to “full human stature”, he is recognizably created in the image of G-d.” But we saw that for Frankl this repressed angel is not only man himself but “may justifiably be called God” as well (Frankl). A trinity of three persons: man, angel and God, all sharing the same essence or nature.

Ultimately, in Logotherapy, man is not “just human;” far from it. For the Logotherapist, there is no Being more ultimate than man, who, with the will to mean good can become a Man-God.

Ultimately, in Torah Judaism, there is no Being more ultimate than the Creator God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who fashioned man from the dust and breathed into him a living soul.

Two radically different and irreconcilable views of God and man. But, no, says man, not necessarily irreconcilable, for what is impossible to God is possible to man – a mirror image of “what is impossible to man, is possible to God.” The reader may ask: Where in the Tanakh can look up this last quote?” It’s not in the Tanakh, dear reader, I can Luke it up for you in my New Testament; while you’re waiting, I can tell you that they are the words of another God-Man, the real Mckoy.

In Psalm 116:5, we read: יָקָר בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה הַמָּוְתָה לַחֲסִידָֽיו׃

“Precious יָקָר (yakar) in the sight of the Lord is the death of his godly ones לַחֲסִידָֽיו (lechasidayv – from which we get “chassid”).

Christians would say that Christ is precious (yakar) because he was pierced (דקר daqar – in Jeremiah 12:10; ). Jews will say that “pierce” in Jeremiah 12:10 refers to the “stabbing”, “thrusting through” of Israel? of unbelievers?, which will occur when Messiah comes at the beginning of the Messianic age. Whatever way you cut it, suffering attracts deep respect and, in case of Frankl’s suffering, almost awe.

This is what may attract religious people to Frankl’s Logotherapy: He’s deep; mainly because he has suffered more than any of the religious people who read him. Beauty is truth and truth is beauty, says Keats. What is truth? Pilate asks Jesus, and then promply? walks out (John 18:38) . But many people claim to know the answer. Suffering is truth. It seems that for followers of Frankl, suffering is truth and truth is suffering. The more you suffer, the truer you are. Truth comes through suffering, through grief, through affliction, through sorrow (Yiddish tsores) Aren’t the former major biblical themes? Therefore, think Frankl, think tsores, much tsores; and think tsores, think truth. (See my “The seal of truth as strong as death”).

In Hebrews 2:18, we read “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Christians make the link between the suffering of Jesus and the suffering of Frankl. Who, in Christian eyes, has the greatest claim to truth, the most right to say “I am the way and the truth and the life”? Christians will say, Jesus. Was it because He suffered more than any human being could suffer? No, that is not the main reason. The main reason is because it was Truth, itself, Himself, that suffered. What makes Jesus’s suffering so unique was not the degree of suffering, but the kind of suffering, that only the True Son of God could seal: “The seal of G-d is Truth.” – Rabbi Hanina, Babylonian Talmud.

Could it be that Christians and Jews are attracted to Frankl, not so much because he suffered so much, but because he dislocated the God of compassion from the God of wrat. More, because he replaced the God in the Heavens with a god in the heart?

The Light and darkness of Viktor Frankl and Nelson Mandela

I have written several posts on Viktor Frankl. One of my recent posts was about Nelson Mandela and his favourite poem ” Invictus,” which ends with the following words:

I am the captain of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.

One writer makes the following connection between Frankl and Mandela:

“The power of the mind is a brilliant thing. We learning through science that our thoughts can, in fact, affect the physical world. Our reality is the effect of our thoughts. What is also amazing about thoughts is illustrated by two infamous gentlemen. Something VITAL that Viktor Frankl learnt whilst living through a concentration camp, and William Ernest Henley writes about in his poetry, is the fact that we have the choice to choose how we react to any given situation. We have the power to choose our fate, by choosing a positive way to react in any situation. That nothing external controls the direction we take our thoughts – it is our decision to choose our reaction.”

“Viktor Frankl said “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. He survived the concentration camp – the torturing, the starvation and the disease by keeping his mind positive. It was the one thing that the Nazi’s couldn’t take from him – his mind and power to choose his attitude. [Here is a] a brilliant poem by William Ernest Henley, which was also famously passed on from Nelson Mandela to the South African Rugby Captain, in the movie Invictus.”

Mandela used to recite this poem to his fellow political prisoners on Robben Island, seven kilometres off the coast of Cape Town. Here is the poem (my italics and bold):

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Mandela never discussed his religious beliefs. What is certain – if the last two lines of Invictus be indeed his leitmotif – is that, with Henley, he did not believe in the God of the Bible, and with Henley also shared a stoic resolve to rise above “the clutch of circumstance” and ”the bludgeonings of chance” to try to become the master of their fate, the captain of their souls. In the New Testament, there is a very different kind of captain, the Captain of salvation. ”For it became Him, of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, to make the Captain (Greek: archigos) of our salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10).

In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, says Frankl, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. Et lux in tenebris lucet”and the light shineth in the darkness” (Man’s search for meaning, pp. 51-52). (See my The Light shineth in the darkness, but did Viktor Frankl comprehend it?

What Frankl did not accept was that this ”ultimate purpose” did not reside in man but in the sovereign God of the Bible. The overarching teaching of the Bible is the sovereignty of God, which can be summed in Isaiah 55:10-11:

”As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Man, therefore, according to the Bible is not the captain of his soul – God is.

There are “two groups of people, says my Jewish Phariseefriend; the ones who will not surrender themselves completely, and those who surrender themselves to the entity of their choice, are both making the same mistake. Both of these groups of people assume that it is their prerogative to surrender themselves when they chose and to whomsoever they chose. This is not the truth that is taught by the Jewish Bible. The Bible clearly teaches that we already belong, completely and totally, body and soul, to the One who brought us into existence and who is constantly sustaining every facet of our lives. (Psalm 95:1-7). It is not for us to choose to whom to direct our devotion to, nor is it for us to withhold our submission. It is for us to recognize that we already belong to the One Creator of heaven and earth.”

Frankl and Mandela’s light did shine in their darkness, but they did not understand – their darkness.