I remember once a long time ago, I had a teacher who told me, “Studying is a Process.” At that point in my life I had just begun studying Whitehead and had read Spinoza. I was also just starting my Jewish journey. Yet I had that momentary insight, “Goodness is a Process, too.” We all live, I realized, in a world of flux: a person becomes better or worse according to the individual decisions or works they do. The fact I do an individual homework assignment well helps decide my overall grade in the class. The fact that I greet a friend on the way home who could be lonely is equally a mitzvah (good deed). The Path to Goodness is hence a rung, at the unattainable top of which is God, and at the bottom of which the abyss which a Hitler descends to in the afterlife. To be human is to live for goodness or for evil… and the person who does nothing to be good usually sinks, gradually or quickly, to a worse state.
Though Whitehead speaks of a Creative and Benevolent Mind which is both part of and apart from the Universe but not really ethics, I want to eventually have my views listed as a subheading of Whitehead’s philosophy or my interpretation of it: “Process Ethics.” I want to work out the differences–however fuzzy the area in the human psyche–of good intentions and good deeds.
Ever since childhood, I puzzled over the problem of what it meant to be “good” even at times when I felt I was a rather bad person than not. I was taught Salvation by Faith. I always wondered two questions: How can mere belief without action change anyone? Why would a person deserve damnation for being in the “wrong” faith? There are so many, after all. I remember listening to my paternal Grandma say things like, “If Mother Teresa thinks its her works that are going to Heaven, then she is going straight to hell” and that diluted any real feeling that God was good or that it mattered much whether I was. I sometimes wonder–though I shouldn’t say this publicly–if part of the reason I had to be locked up at 12 was because I had lost faith in any real values that mattered to me before Grandma started talking about her faith with me. I know this sounds unfair… yet in the depts of my despair I hated God, life, my parents and other children. I wanted to die.
Gradually in college, I sorted out that works are acts of faith: that though it is the act that saves, the motivation is faith… yet as I have aged I found that this is only a partial truth… in actuality, works and faith are bound like a baby coming out of the womb tied with umbilical cord. As God gave birth to the world, so we give birth to good deeds. Someday I hope I can write more meaningfully about the subject than this blog. Because I think it needs to be worked out–or, rather, I need to work it out… and perhaps somebody else will find it useful, too.
Before I conclude I want to reaffirm that part of my problem with Salvation by Faith is solved already: the Talmud says “the righteous of all the nations will be saved.” And I believe a distinctly Jewish form of universalism is possible for anyone who loves the religion.
In Conclusion, each one of us wrestles with angels–and each one of us attempts to climb Jacob’s ladder. And on the rungs of that ladder we find God.