Wednesday, April 27, 2011

God in a Mobius Strip?

היום תשעה ימים שהם שבוע אחד ושני ימים לעמר
Today is nine days, which is one week and two days of the omer
כבורה שבגבורה
A day of strength in a week of strength

On Wednesday evenings I teach Torah to 7th graders--12 and 13 years old--in San Mateo, a suburban community south of San Francisco. I use the Torah as a way to teach values and ethics and spirituality in the context of Judaism. At that age critical thinking is just coming into play -- at least for most of them -- and I also want to give them a safe place to discuss those new, sometimes uncomfortable thoughts that aren't based on concrete objects.

Tonight we had the God discussion that I have with each of my classes. I talk them through making a Mobius Strip. It's one way I can show something that's unexplainable--I certainly can't explain how or why it works. It gives me a chance to teach that God lives in the unexplainable, to say that God is the unexplainable. But we continue to try....

I give them a choice of descriptives for God:

Master of the Universe – God pulls the strings and works miracles

Watchmaker – God put the world together, wound it up, then left it running

List Maker – God takes notes on what we do and rewards or punishes us for our acts

Still Small Voice – our conscience, the voice of right and wrong

God is order, gives order – God is nature and scientific rules

Personal God – God is a presence which comforts us and has a personal relationship with us

The most popular description changes from class to class. This class gravitated towards the List Maker, with Master of the Universe a close second--definitely fans of the powerful, omnipotent God. No one went for the science God or the personal God.

I also gave them some words to catagorize their beliefs:

Theism – belief in the existence of God, either Monotheism & Polytheism

Atheism – a view which denies the existence of God

Agnosticism – the view the we cannot know whether or not God exists

Pantheism – God is equated with the forces of nature; God is in everything

The majority of my students relate to agnosticism. I think that's because they are just beginning to think about this and don't feel comfortable making a choice. One term, a girl said, "I'm an atheist and a monotheist." While these are opposites, I understood what she was saying--she's not sold on a belief in God, but if she did believe in God, it would be One God.

This is one of my favorite lessons because there's no right or wrong, yes or no. I just create the space for questions and discussion. Towards the end of the session, I let them all know that whatever they believe now is likely to change within some years, and will continue to change and evolve all their lives. Belief or not in God, in a transcendent spirit, or whatever other language you prefer, the unexplainable will always exist and how we deal with it is always subject to change.

1 comment:

Yale said...

You are an incredibly good and wise teacher!

Warmest regard, Yale