Loneliness and the Divine Ideal

Dennis Prager on the foundational Biblical statement, “It is not good for man to be alone”:


I find Prager’s statement profound:

It says that male-female marriage is the divine ideal — when society says there is no ideal.

It says children are not a replacement for a spouse — when many divorcées burden their adult children as such.

It says that communities — even religious communities — are not a substitute for a spouse.

It says that marriage is the highest form of commitment — when society says two people living together is just as acceptable.

It says that men and women need each other — when feminism says “women need men like fish need a bicycle.”

It says that God sees loneliness as “not good” — in our age where divorce rates, out-of-wedlock births, and loneliness are at all-time highs.

It says monogamy is the best condition for human happiness — at a time when polyamory and sleeping with many partners is increasingly accepted as normative, and at a time when certain religious fundamentalists -- Mormon, Hebrew Roots, Islamic fundamentalists -- are pushing for a return of polygamy.

Does a relationship with God fix human loneliness? Prager says no:

“God declared Adam “alone” despite the fact that Adam had a relationship with God. The lesson? God declares that even He, God, does not fully assuage our aloneness. God is essential, but we also need people.”

God wants us to enjoy the pleasures of the world

Quick, what is the first biblical commandment related to eating?

Most people, even those familiar with the Bible, will answer, "Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge", referring back to Genesis 2. But this is incorrect. The first commandment is to eat from all the other trees, a commandment given in the first chapter of the Bible.

Jewish conservative luminary Dennis Prager argues this shows how people focus on the negative -- what we shouldn't do -- more than the positive. In his book, The Rational Bible: Genesis, Prager remarks:

This is like a parent taking a child to a supermarket and telling the child to take anything he or she wants....but then adding that one item, and only one item, is off limits. Human nature is such that most children -- and adults as well -- would focus on the negative prohibition. But God wants us to partake of the world's pleasures. The Talmud is quite emphatic about this: "In the future world, a man will be required to give an accounting for every permitted pleasure he could have experienced but refused to." (Kiddushin 4)

-Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible: Genesis

A great many Jews and Christians focus on the negative: don't eat this, don't do that, avoid this, stay away from that. We should avoid divinely forbidden things and for good reason; God understands what's ultimately good for humanity better than we do. But I wonder, are we falling prey to the same instinctual human tendency to focus solely on the negative?

And yet, God wants us to enjoy the permitted pleasures of the world. While there are 365 "you shall nots" in the Torah, there remains 248 "you shalls." Are we neglecting the latter?

This is a weird post for me to write because the world without God is all in favor of pleasure to do anything you want. But there seems evidence enough to explore seriously the idea that God wants us to enjoy the world.

Recently, two posts on social media had me thinking about this question of whether we should enjoy the pleasures of the world or forego them. I figure it's a good motivator for posting about it. 😊 Here are the posts:

1. 

2.

Both of these Facebook friends posted something about diet, and I found myself commenting on both of them. You've undoubtedly witnessed similar things in your own circles, whether the prohibition is against meat, soda, fat, sugar, lactose, gluten, carbs, or something else in the long list of once-permitted pleasures.

The first post about veganism is by a Messianic Judaism adherent who is giving up meat in the belief that "Adam through Noah didn't eat meat", and how "that's the way God intended us to live in the beginning", saying "I've always wondered why pre-Flood people lived so long."

The second post about soda is by a Jewish believer friend, and author of Messianic Meow satire site, who linked to a Washington Post article claiming that drinking soda leads to an early grave.

I don't mind that people eat vegan or skip soda. The New Testament addresses vegetarianism in Romans: "Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind." That's my philosophy about veganism, soda, and other disputable matters.

(With regards to the soda article, I am skeptical of such dietary research claims on the internet because of the combined problems of conflicting research conclusions and perverse commercial incentives from both researchers and publishers. That's a story for another time.)

When I see articles like these, I must ask, doesn't God want us to enjoy the world?

I don't mean forbidden things; whoring around, "enjoying" addictive vices, etc. Shooting heroin for the first time has been described as "being kissed by God", but the end result of heroin addiction is a satanic death grip that quite literally destroys your life.

When I say God wants us to enjoy the pleasures of the world, I of course mean permitted pleasures: hiking a beautiful mountain, eating tasty foods, boating on a pristine lake, enjoying a glass of wine, having sex with your spouse, meeting new people, eating a good bar of chocolate, listening to great music. Aren't these the sorts of things God wants us to enjoy?

Yet here we religious people stand, banning all kinds of things permitted by God. Some religious communities forego...

  • Electricity - Amish Christian
  • Mobile phones - Ultra Orthodox Judaism
  • Modern medicine - Amish, Ultra Orthodox Judaism
  • Blood transfusions - Jehovah's Witnesses
  • Bathing suits - fundamentalist Christian sects
  • Alcohol - Mormonism, Islam, certain Christian sects
  • A woman showing any skin besides her eyeballs - fundamentalist Islam
  • Hearing a woman sing - Orthodox Judaism
  • Mingling of men and women - Ultra Orthodox Judaism
  • Touching (e.g. shaking hands with) a woman besides your wife - Chabad Orthodox Judaism
  • Music - various Christian sects
  • Meat of any kind - various Christian and Hindu sects
  • Smoking - various Christian sects
  • Seeing the hair of any woman besides your wife - Ultra Orthodox Jewish sects, Islamic sects
  • Dancing - various Christian sects (heck, we have a Hollywood blockbuster devoted to this 😂)
  • No rubber on buggy wheels, so as to avoid making this life too easy - Amish Christian sects
...I could keep going, but you get the idea. Religious people like to forbid things that aren't forbidden by God. Isn't that a problem?

In the Torah, during the Biblical feasts when all Israel went up to the Temple, God commanded Israel to rejoice with eating rich foods and even commands Israel to enjoy strong drink for the holy days:

"[During the holy days] if [the Temple] is too far away for you to travel, then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other strong drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice."

-Deuteronomy 14:23-27
One of God's commandments in the Torah is literally to eat some fresh red meat and drink strong alcohol, and thus, rejoice before God. That's not a message you'll likely hear on Sundays - or Saturdays!

The great preacher Charles Sturgeon seemed to have understood that it's good to enjoy life. He scheduled each day of his life down to the hour, so as not to waste any time the Lord gave him. But every week on his Sunday schedule, he allotted one hour to "smoke a cigar to the glory of the Lord." 😂

Likewise, Spurgeon is recorded to having eaten like a king, received excellent healthcare, vacationed in southern France, and traveled first-class. A laypreacher once confronted Spurgeon about this "decadence" during a chance encounter on a train. "I'm travelling third-class, saving the Lord's money", said the laypreacher. "I'm traveling first-class, saving the Lord's servant", replied Spurgeon.

Will eating lots of red meat shorten your lifespan? Maybe. Will drinking copious amounts of Coca Cola bring you to an early grave? It's entirely possible.

But, I'm personally willing to trade a little time in old age -- which may not be all that enjoyable anyways -- for a little joy here today. No diet, no lifestyle, no foregoing of life's pleasures will prevent your inevitable demise. As the comedian Redd Foxx once said,

"Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing."

Now, excuse me while I go eat a juicy, seasoned, medium rare T-Bone. Heaven requires it!

On the positive side of things

I.


In the aftermath of World War II, Wernher von Braun, the brainchild of Nazi Germany's rocket program, was brought to the US and conscripted to work for the US Army on its fledgling rocket program.

In the following years, von Braun developed the rockets that launched the US's first space satellite. By 1960, he lead the team that built the heavy rockets that propelled the first man to reach the moon.

Now pause a minute and consider: was this a good thing for humanity?

If viewed in the positive light, the US took knowledge that was being put to evil use -- Nazi V-2 rockets that reigned destruction on London civilians -- and redirected it to something beneficial in the form of putting a man on the moon.

But one might view it in the negative light. The US space program was built upon the backs of evil Nazi scientists. Rather than destroying the enemy, the US Military Industrial Complex (cue Darth Vader theme) co-opted the enemy and put his knowledge of war to use on America's ballistic missile program, which has undoubtedly taken the lives of thousands (millions?) of civilians over the course of the last few decades.

There's some truth to both sides, isn't there?

I've noticed this pattern repeated all over.

Vaccines have saved millions of lives and eradicated diseases like smallpox and polio. But government-enforced mandatory vaccination goes against American ideals of liberty and self-determination. In the 1960s, cells from two aborted infants were used in the making of some vaccines, and those cell lines remain in use today.

Do you focus on the positive or the negative?

Religion has produced sincere people of faith who are driven by ideals like "love your neighbor as yourself" and "consider others more important than yourself", to improve themselves and repair the world, causing it to come more in line with the Divine image. But it's also produced holy wars, genocides, persecution, torture, suicide bombers, and worse.

Capitalism has raised millions (billions?) out of poverty and into a better life, as we benefit from goods and services produced through capitalism. But it's made wage slaves of us all. We work and work and work, so that we can have money, money, money. To buy more stuff, stuff, stuff. (To such an extent, might I add, that the youngest generation's embrace of alternative economic systems has resulted in a Socialist candidate nearly winning the Democratic Presidential nomination.)

Genetic engineering is curing previously-untreatable diseases, most recently sickle cell anemia. But last year Chinese scientists announced they used gene editing to modify human embryos, raising the Frankensteinian possibility of designer babies, super soldiers, or worse.

Medicine, surgery, antibiotics, and more has saved perhaps billions of human lives and reduced suffering. But, isn't modern medicine corrupted by money? Aren't doctors over-prescribing pain meds, resulting in nationwide opioid addiction crisis? We're bombarded by commercials of medicines we don't need or don't fully understand, leading to addiction and unintended side effects. And isn't much of modern medical knowledge standing on the shoulders of Nazi and Imperial Japanese medical experiments on humans, the inheritance from Dr. Mengele? Isn't the whole field corrupted by the giant Medical Industrial Complex?

(One can demonize nearly any industry by adding "Industrial Complex" or "Big" to the name. "Big Pharma: the Medical Industrial Complex." Cue Vader again. )
As far as "being in the pocket of Big Egg" goes, I think the real threat is Chansey.

Technology is amazing and improved our quality of life. If you're reading this, it means you have a computer (maybe even a pocket-sized one!) that works anywhere without wires and connects you to the Giant Repository of the Sum Total of Human Knowledge we call the internet. You're probably sitting in a heated, spacious home, with a giant metal air-conditioned throne-on-wheels sitting in your driveway. On the other hand, the internet has produced all kinds of perversion, pornography, and immorality of many kinds; the recent school shootings originated with troll chat rooms that encouraged the shooter to "get a high score" (that is, murder many kids). Technology and the internet has propped up conspiracy theories and given a voice to the previously-ignored fringe elements of society.

Education has raised humanity out of darkness and into enlightenment, leading to innovation and improvement of the world. That is, until education is directed by political motives, at which point it becomes closer to political or anti-religious indoctrination. And consider the modern education system, which leaves new graduates in debt by tens of thousands of dollars.

Even within the Hebrew Roots movement, there is such a view on Christian holidays. Christmas celebrates the birth of the Messiah, but is tainted by pagan myths and traditions adopted or co-opted by the early Church. (Or, celebrating Messiah's birth is great, but what does boughs of holly, trees, reindeer and elves have to do with that?) Ditto for Easter, whose date was chosen for antisemitic reasons, with the Nicene Council ruling to "separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jew."


II.

Some groups, for example, secluded religious groups like the Amish Christian community or the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community might view many of these in the negative, resulting in shunning or restricting technology, trading capitalism for study, opting out of vaccines and modern medicine, opting out of public education.

But are those religious groups really better off?

I'm not at all convinced they are. Those groups are certainly not being a light to the world; they are literally closing off the world.

The other end of the spectrum would be the modern liberal streams of Judaism and Christianity, primarily Reform Judaism and Mainstream Protestant Christianity. These groups don't view these in the negative, but in fact embrace modernism in nearly all its forms.

Are these groups better off?

I don't think so! Liberal Christianity is in steep decline, and there are signs of the same for liberal Judaism; Reform Judaism is almost non-existent in Israel. The reason for the decline may be best summed up by the satirical Babylon Bee:

It seems to me that focusing entirely on the negative or entirely on the positive doesn't work out well. It produces either cult-like communities that are shut-off to the world, or alternately an anything-goes permissive kind of religion indistinguishable from the world itself.

III.

How should disciples of Yeshua view complex subjects like these, where there's a clear benefit but a problematic background?

Paul's encouragement to the Philippian believers comes to mind:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
I think that's a good default: focus on the positive. Otherwise we become heresy hunters of religious or secular variety, Negative Nannies always pointing out the dark side, the ultimate Debbie Downer. Nobody wants to be around such people!

I can think of abuses of Paul's words, though. Focusing on the strengthening of Germany's desperate economy during the 1930s would certainly be the wrong application.

As it stands today, I think most folks don't have a rule set, a consistent guideline, for where the focus should be. (Or, the rule set is, "If it's something I already don't like, then I'll focus on the negative and find reasons for my dislike.") Most folks don't have a consistent guideline for this.

I'm not much better here. I can take Paul's words and default to the positive. Good start. But when and where do we say, "The negatives here outweigh the positives?"

Going back to 1930s Germany, surely the line would be, "Human lives are being taken unjustly, outweighing all else." Easy enough. But most cases aren't so clear cut.

Thinking about this a little deeper, maybe the answer is not a simple yes/no, right/wrong. Maybe we should, for example, embrace the positives of vaccines while speaking out against abortion and pressuring manufacturers to avoid using cell lines from aborted children. Maybe Hebrew Roots folks can appreciate the good in Christian holidays while speaking out against adoption of things not from the Lord?

A question remains, however: can something with negative origins still be a net good? My answer is that yes, absolutely, because nearly everything is tainted in some way. Including, you and I, friends. If things are irredeemable because of tainted origins, then humans themselves are irredeemable. And that statement runs counter to the work of God in human history.