Interviewer: Good afternoon we are here in the Fairfield, Connecticut home of Dr. Richard R. Rubenstein, President Emeritus of Bridgeport University and it’s January 27, 2013, it happens to be the birthday of my oldest child, Rafaela, so I’m in a good mood. Dr. Rubenstein is known for excellence in many fields, but this particular one-on-one will concerns his works of the general field of theodicy and related metaphysics. Dr. Rubenstein is known in many circles for his book, After Auschwitz, which came out in the sixties and there is a follow-up, second edition which came out roughly
Dr. Rubenstein: I believe it was 1993.
Interviewer: Roughly 1993 and as many of you know rightfully or wrongfully, Dr. Rubenstein is connected with the question, Is God Dead. I say rightfully or wrongfully because Dr. Rubenstein is a very sophisticated individual, highly nuanced and his fitting of the subject is probably quite complex. So, this is an updated one-on-one with the Dr. Richard R. Rubenstein and I am going to start off with a question. At this point in time Dr. Rubenstein what is your thinking, Is God Dead?
Dr. Rubenstein: Well Mr. Birnbaum it’s not only at this point of time, it was right from the very start, I came to national attention at a conference on America and the future of Theology which was held at Emory University I believe it was in 1965 and I was asked to respond to Thomas Altizer [PHONIC] who was a leading protestant, Death of God Theologian, and there are several things I said at the time, but one of the things that I said was that there was no way that one can say that God is dead, one can speak of the death of God as cultural event and by that I meant as far as millions of people are concerned, God had died, but that we were living in a society which was largely Godless and of course I took the show on the Holocaust as an example of people for whom God was dead. But I also said a couple of other things which resonated with the group, there were about 1200 people at that conference. I’d say the most of them were Southern protestant pastors and professors of religion and I said if God is dead I will not dance at the funeral. The reason I said that is because Tom Altizer [PHONIC] had written a book, the title of which was, The Gospel of Christian Atheism. Well the Gospel is the good news, what he was saying is the death of God is good news and I was saying that it was not good news and it can only, to the extent that it is true, it can only make things bad and get worse and that resonated with the group, they understood what I was talking about. But very clearly I was not an Atheist and I am not an Atheist since. As I mentioned to you in our conversation, in the second edition of After Auschwitz, which I’m proud to say, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press, so that there was kind of a vindication that a University Press felt that what I was saying was a sufficient seriousness that they could publish it. My final chapter is called, God After the Death of God, and having read some of your material, I would say that’s where you and I seem to be somewhat in harmony.
Interviewer: Where would you see the harmony?
Dr. Rubenstein: Well in my chapter, God After the Death of God, that I speak of different kinds of approaches to the relationship of God and the world. One I call, a system of gaps and the other I call, a system of continuities. In the system of gaps, God is radically transcended so to speak He creates the world outside of himself and the best example of this is Calvinism where God creates the world outside of himself that there is no connection between His decision to either save or to dam people and therefore there is no way that people can find a connection to God and I call that the system of gaps. There is a gap between God and man and it’s a radical gap. You get some of that in the Bible, but I don’t think it meant that. I’m thinking of [inaudible 0:6:50.6] for thy ways are not, thy thoughts are not my thoughts, neither are my ways your thoughts, was Isaiah. But the other is a system of continuities where, in a sense, God is the primordial source out of which the world comes. So that in some sense after everything in the world is, perhaps an epiphenomenal manifestation of the Divine, but it’s as if God creates the world, I have to say out of Herself, right. The reason I have to say out of Herself you have the same feeling is because these are metaphors of maternity, not paternity.
Interviewer: Right, I use the term, cause of womb of potential.
Dr. Rubenstein: Well I’ve also used womb and the reason use and I use these terms is that it’s an old tradition if you go down that path, the path’s been trodden before us and what we’ve done is we’ve seen that there, in this field, it’s not so easy to invent new things, if you have any respect for great thinkers who’ve come before us.
Interviewer: Right, as we both know, on some level, everything has on some level, somewhere, somehow been said before. On another level there is plenty of room to, absolute room for new paradigm, tapping into an old theme, you know, which you do in your work and I do in my work. I must say it’s, this is so fascinating to me because, as a youngster, you know rightfully or wrongfully, you’re associated with the Atheist encamp, probably wrongfully, wrongfully.
Dr. Rubenstein: Well there was a great deal of hostility to me. Let me put it to you this way, I’ve made this statement a number of times. I’ve always been struck by the fact that a number of people will always tell me and never ask me. I was seen as the benjua.
Interviewer: But on some level one could say that you’re saying, and frankly, I’m also saying that the old paradigm is dead and you need a new paradigm. A new paradigm may dovetail with the ancient paradigm.
Dr. Rubenstein: I think it does.
Interviewer: Right, but it probably diverts us from the, sort of, classic mainstream paradigm.
Dr. Rubenstein: I would say that, what it diverges from is the kind of insistence on a transcended creator of God who creates outside of Himself and who creates individuals and then you’ve got the question, well what’s the relationship between the individuals and the God. The answer has to come down to it’s a commanding relationship. In reality, you express it in what I’ve read of your work, that we all go through a process of creation which is an extension of the way in which Divinity has gone through a process of creation. But I have to tell you one thing, my wife used to tell me, Richard, you owe a great deal to your enemies. I said how do you say that? I’m talking about intellectual enemies, she says well they taught you how to behave calmly and you notice you don’t find in me attacking the people who said these things. I challenge you to find it. I just went ahead and did my work.
Interviewer: Either you have to be at a certain level to be worthy of being attacked, you know what I’m saying. I think you have to view it that way.
Dr. Rubenstein: Yeah, I also understood where people were coming from. They thought I was dislodging something which was very precious to them. I’m not unfamiliar with the field of the sociology of religion and so I read, for example, Peter Burger’s work, The Sacred Canopy, in which he talks about how the loss of faith can lead to anomy and anomy, is one of the most threatening experiences, the experience of meaningless and hopelessness. So I can understand why people thinking I was saying one thing, or they could have asked. That they would see me as just confirming their sense of hopelessness, an anomy.
Interviewer: Right, that’s very, of course that’s a very, could be very disturbing to people, but you didn’t say that, you know.
Dr. Rubenstein: Yeah I did not say that.
Interviewer: I might say that the classics of the paradigm, I would’ve resaid it in my terms, is that God is there, we are here.
Dr. Rubenstein: Yeah, I buy that.
Interviewer: Whereas my paradigm and it seems like your paradigm, it’s one continuum, there’s one continuum.
Dr. Rubenstein: That’s exactly right. That’s why I call it a system of continuity.
Interviewer: Right and my proposition in my books on Evil and God is Good, is that if you propose God is there and we are here, it all breaks down. The logic eventually breaks down, because something is not working. Whereas if you propose a continuum, then you have a fighting chance to construct a viable holistic metaphysics.
Dr. Rubenstein: I think that’s true.
Interviewer: Right. If someone says, say you had a twenty year old college sophomore came up to you tomorrow midday and said, Dr. Rubenstein take a minute or take ten minutes, tell me your conception of God. You might say I don’t want to address your question, but lets say you did want to address the question, what would you say.
Dr. Rubenstein: Well I will also say in the God After the Death of God, I like a German term, [inaudible 0:14:37.9] God is the Holy Nothingness, but I go on to say that, that nothingness is not a void, but a plane that is full of all of the potentiality. Now why do I call it a nothingness, because if all there is, is one reality, then this one reality cannot possibly be self-aware. In order that there be any kind of self-awareness, there has to be duality. One must, for example, I know myself partly because I am sitting here and talking to you. It’s the duality, it is the going from a condition of being self-enclosed and hence without any reference to anything to breaking out of the self-enclosure. We both, in one way or another, have spoken of our admiration of Rabbi Sigloria [PHONIC] and his capitalism and he speaks of the moment of creation [inaudible 0:16:10.8] the breaking of the vessels. In a sense God becomes God when there is otherness confronting God, before that, God [inaudible 0:16:23.9] God as He isn’t Himself, to use the Latin, is a reality that is so self-enclosed that there, it’s almost as if there’s nothing there, of course there is everything there in potentia and you use the word potential a lot.
Interviewer: It’s the core of my metaphysics class.
Dr. Rubenstein: Everything is there in potentia, but unless there is duality, unless something comes forth from God, you don’t have it. To me calling God the Holy Nothingness or the [inaudible 0:17:11.6], which is another German phrase, are simply ways of
saying that God requires otherness in order that He can be.