Friday, December 04, 2009



This may be the start of another run of posts where I wind up criticizing / making fun of David Klinghoffer. For some reason, probably having to do with his getting on a train of thought that causes him to address matters that interest me, my noticing him seems to run in spurts ... with several posts about him in the space of a week or two and nothing for a month or more.

This one is a doozy. It seems that God has an upright posture:

... God had in mind a particular creature -- us -- and this is indicated by the enigmatic Scriptural phrase "image of God," a quality that we somehow carry with us. I did not suggest how the human face, or hands and feet, reflect this image, because I'm not sure how exactly that works. It is much easier to say how our posture, unique in the world of creatures, bears witness to our human mission on earth.

Klinghoffer quotes The Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Judah ben Bezalel Lowe) thusly:

Man stands upright, straight, like a pillar that is upright, which is not the case with any other being, as none of them stand up straight but rather all walk hunched over. And this is an indication of the [exalted] level of man, for man is king over the lower plane of existence, and all serve him....This is called the "image of God."

Maybe it's just me but it seems a little hard for an incorporeal being who is everywhere to have posture ... where exactly are his feet and how are they below his head, if he is everywhere? Oh, wait a minute! That "image of God" business is one of those thingies that theists use that sometimes we're supposed to take as metaphors, except when we're supposed to take them literally.

Now the good Rabbi sort of had an excuse ... he had no way to know about dinosaurs with upright stances (though no excuse for ignoring birds and, probably, other examples I'm forgetting).

But Klinghoffer will have to make up some bafflegab about how the T. Rex was always being told by his mother to stand up straight but wouldn't listen.

This is a classic case: one perceives some feature of human beings, one that science shows that we contingently or accidentally happen to have, and apprehends (i.e. understands, perceives) the feature as the bestowment of some transcendent, benevolent, intelligent being. In this way, the contingent is transformed into the necessary or the essential. It has higher value than what is mere animal, mere nature. And of course the corresponding move is, in actual practice, the denigration and destruction of animals, of wilderness, of the places where one can encounter another living, spiritual presence as a thing of this world.
Others have been language, tool-making and, of course, "intelligence" ... until we discovered we weren't exclusive holder of those either.
Particularly among the birds, I'd mention ostriches and penguins.

And then, among mammals, there are kangaroos.

Various animals are upright on occasion. I'm thinking of meerkats, gorillas, and praying mantises.

And how can we forget those living things which are much more prominently upright than humans. I'm thinking of trees.

Given that the most common medical complaint suffered by humans is a "bad back" caused by the fact that we walk upright with a skeleton that was not designed to do so, it seems a strange characteristic to choose as symbolising our godliness.
And how can we forget those living things which are much more prominently upright than humans. I'm thinking of trees.

I suspect neither David nor the good Rebbi count tress as "beings," since they do not have "the blood of life" ... the same loophole that did not necessitate Noah filling up the Ark with two (or 14) of every species of beetle that God is so fond of.

... it seems a strange characteristic to choose as symbolising our godliness.

When you're just making sh*t up, "strangeness' is rarely a criterion.
There isn't much point, I recognize, in debating the fine points of such a grossly silly proposition, but I would point out that he didn't restrict himself to "animal", or even to "living thing", but said "creature". Plants have their own day of creation in Genesis 1. Who is going to deny that trees are creatures? I would say that I was being restrained in not mentioning stalagmites as creatures which were upright.

If God is everywhere, he must be capable of all sorts of different postures, including upright.

If i had to choose, then, I'd say God was like a meerkat.

They're much cuter than we are anyway.
Doubting? TomS,
Your comment takes me back to a Joyce Kilmer parody of my youth:

No wonder virgin woods I see,
For only God can *make* a tree.

Bob Carroll
This reminds me of Ernst Haeckel's quip about the Judeo/Christian god being a like a "gaseous vertebrate".
In the same way that quote-mining of scientists bothers me, so does quote-mining rabbis and Jewish thinkers (which is what Klinghoffer is doing). This approach is less a danger to science than it is to pluralistic approaches to religion (especially liberal and reasoned approaches). It seems Klinghoffer's approach is to reduce complexity and pluralism to two extremes in conflict--Us-Against-Them--and we're all forced to pick one of two sides. How unfortunate that it seems to be working.
Come on John, if Noah didn't include beetles on the Ark, why are there beetles today?

Oh, ok, more seriously, I suspect recent research about people's expectations about 'God's opinions' is at work here. See news item at

In the same way that people believe God's views on homosexuality, divorce or abortion (for instance) are the same as they themselves hold, it is but a short step to believing that God has the same bodily form. And from there a short step to our bodily form (upright mammalian biped) being a reflection of God's image.

Does God have nipples? Enquiring minds wish to know.
Note that Loew never says that human morphology *is* the image of God. As a Kabbalist he was unlikely to believe that God had a form that could be pictured (or resembled), unfortunately for Klinghoffer.
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