April 07, 2000
WE WILL SOON SEE GOD ON OPRAH
GOD is not dead. But He has made a major career change. No longer the supreme deity and omni-present giver of life, God has down-sized.
He has become a celebrity author, a guru of self-help. Expect to see Him on a major satellite TV chat show before Yom Kippur.
He’ll probably do Oprah. God is still a very big name, after all, even if the name is something that is not supposed to be pronounced.
Any trash-TV producer knows God will work miracles on the ratings.
Publishers have woken up to Him too. After the massive self-help hit based on pagan deities — Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus — two titles featuring God have swept the bestseller charts. And neither of them is the Bible.
This has to be a good decision by God. Nobody reads the Bible any more. The proof is in the way we talk. We use every foul, profane and scatological four-letter word, in every situation.
Words I never heard until I joined the Army are now part of basic chatter in the supermarket queues, in the office and the home. Obscenities are among the first words most children learn in America, Britain, Europe and, yes, Israel.
Remember the outrage of the naive salesman in the 1970 Paul Simon song Gotta Keep The Customer Satisfied? ”I get slandered! Libelled! I hear words I never learned in the Bible!”
God has to start inspiring the kind of books that people do read, and self-help is the natural target market.
I’ve read every page of Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments (Doubleday, $21) without finding a swearword spelled out in full, but essentially this book, like Rabbi Boteach’s first bestseller, Kosher Sex, is about love-making.
Shmuley undersells himself hard on Page One. The reader knows it’s a joke because Shmuley would never genuinely undersell himself on anything. He would rather sell his children to slave traders in Oman.
”Why am I writing yet another book on relationships?” he asks. ”Am I a shameless author who seeks to regurgitate the same stuff he’s written before, albeit repackaged like new for unsuspecting readers? You bet!”
He’s writing about relationships, of course, because he does it marvellously. And God is with him in every line.
He picks up the point about swearing, of course, when he deals with Commandment Three (that’s the one about not making wrongful use of His name, if it’s a while since you last thumbed through Exodus).
Swearing, according to God, is not just sinful — it’s boring.
”Profanity is, above all, proof of an unoriginal mind. If you must swear, do it in some exotic language like Swahili or Mandarin.”
Then Shmuley translates the Third Commandment as ”Bull**** is Blasphemy”.
Commandment Seven is the big one here. God is attempting to repackage His whole legal structure as a user-friendly guide to sex, and at a crucial moment he stumbles over: ”Do not commit adultery.”
”The Seventh Commandment,” Shmuley admits, ”is one of the biggies.”
The eroticism implicit in those four words of warning lights a blaze in the heart of his book. The seventh chapter is a firecracker succession of explosive one-liners, a fireworks display of the rabbi’s wit.
As a comedian, Shmuley isn’t just a stand-up — he’s priapic.
”Don’t try to be James Bond. When she asks you your name, say more than just, ‘Cohen, Jack Cohen’.”
”A woman knows all about her own children; a man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house.”
”It goes without saying that jumping into bed with your date before you’ve even exchanged telephone numbers is a big no-no.”
Personally, I try not to break the Commandments unless it’s urgent, but I do enjoy causing mischief.
One mischievous act I committed last year was to introduce Rabbi Boteach to Dr Deepak Chopra. They are about the same height, and they are both dedicated to serving God in their writing. At that point, they run out of similarities.
Deepak speaks slowly, meditatively. He is capable of sitting for six hours, visualising the sun shining into his mind. Shmuley talks like a thesaurus dropped in a shredder. Even when he prays, he’s fidgeting flipping a coin over his knuckles, chewing the end of his beard. They became friends instantly.
Deepak’s latest book, How To Know God: The Soul’s Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries (Harmony, $24), his 25th, presents God as a being which evolves with us. As we become deeper, wiser creatures, God grows better.
It is a remarkable image, rooted as much in Darwinism as in the Bible, wonderfully memorable because it explains so many of the questions we have asked about God since we were children.
We can connect to God at seven levels, argues Dr Chopra, and the first level is the basic one which underlies many Bible stories — the God of fighting.
If we live at the brink of war, we get a hard, punitive God, like Job’s.
If we strive to achieve, we have a powerful God, like Abraham’s. If we are calm, we may worship a balanced God, like Daniel’s. If we are always growing in spirit, our God, like Solomon’s, grows with us.
If we are creators, like David, our God is creative and if we are miracle-makers, we worship a God of dreams, like Joseph’s.
But when we are at one with God, our God becomes sacred.
This condition is more than human it is holy. I confess I find it impossible to imagine how it must be, to live life in such an exalted state.
One thing is certain — I would have to stop swearing.
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