What Is God?
Jacob Needleman
(J. P. Tarcher/Penguin)
The author is a philosopher, has been teaching the philosophy of religions for almost fifty years. This is his fifteenth book, and much of it is a ramble, if not a rumble.

The best sections could be labeled "Reports from the Trenches of the Classroom," where professor Needleman acts for and reacts to his students. He tells of learning as he teaches (teachers are always learning from their students, watching themselves teach themselves).

In class, he draws arrows on the blackboard, one coming down from the top. Then, "I mark the end of another arrow, marking a movement from the bottom toward the top."

    "This is Judaism," I say. "God comes halfway down, and Man ascends in response halfway up. God reveals the Law, the Torah; Man lives in obedience. The result is..."

The two triangles meet in the middle of the blackboard. Like magic, "they continue their movement and interpenetrate."

    And the class is now looking at the ancient symbol: the six-pointed star! The star of David.

Christianity? He draws a "solid white line from the top of the blackboard all the way down to the bottom."

    Here is Christianity. Here is the message of Paul. The Law has shown that Man is incapable of obeying the Law. And so God comes all the way down to Man. Jesus Christ is God coming all the way to me. Man is not required to do anything.

Needleman is here at his best, explicating the dialectic, the vital difference between two great religions.

However later we find Needleman turning cryptic. Chapter 18 deals with the mystic G. I. Gurdjieff, who claimed that only for "inwardly developed people can God exist and act in the world of man of earth."

    The proof for the existence of God is the existence of people who are inhabited by and who manifest God.

If this makes no sense to you (and I can assure you, the last fifty pages are knee-deep in this misty language) then you will end What Is God? as I did, suffused in the world according to Doris Day: Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.

I am "a child of our era," writes Needleman. He is thus, he reveals at the end, "free of religion, and free of God." Only in this state can he "work toward something sacred." And what is that "something sacred?"

It goes like this: we must be prepared to see the divine not up above in the heavens, nor out there in the wide world ... but solely in the mirror. It is all within.

Until we get to that point --- the recognition of our own divinity --- we must continue as we were before: sorely beset; troubled; asleep.

--- Lolita Lark
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