While bobbing about the children's section of the library the other day, I came across the book In God's Hands. Always curious about what sort of religious works are being offered through our public library, I leafed through it and was pleasantly surprised.
In short, there is a rich man and a poor man who attend the same synagogue. The rich man sleeps during the service, and the poor man is the caretaker. One day, the rich man wakes long enough to hear a bit of Leviticus in which God instructs that 12 loaves of bread should be baked for Him. Thinking that this is sign, the rich man bakes the loaves, and places them in the ark at the synagogue. Later, the poor man prays that he may have food for his family; upon finding the bread in the ark, he believes his prayers have been answered and takes them. When the rich man finds that the loaves are gone, he bakes more the next week. And so the cycle continues, until the rabbi figures out what has happened. He then tells both the men that God's hands neither make nor receive bread, but that God uses our hands as an extension of His. Now that both men know the truth they continue to offer and accept aid knowing that there is no divine intervention.
I like this book and here is why: God does not make a cameo. There are no miracles, there is nothing unexplained, and all the actions are attributable to the characters in the story. Ultimately, the responsibility and duty to help our fellow man rest on our shoulders. If we want to help, we need to roll up our sleeves, not get down on our knees. This book rejects a key tenet of modern fundamentalism that I find disturbing, the idea of a personal god.
I've always believed religious faith can be a force for good, if only its efforts are properly focused. When theists roll up their sleeves, you get organizations like Habitat for Humanity. When they try to wish things away, you get the National Day of Prayer. If they try to write a novel of conversion, they can either write a masterpiece of fiction, or a work of farce. And when they try to inspire through song, they can write a key peice to the Western choral canon, or dreck like this: