May 11th, 2011
05:00 AM ET
By Jim Spellman, CNN
Boulder, Colorado (CNN) - Jamie Korngold calls herself “The Adventure Rabbi.” Based in Boulder Colorado, she can often be found leading her popular “Shabbat on Skis” program or observing Passover while camping in the expansive rock formations of Moab, Utah. She says she hopes to build a “cutting edge model of synagogue life appropriate for 21st century Judaism.”
In her new book, “The God Upgrade,” she argues that our understanding of the world has advanced but our concept of God has not - and it is time for that to change. She sat down for a conversation with CNN to explain why.
CNN: In your book you write about “Reclaiming the word God and redefining it.” Many people will say there is nothing wrong with their God.
Korngold: If you have a clear faith and belief in what God is and that works for you, this book is not for you. I don’t want to mess with those people's faith. I envy their faith. I used to have that faith.
But now I look at CNN and I see good people suffering, I see terrible people being rewarded, and it doesn’t match with the concept of God that I had and the idea that God is looking over us and taking care of us.
If people have that belief, God bless them, don’t read my book. My book is a plea for a conversation with the rest of the people who don’t believe in a God that can come down here and intercede in lives and therefore feel religion doesn’t have a place for them.
What I don’t hear in the religious conversation are those people. All I hear are the people that are completely confident in their faith.
If we don’t take on this God issue, if we don’t make religion something where you don’t have to check your rational mind at the door, then all those people I am talking about, they are just going to leave religion because there is no place for them.
CNN: You also write about what keeps people from religion, and you conclude the biggest problem is God.
Korngold: I think religion has gotten more and more and more conservative. The voice that is heard in America has gotten more extreme.
We have upgraded our understanding of how the world works. We no longer think that drought is caused by God punishing us, we now know it is due to climactic fluctuations.
We no longer think that strokes are caused by demons. We know there is a medical reason for it. We’ve upgraded our understanding of the universe.
Divorced people are now allowed in church. Women are allowed to be rabbis. But we still haven’t upgraded our idea of God.
Religion has very relevant things to teach us that can make our lives more meaningful. We have upgraded our understanding of everything else in religion, why not upgrade the God thing?
CNN: You write, “We need not be tethered to the God concept that does not jive with the world as we know it.” Some believers might say just the opposite, that they need not be tethered to a world that doesn’t jive with the God they know in their hearts.
Korngold: Part of the difficulty of this conversation is that nobody knows what God is. None of us do. We just don’t know.
There are people who are sure they know. I think they are wrong. Not necessarily that their God concept is wrong, but their surety is wrong because you just can’t know.
God is unknown, therefore it makes sense that as we have come to understand things differently, we come to understand God differently.
CNN: You write, "We don’t like to talk about God.” Do you believe in God?
Korngold: I believe in God in the way in which I believe in God. (Laughs) Yes. I believe in God, and God is a powerful part of how I live my life and why I live my life the way I do.
CNN: What is your concept of God?
Korngold: In simple terms, my concept of God is the connectivity between everything. It’s not a force you can pray to, it's not a force that will look over you, it’s a connection that lets me live my life the way I do.
CNN: This seems like a book written by an atheist, not a rabbi.
Korngold: I’m not an atheist. I have a belief in God that differs from what is being taught by mainstream religion. I know there are a lot of people who share my concept of God, so why are we still teaching this stuff that we read and we listen to and we think is bunk.
I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “This is exactly how I feel, but to hear a rabbi say it makes it OK.”
CNN: Given your take on religion and God, why bother being Jewish, or for that matter Christian, Muslim or a member of any other religion?
Korngold: The tools that I use are Jewish. When we are talking about the divine, the language that we use is different than the language Christians use. It doesn’t mean that my religion is better. It’s not. Half of my hate mail comes from Orthodox rabbis.
I hope that someday there is a time when we don’t need religion, but right now Judaism has some really important things to teach us that our culture doesn’t teach us, that Islam and Christianity doesn’t teach us.
I’m not ready to give up my Judaism until the world is in such a place that we all live as one big community.
We should all be one big happy family, but it’s not in our genes.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.