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'The God Upgrade:' Q&A with Colorado's 'Adventure Rabbi'
"Adventure Rabbi" Jamie Korngold's latest expedition is a quest to find a new concept of God.
May 11th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

'The God Upgrade:' Q&A with Colorado's 'Adventure Rabbi'

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Books • Environment • Judaism • Leaders

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Deborah Boynton

    I recently saw the adventure rabbi at a book signing in Denver and bought and read The God Upgrade. I don't think this interview is giving a full picture of what her book is saying. Many people believe in God, but they believe in a distant God, one who created the earth then left it alone and gives humans free will. It is an excellent book and I recommend to anyone to read The God Upgrade.

    May 12, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  2. Adelina

    No religion of orthodoxy will take her, except the ones with feminism-tainted loser men, unless she gives up claiming to be a rabbi. Another typical power-hungry woman.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  3. comfortinprayer

    It's the end of days & the beginning of a new world

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    May 11, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  4. (required)

    She's taking money from rich secular jews. Yeah, let's go camping! Whee! And nature is god! Whee!

    May 11, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  5. Sister

    This is not a very good interview. Having read it carefully, I don't know anything more about Rabbi Korngold's theology, or her thought about religion in general. The interviewer put Rabbi Korngold on the defensive before even allowing her to clarify her thought for the readers; as a result, nothing was learned. This is a shame, since it seems that Rabbi Korngold might have something valuable to contribute to the religious debate today.

    May 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  6. sadiesadie

    Everything that has changed about religion has been human, for her to come to the conclusion that God can therefore be changed to fit this society is false. God is God no matter where we are or what century we live in. What she has successfully done is take God out of the equation and inserted her ego in His place.
    A pp commented that this society is complex and I had to laugh. It may seem complex on the surface but go an inch down and you will see this world is run on the same things it has always been run on and what it always will be run on: money, se.x, greed and power. Not so complex after all.
    The writer says that religion has become more conservative lately and I have to disagree. As america has become more and more about self pleasure the Christians, Jews and Muslims have ceased caving into the movements of free love, everyone out for what they can get etc etc and so it looks like they are getting more conservative when in actuality America has just gotten more liberal and the polarization is more pronounced.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      sadiesadie, it seems to me that since man created God, as man's society changes, the idea of God must also change.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Artist

      JohnQuest

      sadiesadie, it seems to me that since man created God, as man's society changes, the idea of God must also change.
      ...........
      Or gods change as we have seen over the history of mankind.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Artist, Good Point. I don't think the Christians realize that if Christ (giving the benefit of doubt there was such a person) was born sooner he would have been polytheistic as all Jews were until about the 9th century BCE.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  7. Alan Abrahamson

    For an outdoor celebration of a Jewish holiday, I think it would be hard to top my Passover seder while I was a student at Hebrew University in Jersalem. Several friends and I went down to the Sinai and stayed in the palm leaf huts at Dahab, (about half way between Eilat and Sharm el Shek). As a full moon rose over Saudi Arabia, we had Seder...Might be cost prohibitive if you are not already in Israel, (or Egypt now...this was pre-Camp David...I'm old...), and I do not even know if the huts are still there...but there has to be a place to camp on the beach somewhere...

    May 11, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  8. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    This sounds like Spinoza redone in the 21th century. This doesn't sound all that original.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  9. JohnQuest

    My read is that she is a non believer in a Deity, which makes her an Atheist. Or did I read this wrong?

    May 11, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • JohnR

      As a couple of other posters noted, her viewpoint is most akin to pantheism. Of course, the difference between pantheism and atheism can be pretty thin. As someone with neo-animist leanings, I too reject "standard western theism", but am fairly baffled about what pantheists mean when they claim that the universe IS god, or something ...

      May 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  10. Doc Vestibule

    It seems that she's culturally Jewish, but theologically a pantheist.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • JohnR

      Exactly.

      May 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  11. Nonimus

    She seems to be on the right track and almost there... keep going.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  12. Sam T. Princeton

    Our understanding of God HAS changed. More and more of us finally realized that it was all bullsh!t, that the human race has been duped by deluded knuckleheads and con-men using God for their own personal gain.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  13. Observer

    Spirituality, I think it's called spirituality. It recognizes the larger forces of life, nature, the universe, it accepts science as a tool to explain the natural and the rational world, yet it leaves open a window to believe in things we can't fully explain, including god, if you like. In contrast to the old bible thumpers, it rejects outdated ideas of law, society and questionable moral standpoints. (like, pro-life and pro-death penalty, go figure). Another example: to photoshop away our (female) secretary of state from the situation room. We don't need that kind of dusty fundamentalism in today's complex society. Amen.

    May 11, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  14. Reality

    Korngold: "I think religion has gotten more and more and more conservative. The voice that is heard in America has gotten more extreme."

    Obviously, Rabbi Korngold has not read the New Torah for Modern Minds.

    To wit:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument. "

    May 11, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Realty

      I can't help but notice, you're getting worst everytime you make a post.

      Your posts, whether short or long, copy pasted or not, your mouth foams rather than dribbles.

      May 12, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  15. Reality

    A lady rabbi in Mormon Utah? How did the Mormon Quorum of Twelve allow this to happen? Maybe the current Prophet fell asleep during his last communication with Moroni?

    May 11, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • myklds

      @Reality...Update yourself with the Mormon belief, otherwise, you can advertise your ignorance somewhere else.

      May 12, 2011 at 5:15 am |
  16. Rev. Rick

    Good for her! I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian and I believe that Rabbi Korngold is on exactly the right path. I gave up fundamentalism years ago and I am now an ordained minister in New Thought theology. I believe that most fundamentalist religions, especially the Abrahamic religions, are stuck with a "donkey and cart" theology, and over the next 50 years or so will be irrelevant. I praise and support her for her brave position. Let me add to that, if you are atheist, that's fine too. I don't believe in a God that demands worship and devotion, nor punishes us if we don't. That God never existed in the first place. That God was all too human.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  17. CW

    This lady has fell off the rocker......instead of going "camping" she needs to crack open the Bible....not just stand on her "own" belief. Let God continue to shape her belief's...I know that she didn't believe this way when she first got into the faith.

    May 11, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  18. AtheistSteve

    "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."

    Hmmm..sounds a lot like the Force in Star Wars.

    What it should say is "my concept of God is the connection with the creative imaginary part of my brain. it's not a force at all except in how it warps my perception of the true aspects of reality.

    May 11, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • ReligouStephen

      @steve..If the challenge there is how to change the main idea of a without distorting the entire statement.

      While myklds has handily made it and jimtanker hardly hit the passing mark with his version, yours was an epic failure.

      May 11, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • JohnR

      @ReligouSteve What's 'religou'??? Anyway, Atheist Steve got it almost right. This person has almost found rationality, but is holding onto a notion of god that is a figment of her imagination. The part of the brain that is responsible for it is real enough, but what it produces is purely imaginary.

      May 11, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • ReligiouStephen

      @John...What I meant to say about the challenge, was to change the idea of a statement without distorting it.

      In other words, You may add or remove word(s) or group of words to and from the statement that could change the idea of the statement but won't significantly change its construction or the statement itself. Just like what myklds did, he only added the (negative) word NO and it had dramatically changed the idea but not the statement.

      And to elaborate further, Steve's version may have been "almost rational" per se but he significally changed and even ditort the original (quoted)version.

      That's why for me he epically fails to the (IF) challenge.

      Lastly, to your Religiou???, I don't see the need to expound it further coz a 5th grader could handily deciphers it but I must not assume that everybody have passed 5th grade. So for your convenience I must say that it's a sort of informally combining words, that's why it was not separated by a space.

      I hope you would be able to finish 5th grade this summer. Good Luck!

      May 12, 2011 at 5:11 am |
  19. myklds

    "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."

    I think there's a missing word there, it's "only"

    It should be read like this:

    "my concept of God is the connectivity between everything. It’s not only a force you can pray to, it's not only a force that will look over you, it’s a connection that lets me live my life the way I do."

    In that manner, we can truly see the real connection of God into our lives.

    God is Great!

    May 11, 2011 at 7:01 am |
    • jimtanker

      "In that manner, we can truly see the real connection of God into our lives."

      I think that there are a few words missing here. It should read:

      "In that manner, we can truly see there is no real evidence that thre is a any god anywhere that insers itself into our lives."

      May 11, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  20. jimtanker

    "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."

    Then what do you need a god for? You're one step away from being completely rational in your whole like, not just part of it.

    May 11, 2011 at 6:39 am |
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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.