I am thinking about writing a book on the clash between ancient religion and modern science, tentatively entitled Wrestling with an Angel. The general idea is that one can’t both take science seriously and believe in the traditional religious doctrines of creation, an immortal soul, and divine providence. One can follow Nietzsche, and reject religion altogether, or one can follow Spinoza, and try to establish something divine in the world — perhaps in a Bultmannian way, understanding religion as a powerful myth which enlightens and informs a well-led life. (Maybe some additional metaphysics can be larded into this, making it more than a pleasant illusion.)
More about this project in weeks to come, I expect. Meanwhile, I’d welcome further thoughts about Jacob’s wrestling with an angel. The story is given in Genesis 32, where Jacob is on his way back home (after working for 14 years to pay for his two wives). He ends up on a river bank alone and wrestles all night with a stranger. In the morning, the stranger admits defeat, injures Jacob’s hip or thigh, and bestows upon him the name “Israel,” or “he who has wrestled with God.” Jacob names the place something like “where I saw the face of God,” and his story goes on. Later, in Hosea 12, the story is alluded to, and it says Jacob wrestled with an angel. But what might be going on in this story? A few references I’ve seen suggest it is metaphorical for the struggle of the Jews, who have been forced to struggle with the painful consequences of being God’s chosen people. (Tevye: “Lord, why can’t you choose someone else once in a while?”) Some see it as Jacob’s own internal struggle against doubt. I see it as a powerful emblem of struggling to believe, wrestling both with what one knows and what one fears, and emerging not completely unscathed. That’s how I link it to my project: it seems to me that our knowledge forces us to confront our faith, and we will not emerge from that struggle without something being lost or changed.