The Genealogy of “More”

Genealogy is not just family history. It can also be as “a fictional narrative, an imagined developmental story, which helps to explain a concept or value or institution, by showing ways in which it could [have] come about” (Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness, 2002, p. 31).

So here is a genealogy of “More.” It starts, of course, with “Once upon a time….”

Once upon a time, with the human race just dawning, we discovered there was “more,” in ways that other animals did not. Our contemplative consciousness of time and space revealed the universe as more than just a place to satisfy our needs. Ruminating on relationships with other tribal members, we said, “There is more than just myself.” When exploring the terrain and never running out of space, we thought, “There is more out there than we will ever get to.” One simple glance at the heavens told us that however much we imagined more, there would always be more than even that. When people died, we wondered if there was a kind of “more” beyond our earthly lives as well.   

So important was the “more,” that we appointed priests to be in charge of it. They explained the heavens, pronounced moral rules for tribal relationships, told us there was more to us than meets the eye, assured us that we matter even after we are dead, and used music and ritual to elevate our imagination. These kinds of “more,” they explained, exemplify the “More of Being”: the marvel of life itself, the miracle of loving and being loved, the spaciousness of the human mind, the depth of the human soul, and the wonderment of being part of eternity. They described it, sometimes, as “sacred,” our intimations of the Divine.

We were hunter-gatherers then, in small bands that hardly ever encountered other tribes like ourselves. Our needs were few: we lived in caves or moved around wherever water was handy and food plentiful. We had no need of possessions. 

With the dawn of agriculture, however, we settled down to farm and became aware of property. As our numbers grew, we needed more land, and when our expansion ran into similar expansion by other tribes, we decided to appoint kings to protect “our” more from “theirs.” With royal power came the right to palaces and riches. But the kings also organized a government, won wars, and minted coinage, thereby creating something called the “economy,” and bringing us wealth beyond our basic needs. When we saw what the coins could buy, we wanted more of them. 

Thus was born a second kind of more: not the “More of Being,” but the “More of Having.” 

Over the centuries, this More of Having accelerated exponentially, especially with the marriage of science to technology, and the invention of more things to own than we had ever imagined. To facilitate buying, trading, selling, and saving those things, we created advanced economies with a financial sector in which even money could make money. The range of goods and services, treats and toys, that money could buy seemed as infinite as the heavens that once had captured our imagination; and, ironically, the air pollution that came with the production and use of our things prevented our seeing the heavens anymore anyway. 

At first, the priests had done pretty much everything: they were also our doctors, lawyers, scientists, and teachers. Because evolution proceeds with ever-great complexity, however, the non-priestly roles were absorbed by other specialists. Priestly healers bourgeoned into corporate medical, pharmaceutical, and insurance mazes so convoluted that no one completely understood them. Priestly judges gave way to an equally tortuous judicial system, and priestly educators morphed into a labyrinth of institutions that mostly served the vast infrastructure of “having,” and the lucky few who were the biggest “havers.” 

The final blow to the old-time priesthood had been the demise of bloody sacrifice. The ancient Jewish Temple mutated into synagogues, where expert “religionists” (rabbis, cantors, educators, executive directors, and so on) sought valiantly to fight our intoxication with the More of Having by remembering the More of Being. 

Help came from (of all places) philosopher Emanuel Kant, who famously declared, “Two things filled the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” But religionists were not alone in claiming expertise in these two fields. Astronomers mapped the heavens with planets and stars that physicists explained with mathematical equations; psychologists reduced Kant’s moral law to an unconscious that psychotherapy sought to uncover.

As scientists successfully claimed ownership of both “the starry skies above” and “the moral law within,” the liberal religionists, at least (those who most appreciated science), began wondering what was left for them to do. By the late 20thcentury, lots of them kept busy as ritual functionaries, running through worship books on calendrical occasions and maintaining a monopoly on life-cycle ceremonies. Others specialized in the somewhat inchoate art of healing, relationship-building, small-group formation, and meaning-making. Still others threw themselves into social-justice causes. All three solutions were meritorious.

But the More of Having proved addictive. The computer era promised not just things but ever-updated versions of them. Even bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings became experiences we might “have.” Soon synagogue membership declined, because religionists who promised the More of Having could always be outclassed by others who offered the same sort of things and experiences for less. The market for self-help books, meditation classes, and destination weddings boomed. 

Then came the game-changer: a thing called covid. With so many dying daily, we remembered that life is tenuous. Why had we been running so hard to get more and more of the More of Having? It had all worked well when we could keep on running, because the More of Having depended on constantly having more of it. But when we found ourselves locked away in our homes, with the fun places boarded up and the economy shut down, the More of Having failed us. Life, we saw, is a state of being not of having. 

With all that carbon-spewing production and transportation shut down by Covid, we could actually see the stars again. The zoomed faces from around the globe brought recognition of human continuity beyond our own tribe. Once again, we took seriously the More of Being: the miracle of being alive; the challenge in raising our children — differently, perhaps, than we were raised — with more appreciation for God’s universe, more time for family and friends, and the desire to perfect the soul through thinking and conversing, artistry and imagination. Instead of counting our possessions, we would count our days — and make our days count. We would affirm human dignity, save the planet, and grow the world’s kindness and comfort.

As these thoughts dawned on us during Covid, we began attending synagogues again (albeit virtually), and by late 2021, we were told we could return in person. More and more people did: not just the regulars, that is, the people who had always attended whatever the synagogue offered, but new faces, people who had never given synagogues a thought, some of them not even Jewish. They wanted to find out if synagogues had something to say about the More of Being. 

Here ends the Genealogy of More, up to Sunday April 25, 2021, the 13th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, 5781. There is more to the story of More, but alas, genealogies are retrospective, not predictive. 

As of this writing, most synagogues are focused on the technical business of opening up safely, and of producing High Holy Day worship both in person and on zoom screens. But everyone knows the real questions lie beyond all that. Once we know how to open, we will have to demonstrate why it is worth our opening. And that raises the question of whether we are wise, willing, and bold enough to restructure our synagogues as tomorrow’s Jewish wellsprings for the More of Being. 

3 responses to “The Genealogy of “More”

  1. Larry

    You hit this one far out of the park! Thank you. Also Lewis

    On Sun, Apr 25, 2021 at 3:10 PM Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D. wrote:

    > lawrenceahoffman posted: ” Genealogy is not just family history. It can > also be as “a fictional narrative, an imagined developmental story, which > helps to explain a concept or value or institution, by showing ways in > which it could [have] come about” (Bernard Williams, Truth ” >

  2. Gary Bretton-Granatoor

    Brilliant. I shared it with some of my board members. I hope you are well and vaccinated. I am about to become a grandfather in 9 weeks. I can’t believe it. Hope to catch up soon. B”yedidut G

    Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor (he, him, his) garymbg@gmail.com 917-941-3256 Skype: gary.bretton-granatoor Check out my website: garybrettongranatoor.com

    >

  3. Gerald I Weider

    Very insightful and thought provoking.
    Thank You Larry

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