Why wasn’t I born elsewhere?
Question of the week:
Have I been punished in any way by God by not having been born in the US?
I live in London in the United Kingdom and apart from being British am also a dual Swedish – Finnish citizen. There are 196 countries in the world and out of 7 billion people worldwide only 330 million of them live in the US. Did God in anyway punish me by making me a member of smaller nations and peoples instead?
I raise this question as a Jew because although it is a completely global faith, like this website and apart from Israel, it very much appears to be ‘US specific and US orientated’ in terms of leading Rabbis, resources and synagogues.
In other words, why did God specifically make some people US citizens and US passport holders yet me a UK, Swedish and Finnish citizen instead?
With kindest regards
We find it a bit odd to be answering your question when so many Americans today are wondering if the United States is in a state of unstoppable decline or whether there is still hope for this country. Fifty years ago, many more people would have shared your sentiments about America; today, fewer do.
We wouldn’t be a bit surprised if another reader soon writes to us asking whether God was punishing him by having him live in the USA at this time. And we would tell that reader that like every country, the US has both blessings and problems. Countless people have built incredible lives in America and many have failed. The citizens of this country can direct the country on a virtuous and victorious path or on one of destruction. Just like in every other country.
We also note that we are answering your question during the period of the Ten Days of Repentance in the Jewish calendar. So many of the prayers emphasize that during this period God decrees the fate of both nations and individuals for the coming year. In other words, we believe in a God who is active in our lives and who chooses exactly into what family and nation each of us would be born.
Yet, rather than pursue a theological track, we would like to discuss your question from a practical side. What do we mean? In our best-selling book, America’s Real War, we looked at the question of life arriving by means of unaided materialistic evolution. We explored this purely from a pragmatic view. (We obviously have religious beliefs about this topic, but we were providing thought experiments for those who may not share our views.) Does believing that we are special beings touched by the finger of God produce a different type of child and adult than believing that we evolved from apes? In other words, given that there are two possible beliefs, we ask which one produces healthier human beings?
Back to your question. Even if one doesn’t believe in God, what is healthier for a human being: to believe that his life circumstances are random or to believe that his life circumstances were chosen to give him the greatest opportunity to fulfill a mission? As we see it, the first option leads to resentment, jealousy and paralysis in terms of improving one’s situation. If only…I had different parents; if only I was born in a different time or place; if only I was taller, prettier…The second option doesn’t eliminate acknowledging that our path may be more difficult than others in specific ways, but it suggests that God has faith that we can do amazing things with the tools He gave us.
Your question Andre is exactly as meaningful as asking whether God punished you by not making you tall, or by not having you born into a wealthy family, or by not having you born with superpowers. God provides each person with exactly the right environment for maximum personal growth.
Some years back, I (Susan) wrote a Musing regarding the autobiography of a brilliant historian (Will Durant, 1885-1981) who was a noted atheist before it was chic to be one. I quoted his wife saying, “…[If] religion continued to fade, would Western civilization lapse into a chaos of sexual laxity, political corruption, mutual violence, and a common, consuming despair? Could it be that all that enthusiastic slaughter of irrational creeds had undermined the secret foundations of civilization itself? Will repeatedly broached these problems to me…”
While Mr. Durant, at one time a seminary student, didn’t change his convictions as to whether there was a God, he questioned whether a world where people believe in the God of Judaism and Christianity was a better place to live. We recently heard a podcast with two courageous modern atheists making a very similar—and to them troubling—point. (Ayaan Hirsi Ali podcast with Dave Rubin, April 14, 2021)
Andre, we think your life will be happier and more productive if you look at the toolbox God lovingly provided for you and ask yourself what you can do with those tools, rather than wondering why you weren’t as “lucky” as some others. By the way, one of the most articulate rabbis and teachers of the Jewish world in the past few decades was a British rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.
You live in the beautiful Thames River valley only a short drive from one of the great cities of the world. You enjoy citizenship in not one but two other desirable countries. You haven’t told us much else about your life circumstances but we can tell you that hundreds reading your letter would gladly switch places with you without hesitation.
Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his portion.(ancient Jewish wisdom)
Make it a blessed New Year 5782,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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