This thought, and its opposite, ran through my head as I sat and listened to a Rosh Hashana speech given by a Reconstructionist rabbi. He discussed the traditional concept of Rosh Hashana as a day on which God sits in judgment and determines who will be written in the "Book of Life" and merit to live for the rest of the year. (Apparently God has an extensive library as other such books include the "Book of Sustenance" and the "Book of Health", etc.)
Even if one can accept the concept that one can actually change God's mind through prayer, which is quite a philosophically difficult position to accept, it still seems illogical to believe that God would choose one day of the human calendar upon which to make an essentially irrevocable decision. Why would a prayer said in the middle of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan matter less than one in Tishrei? And more fundamentally, why would God punish someone for not praying? The prayers on Rosh Hashana are primarily praises of God, and a perfect God shouldn't need praise. Of course, traditional sources do explain that God desires prayer in order to benefit the one doing the praying, but if that is true it seems illogical to harm or kill someone for the sin of not trying to improve oneself.
So, for someone who does not believe that God is sitting in judgment determining our future, or who does not believe in the traditional concept of God at all, what is the point of Rosh Hashana?
According to the Rabbi's speech, which seems quite consistent with the little that I know about Reconstructionism, on Rosh Hashana we are written in the book of life not by a heavenly decree but by our actions. When we make a conscious effort to do teshuva (change our actions) and improve ourselves, then we can consciously write a better future for ourselves. Through setting aside a day (or two) to reflect, we can write a future of life, health, and prosperity. No divine intervention needed.
Of course, this is easier said than done. An Orthodox, yet open-minded, friend of mine told me recently that the main problem with my fence-sitting is not my lack of religion, rather my lack of decision making. She believes that I am not taking enough control of my life and am instead letting life happen to me. I believe that is definitely a valid criticism and perhaps something that I ought to focus on during this Aseres Yemei Teshuva.
Regarding the belief of chassidus that one should take everyday events as a lesson for avodas Hashem, perhaps the opposite is true. The Reconstructionist approach of taking the concepts of avodas Hashem as a lesson for everyday life seems to have a lot of merit--and fits in quite nicely with the "Repurposing" concept that I wrote about a few months ago.
On that note...
G'mar chasima tova!