I see a lot of memes on social media that not only ridicule the Church as unless but actually say Christians are evil.
I suppose the “useless” part comes in when believers pray to their “sky daddy” rather than “follow the science.” After all, if a Christian were sick, they’d go to the doctor like any atheist and humanist. Of course they would. They would also pray, which I’m sure baffles many folks.
I’m not going to attempt to defend the practice of prayer. It would fall on deaf ears. I will however say that the Church isn’t just a self-perpetuating system that isolates itself from reality except on those moments when it can destroy people’s lives by being pro-life.
As another aside, I won’t pretend there aren’t bad people who hide behind the label “Christian,” nor will I say there aren’t greedy Pastors and bloated churches that love money more than God. I abhor them and everything they stand for. But you won’t find the faithful on television or in the news. Faith and doing good are often anonymous.
Concluding a talk on Jewish pride, I offered to take questions. A hand shot up in the front.
“You speak about our heritage and what it means to be a Jew. So many around us are clueless when it comes to Judaism. How can we share with others and teach more?”
Another hand shot up in the back. The young boy stood up and said loudly, “To speak up and think that you have what to teach the world about your Judaism means that you think you are better. That’s racist!”
In any high school in America I suspect, if the topic were “Black Pride” or “Gay Pride” or “Feminist Pride” or even “Muslim Pride,” the speaker would be welcomed by the students with enthusiasm and high praise. The audience would have left the presentation fired up for social justice and the desire to support the underrepresented by protesting and convincing their parents to give to worthy charities and political action groups.
Just about the only subject that would receive a worst reception would be a talk on “White Pride,” which probably would be racist. So is “Jewish Pride” racist?
Probably not, and I don’t think it’s really possible that “Jewish Pride” to be racist. You have people from Sweden and Ethiopia who are equally Jewish, so how can it be racist to be a Jew? Judaism is something that transcends race as it does religion. It’s a deeply uniquely-lived experience and identity (and I only know this second-hand from being married to a Jew).
What does this mean for Messianic Judaism and that generation being raised by members of the movement (or whatever you want to call MJ)?
I know that both Judaism and Christianity have programs in their houses of worship and communities aimed at fostering the faith in their children.
However, sources such as Cold Case Christianity, Christianity Today, and ChurchLeaders.com confirm the trend that a large population of teens and young adults are leaving the church for a variety of reasons, “relevancy” being key among them, even though there are numerous programs designed to speak to their youth population.
A similar tale is told of young Jews and Judaism by NYC Religions and the Pew Research Center, although an added factor is that some Jews who have left religious Judaism converted to Christianity (which the church would see as good, while Judaism and even Messianic Judaism would definitely have concerns).
Messianic Judaism, however you conceive of it, has, in my opinion (though I could be wrong since I haven’t been part of a religious community in years) an even bigger problem. Based on my experiences, kids in that movement also tend to leave, either for secularism, more traditional Christianity or more traditional Judaism. Add to that the size and relative rarity of MJ communities in any part of the US and Canada. A family may adhere to an MJ view of the Bible, but the nearest congregation could be hundreds of miles away, so when kids grow up and leave home, they very well will leave their faith behind, too.
The only group I know of attempting to slow or halt the trend is First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) which produces products such as Children’s Torah Club and other resources. Also, apparently, their 2016 Shavuot conference was on the topic of youth outreach. Of course, I have no way to gauge the effectiveness of those methods or even to know the population size of MJ in general or by age group, but at least somebody is doing something.
However, based on the other information I’ve cited, it seems like secularization has firmly taken hold of youth, both inside the body of faith and beyond. In modern, western society it seems, Christianity and Judaism are blamed for a variety of ills, and it’s not just the faithful who are under assault. Although many deny it, an attack on national Israel is an attack on the Jewish people because it denies the Jews the right to their own sovereign nation. We even have a few freshman U.S. Representatives who have been making headlines lately because of that, questioning the existence of our nation’s closest ally in the Middle East.
I’ve also noted a lot of push back against the landmark and popular (in spite of its topic) film Unplanned starring Ashley Bratcher, including the movie’s twitter account mysteriously losing thousands of followers (though this seems to have stopped after many complains were registered). Additionally, actress Alyssa Milano has been leading Hollywood’s charge against Georgia’s recent “heartbeat” pro-life law, though Bratcher has responded to Milano’s boycott.
Wait! What’s abortion got to do with young people leaving the church and the synagogue?
It’s one of the values of secularization, and perhaps one of the most important ones, a sort of “Holy Grail” of the secular. Any potential threat against free access to abortions, in some cases up until birth, is thought of as a heinous affront and must be combated with every resources available especially by the Hollywood public opinion machine.
So many of our young people take this “right” for granted. If Christianity and Judaism threatens this and many other “rights” by touting how human life is sacred, then young people in houses of faith are more likely to struggle with choosing between the “relevancy” of their faith vs. the “relevancy” of secular cultural norms, and thus is the problem.
Racism, climate change denial, anti-choice, the list of pejoratives goes on and vulnerable young people, many of them it seems, don’t want to be associated with those highly emotionally charged labels. So what secular post-modern civilization considers “relevant” makes many of the values of Christianity and Judaism “irrelevant.” The exodus of young people from the faith continues.
What to do? Besides what’s been suggested at the various links I’ve posted, I don’t know.
I have three adult children who were young at the time when my family was transitioning through Christianity, Hebrew Roots, and Messianic Judaism (and in my wife’s case, out the other side to more traditional Judaism), and I think they became so confused that eventually, they departed from all of it. Ethnically, they all identify as Jews, but that’s about it. I’m pretty sure one, maybe two keep a sort of Leviticus 11 “kosher,” but I was at the third’s house yesterday, and he was cooking up bacon for his kids for dinner.
I’ve heard of this “culture war” for decades and didn’t think too much about it, but now it seems that I was wrong. This “war” is real and it’s taking our children and grandchildren from us.
While Congress has yet to decide the future of the country’s illegal immigrants, some say they are critical to the survival of Christianity in America.
“Every denomination is experiencing explosive growth within the Latino church and the immigrant church at large. It’s been this way now for several decades,” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told CBN News. “This is a perpetual revival, if you will, and it’s not going to cease and it’s growing and we thank God for it.”
Rodriguez says Americans can fulfill the great commission by ministering to their immigrant neighbors next door.
Maybe the key to understanding how to preserve and grow future generations in Messianic Judaism is to understand what dynamics drive the two groups I’ve listed above.
One of the questions was If you drink coffee, how do you like it best? Hot, cold, iced, with cream, with sugar or black as black?, however it was Fandango’s answer to Global warming? Reality or myth? that I focused on. His answer was:
Global warming (aka, climate change) is reality. The Bible is myth.
He used the photo below to emphasize his point:
I thought about his answer while I was getting ready for work, and then crafted this response:
Interesting that you brought the (Christian) Bible into the mix since the question had absolutely nothing to do with it. I can only assume that you deliberately were taking a shot a Christians just because you could.
Now I would never try to convince you regarding my belief system. You’re not interested, it would take too long, and adopting a faith in an all-powerful Creator is as much a metaphysical experience as it is anything else.
However, you probably didn’t think through the ramifications of your statement. I mentioned the “Christian” Bible before, but the first two-thirds of it, what Christians call the Old Testament, make up the Jewish Bible.
The writings in the Jewish Bible are the very basis for the existence of Israel and the Jewish people. I know liberal, secular Jews who would disagree with me, but given that my wife is Jewish and I’ve had extensive experience in both some churches and some synagogues (I know you might not believe this, but not all Christians and not all Jews are the same, and in fact, there are churches and synagogues, even here in red state Idaho, that are highly progressive), so my opinions are not entirely uninformed.
So in calling the Bible a myth (and that’s your right), you may well be invalidating every single observant Jewish person in the present and for the past 3500 years, as well as the Jewish people as a whole. I know you didn’t consider the implications of all this, but the Holocaust tried to do the same thing (and I’m absolutely not accusing you of being anti-Semitic or a Holocaust denier).
Yes, I’m going to extremes but to make a point. Whether you believe in something or not (speaking of Colin Kaepernick), it doesn’t mean those who do are invalid. The Bible, once you study it (and Bible studies are complicated) is an incredibly nuanced and complex document, and I’m the first to admit that most churches don’t even know how to study it (I’ve argued endlessly with many Christians on this point).
I am curious about your opinion of the Koran (it’s transliterated from Arabic, so it can be spelled different ways in English). Is it myth as well? Would you stay that on your blog if you know Muslims were reading it?
I know you made the comment casually, but words have power. As writers, we should be aware of that.
Oh, I take my coffee black, nothing else in it.
Now, I wasn’t the first reader of his to object, and his response to her was:
You’re right. I was expressing my opinion. The nature of the Share Your World prompt is to get people to share their opinions. And yes, Christians are entitled to believe whatever they want to believe. It was not my intention to mock and scorn. My philosophy is “whatever floats your boat,” and I wasn’t taking a dig at your beliefs as much as I was expressing my own, personal opinion in a post on my blog that the stories in the Bible are mythology. If you choose to believe in and accept that mythology as your religious truth, go for it.
As I was composing this missive, he did respond to me directly:
Whether the Bible (Old or New Testaments), the Koran, or any other religious text, they are all, in my opinion, myths. I assume at least some Muslims have stumbles across my blog, but perhaps not. So while I used the Bible as an illustration, I was not intending to limit my belief that all religions are base [sic] in mythology to Christianity.
Why did I bring it up at all? Just to offer a contrast between those who deny climate change and those who eagerly embrace religious mythology. I also don’t think you need to be religious in order to believe that the Holocaust happened and to be embarrassed by the inhumanity that humans perpetuate against one another in the name of their favorite god, for “ethnic cleansing,” or for the whatever religious beliefs to which they adhere. Is all that part of GOD’s infallible plan? That millions of people — his children — shall be killed and persecuted in his name?
I am not a religious person in any way and I believe that all religions are based on made-up bullshit. But I don’t deny that there is much to be learned by reading religious tracts and that if it helps people make it through their lives, then who am I to be critical of them? But that doesn’t make me believe that the Bible is any more true than Tolkien’s Middle Earth, for example,
or other fantasy tales. It’s great literature, but it’s mythology at its finest.
Okay, enough of this meandering response to your comment.
As if all Christians or people of faith are Luddites and don’t believe it’s possible for human beings to damage the global environment.
I suppose I should just drop it at this point, but then there’s my original intention in crafting this blog post, plus another concern Fandango’s most recent comment brought up. I’ll take the latter first.
I also don’t think you need to be religious in order to believe that the Holocaust happened and to be embarrassed by the inhumanity that humans perpetuate against one another in the name of their favorite god, for “ethnic cleansing,” or for the whatever religious beliefs to which they adhere. Is all that part of GOD’s infallible plan? That millions of people — his children — shall be killed and persecuted in his name?
Ah yes, the fallacy that people only kill other people, at least on a large-scale such as war, because of religion, and if there were no religions, we’d all love each other and there’d be peace forever.
Okay, I’m overstating the matter, but to make a point. John Lennon’s classic Imagine (YouTube video) makes this point as well, along with doing away with the concept of nations (sort of like Katy Perry’s more recent no borders comment). Lennon’s lyrics also suggested having personal possessions as a problem, so I suppose anyone agreeing with his “no religion” statement should advocate for dismantling all national borders and the laws pertaining to them (good luck with that), and should give away all of their possessions thus eliminating want and greed everywhere (I don’t see that happening either).
But I digress.
Blaming all forms of mass violence on religion denies the vicious acts of Stalin, Mao, and others who ran secular, atheist, totalitarian regimes. The only problem with an organized worship of God (or governments for that matter) is people. People have a tremendous capacity for twisting any institution to their own needs, so yes, in the name of God, millions have been enslaved, tortured, and murdered. Whole cultures have been destroyed forever. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church and wider Christianity have been doing such to the Jewish people. The early Christian Crusaders murdered Muslims as well as Jews (which some say has led Islam to develop a fundamental hate of Christianity that persists to this day).
This also denies the tremendous good Judaism and Christianity have done across their respective histories. For instance, according to numerous sources including Bible Mesh, CNS News, and Breakpoint, the modern institution of the Hospital owes its existence to both Judaism and Christianity.
However, my main point has to do to my original response to Fandango. At what point does a body of faith become a culture?
It’s an interesting concept. Various aspects of Judaism or collective bodies of Jews are certainly cultural. While I don’t believe most reasonable people would object to differing groups of human beings behaving out of and celebrating their cultures, should they object to a culture based on that body having a covenant relationship with God? This is an especially poignant question given that during this week, millions of Jews all over the world are celebrating the festival of sukkot, many eating and sleeping in a sukkah, celebrating the protection of God over the Jewish people and nation.
Let’s use a specific example. I was once online friends with a person who was an atheist. We had a shared interest in the Linux operating system and performing charitable acts toward disadvantaged children. However, he posted a meme on Facebook several years ago ridiculing the practice among Orthodox Jews of having young boys wear Payot (click the following link to learn more about this and Upsherin) and even calling it a form of child abuse.
We “discussed” it, he was unrelenting, and this was the first and last straw for me as far as his opinions were concerned.
Is Christianity a culture? On first blush, it certainly doesn’t seem that way, though even among Jews, not all Jewish groups have uniform practices and beliefs (but at the end of the day, they’re still all Jews), particularly between the observant and the secular.
My last experience in a church taught me many things (one of them being that I don’t belong in a church), but one important realization was that the church had a sort of “culture,” a collection of ideations, beliefs, and practices that, however subtle, were unique to that group. Of course, I can’t make the same case for Christianity being a culture (and as a whole, I doubt it is) as I can for Judaism, so again, I digress.
I can understand that plenty of folks out there are atheist and believe anyone who is religious must be brain-damaged or incredibly superstitious. Having known plenty of Christians and observant Jews over the years, I can attest that isn’t true (for the most part…there are always outliers), but let’s roll with this. Okay, you believe an all-powerful, intelligent, creative being is impossible and even mythical. I really don’t mind. I don’t mind that you make your beliefs public. After all, your free speech rights are my free speech rights.
But at what point does that become denigration, especially if you also value a diversity of human beings in your environment? Does diversity hit a brick wall when religion comes into play?
I may be chasing a cat up the wrong tree, so to speak, and my commentary is probably all for nothing, but when does a religious person get to say, “I respect you as a human being though you disagree with my beliefs, but when will you respect my humanity and worth as well?”
No, I absolutely don’t believe Fandango intended all of that. He was merely speaking his mind. But as I told him before, words have power. We know that for an absolute fact. This is why you don’t casually lace your speech and writing with racial or ethnic slurs. Because they can cause emotional pain. As people of faith, we are commanded to treat others, especially those who are not like us, with kindness and compassion. Being human though, we sometimes don’t obey that command, and in my experience, Christians can be pretty biased, both relative to secular people as well as to each other (you have never been in a contentious community until you’ve been involved in religious blogging).
I’ve been an atheist, so I know how that looks and feels, and I know religious people who have left the faith, so I know how strong their feelings and viewpoints are as well. However, if you have been a life-long atheist and never, ever have had a faith in anything outside of yourself, society, or some other human construct, then you can’t possibly imagine how or why an intelligent, competent, educated, and accomplished person could also have faith in God.
If you don’t understand us, try not to judge us. Chances are, you’ve only met the worst, and most “fringy” Christians. You don’t know the rest of us.
Then Moses and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song to Hashem, and they said the following: I shall sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea.
–Exodus 15:1 Stone Edition Chumash
Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and with dances. Miriam spoke up to them, “Sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea.”
–Exodus 15:20-21 ibid
“How can you sing when my people are dying?”
–Talmud Sanhedrin, 39b
I quoted from today’s Torah Portion and from Talmud as much as a lesson to myself as for others. I’m not speaking so much about celebrating or cheering when our enemies (or people we just don’t like) die, even a very deserving demise. I’m addressing how we cheer when we think we’ve trounced some else’s opinion particularly in the realm of social media including the blogosphere.
Believe me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.
But it occurs to me that at some point, when we attempt to champion our own cause at the detriment of someone else’s, we are trying to harm the other person.
Recently on Facebook (clicking that link will take you to an image some would find offensive so choose wisely) I engaged another person, someone in my local community who I used to work with, over the matter of women dressing up in vagina costumes for the national Women’s March of a weekend or two ago. To me, it looked incredibly degrading and seemed to be communicating that these “progressive” and “liberated” women saw themselves as nothing more than their genitals.
I believe they were actually responding to a comment attributed to Donald Trump which he made some years back (and which was recorded) about grabbing women by their “p*ssies which I indeed do find highly offensive.
However, I’m not sure that responding by dressing up as the object of Trump’s interest (as suggested by his comment) is the best way to protest and I said so.
Of course, I was accused of misunderstanding the symbolism involved and maybe even somehow denying these women the right to choose their own symbols.
We went back and forth a few times and then I dropped it (not everyone else did) figuring I’d made my point and people were free to disagree with me.
Did he “win” and I “lose” because I didn’t continue the “battle?” More importantly, if I had continued the exchange and if he became silent, should I have celebrated his “defeat?”
Just so you don’t misunderstand me, I do believe in standing up for morality and I believe vagina costumes and some of the language used by the women and men (yes, some men dressed up for the occasion as well) involved was offensive.
Now I know I can be accused of supporting the “Patriarchy” for that comment, as if I, as a religious male, have some sort of right to control the behavior of women. No, it’s not about control. I don’t “control” the behavior or dress of my wife and daughter (they’d explode if I even tried) and only exercise some control over my granddaughter’s choice of apparel because she’s just two-and-a-half.
Women are free to wear whatever they choose and to behave in any manner they desire (short of breaking the law or otherwise causing harm), but in this nation of free speech rights, I can choose to express my opinion on what I think is acceptable and unacceptable behavior from men and women based on my moral and ethical values. I would also object to men protesting while wearing “penis” hats (my friend said somewhere on Facebook that the Washington Monument is a giant penis symbol which I find kind of ridiculous since not everything that is taller than it is wide is a penis).
If I were a better person, I probably wouldn’t get into these debates at all since long and bitter experience has taught me that they do absolutely no good in changing anyone’s mind.
And yet, if no one objects to offensive and ludicrous imagery and symbolism, that amounts to tacit acceptance and agreement.
How far can we go in objecting before we find ourselves driven to metaphorically “kill” the person with whom we disagree?
For more, read Mrs. Lori Palatnik’s article When Evil Falls. It doesn’t directly address my point, but it is illuminating nonetheless.
We are seriously getting love aimed at us by a little church nearby. Out of the blue, the pastor had contacted me wanting to know if some of their members could do anything for us and he wouldn’t take no for an answer unless it really was no.
Today some amazingly nice folks showed up and hauled off to the dump our junk too big for our own vehicle, in one of the guy’s large truck.
Meanwhile, the ladies scoot in to do some cleaning while visiting with Heidi.
And meanwhile another great guy is walking me around our deck, explaining to me how he is going to prep the bannister and then paint it for us.
And they’re coming back tomorrow!
I embarrass Joe and Heidi on my blog a lot so I’ll try not to do it again today, but I want to show you how the church isn’t evil.
Joe is a cancer survivor and Heidi has multiple organs that are cancer involved including her brain. I know compressing their struggle into a single sentence seems rather cold, but I’ve written other blog posts about them, and I want to show you another picture today.
In spite of their amazing and horrendous struggles, their faith remains absolutely steadfast in God. They aren’t (as far as I know) involved in a church on a regular basis but rather, take God with them wherever they go, which is often into the mountains and onto the hiking trails near their home in Washington’s Puget Sound area.
I was surprised, very pleasantly so, when Joe posted the above-quoted statement on his Facebook page. It came out of a clear blue sky, as the saying goes. I guess that’s how miracles happen.
Maybe I’m overstating the point. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to do good things for other people without it being miraculous or even unusual? Not according to some atheists and people from other religious and philosophical traditions. All of the evil in the world is typically blamed on religion in general and Christianity in particular. Everything from the Lindbergh kidnapping to global warming has been blamed on Christianity (well, maybe not exactly). Even though some other spiritual people who disagree with the validity of Christianity claim to “respect our path,” there is little respect in describing us at our worst as pagan worshiping, war-mongering, racists.
I have to admit that I don’t often trust the church myself. I find the church rather intimidating. Beneath the facade of friendliness and good fellowship, what judgmentalism and harsh opinions do they harbor about me, a Christian who doesn’t go to church, who is married to a Jewish wife, has Jewish children, and who (if given a choice) prefers a siddur to a hymnal? On my blog, religious though it is, I am “flamed” more often by Christians than by atheists or people adhering to less traditional spiritual philosophies (though that could just be a result of me being beneath the notice of these other philosophies).
But this is exactly why Joe’s recent statement on Facebook is so important. The church can be a force for good in the world. The church can express itself as warmth, compassion, caring, and love. The church, often accused as merely a house of prayer and bigotry, can actually do something to help other people, such as hauling away junk, cleaning a house, doing some painting, and continuing to be a presence in the lives of two wonderful people who need the presence of God’s servants in their lives and in their home.
I know Christianity’s detractors will say that this is only one instance (and a rare one at that) of Christians doing something good. Then, these detractors will cite numerous examples from the mainstream news of Christians doing harsh, bigoted, rotten, and evil things.
But what makes the six o’clock news, Christians going a kindness (I don’t think Joe saw any cameras from CNN at his place the other day) or the Westboro Baptist Church (who I don’t consider Christian at all) desecrating the name of Jesus by picketing the funeral of another fallen American warrior? So who do atheists and various spiritual people look to when they want to get an example of who a Christian is?
OK, it’s not a simple as that, but sometimes it seems to be. Sometimes it seems like people just don’t want to see the good that Christianity does. They only want to point to its flaws, both in the present and historically. People seem to want to define themselves and whatever philosophy they follow in terms of who they oppose and the church makes a convenient target to oppose.
But they are also, at their best, a reflection of what they were taught by Jesus Christ. Visit the sick. Feed the hungry. Comfort the grieving. Make peace between one person and another. And although it doesn’t say so in the Bible, clean someone’s house when they’re too sick to do it themselves. Haul away the garbage that is too big for someone else to haul away. Look around someone’s home, notice that their deck needs painting, and then paint it.
In other words, do whatever good that needs to be done if for no other reason than because God is good and it’s the right thing to do.
If you have something against Christianity, you can react two ways. You can complain about Christians, or you can do what the best of them do. You can help people who need help instead of elevating yourselves by pointing at what the worst of those who claim to be Christian (but by their actions, show themselves to be anything else but) are doing.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:48 (ESV)
I don’t care who you are. If you want to be good, do good.
I’m not arguing for either the superiority or the necessity of a covenantal orientation to life for the realization of human responsibility and dignity. In thinking about Judaism, I cannot ignore the fact that atheists act with moral dignity and compassion in the world. I believe, in contrast to many contemporary religious thinkers, that secular humanism is a viable and morally coherent position. What I am claiming is only that neither the critique of halakhic Judaism found in the Christian tradition nor the moral critique found in Spinoza is convincing. There are many different approaches to human life that encourage initiative, intellectual freedom, responsibility, and the sense of personal adequacy and dignity. I am not arguing that faith is necessary in order to have these values, but only that faith in a covenantal God of Judaism does not have to contradict or undermine them.
The God of Sinai does not merely hand over responsibility for the mitzvot to Israel and then take His leave. He also commits Himself to permanent involvement in the history of the community…
I hadn’t intended to turn this into a series, but I find myself continuing to compare the relative merits of the moral and ethical positions of Christianity and, if not atheism as such, progressive secular humanism, which is the predominant philosophy of modern western culture. My previous missives on this topic are Collision, which is my introduction into why atheism holds such animosity toward Christians and Repairing Life which suggests one possible response.
That should have been the end of my reflections on “Religion vs. Atheism,” and it was from a Christian point of view, but I neglected to discuss how Judaism considers this dynamic. As with many things, there’s no single Jewish viewpoint (and I’m probably not qualified to write about this but I will anyway) so I’ll try to offer two: one from Rabbi Hartman’s above-quoted book and the other from Rabbi Tzvi Freeman and Chabad.org.
Whenever someone asks me a question, I first have to think, “What kind of a box has this guy trapped me in?” Then I can deconstruct the box. If the box dissolves, there goes the question. If it doesn’t dissolve, I better listen up. The guy’s got a point.
Here comes one now:
“Rabbi, what was the Rebbe’s response to modernity?”
For at least two hundred years, Jews scrambled to find a response to modernity.
Today, there’s no longer much scrambling. Movements have stopped moving, firmly entrenched. But there was a time when Jewish creative genius generated a cacophony of responses to modernity: Reform, Orthodoxy, Zionism, Religious Zionism, Conservative, Ultra-Orthodoxy, Reconstructionism, Modern Orthodoxy, Renewal and more. Each movement had leaders who spent their years zealously articulating and re-articulating their particular response to the progressive, liberal, enlightened, modern world that came rushing down upon us, particularly after France beheaded its kings and smokestacks started belching into the sky.
Now, in Brooklyn sat a Jewish leader who built up a powerhouse movement that has transformed the face of Jewry worldwide. What was his response to modernity?
Gotcha. Neat little box. But it doesn’t work. What doesn’t work? The box: “Response.”
Again, as I mentioned in my other blog posts on this subject, I’m not trying to “prove” that religion is right and atheism is wrong or even to say that one group possesses an inherently greater moral response to life than the other (although from my point of view, religion should have the greater moral response).
I want to show that the issue can be as simple as how much or how little of themselves people choose to invest in their particular belief systems and and also demonstrate that these matters are far more complex than what we think of as mere “right and wrong.”
Rabbi Hartman’s position might be considered the more progressive of the two based on the quote I used to open this “extra meditation.” Rabbi Freeman represents the more conservative view. He suggests that historically, Judaism has responded to modernity by generating multiple variations of Judaism to adapt to the demands of progressiveness, but currently seems to be digging its heels in, so to speak, as representative of the Orthodox. But as we see from continuing to review Rabbi Freeman’s commentary, even this isn’t as two-dimensional as it appears.
Rabbi Freeman uses the dilemma of Children of Israel trapped between an advancing and vengeful Egyptian army and the uncrossable barrier of the Reed Sea (Exodus 14) as a metaphor for the struggle of Judaism to respond to liberal modernity.
The Children of Israel are stuck at the Sea of Reeds. The Egyptian army is closing in fast. The Jews divide into four parties—four opposing responses to one situation, perfectly summarizing the orthodox responses of the modern era: The Just-Go-Back-to-Egypt response, the I’d-Rather-Drown-Myself response, the Get-Up-And-Fight response and the Get-Down-And-Pray response.
Immerse in a ghetto of Torah, and pretend the world does not exist.
Back to Egypt
Give up on the world, on the future, or on trying to change anything. Just do what you have to do because G‑d says so.
Prove that we are right and they are wrong.
Rely on G‑d to bring Moshiach real soon.
G‑d’s response? You’re all wrong.
“Why are you crying out to me?” G‑d demands of Moses. “Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them to keep going forward!”
No response. No reaction. Proaction. Take charge. You have a purpose, you’re going somewhere. Keep going.
According to Rabbi Freeman, the response of Israel to the demands of progressionism is to progress. Of course, this doesn’t mean abandoning the covenant of Sinai and blending into the general cultural herd, which for a Jew would basically mean assimilation, but it doesn’t mean hiding or freezing in place, either. If the world moves, move with it, but don’t forget to take who you are with you and particularly, don’t forget to take God.
But the world of faith is always vulnerable, not just to tragedy and evil, but to how those elements of life are interpreted, and on some occasions, used against religious people by not only the atheists who blame all the world’s woes on religion (as if humanity weren’t capable of doing harm without a religious belief system to depend upon), but on our own doubts when “bad things happen to good people,” or when God is otherwise incomprehensible.
Rabbi Hartman continues on this point:
From the anthropological perspective on the problem of evil, therefore, the prime concern is not so much to defend the notions of divine justice and power. It is rather, as in other personal relationships, to determine what measure of continuity, stability, and predictability can enable the relationship with God to survive all shocks. It is to identify the cluster of beliefs that supports a person’s will to persist in the face of tragedy and suffering. If the world I live in requires that I become overly vigilant because of the threat of danger striking at any moment, then how can I sustain commitment to a way fo life predicated on God’s covenantal love and justice?
How do we respond to events that can call into question our whole identity as God’s relational partners?
An atheist can dismiss such questions by dismissing God. The presence of tragedy, suffering, and evil can be accepted as conditions of a natural world filled with imperfect human beings. It can also be a world that, while imperfect, is struggling to develop toward a higher moral and ethical reality as indeed, progressivism strongly believes. Human beings then, establish and revise the foundations of our own morality, sometimes radically, as time advances and the concepts of rightness, mercy, and justice continue to evolve in societal consciousness.
But what about the covenantal Jew? How does he resolve or at least address this problem? We’ll pursue the answer to that and other questions in Part 2.
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman