CLERGY CORNER: Religion bad for humanity?

Posted on 07 June 2018 by LeslieM

Not long ago, I invited a friend to Rosh Hashanah services. He declined the invitation, saying that he would not attend a synagogue, since “Religion is the cause of all wars, and the world would be at peace if it weren’t for religion.”

I asked him, what do you want from the Jewish religion? We are not sending gunmen to gun down at point blank civilian couples who have children waiting for them at home? His response was that all religions speak in the name of G-d, and that created all conflicts in history.

My friend meant well, but he is wrong. Rejecting Judaism because you believe in world peace and tolerance is like refusing to enter a Japanese restaurant because you love sushi. It just doesn’t make sense.

War comes naturally to people. It existed long before any religion. The two greatest killers in history—Stalin and Hitler — were not religious and did what they did not in the name of religion, but in the name of a secular utopian system they believed in. Conflict is inherent to human nature. We are selfish, possessive, envious, competitive and insecure. Cruelty is part of human nature.

Peace, on the other hand, is not natural to the human condition. It had to be taught and learned. And it was a religious idea.

The first and most powerful vision of world peace was presented to mankind by the prophets of ancient Israel. They predicted a time when “one nation will not lift a sword against another nation, and they will no longer learn to wage war.” In a world that saw war as an inevitable fact of life, the Jewish religion introduced a radical new concept: that war is ultimately undesirable and peace is the ideal state for which to strive.

Without religion, we would find other things to fight about, like parking spots and noise from the neighbors. We would fight over territory, wealth, race, tribalism, ethnic pride. But without religion, world peace would not have entered the human vocabulary. Our dream of world peace is biblically inspired. Ideals do not live in bubbles. Like people, they need parents to give birth to them and a home environment to sustain them. Peace without religion is homeless. It was Judaism that gave birth to the vision of world peace and still provides a framework to implement that vision.

True, religion has been used, and continues to be used, by many as a pretext for war. But this does not invalidate all religion, just as when football players brawl, it does not invalidate the game of football. Ridding the world of all religion would not end war any more than abolishing football would brawls. Mengele’s horrific medical experiments in Auschwitz, does not invalidate all medicine. It was he who used medicine to torture innocent people. In fact, religion still provides the strongest argument for peace between people: that we were all created by the same G-d. Without this belief, is there anything that really unites us all? Maybe we are essentially different? Maybe we are not one? What for Thomas Jefferson was “self evident,” may be not evident for others?

What unites us all is that we are created by one G-d who conferred upon each person infinite dignity. The more I recognize G-d, the more I recognize the oneness of humanity and all of creation, because it is the G-dliness in us which makes us one. If Darwin taught that existence was essentially a war between natural forces and only the “fittest” survived (“survival of the fittest”), Judaism taught that there is an inherent symmetry between everything in the universe. The more I am entrenched in my ego, the more I am separated from people. The more I am one with G-d, the more loving I am toward people, because it is in their face that I encounter myself, my Divine Self, which is part of your Divine Self. If I am truly one with G-d, I can never ignore the cry of a fellow Jew, and of a fellow human being.

Rabbi Tzvi Dechter is the director of Chabad of North Broward Beaches, located in the Venetian Isle Shopping Center at 2025 E. Sample Rd. in Lighthouse Point. For all upcoming events, please visit www.JewishLHP.com.

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