On the John
During my freshmen year at IU, my synagogue sent out care packages to all of its new college freshmen. In that package was a guide book that was supposed to help us retain our Jewish identities while at school. I don’t remember much from the book, but I do remember a section that was entitled, “Top Five Reasons You Should Marry a Jewish Person.” One of the reasons was, “Because you know it’s the right thing to do.”
From Jesus fish to WWJD to worried backlashes such as the one in my Jewish handbook, it seems that organized religion has moved closer and closer to the surface and further and further away from spirituality and good living. Not that those things are no longer stressed. They are. But as far as I can tell, the biggest lesson that organized religion teaches many people is that their particular organized religion is the only true organized religion in town.
What’s more important: the message or the messenger? Are kindness, good will, community, brotherhood and forgiveness only important because religion says they are, or is there something intrinsic in them?
I understand Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins, and those of us who don’t take him as our personal savior will burn in hell. If I burn in hell for eternity because I never accepted Jesus Christ as my savior, this will be my problem. Christians need to accept that there are many people who, for whatever reason, haven’t accepted Jesus as savior and never will.
Christians aren’t the only people who can’t get over the proverbial Jesus hump. I was once chastised by a Jewish friend of mine because I no longer practiced Judaism. We began talking about religions, and she was somehow opposed to my saying that people of all faiths could learn from Jesus the man, in the same way that we learn from Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King and other people who strived for peace. Even if I don’t think that Jesus was the son of God, can I at least think he was a really good guy who helped his fellow man?
What bothers me most is how some people who follow an organized religion think they have some ownership of God. Even if I haven’t settled on one religion, don’t I have a right to God? Some people find the need to “speak” for God to reassert their own beliefs and, presumably, to make people with different beliefs feel bad. One of the most offensive billboards I’ve ever seen was one that said, “I don’t question your existence.” And at the bottom, the quote was attributed to “God.” There was another similar billboard, only this time the quote said, “Don’t make me come down there.” Who are these people who think they can talk to God for the rest of us? If I were to erect a billboard that read, “As long as you’re nice to each other, I don’t give a rat’s ass which religion you are,” and I attributed that to God, religious people would probably be offended. Even if I cleaned up the language, people would be upset that I — a non-religious, non-practicing Jew — was talking for God.
Not everyone is going to agree on the same religion. That’s why there’s more than one. While each religion has different traditions and scriptures, most are the same at the core: finding peace with yourself and with others and living a good life. If you need religion to tell you that murder, violence, betrayal and adultery are wrong, then I feel sorry for you.
Copyright 2003, jm silverstein