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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

One Tall Voice: Religion not so bad after all

Published: March 13, 2009
Section: Opinions

<i>ILLUSTRATION BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot</i>

ILLUSTRATION BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

I would like to warn my readers right at the onset, that this article is a little different from the previous pieces I have published in The Hoot. Oftentimes, I relate my somewhat controversial opinions in this column, and stand by them adamantly. Here, however, I am going to convey the sentiments that I once had, and relate how I have been convinced against these prior beliefs. I have never, in any of my previous articles, relayed my opinions concerning religion. I used to have sentiments against the institution, and believed it to be disingenuous and wrong. In addition, I once believed that many religions had descended into mere social clubs, and thought that this was deleterious to the real purpose of the institution. Now, however, I have different sentiments about religion. I would like to share these previous beliefs, and chart the journey I took to my new philosophy.

I deem myself somewhat of an agnostic, a person open to the concept of God, but not entirely convinced by it. One thing that I used to be convinced of, however, was that most religions were truly harmful institutions. In order to choose which ones were worse than others, I constructed a two question “religion test.” The first question was whether or not a religion cost money. I hated religions that sold tickets to their services as one does to a concert. I also hated religions that pressure individuals to pay fees in order to support the institution. If religion is genuinely concerned the sincere exaltation of god, than this shouldn’t matter, and I despised (and still somewhat despise) religions that cost money. The second question asks whether or not a given religion is proselytizing. I very much dislike religions that, like viruses, seek to convert the masses. There is an underlying annoyance with this characteristic and it turns me off from many religious institutions. If a religion was guilty of both faults (like Scientology) then I considered it to be bad. If it was guilty of one fault (like Christianity or Judaism) I considered it to be less bad. If it did not violate any fault (like some forms of Buddhism and other Eastern religions), I considered them to be good. I guess I somewhat still hold these beliefs, but it matters less due to the revelation I had that I shall discuss later.

I also did not like how religion has become a social club, an association more concerned with fostering social connections than with the genuine exaltation of god. I used to see people going to Hillel or Chabad, and believed that they went not because they wanted to pray, but because they desired to be with their friends. I saw individuals more concerned with schmoozing at temple than with praying. And at many other religious social events, I saw people more concerned with baking cookies and wearing costumes than understanding the religious implications at hand. This sickened me, as it seemed religion took on the character of a social club, a means to bond primarily on that level rather than through a mutual exaltation of god.

However, more recently I have taken a new position about such aforementioned gatherings and about religion in general. Social interactions are a vital component of Judaism, as they are with other religions as well. The Jews are all one people, connected despite massive divides of language, time, and space. Religion is the bond that unites all members of the group, and keeps us together as one people. Not to be bleak here, but one of the reasons why I took on this position is due to what one of my good friends from home said to me. He asked me what religion I was, and I responded with something like “well…that depends.” He said, so long as there is someone out there who wants to kill you for your religious identity, you ought to protect and promote your religious affiliation.

Now the reason why I now support Judaism and other similar religions is not exclusively because I don’t want our institutions to die out, but rather because I see the worth and value of a mutual, and somewhat social, religious connection. I now go meta on the issue of social interactions vs. genuine exaltation of god because it really doesn’t matter. What is important is that people from similar backgrounds are bonding, individuals are forging valuable social connections, and our common identity is being promoted. I praise those who are promoting our values through social events and activities. I respect those who have committed themselves to ensuring that Jews are made aware of their heritage, whether it be through religious services or social events. I may still be agnostic, but my revelation has, nevertheless, allowed me to see the value and righteousness of social activities in religious institutions.