Religion's Message for Today

It is generally not religious values that dominate in churches and synagogues today, but rather materialistic, middle-class values. The problem is that far too few people (including myself) take God and religious teachings seriously enough. If we did, how could we fail to protest against the destruction of the precious planet that God has given us as our home? How could we be so apathetic while an estimated 20 million people die of hunger and its effects annually while God has provided sufficient food for every person on earth, and additional millions suffer from poverty and a lack of shelter, clean water, and other necessities, while hundreds of billions of dollars are spent creating newer and better ways to wage war?

If a person took God and religious values seriously,he or she would be among the greatest critics of present society,where religious values are given lip service, at best. Sheor he would be among the greatest champions of peace and justice. It is essential people become more aware about religious values of compassion, sharing, justice, and peace, and biblical concepts such as the sabbatical and jubilee years and the mandate to leave the corners of the fields and the gleanings of harvests for the poor.

Consider the power of the Bible`s teachings on justice. It commands, "Justice, justice shalt thou pursue" (Deut16:20), the word justice repeated, the Jewish sages state, to teach that justice must be pursued whether to our advantage or disadvantage, to Jews and to non-Jews, and with only just means. The Biblical prophets were among the greatest champions of justice. Amos for example, after indicating God;s sharp criticism of a society that practices religion as usual, while closing its heart and mind to the injustices around it, urges, "Let justice roll down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream": (Amos 5:24) The patriarch, Abraham even challenged God when He was about to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, asserting, "Shall not the Judge of all the Earth act justly?" (Genesis 18:25)

What about the many instances of war in the Bible,many not for defensive reasons? Unfortunately, people are not always ready to live up to God`s highest ideals. We have to focus, I believe, on the positive teachings; that, for example, (1) the prophets dreamed of the day when "nations would beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks . . . and not study war any more" (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3,4), (2) that the first words of the Messiah will be a message of peace (Isaiah 52:7), (3) that we should "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalms 34:15), and many more. Certainly at a time of possible nuclear devastation, we must apply the positive teachings of religion on peace.

What about aspects of the Torah that may seem inconsistent with struggles for peace and justice? I believe that our best approach is what Arthur Waskow called "Godwrestling", wrestling,in effect, with God, with our sacred texts, with our religious tradition. He points out that wrestling is, at the same time, like making love and like making war. Hence we should love our religious tradition enough to take it seriously and try to adapt it to today`s critical issues, while fighting to understand and, if possible, respectfully reinterpret those aspects that seem to go against our beliefs. Just as we should not reject democracy because it doesn`t always give the best results, we shouldn`t reject religion because of some of its teachings and/or the actions of some of its adherents.

It is unfortunately sometimes difficult to be both religious and an activist today, although the two should be synonymous. Like others, I sometimes feel disheartened and ready to give up. But the nature of today`s critical problems require the application of religious values. So, as frustrating as it sometimes is, I hope that religious activists will continue to struggle on,trying to educate people in our religious communities about the importance of activism, and political activists about the importance of religious teachings and values in establishing the kind of society that we envision, working toward that day when "no one shall hurt nor destroy in all of God`s holy mountain, for the Earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the seas." (Isaiah11:9)

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