Monday, August 5, 2013
Repair the World
Religion has been on my mind a lot lately, and with the High Holy Days being just around the corner (seriously, where does the time go?), I'm hoping I can put together a coherent post on the subject.
First of all, I don't believe in God. I'm not saying God doesn't exist, I have no evidence to support such a claim.
Our rabbi once said that a long-time member of his congregation came up to him one day and confessed that he didn't believe in God. The rabbi replied, "God doesn't care whether you believe in him or not."
And that's what I love about Judaism.
Because Western theology as we know it sprouted from the seeds of Judaism, it's easy to forget just how different the religions are.
People ask me, for instance, "If you don't believe in God, and Heaven, and Hell, then what is your motivation to be a good person, and refrain from stealing and murdering?" My reply is that I have no desire to steal or murder, so I don't need a reason not to do those things. I desire to be a good person, so I don't need any extra incentive to be good.
And I like to counter with, "If you're only being good because you think someone is watching and keeping score, then that's not really being good; that's behaving properly."
For the most part, Christianity is grounded in the belief that people are naturally bad; born bad. We are born with Original Sin. And what was that first sin? Reaching for knowledge (eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, to be precise).
Personally, I believe that people are the same the world over, and for the most part, people are inherently good. There are bad governments, bad philosophies, ignorance, and selfishness. And there are certainly bad individuals who enjoy hurting others physically or emotionally; who enjoy having power over people and abusing that power.
Ultimately, devoting your life to ensuring you will have an exalted place in the afterlife is counterproductive to the life you are actually living right now, and it's a selfish reason to do the things you should be doing anyway. Now, just to be clear, I'm not saying Christians are selfish because I don't believe that they do good deeds because they are trying to score points with the judge. I think that, like everyone else, they do good things because they are good people who care about their neighbors and their communities. But their theology is rooted in the idea that people are naturally bad, and that people can only be fixed by believing in Jesus.
How is Judaism different?
We are obligated to "repair the world." THIS world. The world that matters. This is why we endeavor to keep mitzvot (commandments, or good deeds). And Tikkun Olam itself isn't even a commandment. We don't strive to repair the world because it is Biblical law, but because for the last two thousand or so years, the most learned Rabbinic scholars in Judaism have made reasoned arguments explaining why we should.
We are not waiting for this world to end. We are striving to make this world perfect, and not by proselytizing and trying to convince everyone else that they need to abide by our laws, but by trying to follow our own laws as earnestly as we can so that we might set an example for others to create harmony in their own lives and with their neighbors.
Is Judaism the shining light that sets an example for the rest of the world?
Well we are, after all, only human.
But when you consider that the Jewish people, in spite of several attempts to be wiped off the face of the planet, in spite of never constituting more than 1% of the world's population, has not only survived, but has had such a monumental influence on the world's cultures and religions... we must be doing something right.