Photo via Flickr
When I was growing up in the '80s, in the "Modern Orthodox" Jewish community you could call yourself "religious" yet span a wide range of practice. Some moms covered their hair, others not. Some wore pants, others not. Some watched TV on Sabbath (didn't advertise it of course), others would never.
In those days "everybody" listened to Miami Boys Choir (great concert here, in full) and their inclusive, relatable lyrics of spirituality and faith - "we all have a place in the World to Come," "I believe with complete faith"...
I remembered my grandparents' Sabbath table in the countryside of the Catskill Mountains. There everybody was welcome "no questions asked." If you showed up, you were accepted at face value - even my dad with his deliberately formal getup and affect, so out of place in the mountains.
This doesn't mean we didn't argue about things. Between Modern Orthodox, Hasidic and the emerging "Yeshiva" followers - different approaches to observance - there have always been a lot of discussions about hypocrisy. About who was "really religious" and who was just a "pretender." But inconsistency was not seen as irreligious - then.
My sister and I watched all this, and the inconsistent (she would say hypocritical) practice of religion in our home, and had completely different reactions. They mirrored larger social trends.
She decided that "religious" meant consistency and turned rightward. Her choices mirror the study "The World of the Yeshiva."
I decided that hypocrisy meant something was wrong with the "system" and over the next 20 years shifted toward a kind of universal belief system within which everyone is seen as a child of G-d. Thinking about how to be Jewish in identity, but inclusive mentally of all faiths.
The Christian pastor Joel Osteen embodies this approach to religion - e.g. "I am who I am but we serve the same G-d - I honor you and seek to lift you up with me."
But either way, the ability to be inconsistent is gone.
As a brand strategy, the ultra-Orthodox approach has its goods and bads. On the positive side it promotes incredible cohesion among those who practice it. It gives you a clear identity, internally and to outside parties.
If you go to my neighborhood for example, you will see young Orthodox women wearing bandannas over their hair (as "hip" hair covers) and A-line knee-length skirts cut just a certain way from just a certain cloth; they wear similar sporty Merrell-type shoes and generally can be seen bouncing around a baby or two (but not five).
On the negative side, Orthodoxy like all strict forms of religion is a closed-thinking system shrouded in denial, particularly the further rightward you go.
Yet opposing or rejecting Orthodoxy is no picnic: When you choose uncertainty, there it is.
At the end of the day, like my aunt pointed out to me the other day when we discussed it, what has changed isn't so much the people practicing the religion. It is the attitude toward consistency that has shifted.
Somehow, over the last two decades, it became a sin to be inconsistent. Leaving some, a few people inside the circle, but the vast majority out.
I think it was better when we let people be hypocrites, to a certain extent.
Because nobody can be perfectly consistent about everything all the time.
And the stranglehold of religion is the same as the stranglehold of brand.
Real people need to breathe. They can't be forced into a robotic, artificial, obsessive-compulsive kind of brand consistency.
We ought to get back to that, and stop holding them to an impossible standard or one that gives them no sort of brand at all.
Have a good day everyone, and good luck!