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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Some Thoughts On Religious Extremism

My side of an interchange today with a friend.

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The greatest threat to our planet is not climate change (!) but religious extremism of EVERY kind. 

Why do people fall for it? We underestimate the lure of being "chosen" "anointed" "appointed" "blessed" and "saved." There are a million hucksters all ready willing and able to "give away" their special brand of snake oil.

Here is a newsflash: G-d is automatically available for all to be close to, and loves us because we exist. We need not be "just like" anybody else in order to be "saved." 

Be a mensch. Most people cannot even manage that.

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To amplify this. I am old enough to remember when religion was not a big deal. Like my grandmother (a"h) used to say, "Don't make such an ISSUE out of everything." As religious Jews we went to synagogue, watched TV, had a tuna sandwich and ice cream at the diner, and mothers wore pants and mostly short hair but uncovered. 

Now we are seeing, across religions, this kind of crazy fundamentalist fire that has imposed rule upon rule upon rule where none need exist. And all religious belief systems that do this are the same in type, and vary only by degree.

ISIS has rules for how to kidnap women and rape them! 

And all of it - all of it, to the letter - it is all branded sold and packaged as piety. When it is really an escape from the difficulties of real life.

In the Jewish world, the sociologist Samuel Heilman documented the shift years ago, in The World of the Yeshiva. 

Now in Judaism we have "OTDs" when there never even used to be such a thing. You were either religious or secular. 

We have a steady drumbeat of messages to young people thirsty for meaning - that "if only" you will join the group (cult) and cover your hair/face and dress differently and follow the rules and give up your freedom -  then and only then will you be saved. 

It is immoral to exploit young people like this. It is not serving G-d. It is the opposite.

* * * 

Brilliant.

But: There is a Jewish maxim: "There are 70 faces to the Torah," meaning many different ways to observe and all equally valid from a G-d's eye view. 

So the problem with the nice sounding idea of absolutes is that the Bible requires interpretation by humans, who may be sort of right or sort of wrong and whose motives are naturally mixed. 

In reality this means: If you add Bible plus other scripture plus Talmud plus interpretation upon interpretation plus culture plus history plus geographical variation the result is something nearly impossible to codify. 

Jews also have a saying "you should live by it," meaning the law should not be onerous. 

So abstract stuff aside I can only conclude that each person has a conscience and will either listen or not listen, and if they listen they will follow as much as their level of goodness can bear. 

But the issue is not me because I am older than the targets of extremists, who by my definition take the general principles too far.

The issue is vulnerable young people who want a simple rubric just like the kind they got for homework assignments in school. "It depends" does not work for them. "Morally gray" sounds like lying and hypocrisy. 

The shift toward dumbed down education is part of this. We have bred our children out of complicated critical thinking and analysis and toward a made up infographic Wikipedia-Google-instant search mindset where a quick summary in 140 characters or less is all they can take.

We have stopped demanding excellence and praised every single thing so that their achievements don't feel real to them. Because we sugarcoat.

We have, in the name of giving them a better life, focused on money and career and external signs of success and they feel hollow from the nothing of it.

We have minimized and deemphasized the critical time and effort and bonding that happens when parents actually get to be with their kids without one eye on the Blackberry or one foot out the door to work.

In short our young people are starving, and we have starved them with good intentions, and the result of their spiritual emptiness and inability to think critically and stand on their own two feet is tremendously harmful to them and to our planet.

Cults are Satan in G-d's clothing.

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All opinions my own.