How many times have you heard, "Religion is responsible for every war on the planet!"? Or, "All the suffering in the world is caused by religion!"? Then there are singer John Lennon's lyrics to the song, "Imagine":
"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace..."
Religion certainly gets its knocks, but they're well-deserved. The repudiation of religion is not without good reason.
By this point, some of you are probably wondering where I'm going with this, being that I'm a religious Jew. Certainly, Judaism is one of the world's great religions- but you see, I'm clear on one major point: I know the difference between religion and spirituality. This is why "Imagine" is one of my favorite songs. Between religion and spirituality, my thumb rests heavily on the scale favoring spirituality.
In his wistful lyrics, Lennon is actually singing about a time Jews refer to as "Olam haBa," (the World To Come). I believe that throughout history, Elohim (the G✡d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) made it clear that He didn't want people to lean on the pageantry and prose of religion. Rather, in order to consider themselves pleasing to Him, we're directed through the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) to look deeper into our inner selves; our souls, if you will, and see the potential to make a better world by truly being a better person, despite our differences.
While flawless religious practice or meticulous rabbinical observance alone may make me a great Jew, they cannot make me a good person. Decency, civility, kindness, love, and selflessness can only come from my spirit. Mussar (Hebrew for Proper Behavior) is a principal in Judaism that I believe is too rarely taught. Mussar gets to the heart of human spirituality, but it's only a start.
Here's the best part: you and I can do it on our own. Actually, there's no other way to do it. Spiritual growth is, after all, voluntary. So although we may have different religious beliefs, or maybe even none at all, we can still get along famously, and teach it to our children. If we are truly spiritual people, we can work together on what's wrong with the world in an effort to make it right. Don't tell me it's not possible. I've lived it for decades, so I know that it is.
As the setting of today's sun takes us to the Holy Sabbath, and as we rest, let us contemplate the facets of our souls that we can bring forth, in this never-ending effort to move the world yet closer to being a peaceful place for all of humanity.
Enjoy the company of family and friends this weekend.
Shabbat Shalom (Peace on the Sabbath)