web analytics
September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Rescuing Religion From Its Reputation


“It’s not easy being labeled religious these days,” a friend confessed to me a few weeks ago.

My friend may be right – so-called religious people have committed some of humanity’s most horrific crimes, casting a dark shadow on religion – but what is religion? What is the definition of a “religious person”? What was he referring to? Can religion and evil really co-exist?

Some define religion as a set of beliefs, while others define it as an array of rituals. Some emphasize the truth of ideas, others, the illusion of thoughts.Generally, however, religion is regarded as “the relation of human beings to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2006).

Unfortunately, this model of religion may not always be positive. At times, the relationship one may have with the “holy, sacred, spiritual or divine” may even become dangerous. Historically, crimes committed in the name of religion have spewed immeasurable destruction in our world – from the Roman persecution of Christians to the Spanish Inquisition to the Islamic jihad of today.

Moreover, if this is religion, what good does it serve? Why should one desire it? How can a good person subject himself to religious ideals that are shamefully abused by evildoers?

Perhaps the enigma of religion stems from the misguided notion that the purpose of religion is to help us fight the bad in the world – that religion exists to fight racism, bigotry, sexism, etc. Subsequently, people who practice religion devote a large part of their lives to helping others and bringing goodness to their surroundings. These noble aims are very much a part of the fabric of religious thought, but on some level they may miss the point and subvert the very goals they seek to achieve. Because in the very quest to help others, it is possible to neglect the most vital frontier of all: that of the inner self.

In their pursuit to better the world, many fail to better their own selves. In their desire to practice religion, they discount the true meaning of religion. For religion means fighting yourself more than fighting others; improving yourself more than improving others; gaining control over yourself, and your negative inclination, more than gaining control over the world.

My dear mentor Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once advised me, so poignantly: “Know that the greatest obstacle to me, Adin, is me. The greatest obstacle to you, Pinchas, is you. But once you learn to master yourself, you will not have any problem mastering the entire world.”

It is important, even vital, to be conscious of outside threats. In our increasingly open world we must know how to identify and fight, without compromise, the bad that relentlessly attempts to penetrate the sanctity of our circles. We must learn to decipher the various manifestations of evil and conquer them with unwavering vigor.

Being positively involved in the world is of high importance too. “Tikkun olam” projects and other forms of social-aid initiatives are essential to the peace and success of our society. But we ought to remember that positive change begins with the self. Just as light can only come from light, a good world can only come from a good person.

This is also why the term for “religious” in Hebrew is “shomer (mitzvot)” – “guardian (of good deeds).” Because the true meaning of religion is to constantly guard the good within from being contaminated by bad. A “guardian” knows that “the beginning of wisdom is the inner fear of God” (Proverbs 1:7) and a “guardian” knows that his “inner fear of God” must play a crucial role in every aspect of his life. People may label themselves religious, but if their inner fear of God is lacking, they may be, at worst, religiously irreligious.

The legendary chassidic master from the city of Kotzk in Poland, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern (1787-1859), once professed to his disciples that “when I was young, I desired to change the world. But I quickly realized this was an impossible feat, so I decided to work on my city alone. This too became unachievable, so I focused solely on my family. But I now finally realize that the only person I can truly change is myself.”

About the Author: Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, AZ. He is a popular educator, lecturer and author of many essays and writings on the Judaism and social analysis.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Rescuing Religion From Its Reputation”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Candy-laden bulletin board greets children on their first day of school in the lobby of an Efrat apartment building. Sept. 1, 2014.
The message reads:
"To our dear children ... may it be a year of fun and happiness in your studies." 
Did You Know September 1 is an Israeli National Holiday?
Latest Indepth Stories
0.5-Shekel-hatasham-RJP

The War projects to lower Israel’s 2014 GDP 0.5% but will have little influence on foreign investors

The_United_Nations_Building

It is in the nature of the Nations of the World to be hostile towards the Jewish People.

champions

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are actually fighting to “liberate Jerusalem and all Palestine.”

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reviewing maps on the Golan Heights.

The bad news is that ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the Syrian Golan. The good news is that every terrorist in Syria is killing each other.

The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride.

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security.

How does a soldier from a religious home fall in love with a soldier from a non- religious kibbutz?

In 19th century entire ancient Jewish communities fled Palestine to escape brutal Muslim authorities

Responsibility lies with both the UN and Hamas, and better commitments should have been demanded from both parties in the ceasefire.

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

If this is how we play the game, we will lose. By that I mean we will lose everything.

Reportedly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc that seeks to counter Islamist influence in the Middle East.

One wonders how the IDF could be expected to so quickly determine the facts.

While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.

More Articles from Rabbi Pinchas Allouche
twitter faceless

On Facebook, young and old alike fool themselves into believing they are better than the person they see in the mirror.

F100804AS08

Why would our tradition fill our fun-filled summers with such restricting limitations?

As the dust settles and the fog lifts from this tumultuous year of political campaigning, we are left to wonder how our country will evolve. Will the economy bounce back? Will our schools make progress? And how about U.S. relations with Israel? Will they grow weaker or stronger? Will the administration support an Israeli strike on Iran?

It was not a necessary part of our busy itinerary. It was not even a noble errand. But the craving for a tasty lunch led our group to experience a moment never to be forgotten.

Our blinding attraction to drama has captivated so many of us. We love to live it, watch it, or even worse, create it.

“It’s not easy being labeled religious these days,” a friend confessed to me a few weeks ago.

My friend may be right – so-called religious people have committed some of humanity’s most horrific crimes, casting a dark shadow on religion – but what is religion? What is the definition of a “religious person”? What was he referring to? Can religion and evil really co-exist?

Winds of uncertainty are blowing across the globe. The future remains unsure. Will the sun shine again? Will stability reemerge after the storm dies down?

Let’s face it: it’s unusual and even somewhat bizarre nowadays to encounter a family with more than two children. It is almost as if a war is launched against the unborn after a “red line” of two or three children has been reached.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/rescuing-religion-from-its-reputation/2011/08/24/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: