Dear fellow theists,
I once sat on a grassy hill in Jerusalem with a group of friends. On my left was a gorgeous expanse of desert rolling on toward the Dead Sea and the burning disk of the setting sun was just scraping the Golden Dome of the Old City on my right. Someone had a guitar. How better to enhance perfection than through song? The plucky young player readied his machine, shut his eyes to find his muse and burst into an appropriately earnest melody. It stunk, however -- big time. Not because he was insufficiently skilled or because the selection was poor, but because no one was into it and the moment was lost.
This is how I've felt in recent days as I consider the edifice of the religious endeavor in general. Not only is the tune good -- it's magnificent, the best that could be conceived -- but half of the chorus is bored and the others are just pretending to sing. OK, that was just said for effect. I know that the great majority of you are principled, happy, balanced and authentically spiritual -- you sing beautifully. But sadly, the ranks of our members who do not is swelling and the effects are wreaking havoc -- on individuals, families and communities. I know. I keep hearing about it -- anecdotally and in the popular press. Left unchecked it will metathesize and, like a nasty scratch on an old vinyl record, forever distort the good that could have been.
I have heard just one too many stories about hypocritical religious "leaders" who have shocked (and depressed) their flocks after their faux-piety is exposed for the screaming lie it is. I'm sure you have too. Do these people have any idea what narcissists they are? Do those that cover for them realize how perverse and sinister they are? To take bribes, cheat the innocent in corrupt business deals and indulge in extra-marital activities while having the temerity to lecture others about the virtues of scholarship, purity and character development is bad enough. To abuse children is utterly beyond the pale and needs to be loudly denounced for the evil it is. To not do so, or to engage in cover-ups and position the victims as the criminals is simply bizarre and as anti-God as you can get. How can people who affirm "justice, justice shall you pursue!" not fight that which is so obviously unjust? How can communities who claim to believe in "love your friend as yourself" be so unloving? Something has gone horribly wrong.
We need to redouble our efforts at home. Children can spot hypocrisy at 100 paces, and if you think that the notion of "do as I say and not as I do" will work after they have their driver's licenses (or even before), you are sorely mistaken. When you can so easily see the horrific effects of bad-parenting on so many -- their loneliness and lack of clarity, their lousy decision-making and their inability to develop healthy and intimate relationships -- how can you not cancel some of the evenings out, shorten the business trips and also seek couple's or family counseling where applicable? How can someone rightly be expected to connect to their "Father in Heaven" when they have a cruddy relationship with their material father? Parents are primal anchors and as creators, paradigms of Divinity. The responsibility is awesome. Parents: Do you realize that you represent love to your children? Do you understand that how they relate to your authority impacts how they relate to all authority -- including that of the Divine? Do you get that your fidelity is the model for theirs?
My friends, the good news is that we have the goods! We should be proud of our awareness of the most fundamental tenet in life - that there is an Infinite, Loving, Creative-force that brought all things into existence and continues to sustain them. There is no closeness to a non-material being outside of resemblance. To be close is to be alike. So if you want to be a spiritual person, if you want to be close to God -- then, act Godly. As such, we are obligated to conduct ourselves as fitting representatives -- to be ethical paragons. To be anything less is a desecration of God's name and though a whole group cannot fairly be judged by the actions a few, where there's smoke there's generally fire. A religious person must, at all times and in all places, conduct his or her self with the utmost decorum -- must exude humility, patience and compassion, must fight for justice, must speak pleasantly (and truthfully), must be uncompromisingly scrupulous in business dealings and absolutely must not disgrace himself through sexual infidelity.
The principles that we stand for have changed the world -- yes, for the better. All that is good in Western culture finds its root in classical monotheism and despite the histrionics of some of its detractors, will continue to be the quintessential force of light, justice, virtue and meaning until history runs its course. If our leaders are incapable of righting the societal wrongs then we must take the responsibility ourselves, as it says in the Mishna, "in a place where there is no leader -- strive to become a leader."
In the same way as you would never use a Stradivarius as a door stop or a Porsche as a plough, strive to not cause the masses to believe that authentic, transformational, brilliant and beautiful spirituality is just so much vapor. I'm speaking to myself as well.