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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach Headshot

Religion's Summer of Discontent

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Word on the street is that the bomb placed in Times Square, near the
headquarters of Viacom, which owns Comedy Central, may be in response
to a South Park episode that portrayed the prophet Muhammad in a bear
costume. If true, and some fanatical Muslims believe that people ought
to die because of a couple of jokes on a TV show, then it's another
nail in the coffin of the public's respect for the usefulness of
religion.

Indeed, this is religion's summer of discontent. Humankind's most
powerful impulse, to approach the divine, is being undermined by the
directionlessness of today's great faiths. From ongoing violence in
the name of Islam, which is the most serious of all modern religious
sins, to priestly pedophilia, to the evangelical fixation on gay
marriage to the near exclusion of everything else, to Judaism's
impotence in purging materialism from its community, mainstream
religion is being discredited, becoming increasingly irrelevant to the
lives of modern men and women.

The main reason for the deterioration of modern faith is not its sins
of commission, but its sins of omission. People can forgive scandal in
religion so long as, the rest of the time, religion guides and
inspires them. But secular people today see religion's main goal today
as self-perpetuation, more concerned with its timeless institutions
than with the pressing needs of its flock.

Last week I met with Pope Benedict in Rome after his Wednesday
audience, arranged by Gary Krupp of the Pave the Way Foundation. The
substance of the meeting received significant media play because of
what I asked of the Pope. In essence, I pressed the pontiff, who
graciously received me, to join in creating a global family dinner
night on Fridays, something we have already begun with our 'Turn
Friday Night Into Family Night' initiative. I presented the Pope with
a dual-time Phillip Stein watch and told him it was set to the time
zones of Rome and Jerusalem, signifying my desire to have him focus on
Israel and the threat the Jewish people face from Iran who, with
openly seek to wipe Israel off the map. And second, the dual clock
face is symbolic of my request that he take the lead in our global
campaign by calling upon all the world's parents to give their
children two uninterrupted hours every Friday night, inviting two
guests, and discussing two important subjects with their children.

He nodded his assent and repeated twice, 'We will work together.'

When the papal meeting was over we met with Walter Cardinal Casper,
President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. I continued
my pitch, now with the Cardinal, for the importance of the worldwide
Church partnering with us to create an international family dinner
night. The Cardinal, a close friend of Pope Benedict for more than
forty years, strongly endorsed the idea and related his memories of
family dinners with his own parents.

I made the case to the Cardinal that the pedophile priest scandal had
significantly undermined the Church's standing as a champion of
family. Many influential American commentators were now skewering the
Church for being an all-boys club, run by men who do not marry and who
had, in the imagination of some, been prepared to sacrifice the
welfare of children in order to protect the reputation of the Church.
What better way to reverse this perception than to use the full power
and reputation of the Church to address children's core needs, namely,
receiving the love and attention of parents.

Would this not be a new and positive narrative of the Catholic Church
as a champion of family, giving productive and useful advice as to how
to reinvigorate the parent-child bond?

There are two kinds of children. One who receives time and love from
their parent as a gift, and the other who receives it, if at all, as
something that must be earned. The former grows up steady and sturdy
like a cedar, fortified by the ongoing validation given to him by
doting parents. The other becomes a crowd-pleaser, riddled with
insecurities, always feeling that there is nothing especially worthy
about him and that he needs to perform and produce in order to become
special. I asked the Cardinal to help us populate the world with the
first kind of child.

Within the Vatican hierarchy I encountered priests who were
all-too-eager to discuss the current controversies facing the Church
and who understood the need for the Church to re-emerge as a global
champion of family. With the Church operating the world's largest
network of schools, hospitals, and orphanages, it is crucial that it
also reach everyday mothers and fathers who are struggling to raise
purposeful children in a world that celebrates narcissism and fame.

For many people religion offers ritual but no wisdom, dogma but
practically no self-help. And all the splendors of the Vatican will
not save the Church from being anything other than a wonderful tourist
destination if it doesn't take the initiative and teach people to
master life.

The irrelevance of modern religion is something being felt worldwide.
Europeans especially have no time for religion. Secular Israelis feel
the same. Religion for them is a form of OCD, forever concerned with
meaningless minutiae while life's larger issues remain unaddressed. In
Israel religion is viewed as a parasite, living off the hard work of
the secular people who built the state. Religion is the Yeshiva which
teaches meaningless texts while refusing to serve in the army.

But if religion is inevitably destined to be consigned by modern
Westerners to the ranks of the useless, then why are sophisticated and
highly educated people turning in their tens of millions to the Dalai
Lama as their hero? It remains a striking phenomenon that people who
work on Wall Street and go to Harvard believe in a man who dresses in
a sheet and believes he is the incarnation of earlier spiritual
teachers. The reason: the Dalai Lama addresses modernity's greatest
problem. We're sinking in a morass of materialism that is suffocating
our spirit and he shows you the way out.

The Pope has the largest microphone to the world and with it the
greatest opportunity to heal marriages which are struggling to remain
intact and children who are in pain over lovelessness and neglect. An
international family dinner night would be a huge step toward religion
becoming vital again and toward the Catholic Church being seen in its
true light, as a faith that is focused on protecting children and
cherishing family.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. On
May 14th he will publish Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.
Go to www.fridayisfamily.com to sign up your family as part of a
global dinner initiative.

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