My good friend Sam and I were sitting at the bar of this quaint yet trendy restaurant in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem catching up on the last few months that we hadn’t seen each other. He has been spending his last year, and upcoming next few years, in England working on his PHD in Artificial Intelligence and I have just been keeping up with my regular daily life (although he seems to think that my life is anything but regular).
This was our chance to see what’s what and renew a bit of our real life friendship outside the controlled clutches of Facebook. Naturally we asked each other the usual questions such as how are my kids, how is his dad, hobbies, work, partners, and then finally we get to the big label topic: Religion. Religion is the elephant in the room that we pretend not to notice when we are with a friend or colleague who so obviously leads a different religious life than ours.
The Lead Up
Now Sam’s approach to life is one of a rabid agnostic and a practicing atheist. He refers to God as that imaginary friend in the sky and has no qualms about living a life without a religious belief system in place. I come from a Jewish, orthodox background where my devotion to God and religion were part of my every move from when I woke up in the morning to the moment I fell asleep at night. I felt devotion to God and never doubted the fact that no matter what I went through in my life, God was there, supporting me and listening to my prayers, my cries and my hopes and dreams.
As Sam and I got into discussing my current religious devotion (or lack thereof) he couldn’t help but turn to me and say, in his never-to-be subtle way with that little bit of sarcasm,
“Devora, what is the deal with religion? Do you think it will ever catch on?”
I, of course, laughed since I can’t resist a good poke at the sublime topics in life, but even so, the topic seemed to catch fire with me. For the next little while the conversation developed and began to address other pertinent questions relating to religion such as: What makes people turn to it with such devotion? Why do they leave it and why do they come back to it? Do people really, but I mean really, believe or are they just there for the Kiddush. Who am I to judge considering that i myself can barely resist a good herring and scotch after a full morning of prayers?
These coming days we prepare to stand before God on the holy day of Yom Kippur and to be judged and our fate to be sealed for the coming year and yet how many of us are really ingrained with such devotion to God that our belief is truly one of utter and complete selflessness.
Religious Devotion v.s. Coca Cola
It brought to mind the story of Hannah and her seven sons who refused to bow down to an idol and were slaughtered one by one in front of their mother Hannah’s eyes until she was the last to be martyred. This is a story of complete and utter devotion to God.
This is a beautiful rendition of the story in prose form:
In the name of their religion, there are people out there killing, being killed, boycotting, picketing, traveling, spending, sermonizing, praying, self sacrificing and so on and so forth. It incites others and disgraces those who don’t believe in THEIR absolute truth.
When religion is involved the most apathetic person can become a tyrant. A grandmother with her grandchild on her lap can tell stories of devotion to a deity or prophet while encouraging irrational behaviors and complete self sacrifice. People speak about the after world with conviction, a place where everything seemingly comes together even though no one has actually ever come back to tell us of this miraculous place. This is the place where the sinners, the righteous, those who sacrificed and the eagerly awaited ultimate justice coincides… here in this beautiful, never to be seen but forever to be believed world of after-life.
Religion seems to make more money worldwide than Coca-Cola does, which to me is a miracle unto itself considering that if I were dying of thirst in the desert and was asked if I would rather pray or drink Coke, I think that the decision would be clear to me. I probably could justify it later by saying that it was Pikuach Nefesh, life threatening, a proper religious justification for otherwise seemingly improper choices.
Returning to my friend Sam’s question as well as my own as to whether or not religion will really catch on or is it just another trend, I realized that within religion itself comes so many sub-occupations and hobbies that it would be hard for me to see it being obliterated completely…except of course in the case of a successful holy war (that was a joke).
Religion serves so many different roles and purposes in our day to day lives. It is embraced, served, serenaded, observed, honored, disgraced and passed down from one generation to the next. It is an addiction, an occupation and a hobby. It is a business, a charity, a service and a kindness. It is war and strife, pain and suffering, self degradation, personal salvation, strength and weakness. It is despair and elation, perversity and honor.
So in the meanwhile, pass the herring.
Here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year.