Kenneth Cohen

The Problem With Religion and Its Solution

In July, 2019, the Pew Research Center examined the question as to whether belief in G-d was necessary to teach morality. Numerous people were questioned in countries all over the world. Their findings were that the more affluent the country, the weaker was their belief. Sweden scored the worst at only 9% and the Philippines scored the highest at 96%. The United States and Israel came in at 44% and 48% respectively.

It is somewhat understandable why religion has been rejected by the majority of the world. Religion is associated with fanaticism, domination, and a stifling of one’s freedom. History doesn’t have a very good track record, either. Millions of innocent people were murdered in the name of religion.

In many circles in the Jewish world, there are many cases of Jews losing interest in religious practices, as they find it difficult to relate to many of its stringencies. There appears to be too much emphasis on seemingly trivial practices, and not enough beauty is seen, to want to make them remain observant. This does not negate the excitement generated by the Jewish State, but it does not always translate into religious practices.

It appears that the world has sought alternate beliefs to take the place of religion. These prevalent beliefs, can be divided into five main areas:

The first substitute belief to religion, is that one must do, “whatever makes him happy.” This becomes the mantra of how to view the world. Parents have adopted this viewpoint which they pass on to their children. With this philosophy, there must be a great deal of leeway. Being happy becomes the ultimate, where without religion, even extreme behaviors have to be accepted. The children can use this as an excuse for bad choices or bad behavior. After all, they were just trying to do what makes them happy. Isn’t that the message they were given?

The second alternate belief is in democracy at all costs. Anyone who was to challenge democratic views, was seriously misguided. Democracy is the answer to all of our problems. As long as we respect democracy, all will be well. This explains why thousands of people are allowed to demonstrate during Covid, despite the obvious dangers, because, otherwise, our sacred belief in democracy, would be compromised.

The third belief is the holy fight against racism. In today’s world, it is far worse to be a racist than a thief. And in some circles, it might even be worse than murder. Once an individual is labeled a racist, he is finished; whether the label is justified or not. The late Rabbi Meir Kahane was given such a label, and he was treated worse than those who openly wanted to destroy the State of Israel. Once a racist, society has zero tolerance for you, on any level.

The fourth substitute belief to religion, is tolerance and understanding. If we would only learn to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs, there would be so much love and understanding in the world. Nobody in the world is bad. They only need understanding and lots of hugs. I heard of a nice woman from India who travels all over the world giving hugs. People literally wait in long lines to wait their turn for their hug. Tolerance and love are the cure for everything.

The final substitute belief to religion, is global warming. Our planet is in great danger, and we must take active steps to save the planet. We must take great care not to pollute our seas and rivers, and avoid wastes that do great harm. There is a rallying cry that we must be concerned about how we live, because, otherwise, the consequences could be catastrophic.

It is very sad that these beliefs have taken the place of Judaism, when, in fact, they are all included as part of religious observance. We must begin with the premise that Judaism is perfect. Those who practice it, are not. We must remember that there has never been written a more perfect book than our Holy Torah. It is the only book written directly from G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai. No other book even comes close to the uniqueness of this holy work.

It is also important to recognize that there is good and evil in the world. The Prophet Isaiah 45:7, wrote that G-d Himself created good and created evil. He wants us to choose good in order to reward us. Rabbi Elie Munk wrote that only G-d is capable of teaching the world, right and wrong. Man made laws never succeed. We can see how much society has decayed over the last forty or fifty years, with all of its openness and permissiveness. Judaism also believes that there are two poles in this world. We are either pulled to the side of good or to the side of evil.

There is a big emphasis in Judaism on being happy. There is even a commandment on our three pilgrimage festivals, to be happy. Many books speak of the importance of maintaining an upbeat, positive countenance. We are not speaking of the temporary happiness that comes with fulfilling one’s desires. But we are speaking of the joy and inner peace that comes with living a morally principled life. The Chassidic master, Rabbi Nachman, often said that it was a great Mitzva, to always remain happy.

Judaism believes in democracy. There were courts of three, twenty-three, and seventy-one, assigned to decided legal matters, and the majority ruled. This majority rule ends if it were to collectively decide to transgress the Torah’s commandments. This is the problem with democracy. The majority rules with no checks and balances.

The Torah is against racism because any sincere Gentile of any shape, size, or color, is welcome to become part of the Jewish people. He only needs to demonstrate his sincerity and determination to abide by Jewish Law. Jews have a specific role to play as do non-Jews. It is unacceptable to hate and discriminate.

We are commanded to love every Jew. We are not even allowed to hold feelings of hatred in our hearts. We are taught not to bear a grudge. But we are also taught to destroy evil, not pretend it does not exist. We must do this not because we hate our enemies. Rather, it is because of the love we have for family and country. We have tolerance and love for good behavior.

There is even a commandment in the Torah that speaks of protecting our planet. It is forbidden to cut down a fruit tree, for that would be wasteful. This is the source forbidding any action that destroys and harms the environment. Polluting the world and turning G-d’s beautiful world into ugliness and filth, is clearly forbidden.

In conclusion, without a set of rules, and turning to G-d for teaching morality, and right and wrong, the world becomes one of chaos, anarchy, and immorality. We must give religion another chance by finding the right teachers. We do not need to look elsewhere to find alternate beliefs. It is all contained in our Torah. We must embrace the holy and the pure, and distance ourselves from evil, lies, and impurities.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at