The time is now for reform and conservative Judaism outreach

The first two decades of the 21st century saw a major rise in the number of people in the USA who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” which now stands at 26% of the total American population, up nine points from 17% in 2009.

The next two decades will see a major post-Covid-19 religious revival in the USA for the coronavirus has prompted almost two-thirds of American believers to feel that God is telling humanity to change how it lives according to a poll conducted by the University of Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press, which indicates many people are searching for deeper meaning in the devastating Covid-19 outbreak.

Even now after only one year of Covid-19 in North America, there will be literally millions of people, especially ex-Roman Catholics and ex-Evangelicals, who will be seeking new religious roots and communities. Many of these people might turn to Judaism if Rabbis made much more of an effort to reach out to them on the internet.

Since congregations and Jewish organizations are already doing outreach online for Jews, all that needs to be done is redo some of the spiritual and ethical materials designed for Jews, in a vocabulary understandable by and of interest to non-Jewish seekers.

A 2014 Pew study showed white evangelicals were the most active religious group online — one-third of white evangelicals in the study said they have shared their own faith online, compared with 15% of white mainline Protestants, 30% of Black Protestants, 15% of Catholics and less than 4% of Jews [mostly Chabad].

For the next four years, the U.S. Catholic bishops will have one of their own in the White House while facing the facts that almost no Catholic in public life today believes everything the Roman Catholic church teaches about original sin, an all-male clergy, artificial birth control, homosexuality, and abortion.

Even among teens and young adults who say they are affiliated with organized religion; 52% say they have little or no trust in organized religion according to the “State of Religion and Young People” study which last year surveyed more than 10,000 Americans ages 13 to 25 about their involvement in, and feelings about, religion.

The study also found that 60% of teens and young adults who are not involved with an organized religion described themselves as at least slightly spiritual; 19% said they attend religious gatherings at least once a month, and 12% of unaffiliated young people said they have become more religious in the last 5 years.

This last group will lead the next religious revival starting post-Covid-19 as Prophet Amos predicted: “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11)

But this 12% of unaffiliated young people that have become more religious in the last 5 years group will lead the next religious revival only if the leaders of today’s religions will be open to the desire of young people for religions that are not homophobic, and advocate religious diversity by respecting other religions because they do not claim an exclusive ‘we have the only truth’ or ‘our religion is the only one approved by God’ theology.

According to a 2008 Pew survey, one in five Christians in America believe that non-Christian faiths cannot lead one to salvation. That number soared to 60 percent for white evangelical Protestants who attend church once a week.

A survey of over 35,000 Americans in 2008 found that most Americans agree with the statement: many religions — not just their own — can lead to eternal life. Among those affiliated with some religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life.

This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including 82% of Jews, 79% of Catholics, 57% of evangelical Protestants and 56% of Muslims. (From the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2008, Pew Research Center.)

It is very important to understand that ‘religious pluralism is the will of God’ is different from religious, moral or cultural relativism. Relativism teaches that all values and standards are subjective, and therefore there is no higher spiritual authority available for setting ethical standards or making moral judgments.

Thus, issues of justice, truth or human rights are, like beauty, just in the eye of the beholder.

Most people, especially those who believe that One God created all of us, refuse to believe that ethics and human rights are simply only a matter of taste. Religious pluralism as the will of God is the opposite of cultural psychological or philosophical relativism.

The fundamental idea supporting religious pluralism is that religious people need to embrace humility in all areas of religion. All religions have always taught a traditional anti-self-centered personal egoism type of humility.

Religious pluralism also opposes a religious, philosophical, and self-righteous intellectual egoism that promotes a tendency to turn our legitimate love for our own prophet and Divine revelation into universal truths that we fully understand and know how to apply.

Religious pluralism teaches that finite humans, even the most intelligent and pious of them, can not fully understand everything the way the infinite One does.

This is true, for every human being, even for God’s messengers themselves. When Prophet Moses, “who God spoke with face to face, as a person speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11) asks to see God face to face, he is told, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see My face and live.” (33:20)

Similarly, in the Qur’an Prophet Jesus admits to God, “You know everything that is within me, whereas I do not know what is within Yourself”. (7:116)

And when Prophet Jesus was asked, in private, by his disciples, “What will be the sign for your coming (back) and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) Jesus warns his disciples about upheavals and false Messiahs that will come. Then Jesus concluded by saying, “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the son: only the Father”. (24:36)

A similar statement was made by Prophet Muhammad when he was asked, “Tell me about the Hour”. He said: “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.” (Muslim Book 1 Hadith 1&4)

God taught the general principle of epistemological humility through Prophet Muhammad who taught his followers “I am no novelty among the messengers. I do not know what will be done to me, or to you.” (Qur’an 46:9) In truth, the only universal truth should be the humility to admit: “Only God knows.”

As Prophet Muhammad said, “Don’t give me superiority over Moses, for all people will fall unconscious on the Day of Resurrection. I will be the first to regain consciousness, and behold! Prophet Moses will be there holding the side of Allah’s Throne. I will not know whether Prophet Moses was among those people who became unconscious and then had regained consciousness before me, or was among those exempted by Allah from falling unconscious.” (Bukhari: Vol. 8, Book 76, #524)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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