Can Religion Provide Us Any Hope?

Like many of you, these past days have been filled with a sense of hopelessness. Between the events in the Middle-East, the continuing childish political theatre of Congress, the tragic relentless consequences of Covid and the slaughter of young girls for the crime of seeking an education; we seem to be spinning ever deeper into an abyss of despair. Even last weekend’s arrival of Shavuot with Confirmation and celebration did little to temper the unease. Where is the hope? We could ask religion but sadly, so much of what rests at the foundation of so much trouble is religion, or what really is the corruption of religion, as religion is used as a means and tool to establish and control and maintain power. When religion gets politicized, bad things happen. Just read history!

We seek answers in the now,  but, what if we turned back some pages of time? Maybe instead of linking so much “religion” to political action, we could, perhaps, rediscover some of what we may have lost. In 1946 Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman published a book called “Peace of Mind”. He sought to see linkages between religion and psychology in the direct aftermath of World War 2. In it, he defines religion as “the accumulated spiritual wisdom and ethical precepts dating from the time of the earliest Prophets and gradually formulated into a body of tested truth for man’s moral and spiritual guidance and spiritual at-homeness in the universe”. (12) Just a thought that maybe we have traded accumulated spiritual wisdom for temporal comfort! If religion is supposed to bring us together, then we can see in its truth the desire to break down barriers (political, cultural, ethnic etc) and work to find and bring meaning to us in this all too brief existence we call life.

Again, turning the pages of history we come to a profound essay by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, an essay based on a talk he gave in Germany in 1938. Titled “The Meaning of This Hour”, Heschel wrote of what could be seen as the failure of modernity to be true to religion’s essence in that: “We have helped to extinguish the light our fathers had kindled. We have bartered holiness for convenience, loyalty for success, love for power, wisdom for information, tradition for fashion.” (“Quest for God”. p.150).

Pirke Avot (200 C.E.) is right when it cautioned that we are not responsible for saving the entire world, just the part we inhabit. One relationship at a time, one moment at a time; and in doing so we can hope that someway, somehow, some sense of meaning, peace and wholeness can be achieved. If we sit back and are content to watch the world spin out of control then are we not complicit in this despair? Can there be hope in the midst of all of this madness? Yes, if we choose to make it so. There will be no miracle from heaven. No amount of prayer will allow us to see each other as “in God’s image”. In the end it is, as it has always been, hope shall come if we just choose to make it so.

Stay safe and well. Get vaccinated. Hope

Rabbi Richard F Address

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