February 18, 2012

Religion as an “opiate for the masses”: This is the last time I’m going to let others define my religion for me

Posted in Judaism at 10:14 pm by chavalah

Yours truly at 13, shortly before my bat mitzvah

Lately (and my “lately” I suppose I mean “always,”) I have seen all religion in all the world defined as one thing—an “opiate” (by my man Karl Marx, one of the most prominent anti-religious folks of Jewish descent, I’m thinking,) that it’s a “safety net” for people too scared or lazy to think for themselves, or that it’s just a breeding ground for fundamentalists to rape, torture or pass conservative, anti-everyone legislation in the United States. These opinions are espoused by prominent scholars and well-educated people who follow them to the Bolsheviks and their ultimate antisemitic/theistic campaigns in the USSR (much of which occurred in the years following the Holocaust,)to people like these folks: http://listverse.com/2010/06/05/10-people-who-give-atheism-a-bad-name/. I included that list to support the idea that it is HUMAN BEINGS (not RELIGIONS) who support violence. You’ll find them of every shape and size, and frankly I’m tired of letting them do the talking for the rest of us.

So whenever someone attacks “all religious people” for being a certain way, I feel very defensive as a…somewhat religious person. 😛 It’s all really relative—people practice so many different religions in so many different ways that I have difficulty imagining how some atheists have decided we are all the same and do the same things for the same reasons.

Here’s a pointed opinion to get the ball rolling—to say that “all religions” or “every religious person” is one way—deluded, depressed, lazy, fundamentalist, intolerant, whatever—is like saying that “everyone in the African American community” is involved in “the ghetto lifestyle and gangster violence.” Broad-brush stereotypes and sanctioned intolerance are wrong. Just wrong. If there’s anything I’m a fundamentalist about, it’s that.

I really can only speak for Judaism, and try to give it as much justice as I can. Are there bigoted fundamentalists in Judaism? Absolutely. Are there people who live in a bubble and never question Jewish teachings and a meticulous display of ritualistic laws? Definitely…though personally I was taught that to be Jewish is to question everything. “Israel” (which is a biblical name for Jews,) was derived from “struggle with God.” Jewish texts, as I understand it, have always comprised “a living document.” Scholars have constantly been arguing with and expanding upon previous versions to make Judaism not only applicable to one time and place but to all. Around the time that Christianity was starting up, two Jewish groups in the Middle East were writing down the Talmud, one of the most centrist books of the tradition, which is in fact a large and detailed commentary on Jewish life (spanning generations) that started as an oral tradition. This tradition lives on today, with a diversifying group of Jewish people addressing the texts: http://sandralawson.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/why-does-the-torah-not-abolish-slavery/ ; http://ludmirermoyd.tumblr.com/post/17702057186 ; etc etc etc, just scratching the surface here. Judaism, to a far bigger group than the fundies or the non-thinkers, is an evolutionary processes, and a sometimes discomforting one at that, where we have to challenge our beliefs and the beliefs of our ancestors. It’s certainly no “security blanket.”

Judaism works for me. Although my parents are interfaith and I probably have twice as many Catholic relatives on my father’s side, I was raised in my mother’s faith and try as much as I did in my teen years to escape from it, I always kept feeling drawn back. I think, in part, because I’m a writer and an English major that the idea of understanding life through metaphors and intense narrative really speaks to me. That’s my personal journey (if any Jews respond to this they’ll probably feel much differently, to say nothing of other religious practitioners.)

So there we go. I wrote this post to stand up for myself and because I have pride in my heritage and my beliefs. And it’s time to let go of my frustrations with folks who espouse broad-brushed, intolerant opinions, because they don’t define me. It’s time to stop giving them that power.

Shabbat Shalom.

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