Friday, November 25, 2011

A Case for Religion

A headline earlier this week read, "Aaron Rodgers: More Popular than Jesus Christ". It is evident that religion is not as great an influence on society as it once was. The scientific revolution led to increasing doubt in religious dogma. In addition, humanity is no longer an agricultural, rural society, where everybody is familiar with one another. People reside in swarming metropolises nowadays, and they exclaim that religion is holding them back. Why should a corporation take a day of rest when their thousands of employees work different shifts? On the contrary, religion is still very meaningful to many people. Deeply consider religion is not a universal solution to all people's problems, but keep in mind religion being illegitimate for one person is no reason to press anti-religious thought on others. Similarly, recognize religion is not the same for any individual, and it can be quite loose or very fundamental. Aaron Rodgers may be more popular than Jesus Christ, but this is no basis for one to conclude that religion is unnecessary for the modern world.

Most people first think of deities and prophets when religion is brought up in conversation, but it is also a source of joy and celebration. Religion emphasizes core values, such as love, responsibility, family, and generosity. From birth to death, many religions recognize important life cycle events. While a wedding can be done in a courthouse or casino, some feel a full celebration with a religion aiding them in the process more memorable. Love is indescribable, but a religious leader can help a pair of fianc├ęs define their relationship. The Jewish practice of a Bar Mitzvah is rewarding for many Jewish children, teaching them responsibility at the beginning of adolescence. Religion is like a source to fall back on when there are upcoming, major events. It is a well of beauty, significance, and understanding.

While religion is a divider among nations of the world, it brings groups together too. If every person in the world was ideologically identical, the world would be a monotonous place. Religion unifies people. After Friday night services, there is an Oneg Shabbat. Jews come to shmooze, but in many temples this ritual is more than polite chit-chat. All the Jews in the world share a common 5,000 year old history and culture, yet there is a wide spectrum of tradition. It is not religious differences that separates these groups, but people themselves. A friend and I were making a case for and against religion. She claimed religions start wars. If one takes the Spanish Inquisition, is religion to blame? Rather, King Ferdinand and the society he created in late 1400s Spain is what led to the Jews' expulsion and murder. Likewise, religious tolerance is a rewarding skill to practice, for it prepares people to handle other traits that are out of a person's control. By being separate, humans actually come closer together.

Although much happiness is found from religion, it is an outlet for comfort in the darkest of hours as well. Whether one is sick or dying, many turn to their faith for support. Since religion can not cure their friend's cancer or bring back a dead relative, skeptics discount this benefit. Instead, religion can be a hug after a loss. I know that I am on the committee in my synagogue to help the family of our congregant's members who are sick and dying. Representing the temple, I send get well and condolence cards to temple members. Additionally, rabbis, ministers, and the like are an open set of ears to pour one's feelings into a times become rough. When a person close to us falls ill, we feel helpless. Prayer is an aid for all, but offers a way to help in such a desperate time. A fellow congregant of mine once taught me prayer is not asking God to heal a broken arm. His prayer involved requesting that the person with the broken arm gain the strength to deal with this injury. Trying this, I realize it a way to gain hope. Subsequently, many religions teach to visit and help the sick. One can do this on their own, but through a place of worship it is organized and easier to go as a group. Religion can be a pathway to another family that supports one under any circumstance.

Many religions are ancient, and as some denounce, they are out of date. If this is so, these disbelievers should reform. While there are very conservative religious institutions, there are many that are open to change. I constantly question Judaism's philosophies. Religion is partly about preserving tradition, but there are many things that are, in fact, out of date. We should attempt to choose a religion that is applicable to us. Try to tie religion into a passion. Like to cook? Explore some holiday time recipes. Do not believe in a god? Find a particular religion that does not rely on theistic ethics. As I said before preaching religion, it is not for everyone. There are just some people who find it repulsive. Perhaps, football is more of a priority in Wisconsin right now. When it comes to finding jobs in this nation, a Packers victory may bring more smiles to faces than a Sunday church service. This is okay, but religion is not dying. There are still many positives assets to be explored. Religion makes us think. It makes us question our morality. How else are we supposed to develop a sense of right or wrong? Watching the Packers play?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Did Facebook, Among Other Entities, Kill Hospitality?

With the passing of Sarah, many excitements come to Isaac in this week's Torah portion. First of all, Abraham purchases a burial ground for him and his wife. Sarah unfortunately passes on, and Abraham is quite old and frail. Knowing he will not be on Earth much longer, Abraham assigns one of his servants to go back to his homeland. In this land, the servant must find Isaac a wife. The servant does not want to a pick a random woman to be the next matriarch of the Jewish people. He sets up a test for Isaac's future wife. Abraham's servant and his camels stop by a well outside the city. They rest there, for this servant wants to see which women will offer him and his camels water. If his plan is successful, he will ask to stay the night with this woman. He finds Rebekah, and his plan works. At Rebekah's household, Abraham's servant reveals the objective of his quest, asking Rebekah's parents permission to take her back to Isaac. When they agree to his terms, Rebekah returns to Canaan with him. Her and Isaac fall in love, and they wed at once. Abraham leaves Isaac his numerous possessions and the title of being head of the Jewish people.

In general, Abraham's servant is assessing Rebekah's generosity and hospitality. The water well is a common spot for many Biblical women to go, but only Rebekah offers this man and all his band of camels a drink after a long journey in the desert. This servant and his objectives are unknown to Rebekah, yet she continues to be as kind to this stranger as she would her kin. Later, Rebekah invites the servant to stay the night as he discusses his lack of a place to stay. Imagine for a walk and coming back with a houseguest. In the modern world, such random hospitality seems absurd. In Biblical times, being homeless, even for a night, was threat to one's survival. Nights were often cold, and the animals were wild at night. A multitude of things could kill one overnight, including a lack of food since lunchtime. Rebekah exhibits extraordinary kindness as she sets all doubts aside and allows this strange man into her life.

Is the principle of hospitality a thing of the past? In some ways, life is far more public than it ever was. Social networks, like Facebook, make a person's entire life known to anyone they accept. While one must accept someone on Facebook, there are many people that the accepter barely talks tom, but he or she shrugs and questions why not accept them. On the contrary, technology makes it easier for people to hide behind a screen to communicate. Even relationships are being started over Facebook chats and texts messages. In addition, there are many more charities today than there ever were. People want to do help the world by donating, but they are overwhelmed by the choosing who to award money. There was no single cause for the decline of hospitality and generosity. However, the decline is evident in how open people are to strangers. Thanksgiving is in less than a week, but there are few people outside one's general circle they would invite. Would they invite a homeless man or woman to share a meal with them? What if that man or woman was dirty versus clean? Does that make a difference? Even I could not say whether I would offer this invitation. In this situation, I would probably inform the homeless person about a local Thanksgiving meal in a public place. It allows him or her to enjoy the holiday, but it also relieves me of any discomfort I may feel. However, is it not true that person will still go to bed cold that night? Hospitably is not dead, but it is dying. I may never know if that homeless man or woman is on a quest to find someone's husband or wife.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Hagar-Sarah Conflict

Following orders from God, Abraham leaves Haran and settles in modern Israel with his wife Sarah. God admires this devotion, and promises Abraham prosperity for him and his descendants. However, Abraham becomes distraught, for Sarah is aging and unable to conceive a child. To avoid dying heirless, Sarah offers Abraham her maidservant, Hagar. Then, God acknowledges his covenant with Abraham, and God increases Sarah's fertility. Unfortunately, Hagar already bears Ishmael. Although the new mother succeeds in her designated task, Sarah mistreats Hagar. Eventually, Hagar becomes exasperated, and she runs away from Abraham and Sarah. She and Ishmael only returned based upon the words of an angel. Abraham and Sarah raise Isaac, but pay no regard toward Ishmael. Seeing their neglect, God blesses ishmael and his descendants with prosperity, which leads to the birth of the prophet Mohammed and the Muslim culture. Likewise, Isaac is considered the father of the Hebrews, for he was Abraham's other heir. Hagar and Sarah clash when birthing Abraham's heir, yet two nations are the heed of this conflict.

Is Ishmael really less worthy than his half-brother? Sure, Isaac is a blessing from God, but Ishmael precedes God's intervention and is no less Abraham's child than Isaac. Additionally, Hagar simply follows Sarah's orders to lay with Abraham, yet Sarah feels disgraced by her conception. How can Hagar, a servant, be at fault for obeying her mistress? By unknown means, it is evident Hagar was taken into custody by Sarah. Does it make Hagar less worthy than Sarah? The Torah also describes Hagar as Egyptian, implying her skin is a darker tone than Sarah. Does this imply race defines one's worthiness? Since Ishmael is multi-racial, is he less worthy of Abraham's attention? In the Avot V'emihot, the Jews proclaim how God is the God of Sarah. Based on the current situation, is Sarah a righteous anscestor to admire?

In my opinion, Ishmael and Hagar are just as valuable as Issac and Sarah. No human should be automatically neglected. I use the word automatically because humans start off as equals but deteriorate this privilege. For instance, two boys enter high school. One is Christian and the other is a Jew. Even though their English teacher is a devout Christian, she can not judge the Jew for anything other than his academic performance. Each child must originally receive the same attention at the start of the school year. If one boy turns in an essay personally attacking the teacher, then she can proceed to judge him. Similarly, Ishmael and Isaac should remain equal in Abraham's eyes until one of them supersedes the other. Racism, ageism, and sexism are all forms of prejudice and strangely stem from the Bible itself. Occasionally, I feel the Bible teaches the opposite of what the story tells. Such anecdotes highlight immorality in order to distinguish the opposite. Therefore, instead of following Sarah's path toward prejudice one should embrace people of all backgrounds until an individual is proven inadequate otherwise.