There is a lot of pressure when trying to come up with an entry to such a influential blog, but here it goes. As many of you well know, Mitch is what I lovingly refer to as an “evangelical atheist.” (He hates that.) I am a reconstructionst Jew.
First, I would like to give my own view on the difference between Judaism and Christianity. Christianity focuses on faith. The litmus test is accepting Jesus. Everything else is secondary. The hope is that from that faith, people will become better people, act nicer, be loving, etc. Judaism, on the other hand, does not spend much time on faith. Judaism focuses on actions. The most important holiday (second to Shabbat) is one that asks everyone to review their own actions and take responsibility for their consequences. In some of the more orthodox denominations, I fear that this focus on action can sometimes turn into OCD, but in the more liberal synagogues, this can lead to thoughtful and introspective discussions. In my synagogue, rather than a weekly sermon, there is a discussion.
Mitch struggles with religion, because afterall one has to admit that it is largely based on imaginary friends and historically dubious fairy tales. Religion at its best can be a structure that encourages people to stretch and examine themselves and their community. At its worst it can be a cult asking members to surrender personal thought to a corrupt power structure. But does that mean that there is a problem with religion, or a problem with people?
The comparison I often think of is marriage. We stand in front of our community and swear to be with one person for the rest of our lives. We talk about the transformative power of love. We wear silly outfits. We spend thousands of dollars and sacrifice dozens of flowers, and all for an institution that we all know may not actually work out. Love and monogamy can easily be explained as artifacts of evolution, selected for because it helped create community structures that allowed for successful procreation. Marriage, at is best can be an opportunity for personal growth and joy. At its worst it can be an oppressive, violent, and destructive force. Marriage and love have lead to death and violence for eons. So does that mean that we shun all marriages? Or do we just try everyday to make our own marriages the best we can, and hope that other people can find their way.
I admit that I may be wrong. The chances that there is a God may be slim. But my faith brings order to my life. It forces me to question my values. It allows me to discuss my ideas with my family and friends. And most importantly, it brings me calm. And if I can have those things, I am willing to risk being wrong.