Friday, October 10, 2008

Religulous Yitzkor

Having sat through Bill Mahar's Religulous as well as Yitzkor for my father (who passed away last Christmas) all in the same week, I had plenty of time for reflection yesterday. Here are some of the stray thoughts:

(no particular order here.)

In making fun of fundamentalism - always a fun target - Mahar ignores two other very important aspects of religion: tradition and spirituality (or personal growth). Why doesn't Mahar make fun of more spiritual religions, like Buddhism, or more tradition oriented ones, like Confucism, or those that combine both, like Reconstructionist Judiasm? If 16% of Americans are athiests, as Bill claims, how many consider themselves non-fundamentalist "seekers"? That's probably the real silent majority.

There is something to be said about a community that ritualizes the passing of a generation from father to son and mother to daughter and can do this for over five thousand years. Every person's life, every generation, is remembered through communal ritual. That's very powerful.

Of our two great parties, Democrats have always been a party about communal responsibility. In a crisis like this, people are yearning for a communal calling. It doesn't matter who is at the top of the ticket: Bush has created an environment that is now ripe for a Democratic ascendancy.

The Republicans, for eight years, have been focused on individual greed. Like Moses, they need to spend some time in the wilderness. If they can come back and be about individual growth and responsibility, instead of greed, that would be a party we desperately need. We NEED the Grand Old Party back, not the fundamentalist ideology the party has become.

If Republicans can change their party like the above, even I, a lifelong Democrat, would consider voting Republican. But not this year.

Mahar ignores one big question: why do some religions encourage a fundamentalist interpretation of their holy scripture, while other religions encourage its members to see the literature as metaphors and stories written in a time before science and law that granted some, but not all, paths to wisdom, and can be updated to reflect what human beings have learned in the past two thousand years? Could some religions simply be better - more adaptable and useful - than others?

Speaking of that. The Old Testament was written before there was the Magna Carta, let alone Descart. It had to be all that mankind of 5000 years ago understood of law, of science, of sociology. For something that primitive, it's pretty well informed. But you know, anointing my head with oil these days reminds me more of getting a scalp massage than of sacrificing my goat at the local altar. As any good literary critic knows, a story only has meaning if it's put into historical context. That context has very little to do with us these days. But it doesn't mean it can't move us deeply if we understand motivations in the story. I like my religion because it does that, removes the distasteful bits (sexism, homophobia, warmongering) that we know enough now to rise above, assembles the ancient with the modern and offers a commentary on the two. Call it a poststructural form of Judaism.

Of course, in the end, none of that means as much as remembering my father. In the end, then, I think religion is there to serve us - and our needs - and not the other way around. I needed this time to remember Dad. It was nice that my religion knew the importance of that.

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