Is Religion Neato?
For the most part, every religion wants the world to believe they are harbingers of the one truth. Some are very brazen about their beliefs, while others are far more humble about their approach. Some are very intellectual, while others prefer anything from appeals to emotion to the worst forms of manipulation.
Judaism is certainly different from the average religion. Like with all religions, the Jewish people believe that Judaism is truth. The Torah is real, the stories within the Torah are timeless pieces relevant to the entire world, and Judaism is the path all Jews must take to achieve the greatest Heavenly rewards.
Nevertheless, Judaism is unique in that it doesn’t believe every human being alive needs to or even should be Jewish. The world at large has many paths to take to come closer to God, and whereas Judaism is one of them, it is by no means mandatory.
Everyone or Just Some?
It’s a curious piece to Jewish theology. I’ve often wondered what others must think. On one hand, it’s a point of pride for many Jews. It makes our religion unique, it reflects a certain level of confidence and self-sufficiency, and it prevents us from being a nuisance to so many people. On the other hand, if you truly believe you are correct, why would you not what to shout it out to anyone who could possibly listen?
Nevertheless, the theology is very different when it comes to other Jews, for whom the belief is that every Jewish person must accept upon himself the beliefs and practices of the Jewish faith.
There are many paths that people take to try and influence others to adopt their religious practices. Some choose rigorous debate, replete with complicated philosophical explanations. Some appeal to emotions, and speak of the continuity of our people.
My favorite “method”, and the one that I believe reflects the greatest amount of confidence in ones faith, is just living your life to the best of your ability, and letting others decide for themselves. Don’t shove your beliefs down the throat of others. Invite people to your home for a Shabbat meal, encourage someone to come to your class, and let their own curiosity and intelligence take it from there. Since, after all, religion is something one should choose, not something they should be forced, badgered, or manipulated into. Anything less produces a tenuous and superficial relationship with the religion.
The Neato Factor
And then there is what I like to call the “Neato Factor”. These are things people use all the time to boast about the veracity of their religion; however, these “proofs” aren’t actually proofs. In fact, they are nothing but minor elements that at best complement real intellectual rigor. They prove nothing in and of themselves, and at best just make things a little more interesting.
When someone tries to proves their religion using one of these three ideas, the only reaction that makes any sense to me is, “Neato. But now what? Is that all you’ve got?”
My three Neato Factors:
1) Neato Codes
I don’t know if other religions make claims such as these, but there are elements among the Jewish people who explore Jewish texts with such detail, they’ve found what they consider “codes” hidden within the text. These so-called codes are without a doubt fascinating. They’re very fun. Some are even shockingly impressive.
But that’s where everything stops. Even if we were to explore each and every one of these codes, and determine that the statistical improbability borders on miraculous, we still have to ask the question, “So what?”
What do these little additions to thousands of years of tradition and philosophical debate really add to the discussion? It’s like when I discovered that the person I was dating had a Hebrew name with the same numerical value as mine, the chance of which is off-the-charts unlikely. It was certainly cool. Worth noting. A fun story to tell our friends and great grandchildren. However, if I were to base whether or not I would marry her on this alone, I would be nothing but a fool (there were TONS of other great reasons #HeChoseWell).
Things like the Codes are fun. But they are spices, and nothing more. We could eat a steak without spices. Sure, it might be bland. But we’d enjoy it nonetheless, and we’d benefit from its iron and protein. However, we’d get quite little from downing a few spoonfuls of salt and pepper…
2) Neato People
Another tactic used by those who wish to prove their religion is demonstrating that theirs either has really special practitioners or they’ve heard the veracity of their claims from great people.
Years ago I was reading Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. I like his books. I find Lewis very intellectually honest, and very philosophically astute. However, he basically stated that the reason he believes in Christianity is because he heard of its truth from great people, who heard it from great people…
There are countless reasons I find this to be a weak argument. At best when you can show me a great religious person I will think to myself, “Neato. That sure is a nice person. I’m really glad you have such wonderful people in your life.”
However, there are flaws galore to this as a “proof” of any religion. For every amazing member of your religion, I can show you a handful of absolute bastards who practice the very same religion. And I can show you a whole bunch of equally wonderful people who practice other religions, or no religion at all.
3) Neato Miracles
Which leads to my least favorite way of “proving ” religion: Mentioning all the different miracles that have occurred to you and other members of your religion. Miraculous moments so unlikely, their existence can only be attributed to the one true God.
Go to any religion and you’re bound to hear miraculous stories. They might be amazing, even inspiring. But once every religion has its own stories, we’re just left with one giant stalemate.
All we can say is: That story is neato. But what am I supposed to do with all these miracle stories? Should I absorb all of them and thus accept all religions as truth? Should I toss them all in the waste basket, since their existence has by definition negated all the other ones? Or do I pick and choose, and if so, what’s my standard of measurement?
So in the final analysis, we’re left with three concepts used to show the truth of religions, three concepts that are no doubt fun to explore. They are, in fact, neato. But they do nothing to show the truth of anyone’s claims.
For that, we must look just a tad bit deeper.
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