This time, I’m going to get right to it. I guess there really is a first time for everything…
I’ve had a few experiences involving religious debates and similar things lately, so I’d like to share a loosely connected collective of thoughts on that subject:
As you may recall, Joanna’s post from a few weeks ago was short and sweet, but garnered quite a bit of attention. The resulting discussion in the comments section involved someone other than one of our close friends (who are generally the only ones who comment on the blog HINT HINT), so it was our first real opportunity to respond to someone who is not entirely of like mind with us. Reading over that conversation now, I think we were courteous, but also honest. It is important to be respectful of other opinions and of the person who has them, but it is equally important to remain true to your views and values when faced with a dissenting opinion. It is a difficult balancing act of ideas, but mastering it is extremely rewarding.
My American History II professor during the Fall 2010 semester at NCC was chock full of quotable quotes. Many of you might already know this since I quoted him in my Facebook statuses at least once a week. However, one of the more profound things he said, something that I actually mentioned in the comments on Joanna’s post, is, “you can’t ever say anything politically significant without offending someone.” While this line was said specifically in reference to politics, I believe it applies across the board, especially in regard to religion, and even more especially to one divided on as many lines of thought and practice as Judaism. There are some people who seem determined to be offended by everything everyone says. There are also those who are so itching for an argument to the point that they’ll jump down your throat the instant you verbalize an opinion, regardless of whether it’s remotely controversial or not. For these people, I have no answers; for everyone else, it is important to recognize that a) what you say, as innocuous as you think it may be, can offend someone, and b) if something someone said offends your principals, consider that it was probably not on purpose. I think that will make for fewer arguments and more discussions.
The famous saying “Two Jews, Three Opinions” may or may not be true, but it’s certainly true that Jews have an opinion on almost everything involving Judaism. Considering that our Jewish opinions are the basis of how we live our religious lives, it would seem logical to assume that we hold fast to those opinions and believe very strongly in them. As such, it is a foolish goal to engage in a religious debate with the aim of convincing someone else of your religious convictions.
I think these religious discussions are, or should be, about an expression of ideas as opposed to a debate of who’s right and who’s wrong. Firstly, right and wrong as concepts are very context sensitive. Yes it’s probably wrong that this guy is driving through your extremely religious neighborhood on Shabbat, completely ignoring the big billboard at the entrance that tells people not to, but then you stone his car and it’s kind of hard to pick who was more in the wrong there. Second of all, it’s pretty presumptuous of you to try and force your lifestyle on someone. What works for you may not work for them, and what you see as wrong might not be wrong for them.
A lot of religious choices, lifelong or temporary, stem from a person’s current life situation. I didn’t go to shul at all this past Yom Kippur. At face value, that might make me a terrible person according to some. With only that fact in mind, you might even be within your rights as a fellow Jew to rebuke me. However, if I responded that it was because I was suffering from a serious kidney disease at the time and my Rabbi said that the fast is more important than the prayers so if by going to shul I would not have the strength to fast, I should spend all day in bed, well, you’d feel pretty stupid for going off on me about it. It’s extremely important to consider that maybe you don’t know everything about the situation. The famous “going into McDonalds for a Coke” example plays itself out so often in our lives and it’s prudent to judge everyone favorably. Hell, it’s a mitzvah to do so. I should know, I lain the parsha it’s in.
So anyways, there are a couple of ideas I’ve been thinking about of late, and I figure it’s important to keep these things in mind. As I’ve said before, there are so few of us in this world; despite our differences, we should try to get along. I feel like taking some of these ideas to heart is a good step toward that goal of harmony.
Song of the Day: Broken Wings – Alter Bridge