Why Be Religious?

Is it better to be nonreligious than to be religious for the wrong reasons? Judaism says no, that it is better to observe the religious commandments even for the wrong reasons. Our tradition says, "It is better to observe the commandments for other reasons, because the person will come to observe them for the right reasons."

In other words, when one lives the religious lifestyle, one's heart will eventually find the right place.

It is implied, therefore, that being religious for the wrong reasons is not a healthy or sustainable situation. The person must grow into the right reasons, rather than stagnate in a damaged relationship with religion. So what are the right reasons, and what are the wrong reasons?

I had an interesting conversation recently. The person I was speaking to told me that they have great respect for religious people. He is not religious himself, but understands how religious people truly enjoy the religious lifestyle. He told me that his version of the Sabbath, where he does creative work and goes on family outings, gives him lots of pleasure. He is sure, though, that religious people enjoy their version of the Sabbath, complete with Synagogue, ritual, and refraining from weekday labors, no less than he enjoys his.

In other words, from a consumer perspective, some consumers prefer Kmart and others prefer Wal-Mart. You, as a consumer, he implied, enjoy a religious version of the Sabbath, while he, as a different consumer, enjoys a more secular style Sabbath. It all depends on "What do I enjoy more."

That's the unhealthy approach to religion. I reminded him that religion implies belief in God. God makes demands. While it is certainly true that the religious Jewish life is deeply fulfilling and deeply joy-inducing, that is not the reason we follow it. We observe the Torah out of a sense of faith and responsibility. We are commanded to enjoy it, for sure, but our own enjoyment is not the yardstick by which we judge the religion. We don't pick and choose only those commandments which we like.

The test is when a ritual observance is not so pleasant. For example, if somebody were to describe how they would observe the most important day of the year, I'm sure they would not choose to fast, to stand on their feet for long hours in the synagogue, to not wash their face or hands, to not wear comfortable shoes and so forth. Rather, there would be some beautiful ceremony or performance, a toast, a feast, a celebration.

And yet, Jews choose Yom Kippur. When we choose to observe the religion properly, even when it is not pleasant, we are stating that our devotion is to God, not just our own consumer pleasures. When one has the ability to deny oneself a more pleasant experience in order to fulfill a religious duty, then one has achieved the healthy relationship with religion.

And that feeling and devotion creates an even deeper spiritual joy. As the sages say, "Do not be as servants serving the boss in order to get a bonus, but rather do it in order not to receive a reward." Don't refrain from speaking evil speak today because you have a big baseball game that you need to win, and you want to score points with God. Rather, refrain from speaking evil speak even if God will make sure that the other team hits three grand slams and beats you 12 to nothing.

In other words, be a godly person. That's why to be religious, to sanctify and elevate your life and this world.

Related posts

Published by



Just another HTMLy user