Good religion, bad religion. Differentiating between them jumped into prominence in the aftermath of 9/11. Americans who ordinarily gave religion a wide berth suddenly had to contemplate religious warfare on their native soil. Europeans were used to this; to Americans it was quite new. A litmus test of acceptability quickly sprang into existence. Religion was good if it promoted tolerance, cooperation and respect for other groups. If it wanted to convert people (especially people close to your shopping mall) by the sword, it was bad.
People who value religion in their lives require much more of religion to make it good. A while back, I came across some Jewish demographers who argued for a paradigm shift in Jewish outreach. A generation or two ago, young Jews could be connected to the Jewish community through the Holocaust, or through Israel. This was no longer the case. The Holocaust card had been played too often, and was associated with persecution and oppression – notions that young Jews didn’t want to think about. Israel’s image on campus was so poor, that increasing numbers of students found identifying with it a liability.
Fortunately, they argued, a new strategy suggested itself in reaching under-affiliated, Jews, albeit in a different age cohort. Jews just a few years older and starting families sensed a moral aimlessness around them. As they thought about the values that they would want to teach their children, they realized that they were coming up short on answers to questions of right and wrong, or moral and ethical questions in an ever-changing world. If Jewish teachers could point the way through Jewish wisdom and tradition, they had a great chance to connect the younger generation with their legacy and their coreligionists.
People who take religion seriously have every expectation that a Deity Who cares about Man will have something to say about the issues that consume people, both major and minor. Religion, they reason, ought to work. If it cannot address the eternal questions of life, it won’t satisfy the quest for significance. Religion should address the ultimate issues, such as the meaning and purpose of life, and the existence of justice in an apparently unjust world. It also ought to provide insight into the everyday dilemmas that people must agonize over. It should help them in their relationships with spouses, children, parents and friends. It should guide them in relating to their jobs, their free time, their issues of money, satisfaction, and security. It should help make some sense out of the headlines of the morning paper. Tertullian, Pascal and Kierkegaard may not have obsessed over these issues, but then again there may not have been any need to in their days, when many people thought they had a better handle on these things. The western tendency to question everything and take nothing for granted leaves many people searching for moral footholds while feeling like they are falling down the side of the mountain.
When religious groups show shallowness, stupidity or worse, they run the risk of making themselves irrelevant and banishing G-d to a long ride on a UFO. Jews have no expectation from the World Council of Churches, other than unvarnished hatred and hostility. The Geneva-based umbrella group of world-wide liberal Protestant denominations at least is consistent. It has never lost an opportunity to be critical of Israel, and never expressed any concern for its survival. (The good news is that very few people take it seriously. Most of the Christian press ignores its statements. They do, however, provide cover for the anti-Israel leadership of some United States denominations, often acting against the will of their own membership.) Its recent statement about the Northern War is entirely in character, and completely expected. It explicitly declares that “it is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not the role and actions of Hezbollah that is at the heart of the present crisis,” thus exonerating a terrorist organization for both starting the war, and for four weeks of deliberately targeting civilians. It expresses shock and disbelief over the destruction in Lebanon, without placing any blame on those who planted their armaments and their fighters among civilians who did not ask for a war. It shows no sympathy for, nor any attempt to understand, the plight of Israel.
This is not just moral obtuseness, but a mockery of G-d. With the clarity of church bells pealing from the bell tower, it announces, “We have nothing insightful or useful to contribute to any discussion about the moral issues in this conflict. If you want intelligent analysis, try a blog. G-d has been forced into retirement. From us you will get simplistic, tired slogans born of the necessity of placating third-world imbeciles and terrorists. G-d lost His touch after His last best-seller.”
By offering nothing but mindless drivel, the World Council of Churches continues to write its own requiem. It is too bad that they injure the Name of G-d in the process.