The primary job of religion is to teach us to act ethically.140 We must be taught to be good persons. It is not a natural act. Religion teaches us. If we have no religion, we fall into depravity.
How do you act ethically? You are honest, decent, and just.141
If you want to believe in religion, how do you know you are acting religiously? You judge people fairly. You speak fairly. You speak honestly. You want to be a generous person. You ask to be forgiven when you have wronged somebody. You fight your envy of what others have. You fight your hatred. Fight your desire for revenge. Fight to be good.142
We, the religious, are guided by “binding legal rules and principles”.143 Why binding?
Human nature is lazy and selfish. We are self-centered. If commanded by hard-and-fast rules then we have a better chance of acting the way we should. We ignore suggestions. A command can only be observed or broken. If you break a command, the wrong is yours. You can’t deny what you have done is wrong. It turns out that acknowledging our wrongs is a key to our goodness. Knowing right and wrong is the key to a good life for humanity.
What is the summary of the rule I should follow if I want to be a religious person?
“What is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor.”144
This is the famous Golden Rule. It is the greatest work of genius in the history of mankind. It sets for us a lifetime of thinking where our thoughts are preoccupied by what others think and want. We are called to act based upon what others want. We need knowledge of others and we obtain the knowledge by thinking of what we ourselves feel. Self-knowledge, the great aspiration of Greek thought, and modern psychology, is the heart and soul of religious thinking.
Our character, our personality, advances when we know and respect how we will change the lives of others.145 It may seem obvious that you should act as you would hope others would act toward you, but do we naturally act that way? Is it obvious and natural? If it was obvious we would not need the rule of religion. The life of man before God was a great brawling war. Ask a mother if a child’s natural instinct is selflessness?
Think back 10,000 years. Did those humans know the Golden Rule? Did they say: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”146
We are not born knowing and believing that we must do to others as we hope they will do to us. We are not born good. We make ourselves good. Religion makes us good. And so we have a great mystery in our age: Why is religion hated when religion aspires to make us good?
Think about what is hateful to you. What do you fear? What do you dislike? What would fill you with shame?
A baby cries for food. It hates not having food. It only knows itself. It only cares about itself. Wisdom works the exact opposite way. A person knows what somebody else is thinking and they care about what somebody else is thinking. They act on their knowledge and caring. They help the other person. Not themselves. Like a mother acts toward a child.
The Golden Rule is our greatest work of genius. Do we ignore genius? Of course we do. That does not mean the genius is dead. We have to try again what we know is smart; what we know is preeminent.
And what if you don’t believe in God? I don’t know exactly. The Golden Rule would seem to be true even if there is no God, but does it seem true only because I have inherited a prejudice towards a definition of life which religion has established by drilling the Golden Rule into our heads for 3000 years? Will the Golden Rule be just another sentence of words if we kill God and deify the dictatorial progressive state?
The Ten Commandments require us to place God above all. They command us to ignore idols. They prohibit murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, taking God’s Name in vain.147 (317). Do not wish to have and to own what others possess. Defeat your jealousy. Celebrate your own gifts. See and believe that your life is a gift.
If love is natural for you, then give your love to God, and everyone you know. Thank God for life. If your life has been devoid of love, come to where you can find it. Belief in God is hard if you have not known love, which is why the progressives are angry. It’s something mixed in with the mother’s milk.
Your capacity to learn and judge what is good and what is evil is the unique human gift. It is the unique human slavery. No other creature in the known universe has this capacity to see right and wrong and then to act in a way which is right or wrong. Judgment proves you are made in God’s likeness.148 Failing to learn and follow your judgment of right and wrong will make you a failure. God will look down on you for betraying yourself. You will look down on yourself.
To be religious, to be a full person, you must make honesty your high priority. “You must have completely honest weights and completely honest measures so that you endure long on the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”149 When you act honestly, you can take pride in your actions. Being good is its own reward. Give yourself the dignity it wins. “I am an honest man and I am proud of my honesty. God is proud of my honesty.” This is the power an honest man gives himself.
You should do to others what you hope they would do to you. This means you search for God’s perspective. God can see what others want. You can imagine what they want through him. “What does that person want?” If you keep up this thinking then after decades of practice you are certain to make progress. You will know exactly what other people think. You will learn to act on what you know. “And you shall do that which is right and good in the eyes of God”150
God does not judge you by your religious observances – going to church, praying, following rituals – but by your good actions. “Act justly, and refrain from oppressing the stranger, orphan, widow, and all other innocents.”151
Religious life is a high calling. We are asked us to do what is unnatural – to put others before ourselves. Had you been born 10,000 years ago, and you were taught by your father, you would have been taught to fend for yourself, to avoid the strong, to pray on the weak, to make war, to pillage. Your life would be a life of taking from others. You would have no care for how your actions hurt others.
God came forward with a different message. He changed human aspiration in a profound direction. He asked us to pursue selflessness.
“Take the wretched into your home.”152 Clothe the naked.153 Fast so that you may know what life is like for the hungry.154
“Says God: The acts of kindness that you do for each other are more precious to me than all the sacrifices offered to Me by King Solomon.”155
The religious obligation to others is a big long list.
Help the poor156 Uphold justice157 Use honest weights and measures158 Refuse bribes.159 Don’t lie.160 Don’t murder. Don’t steal.161 Don’t commit adultery.162 Speak honestly.163 Pay workers their wages.164 Honor the property rights of others.165
To be religious means to act righteously; to do what is right is righteous; is God’s highest priority.
“To do what is right and just is more desired by God than (religious) sacrifice (ritual).”166
When you die and appear to God for his judgment on your life, he will ask you about your business life. “Did you conduct your business affairs honestly?” he asks.167
Did you study God’s teachings? If you do not study you “will not know how to act properly”168 The wise know when their actions are sins. They know when they require forgiveness.169 And if you are forgiven for your sins, your job is to go out and do what is right.
“The main accomplishment … of the righteous are their good deeds”170
We have meaning in our life when our actions bring “mercy, kindness, and peace” to the world.171 The laws and rituals of religion help us to remember and fulfill God’s commandments, to the do the heavy work of religion. They help us to act correctly.
The religious work for “those who are abandoned and alone, to protect the dignity of the poor, and to save the oppressed from the hands of the oppressor.”172
Religion, with thousands of years of human experience, and knowledge of the tears and laughter of billions of lives, has proven the greatness of the family, of God, of honest and good action.173 Religion has proven that the subjugation and defeat of our evil thoughts and evil actions is the greatest heroism.174
“Human beings are born morally neutral, with strong inclinations toward evil.” They must learn to share, to comprehend the thoughts of others, to act sympathetically, to sacrifice for the wishes of others175
“Self-control, sympathy, a sense of fairness, seem to be learned and not instinctive.”176 Selfishness is natural. Generosity requires work. Humans require religious education. It is as obvious as our knowledge of the starting point of a child. A child must be taught over and over again that he must think of more than himself. Generosity should be the primary point of education.
“I have worked hard to uproot any traces of cruelty from myself”177 said Moses, who had the face and spirit of a cruel man, and who defeated that cruelty with zealous righteousness, with the power of religion.
The religious teach that we become good by doing good even when our bad side wants to work against us.
“Do good and you will become a good person in spite of yourself.”178 The scientists, the progressives, the secularists, teach us that we cannot change. We are programmed. Our actions cannot improve us. We cannot learn. We cannot be better. The system ruins us. We have no free will. Our life is an accident. We have no control. Religion is a joke. Free will is a lie.
The wisdom of thousands of years of human action say the opposite. We can be good if we make ourselves good. And we make ourselves good through religion. The progressives have worked very hard to bury the evidence which proves the power of religion to make us good.
“Actions shape the heart more than the heart shapes actions.”179
If you see a beggar on the street, you want to avoid him. He is dirty and wants money. He is drunk or on drugs. He has failed in life. The religious person ignores this and places a higher priority on the sacred nature of all individuals, all created by God, and all deserving life and love. Approach the beggar and imagine the day when you are the beggar.
“When feeding the hungry, he (the religious person) should give of the best and sweetest food on his table. When dressing the naked, he should offer his finest clothing.”180
You can learn to be a better person. What is required is better action. And, in time, you will have made yourself to be that better person. You may not want to do good, but if you force yourself to do good, you will make yourself good, and you will have become good.
“People become virtuous by practicing virtues.”181
The saddest thing imaginable is that in our schools today I imagine that our teachers never teach our students to aspire to be good.
What is virtuous? To know the answer ask yourself first: “What does God want me to do?”182
When you ask yourself this guiding question, it will be natural to move past what you want. You will include what others want. Isn’t it natural that God will want what is best for everybody? Think of priests and nuns. They give their life to God. They are God’s helpers. To be religious means to help God.
“When someone is in need of help, we should extend it, and not look for excuses not to help.”183
Perhaps the highest calling of religious action is the requirement to see in others what is good in their actions even when our prejudice is to see what is bad in their actions.
We are obligated to see what is good and, when possible, to ignore and even suppress what others have done which is bad. Find favor not fault. Make room for the other person to improve.
“Loving our neighbor as ourselves means seeking out rationalizations and excuses for others’ behavior in the same way we do for our own.”184 “He who judges his fellow man favorably is himself judged favorably [by God]”185
Still, when we work with others, while we must prepare the ground for their improvement, we must be on guard for their failure.
“Regard all men as if they were thieves, yet honor them as you would honor” a great man of the highest rank.186 Judaism has a constant pull back and forth between what is good and what is real. The self-serving will run you over. You cannot do good if you have been run over.
The religious personality, as he advances, looks at the world to see how he might have done better. He shuns the man he once was — the man who saw all the problems as being in the world and outside of himself. One man recounts his spiritual journey.
“I would get angry at the world, but not at myself. Later I would get angry at the world and also at myself. Finally, I got angry at myself alone.”187
Our first thought is to hope that those who have wronged us will be taken down. We want them hurt, left out, but our good side seeks a better life for those who have done a wrong against us.
“We should pray rather that these people no longer hurt us or anyone else and, therefore, no longer deserve punishment.”188 A circle of persons following these rules creates a special world to live in. The destruction of religion has destroyed this special world.
The tables are always turning for a religious person. The religious always have a chance to go to a better place. The higher place in life. It is the admission of wrong which changes one’s place. The person with the highest consciousness can say: “I know that I have done wrong.” And commits to act with greater selflessness. And then acts with selflessness.
“Yesterday this person was hated before God, defamed, cast away, and abominable; today, he is beloved, desirable, a favorite and a friend.”189
The acknowledgement of failure is a deeply civilized action. A prayer confessing a wrong must be sincere and deep. If the wrong resulted in a humiliation, then the contrition, the prayer, should end with our humiliation. So that we feel what we have made others feel.
“‘I implore You, God. I have sinned, I have transgressed, I have committed iniquity before You by doing the following [list the sin]. Behold, I regret and I am embarrassed by my deeds!”190
There is a deep reciprocity when we beg God for forgiveness. It’s taking empathy, the knowledge of what our victims feel, and adding true caring, sympathy, to begin to undo our cruelty. It’s acting in accord with what our victim’s want. It’s doing unto others as we would hope would be done to us.
“When we hurt someone, in addition to any damage we inflict, we probably also humiliate that person. By apologizing, or even begging for forgiveness, we place ourselves in a position comparable to that in which we have placed our victim, and therefore become worthy of forgiveness.”191
Religion encourages us to make up for our bad actions. We need to make up for our bad actions by performing opposite actions.
“Violent hands should be opened in charity, and the troublemaker should become a peacemaker. If you slapped a child, use your hand now to caress him. If you used your brain to deceive others, apply it now to find ways to help others.”192
Sometimes we have to be tricked into acting correctly. Once a man was driving his carriage through a field. The driver stopped to pick fruit from the trees. He did not have permission from the farmer. The driver told his passenger to warn him if anybody came along the road who could see him in the field.
The driver began to pick fruit. Almost as soon he had started, the passenger screamed out: “We are seen, we are seen.”193
The driver ran for the carriage and quickly drove away.
Later, the driver asked the passenger why he had given the warning. No person had come on to the road.
The passenger said: “God saw us in the field.”
The love between a father and a son or a husband and a wife can only be considered worthy if it includes critical analysis.
“Love unaccompanied by criticism is not love.”194 If you have no person who criticizes your behavior, then you have no friends.195 And if a society has no judges, and demonizes judgment about right and wrong, it will fail. “If people don’t effectively critique each other’s ethical lapses, the society will deteriorate quickly.”196
Present-day America has already fallen. The hatred of judgment, a talisman of “higher consciousness” and “right thinking” and “progressive” ideology and “hip” inclusiveness, is a fabrication as old as the hills used by the evil o destroy what is good.
“I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to accept reproof,” asked Rabbi Tarfon, almost 2,000 years ago. “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to give reproof,” answered Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryhah.197
When you admit error you make a great advance into wisdom. Nobody wants to admit they are wrong, except a fool, or the enlightened.
“The Ethics of the Fathers teaches that one of the attributes of a wise person is that he acknowledges the truth and admits when he is wrong (5:7); in other words, a wise person wants the truth even more than he or she wants to be right.”198
An ordinary man wants himself first. A religious man wants truth first. Truth is deified. God is idolized. Dishonesty is hated.
When honesty loses its high place, the capacity to distinguish right and wrong fades and disappears. Have we lost our knowledge today of right and wrong? Do we act out of a duty to do what is right and avoid what is wrong?
We live in a re-run which has been repeated as often as civilizations have fallen. They have fallen thousands of times.
“More than 2,500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah denounced ‘Those who call evil good, and good evil; Who present darkness as light, and light as darkness.’”199
Among the false who are most hated by God are those who pretend to religious belief by their adherence to ritual, but whose actions are those of the ignorant, are those who act for their own benefit. “God hates (religious) sacrifices offered by unethical Jews.”200
In our time religion is famous for hypocrisy. The criticism would be valid if religion embraced hypocrisy, but religion condemns it.
Far more important is the hypocrisy of the progressive religion. The progressives promise “social justice”, and they give the world poverty, slavery and murder.
Study of the bible is the key to wisdom. A parent should study religion so that his child will learn to study religion. “If you wish your children to study Torah, study it yourself, in their presence, and they will follow your example.”201
The critics of religion pretend no one has experienced life. They pretend to know and understand life. They pretend there is no reason to study. There is no history. There has never been learning. No man has lived life and learned from his life. No man has written down his discoveries. In thousands of years of history no one has learned anything. The past does not exist. There is nothing to see in it.
All of this is true for the person who hates religion. He hates learning and life. He argues wisdom does not exist. He says religion is a farce. Life and the universe is an accident. The only thing which he does not deny is himself, although he may intelligently call his life meaningless, because he acts like a king, a king who is blind, sick, impoverished and mean.
We can know the world through religion. Religion is the experience of life. Those who have lived before us want to tell us what will happen to our lives. We can know what the smartest want to teach us. They have written it down. All we must do is study. Listen to our teachers.
“Whenever I start my lesson, the door opens and another old man comes in and sits down. He is older than I am. He is my grandfather and his name is Reb Chayyim Brisker, without whom I cannot teach Torah. Then the door opens quietly again and another old man comes in. He is older than Reb Chayyim,” wrote Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, the author of A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1: You Shall be Holy, and the source of all the material in this chapter. “He lived in the seventeenth century. His name is Shabbetai ben Meir ha-Kohen, the famous ‘Shach’ who might be present when you study Talmud.
“And then more visitors show up. Some of the visitors lived in the eleventh century and some lived in the twelfth century, some in the thirteenth century—some even lived in antiquity. Rashi, Rabbenu Tam, Rava, Rashba. More and more come in. Of course, what do I do?
“I introduce them to my pupils and the dialogue commences. The Rambam (Maimonides) says something. Rava disagrees. A boy jumps up, he has an idea. The Rashba smiles gently. I try to analyze what the young man meant. Another boy intervenes and we call upon Rabbenu Tam to express his opinion, and suddenly a symposium of generations comes into existence.”202
The voice of reason is the voice of religion. The voice of history is religion. The voice of wisdom is religion. Our teacher is not missing. He is ignored and despised.
“It is generally thought advantageous to have a mentor, an older person whose judgment one values, and who can offer wise advice and life lessons; most people regard themselves as fortunate if they have one or two such mentors. But the student of Torah is provided with dozens of such mentors, and three thousand years of insight and guidance into how to lead a good life.”203
You have heard so many terrible things about religion. Can you say that Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, whose work I have drawn upon for this essay, can you say that he does not know what it means to be good? Can you say that it is terrible to want to be good because that is what religion teaches you? Or is it true that the people who have taught you to hate religion lie about it? Why do they lie?
They don’t know what religion is. The most admired person is good, and religion is the way to learn what is good. Religion is a natural inclination for those lucky enough to have good parents and teachers.
Religion is the greatest thing in a good life. We live in a terrible age when the greatest gift, religion, is a joke, an object of condemnation, an illusion promising heaven, an opium dulling our knowledge of human pain, a home for pedophiles, and a lie covering up the absurdity of life.
The secular atheist socialist totalitarian progressive cult hates religion because they want their own religion to be glorified. Progressivism teaches you to destroy everything which is not progressivism. Destruction is their only expertise.
Conservatives need a plan to cut this off and kill it. We are way behind the times. We have stood by, idle and off to the side, and allowed evil to prosper.