Being religious in 21st century America is more complicated than in years past. If people find out you are religious, you are assumed to be either a fanatic that could be dangerous, or a theological hack who will bore people to tears while they “share” their religious viewpoints, or someone who’s mentality never progressed past the middle ages.
People who have a religious proclivity often shy away from the religious label and say they are “spiritual.” They don’t identify with any religious group, but express genuine spiritual inclinations.
The first group, the fanatics, are the most dangerous. Islam has its terrorists who will blow themselves up, or raise their children to do so to kill innocent people. In the past, Christian Crusaders, Inquisitors, as well as those who were part of the Christian civil war, between Catholics and Protestants in the time of the reformation thought nothing of shedding blood in their attempt to glorify God. Religious people kill abortion doctors, and protest at military funerals. While Judaism in general, is a peaceful religious community, there have been some ultra-Orthodox fanatics who have killed and maimed others in the name of their faith. Thankfully, most religious people don’t fall into that category.
The second group, made up of theological ideologues, are the more common type of religious people, who try to buttonhole their victims into religious discussions and arguments. Some of them knock on your door to share their faith, while others “assault” their objects with their viewpoints when they can work it into a conversation. Usually, this practice is not appreciated by people, and more often than not, turns them away from faith than draws them to it.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement in the late 18th century in Ukraine. His great-grandfather was the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement. In his day, most of the Hasidic Rebbes dressed in black and white all the time, and for the most part, when people saw them coming, they ran in the other direction. They acted like they were more knowledgeable than other Jews, and made other Jews feel ignorant because they weren’t as observant as they were.
Rebbe Nachman dressed in the normal clothing of his day, and only wore black and white on Shabbat, to honor the day. While other Hasidic Rebbes wrote off the non-religious Jews of his day, Rebbe Nachman would play chess with them, and chat informally. He realized that when people look too religious, and act too holy, they scare people off. He believed his job was to draw them close. When he died, the non-religious Jews paid for his funeral and helped support his family. He touched their lives.
In 2000, I was sitting in a cigar shop having a cigar with a New York City fireman. We were talking about a religious subject and he asked what I thought of something he heard. I told him I thought it was a lot of crap. He laughed and said I reminded him of the Chief Chaplain of the NYC Fire Department, Father Mychael Judge. He said Father Judge was a man of the people, and would tell it like it was to the firemen. I was honored to be associated with a man like Father Judge. It grieved me deeply to watch TV, on September 11, 2001, to see Father Judge carried out as one of the first casualties of the World Trade Center. I felt I had lost a kindred spirit. Like Father Judge, and like Rebbe Nachman, I try to bring a message of faith and spirituality to people in the real world.
I believe in the Holy Scriptures, and believe in God. I don’t have a truncated mentality from the dark ages. I believe faith is real and is needed in the world we live in. At the same time, I believe that faith needs to be lived in a way that touches the lives around us, and draws people to us. We have no business intimidating people or scaring them away in the name of God. Faith should make us better versions of ourselves. It should encourage others to do the same.