When Religion Turns Toxic

The idea of religion is a good thing.  Religion is how we worship God.  As a concept itself, I find it attacked by Atheists, who object to it on the basis that they do not believe in the existence of God.  I find their views disturbing, not because they disbelieve what I believe, but I wonder how they KNOW there is no god, as they claim.  Its one thing to say,”I don’t know, its another thing to say,  there is no god, as if its a fact.”  I asked several atheists why they oppose religion for others who don’t share their disbelief.  They claimed religion has been the source of all men’s sorrows throughout history and therefore, in their view, it is something evil.

I pointed out to them, that under communism, an absolutely atheistic model of society, more people were killed than under Western religious societies.  They said that communism was not a good example.  At that point, the discussion broke down to denying the validity of each other’s points and fruitful discussion was over.

It did give me pause to think about the role of religion itself.  Religion at it’s best, is a good thing.  It teaches us meaning of life and purpose.  If gives us a sense of faith heritage, connecting us to others who have worshipped the same God the same way.  It has been a canvas to express the best of humanity’s love for God.  I frequently find myself carried away by the majesty of God and am fully aware that He is so far beyond my ability to express what I believe and feel.  The worship service helps me express those feelings as I seek to know and glorify my creator.  In doing so, I find that I am changed, and transformed into a better version of myself.  It is a thing of beauty, and I am a better person for it.

It is for this reason that I find it incredibly ironic that so much evil has been done in the name of religion.  Religion, should have the effect of transforming people for good, and as a result, society should be better because it is populated by transformed citizens.  The fly in the ointment, of course, are the religious wars through the centuries.  While there are piles of beautiful liturgical, devotional materials produced, there were also piles of dead bodies, slain “for the love of God.”   This is not religion.  It is a murderous ideology cloaked in the garb of religion.  Killing people for the “love of God,” is like eating ham to be Kosher.   You can eat ham if you want, but whatever that is, it is NOT kosher.  Similarly, you can kill whoever you want, but if you do, its not an act of faith, and it is not religion.  It is murder, and your ideology is not to be confused with religion.  How can I say this?  I know what Kosher is, because I experience it, and Ham is not it.   I know what faith is, because I have it, and I encounter God through it, and belief in God does not engender or inspire murder or baseless hatred.  Whatever those things are, they are not religion.

True religion is not something toxic like a quart of milk gone bad.  In the book of Jacob 1:27, it says “Pure and undefiled religion before God … is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”  If religion makes us better people, it will result in us helping others in their times of need.  It should make the world a better place.  My focus is not to spend my time convincing people that religion is good.  My energies will be directed to helping others, and trying to be a blessing and have a positive impact in the lives of others.  My religion is not toxic.  This is not because “I found the right one,”  but because in my encounter with God, I have yielded to Him and let him transform me.  It is this transformation that is a work in progress, but makes me better than I would have been had I not encountered Him.




6 thoughts on “When Religion Turns Toxic

  1. Shalom rabbi, I always appreciate the wisdom and grace in your blogs. They are refreshing to me and I value your perspectives to counter some of the more negative views I sometimes read; some in the name of religion. I just finished reading an excellent book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks titled “The Great Partnership” with the subtitle “Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning”. In it he addresses some of the same concerns you mention in your blog, especially some of the claims of modern atheists. His epilogue is “Letter to a Scientific Athiest”. Blessings and thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I have to admit that I found it hard to contain my visceral reaction to your claim that communism led to more deaths than religious practice in the Western world. It’s not only absurdly incorrect but completely neglects the fact that some of the worlds most horrendous, depraved acts of inhumanity were directly caused by and/or justified through adherence to Christian doctrine. While I agree with and understand the issue you take with the flat-out denial of the existence of any deity – which cannot be proven or disproved and hence forms the very basis of the tug-of-war between theists and non-theists – I also find your generic attributions to Atheists as a homogeneous group to be fallacious and, quite frankly, simplistic. Your particular interpretation and practice of your faith notwithstanding, the epitaph of religion will always be that it has been and continuous to be used to justify cruelty, denigration, prejudice and violence towards others.

    • Apparently you are unaware of the millions who were tortured and murdered by Russian and Chinese communists, as well as the massacres in Africa done in the name of Marxist Ideology, the “there is no god” ideology. Those deaths are facts. You object to my attributions of Athiests as a homogeneous group as “fallacious and .. simplistic,” yet that is exactly how you characterize those who believe in God. You lump everyone together, and do all but come out and say they are just a group of homicidal maniacs. Apply your criticism to your own arguments.

      • Unlike you, I’ve made no generalized claims. I addressed your specific comment about communism, which is fallacious – especially considering that the modern form of this political system existed for a comparatively limited period of time. As opposed to several millennia of persecution, murder, torture et al under the guise and in the name of religion. To say nothing of the fact that religion was used to justify slavery, racism, and continues to be used as a justification to commit atrocities all over the world. Also, unlike you I certainly made no claims to support ANY belief system – theist, political or otherwise – that condones, furthers and expands its own base by violent means. Last but not least – when was the last time you’ve heard or read about an Atheist killing people to convert them? Or trying to subdue other people’s views, opinions and life style by means of force? I see no evidence that you’ve taken your own advice and a long look in the mirror, my friend.

  3. Mr. Confessions…,

    First, by your sanctimonious preachment, you have insulted one of the most intelligent and well educated men G-d has created. I have heard him give opinions now and then with which I was not always in agreement, but I have NEVER heard him state as fact anything that could be doubted, or even questioned, by a reasonable man. He is always very careful to distinguish between facts and his opinions. He made the statement about Communism as a fact.

    Seems to me that you either believe there is a G-d or you don’t, and if you don’t you are an Atheist. You can’t think there might be a god, because that means you don’t believe there is. Those who believe there is a G-d are absolutely, totally and unshakably convinced of it.

    As for religion, I have to say I have a less favo0rable attitude toward it than Rabbi does. To me, religion seems to include all the various ways of believing in G-d, and many of them are infused with unscriptural statements and beliefs to some degree. IN MY OPINION, when a person commits murder in the name of a religion he is a fool, but if he does it in the name of G-d he is a blasphemer as well as a fool. G-d’s rules and regulations are spelled out in Torah, and supported in other Scripture, including the so-called “New Testament.” In the 20th chapter of Exodus (Torah), G-d tells us not to murder. QED.

    Just to underscore a point, if I am absolutely convinced G-d does exist and I am wrong, so what? Who’s going to anything about it? BUT, if you believe he does not exist and you are wrong, now what? Are you not in deep doo-doo?

  4. Mr. Confessions…,

    This is in response to your further insulting comments against Rabbi Dr. Schiffman following my last response. You seem unable to let Rabbi’s remarks and his defense of them stand, but rather you seem to get some sick satisfaction from falsely categorizing them and accusing him over and over of that of which he is not guilty. YOU are the one who needs to do some study and get your facts straight before you take him on. By your comments, you confirm that you are a fool.

    When an Atheist, including you, states his belief that there is no G-d, the believer simply holds him to account for his foolishness (read, stupidity and/or ignorance).

    When a person who believes in G-d states his belief, the Atheist comes back all sanctimonious, blaming him and all the other believers for all manner of evil supposedly perpetrated by anyone he chooses to include.

    Does that seem rationall to you?

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