Pure and Undefiled Religion

This is the time of year when religion comes to the forefront of our attentions.  People aren’t necessarily more observant, but seasonal observances are front and center.  This is true whether it’s Chanukah or Chrismas. Homes are decorated with lights and trees, beautiful  music decorates the airwaves, we have holiday parties, foods, and we spend money on presents for others and ourselves. In all honesty, seasonal observances are fun.

I have many friends who don’t join in with the seasonal festivities.  They look at the pagan origins of some of the holiday symbols and choose to not participate, desiring to not get involved in what they feel is pagan worship.  That is their conviction, and I respect it.  Each person has a right to their convictions.

The problem I have, is not that they choose to not participate in seasonal celebration, but the attitude of some people, who in their desire for “purity,” disparage those who choose to participate in those celebrations. 

The scriptures teach that God looks upon the heart of a man. It started when Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God.  It says, God respected Abel and his offering, but not Cain and his offering.  From the text, it was not their offerings that was the issue, but their heart attitudes.  The paradigm is repeated throughout scripture.  God looks upon our hearts.  Paul makes the same point when he says in 1 Corinthians 8 that idols are nothing, and the problem is not the food sacrificed to them, but our attitudes regarding them.  In other words, pagan origins are not the issue if we are not intending to participate in pagan worship.  Most people who celebrate the seasonal festivities have no pagan intent.  

So is meat sacrificed to idols acceptable for God’s children?  The scriptures say no.  Paul said it becomes a problem if you know it was sacrificed to an idol.  The problem wasn’t the meat, but that it was lifted up to idolatry.  The festivities are neutral.  The heart attitude is what makes it impure.

According the the book of Jacob, “pure and undefiled religion” is to take care of widows and orphans in their time of need.  

Pure religion is about helping people in need.  I’m not as concerned with whether someone puts up a tree or decorates their home.  If their heart is right, it’s neither here nor there how they celebrate or refrain from celebrating.  It’s more important that we help the poor and needy.

It’s all too easy to criticize other people’s practices in the name of purity.  People criticize Religious Jews for being superstitious or following man made traditions, but never consider their heart intent.  The same is true for seasonal practices.  It’s so easy to criticize what other people do in the name of religious purity.     

True religion is not being critical of others, it’s helping others.  Religious Jews don’t eat pork, but they don’t go around telling everyone else they are wrong for eating it.  They respect the rights of others to make their own choices.   

Why is helping the poor pure and undefiled religion?  There is nothing of ritual about it.  Helping the poor is a selfless act.  It’s helping people who couldn’t possibly repay you.  It’s a godly thing to do.  

Another godly thing to do is to forgive people who don’t do things you agree with.  God forgives us for so much.  We need to be generous toward one another, and forgive people for doing things in a way we wouldn’t. Peace on earth toward men of good will. 


2 thoughts on “Pure and Undefiled Religion

  1. Thank you for this article. It is so hard for me year after year to deal with the not buying the Christmas tree for my grandchildren. I really don’t know what to do. I buy Hanukkah decorations, but they always beg for the tree. I don’t buy it because I think it will offend Hshem. Shalom!

  2. Sorry for the belated submission to this essay, but I only just now read it and thought to clarify one small point via a distinction between two perspectives which may be characterized as personal or communal. In the above list of recommended activities, the phrase “forgive the guilty” is often misunderstood. There is a qualifier required if one is to maintain also a sense of the Torah’s mandate “Justice, Justice shall you pursue”. It is actually only the repentant who merit forgiveness on the scale of community or national response. Someone who is wronged personally may let go of their hurt, thereby “forgiving” even a non-repentant wrongdoer and thus being freed of emotional burden or entanglement with either the wrongdoer or the event of its occurrence. But the fullest administration of forgiveness and atonement demands repentance (which may, in turn, require restitution).

    Similarly, the notion of loving one’s enemies means one thing on the personal level and another on the community or national level. To a personal enemy one may “turn the other cheek” to exercise forbearance, tolerance, and even personal “forgiveness” as I’ve described it above. To a national enemy, however, or even to a mere criminal “public enemy”, one bears a public responsibility to pursue justice. One person cannot forgive the enmity of sworn enemies and ignore the safety of others whose well-being is threatened by inimical attitudes or behavior.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s