Sunday, April 08, 2007

Morality: Shopping Spree or Daily Investment

It being the week of Passover and Easter, I have noticed an unusual number of bloggers that do not traditionally reference their religion, reflecting on this high traffic week of religious traditions. Before I offend anyone, I would just like to preface this post by letting you know that since I am the product of a minister (mom ) and rabbi (dad), I have decided that I have some level of diplomatic immunity on this topic.

I imagine, having made this comment about my parent’s religious background at other social gatherings, that a few ears may have perked up. So, let me explain. I had a rather confusing religious upbringing. My mother and father met when my mother was at Union Theological Seminary studying to be a minister and my father was at Jewish Theological Seminary studying to be a rabbi. They had a class together. I think it was Hebrew. Anyway, my mom ended up converting to Judaism for my father, but she tells me that she never felt Jewish. When I was 3, they separated, and my mom did not continue to follow the Jewish tradition, but looked for a community in which my sister and I could learn about both traditions. So, she found the Unitarian Church and that seemed to make sense to her. Then, my father went to court to make sure that I was raised Jewish (I know, I don’t understand how the whole separation of church and state allowed for such a trial). The court ordered that I should be raised Jewish, but be raised by my mom in a Unitarian home. To make a long story short, I was raised Jewish in the sense that I went to Hebrew School and had a Bat Mitzvah, but I also celebrated Christmas and other Christian holidays with my mom and her family. My father is no longer alive and my mom is a Unitarian minister. The story is even more complicated, but that gives you some clue about why I might have some mixed emotions about the whole religion thing.

So, in terms of Passover and Easter, there is always an unusually high number of people who seem to suddenly decide to become observant Christians or Jews this week. When we walked to breakfast this morning, the streets were bustling with church-goers. Since we go to breakfast almost every Sunday morning, the markedly higher number of churchgoers this morning was very apparent. My major issue with this sudden rise in religious observance a few days a year is that I am concerned that some people feel that by going to church or synagogue on a couple of “important” holidays every year, they do not have to abide by any moral code during the rest of the year. I know that, for some, religion is a way to strengthen their daily moral efforts and integrity; it allows them to make the effort to be a good human being on a daily basis. The “important holiday” type of religious observance is what I will call “shopping spree” morality (kind of an oxymoron). Unfortunately (or fortunately) religion is not like going clothes shopping. You can go to the store and buy all (or most) of the clothes you need for the season in one trip. I do not believe this is the case for morality. I think being a compassionate and moral human being takes “daily investment”.

Just to clarify, I do not think you have to go to church or synagogue every week to live a moral life. In my opinion, I do not think you ever have to go to church or synagogue to demonstrate or prove your morality. You just need to make a daily effort to be thoughtful and compassionate towards other living things. That is hard work. It takes discipline and effort. If going to church or synagogue gives someone strength to live their daily life in a moral way, then so be it. If, however, organized religion becomes a way to excuse immoral behavior in daily life, then that becomes what I call, “shopping spree morality.”

One additional clarification, I realize that there are other reasons for participating in organized religion other than for moral guidance or approval. Religion is very connected to family and community traditions, some of which have become almost secular. In a world that is obsessed with individualism and progress, religion does offer many the comfort of community and tradition.