Friday, April 9, 2010

My Problem with Religion

"Everything trumps kindness." - M. K.

I wanted to know how to live my life, how to walk my path. My friend asked his wife how they should raise their children, what guiding principles. She told him that she was raised with one rule, "be kind." and everything else was just history or culture or ritual, kindness was the guiding principle.

"The problem with religion," she said, "is that everything trumps kindness."

When you meet a kind religious person it is because that person is a kind person.  There is no commandment to be kind. There is no mention of kindness in the ten commandments. Parents cut off relationships with their child who married out, or won't eat at a function because they keep a different hechsher. If you are religious, every rule and ritual trumps kindness.

I would rather be kind and raise my children to be kind and let them connect to their history and culture through the prism of humanity then through an unyeilding uncompromising rulebook.


Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Forgive me, but I think this is simplistic and misinformed. Consider, if you will, a few points.

There IS a mitzva to be kind. Love your fellow as yourself is a mitzva among the commandments of the Torah. One of the 613. A commandment to do kindness. Nearly any form of kindness you do for another is a manner of this mitzvah. Even just making change. Look sometime, for instance, at the Hafetz Haim's book Ahavat Hesed. There is a *halachic* mitzva to do kindness.

There are indeed things that trump kindness. Not only in religion. Also in the secular justice system. Also in general morality. There are things that even trump life itself. The definitions vary by culture; but nearly everyone runs up against one at some time. Was Patrick Henry crazy? Was Rabbi Akiva?

But it is a gross exageration, born of bitterness I suspect, to say 'everything trumps kindness'. NO, it does not. Find me a great teacher or halachic authority who ever advocated it does. Most such authorities are known for having set the opposite example. But it is true that SOME things trump kindness. There are bumper stickers out there that say 'my religion is kindness'. My religion is worshipping the God who demands kindness, but in a real world balance. Kindness should never equal cop-out.

When the sages said that kindness to the cruel is tantamount to cruelty to those in need of kindness, they knew of whence they speak. Look at the repeat offence rates for child molesters, for instance. If we are kind to criminals, aren't we then cruel to the victims?

I suspect you don't think so simplistically; but this post reads that way.

It seems to me that many of our greatest religious figures in Judaism were know for kindness. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach and Rav Aryeh Levine immediately come to mind. Yet they never advocated doing away with the halacha.

The sages famously emphasized that the Torah begins with kindness (providing for first man's needs) and ends in kindness (burying Moshe). Why ignore that?

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Let me get this straight. You complain about a lack of kindness, but you pay money to be entertained by people hurting each other for sport? Where the only goal IS to hurt someone more?

Even if it is only pretend, that's sick and unkind. But that's okay with you?

The Way said...

You're right, I should have said, almost everything trumps kindness.

Granted one can quote scripture and find a quote to back up anything. So I am not having a theoretical conversation about each letter of the torah.

Instead, let us look at the people who consider themselves the torchbearers of the torah. Are these people known for their kindness or their strict adherence to law and customs (which is like law)?

Its easy to stroke yourself and say that you consider yourself kind. But how does the rest of the world, or the rest of world jewery (ie:non-orthodox) view the characteristics of the group.

And this is not about religious vs secular because there are orthodox groups that are thought of by outsiders as having kindness as their hallmark, religious Buddhists to name one.

As for my bitterness, that is just flat out a poor guess as to my own nature or how others perceive me. No one ever describes me as bitter. I am simply expressing shock at how often I hear and see people treat others horribly over issues which have nothing to do with actual torah.

As for MMA as a sport, I see no contradiction between kindness in my life and enjoying competitive martial arts between consenting adults. Others may see it differently.

The Way said...

btw, sorry it took so long to reply, been sick as a dog this past week.