I proclaim the end of religion on the Days of Awe. Is this apostasy?
Have I betrayed the Jewish People? Have I denied our history, our faith, our people by proclaiming the end of religion?
What kind of rabbi am I, to do such a thing? To disparage the countless generations of Jews who donned their tallit, and wore their equivalent of sneakers to Temple on the High Holidays?
A different one!
Did not God create, as Tractate Sanhedrin said, every human being to be unique? So please forgive me, as I proclaim uniquely my view. Whether you agree or not, whether I am “the rabbi” and you “the congregant” or not, is irrelevant, and implies no coercion of you on my part.
I proclaim the end of religion; the end of religion is the ultimate repentance of the Jewish people, if not all humankind.
Let’s start simply: Let us suppose I teach you a rule “thou shalt repent of one’s sins”. Now let me reinforce that rule, based upon the Edict of the Divine Being, Blessed Be His Holy Name. Now, let me declare that repenting of my sins is to be blessed, i.e. that one is rewarded by God for it. Now, let me declare its converse, that the non-repenting of my sins, is cursed by God, and I will be punished.
If I BELIEVE the above to be true— and one day, break the ritual of repentance—- and inwardly feel I am doing something wrongful–then, as not a few (Jewish?) psychoanalysts point out– a wrong thing may happen to me, a subconscious self-adjustment: I may sprain an ankle, or get a cold, to correct my own violation of my own inner belief, punishing myself, and believing it was “God”.
But, if I don’t believe the above to be true— and one day, I break
the law requiring repentance, then, I might discover that I have a perfectly glorious day, with no problems, and in fact, the law to repent, when broken, had no effect upon me whatsoever. In fact, I may hit the lottery that day. Then, religion has ended for me. I am no longer a puppet of God through religion’s requirements; God is no longer a tool of a religious elite establishment.
Then, I am left with God. I am naked before Him. Not the God of religion. The God of Life, Who IS, Life.
Does religionism bring one closer to God? NO! It brings one closer to religion. It brings it closer to the authority system that framed the particular religion we call “Judaism”. It is, when unkempt and overly-authoritative, dangerous. It needs to be repented of.
This harkens to what the brilliant philosopher Emmanuel Kant declared, when he asserted that the “categorical imperative”— acting as if your actions determined the destiny of a world— was deontological, that it had no relationship to cause and effect, and that it was to be done out of a sense of duty, religious or otherwise.
If indeed, there is no intrinsic reward or punishment, let us say to an act of repentance, then, such an act is a duty; one does it for a reason beyond receiving God’s blessings or curse. This was Kant’s position. Moral imperatives are duty— “mere” duty?
Consider the truly critical law, like “thou shalt not steal”.
Is the confession of such a sin, and the vacating of no longer stealing, just a religious duty, and has no intrinsic reward? A mere duty? Obviously, it is not. If one has been stealing, and ceases (repents) to steal, and commits to that within one’s community, the world is quite improved by one’s resolve.
I don’t believe obedience to a moral imperative is merely deontological. I believe it is more ontological: built into the cause and effect design of “How Life Works for Good”.
All this is why, it is critical to separate “religious law”, such as a law that requires repentance, from true “spiritual law”, which is the very act of repentance itself. Do you see? Religion teaches the reward for the behavior of performing the religious law, whereas true spirituality teaches the reward which comes from the actual behavior mandated by the law. Do you see the emphasis difference?
This is the cultic problem that the early Reformers understood, very intelligently, when they elevated the ethical as being universal law, and depreciated the ritual, as being formal, particularist, and not being binding.
They were not wrong; they were right. But, they were excessive.
Remove the Rabbinic cult of God’s reward or punishment in the olam ha ba, the world to come, for the performance of a mitzvah-–the Divinely-meted punishment for not performing the “duty”, and one still has something of tremendous value:
The reward for repentance of theft is an improved Life, i.e. blessings of good, i.e. “God”, to both you personally, and the entire society in which you participate. What’s left is something REAL! Beyond the excesses of authoritative religion! Not beholding to it, either. Obviously this is so— which is why non-religious secular societies affirm the value of “ceasing (repenting) to steal”. Even dislocated from the religious “God”, it has value under the REAL GOD, the God of Reality: “How Life Works for Good”, as we in Universal Judaism, proclaim. It has value even to the self-professed atheist! Belief has nothing to do with it! Religious doctrine does not define it. It is ontological: built into the structure of Reality, on our human scale.
If you don’t remove the cultic reward of heaven and earth, what you have is the worst aspect of religion, pure obsessive-compulsive disorder. You are told what to do. You believe it. You do it. You become enslaved by it. You lose your freedom. You punish yourself when you attempt to regain it. And a vicious cycle— like Lady MacBeth washing her hands— continues.
One loses God, because one has become so identified God with religion, that the loss of religion is the loss of God.
This Yom Kippur I proclaim the end of religion— AS WE KNOW IT!
I proclaim a Judaism which has not removed the value of repentance, for its positive cause and effect— ontological— to REAL human Life.
I proclaim the de-ontological DUTY of teaching that positive effect— by encouraging each and every person to repent of sloppy habits, to grow and to change. And here TRUE religion has value, but, it is not, ever its own value.
The punitive, dangerous psychologically-defective guilt-god, I do not proclaim. I repent of this god.
I fast from this god. A complete fast! It is not a fast of affliction. It is a fast FROM affliction, which is what a TRUE fast should be.
May each and every one of you have a light fast, if you still choose to do so.
Blessings and happiness for the New Year, and for your long, long Life ahead.