CLAIMING OUR RELIGIOUS RIGHTS


Illogically, and tragically, religion and religious in the U.S. are most often defined as the beliefs and actions of political and religious conservatives, while the beliefs and actions of liberals are too often blithely dismissed as disguised secularism. Although an ordained rabbi, and a student of religion my entire adult life, I have occasionally been told by people on both the right and left that I am not religious. Liberals, you see, are by definition not religious for such people as Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson.

Such folks accept as religious only the proposition that revelation, no matter its irrationality, trumps rationalism. Anyone who gives rational thought and logic veto power over belief must, they contend, be secular. But for all of Western history there have been rationalist religious thinkers, Maimonides and Karl Barth coming immediately to mind.

Liberals, too, need to understand that their belief systems, based in rationalism, are also religious, and start demanding rights as believers. Liberal believers classify sexual ethics as private matters, and individuals as in charge of their own bodies. Conservatives say the opposite, that the community has authority over a woman's body, and that sexual ethics are public matters (until, of course, President Trump; but when the President was a democrat, sexuality was public ethics). Further, Bible believing liberals do not take the Bible literally, but neither historically have most Bible reading believers. We take the Bible seriously as a religiously revealed document, but Jews have never taken the Bible literally, or at least not in the last 2 millennia. Liberals understand the commandment that all of humanity is created in God's image (Genesis chapters 1 and 5) to supersede Leviticus 18:23 that historically was read to prohibit male to male sexual relations. These are biblically based rationalist biblical interpretations. But unfortunately, most liberals do not choose to argue for their religious rights. They leave those claims to the Conservatives.

But the reality is that our religious rights are being ignored. When a public institution can discriminate against a class of human beings because of a status that person received at birth -- race, gender assignment, religion -- they are not only acting prejudicially, they are also disregarding our religious beliefs and rights. A Catholic hospital that fails to serve the public by offering legally permissible and life-saving procedures is not availing itself of its religious rights, it is discriminating against the right to life of another adult human being, a right guaranteed by my religious belief that must be served by public institutions. Refusing to save a woman's life, even if by abortion, is religious discrimination against those who have a different but equally valid set of religious beliefs.

It's not conservative believers that are the subjects of discrimination, but rationalist modernist believers who take religion and human rights seriously as God given, but don't generally demand our rights as religious people. But the truth is that we are often religiously persecuted because we believe in a God who grants unalienable rights to all, who continues to legislate and improve on human morality, who partners with humanity to advance not only human knowledge but also human rights. We must stand up for our religious rights, and not allow the extremists to claim religion as their safe and exclusive harbor, because then our equally or more valid religious rights will be ignored, and our mission to fulfill God's just purpose in the world denied. Ours is God's task as seen by the prophets Isaiah and Zechariah, "A house of prayer for all peoples," (Isa. 56:7) and "On that day the Lord shall be One and his name shall be One." (Zechariah 14:9)

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.