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What's Wrong With Religion?

by Rabbi Manis Friedman


Library » Philosophy » Religion | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Religion offers salvation, enlightenment, a place in heaven. Religion teaches self-improvement: humility, devotion, patience, faith. Religion demands a standard of behavior that benefits our souls, our bodies and our society. I'm glad Judaism is not a religion. Because all of the above can be self-serving and narcissistic. Religion can be its own worst enemy.

Religion emphasizes the importance of being good, and of being right. It condemns those who are bad and those who are wrong. Those who practice a religion strive to be perfect. If they fail they may be condemned, and if they succeed they may become intolerant of others. I'm glad Judaism is not a religion.

Religion must invariably create a caste system—more religious is better, higher, holier. Less religious is lesser, lower, more profane. The pious can be measured in percentages. 100%, 50%, 2%.

Religion insists our nature is evil. To be good, we are told, we must resist our natural impulses and replace them with other worldly virtues. You can't be “you” and good at the same time. You must therefore sacrifice the “you" and choose “good.” I'm glad Judaism is not a religion.

I'm glad Judaism is not a religion...Religion can be its own worst enemy
Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was onto something when he confessed to being puzzled by his own dormant but profound Jewishness. What is Judaism? G-d gave us commandments that are dear to Him and essential to His vast eternal plan. When observing a Mitzvah we are doing something for Him. Something He desires infinitely, that affects Him eternally.

We serve Him instead of seeking to be served by Him. The opportunity to serve provides an escape from narcissism by taking us beyond ourselves. The objective now focuses on the deed rather than on the person. Is it good? That is the question. Is it right? Even when I'm not all good I can do that which is truly good. And when you do a mitzvah it is as good regardless of who you are or what you are. The gratitude for this opportunity brings real joy to life. Hence, “serve G-d with joy," because serving is the only means to joy.

When you are devoted to serving G-d you naturally want others to do the same, for only together can we fulfill His plan completely. Cooperation, not religious competition.

Equally significant is the fact that we are born to these mitzvahs. G-d created us for this mission. It is therefore our truest self that fulfills the mitzvah, not a denial of self.

The 613 mitzvahs don't make you religious or pious. They simply bridge the most Jewish in the Jew with the most G-dly in G-d. One to One.

The mitzvahs are the many intimacies we can share with G-d. They express the Jew in you. Every mitzvah counts—every Jew is precious. Now, that's Judaism.


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Chumrahs and the caste system.

Posted by: Sharon on Feb 08, 2005

Rabbi Friedman writes: "Religion must invariably create a caste system—more religious is better, higher, holier. Less religious is lesser, lower, more profane."

Unfortunately, there are some highly observant Jews who keep track of who is following which chumrahs and do view themselves as 'higher, holier' because they keep more chumrahs than someone else. I know some people who keep cholov yisrael, yoshon, and other chumrahs who are wonderful people, but I know just as many who are self-righteous and arrogant about it.

Editor's Comment

It seems that some Orthodox Jews, too, are affected by the "religion syndrome."

Who is the better Jew?

Posted by: Israel on Feb 11, 2005

Who is the better Jew, the one who strives to serve G-d with cholov yisrael, or the one who treats everyone else with the utmost respect and does not hold resentments and strives to express love to his fellow person?

Who's to judge. But who are we to stand before G-d and claim our complete devotion and love for him when we treat his most beutiful creations as if they were worthless.


Posted by: Jennifer, St. Marys, KS on May 02, 2005

Does God want everyone to be a Jew? What is the point of being a Jew? Does one have to be a Jew to be pleasing to God, the Creator of everyone and everything? When I get something from another I am always so touched that I want to return them a favor. Someone, I am convinced it is God, gave me life, a beautiful Mother and wonderful father, a happy family and the best boy friend, A great education. I cannot list all the things that I have been given. But now I want to return my favors to him - basically I want to use all the things he gave me very well and return them to him, when I go, in a better condition - I LOVE THIS CREATOR and want to be pleasing to Him. Most people either like Italian or Mexican Food. They normally feel like one at the time and always prefer one over the other. What does God like what does God want - THERE HAS TO BE ONE THING/ ONE RELIGION THAT IS THE ONE THAT IS PLEASING TO HIM ABOVE ALL ELSE. WHAT IS IT? HOW DO WE KNOW?

Editor's Comment


Posted by: Shawn Stutz, Ellijay, GA, USA on Nov 07, 2005

I like the perspective that you share... My faith is not some religious code of conduct! Thanks for the words of wisdom.

RE: Date Posted: May 02, 2005, Jennifer

Posted by: Anonymous, London, England on Feb 05, 2006

I must say your words really touched me. You seem like a wonderful woman.

If you were born as a Non-Jew you have no reason or purpose to convert to Judaism. You were created to abide my the seven noachide laws, thus helping to make the world a G-dly abode. That is all you need to do to fulfil your spiritual potential and earn a place in Heaven...

However, if you wished to convert that would be possible, but remember: you do not have to be a Jew to be a good person or to be loved by G-d. Converting can be very difficult, since you will have to live a life with more binding and detailed laws restricting you from things you took part in previously, however, this is all part of the gift. :)

Whats wrong with religion

Posted by: Eduardo, Guatemala, Guatemala on Feb 10, 2006

Excellent article. Finally... Being Jewish is not a religion, is a way of life. An unselfish way of life, oriented to do what we are expected to do by G-d.

not to burst your bubble

Posted by: Chashmal, Bloomingburg, NY on Feb 20, 2006

Judaism is most certainly a religion. Religion is a system of spiritul beliefs based on the teachings of a particular doctrine that has been passed down throughout generations.

No matter which way you look at it, everyone has their own individual system of belieffs. Everyone has their own religion. There is nothing wrong with religion.

The question should have been "What is wrong with people's persepctive?"

Judaism is the antithesis of idolatry

Posted by: Gregory, Edmonds, WA on Feb 21, 2006

The definition of Judaism is simply this: The antithesis of idolatry.

Whilst idolatry means paying tribute to things and concepts in Creation that are dead and cannot pay back, Judaism is about connecting to the One and Only Creator/ Engineer of all these very things and concepts in Creation.

A religion too, is a form of idolatry: for whatever is man-made, cannot suffice to hear or to listen.

Judaism is a relationship with the First Cause/Life-Giver of the worlds. Connect and be connected...... and you will be happy.
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.