Saturday, April 4, 2015

Thoughts on Belief on Passover, Easter

As a humanist (non-theist), I understand the desire that people have to believe that there is a force for good looking over and protecting them and their loved ones and forgive them for their seeming lack of ability to imagine how that might seem when applied to those whose lives are negatively impacted in any given situation. It always drives me crazy to hear someone describe some incident in which others were hurt or died, but they or their loved one survived by saying, "God was watching over (me or them)."

"Oh, really," I want to say, "but He didn't care about the others?" Of course they would likely come back with "He has his own plan" or some such.....But, that is just what they need to make sense of the world, and many studies have shown that people who believe in these ways get health benefits from this kind of thinking, although it looks like denial to me.

I wrote the above in response to a Facebook post in which someone had made a similar observation regarding lyrics in a Garth Brooks song about souls being called to earth to be born to wonderful mothers. She wondered about the babies being born to less desirable parents and situations.

And then I remembered that last night was the beginning of Passover and tomorrow is Easter. No, I did nothing to observe Passover last night. 

I was raised in a Jewish family by educated parents who were not terribly religious, though we attended services in a Reform congregation somewhat regularly through the year and on holidays, I attended Sunday School and had Hebrew lessons twice a week for a couple years preparing for Bar Mitzvah. But part of the rebellion of my young adulthood was a disavowal of religious belief, and I have only been back in synagogues for family weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and funerals since.

Passover, which celebrates the escape of the Jews from slavery in Egypt recounted in the Book of Exodus, is a perfect example of a religious belief in which God is watching over only certain people, not others. Moses demands that Pharoah release the Jews; he refuses, and God unleashes various plagues until finally the Jews are instructed to mark their doors with the blood of a lamb and the Angel of Death is sent to kill all the firstborn sons of the unmarked households. Hence the holiday is named "Passover," since the Jewish households were passed over and their children spared.

According to the Christian Bible, Jesus and his disciples were eating the Passover dinner, the Sedar, in what has come to be called the Last Supper. Jesus was a devout Jew, a rabbi, though his teachings challenged the powerful Jewish priesthood at the Temple in Jerusalem and the Roman notion that Caesar was a living god.  The Romans could put up with an invisible Jewish god, but not with a man who had thousands of followers who proclaimed him King of the Jews and possibly the Messiah.

The message of Easter (apologies to any Christians who may ask how a lapsed Jew has the chutzpah to interpret their religion), while broadening the extent to which the heretofore God of the Jews would extend his love and protections to anyone, Jew or Gentile, limits his favor to those who acknowledge faith in Jesus Christ. 

I don't hate religions or religious people, but I recognize that religions are exclusive clubs. They subscribe to the "only-one-True-religion" thesis. While most of them invite others to share their beliefs, too often they find other religions or even sects within their own religion threatening, and since in their belief system God favors them, blesses them, they sometimes feel justified in discriminating against or even attacking others. While there are benefits in belonging to religious groups, such as the wonderful charitable work they do for their own members and for others outside their groups, and for the teaching of moral lessons inherent in all religions, I would on this holiday pray if I were religious, but hope since I am not, that my religious friends would contemplate whether the sense that their god protects and favors them affects the way they think about people who are different or believe differently than they do.