The problem of morally ambiguous religious texts is something I’ve given a great deal of thought to in the past few years. I attended a Jewish seminary from 1996 to 1999, where I struggled to understand the troubling texts, and after graduating life handed me a real and painful spiritual ordeal. I underwent a transformation of my ideas.
One idea to emerge from the ordeal was the following: when “religious law” violates “human law,” it must be considered invalid. If you hold the world’s religious texts to this principle, they crumble.
Belief in the Hebrew Bible, in its present form, requires faith in the holiness of a text which calls for genocide against “Amalek,” male circumcision, stoning women with messy hair, the establishment of a line of violent, sinful human “kings” to replace the Kingship of God, etc.
Belief in the Gospels entails acceptance of the idea that God is evil. According to the text, God sent Jesus to be tortured to death as penance for the sins of mankind. He also established eternal punishment for sinners.
Belief in the Koran, in its present form, entails acceptance of the idea that murder is an act of holiness.
This is where atheists lose faith altogether. However, I came to a different conclusion. I came to make a distinction between true religion and false religion. I don’t mean that there is only one true religion. I believe that there are many true religions, and they share certain characteristics.
One: True religions value all human life: all ages, all races, all genders, all sexual orientations, all ethnicities, all authentic spiritual paths. They value even the lives of the tormented—criminals, addicts, the mentally ill. They value the destinies and capacities of mankind for fulfillment. They value all animal life. They do not teach or permit violence, whether it is mutilation of the body, sexual abuse, murder or war.
Two: True religions honor genuine holiness. This entails a commitment to justice and freedom, as well as holding Good as an ideal to live by, faith, and participation in the struggle against evil.
Three: True religions honor God, Goddess, and the infinite, eternal Creator. Without faith, mankind is led to believe in his (or her) domination of the universe. Thus I read in the papers that immigrant families are subject now to genetic testing to “prove” their relationships. This is breaking up families. Fathers are learning that their children are not “genetically” theirs. But marriages today take place between men and women who are not eternal husband-and-wife. Babies are not, I believe, formed by random couplings—they are eternal souls. Their “genes” are related to their eternal parents, who are not always the people who gave birth to them.
Four: True religions honor the universe as part of the infinite Creator. It is a meaningful, purposeful, living universe. Today we have instead the disastrous concept of “natural resources”—whether oil, gas, or fertile land—and this has led to the draining of the earth’s body and the looming threat of a dead planet. Without the ethos of honoring the universe, we lose our sense of mankind’s responsibilities to the earth, the atmosphere and space. We are responsible for the universe’s health, for its preservation. We are meant, I believe, to live lightly on it.
Five: True religions have faith in the eternal life of the mind and the spiritual body of every person and animal. I have discovered, in my own being, that the flesh is lent vitality by the spirit; that the spirit gives us the capacity for love and every other emotion, the capacity for a sense of holiness and connection to the Creator or God and Goddess, the capacity for language, thought and intelligence—and even for motion. It is not just the soul which is eternal—it is every part of your conscious being.
Six: True religions hold that everyone—even very great sinners—can heal with the help of the Creator, that everyone is reborn innocent, and that everyone must repent for their own sins. “Everyone” includes those people who sin through prejudice or hate.
I hope that this outline helps those who have been searching for God in troubling texts, and preserves them from despair or cynicism. My plea: turn away from the texts, and believe instead in true religion.
Jacqueline Sokolinsky is a Berkeley