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Rabbi Sharon Brous on Religulous: “Defying Despair: Why I Believe”

Have you seen the movie Religulous by Bill Maher? My colleague Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar (a social activist, highly spiritual, conservative-ish synagogue community) responded to Maher’s movie on Kol Nidre. She said:

I recently heard Bill Maher speak about his new film, Religulous (a made up word that combines religion and ridiculous), which offers a blistering attack on religion and the religious life. He argues that faith necessarily means a lack of critical thinking, that “to be religious at all is to be an extremist, [because] it is to be extremely irrational.” I understand his critique of religion. I understand the problems inherent in the notion of an all-powerful God in a world of brokenness and pain, of poverty and disease. I understand the damage that religious faith has wrought, the bigotry, close-mindedness and narrowness that is so closely identified with religious communities and ideology. I understand why smart, discerning people might reject religion so fiercely.

Later Rabbi Brous, acknowledging that there were plenty who misused religion for their own abusive purposes, says, nevertheless:

So here’s what I — a person of faith, an Exodus Jew — say to Bill Maher: Guess what? The God you mock is not my God. My God does not tell people to blow up buildings, oppress women, or even build gas pipelines. My God tells us to treat all people with dignity and love. My God does not advocate for the war in Iraq, or any other brutal conflict that separates people from their loved ones and treats human beings like “collateral damage.” No, the God I love demands that we pursue every possible path toward peace. My God does not make children sick, but gives them and their parents comfort and strength as they struggle with illness. Belief in my God does not free human beings to defer responsibility, it demands of us that we take responsibility. As the great Rev. William Sloane Coffin:

“It’s clear to me… that almost every square inch of the Earth’s surface is soaked with the tears and blood of the innocent, [but] it is not God’s doing. It’s our doing. That’s human malpractice. Don’t chalk it up to God. Every time people… lift their eyes to heaven and say, ‘God, how could you let this happen?’ it’s well to remember that exactly at that moment God is asking exactly the same question of us: ‘How could you let this happen?’ So [we] have to take responsibility.”

That most of the terrible heartache in the world is perpetrated by people — and often people who cloak themselves in religion — is a great travesty and a bruise on our shared humanity. But that is no reason not to believe. It is, rather, a reason to challenge, to reinvent. To search deeply within our traditions for the ikar, the sacred essence that is truly at the heart of our faith that compels us to engage one another not with condescension and brutality, but with respect and compassion.

Read Rabbi Sharon Brous’ complete Yom Kippur Kol Nidre sermon here. And thanks to Rabbi Eric Berk for bringing this wonderful sermon to my attention.

One comment

  1. DST says:

    I liked Religulous because it made us critically think about religion and the role it plays in our lives. Faith is clearly something that is personal. Unfortunately, so many wish to oppress others with their views on faith and the “correct” religion. This behavior leaves me feeling like the world would be a better place if religion did not exist at all.

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