Religious expression is not a license to incite - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Religious expression is not a license to incite

August 6th, 2019 development
Religious expression is not a license to incite

By Rabbi Irwin Wiener

Guest Columnist


At every public gathering, a prayer is offered by clergy invoking God’s blessings on the purpose and participants. 

 Debates have ensued and have included pronouncements from the Supreme Court of the United States. Even today, the dialogue focuses on which denominations and which prayers are acceptable. 

I would suggest that even God is amused by the commotion.

The issue rests with the guiding document explaining the code of conduct necessary for civilized societies to exist—the Constitution of the United States of America. 

It leaves nothing to the imagination in its declaration that Government shall make no laws regarding the establishment of religious actions or behaviors. It was written because our forebearers understood the toll religious fervor exacted, resulting in religious persecution.

However, at most public gatherings, regardless of its purpose, we as clergy are asked to beseech God’s favor on the attendees and the deliberations. It is a simple exercise, and for the most part, forgotten immediately following. 

 There is rancor and name calling; there is diatribe and mockery — all, I might add, contrary to the intent of the Divine admonition of love and mercy. All the blessings seem to rest on deaf ears.

Today, we read and listen to the conversations about who should render prayers and who should not. Our society has become so polarized that we hesitate to express ourselves.

   Some take cover in a religious covering, while some ignore the very essence of our upbringing to accommodate feelings that may be sensitive to our utterances.

It is a sad commentary that this nation founded on the principle of free speech, finds it difficult to find the right words that can fit all sensitivities. 

It is a sad commentary that this nation, which has devoted its energies, with rare exception, fighting wars for the privilege of living our lives as we wish, finds it an ordeal to live that life. 

It is a sad commentary that this nation in its darkest hour heard the immortal words that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and now seems to be involved in actions that seem to contradict these sentiments.

From the very beginning, all of us, at one time have questioned the existence of God. There is war and killing; there is famine and desolation. There is crime and tragedy. There is sickness and despair. Innocent people die and evil people do not.

And yet, at the same time, it is really not hard to believe. There is the beauty of nature. There is orderliness and seasons. There is complexity and simplicity. There is the ability to create and enjoy what has been created. There is the capacity to love and be loved.

Faith is not easy. Our inclination is to doubt. Still, we seek God in times of turmoil. Perhaps that is too simple because we never really have seen God. 

This is why prayer was designed; to help us reach out and grasp purpose and meaning. If this is so, then why is it so difficult to understand that beginning our deliberations can and should request God’s guidance?

Prayer is both personal and collective. Our prayers are divided into personal supplications as well as requests for the salvation of all God’s children. 

When I am asked to pray at gatherings, my concentration is directed to those who are with us as well as those no longer able to receive the benefit of our purpose.

It is not entirely the content of the prayer, but rather the intent. For sure, God does not need clichés or slogans, but rather to remember that we were all created in the divine image. 

Religious expression is not a license to incite, nor is it a license to wrap ourselves sanctimoniously in a badge of intolerance. 

Religious beliefs are the free expressions of people receptive to the idea that love is divine, and disagreements are not contrary to this concept, but civility is needed for respect and progress.

-Rabbi Irwin Weiner, D.D., is the spiritual leader of the Sun Lakes Jewish Congregation.