The difference

In this secular world, people of faith hear a lot about the burden of religion. I know I do. There seems to be a belief out there that religion is a lot of pomp and ceremony that clutters up a person’s life without any benefit. Things that you have to do, worry about, and spend money on unnecessarily. But that’s not religion.

Jews especially find themselves on the receiving end of such comments. And why not? We have far more holidays than the American majority, and all of them involve more ceremony. Then there are all the laws regarding diet and cleanliness, in addition to those exhorting general good behavior. To the outsider it can easily look like an unruly mass of instructions akin to a game of “Simon Says.” But that’s not religion.

Religion is a belief system. Beliefs are not clutter. They do not impose stress on one’s life unless they are in conflict with behavior. What other people see and focus on has nothing to do with beliefs; it has to do with dogma and theology.

All those rules are really an outline of a way of living. And yes, it looks more complicated on paper than it really is. But it has to be on paper in order to provide continuity between faith and behavior, the sacred and the profane. The secular world likes dichotomy, and dichotomy creates an unnatural separation between mind and matter that carries over into faith and behavior. When viewed in compartments, those behaviors that are intended to proclaim faith appear feeble and burdensome at best, a hypocritical irritation at worst. When the line between one’s behavior and one’s beliefs is removed and the one is allowed to be informed by the other, there is no burden, just a way of living–the way that works for that person.

So how do people of faith handle “all those rules?” We don’t. We just live our lives. And there are some things that our lives involve and other things our lives do not involve. Our faith is the rhythm by which we live our lives, and the commandments of that faith are part of that rhythm. Ignoring the rhythm is the true burden.


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