This Old Freedom Train

In this country, and perhaps at this season of Hanukkah especially, we celebrate our Freedom of Religion.  We also celebrate our freedom “from religion.” 
imagine-no-religion

The secular laws that govern America intend to prevent any religious coercion or bias among us.  “We the people” have the right to practice or not practice any religion we choose.  Some might claim that the freedom from religion that Western 21st century encounters has led to a weakening of religion.  Within Judaism, for example there is actual debate over what do we mean by mitzvah – for several thousand years it simply meant “commandment,” as in “Do this” or “Do not do that;” within the Torah there are 613 of them. Yet, the Conservative Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary actually has a Mitzvah Initiative, which helps Jewish communities explore mitzvot as” an organizing principle of Jewish life.” There is an active conversation about the meaningfulness of being commanded (or not).

This willingness to question even central ideas, I believe, is a good thing.  Jewish leaders love to celebrate the plasticity of Jewish development over time, yet some bemoan change when it happens on their watch.

Holding on too rigidly to religious control does more to weaken religion than the American born “freedom from religion.” Consider two modern cases as proof: 1) The election of a right-wing Chief Rabbi in Israel has lead to a deepening disenfranchisement for secular Israelis from the value of religious observance. 2) Yesterday, a woman sued the U.S. Catholic Bishops over a miscarriage treatment:

“The lawsuit accuses the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops of creating health care directives “that cause pregnant women who are suffering from a miscarriage to be denied appropriate medical care, including information about their condition and treatment options.” – Chicago Tribune

The religious beliefs of the Catholic Bishops prohibited best medical practices from being offered.  As with the Affordable Care Act, religious communities want the freedom from offering the largest net of possible coverages or procedures, on religious ground. From the perspective of these selfsame religious institutions, their position is mistaken and will hurt them rather than help them in the long-run.