Rabbi Eric Yoffie is president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Today he chimed in on the debate about religion in America.
Now Rabbi Yoffie and the vast majority of Reform Jews are among the most decent, tolerant and open-minded of all religious people. This is why it puzzles me that he would write a column defending religion from press coverage that is “elitist, condescending and wrong.”
America is by far the most religious of the industrialized democracies. …Americans believe in God, send their children to Sunday school, and seek out the holy far more than others in the developed world. More Americans will attend a house of worship this week than will attend football games this season.
What exactly is the point of this statement? Every poll taken indicates that upwards of half of all Americans are young earth creationists. Is it “elitist, condescending and wrong” to point that out?
…[R]eligion does an exceedingly fine job in promoting good behavior. As Robert Putnam and David Campbell demonstrate in their just-published “American Grace,” religious Americans make better neighbors than non-religious Americans by virtually every index. They are more generous, more trustworthy and more civically active.
I haven’t read “American Grace,” but there is an enormous amount of research that shows that atheists, agnostics and other non-theists are just as nice people. As for being civically active, I would remind Rabbi Yoffie that much of the civic activity in which they are engaged violates almost every position taken by the Reform movement. As for non-theists, he notes:
Some Americans may resist theological language; they may speak of connecting with the sacred, creating holy community or giving expression to the spiritual dimension of life, but they are still speaking of an encounter with God.
Hold your horses right there, Rabbi! I strongly believe in celebrating the human spirit of creativity, love, community and so forth. Please don’t tell me I am speaking of an encounter with God. What is the point of this? I guess he knows as well as I do that a very large percentage of Reform Jews and their rabbis are “closet humanists.” How convenient to file them under religion and, worse, to group them with that majority of Americans who are religious.
Toward the end of his column, after acknowledging that Reform Judaism is committed to reason, he pulls back from the love-fest:
American religion has its share of dolts, doofuses and extremists. And inevitably, extremism is highlighted by a 24-hour news cycle that gives unwarranted attention to tiny religious groups that have learned how to command media attention.
I’ve often said that my main complaint about the religious left is that it provides cover for its older, larger and more obnoxious sibling. Here’s a perfect example:
[T]here is no room for doubt: religion is a great asset for our country, one of those things that makes America great.
Pretending this is true, for reasons beyond my understanding, does not make it so. Most religion is destructive. Even a well-meaning Reform rabbi should be able to understand that.