Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I have watched with mild amusement as the debate surrounding the beliefs of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have gained steam. Aren’t the Mormons weird fanatics? Should we trust people who have such strange beliefs with high office?
This is an interesting question coming from my Evangelical brothers and sisters, whose belief that a man, born of a virgin, was the son of God, only to die on a cross, and then be resurrected — a belief that is, with all due respect, not exactly the most rational belief either. It is equally interesting coming from Orthodox Jews, like myself, who believe that the Red Sea split, a donkey talked to Balaam, and the sun stood still for Joshua.
But it is equally strange coming from evolutionists like Richard Dawkins who have said, without a single shred of evidence, that life on our planet may have been seeded by space aliens. Even those evolutionists who reject Dawkins’ faith in extraterrestrial life have a belief system of their own, namely, that intelligent life somehow evolved capriciously and accidentally from inorganic matter, even though the possibility of complex organisms evolving without guidance is mathematically nearly impossible. This is how Julian Huxley, who stemmed from the world’s most famous family of evolutionary proponents, put the probability of the evolution of a horse: “A proportion of favorable mutations of one in a thousand does not sound like much, but is probably generous … and a total of a million mutational steps sounds a great deal, but is probably an understatement. ... With this proportion, we should clearly have to breed a million strains (a thousand squared) to get one containing two favorable mutations, and so on, up to a thousand to the millionth power to get one containing a million. … No one would bet on anything so improbable happening … And yet it has happened!” Yes, even men of science can believe things that can be construed as highly irrational.
Now, do I believe that Joseph Smith found ancient tablets written in reformed Egyptian in upstate New York, that Jesus Christ appeared to the people of South America as recorded in the Book of Mormon, or that when a Mormon dies he becomes a god and gets his own planet? No. Respectfully, I do not. Nor should it matter. It is what a person does, rather than what he believes, that counts. It took four years for the Dalai Lama to be identified as the reincarnation of his predecessor in a process that to Western eyes can appear highly arbitrary. Yet, the Dalai Lama remains one of the most respected men alive because of his commitment to world peace and good works.
Misguided attacks on groups like the Mormons stem from a willful desire on the part of many to fraudulently identify people with a different faith system as fanatics and, therefore, a brief discussion of religious fundamentalism is in order.
The most confusing story of the Bible involves God’s commandment to Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. What was the God who would later declare that all human — and especially child — sacrifice to be an abomination, thinking?
The most insightful commentary I have seen on this story comes from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, who says that the key to the story is to see Isaac not as an individual but as a religion. Who was Isaac? He was Judaism. He was the person who would continue Abraham’s belief system. With his death, everything that Abraham had taught in terms of his rejection of paganism and the belief in one God would be lost.
The test, therefore, was this: Would Abraham follow God’s commandment to kill off his religion or would he put his religion before God’s will? What really mattered to Abraham? God or Judaism? And if they were to be put in conflict, what would he choose? The religious fanatic is the man or woman who has ceased to serve God and has begun worshipping his or her religion, making that faith into yet another false idol. Religion is solely the means by which we come to have a relationship with our Creator. But when it becomes a substitute for God, it becomes soulless and fanatical, seeing as there is no loving deity to temper it. It is in this light that we can understand why an Islamic fundamentalist is so deadly: In order to strike a blow for the glory, not of the deity, but of Islam, he is even prepared to go against God’s express commandment not to murder.
Hence, our concern need not be with a person’s faith in public office. It does not matter if he or she is Jewish, Evangelical, Mormon or Muslim. What does matter is whether the person’s faith is focused on relating to God and, by extension, caring for God’s children, or whether that person sees the purpose of his or her high station to promote a particular religion. It is easy to identify the difference. People who are in a relationship with God are humble and do their utmost to refrain from judging others. Their proximity to a perfect being reminds them of their own fallibility. Their experience of God’s compassion leads them to be merciful and loving. But those who worship a religion are arrogant and think they have the only truth. They are dismissive of other people’s beliefs and maintain that advancing the cause of their religion is more important than life itself. The rabbi in Israel who recently made the strange comment that soldiers should face a firing squad rather than listen to a woman sing is a classic example of this heresy.
Those who worship their religion evince the classic characteristic of cult members. Whereas a real faith system is empowering and makes one strong and capable of operating outside one’s own faith community, cult members can only identify with other members of their group and require the environment of the cult in order to function. They don’t have beliefs. Rather, they take orders.
I see none of these characteristics in Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman — who graciously hosted me along with my guest, Elie Wiesel, in the governor’s mansion in Utah a few years back — or any of my countless other Mormon friends. All should be judged on their merits as people and politicians, whatever their faith and whatever their beliefs.
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November 18, 2011 | 12:15 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The unfortunate breakup of the marriage between Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher should be of interest even to those who have better things to do with their time than follow mindless Hollywood chatter and celebrity gossip. This relationship was always unique in that it involved an actress who was 16 years older than her husband. That alone sent tongues wagging as soon as the relationship was announced. Many questioned whether a man in his thirties would continue to remain attracted to a woman who next year turns 50. What strained the relationship even more, according to those who always questioned it, was how Kutcher’s career took off like a rocket over the past few years, including getting a huge contract from CBS for Two and a Half Men, while Moore’s career stalled. Can a power couple’s relationship survive when one partner becomes a supernova and the other’s star fades?
There was then the curious item of just how public this relationship was. To be sure, there have always been Hollywood super couples who were photographed constantly in Cannes, at red-carpet movie premieres, and walking their children for ice cream in Beverly Hills. The difference with Moore and Kutcher was that they decided to Tweet so much of their relationship, including intimate pictures in their underwear, that the marriage seemed to lose a semblance of privacy. Could a marriage survive that kind of exposure or is erotic attraction to be found specifically in the mysterious and the hidden?
No doubt, the allegations that the marriage came to an end over Kutcher’s alleged unfaithfulness will simply be seen as part of a long line of men behaving badly. Kutcher will be grouped with other high-profile alleged philanderers, most notably Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But – and let’s not be afraid to ask the question – did any of this have to do with a young man in the prime of his life feeling less attracted to a wife that was entering middle age?
Here’s my opinion on the matter. Men are becoming more shallow than ever. They are focusing on a woman’s packaging to the virtual exclusion of other far more erotic elements of feminine attractiveness that are strike deeper than skin. Forget the phrase don’t judge a book by its cover. Women today are judged almost entirely by the color of their hair, the size of their chest, the length of their legs, and, most importantly, how young they are and how thin they are.
I know this was always the case and it sounds like a cliché. But it certainly did not happen before when it came to, say, thinks like newscasters. But just look at who is chosen today to read the news on national networks. They are blond-haired, blue-eyed, thin Nordic bombshells who all look indistinguishable from one another. Feminism, which once had the lofty goal of having a woman taken seriously for her brains rather than her bust, seems to have failed utterly.
Now, men are certainly responsible for their own superficiality and the eruption of public men cheating in their marriages is disgusting, tremendously hurtful, and must be condemned. If you’re a husband you have to honor your commitments. Period. You’re unhappy. Go for counseling. Still unhappy. You can divorce. But you can’t cheat. And you certainly can’t blame your wife for your duplicitous behavior. Its yours and no one else’s fault.
But in addition to the legitimate need to hold men responsible for their own actions, there is also a need to encourage women to stop participating in their own degradation and stop reinforcing the notion that women are to be judged by their body and youthfulness alone.
Women like Demi Moore have, unfortunately, at least in the past, served to hinder men taking women seriously or respecting them holistically by adopting roles as the libidinous man’s plaything. I do not mean to blame the victim. I am clearly blaming us men for being increasingly shallow in an age of television, pictures, glossy magazines, and deluge of Internet porn. But why did Demi Moore do a movie like Striptease, which was so reviled by the critics that it won the 1996 Razzie Award for Worst Picture of 1996? It seemed that the principal purpose of the film was simply to show off Moore’s body – including movie posters where she is wearing nothing – in a lousy B-movie script. The same applies to the Vanity Fair covers she did where was once again completely nude except for body paint. Now, is a woman just her body or is there a brain and a heart that counts as well?
I am saddened to see Demi Moore – or any wife for that matter – hurt and in pain at the hands of her husband. Having counseled countless women who have been cheated on and having written an entire book on adultery and infidelity, I have seen the indescribable trauma of wives who feel discarded by men who aren’t faithful. But reversing the increasing trend of men behaving so selfishly involves, first, a commitment on the part of those same men to be moral, ethical, and faithful under all circumstances, and second the creation of a culture in which women are valued for something other than skin tone, biceps, and breast size. And while men who cheat are of course the guilty party, this also requires a commitment on the part of women to help create a more dignified culture where men value women holistically and not just body parts.
In my book Hating Women I focus on the bizarre phenomenon of women participating in their own degradation in a culture that uses their bodies to sell beer. Look at people like Madonna who ultimately left the United States when she was raising her children because she claimed American culture had become too vulgar. But who contributed to that vulgarity? Did Madonna not play a role when she first started to simulate masturbation on MTV? And I’m loathe to bring it up, because in truth she has changed and become more much spiritual and responsible. But can we really create a culture of men acting like gentlemen–which they must do under all circumstances without any excuses – when women don’t always believe they should be ladies?
The truth of the matter is that as a woman gets older she becomes sexier. She becomes a much better lover as she learns to accept herself, becomes comfortable with her sexuality and much freer in its expression. She integrates her mind, body, and heart in a much more wholesome package so that her sensuality is expressed not only in the physical but through the mental and emotional faculties as well. Above all else, as a woman gets older she comes to know her unique gifts and as such she obtains the confidence that she has something special to contribute that other women do not have and in that confidence she radiates a more alluring erotic attractiveness. I wrote about the eight erotic qualities that make women attractive in my book ‘The Kosher Sutra’, with confidence at the top of the list. But for men to see that we beyond the flesh we need women who, in their Hollywood careers, demonstrate that a woman’s attractiveness is comprised of not just one but five qualities: her body, her mind, her heart, her voice, and her spirit.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has just published of “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself.” (Wiley) and will shortly publish “Kosher Jesus.” Follow him on his website www.shmuley.com and on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
November 8, 2011 | 11:53 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
One can only imagine the sigh of relief on the part of all those who contributed to the death of Michael Jackson. With the conviction of Conrad Murray, there is an official scapegoat and the finger-pointing can now end. We found the culprit. It was Michael’s corrupt physician who would do anything to remain in the orbit of the superstar and receive his monthly retainer of $150k per month. Murray was even prepared to become Michael’s pusher. Now he has been justly punished and we can put the matter rest. Rest in peace Michael. Your killer has been identified and sent to jail.
For years a group that surrounded Michael watched as his life deteriorated but did nothing for the very same fear that if they opened their mouths they would be out. The publicists he paid, the managers who took their percentage, the handlers who got their cut, watched as he dangled a baby from a balcony, proclaimed his pride in sharing a bed with a child on international TV, and slowly went bankrupt as he squandered his fortune as garbage purchases. And they did… nothing.
Michael’s addiction to prescription medication was well known yet few cared to get him the help he needed. Worse, Michael was lethargic, uninspired, and required serious counseling to get his life in order. The response, however, was to persuade him to agree to 50 concerts in London – a staggering feat for even the most well-balanced performers – in order to take their share. Whatever the consequences, the troubled golden goose had to continue to lay some golden eggs.
So much of it came out in the trial. There was the testimony from concert director Kenny Ortega who said, ““My friend wasn’t right. There was something going on that was deeply troubling me. He was chilled. He appeared lost. Just sort of lost and a little incoherent and although we were conversing and I did ask him a question and he did answer me, I did feel though that he was not well at all.” Ortega went so far as to email AEG Chief executive Randy Phillips that Michael was seriously unwell. “My concern is, now that we brought the doctor into the fold and had played the ‘Tough Love,’ Now or Never’ card, is that the artist may be unable to rise to the occasion due to real, emotional stuff… He appeared quite weak and fatigued this evening. He had a terrible case of the chills, was trembling, rambling and obsessing. Everything in me says he should be psychologically evaluated. If we have any chance at all to get him back in the light, it’s going to take a strong therapist to help him through this as well as immediate physical nurturing.”
But if Ortega felt this way, why was he prepared to proceed with the concerts? Why did he not resign and declare that he would not contribute to Michael’s decline?
The role of AEG has similarly escaped serious evaluation. If the director you’ve hired is warning you that the artist you’ve contracted to do 50 concerts is in psychological turmoil, why were the concerts not cancelled or postponed? Was profit a factor in the decision to proceed, regardless of Michael’s psychological state?
To be sure, Michael was an adult and bears responsibility for his actions. But if he was not prepared to heal himself than it was the responsibility of all those who benefited from being in his orbit to get him the help he needed and, if the effort failed, at the very least not contribute further to his self-destruction.
Is it only the doctor who gave Michael propofol who is the culprit? What about doctors who continued to continued to give him plastic surgery to the point that his body was falling apart? And even if that’s not illegal, should they at least not be ashamed?
It was the tragedy of Michael Jackson to have been so successful that he became an industry that supported so many that they were prepared to look the other way as his life slowly sunk into the abyss. In the final analysis, Conrad Murray was the person was most responsible for Michael’s death. But a host of others played a significant role. They ought to thank their lucky stars that the sins of the many have fallen on the shoulders of one.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of “The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals his Soul in Intimate Conversation”. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.