Theology class

Letters to the  Phoenix editor, July 2, 2010
By PHOENIX LETTERS  |  June 29, 2010



My religion teaches me that I have a responsibility to work to create a better world for humanity and for all living beings in the world that God created. In Judaism, we call this obligation the commandment to "be holy" and to make the world around us holy. I assume that clergy and the laity of other faiths likewise strive to share the holy teachings that they have found meaningful with the wider world.

It is certainly appropriate to work with elected officials and all segments of society to try to create a better world through the use of religious teachings. The effort to create a holy world, however, must stop before we use coercive means as a way to force our religious beliefs on society as a whole.

In the June 25 Phoenix, Jeff Inglis writes of how Catholics, evangelicals, and Mormons have formed an unlikely alliance to stop certain sins in America (see "Holy War"). Inglis notes that these religious groups believe that they "must endeavor to save others, even from themselves." While these religious groups work to create a godly world, a large part of society reacts negatively to their efforts. Religious beliefs are then imposed on the people through legal means, instead of people opening up their hearts to the words of God through love.

How can religious officials balance the need to bring religion into the world with the important principle of not using coercion as a way to enforce religious beliefs?

One approach for religious officials to adopt is to think in terms of the "do no harm" approach of doctors. Physicians are taught that sometimes their intervention with a patient may do more harm than good, and in such cases the right approach is to not intervene.

Those who try to use the state and the laws of the state as a tool to stop practices that they think are wrong should first think seriously about this "do no harm" principle. How much harm comes to the world and to religion because same-sex marriage legislation has been blocked or because of the vitriolic language and radical steps that are taken to stop abortion? If religious leaders took this approach of "do no harm," they would gain more trust and bring more people to believe in religious principles and God.

Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld
Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh
Portland, Maine


I'm as liberal as the next guy, and I've been bothered for years by the distorted values and activities of the religious right in third pursuit of enforced conformity. I enjoyed Jeff Inglis's article, "Holy War," in the June 25 edition of the Phoenix, but find myself perturbed nevertheless. Perhaps my liberal knee is jerking.

As pointed out, the Constitution prohibits governmental involvement in religion, but not religious advocacy of social positions. This is often forgotten. Any attempt to withdraw tax exemptions from such organizations because of the actions they take could be injurious to the First Amendment. It's based all too much on our agreement with the position the churches are advocating.

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