Is religious moderation a good thing?
These days everybody seems to be in favor of “moderation” and against “extremism,” but what does that mean? If the religion we are part of is a good and righteous one, why moderate? If your cause is just, if you are on the right side, what is wrong with being an extremist? Is there really too much of a good thing?
If something is good, how does more make it bad? More should be better. Do we spoil our children with too much love? (Sometimes we use the phrase “too much love” when we mean “not enough discipline.” Actually, inadequate discipline is usually a sign of not enough love.) How about too much money? A lot of money is only bad if that’s all you have.
So why are we condemning religious fanaticism? That which is wrong in big scale is wrong in the small scale. It may not be as detrimental but it is equally wrong. We need to get to the root of the problem, to the moral issue that separates the good from the bad. Let’s not condemn “fanatics” and “extremists”, that serves only to distract us from the heart of the matter. Rather, let’s talk about the root, the subtle beginnings of the evils that can come from religion.
The subtle beginning of this evil is the belief that when you die you go to a better place. That is Evil. It may sound noble, spiritual, heavenly, religious and comforting. It also causes these believers to fly airplanes into large buildings.
What about the virtues of martyrdom? Isn’t this a noble act?
Of course this was not noble and it was not martyrdom. When I trade in my old car for a newer model, is that an act of self-sacrifice? If you give up your life because you believe that you will get a better one, is that martyrdom or just plain narcissism? Or perhaps the worst possible form of narcissism.
True martyrdom is when you give up your life precisely because life on earth is important enough and necessary enough to give up your own life for it. Is Heaven a better place? The answer must be “No.” Easier? Yes. Better? No.
We want to remain on earth because this is where we serve G‑d. This is where we make a difference. The belief that heaven is a better place is an evil and it leads to unthinkable horrors.
G‑d wants a world of people diverse in culture, in style, in appetite, in opinion — maybe even in religion; but not in morality. There cannot and may not be two moralities. This is what we mean when we say, “G‑d is one.”
You can have two of everything else and it’s okay. Have two religions or five or fifty. Have sixty different versions of heaven. Pray twice a day or five times. On a carpet, on your knees, standing up. Whatever. But when it comes to morality there is only one G‑d.
You don’t want to eat fish on Friday or work on Sunday? Gezunterheit. As long as the diversity doesn’t include differences of opinion on “Thou shall not kill.”
When we all agree on the definition of that one commandment, then and only then will there be peace in the world.