As we prepare for the reading of the Ten Commandments, I would like to focus on a question that truly bothers me. Why isn’t G-d more a part of our social fabric? I would like to share my thoughts about this sad social phenomenon.
I know it doesn’t sound too kosher for a rabbi to write about separating G-d and church (or shul, for that matter) but I think the time has come when we need to see G-d as being higher than religion.
I know that the separation of church and state is one of the key underpinnings of American democracy. It was a crucial decision of the Founding Fathers, which guaranteed that citizens in our great country would not suffer the type of religious discrimination that they and their parents had experienced in many European countries. Its wisdom is irrefutable, especially in a country like ours, which has proven to be a haven for people of so many religious backgrounds. They can all rest assured that the government, and the courts, will not restrict their religious activities or somehow appear to be in favor of one religion over another.
However, somehow our courts have interpreted this separation as not just a separation that forbids the government from endorsing any particular religious belief; it has taken the radical step of interpreting G-d and church as being the same thing. The thought process is that as soon as somebody speaks about G-d, they inevitably will relate it to a particular approach to G-d (church). This is a case where G-d has become a victim of His own creation. As a result, G-d’s presence in the schools and society as a whole has been severely restricted. Political correctness has taken this to the extreme, whereby neutral prayers can’t even be said at sports events.
The obvious and much-discussed question is how we got here; the Founding Fathers believed strongly in G-d and some even taught that a G-dless society is destined to crumble. On what basis could the courts take such strong measures to exclude G-d from so much of our cultural makeup?
In the times of the Founding Fathers, G-d was an important part of daily life, a guiding light for a person’s decisions, a presence in one’s home, and an important factor in one’s upbringing. It was this type of relationship with G-d that the Founding Fathers took for granted. Perhaps they saw no need to ensure G-d’s role in society because they couldn’t imagine a society without G-d. When they called for the separation of church and state, they simply meant there should be no government endorsement.
However, with the change of society and societal values, G-d became less and less a part of the American society’s day-to-day life. The roller coaster of an industrial revolution, wars, depressions, population spurts, immigration, family breakdown, and demographic upheavals created a complicated society very different than the one our Founding Fathers knew. G-d and church became almost synonymous as occupying the same compartment in our complex lives. The idea of separating them was just too difficult and seemingly outrageous. G-d has slowly but surely been relegated to a compartmentalized role and time slot in the lives of the average American. Thus, separation of church and state became synonymous with separation of G-d and state.
Now we see the results of this broad paint brush: throwing out the baby (G-d) out with the bathwater (religion). The separation of church and state does not have to exclude G-d from American life. If G-d had a lawyer on earth, He could easily argue about unfair discrimination by way of association. It is high time to correct this very costly generalization and realize that belief in G-d can be something totally independent of any religious edict or group.
We see in many polls how a growing and a significant number of citizens indeed believe in G-d but do not claim a religious affiliation. G-d can stand on His own two feet, so to speak. Church, or religion, is a path to get to G-d, but does not limit G-d or His role and potential contribution to a better society.
With careful legal limits on how G-d is presented in various ways in society, we can begin the process of correcting this great American cop out, and start to give millions of Americans the birthright they deserve and one that society so greatly needs.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.