Religious values

Western liberal values are rooted in the revolution wrought at Sinai.

moses 88 (photo credit: )
moses 88
(photo credit: )
On Tuesday night, Jews around the world will celebrate Shavuot, which continues the commemoration of the Jewish people's founding event, the Exodus from Egypt. The holiday is named Shavuot (weeks) since it concludes the seven-week interval between the flight from Egypt on the original Pessah and the giving Torah at Mount Sinai. To relive the enthusiasm of receiving the Torah, many will study Jewish texts into the night. In Jerusalem, thousands will gather at the Western Wall at dawn for prayers, ending the sleepless night and recalling how, in ancient times, Jews would bring the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple. Though Shavuot somehow lacks the public resonance of more symbol-laden Pessah or Hanukka, or the gravitas of the High Holy Days, it remembers an event of universal significance: Moses delivering the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people, and through them to the world. For Jews and Christians, the Ten Commandments stand at the center of the moral code that underlies Western civilization. Muslims also consider Moses a prophet, and are quick to point out that all of the Ten Commandments can be found in some form in the Koran. Given the recent spate of books making the case for atheism, one might think that the message from Sinai has had a negative impact on the world. The title of the latest of these, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens, captures this position well. Moreover, there seems to be no shortage of evidence of religious perversion of the values it claims to uphold. In Gaza, for example, Fatah officials are complaining that pro-Hamas imams are preaching against them and even inciting to violence. As one Fatah representative told The Jerusalem Post, "This is not the first time Hamas has used the mosques to call for killing Palestinians. We must put an end to incitement in the mosques." What is striking about such concerns from Fatah is that for years, even after signing a peace agreement that expressly prohibited incitement, Fatah-supported imams would advocate hatred and violence against Israel. This illustrates the problem with determining morality based on whose ox is gored, rather than on more fundamental moral values. It is obvious that religions are not immune to immorality. But it should be equally clear that religion also provides an important part of the antidote to moral decay, whether motivated by religion or its absence. Indeed, those who blame religion for "poisoning everything" seem to forget that the ideologies responsible for murdering the most people in the past century, Nazism and communism, saw religion as their arch enemy. It is necessary, then, not to simply lump all religions together, or even all adherents and permutations of each religion. In Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq millions of Muslims have expressed their desire for freedom and have stood up to those who want to impose on them either an Islamist or some other form of dictatorship. Though some argue that Islam will never be able to go through the sort of reformations that have transformed Judaism and Christianity following periods of militancy, it seems that Muslims themselves have not yet given up on such a hope. Neither should the West. The West must see itself as allied with all those Muslims who believe that Islam can be compatible with freedom, peace, tolerance and human rights. This means standing up to the Islamist death cult that aims to subjugate both the Muslim world and the West. Much of the internal societal strength necessary to do this stems from religious values and faith. Contrary to Hitchens and others, Western liberal values are not the natural outgrowth of reason but are rooted in the revolution wrought at Sinai. Religious commitment, such as Jews celebrate and enact on Shavuot, has played a pivotal role in bringing civilization to its current level. It will remain pivotal in saving civilization from both religious and antireligious threats to it, and to advancing humankind to a higher moral level.