“For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; indeed, they have all one breath; so that a man has no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.” קהלת (Ecclesiastes), 3:19
It is worthwhile remembering that religious scriptures are not history in any academically modern sense but they offer great stories, or accounts of history.
Nothing stops us from liberating scriptures from their dogmatic certainties and approaching their stories, laws and commentaries with genuine objectivity; neither sacred nor profane. We may approach any and all of it as literature.
We hear alot about “religious liberty” whenever there are conservatives running for some office or another and scaring up votes. More often than not, of course, what these shameless opportunists and pseudo-intellectual moralists are promising is validation for the idea of a One True Faith and the privilege of imposing it upon the entire nation by legislating it into public policy.
With a sad and unfortunate vacancy on the Supreme Court having opened up recently, two sitting conservative justices have expressed their desire to “fix” the Court’s ruling that broadened marriage rights to include same-sex couples. The ruling emerged from the legal battle brought by a Christian County Clerk insisting that having to approve marriage licenses for same-sex couples somehow violated her first amendment right of religious liberty. And if President Trump and the Republican Senate majority get their way, they could very well have the new justice seated to put in the fix — and theoretically allow someone like me to be elected County Clerk and deny business licenses to restaurants who refuse to undergo rabbinic kosher certification in defense of my first amendment right to religious liberty.
Of course, the 900lb gorilla of all Culture War issues comes into play as well. Abortion has been a big steady draw for a good half-century of American electoral politics, inspiring much too little interfaith dialog in our valuable public discourse for a nation reportedly so obsessed with overcoming “political correctness.” For example, according to the word of God, a fetus is not even considered human life in the Bible.
If one believes that the Bible is in fact the word of God, then why wouldn’t an accidental miscarriage resulting from a misfortunate street brawl subject those responsible to at least the punishment for involuntary manslaughter; namely, exile to sanctuary cities? Because, as generations of rabbinic interpretation and responsa have determined, a fetus is not considered human life according to the word of God: “When men fight and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other misfortune ensues, the one responsible shall be fined as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on judges’ reckoning. But if other misfortune ensues, the penalty shall be life for life.”
I am not a particularly spiritual man. But it is not necessary to be any religion’s devotee to enjoy and learn from the stories that emerge from the course of human civilization. The more we know, the better it is to argue effectively and in the language and logic of an antagonist.
So, don’t be intimidated by this stuff. Let the scriptures, apocrypha, commentary and ritual expand your appreciation of the folklore, arts, music and historiography that populate the broader landscape of our societies and civilization.