Rabbi Adlerstein’s response to the question; How can we raise awareness about the commonality of the three divine religions?
PRESENTER: Your work is certainly fascinating, interesting and extremely crucial to the community here. I wanted to kind of take a look at more of the big picture and along those lines that you were just discussing. How can we raise awareness about the commonality of the three divine religions and make sure that people understand that these three religions are based on the love of God, the fear of God and the necessity of a very high morality?
RABBI YITZCHOK ADLERSTEIN: That's not an easy one because so often what we wind up doing is speaking a lot of platitudes. These platitudes are sometimes true but they have seldom effective, meaning; “We all believe in God, we all believe in tolerance, we all believe in respect”. Well, yes and no. So to say that “it is just a question of love of God and fear of God and that all roads lead to the same place” winds up falling on deaf ears. People who are truly committed to a revealed word of God are going to treasure their belief system and their values and not want to see them diluted by ‘Oh, can’t we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya and be one big happy family’. It's not quite that simple. There are key differences that can't be papered over. To try, as I said, to say that we're all the same, all religions basically can be reduced to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ is simply not true and it doesn’t do service to the intensity of religion and to the specific modes in which people of different religions relate to God as their Creator and as the Ultimate Being of the universe that they have a relationship with. So here is the suggestion, though; in past, in centuries even millennium past, anyone who was a member of a different group was considered to be a competitor in the sense, the real enemy. Especially as religions trying to get there, themselves established. I think it's very import for people to turn around and understand that what's happened in the last couple of decades and even less there has been a sea change in the way we operate in the world. The enemy- to use the strong word - for any of us should not be the competing religion or competing sect within the religion. The global village has shrunk but so much of the culture of that global village is counter to religion, period. The only absolute that has survived in much of the world is; there are no absolutes. Personal autonomy is the new god. There always was a push for this, there was always people who wanted more freedom and were willing to redefine religion in that way but things really have shifted in the last couple of years. The self has become the center of so much some of this technology the fact that I can have my whole world in my device in front of me and everything that comes in, my friends, my entertainment, my cultural values, it's all about me. And I don’t want to know about limitations or boundaries. That is the polar opposite of what all our Abrahamic faiths are about. At least it should be. Submission to the word of God is what it's all about. It means that God is Greater than all of us, God is the Source of all being in the universe. It's not for us to dictate terms to God, He dictates terms to us, and that is the only way we will find our individual happiness. The real enemy out there is the skepticism, is the negativism, is the atheism. That is what we should be combatting. That is something that we can do together even while maintaining the differences theologically and in practice. It was enormous kind of revelation to myself, something I could pay lip service to before but seeing at work, seeing the kind of erosion of religious passion and commitment to all kinds of religious comminutes here in America, not just in the Jewish community, my own part of the community, the Orthodox community is doing really well, thank God. We were supposed to disappear into obscurity by now. The largest group, when measuring the youngest cohort of the American-Jewish population, is now the Orthodox. We are not intermarrying, we are still marrying and having children while others are not. I see with friends in every other religious group that I know of, the difficulty of transmitting religion from one generation to another and more often than not the young people say “You know, this is just not where I am, it's just not relevant. I don’t want the restrictions, I don’t want the boundaries.” We need to do a better job making God and commitment to God attractive, not just a sense of duty and responsibility but the greatest privilege on the face of the Earth. That can only be done with love and with understanding. It can only be done, it will only appeal to young people if they see their religious faith having meaning beyond their own religious group but that the word of God is so important and so profound that it has something to say about all of the profound questions of our age and that we can do as good a job, coming up with meaning, usually far, far better job than anybody else. This is something that we can only do effectively if we kind of working together. I think that, that might be a way of reducing some of the tension, not arguing “we are all the same”, and “let’s convince everybody that we can reduce all religion to a couple of simple principles”. That’s not so satisfying for the believer. The believer knows far, far more than just the reductionist terms. But there is a common mission out there that we can share without diluting our passion, our religious values that we should be working together on.