Core Value #6True piety requires human decency
Because all people are created in the image of God, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him.
In the science fiction saga, Star Trek, there was a planet of people who had a cloaking device for their ships. They were able to fly around the universe while escaping the detection of any other starships. While their cloaking device was in operation, they were able to travel where and when they wanted without opposition from others, and it gave them an advantageous position from which to attack their enemies. In a similar way, people have misused religion as a cloaking device through which they could maneuver through life, escape detection for wrongs committed and even launch attacks on others.
Historically, this misuse of religion can be seen as far back as organized religion itself. All the prophets cried out against this abuse; Yeshua of Nazareth railed against it as well. The Church persecuted the Jewish people for almost two millennia in the name of religion.
Most thinking people would admit it is not fair to blame religion itself for these things. The problem is one of human nature. It is easy to cloak wrong intentions and problems under a cover of religious piety. Karl Marx thought the answer was to ban religion, but communism proved that politics could be just as effective a cloak as religion.
Religion can be affirmed as good and right. Ritual can be affirmed as a valid expression of faith and a means of connecting with God. Sadly, wherever the valid expression exists, the corruption of the ritual can also exist.
There are many Jewish people rediscovering their heritage as well as its beautiful practices. This rediscovery enables us to affirm identity as well as pass on our heritage to our children. Unfortunately, there are some who misuse ritual and form as a pretext to gain acceptance and authority. Some have taken to wearing the black hats and clothing of the Ultra-Orthodox. Others have sought to learn the rituals themselves as a means to grasp authority in the congregation. They have taken something which, in and of itself, is good, and have transformed it solely by their wrong intention into something malevolent.
Yeshua did not speak against ritual and tradition but against the wrong attitudes of those who taught and practiced them with improper motives. When people treat people poorly, whether for religious reasons or non-religious reasons, the value of their religious practice becomes nullified.
The parable of the sheep and the goats makes this clear. To the sheep it is said, "I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me." They answered, "L-rd, When did we ever see you in need?" And He said, "When you did so to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." To the goats it was said, "I was hungry and you gave me nothing. I was thirsty and you let me thirst. I was naked and you did not clothe me." They answered, "L-rd, When did we ever see you in need?" and He said, "When you did not do so to the least of these my brethren, you didn't do it to me." The only difference between the sheep and the goats was what they did or did not do. Yaacov, the brother of Yeshua, said that pure and undefiled religion is to take care of the needs of widows and orphans. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Yeshua taught the issue is not who is our neighbor, but that we are to be a neighbor, rendering assistance to anyone in need. When an individual becomes a neighbor, a person who seeks to reach out and meet the needs of others, it can be a deeply religious act.
Religious people easily become preoccupied with words, presuming to become the voice of God to those around them. But it is far more fulfilling to be the hands of God in the world, as Yeshua and the prophets taught. Yeshua stated "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve," and "He who wishes to be the greatest among you must become the servant of all."
Long ago people tuned out the many self-proclaimed voices of God. It gave them headaches. People need to experience His love through kind actions. They need to feel His hands blessing them. The time is long past where religious pretext can cover up man's inhumanity to man. “Holier than thou” attitudes will prove unprofitable is unacceptable as we approach the next millennium. Actually, they never were acceptable from God's point of view. The ability to quote Bible verses, or the practice of dressing in religious attire are not acceptable alternative standards of spirituality. All people are created in the image of God, therefore how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him. True piety cannot exist apart from human decency. This is the heart of God; people need to feel it beating.