Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Lectionary: 220

If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish;
you will not have a long life....

"It is strange that modern students of religion fail to realize the constant necessity for the protest against polytheism. The idea of unity is not only one upon which the ultimate justification of philosophical, ethical and religious universalism depends, but also one which is still beyond the grasp of most people. Monotheism, to this day, is still at variance with vulgar thinking; it is something against which the popular instinct continues to rebel. Polytheism seems to be more compatible with emotional moods and imagination than uncompromising monotheism, and great poets have often felt drawn to pagan gods. The world over, polytheism exercises in almost hypnotic appeal, stirring up powerful, latent yearnings for pagan forms, for it is obviously easier to worship under polytheistic than under monotheistic thought.  (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is not Alone: A philosophy of religion, 1951)

If you substitute the word polytheism with multi-culturalism, you have updated Rabbi Heschel's statement to our current dilemma. Both words suggest there are many gods and no God, many values and no value, leaving only tolerance as the sacred catchword for avoiding all-out savagery. 

But tolerance is not a value; it is only a way of ignoring what is obviously evil. In small communities of religious we sometimes tacitly agree, "I'll ignore your drinking if you'll ignore my smoking." Married couples might agree to an "open marriage" under the same pretext; they're "open" to each other's philandering but not to the gift of children -- until nature takes its course and they cannot bear one another's company. 

Tolerance requires greater and wider distances between people. At first they find the touch and smell of each other unbearable, and then the sound and sight become abhorrent. As the sheriff of the Carabinas said to Tim Barrett, "This town aint big enough for both of us.

And, as Heschel predicted, multiculturalism invites vulgarity: i.e. hook-up culture, Donald Trump and the epidemic of heroin. Recalling that the Greek word for city -- polis -- is the root of politics, polity, metropolitan and police we might say that vulgarities like drive-by shootings don't happen among polite people. 

Between now and Easter Sunday Christians reexamine their attitudes, practices and relationships. We will hear Moses' challenge to worship one and only one God, 
Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.
There is no place for polytheism among Moses' or Jesus' followers. We must love One God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He is the Lord of our bodies, money, relationships, time, leisure and work. 

If we tolerate neighbors who worship foreign gods or no god, it's not out of respect for their vulgar religions or values but for their persons. They may not know it or like it but we see in them the image of God. And if the Holy Spirit urges it, we will invite them to come with us and rediscover the assurances of fellowship, communion and faith. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.