Does Religion = Superstition? G-D Forbid!
Here's a tangential exerpt transplanted from comments on Classroom Clashes: Teaching Evolution. I would like here, if it pleases the moderators, to continue the discussion where I was trying to respond to posters who asked me if I believed in G-d. I would like my argument that "Jewish Culture" and "Jewish Religion" are not really 2 separate phenomena to be part of a greater discussion on how a person might be religious without necessarily being superstitious.
Here's why I reject the alleged distinction between "Jewish culture" and "Jewish religion" as a false dichotomy: If you understand Jewish history (a.k.a. the history of the Jewish People / Nation of Israel, which is also part of the same big picture), you will see that we're talking not about a religion over here and a culture over there, but rather a religious culture.
I debated this point with a Jewish woman who tried to argue in favor of the dichotomy. I asked her, "What's Jewish culture? Matzah ball soup? Corned beef on rye? Marx Brothers? Mel Brooks? I'm not knocking those things, but is that all there is to it? There are plenty of Jewish sub-cultures: Sephardic; Ashkenazic; Yemenite; etc., but what is the one thing which unites them all? Torah & Mitzvoth." She couldn't deny the truth of what I was saying.
A Jewish man once told me that he was interested in Jewish history, but not in the religion. I told him that the two could not be completely separated from each other. I told him that religion is a lot more than just believing in a bunch of invisible beings for no good reason. If all it were, I told him, were about believing in ghosts & goblins and fairies & elves and witches & warlocks and angels & devils, I wouldn't have much use for it; I would just go play Dungeons & Dragons.
Okay, so what is religion? What is Torah & Mitzvoth? It might be more than you think it is, and less. I said before that Judaism is not Christianity, and my point is still lost on some. You can go on about the Deity and YHWH worship all you want, but the Christian take on this is not the Jewish one. What might appear to be an ancient superstition to some is really (ideally at its best anyway) a living and enduring philosophy which is more than just words and ideas; it is lived out in all sorts of deeds including giving to charity, visiting the sick, marriage counseling & conflict resolution, prayer & study, sex & abstinence, honoring parents & raising children, work & rest, and even bathing & diet. It is a system of law & self-discipline, as there are other disciplines in the world such as Zazen and T'ai chi ch'uan.
I was walking around with my friend & neighbor Eddie after attending a Sabbath prayer service a few years ago. I said to him, "I'm not really a religious Jew; I'm more of a philosophical Jew." He said to me, "You're more religious than you think you are." I thought that was funny, 'cause I wasn't sure what he meant. Then I realized that he and I had just prayed with a minyan, and that is a religious thing to do.
A little bit more recently, I was walking around between prayer services on Sabbath with another friend & neighbor named Yitzchak. I said to him, "You know, I used to regard so many of the mitzvoth as if they were just a bunch of superstitious mumbo-jumbo. But now that I'm learning more about the meaning of the mitzvoth..." and he said to me, "Now you're learning that it's meaningful mumbo-jumbo?"
I said, "Yeah, well put!"