powerful impulse, to approach the divine, is being undermined by the
directionlessness of today’s great faiths. From ongoing violence in the name of Islam, which is the most serious of all modern religious sins, to priestly
pedophilia, to the evangelical fixation on gay marriage to the near exclusion
of everything else, to Judaism’s impotence in purging materialism from its
community, mainstream religion is being discredited, becoming increasingly
irrelevant to the lives of modern men and women.
The main reason for the deterioration of modern faith is not its sins
of commission, but its sins of omission. People can forgive scandal in religion
so long as, the rest of the time, religion guides and inspires them. But
secular people today see religion’s main goal today as self-perpetuation, more
concerned with its timeless institutions than with the pressing needs of its
Last week I met with Pope Benedict in Rome after his Wednesday
audience, arranged by Gary Krupp of the Pave the Way Foundation. The substance
of the meeting received significant media play because of what I asked of the
Pope. In essence, I pressed the pontiff, who graciously received me, to join in
creating a global family dinner night on Fridays, something we have already
begun with our ‘Turn Friday Night Into Family Night’ initiative. I presented
the Pope with a dual-time Phillip Stein watch and told him it was set to the
time zones of Rome and Jerusalem, signifying my desire to have him focus on
Israel and the threat the Jewish people face from Iran who, with openly seek to
wipe Israel off the map. And second, the dual clock face is symbolic of my
request that he take the lead in our global campaign by calling upon all the
world’s parents to give their children two uninterrupted hours every Friday
night, inviting two guests, and discussing two important subjects with their
He nodded his assent and repeated twice, ‘We will work together.’
When the papal meeting was over we met with Walter Cardinal Casper,
President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. I continued my pitch,
now with the Cardinal, for the importance of the worldwide Church partnering
with us to create an international family dinner night. The Cardinal, a close
friend of Pope Benedict for more than forty years, strongly endorsed the idea
and related his memories of family dinners with his own parents.
I made the case to the Cardinal that the pedophile priest scandal had
significantly undermined the Church’s standing as a champion of family. Many
influential American commentators were now skewering the Church for being an
all-boys club, run by men who do not marry and who had, in the imagination of
some, been prepared to sacrifice the welfare of children in order to protect the
reputation of the Church. What better way to reverse this perception than to
use the full power and reputation of the Church to address children’s core
needs, namely, receiving the love and attention of parents.
Would this not be a new and positive narrative of the Catholic Church
as a champion of family, giving productive and useful advice as to how to
reinvigorate the parent-child bond?
There are two kinds of children. One who receives time and love from
their parent as a gift, and the other who receives it, if at all, as something
that must be earned. The former grows up steady and sturdy like a cedar,
fortified by the ongoing validation given to him by doting parents. The other
becomes a crowd-pleaser, riddled with insecurities, always feeling that there
is nothing especially worthy about him and that he needs to perform and produce
in order to become special. I asked the Cardinal to help us populate the world
with the first kind of child.
Within the Vatican hierarchy I encountered priests who were all-too-eager
to discuss the current controversies facing the Church and who understood the
need for the Church to re-emerge as a global champion of family. With the
Church operating the world’s largest network of schools, hospitals, and
orphanages, it is crucial that it also reach everyday mothers and fathers who
are struggling to raise purposeful children in a world that celebrates
narcissism and fame.
For many people religion offers ritual but no wisdom, dogma but
practically no self-help. And all the splendors of the Vatican will not save
the Church from being anything other than a wonderful tourist destination if it
doesn’t take the initiative and teach people to master life.
The irrelevance of modern religion is something being felt worldwide.
Europeans especially have no time for religion. Secular Israelis feel the same.
Religion for them is a form of OCD, forever concerned with meaningless minutiae
while life’s larger issues remain unaddressed. In Israel religion is viewed as
a parasite, living off the hard work of the secular people who built the state.
Religion is the Yeshiva which teaches meaningless texts while refusing to serve
in the army.
But if religion is inevitably destined to be consigned by modern
Westerners to the ranks of the useless, then why are sophisticated and highly
educated people turning in their tens of millions to the Dalai Lama as their
hero? It remains a striking phenomenon that people who work on Wall Street and
go to Harvard believe in a man who dresses in a sheet and believes he is the
incarnation of earlier spiritual teachers. The reason: the Dalai Lama addresses
modernity’s greatest problem. We’re sinking in a morass of materialism that is
suffocating our spirit and he shows you the way out.
The Pope has the largest microphone to the world and with it the
greatest opportunity to heal marriages which are struggling to remain intact
and children who are in pain over lovelessness and neglect. An international
family dinner night would be a huge step toward religion becoming vital again
and toward the Catholic Church being seen in its true light, as a faith that is
focused on protecting children and cherishing family.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. On
May 14th he will publish Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Go to www.fridayisfamily.com
to sign up your family as part of a global dinner initiative.
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the national “Turn Friday Night Into Family Night” initiative.
Go to www.FridayisFamily.com.
Shmuley on the web at www.Shmuley.com