Being Fair to Fundamentalists

As a leader of a liberal religious movement, I spend much of my time fighting the forces of religious fundamentalism in my own tradition…In the last few months in particular I have been consumed with a struggle, played out on many fronts, with those in the Jewish community who oppose modernity, resist reason, and reject as inauthentic the progressive religious values that I espouse.

At times like this – in fact, especially at times like this – I find myself searching for common threads that bind me to those who are known as ultra-Orthodox or Haredi (“God fearing”) Jews. I find myself asking: What do I admire in those whose Jewish practice and belief are, in so many ways, radically different from my own?

I am not impressed by the fervor and apparent simplicity of their faith. For me, faith involves a complicated and difficult battle to overcome doubt; faith that is not filled with struggle is not faith at all. Neither am I impressed by their devotion to their religious leaders; this is a devotion that, in my eyes, often comes perilously close to replacing the worship of God with the worship of man.

But I am deeply impressed by the community building and mutual caring that I find in the Haredi world. I am struck by the sense of religious obligation that leads them to respond to those in their midst who are in distress. I see how promptly they reach out to community members who are ill, or in mourning, or have experienced a family tragedy. The ultra-Orthodox do not wait for the government to respond or for a social service agency to act. They have established institutions of their own, and what these bodies are unable to do is done by the extended family, or by neighbors, or by the synagogue. The alienation of modern life that eats away at our spiritual wellbeing and our sense of wholeness has, in large measure, passed over the ultra-Orthodox world.

Reading this, I thought about how Catholics and Mormons could likewise learn from each other. What are some things Mormons could learn from Catholics, and some things Catholics could learn from Mormons?

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