ISSUES OF FAITH: Where is the holiness in today’s culture?

“YOU SHALL BE holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

This powerful portion of the Holiness Code in the Torah is central in Judaism.

Even those who aren’t sure about the nature or even existence of God understand there is a profound goodness in the universe which we humans should emulate.

Every major spiritual path has admonitions to its followers about how to live a holy life, treating everyone with kindness and compassion.

All faiths have rules which are similar to the Ten Commandments.

In modern language and context, they instruct us to see the godliness in everyone and treat them with awe and respect, to not use God’s name or our faith to carry out evil, to not make idols of people or material things, to honor our parents, and by extension our families.

We are taught not to steal, bear false witness, commit adultery or murder.

All faiths warn us of the danger in envying another’s things or successes.

And every tradition encourages setting aside time where one does not engage in worldly pursuits.

Two weeks ago when I was thinking about this column, my heart was so heavy it was as if there were stones weighing it down and I could not breathe.

I couldn’t find the words to express my deep sadness about the lack of holiness and moral compass I see in our country today.

Innocent children again running for their lives, parents living through a nightmare no parent should ever endure, politicians receiving money to keep them from taking moral action, and many effortlessly and brazenly distorting the truth.

Apparently, for them the ends (re-election) justify the means.

Corruption and scandal are covered up while politicians bicker like children rather than compromise to protect our American ideals.

People are willing to turn a blind eye to immorality and lies, while professing their deep religious faith and concern for moral values.

Rather than being seen as worthy of praise, people who stand up for basic humanity and values taught in every spiritual path are accused of being un-American.

Those who are different, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and people of color, or of a different faith, are ridiculed or bullied.

Those who endure domestic violence or harassment are afraid to speak out.

A former Republican congressman, Alan Simpson, said it well, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”

I would include holiness in that statement.

Where is the holiness in American culture today?

And yet, my despair has been somewhat eased in the past few days, watching the young people stand up and speak out more articulately than many of our leaders ever have.

They are challenging the adults to show the courage to fight evil.

Here is the holiness that has been lacking.

Here is the glimmer of hope for a better future.

It is inspiring to see these youth take action in the midst of their grief and to hear their voices plead for compassion and integrity.

And yes, they are pleading for the adults to be holy and to stop the carnage.

It seems, however, it will be our children who will find a way out of this nightmare.

The beautiful refrain from a song written by the Jewish musician Debbie Friedman perfectly captures this moment of change, where the younger generation takes on the yoke of leadership to pursue a vision of peace and compassion in our country.

“And the old shall dream dreams, and the youth shall see visions,

“And our hopes shall rise up to the sky.

“We must live for today; we must build for tomorrow.

“Give us time, give us strength, give us life.”

I pray for our youth to have the strength, the hope and the vision to persist and that they continue to be holy.

I pray they are given long lives filled with passion for justice so they can change our world to one in which we are all seen as precious children of God.

Kein yehi Ratzon. May it be God’s will. Shalom.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected]

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