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The Purpose of Religion in Society
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Tonight I want to give an unashamedly political sermon. It is political not in the sense that I will be endorsing a particular candidate, or even promoting a particular issue. But it is about the role of religion and religious values in civic life, and why it is important that you vote in the upcoming election.

I actually want to start in a place I am sort of loath to discuss ever. The place is the lessons of the Holocaust. In a sense, there is no lesson to the holocaust because to presume a lesson is to presume a worthwhile purpose, and there is unquestionably no purpose worth the murder of six million Jews. But the undeniable fact of the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry commands our attention and demands that we try to cull from it something which can be of small consolation.

I was asked once what the purpose of religion was in a society. The context of the question was a rather acrimonious panel discussion about peace in the Middle East. The Christian and Muslim on the panel had comments you might rightly expect about promoting peace and respect for human dignity. I had a difference answer. I said the role of religion was to be a voice for the ethical use of power.

It is that lesson I learned from the Holocaust. We died because we did not have power. In spite of our numbers, and they were considerable in places like Poland, and in spite of our wealth, and it was considerable in places like Germany, we did not really have access to power. When push came to shove, we had nothing with which to shove. And so we got pushed. The few - the young - who figured that out figured it out too late to save more than a handful.

If we learn nothing else form the Holocaust, it should be the danger of being powerless. But if all we learn from the Holocaust is to amass power, then we run the risk of becoming our own worst nightmares. After all, we have always suffered at the hands of those who have wielded power over us - Egyptians, Philistines, Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans, Inquisitors, Nazis and how many others. They were successful at what seems to be the objective, amassing power. But it was not the power which was the problem, but the way it was used. Power corrupted because it was seen as its own end.

In the United States, arguably the most important country in today's world, power rests in three places. It rests in business, in media and in government. We would be fools if we did not understand the need to have access to those three repositories of influence in this country. Some of us do well in business and some of us have influence in the various media. But most of us do not. However, each of us has the chance to play a role in government because of the way this country's political process works. I am not talking about being in the employ of government or even being a government official - it may be the local industry, but it is a limited population.

I am talking about voting.

And my friends, you have an obligation to vote.

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