Thursday, September 11, 2014

Blessings for friends from a Jewish Humanist

**Last spring I had the opportunity to give a blessing at the wedding celebration of my good friend Adam Joseph Lyons and his partner. The whole thing was quite an honor, because I gave this blessing at Harvard Divinity School in the Center for the Study of World Religions, with a quite a few religion scholars present.

            When inviting me to share some words with you today, Adam graciously allowed me to represent both Judaism and secular Humanism. In order to fulfill both of these identities at once, I’ve chosen to read some quotations from Jews that are famous for their secularism and maybe even their humanism.

            Sigmund Freud was the father of psychoanalysis and an assimilated Viennese Jew. On love, he has said:

These wise words I offer to you today. Freud believed he knew a thing or two about the self, and here he admires those who love another at the cost of some of their own narcissistic self-love, claiming that this exchange is one which humanizes us.

            Next up is Karl Marx. Both of Marx’s grandfathers were Rabbis. His father converted to Christianity, but married a Jew. Marx himself had some choice words for the Jews and their relationship with money. Self-hating Jew? Anti-semite? You decide!

            Anyhow, Marx tells us that:

“If you love with­out evoking love in return, i.e., if you are not able, by the manifestation of yourself as a loving person, to make yourself a beloved person, then your love is impotent and a misfortune.

These wise words I offer to you today. Marx is telling us that it’s not enough to love; we also need to strive to be lovable. I believe one accomplishes this through working to be one’s best self and through loving attention to one’s partner.

            My last secular Jew is Woody Allen, born Allen Konigsburg. In his movie “Love and Death,” Allen has a character tell us this:

“To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.”
These wise words I offer to you today. Perhaps Allen was sharing his understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, reminding us that love and suffering can go hand in hand, but that this is the cost of happiness.

            I’ll leave you with this: I find it very disturbing when secular Jews bring up Freud, Marx, and Woody Allen as their heroes. But maybe there’s wisdom here too: Like Freud, you can be right about love but wrong about women. Like Marx, you can be right about love in theory, but your theory just won’t work when applied to insufficiently-developed industrial civilizations—that is to say, you can right in theory but wrong in practice. And like Woody Allen, you can be right about love, but also an abusive monster.

            So, my blessing to you is that you strive to understand love, but also don’t forget to be feminists, work hard to make your love work in practice, and don’t be monsters. 

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