An Enormous Reservoir of Spiritual Energy

MURRAY SALTZMAN

September 07, 1993|By MURRAY SALTZMAN

There is a foreboding sense of intensifying hostility and anger fracturing our national psyche. The more obvious source of this insidious canker sore that poisons the public atmosphere are the hate groups. The skinheads, for example, are outright murderers. They plot to eradicate minorities, Jews, immigrants, non-Christians.

Their mindless venom unfortunately spills over to influence those who ordinarily would disavow bigotry. More and more, minorities and immigrants have become targets for exclusions and scapegoats for the economic ills presently suffered by so many.

Match this with an increasing ratio of dysfunctional families and we begin to understand why hostility and anger seep into the lives of children, why our tolerance for diversity and economic stress has diminished. Exploding tempers produce disaffected and alienated employees who kill without reason. Children with guns kill for sneakers and jackets. This growing callousness, a shocking indifference to life, testifies to the frustration and anger gnawing at the soul of so many Americans.

If this tendency to violence, self-indulgence, uncontrolled hostility were not so widespread, infecting diverse segments of society, we might feel less perturbed. But in suburbs and city, in every economic level, the immature and TV-mutilated intelligence responds to real or imagined exasperation with violent destructiveness.

Adolescents defy their parents and govern their lives by peer-dominated values. Parents and their children attack one another as their lives become submerged with adverse pressures and emotional or spiritual emptiness, leading to quarrelsome anger. Family and home is no longer a comfortable haven or a life-sustaining inspiration. We now face incredible challenges as a civilized nation. Civility and decency are at risk. Common courtesy seems passe.

Yet recently in Denver hundreds of thousands of young Roman Catholics paid homage to spiritual and moral values. They confirmed that young people can transcend a materialistic culture to identify with elevating purposes, disciplines, ideals. They demonstrated a refreshing allegiance to a noble calling.

What an impressive event that gathering was in Denver. Two important factors inspired my observations of what happened there. First is the evidence that there is an enormous reservoir in young people of spiritual and moral energy, a countervailing force that can overwhelm the negative and destructive pressures so threatening to all of our teen-agers, of whatever race or creed. Those young people reassured me that given an idealistic summons of an affirmative, optimistic religious conviction, young people can make a difference. We need not surrender to despair when this example of commitment to a moral life and a spiritual quest is so filled with enthusiasm and vitality.

The second factor was the message of Pope John Paul II. He suggested that there are timeless and enduring values and thereby challenged our culture of pervasive relativism with its dominant themes of pleasure and fun over idealism and responsibility.

We do not all agree with the pope's perspective on human sexuality. Indeed, we may not agree on other specific issues. A week ago our respective uniqueness as diverse religions was highlighted when thousands of religious leaders from every conceivable faith met in Chicago as a Parliament of Religions. One religious leader pleaded that beyond the differences of creed and deed, all of us must affirm an abhorrence of intolerance. He challenged all of us to accept the right of each community to define its pattern of morality without the bloody conflict that for ages has cursed the religious community and tarnished religion as a force for good in the eyes of humanity.

Each of us must confess to our fallibility, as diverse religious communities, recognizing that as we search for the transcendent and infinite God we discover the ineffable mystery of divinity in the universal love of all humanity. This, beyond our differences, gives us the right to challenge evil in our midst with the confidence that righteousness shall prevail.

I experienced this feeling of optimism after witnessing the spiritual power of the Catholic youth in Denver.

Rabbi Murray Saltzman leads the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

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