For the last few years, I’ve felt nothing less than pure terror. There are many reasons for this endless fear. Witnessing America’s horrific movement toward fascism is one source of my fright. The recent Supreme Court ruling to diminish women’s identities into the horrendously simplistic form of incubators has also inspired this trepidation. But even though I’m a passionate feminist and I feel outraged by such an incredibly dehumanizing decision, one underlying aspect of the country’s shift to an authoritarian attitude scares me more than anything else. It’s the arrogant insistence on interfering with my freedom to believe.
The systematic implementation of an extremist vision, blatantly ignoring the diverse and quite legitimate array of ethnicities that are intrinsic to this nation, is so alarming to me. With the Supreme Court’s interpretation that life begins at conception, that it’s acceptable for a football coach to impose prayer on his team, the intrusion of a far-right ideology on American culture conveys a very disheartening message. This unmistakable communication tells all of us that one religion should define our laws, existing as the fabric that unifies our country’s moral core.
As a Jewish woman, I fervently disagree.
I think the legal system should reflect a society’s ethical design in neutral fashion, where certain religions are not elevated above others as the ideal belief system. Our nation embodies a synthesis of multiple cultures. That authentic variety warrants celebration, not an attempt to suppress this rich assortment for one specific doctrine, which those in power embrace.
My perspective certainly isn’t original. It corresponds to the foundation that shaped this nation’s laws, laying the basis for our moral framework. Over an extensive period of time, flaws have been rightfully identified, with subsequent revisions made to correct certain inequities and to clarify various points, as an inspiring work-in-progress that can always be improved. But the fundamental principle, where religion contributes no role in legal matters, now appears conveniently distorted and ignored to justify the dominance of extremist views that benefit an exclusive minority of this republic.
Therefore, I feel very afraid.
When I wrote my novel Detached, the upsetting developments described above hadn’t happened in such concrete form yet, but clear indications were already looming at that time. I felt these menacing possibilities within the political landscape while shaping the religious secrets that two of the story’s main characters struggle to grasp. Both Wanda Lindstrom and Marcy Seele share distinctive connections to Judaism. But because of the neo-Nazi elements that circulate in their townhome complex, they’re each privately afraid of revealing their authentic identities. The potential for violent repercussions is too great of a risk to overlook.
I explored this subject matter due to my own sense of dread at the frightening rise of anti-Semitism in this country. The thought that I could be a target simply because of my religion is nothing short of terrifying. But the combination of hateful right-wing extremism and the aggressive overreach of religious nationalism deliberately leaves little room for faiths that fall outside of this rigid network to flourish.
The hypocrisy inherent to this prejudice upsets me, almost beyond words. It’s a constant fury that exists beneath the calm surface that I often project as a defense. I know of no other way to protect myself from the jeopardy posed by such a self-righteous and perilous mindset. Certain groups that insist their belief system is superior, one that surpasses all others, cause needlessly aggressive conflicts, which contradict the very purpose of religion itself. This perspective also strips away the joy of feeling part of a respective faith designed to connect, to help humanity appreciate the larger world. Religion should allow each of us to move beyond ourselves, our personal conflicts and challenges, to gain empathy, to embrace a history, and to feel a nourishing attachment to the spiritual entity that embodies our chosen doctrine.
But today’s cultural landscape is actively confiscating this richness, flattening it with the demand that the accepted religion has just one form. Those who do not subscribe to this push to homogenize religious belief are becoming more and more silenced by the broadening system that’s overriding the separation of church and state.
While I realize that I only have one voice, a small one that doesn’t generally make too much noise, I assert my freedom to believe. I’ll evolve in my Judaic identity as I see fit, determining how to fulfill this personal quest for connection to my own ethnicity without any interference, both in the realm of Judaism and beyond. Because I always respect as well as appreciate the wide range of differing beliefs embraced by others around me, I simply wish for that same consideration in return.
Despite the immense pride that I feel regarding my religion, though, the increased threats stirred by anti-Semitism frighten me. It’s concerning to witness the legal, legislative grip of a single religious outlook in an attempt to repress all other faiths through the powers of government. Since we are such a diverse country, fused together by numerous methods of worship, I truly hope that we can overcome such authoritarian impulses. Everyone, of every religion, in every denomination, possesses the right to choose their own faith, with no exceptions and without any governmental intervention.
In short, we should all have the freedom to believe.