Chanukah stands with a harsh truth

She is Marge and for her, Chanukah isn’t about lights and big menorahs. It’s about standing up for one’s self and one’s loved ones and her way of life. In the play, Marge — who took the blame for all that happened to the Grinch — leads her family and kids on a tour of the buildings on Hadley Street. It’s a tour that includes a performance by the all-female neighborhood choir and information about how to use religion as a strength and a tool for social change.

When the Grinch stops off at the graveyards, he admits to killing her husband and their little boy, sensing that Marge may have them trapped in their grief. “The Jewish Bible teaches that you can rest in knowing who you are,” Marge responds. “Now, when your time is up, teach others to understand their worth.”

This verse — eternally repeated by Chanukah participants as the holiday draws near — acts as a reminder that it’s important to not conflate social change with individual identity.

We’re living in a time where that is increasingly difficult to do.

In the fall of 2018, USC Annenberg’s Project on Race, Ethnicity and the Media declared that there has been a mass, generational shift. More people cite opposition to their identity or lack of a sense of belonging as a barrier to using their education, income and abilities to promote social change than one theologically rooted views of religious pluralism.

Media, once so conspicuously an enemy of information, has become a powerful driver of the fight for information. The Pew Research Center finds that those who report that religion was a factor in the way they received information in the last year — 22% of all nonreligious adults — were more likely to be engaged in politics than those who said religion played no role in their news intake.

Ironically, the right has arguably bolstered pluralism more than the left by normalizing radical, modern Christianity. Of the 67 Republicans attending religious services weekly, 60 percent are Protestant, and of those Protestant Christians, 71 percent identify as white evangelical, according to a new study by Gallup. In a sign of just how fervent Christian Protestants are, 44% of nonreligious Americans listed religion as the most important thing in their lives, compared to just 16% of white evangelicals. And if there is one narrative that might lead to more political engagement, it’s that politics can be understood through the lens of religion.

In other words, too many Americans are sacrificing their sense of self — and thus their respect for values and the rights of others — to keep up with the pace of modern life.

The Puritans built Massachusetts Bay on principles of religious and moral freedom. They established themselves here, with a set of rules that were deeply shaped by their faith. There was no double standard, or judgmental class system.

Today, we have a Puritan/New England culture — where self is the common denominator, and race and gender are less important than the experience we bring to the individualism that can be so overwhelming. That culture of excess has contaminated politics, and by extension has corrupted policy.

The problem is not that many Americans and their leaders have lost track of their own values. Rather, it is that the requirement of seeking personal “fulfillment” has corrupted our liberal traditions. The result has been more division than division.

At times, the fight between secularism and religious pluralism seems to be a matter of which of these values need to be valued more. “This is a country that is rich in religious freedom,” said President Reagan at the 1981 National Prayer Breakfast, “and for those religious people who have been persecuted or persecuted for their beliefs, we have something to say to them. … . They have created a society where freedom has sprouted and flourished from the manna of the powerful.”

There’s a strong case to be made for a no-holds-barred culture of advocacy, no matter one’s politics. That is, however, only possible when people have a moral clarity, the courage of their convictions, and the willingness to align their own values with the values of our nation. In a time when rational thought appears to have been compromised by the need to ease one’s conscience, that is no easy task.

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