Saturday, March 24, 2018

Religious Distinctions Damage Society

Shari Lewis
A dear friend who is also on Facebook recently shared a post celebrating the life of entertainer extraordinaire Shari Lewis, who died 20 years ago.  My friend did so, not to highlight Lewis’ life as a ventriloquist, author and TV performer, but because Lewis was Jewish.

In doing so, unintentionally, my friend continued the undermining of society.

Lewis’ religion was not what made her either successful or famous.  That was talent.  She was not talented because she was Jewish.  Her religion, in fact, was completely irrelevant to her ability to manipulate her famed puppet Lamb Chop or to conduct a symphony orchestra.

If religion mattered, then Jews would all be successful.  In reality, they constitute 0.2 percent of the world’s population.  Those who have been successful can thank DNA and ethnicity, not religion.
Jewish ghetto in Russia

Long kept outside Christian society, Jews developed their own culture, including humor, while emphasizing education.  They needed literacy to scour their holy books to find the “reason” why they were being mistreated.  Because the Second Commandment banned graven images, they eschewed art and opted for music.

As a result, Jews have achieved success principally in the liberal arts and science.  They have won more Nobel Prizes than their small numbers might imply.  However, religion had nothing to do with it.  They have succeeded in entertainment, with such figures as Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, Barbra Streisand, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld and so many more.

However, not one achieved fame because of religion. 

In fact, most have little to nothing to do with their birth religion.  That’s true regardless of the area of success. Jews assimilate and, as a result, often shed trappings of the ancient belief.  Such world-renowned scholars like Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx – whose ideas dominated the last century – were Jewish in name only.  They did not practice.  Indeed, the religion meant nothing to them.  They were products of genetics and culture.

In fact, if Jewish religious leaders had their way, Jews would spend their days in the synagogue, as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof notes in the song “If I were a Rich Man.”  To them, success has always been counted in prayers, not in popularity.

Besides, what’s success?  Shari Lewis was heralded, but so was Arthur Flegenheimer, who is better known as the vicious bootlegger Dutch Schultz, the subject of books and movies.  Abe “Kid Twist” Reles was feted, too, all based on his active role in organized crime's Murder Inc.  during the 1930s and 1940s.  His death really garnered attention: he was tossed out a hotel window prior to testifying. Meyer Lansky was portrayed in The Godfather.  The only time he recognized his birth religion was when he tried to escape U.S. law by seeking citizenship in Israel.  Authorities there denied his request.  And don’t overlook Bernie Madoff, Ivan Boesky and other financial felons.

Judaism didn’t make them criminals any more than it made Lewis a star on children’s programming or Sandy Koufax a great baseball pitcher.

Most significantly, touting the religion of any successful person isn’t just wrong, it undermines society.

We all belong to the only surviving species of humans.  There are two genders: male and female.  That’s it.  Everything else serves only to separate and divide.  As long as people point at irrelevant distinctions like someone’s beliefs, we will continue to pretend such differences matter. In reality, they only serve as badges for elitists and bigots of all types, who gleefully divide everyone into “we” and “they.” While everyone seemingly offers lip service to the ideas of equality, the concept vanishes as soon as a distinction is made, to the detriment of all of us.

Eastern Orthodox Patriarch
In truth, we are all the same, regardless of religion, skin complexion, ethnic origin, politics, disability and anything else someone can conjure up. 

Religion exists totally to provide absurd answers for unanswerable questions.  It creates imaginary deities to “solve” insolvable concerns.  Success in religion involves becoming part of the hierarchy of the faith, such as a head rabbi, pope, patriarch and the like.  It never made anyone successful in a secular field.

That requires talent combined with timing, regardless of faith.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  A recent book, Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.