Today, many people tend to think that religion is a thing of the past. Many believe that science is the cure for all our troubles, and that if we only listen to scientists and follow their instructions, all will be well in our world. Others believe in ethical living and root for social justice and equality. The problem is that all believers, religious and otherwise, do so with religious zeal. Many of them regard anyone who disagrees with them as an enemy and will go to great lengths to “defeat” the enemy. The end result of all that is not that religion has ended, but that it has taken on countless new forms, some of which are markedly “unholy.”
Years ago, while I was working on my PhD, I learned that there are approximately 3,800 different religions and belief systems worldwide. Today, there are probably many more than that, as human imagination knows no boundaries. In fact, some people even take the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster seriously!
It is not a problem that people believe in different things. On the contrary, kabbalists relish diversity, since the more diverse we are, the richer our society becomes, as long as we maintain its cohesion. But when we shun social cohesion, when we maintain that our belief is the only legitimate faith, we have a problem. The current belief in science, in Western philosophy, or in other social dogmas, is as religious as the belief in this or that deity. In the 1940s, the religious belief of the Germans in the superiority of their race led to the most horrendous consequences the world has ever seen. Their belief was purportedly based on science, not on a deity, yet led to worse consequences than any religion has caused so far.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Baal HaSulam, a great kabbalist and thinker who wrote extensively about world affairs and foresaw many of the processes that we are living through today, wrote a collection of “notes” to himself. They were thoughts he had had about the world and its future. After his passing, they were collected under the title The Writings of the Last Generation. Baal HaSulam used that term, but he did not mean that his generation would be the last generation of humanity, but that humanity has reached the final stages of its development and that it is moving toward a new level of existence. His aspiration in jotting his “notes” was to formulate his thoughts on how humanity could spare itself the recurrence of the atrocities of World War II.
Baal HaSulam realized that people are inherently religious. Therefore, he saw no point in trying to abolish religion. Instead, he wanted to add another layer to existing beliefs, which would enable all of humanity to unite above their differences. He called that layer a “religion of bestowal.” With its help, he hoped to avoid what had happened with Germany. In a note titled “Nazism Is Not a German Patent,” he jotted: “If we remember that most people are not idealists, then there is no choice but religion, from which manners and justice naturally emanate.” However, he did not refer to religions as we know them, but to a “religion of bestowal.” Elsewhere, he wrote that since human nature is inherently egoistic, it will “necessarily induce the destruction of the world unless they accept the religion of bestowal.”
As stated earlier, Baal HaSulam did not oppose diversity. On the contrary, he relished it. Moreover, he warned against limiting diversity among people since interactions between views is the engine of growth and development. According to Baal HaSulam, while nations should embrace a “religion of bestowal,” each nation should maintain “its own religion and tradition, and one must not interfere in the other.”
Moreover, in his essay “The Freedom,” Baal HaSulam speaks with reverence about preserving people’s basic tendencies and ideas. In his words, “Anyone who eradicates a tendency from an individual and uproots it from him causes the loss of that sublime and wondrous concept … for that tendency will never again emerge. … From the above-said,” he continues, “we learn what a terrible wrong those nations that force their reign on minorities inflict, depriving them of freedom without allowing them to lead their lives according to the tendencies they have inherited from their ancestors.” In conclusion, he adds, anyone “can understand the necessity to preserve the freedom of the individual … for we can see how all the nations that ever fell, throughout the generations, came to it only due to their oppression of minorities and individuals, which had therefore rebelled against them and ruined them. Hence, it is clear to all that peace cannot exist in the world unless we take into consideration the freedom of the individual.” But because we all inherently believe that only we are right, and everyone else is wrong, even if our deity is spaghetti, for this sublime goal to succeed, we should place the value of love of others above all, or as Baal HaSulam calls it, establish a “religion of bestowal,” as the overarching value.