Personal vs. Public Piety

     Religious devotion is the most important part of many people’s lives. They insist upon wearing traditional religious garb despite pressure to stop, they eat according to strict dietary guidelines, they lives their live in a general state of piety and respect for tradition. I respect the devotion of the very religious, despite a wide philosophical gap between us. I do not, however, respect those who are outwardly pious and spiritual, but do not know the true meaning or importance of their acts of devotion.

      I recently visited an amusement park with my family to enjoy some of the warm weather we have been having. An Orthodox Jewish summer camp was also visiting the park while we were there. When I see a group of people of a faith, culture, or tradition other than mine, I am often held rapt by their traditional ways and pious nature. I have been mesmerized by the prayerful manner of many a Rabbi, Priest, or Imam. I was not, however, so impressed with a few of the boys and councilors on this particular camp trip. They all wore black yarmulkes, but a few had jewel studs on their yarmulkes. I don’t understand how a device so clearly meant to humble oneself before God could possibly need to have diamond studs.

      When I visit church with my Catholic family, I often see people who shuffle almost angrily to be first to receive communion. The irony of this eludes them, but it is just one more example of people missing the point of their religious devotion. My religion teacher often says that if you don’t believe that the host is the body of Christ then you shouldn’t take it, but I think that if you don’t believe in peace and harmony, then you shouldn’t shake hands with your neighbor and tell them “peace be with you.”

      When people stop understanding the meaning behind their traditional garb or religious ceremony and start to wear gold plated mitres, jewel studded yarmulkes, or any other variation on “fashionable religion” they are missing the point of having a religion or life philosophy. It seems to me that if someone is acting religious for no reason other than to appear pious, they would be better served removing the act all together. Jesus had much to say on piety for the individual versus piety for show.

      “Be careful about not living righteously merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven” – Matthew 6:1

     When someone devotes their life to a faith, whether I agree with them philosophically or not, I can respect their dedication, but I hope that those of great spirituality or faith strive more for personal betterment and service to others than for fame and public recognition.


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