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The Column

Here, You Throw This Away
7/20/03

I believe strongly in freedom of religion. Let me correct that. I believe strongly in freedom of religions that don't hand out pamphlets.

I don't picture God up there at the temple mount saying, "I give unto you these ten commandments. And this brochure. I've only got this one copy, but if you need more, you can use the corporate account at Kinkos."

I'm writing this column in response to the rash of Jews For Jesus pamphleteers in my neighborhood. I use the word rash not because I view them as a disease, but because I bet they'd go away if I were to repeatedly cover them in ointment.

My problem with Jews For Jesus does not stem from my disagreement with their philosophies. My problem is their open and constant disagreement with mine. I'm Jewish, but I'd be just as annoyed by their presence if I were Christian or Muslim or Zoroastrian. If you've never run into any Jews For Jesus, let me help explain what they're like. Picture your friend who ALWAYS has to be right. Now hand him a stack of pamphlets.

The term "Jews For Jesus" is a bit misleading. You know what Jews For Jesus used to be called? Christians. That's right - someone came up with the idea of fusing the old and new testaments together long before a few guys did it on a subway platform. The term "Jews For Jesus" is an insult to Jews and Christians alike.

By definition, Jews aren't for Jesus. Once a Jew decides he's for Jesus ("goooo, Jesus!"), he becomes a Former Jew That is Now For Jesus. Or the Artist Formerly Known as Jew. The same goes for deciding to worship Buddha or Mohammed or Apollo or Elvis. If you find a new belief system that makes you happy, good for you. But you can't simultaneously keep the old one. In that way, religions are a lot like girlfriends. Unless you want to be struck down, you should really have one at a time.

Jews For Jesus is basically a marketing ploy. It's a way to convince Jews that they can still be Jewish and yet also support Jesus ("goooo, Jesus!"). And while some people may want to have their cake and eat it, too (what's the point of having cake without eating it?), that only works for me if the cake is kosher.

Imagine if there were people out there calling themselves "Christians For Moses." Do you see how ridiculous this notion is? This kind of marketing does not permeate other areas of our lives. There are no Met Fans For Jeter, no Democrats For Bush. Well, Clinton was, but in a different sense of the word (badum!). Most religions are based on the premise that they are divinely correct, and thus they don't need to market themselves. If marketers got their hands on religion, the new testament would have been called "Testament II: This Time, it's Liturgical."

The oddest thing about Jews For Jesus is where they've been handing out their pamphlets. The house call of a Jehovah's Witness makes sense - you're home so you may have some time to re-evaluate the path you've chosen. But I had a Jew For Jesus accost me outside of Shea Stadium. As if I'm going to say, "Maybe if I gave Jesus a shot, Leiter could get his fastball down. Alright, I'm in."

I like my religion - and not just because of all the holidays. I like it because it's mine, and I like yours because it's yours. Any belief system that preaches morality and honor and integrity is a good one, and I don't care if yours and mine don't completely match up. If we're both happy with them, cool. I have no problem with anyone's beliefs, as long as they lay off mine.

If there are any Jews For Jesus reading this and preparing to send me angry letters, then I have done my job. Not because I've made you question your beliefs - but because you'll spend that much less time handing out brochures.

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