Logo for Joe Sobran's newsletter: Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 Religion, Old and New 

November 8, 2007 
[Originally published by the Universal Press Syndicate, April 1, 1998]
paragraph indentYet again a group we’d never heard of has become, overnight, the topic of obsessive national discussion. The mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate “cult” also throws an interesting light on “pluralism.”

Today's column is "Religion, Old and New" -- Subscribe to the new FGF E-Package.Religion Old and NewThose who killed themselves wouldn’t describe their deaths as “suicide.” The word begs the question of religious truth. Their definition of the act was that it was a “graduation” to a “level above human.” They weren’t ceasing to live, but advancing to a higher life.

Religion Old and NewMaybe this doctrine is true, and the rest of us have missed the celestial boat. But at a more humdrum level, I’d venture to predict that Heaven’s Gate won’t have the staying power of, say, Judaism.

Religion Old and NewDays after the Heaven’s Gate graduation, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada created a storm by declaring that Reform and Conservative Judaism aren’t Judaism at all, but “another religion” — even an “alien religion.”

Religion Old and NewYou don’t say such things in this ecumenical age. Reform and Conservative Jews were quick to denounce the declaration. It was doing “damage” by refusing to accept certain converts as Jews, said one Reform rabbi. Another said that millions of Jews find “religious meaning and authenticity” in Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Religion Old and NewThe Orthodox find such objections beside the point. They consider the obligations of the Torah, 613 commandments in all, divinely ordained. It isn’t a matter of feelings, secular utility, or pluralism. It’s a matter of truth.

Religion Old and NewTo the modern eye, Orthodox beliefs may seem as irrational as the creed of Heaven’s Gate. There’s one little difference. Torah Judaism is well into its third millennium. It has proved its power to sustain its adherents. Its “irrational” traditions may be indefensible in terms of modern ideology, but this may merely mean that modern ideology doesn’t comprehend the inner strength of those traditions.

[Breaker quote for 
Religion, Old and New: Heaven's Gate and pluralism]Religion Old and NewThe creed of the sexual revolution, for example, seems like common sense to most educated people today, but it has brought nothing but social destruction. The strict sexual and tribal morality of the Orthodox, on the other hand, has preserved them not only from the curses of disease, abortion, and family dissolution, but also from the deeper loss of modernity: loss of identity.

Religion Old and NewThe Orthodox don’t define themselves in terms of negatives like anti-Semitism, persecution, victimhood, and the Holocaust. They don’t let the Hitlers determine their identity. They define themselves by allegiance to the covenant of Abraham and the law of Moses. And their instinct tells them to preserve their tradition to the letter, against all modern pressures.

Religion Old and NewTo many moderns, the very fact that a belief is old is almost enough to condemn it, or at least reduce it to the status of an uninteresting irrelevancy. This is an amazingly superficial attitude. If we can find historical and archeological fascination in the records of societies long since defunct, we should have not only fascination but also profound respect for an ancient way of life that still works — and may well survive when modern civilization is gone.

Religion Old and 
NewAssuming, that is, that when modern civilization goes, it doesn’t take everything else with it. The demise of the Heaven’s Gate cult may prefigure the end of a civilization that has forgotten the most basic truths about human nature in pursuit of a thousand fads. As G.K. Chesterton remarked, when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they’ll believe in anything.

Religion Old and NewThe faith of the Enlightenment was that once man cast off the superstitions of religion, rational common sense and general harmony would prevail. “Reason” and “science” would improve on tradition and create a better world. That attitude may have been understandable after centuries of religious war. But some people still hold it after a century of wars that make the Reformation wars seem like the Era of Good Feeling.

Religion Old and 
NewReligion can mean many contradictory things, from the latest fads to the most fad-proof fidelity to the eternal. The most ghastly thing about the Heaven’s Gate sect is that its members sacrificed themselves to beliefs so evidently silly. It was like a mass suicide at a Star Trek convention. One more warning that it’s risky to roll your own religion.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.
This column may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation

Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address:

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer
Archive Table of Contents

Current Column

Return to the SOBRANS home page.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive
 WebLinks | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas
Back to the home page 

Reprinted with permission
This page is copyright © 2007 by The Vere Company
and may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of The Vere Company.