Honorable mention — High school essay contest: Talia Bank
Perseverance and innovation over God’s intervention: A path to progress
By Talia Bank
In writing about religion and God, I find it somewhat difficult to reconcile my Jewish upbringing with some religious tenets that I have studied and found meaningful and with the various forms of dangerous inaction that religion can influence. I generally respect, within reason, the religious convictions of my ancestors and others. However, I am bewildered when people, who I think are otherwise reasonable, cite religion as an inherent safety net and excuse for inaction or as a claim to God’s will as the driving force behind both catastrophe and progress.
For instance, my grandmother, a religious Jew, believes that the Holocaust was sanctioned by God because Jews disobeyed him and acted in a manner that was irreconcilable with the way of life he had meant for them. On that note, she also refuses to take her health seriously because “it’s in God’s hands.” This, of course, may simply be an excuse for not taking her medication or watching her diet, but it is no doubt an effective defense, in her mind, of her inaction. This false reasoning leads many to believe that the world’s issues, from hunger and poverty to climate change, are likewise “in God’s hands.” Some even believe that because all is in God’s hands, catastrophe is inevitable if God wills it and progress likewise impossible without God’s willing it. In such a case, what use is there in defying God’s will?
Some may argue that believing in God and taking action to solve issues are not mutually exclusive. To be fair, there are definitely efforts for positive change on the part of religious groups. Plenty of charities, nonprofit organizations, and social welfare programs are run by religious groups and individuals. However, in every way, these folks are not relying on God to solve the world’s issues. Rather, these folks clearly approach problem-solving as a human-driven process and a meaningful duty that is informed and motivated by their religious and moral convictions rather than dominated by them to the point of inaction. In reality, the only people who rely on God to solve the world’s problems are the people who do nothing to work toward constructive solutions. After all, why fight against the inevitable or fight for progress if any event at all is up to God?
We as a society cannot afford these kinds of dangerous ideas in a time when the very continued existence of humankind itself, in terms of climate change, is at risk. While the idea of God can foster community and fuel personal growth through faith, it can also prompt people to forget or overlook the value of constructive action in the face of injustice and potential calamity.
Instead of relying on God to save our souls, our environment, or our poor and our sick, we need to take matters into our own hands. Our religious and moral convictions can serve to guide us, but human perseverance and innovation, not God’s intervention, will forever remain the true vehicle of progress.
Talia, 18, is from Brooklyn, N.Y., and will be attending Macalester College, planning to get a degree in the field of journalism. During high school, she traveled in Latin America with the nonprofit organization Peace Boat, which aims to promote peace, sustainability, and cooperative action across cultures.