A response to the tragedy at MSU

The best short term response to the tragic shooting at MSU this week is to go to your house of worship this Saturday or Sunday. To find out why, read on:

Ford produces cars. Microsoft produces software for presenting ideas. Apple produces hardware on which we produce or consume content. AT&T and Comcast and Verizon and T-Mobile create networks for connecting and sharing content. Walmart and Amazon sell virtually everything. Chase manages and produces money. Exxon Mobil produces petroleum products. Consumer’s Energy produces electricity. Hilton creates places for travelers to gather.

Every business and non-profit produces or creates something. Every organization has a purpose. The role of synagogues, churches, houses of worship is unique – our mission and our product is goodness in the best and broadest sense. We teach people how to be good, we encourage people to be good. We are the only institution with this mission. There are many other organizations and businesses which do good things, like providing food, shelter, clothing, protection from harm, medical care, education, and more. But the core mission of an institution of religion is to transform and shape the human animal into a better human being.

Most, but not all, houses of worship advance their mission by invoking God. Teaching and scripture invoking a transcendent Divine are a powerful way to encourage people to live up to a high set of ideals and behavior. But strictly speaking, I’m not arguing here that belief in God makes people better. I’m arguing that gathering together regularly in a religious community makes people better.

If you don’t gather regularly in a house of worship, where do you learn what goodness is? Where is your impulse to be a good person reinforced and encouraged? Not on social media, not by consuming media content, not in the workplace, or in the sports arena or the gym or at the theater or in the classroom or in any other place, real or virtual, where people regularly gather.

On Tuesday, the morning after the tragic shooting at MSU resulting in the death of three people and the injury of five others, I shared the following at our morning service:

Near the end of our weekday morning service we read Psalm 20, including the verse, “They call on chariots, they call on horses, but we call on the name of Adonai our God.” Chariots and horses were the technology and the heavy weapons of their day. Ultimately, reliance on the technology of weapons brings death. The antidote to reliance on instruments of war and destruction is to gather in places focused on transcendent behavior, on goodness.

It is possible, but unlikely, that the MSU shooter or any of the previous 66 mass shooters so far this year went to church or to any other house of worship regularly. Attending worship regularly does not guarantee that there will be no tragic shootings. But if houses of worship do their job of producing goodness well and if more people committed to attending, it’s hard to imagine that it would not have a positive effect. And stronger background checks, gun safety laws such trigger lock or gun safe requirements, and extreme risk protection laws could also help.

If you are part of the Ahavas Israel community, please join me this Shabbat. If you are a part of another religious community, here or elsewhere, please join your community this weekend. And if you are not part of a religious community, please consider finding one in your area and making a commitment to grow goodness.