I believe that in matters of religion, belief is often overrated. My colleague Larry is an atheist with severe health problems. Despite his total lack of belief in a Supreme Being and the daily suffering he endures, he is one of the kindest and most compassionate people I have known. He is an excellent teacher and role model for the boys at our middle school and does not preach his atheism, although he accepted an invitation to speak about it at our weekly Sunday meeting. Speaking from personal experience and from his study of the Holocaust, he calmly and eloquently bore witness to his non-belief.
My other inspiration for this essay is Lenny, who manages the tire warehouse near my school. We recently moved 25 miles further away from him, but I continue to go there for service. Although there are some interesting fat-bellied Buddha statues in his shop, I don’t know his religious beliefs and I don’t need to. He cares about his clients in an honest, no-nonsense way, and the staff all follow his lead. Len has repaired my tires for free when he didn’t have to, and other times charged me ridiculous amounts like five dollars for twenty minutes of work. Outside the warehouse his sign never promotes the latest sale, but offers a thought for further reflection that is changed daily. Today it said “The greatest of our faults is to be conscious of none”. When you have paid(or not paid) the bill, Len sends you off with a rose. I don’t need to ask this man what he believes, because he shows it in whatever he does.
In Jewish tradition there is a saying that God does not worry or even care about whether you believe in him, but he does care deeply about how you live your life. Today so many of our public personalities are anxious to tell us how much they believe, how strong their faith is. When I hear them I think of Lenny and Larry, my role models. They understand that in the end it is not our religious beliefs but our actions that matter.
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