If a culturally inclusive society is what we should be working towards, then a small step was taken this week when friends invited me to their son’s Bar Mitzvah. I was both pleased and encouraged by the invitation: pleased to be included in their family celebration and encouraged at the prospect of progress towards cross-cultural understanding - our best hope of resolving persistent social conflicts. Plus, I was intrigued to compare their religious ceremonial with that of my own, Catholic upbringing.
But, for the atheist observer amongst the Godly at worship, there is more to ponder than paraphernalia. When the two great social bindings, faith and culture, are so completely alloyed that one does not exist without the other, how does one group tolerate the other’s point of view? Bar Mitzvah for Jews, like Confirmation for Catholics, represents dedication to a religious format which dictates certain cultural mores. Isolating the two is problematic, as shown by the recent legal rulings concerning an individual’s right to put religious beliefs before public duties and the ensuing backlash against what has been called “aggressive secularism”. And the current argument about same-sex marriage that rumbles among the clergy of the Church of England, predicated as it is on a belief that marriages are sanctioned by God, will never be resolved until God’s will can be agreed upon.