The Nation Is not God

“We are in a frightful danger of becoming accustomed to living with war as a normal way of life.”

In his sermon of October 9, 1966, Rabbi Olan develops two images: the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn, which can be blown in a continuous tone to signal celebration, or in a broken tone to signal danger; and the Golden Calf, the idol that the Hebrews made and worshipped instead of worshiping God.  As so often, Rabbi Olan identifies with the prophets, and sees it as his responsibility to the community to sound the alarm at a time when the American military presence in Vietnam was escalating.

Why did he see us as being in danger?  Because we had set up idols: gods we ourselves had made, rather than turning to God, “the Being to whom we owe all we are and all we have”.  Those idols might be money, they might be lust, or they might even be the “better idols” of art or science.  But for Rabbi Olan, “the most conspicuous and the most dangerous form of idolatry in this our time is the worship of the State or Nation as God.”

The implication is clear: when we make the nation-state our god, we condemn ourselves to live with war as the normal way of life, and indeed to perpetuate it.  “Will we never learn that you do not destroy an idea with bombs?” 

Though Rabbi Olan says that it is time to sound the alarm on the ram’s horn, he ends on a note of hope: “when the alarm is sounded to arouse us from our moral and spiritual lethargy… it is followed at the end with… the announcement that all is clear, that the day for rejoicing will come in the end.”

Follow this link to read the sermon text.
Follow this link to listen to the audio recording.
Follow this link to watch the scrolling-text video.

*Written by Frances M. Olan & Lionel S. Joseph.*