““Religion is not an opiate… It is a stimulant which awakens [us] to real living.”
In this sermon of March 12, 1967, Rabbi Olan begins with the question, what do people want from religion? He says that often what they want is “comfort and consolation,… a ‘comfortable pillow’ for a frightened child”. However, the mission of the Prophets, with whom Rabbi Olan strongly identifies, is less to comfort us than to awaken us, to “trouble the people”.
What we need prophets for is to awaken us to the need to align ourselves with God’s justice: “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee? To do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly before God.” Indeed, Rabbi Olan believes that God bound himself to follow his own law: “not even God is free to set aside the Law, either of gravity or of Justice.”
The foundation of God’s law is that “all men ‘are made in the image of God’ which means that every man is of supreme worth and is equal before God. He was created with potentials and possibilities for the fulfillment of the best within himself. He must be free to pursue these. He deserves every opportunity to learn, to grow, and to fulfill himself.” As he has in many other sermons, Rabbi Olan asserts that anyone who puts obstacles in the way of equal opportunity for all blasphemes against God.
Rabbi Olan recognizes that it is a long road to the fulfillment of God’s justice. “A start has been made. But… we are moving at a snail’s pace.” It is now over 50 years since Rabbi Olan delivered this sermon. If he were alive today, he might indeed “trouble” us about how slowly we are moving, but he would encourage us to stay on that road.
*Written by Frances M. Olan and Lionel S. Joseph*