Dr. Al Danenberg ● Nutritional Periodontist
August 12, 2019
I’m going to share some more of my private life with you – my relationship with organized religion. At the outset, I want to emphasize that I am not against the beautiful and meaningful tenets of any religion. These provide comfort and a moral path. I am confounded with organized religion when the tenets of religion become secondary to the politics and bureaucracy of a specific religious organization.
When I described My Spirituality in a previous post, I wrote that I do not affiliate with any organized religious group. Let me explain my reasons. I’ll open up my “dirty laundry” and explain my experiences.
I was raised in the Jewish faith. I went to Hebrew school, was bar mitzvahed, and was married in a synagogue. My wife and I also raised our children according to Jewish practices. When my young family moved to a new city, we joined another synagogue. But as a married and successful adult, this synagogue became more interested in making sure I “paid my fair share” than offering spiritual comfort. If I didn’t donate enough money when requested, I was shunned by those controlling the financial aspects of the synagogue. People got ahead in this specific synagogue only because they made larger and larger donations year after year.
My family were members of the same synagogue for about 30 years. Here are a few real stories about me. Today, they are funny. When they were happening, they weren’t funny.
When I was active at my synagogue, my wife and I donated $10,000 to sponsor a “Sanctuary Door” for our new synagogue. Shortly after that donation, I was solicited by a fellow congregant and was told that I needed to donate more money. When I said I could not, this “officer of the synagogue” told me that it was my duty to donate what the synagogue considered reasonable.
Another situation was when my kids were enrolled at the local Hebrew school. My wife and I paid the substantial tuition year after year. After a while, I was asked to donate more money beyond the tuition. I explained that I couldn’t. Then a board member of the school sarcastically told me that he was “OK” with personally subsidizing my kids at the school since I would not donate more money, I immediately pulled my kids out of the school.
Here is another sad situation, which followed a serious financial crisis in my life. I asked the membership chairman of my synagogue to defer my dues temporarily because I could not afford them. His insensitive response to me was, “What do you want me to do about it?” Because of his chilling and demeaning attitude, I told him that I did not want him to do anything for me, and that my wife and family would be alright. When I told him that I would resign from the synagogue as a result of my situation, he didn’t offer any help. So, my family resigned from the synagogue where we were members for the previous 30 years.
And there were other interesting events that occurred at my synagogue. For example, over the years, the rabbis of my synagogue came and went. One recent rabbi was arrested for soliciting sex with a prostitute and using illicit drugs while still the rabbi of my synagogue. He had a wife and two children. And he represented my faith?
So, my personal experiences led me to no longer support “this house of worship”. For me, organized religion has proven to be a material and power-hungry institution and not a spiritual place to be.
After I was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in September 2018, I thought it might be good to contact the current rabbi of the synagogue, which I was part of 15 years earlier. So, I contacted him after my diagnosis to ask him his thoughts about death. At that time, my prognosis was 3-6 months to live. A few days before he and I were going to meet at the synagogue, I had to cancel because I needed to see my oncologist for an unscheduled appointment.
He never got back to me. So, I sent him the following email 5 months later on 3/1/19:
I reached out to you on 9/18/18. Days after that email, I learned my final diagnosis was IgA Kappa Light Chain Multiple Myeloma, an incurable and aggressive form of bone marrow cancer. My oncologist gave me only 3-6 months to live. My entire world was shattered! At 71 years old, I had been amazingly healthy for the most recent 6 years of my life. Now I was faced with my mortality.
On October 2, 2018, I emailed you that I couldn’t meet with you because I had an unscheduled need to see my oncologist. I never heard back from you until yesterday – 5 months later. And only because an officer of the congregation, who is a good friend of mine, told you to call me.
I felt abandoned. I couldn’t understand why the rabbi from the synagogue where my family had been active congregants and financial backers for three decades did not take the initiative to find out if I was alive or dead. As I said, I was given only 3-6 months to live in September 2018.
I was searching for your spiritual insights as a rabbi about dying. Everything was happening so fast. But fortunately for me, I rejected all chemical interventions, which were recommended by my oncologist. I am pursuing a unique and impressive alternative protocol to deal with my incurable cancer. My oncologist is on the same page I am on. And obviously, I am still alive.
I have no idea how long I will have to live, but my quality of life is critical for me. Longevity has no meaning to me.
I am not a religious person, but I am a devoutly spiritual person. I reached out to you for that reason – to help me with spiritual answers. You did not deliver. Your inaction has convinced me that I made the correct decision when I resigned from the synagogue about fifteen years ago.
He finally got back to me after this email, and we met in early March 2019. Our talk was friendly and informative.
I’ve never heard from him since then.
I think my conclusion is clear!
I would challenge you to take a look at Jesus Christ. People will fail us but Jesus will never fail us. He will deliver on every promise that He has ever made. The book of John in the bible is the place to start. I use the English Standard Version of the bible.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
But— When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.
I have been following your posts since you first posted your diagnosis. Thank you for your openness and honesty. I’m praying for you and that God will make His will known to you. Please feel free to reach out with any questions.
Peace to you and your family.
HI Dr Al
Thanks for your post.
I don’t have anything to offer, except to remind you of ” Tuesdays w Morrie” which Im sure you have read, and this book
” When Bad Things Happen to Good People”
by Harold S. Kushner,
not to confused with any of the lookalike books that came after.
Harold Kushner was of Jewish faith, and bad stuff happened. His little book was a pivot point in my journey away from organised religion,
and into a meaningful spirituality.
So, you go Man
I think you are awesome
Dr David Stephenson
a dentist in Australia.
and perhaps a like mind.
My take on this is religions are man-made. God/creator/supreme being/ is above all of them. If the structure and support of a religion helps with a relationship with the above and our fellow humans then great. A lot fall short – just my opinion.
Thank you for sharing. I completely understand having experienced very similar interactions, different time, different place, different religion but never the less the same in so many ways!
Sorry you’ve had some bad experiences and I understand as I’ve had my fair share as well…
I’ve heard it said “If places of worship didn’t have any people in them they would be great…”
Anyway, people may let us down but Yahweh never does, so praying for your complete recovery!
Even Jesus had problems with the synagogue!!! God Bless
Dear Dr. Danenberg,
I read your recent post with sadness for how terribly you were treated by those who should have loved you as a “family” member. Because I had a similar experience, I felt convicted to send you a note of empathy and encouragement. As a Dr. Dan-blog-post-follower, I’ve admired your inquisitive mind, compassionate heart and need to pursue truth (respectfully) at any cost.
May I encourage you to continue to pursue truth in the spiritual realm as you have done so thoroughly in the temporal “earthly life” realm?
Since you have been well-educated in the Scriptures, I hope that you still believe that Jehovah God inspired and preserved them (objective archeological evidence, i.e.: Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.) for His chosen people of promise, as well as anyone who would read and believe in them…and, hopefully, in Him. As Creator and Sustainer of all of creation (Who can deny the divine design of the earth, galaxies and human body?), the same God of the Law and the Prophets is still sovereign today (How could God be Sovereign if He wasn’t immutable? Was He ever less omniscient or less omnipotent or less wise, and still Sovereign?)
In my search for truth (not corrupted by humanity & religious organizations), I found that the God who chose Israel to be His spokesperson to the nations also spoke through the prophets to demonstrate His plan to fulfill His promise to redeem Israel and whoever would trust in His plan of redemption.
Because God is perfectly loving and just, He gave mankind a free-will to believe and behave as each individual chooses. However, there will come a time when God will fulfill the rest of the prophesies that He outlined in the Old Testament and justice will be righteously delivered.
I am very sorry to hear of your insensitive and unjust religious experiences. Please remember that synagogues and churches are full of human beings. Nothing more. I wanted to write to say that there are actually some congregations that have the heart of God for others. However, they are still human and often make mistakes. I trust that you will find spiritual wisdom and guidance and those who will lovingly come alongside of you to support you and show you that there is still hope, even in religious organizations. Wishing you all the best in your physical, emotional, and spiritual journey. You are a blessing to many! May God bless you in all ways.
The Catholic Church has Eucharistic Adoration. You just sit in a room with Jesus and people. God Bless
I was raised in the Christian faith … thoroughly exposed to two varieties actually. One was the one I went to with my family on Sunday; the other ran the school I attended from the 7th grade through high school. I have many stories … MANY! And a good number of them are sterling examples of, as you so accurately put it, “when the tenets of religion become secondary to the politics and bureaucracy of a specific religious organization.” I want to share 2 of them with you so that you clearly see it wasn’t just your crowd doing this dumb stuff. Like you, I stopped attending formal services and landed solidly in the spirituality camp and am no longer a member of any organized religion. My 20/20 hindsight take on what religion is SUPPOSED to be about is that it is supposed to serve as a guide to right behavior both to foster our connection with spirit and even more importantly to protect us from hurting our souls with bad behavior until such time that we are wise enough to know better of our own accord than to do the things religion tells us not to.
Story One: A couple of devout members of our congregation ran into our minister (who like your rabbi had a family) coming out of an “adult” movie theater in the middle of the afternoon. (What they were doing in that part of town was never clear.) However, whatever it was did not stop them from sharing this chance encounter with a good number of the congregation, and soon EVERYONE “knew all about it” and was huffing and puffing with indignation which diminished not one tiny bit – in fact the opposite – when the minister tried to defend himself by saying that in order to be a really good minister, he needed to study sin. So Sunday came, the church was packed and buzzing. The minister got up and gave his sermon – which I do not remember except it ended with a story about a fellow named “Goober.” I don’t remember the story either but I do remember the punchline because I got in trouble for laughing … the punchline was: “Do as Goober says, and not as Goober does.”
Story Two: This one happened at my school shortly after I came there as a new student, and not a member of the same Protestant denomination as the one running the school. One of the teachers came up to welcome me to the school and maybe get to know me??? In the course of our exchange she discovered I wasn’t a member of “The Church,” nor did I have any plans to become a member of “The Church.” She got very mad and started shaking her finger in my face and practically yelling that I was damned, damned, damned and would burn in hell for eternity if I didn’t change my affiliation. Aside from surprise that it was apparently OK to say cuss words if you were talking about God I remember thinking to myself that she HAD to be wrong – this couldn’t possibly be what the Bible was REALLY about … because there was just NO WAY this version of God’s Word could have kept a church going for 2000 years.
Very much in accord with what you said: Funny now (and in the first instance, then too), but at the time – painful (I endured 6 more years at that school, and had other experiences that were even worse at the other church). It restores faith in humanity (and a divine plan) to hear about/ experience the shift to spirituality that comes to some when what is supposed to be the “Real Deal” so blatantly turns out not to be.