As I have never been religious, and have always supported the separation of religion and state, I always wondered what it would be like to live in a land with no religious tendencies whatsoever. In my mind, such land had all the makings of a utopia: There would be no religious fanatics dressed in 19th century garb, no holy wars, and gender equality would reign supreme.
This utopian dream was shattered, however, after I recently had the opportunity to live in such country: China. I soon found myself thanking God we have religion in Israel.
Us non-religious Jews may heckle the Haredim about breeding indiscriminately when a child is accidentally left behind in an airport, but I have recently discovered a newfound respect for these large families. In China, parents-to-be have been limited by the government’s “one-child policy,” which has given rise to a generation of some of the most spoiled kids on earth.
These only children have also been burdened with the task of supporting the older generations, who lack pension funds due to Mao's Cultural Revolution and its ramifications. It's no wonder, therefore, that most Beijing youths I encountered told me they didn't even want the one child they have been granted permission for; even with a middle class salary this would be a tough task.
Hence, China is becoming increasingly old, with no new blood to rejuvenate its government, culture, or industry; with no one to rebel against inane policies and corrupt leaders.
Can anyone imagine a one child policy in Israel? I can't, and I realize this has everything to do with the Torah's "Go forth and multiply" mitzvah. Thankfully, we have a rich bounty of youthful blood in this country that would hopefully be able to our set our wayward leaders straight.
But perhaps the most significant advantage religion grants us is humanity and respect for human life. Since we, as a nation, believe that each man is made in God's image and that killing a person is tantamount to killing a whole world.
Israel would never permit the type of working and living conditions seen as normal by members of China's working class, hundreds of whom die every day in avoidable work accidents. The country currently accounts for the world's largest number of coal-mining fatalities, about 80% of the global total, although it produces only 35% of the world’s coal.
Unfortunately China's newspapers have been placing stories about preparations for the Olympics far higher on their agenda than such woeful tales (Can you say government censorship?) And as the country's industry booms out of control, these numbers will probably rise further.
The main reason I pity China's lack of religion, however, is the lack of holidays it entails. Not many people realize that most of China's 1.3 billion people have less than two weeks of vacation per year, during the Chinese New Year. The rest of the time they work seven days a week (it is indeed "all work and no play" for many of the poor Chinese). Thank God for commanding us to rest every seventh day, not to mention our numerous holidays.
So while it is important to continue supporting the separation of religion and state, we would do well to refrain from throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and attempt to keep the Jewish identity that has served us so well in highlighting what is most important in life: Youth, humanity, and the luxury of taking a break once in a while.
Adi Dvir is a Ynetnews editor