Driving as Religious Practice

Recently, Karen Armstrong began an article in AARP, “Psychologist Carl Jung once said that a great deal of institutional religion seems designed to prevent the faithful from having a spiritual experience. Instead of teaching people how to live in peace, religious leaders often concentrate on marginal issues: Can women or gay people be ordained as priests or rabbis? Is contraception permissible? Is evolution compatible with the first chapter of Genesis? Instead of bringing people together, these distracting preoccupations actually encourage policies of exclusion, since they tend to draw attention to the differences between ‘us’ and ‘them.’”

To term human sexuality, the relationship between science and religion, and a woman’s right to control her reproduction “marginal issues” is astounding. If these are “marginal issues,” are there any issues of day-to-day life that Armstrong would acknowledge as religiously important?

The nitty-gritty details of life are crucially important, because when all the talking is over, what truly counts is what we do: How do we treat one another? Where do we choose to spend our time? How do we allot our resources?

We are what we do. We do not truly know others from what they say, because anyone can fabricate, pontificate, and equivocate; we know who others truly are by what they do. Even a small child knows to pay far more attention to what mommy and daddy do than what they say.

This brings me to a most mundane matter that Armstrong would undoubtedly discard as meaningless and having little connection with the grand ideas of religion: driving. There is not a day that I venture out in the car that I do not encounter aggressive drivers who violate every rule of the road, speeding, swerving in and out, running red lights, and cutting off other drivers.

Several years ago, I read a “Driver’s Prayer” composed by Rabbi Michael Graetz. At the time, I marveled at the ability of religious sensibilities to inspire people to inspect every crevice of our existence, every facet of our behavior, and to recognize that it all matters. How we drive is a reflection of whether we value or devalue other human beings, whether we see their welfare as our responsibility, or whether we see only our own needs and desires as important. How many of us or our loved ones and friends have been the victims of careless, inconsiderate drivers, whose only thought was to be the first into the intersection or the first out of it, and who viewed other motorists not as fellow human beings, but as obstacles in their path?

I could not disagree with Armstrong more. In fact, it is precisely what she terms the “marginal matters” and the even far more mundane nitty-gritty of life that define who we are people in relationship with God.



Our God and God Of our ancestors,
God of Isaac and Rebecca, God of Jacob, Rachel and Leah,
May we reach our destination in peace and return in peace to our homes.
Imbue me with the will to discern that every human is created in your image, and that saving one person is like saving an entire world.
Grant me the wisdom to understand that nothing is more precious than human life, neither time nor money, neither honor nor revenge.
Help me to drive with care, to keep a proper
distance, with manners, to yield the right of way, with awareness to stop in time.
Give the courage to control my impulses of jealousy, competition, anger and greed.
Let there be no accident because of me, and let me not encounter disaster. So that we may serve You in truth, increasing the sanctity of life in the world. So may it be Your will. Amen.

by Rabbi Michael Graetz-Magen Avraham, Omer

Rabbi Scheinerman wrote this article for the Carroll County Times.