✡ An Insult at my Doorstep

This morning, when I went to go out and get the paper, there was an insult on my doorstep. A white, thick envelope addressed “A Message of Hope and Gladness for Jewish People”. I was already nervous. When I opened it up, there was a letter, a set of “Frequently Asked Questions By Jewish People”, and a DVD. On the front of the FAQ was “How a Jew Came to Know and Put his Trust in The Jewish Messiah”.

Oh. Hell. No.

Irrespective of the fact that the author doesn’t know rules on how to capitalize, I don’t need to be preached to about “the Jewish Messiah”. It is an insult to find this on my doorstep. Not illegal, mind you, but an insult. I do not need to be preached to about how your religion can save me. My religion is my choice. Unsolicited evangelism is a violation of my space. In essence, a #metoo in the area of religion. If I consent for you to preach at me, that’s one thing. Shoving it on my doorstep or down my throat without my consent? Hell no.

I don’t believe in “The Jewish Messiah” because he does not meet the job qualifications, pure and simple. You’re giving me a FAQ, so I’ll give you one right back:

Question 17.3:
Countering the Question: Why Don’t Jews Believe in Jesus as the Messiah?

The question above is a typical one asked by Christian Missionaries. The answer is easy, if one understands Jewish beliefs.

Jews do not believe that the Messiah is a part of G-d, or Divine in any way, more than any other person. Jews look only to G-d for our salvation, and when the time comes for G-d to bring the anointed king, then it shall happen. Jews do not concern ourselves with the messiah’s identity, for the messiah is a person and the messiah’s coming does not change our relationship with G-d. Jews do not accept the notion that Scripture “foretells” that G-d would robe Himself in flesh; in fact, to Jews, this idea is idolatry, and we stand against it.

The reason why Jews do not accept Jesus as the messiah is straightforward: he did not meet the requirements in the job requisition! G-d outlined these requirements in the Bible. The key aspect of proof is in the state of the world.According to the Bible, amongst the most mission of the messiah includes returning the world to return to G-d and G-d’s teachings; restoring the royal dynasty to the descendants of David; overseeing the rebuilding of Jerusalem, including the Temple; gathering the Jewish people from all over the world and bringing them home to the Land of Israel; reestablishing the Sanhedrin; restoring the sacrificial system, the Sabbatical year and Jubilee. This simply has not happened. Judaism has no notion of the messiah not doing these things on the first visit, let along needing a second visit to do these things. Whenever these things are described in the Tanach, the description says that the messiah will come and do these things—once.

Want the details. Read the soc.cuture.jewish FAQ, Question 17.3.

So, I’m calling out the Israel Restoration Ministries and Tom Cantor. Your material is an insult, unwanted, and going straight into the trashcan. Attract people by how you live your life, not by proselytizing with unsolicited material on doorsteps.

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✡ Symbols, Stories, and perhaps a little Politics with your Bitter Herbs

Sunday evening, I had the honor and privilege to organize, and essentially lead, the Men’s Seder for our synagogue brotherhood, using a liturgy that I cobbled together from the MRJ Mens Seder, my personal Seder, and materials from the Temple Beth Hillel Seder we used in 2018. I did not design the Seder to espouse a particular point of view, but to teach about the symbols of the holiday, explore how we use symbols in the Seder to teach lessons, and to explore what we are teaching about men and men’s issues. Still, during the service, one of our attendees got up, made a speech about how leftist the liturgy was, and stormed out (he has since apologized to me for the outburst, which I accepted). This has left me vaguely troubled and thinking … and sometimes the only response is a blog post.

For the most part, religions use holy days to do one of two things: mark the passage of time, and tell stories. The former are occasional (think Rosh Hashanah or Rosh Chodesh); the latter are prevalent. Sometimes the stories that are told are repeats of the religious fables, but sometimes the stories convey a different message and meaning. Often, that meaning is to remind people of themes central to the religion. For example, while Chanukah ostensibly celebrates a miracle, it more importantly reminds people of a military victory and the battle against assimilation. The story of the recent holiday of Purim is a continual reminder of the fight against antisemitism; the central notion is that Haman is a character that keeps showing up, and against whom we must continually fight.

This brings us to Passover, and the Passover Seder. Although one might like the Seder to be apolitical, it is an inherently political story. It is a story that reminds us to stand up to oppressors, to fight for our freedoms, and to welcome the stranger into our midst. All are Jewish values, at the core of our moral system. They are why we tell this story, and why — in home rituals — people augment the telling to highlight the fact that this wasn’t just in the past. The battle against those who want to oppress us continues to this day. The need to fight for freedom for ourselves and others who are oppressed continues to this very day. The need to welcome the stranger in our midst, because we were once strangers in a strange land, continues to this day. The need to remind ourselves that it wasn’t just God who brought us out of Egypt while we were passive, but God working through us to stand up and say, “No, Let our people go!”, and to get up and leave. These are battles we fight to this day.

People add symbols to their Seder plate to take this historical story and demonstrate that the battle to move from oppression to freedom continues to this day. Whether is it the battles of women for equality and a voice, of LGBTQ individuals to be seen, oppressed people in nations from Eastern Europe to Palestine to Africa to America to be free, to workers under oppression, to …. you name it. People use the home service and the Seder to draw parallels to the causes near and dear to them, and to show that the battles fought by Moses and Aaron and Miriam and the people in the desert were not just “one and done”, but continue everyday until oppression is gone.

In the service I developed, I did not intend to take a side. I did intend, however, to explore how the Seder is used in this way. I did intend to remind people that the battle was not done: that there still is ethnic violence, that there still is oppression of Jews, that there are still battles to be fought. I did intend to raise the question of how to bring back the men’s voices: with the increasing movement of women into leadership roles, men’s voices have been disappearing. Perhaps they consider the roles devalued, perhaps … something else. In any case, we need both voices, talking equally and not over each other. How do we recover that was a question I intended to raise.

But then I got accused of having an “agenda” that someone didn’t like. And that, for a people-pleaser like me, continues to gnaw at me and bother me. (On the other hand, the complaint that the liturgy was too long is a valid one — this was essentially a first run through, and we’ll trim and evolve for next year)

But what bothers me more is the notion that a Seder should be apolitical. We’re telling a story every year that is — at its heart — inherently political, inherently subversive, inherently agitating. There’s a reason that Early Christians were scared about the retelling of the story at the Seder. It wasn’t the antisemitic tropes you hear about — it was the message that in every generation we must rise up and fight oppressors, that in every generation we must remember that we were strangers. It is a message that is at the heart of Judaism: a religion that (unlike Christianity) lives for today, and making this world a better place for everyone.

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🗯️ ✡ Musings on Antisemitism, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and the Response Thereto

All the news today about the resolution in the House in response to Rep. Omar has gotten me thinking, and that can be dangerous:

  • First and foremost, it is “antisemitism” (one word), not “Anti-Semitism”. The latter is a construct that plays on the word Semite, which could be used to refer to anyone from the mideast. The former is a term specifically referring to the hatred of Jews.
  • Here is a good explanation of the controversy, from Vox. It makes clear that the incident in question made use of a well-known antisemitic trope — that Jews have specific loyalty to the State of Israel, and are not truly loyal Americans. Similar tropes were used against Catholics when Kennedy ran for President — that they had more loyalty to the Pope than America. That same trope is what led to our putting Japanese Americans in Concentration Camps (yes, that’s what they were), claiming they had more loyalty to Japan than to America. And, by the way, the same trope is what leads Trump to mistreat Muslims, believing them to be more loyal to ISIS than America. It is all the same, vile, trope.
  • I do not believe that Rep. Omar was being intentionally antisemitic (or at least I choose not to believe that, for now). I believe that, in the environment she was raised, these tropes were present and internalized. There are many others that make similar statements. That doesn’t make it right — it means we need to do a better job about teaching about antisemitism and racism — and how to identify it.
  • I have a big problem with those who claim it wasn’t an antisemitic statement. Why is it that people believe women when they call a behavior sexist, and why they believe minorities when they call a behavior racist .. but they do not believe Jews when we call out a particular trope as antisemitic? What does that say about those people who are denying the ability of Jews to recognize an attack on their religion?
  • What should be the response? It should be a blanket condemnation of the use of any racist tropes (as it appears the House is about to do), and (ideally) a session — just as we have sessions on recognizing sexual harassment —  to educate people what common tropes are so that they don’t use them. That should include any sexist, racist, and broad anti-religion (e.g., antisemitism, anti-catholicism, etc.) tropes. It should also include anti-Muslim attacks.
  • But what about … in the past? We can’t change the past, and the fact that miscreants who used such language in the past weren’t called out doesn’t make such behavior acceptable today. It is wrong no matter who is doing it, no matter what party is doing it. Yes, Mr. President, that includes you: you can’t call out a Rep. for retweeting an antisemitic tweet when you’ve done the same thing. Both are wrong.
  • Do I think Rep. Omar should be removed from Foreign Affairs? No, because even if I don’t agree with her, she has the right to express her view on the committee. She is one voice among many. I don’t agree with the views of many in our government. She does, however, have to answer to her district. If they disagree with what she is saying, it is their prerogative to recall her, or to not reelect her. How she behaves reflects on her district. By the way, the same is true for any Congresscritter, Senator, or even the President — the racist and hateful views they express reflect on the people they represent, and their constituents should take that into consideration come 2020.
  • You can criticize Israel and the behavior of her government without using antisemitic tropes. You can also criticize AIPAC, but be aware that there are many organizations that lobby more or have larger lobbying budgets.  Everyone should do their research and find out the facts, draw their own conclusions, and speak out where there is wrong doing — just as you should always speak out against governments that do wrong, and the lobbying groups that support them. Here’s a good guide on how to do so without falling into the tropes.
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🗯️ Antisemitism and the Eye of the Beholder … and what that says of the Beholder

Imagine (and it isn’t hard) that Donald Trump has tweeted something insensitive and stereotypical against black or brown people. A bunch of white folk respond, “He isn’t being racist, and here’s why…”. The black and brown folk, on the other hand, instantly go: “That’s a dogwhistle racist trope. That’s a racist tweet.” Who do you think has a better case for recognizing racism? What do you think about those white folk?

Imagine Trump tweets something making fun of Native Americans including a racist trope dogwhistle. Most Americans think he’s just making fun of a political opponent, but it is the Native Americans that pick up on the whistle, and call him out for it.

Now, think about the recent tweet by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and look at the reaction to it. Look at the folks who are saying it wasn’t antisemitic, that it was just “criticism of Israel”. Now ask yourself (a) what do they have in common, and (b) are they Jewish. Now look at the reaction of the Jewish community, which picked up on the dogwhistle racist trope immediately. Now look at the reaction of the non-Jewish community to the reaction of the Jewish community, where they are calling them overly sensitive. As John Adams sang in 1776, “Do you see what I see?”

It really teaches you something about your friends.

For those that don’t “get” it, here’s a good explanation from an article in Tablet Magazine about why the tweet was an antisemitic dogwhistle racist trope:

… [the tweet] evoked the image of moneyed Jews paying off gentiles to subvert the national interest and control American politics for their own ends. Sometimes the villain in this delusion is George Soros, sometimes the Rothschilds, and other times “the Israel lobby.” In this particular case, Omar suggested that the reason America supports the Jewish state is because (((powerful interests))) have taken control of our democracy, seemingly against the will of its people. In reality, as decades of polling shows, American politicians are pro-Israel because American voters are pro-Israel and elect leaders who reflect their views. There is no conspiracy at work, only democracy. Policy on Israel is set by the 98 percent of Americans who are not Jewish, not the 2 percent who are, which is probably why that policy is more hawkish than many American Jews would like.

For those unfamiliar, there is an ages-old canard (look up the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) about a Zionist World Order pulling the strings of every nation. It has been used as the excuse for Jewish slaughter for years. The notions in the original tweet — while criticizing the US policies towards Israel, yes — had the implication of this monied order behind it. It is that implication that was the antisemitic part.

And, to clear some things up, because they’ve come up in other discussions:

  • Disagreeing with the behavior of the government of Israel is not antisemitic. One can want the state of Israel to exist, and disagree with how her government and leaders behave. I want America to exist, and yet disagree with our current administration.)
  • I have no beef with Rep. Ilhan Omar: She’s entitled to her views, and more importantly, learned from this kerfuffle about the importance of perception of what you say being equally, if not more important, than the substance you intend. She has to answer to the people in her district for her behavior.
  • This has nothing to do with the religion of Rep. Omar: I’ve seen the same antisemitic attitude coming from white Christian Republicans. There is, however, one big difference: The Democratic party recognized it, condemned it, and the Rep. in question apologized. I haven’t seen equivalent reactions from Republican leadership when Republicans make antisemitic dogwhistle racist tropes.

That last point is an important one, given the President has been calling for Rep. Omar’s resignation over the tweets: Pot, meet Kettle. The President has been making similar tweets, not only antisemitic ones, but racist and misogynistic ones. So have other Republicans. So until they set the example by resigning over their own behavior, until they call out those in their own party for behaving this way, and until they demonstrably change their behavior (as Rep. Omar has indicated she will, although time will tell), then they have no standing to make such calls. The Republicans do not get to be sanctimonious and high minded when policing their opposition, while ignoring the misbehavior in their own party.

But back to the reason for this post:  We trust that people of color can recognize racism directed against them better than white folks who haven’t been subjected to racism can. We trust that women can recognize sexist behavior and “toxic masculinity” better than guys brought up in the male dominated culture. So why is it that non-Jews cannot take the word of the bulk of the Jewish community when we indicate that a statement is calling on traditional antisemitic tropes. What does it say about the person who doesn’t see it?

P.S.: A friend posted this, and it is apropos to this discussion:  How to Criticize Israel without being Antisemitic.

 

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🍏🍯🍎🍯 L’Shanah Tovah – Happy New Year – 5779

Apple in Honeyuserpic=tallitRosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starts at sundown Sunday night, September 9th (yarrr, Errrrev Rrrrrrosh Hashanah is Talk Like a Pirate Day). Thus, it’s time for my annual New Years message for my family, my real-life, Blog,  Dreamwidth, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook friends (including all the new ones I have made this year), and all other readers of my journal:

L’Shana Tovah. Happy New Year 5779. May you be written and inscribed for a very happy, sweet, and healthy new year.

For those curious about Jewish customs at this time: There are a number of things you will see. The first is an abundance of sweet foods. Apples dipped in honey. Honey cakes. The sweet foods remind us of the sweet year to come. Apples in honey, specifically, express our hopes for a sweet and fruitful year. Apples were selected because in ancient times they became a symbol of the Jewish people in relationship to God. In Song of Songs, we read, “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved [Israel] amongst the maidens [nations] of the world.” In medieval times, writes Patti Shosteck in A Lexicon of Jewish Cooking, apples were considered so special that individuals would use a sharp utensil or their nails to hand-carve their personal hopes and prayers into the apple skins before they were eaten. And the Zohar, a 13th-century Jewish mystical text, states that beauty – represented by God – “diffuses itself in the world as an apple.” With respect to the honey: honey – whether from dates, figs, or apiaries – was the most prevalent sweetener in the Jewish world and was the most available “sweet” for dipping purposes. And as for the biblical description of Israel as a land flowing with “milk and honey,” the Torah is alluding to a paste made from overripe dates, not honey from beehives. Still, enjoying honey at Rosh HaShanah reminds us of our historic connection with the Holy Land. Although the tradition is not in the Torah or Talmud, even as early as the 7th century, it was customary to wish someone, “Shana Tova Umetukah” (A Good and Sweet Year).
(Source: Reform Judaism Website)

Rosh Hashanah ImagesAnother traditional food is a round challah. Some say they it represents a crown that reflects our coronating God as the Ruler of the world. Others suggest that the circular shape points to the cyclical nature of the year. The Hebrew word for year is “shana,” which comes from the Hebrew word “repeat.” Perhaps the circle illustrates how the years just go round and round. But Rosh Hashana challahs are not really circles; they are spirals… The word “shana” has a double meaning as well. In addition to “repeat,” it also means “change”. As the year goes go round and round, repeating the same seasons and holidays as the year before, we are presented with a choice: Do we want this shana (year) to be a repetition, or do we want to make a change (shinui)? Hopefully, each year we make choices for change that are positive, and each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral. The shape of the Rosh Hashana challah reminds us that this is the time of year to make those decisions. This is the time to engage in the creative spiritual process that lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.
(Source: Aish Ha’Torah)

There are also apologies, for during the ten days starting Sunday evening, Jews examine their lives and see how they can do better. On Yom Kippur (starting the evening of September 18th), Jews apologize to G-d for their misdeeds during the past year. However, for an action against another person, one must apologize to that person.

So, in that spirit:

If I have offended any of you, in any way, shape, manner, or form, real or imagined, then I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done anything to hurt, demean, or otherwise injure you, I apologize and beg forgiveness. If I have done or said over the past year that has upset, or otherwise bothered you, I sincerely apologize, and will do my best to ensure it won’t happen again.

If you have done something in the above categories, don’t worry. I know it wasn’t intentional, and I would accept any apology you would make.

May all my blog readers and all my friends have a very happy, healthy, and meaningful new year. May you find in this year what you need to find in life.

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📰 Is News Chum Kosher?

As I continue to clear out the accumulated news chum, here’s a collection of articles that had been accumulated in the religion and Judaism areas:

  • The Disease of Christian Privilege. For as much as our great nation touts religious freedom and religious diversity, this is a profoundly Christian nation, with clear and distinct benefits — both explicit and implicit — provided to those who are Christian. From common morals to the days we get off, to the views on abortion to the views on marriage, Christianity abounds …. and those who are not Christian pay the price. This article explores how this privilege has influenced … and hurt … our culture.
  • The Loneliness Of The Liberal Zionist. We’re all aware of the place that the Nation of Israel holds in the heart of the Evangelical Christian, and you may even know how the attitude of Orthodox Jews have often become similarly aligned with respect to Israel. But what about the Liberal Zionist? As the article notes, “It means you support the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their historic homeland while simultaneously supporting progressive causes in your American homeland.” It also means “having a position on Israel/Palestine, one that is rejected by the anti-Zionist left and the Zionist right.” It also raises loads of questions in light of the recent decision of the Israeli government: how does one balance the desire for a Jewish state with recognition of the rights of other religions and ethnic groups in Israel, especially when many of the progressive Jewish movements aren’t considered to be Jewish-enough for those in power in Israel.
  • Religiously unaffiliated ‘nones’ are pursuing spirituality, but not community. One of the big issues facing organized religion in America is the shrinking of congregational religion. How do we get younger people and younger families into the seats to support the infrastructure? This article points out the difficulty: building the community or supporting the community is no longer a sufficient argument. The desire is for spirituality, which isn’t always found within organizational walls.
  • People Told Me I Wasn’t “Jewish Enough” My Entire Life. Judging other people. It seems to be the main activity of some Jews — in particular, judging whether they are Jewish enough. Here’s an interesting exploration.
  • Surveys show sharp differences between Jews in US and Israel. What do Jews want for Israel? Is the attitude the same for those Jews in Israel, and those in America? This article explores the dichotomy.
  • Jeffersonian vs. Jacksonian Jews: Revisiting Jewish Political Behavior in the 21st Century. I have a number of Jewish friends who are strong Trump supports. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. This article explores the question — in particular, it explores the distinction in view between the Populist, America First bunch (Jacksonian) from those with a more Global perspective (Jeffersonian). Quite interesting reading.
  • Why Are Jews So Pro-Choice? Abortion / Choice. It is one of the driving forces of those on the right to oppose it. But it is also one of those areas where those who aren’t that ilk of Christian feel they are having a Christian moral shoved down their throats. Here’s an explanation of the Jewish position. (Note: This item also appeared in my “Lighting the Political Fire” post earlier this week — a good post, you should read it)
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Yerushalyim Shel Shalom

Yesterday, the US officially moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It has brought up a number of discussions, so I thought I would share my thoughts this morning before I start the day. I refer people to my statement of core values from a few days ago.

Why was the embassy moved? Ostensibly, it was in recognition of Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capitol, but as that had been on the table for a long time before, it wasn’t the real reason. The timing behind it being done now was to please Trump’s evangelical base: it fulfills a biblical prophesy that supports Covenent Theology and hastens the end of days. If you read my core values, you know my thoughts on that: I think it is presumptuous for humans to take the place of God and to do things to fulfill prophecies of a particular religion. Let God fulfill God’s prophecies in God’s time.

I saw others seeing yesterday as a “dark day for the US” because no Democratic Congresscritters attended. Given the Congress normally doesn’t attend embassy openings, I’m glad they didn’t waste the money. In the long run, who attended the ceremony won’t matter one bit. Unless is it the catalyzing action for a war, even moving the embassy won’t matter 100 years down the road. All that is significant is US support for Israel, through monetary support and military and trade alliances. For some segments of Judaism, moving the embassy is vitally important (again, often for prophetic reasons). For most American Jews, however, it is more problematic. It is likely good that it is in Jerusalem, but the timing is problematic. Right now, there was loads of violence and death as protests erupted; and unsurprisingly, the Israeli government may have responded in a way that hurt their image. Did the Israeli government overreact? Probably, but I don’t always agree with what the Israeli government does, nor do I have to. I do predict there will be chaos over this for a while, but eventually things will settle back to the normal level of hatred between the parties. After all, it’s just an embassy. In fact, one article I read noted an interesting side effect: It might lead to the opening of an embassy for the Palestinians, also in Jerusalem, which they consider as their capitol.

Finding peace in the region is a difficult goal, and it ultimately depends on the parties agreeing to compromise with each other — and that means formally recognizing each other. Palestinians must recognize that Israel must be allowed to exist in peace in some form; that to achieve their nation means not wiping Israel from the map. Israel must agree that that Palestinians have the rights to some land and some level of reparations, and that how their government has been treating them has been wrong. Both are hard recognitions to make. Trump may stumble into a solution (just has he has in Korea), not through any particular action other than pandering to his base and being batshit crazy and having a much more personal style. Being crazy and focusing on personal relations is normal operations in the Middle East, and I’ve at least one article suggesting the Palestinians work with Trump. Consider that his pulling out of the deal with Iran has not only given Iran the power to look like a good guy by staying in the pact with the Europeans, but has put fear into the Saudis and gotten them talking … to Israel. Who knows what will happen because of the unpredictability of Trump, and the fear of the unpredictable may push parties together. If in the long term the balance of powers shifts in the Middle East so that the US’s power is diminished, well, at least the US is taking care of itself, right? After all, that’s worked with China and Russia? Right? Bueller? Bueller?

However, the point of this is that the opening ceremony for the embassy in Jerusalem is noise in the larger geopolitical issues. It may seem a big deal now, but it will be overshadowed by other things quickly. Despite evangelicals seeing it as important and the fulfillment of prophecy, it ultimately is at most a sentence in a history book (if indeed there are history books — the world is coming to an end, right?).

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Core Values

Let’s get this out of the way. My core values are 0 and 1.

Are we going out on that joke? No, we do reprise of song. That helps, but not much.

I’m here all week folks. Try the fish. Early in the week.

Being serious, a recent discussion on a friend’s FB threat that devolved into a discussion of religion and values got me thinking about my beliefs and values. As this is a discussion that comes up on a regular basis, I thought I would write them down so I could point others to them. Your values may differ, and that’s fine.

Respect. Let’s start with the basics: I attempt to respect others, and to keep discussions focused on ideas and not individuals. I encourage others to do the same. What this means is that I do my best to eschew ad hominem attacks and name calling. I do not feel it is ever appropriate to make fun of people, nor do I feel that someone else making fun of someone is an excuse to make fun of that person. And before you ask: Yes, that does extend to the President. As this post will discuss later, I do not agree with President Trump’s policy and approach. But I do not feel it is appropriate to make fun of his appearance or his children or staff’s appearance. There’s plenty to criticize on what they do that we don’t need to make fun of what they are.

Especially in my interactions on the Internet, I ask for (nay demand) mutual respect. Listen and consider other arguments, and let people make them (within reason). You do not have to agree to listen, but through listening there can be at least understanding.

This is something I have learned over many years, and I will admit that even 15 years ago, I wasn’t as good at living up to these ideas (translation: I regret how I behaved in political discussions during the Bush 43 presidency).

Belief. I am a life-long, 4th or 5th generation Reform Jew (not “Reformed”), which is called Progressive Judaism outside of the US. For those unfamiliar with term, I direct you to the FAQ. The key notion is that the Tanach (Torah, Prophets, and Writings) is not the literal writing of God, but divine inspiration written in the language and mores of its time, subject to reinterpretation to adapt the timeless values to today. With respect to God, I tend to take the Deist view of a disinterested God who may have started everything in motion and inspired the moral and legal system, but then let us take it from there. I strongly believe in personal choice and its importance, and that it is up to us to choose to do the right thing. More on that later.

As a result of the above, there are only a few places where I am truly spiritual. For me, Judaism is the moral and social justice precepts, which I find vitally important, and the community and the shared values and culture.

Is there a God? That’s an interesting question, and an issue that cannot be proved one way or the other (and please, don’t try). Those who try to prove God exists invariably do so by pointing to faith texts, which are not proof. Those who try to disprove God point to science, but science cannot disprove God — especially a disinterested God. Hence, to me, atheism is a belief system just built on a different faith. Some call that religion; I reserve the “religion” term for organized, structured, and formalized belief systems, often with central organizations. I’ll argue that the existence of God may not matter, for we should be good and moral whether or not God exists. I believe we have the capability to do good without the promise of reward or the threat of eternal damnation. To quote Penn Jillette, a noted atheist:

The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine. I don’t want to do that. Right now, without any god, I don’t want to jump across this table and strangle you. I have no desire to strangle you. I have no desire to flip you over and rape you. You know what I mean?

Legislating Morality. This leads to the next subject: Is it our place to legislate morality? Do we need laws to prevent abortion or homosexuality or any of these myriad of things that various religions have taught over the years. To answer that question, we need to go down a few paths first.

Mutual respect, in my eyes, goes hand in hand with freedom of religion. That means you are welcome to practice your belief systems, and I mine, and we should be able to do so without interfering with each others. It is not your place to impose your religious values upon me, nor me to impose mine upon you. Furthermore, it is not Government’s place to impose a specific religion’s values over a different religion.

Morality means nothing when we do not choose to do the right thing. Even if abortion is legal, that does not mean it should be done or encouraged. That is up to the woman and her values, and most woman do not want to have abortions — situations and circumstances (often not of their choice) force them into it. We should build a society that values more than just the unborn life, but that supports life through out the lifecycle: from the children born into poverty and degradation to our seniors.

But if we legislate that only what we think is the right thing, then we remove the ability for people to be good and to choose the right thing. For those that so believe, I’ll note this is fundamental in Deuteronomy: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live;” You shall choose — not that society shall choose for you, but that you need to choose to do the right thing. You can’t choose if society takes that choice away from you.

In this, I subscribe to the talmudic and kabbalistic notion of ha-Satan, which the Christians mistakenly treat as Satan, the Devil. ha-Satan is a different notion: the notion that ha-Satan puts temptations in our path specifically so we have to make that choice to do the right thing.

Does this mean that I think murder should be legal, or that rape should be legal? No. I do believe there is a distinction between crimes against others without their choice, and things we do to ourselves. Murder, rape, theft, and such, are non-consensual crimes against others. Things like drugs and such are choice we make to ourselves. This invariably leads to the question of whether abortion is murder, and that really devolves quickly into when there is an other to commit a crime against. Note that I did not say “when life begins”, for cell division arguably begins the mechanics of life. But living — existence — being — is something different. There is a time during gestation — quite likely not exact — when that begins. When that occurs is a matter of belief, and this then becomes a matter of not pushing your beliefs onto me. Legally we impose a compromise: a time when we believe that existence independent of the mother is possible.  Recognize that is what it is: a compromise between differing beliefs, and one that — even though we might not like — it is what we can accept for society. Does that mean we should encourage abortion? Of course not, but it ultimately should be the mother’s choice, dictated by their beliefs and their relationship with God as they understand God. We must respect their beliefs. Does this mean some promising lives will be lost? Quite probably, but we seem to have no problem as a society when equally promising lives are lost on the battlefield or to poverty or to sickness. Argue with me about the sanctity of life and that we must value life when you demonstrably and through actions value it equally after birth. Then, and only then, will I respect your call for valuing the unborn life throughout its lifecycle.

Christianity. This, then, brings us to my views on Christianity. As I noted at the start, my fundamental value is respect. Judaism does recognize that other religions exist, and that other paths to enlightenment are valid. The Mi Chamocha prayer, recited regularly, acknowledges this when it asks, “Who is like unto you, O God, among the Gods that are worshipped?”

I have no problem with Christian beliefs, nor people who follow Christianity. I do not view them a backward or archaic. Their belief system is simply that — theirs. It is not mine, and as long as they do not attempt to “save” me or impose their belief system upon me, we can live harmoniously. I do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God or the Messiah (he doesn’t meet the job qualifications), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in his teachings. Just as the Torah contains divine inspiration, so do the teachings of Jesus (as a child of God, as are we all). They deserve study and interpretation for modern times.

On the other hand, there are some Christians….

I do believe that many Christians today do not act as Jesus taught. My understanding of Jesus is that he taught love for one’s fellow man (as a general term), to treat others as we want to be treated, to care for the fallen and the sick, to treat the least among us as an equal. It was Jesus who reached out to the whores and beggars to help them. It was Jesus who saw the good in people.

Far too many Christians in name fail to recall those ideas. Too many believe in the gospel of prosperity, and worship the god of wealth instead of the god of compassion. I think that notion — which is practiced by far too many of our political leaders — is wrong and non-Christian (at least as I understand things). I’ll gladly debate those ideas. Note that I didn’t say anything about the individuals — it is the notion I disagree with. They are welcome to their beliefs, but I don’t have to agree with them.

Armageddon and the End Days. One of the key differences between Judaism and Christianity is the view of the end days and the afterlife. Some have characterized the difference as Judaism focusing on this world and the rewards in this world, and Christianity focusing on doing good for the rewards in the world to come. The latter explains why Christianity became so popular during the middle ages: in horrible and horrid times, one gains comfort in trusting the world after you die will be a better one.

But does believing in the end days, Armageddon, and an uplifting of the dead to heaven a reason to hasten the end? Some in Salvation Christianity appear to believe that, and there appear to be leaders who are pushing that — or at least acting that way. I’ll argue that to do so is presumptuous and to put yourself in the place of God. If there is to be an end of days and such, it is God that must establish the timetable and bring it about, not man. Man’s job, as noted above, is to make the conscious choice to do the right thing and to make the world a better place. It is our job to be responsible stewards of the world and ensure its survival. It is our job to treat our fellows on this planet the best we can, to make this a world of justice and respect. If God then wants to end the world, it is his or her choice and timetable, not ours.

Life on Other Worlds. Is there life on other worlds? Probably, but it doesn’t make a difference. Given the billions and billions of worlds and conditions, it is statistically unlikely that some other form of life didn’t start on another world, and likely even evolved to be intelligent. But given how short of a time period intelligent life, able to communicate, has been on this world compared to the life of this world, the odds that our time period coincided with that on another world is small. Further, the distances between planets would make it such that even if our intelligent life periods overlapped, we likely could not communicate. As such, it really doesn’t make a difference. We shouldn’t think other worlds are coming to destroy us; nor should we believe that another world will come and get us out of our dilemmas. We have to choose to do the right thing.

Similarly, we should not be so presumptuous as to assume we are the only intelligent life on this planet. Other species do communicate with each other — in different ways. Other species are intelligent, but we just can’t communicate with them in the same way. Treating each other with respect includes doing the same for other species. I don’t go so far as to be vegetarian, but I do believe we should treat animals humanely, not kill just for the sport of it, and if we eat other animals, we should ensure that their life does not go to waste by wasting the food that they give us. If God exists, we can’t presume to fathom God’s plan for us and our world. In particular, we don’t know what species God might choose to promote next, and we shouldn’t put a stumbling block in front of those plans. We will be judged, if we are judged, by how we treat others, and that includes our animal brethren.

Wrapping It Up with a Bow. Ultimately, it comes back to where I started: Respect for others. Discuss the ideas and the actions, not the person. Consciously make the choices to do the right thing, as you have been taught through your belief systems; don’t depend on the law to impose it on you, nor use the law to impose what you think is the right thing upon others.

Oh, and my favorite adage: Never ascribe to malice what you can to stupidity.

 

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