Friday, December 31, 2010

Mashiach is Coming! Mashiach is Coming!

Great news, the Messiah, aka Mashiah ben David, may arrive as early as next week!

According to Jewish tradition, if Jews celebrate the Sabbath two weeks in a row, the messiah will come. Thanks to Christianity, we just might pull this off.

The first Shabbat was last Saturday, Christmas Day. Most Jews took the day off. Tomorrow is New Year’s Day. Again we will be home. That is two Sabbaths in a row!

Of course these may not count because many of us went out for Chinese food on Christmas, and will watch the bowl games on television tomorrow, but who knows, maybe God isn’t Orthodox.

OK, I admit that God is most likely Orthodox, and less likely to send the Messiah just because we Jews have a couple of Saturdays off from work, but it does raise a question worth pondering: How would you change your life if the Messiah did in fact arrive? What would you do differently?

Share these with us, please. And then ask yourself another question: If the changes you’d make are good ones, why wait? Why not just make the changes now? For all we know that is really what God is waiting for.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Close Schools for Christmas? Yes. Close them for Shemini Atzeret? No.

I’m reading Stephen Prothero’s essay in USA TODAY (December 20, 2010) promoting the closing of pubic schools for religious holy days. Dr. Prothero (whose work I admire and use in my courses) notes that public schools already close for some Christian and Jewish holy days, and urges us to add Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Wiccan holy days as well. I disagree.

First of all, our kids need more school days not less.

Second, the only Christian holy day we close schools for is Christmas (more on that below). Easter, arguably the most holy day of the Christian calendar is not a federal holiday, and if some schools close for Good Friday they do so for the same reason some schools close for Rosh HaShanah: demographics.

Third, public schools don’t close for the Jewish holy days. Some schools designate Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur as “teacher work days” because so many of their teachers are Jewish and will take those days off anyway. And they do so only if these holy days fall on school days. And they only close one day for Rosh HaShanah not the two days most Jews observe. So public schools aren’t really closing for the Jewish holy days, they are closing because it is impractical to stay open.

Fourth, public schools are supposed to be secular, and secular schools should not close for religious holy days any more than Catholic schools should close for Hindu holy days. If there are Hindu kids enrolled in the Catholic school, they may choose not to attend class in honor of Diwali, for example, but the school itself need not close.

Fifth, whose holy days would we honor and whose would we ignore? If we are truly inclusive schools wouldn’t open at all.

Which brings me to Christmas. Public Schools do close for Christmas. Is that fair? Yes. Doesn’t that violate church/state separation? No. We are a country with a deeply Christian history and as such we honor the birthday of Jesus the way we honor the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Both of these birthdays are federal holidays because America would not be America with them.

Making Christmas a federal holiday is more of a threat to the holiness of Christmas than it is to the Constitution. According to the same issue of USA TODAY, “Many [people] skip the holiday’s religious side.” While 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas only 74% say Christmas is “primarily” a religious holy day, only 47% go to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, and only 28% tell or read the biblical story of Jesus birth. Sadly for Christians, Christmas is going the way of many other federal holidays: just another day for tacky car ads and excessive shopping.

For me Christmas is a time to honor the most famous rabbi of all time, and I will do that in traditional Jewish fashion: I will argue with everything he had to say.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tea Party Principles

I am so excited about the Tea Party folks coming into Congress in a few weeks. I like when people of principle actually stand up for what they believe in. True, I don’t share their beliefs, but I respect people who say what they mean and do what they say.

My favorite Tea Party guy is Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation. He is so honest. For example, he wants to limit voting rights to property owners only. This is as American as counting slaves as ¾ human. But it makes some sense. Just look at how renters treat the houses they live in: they trash them because they don’t own them. Of course if we aren’t careful, the only people who will allowed to vote in this country will be the Communist Chinese.

I also like what he has to say about Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). Mr. Phillips wants him removed from Congress because “he is the only Muslim member of Congress.” This makes sense to me, too. As the only Muslim in Congress, Rep. Ellison must be alienated. Alienated Muslims become radicalized Muslims, and radicalized Muslims use Second Amendment solutions to address their grievances.

But Second Amendment solutions are part of the Tea Party rhetoric, so maybe I have it wrong. Maybe he wants to remove Mr. Ellison from Congress not because he is the only MUSLIM, but because he is the ONLY Muslim. He is concerned that the Congressman is lonely. Nice call: let’s have Muslim members of Congress only when there are enough of them to have a Muslim-American Caucus.

But my favorite principle of Mr. Phillips is his dream to abolish the United Methodist Church, or, as he calls it, “the first Church of Karl Marx.” Last Friday he wrote on his Tea Party Nation blog that the United Methodist Church’s support of the Dream Act makes it an enemy of America. “If you hate America,” he wrote, “you have a great future in the Methodist Church.” (Read his blog at

Yes, the end of democracy and the Methodist Church. It is going to be a great two years.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What I Want for Christmas

I don’t celebrate Christmas, and I don’t believe in Santa Claus, so Christmas presents are usually out of the question for me. But this year I am making an exception. I still won’t celebrate Christmas and I still can’t bring myself to believe in Saint Nick, but I’m hoping for a Christmas present all the same.

What I want for Christmas is a big foam #1 Finger. You know, the big yellow foam glove people wear and wave at sporting events to say their team is number one even if it isn’t.

My team is the good ol’ US of A. And we are number uno. We have the best education system on the planet, and the best health care in the world. These affirmations have nothing to do with the facts, of course, but that is why I want the big finger. The lower we fall in the rankings, the louder we should chant “We’re number one,” and the bigger the finger we should wave while doing so.

According to the most recent OECD Programme for International Student Assessment which measures the knowledge base and reading skills of 15-year-olds around the world, the United States ranks 14th out of 34. “We’re number 1(4)! We’re number 1(4)!” Now I have to wonder why we are even paying attention to a study that can’t even spell the word “program” properly, but still the number is the number, and we need to celebrate our mediocrity with flair. So how about that finger, Santa?

Similarly, in a study of health care systems conducted by the World Health Organization [by the way if you are a doctor working for the World Health Organization, can you call yourself Dr. Who? How cool is that!], the United States ranks #37 out of 190, just behind Dominica and Costa Rica, and just ahead of Slovenia and Cuba, but way ahead of Burundi (take THAT, Burundi!). If you add the digits of 37 together you get 3+7 which equals 10, and if you add those digits together you get 1+0 which equals 1, so, you guessed it! “We’re #1!”

You can see where this is going. On all matters except military spending the USA is falling behind. The only thing we are really number one at is our capacity to kill people. Now don’t sneer. We can move from #37 to #35 in health care just by bombing the hell out of Costa Rica and Dominica, so all our bombs might come in handy. But I am not ready to go to war with Cyprus (#24), and I don’t even know where Andorra (#4) is, so I can’t even pretend to bomb them (though I think we killed their life-giving Tree of Souls in the Avatar movie, which may have been the government’s way of preparing us for a real attack in the not so distant future).

Anyway, I’m not ready to go to war with Andorra or Costa Rica, so let’s not consider that. And I’m not ready to raise taxes on anyone, let alone the rich, to improve our educational system. And I don’t want the federal government to run expensive death panels when Arizona is running their own death panels at a fraction of the cost, so let’s not consider true single-payer health care reform. Nope, I want to leave things pretty much the way they are this Christmas, which is why I need the big finger.

If we are going to settle for being Mediocristan the least we can do is pretend we aren’t. We are number one in that. So, Santa, how about giving me the finger this year?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Save the Frogmen

This morning I heard Rush Limbaugh attack those who are attacking McDonald’s Happy Meals. The issue as he put is that the Nanny State is coming to the rescue of parents who cannot stare down their kids who demand that they not go to the local vegan health food diner and scarf down Happy Meals instead. And why do the kids want the Happy Meals? Because of the toys inside the box. It is wrong for a corporation to go after kids whether it is with tobacco or fat/sugar/salt, but don’t attack the toys.

When I was a kid McDonalds was a drive-in, and there were no Happy Meals. The equivalent product back then was the cereal box with a toy in it. I loved getting those toys. I would stick my hand into the box, crushing the cereal inside to find the coveted prize. Or I would open the box upside down hoping that the toy was at the bottom. Or I would pour the entire box out on the counter and watch the prize spill out in a cascade of Frosted Flakes (They’re Gggggggggggggggggreat). These are some of my best childhood memories.

I loved the frogmen. They were little plastic divers with one fin-clad foot and one foot that was a tiny thimble with a cap. Put baking soda into the thimble, replace the cap and drop the frogman into a sink or bath tub filled with water. As the baking soda reacted with the water the frogman would dive and resurface over and over again. How cool is that? So cool in fact, that I still have one of the frogmen.

So Rush is right but for the wrong reason. Those who would stop corporations from putting toys in their products are robbing our kids of their childhoods. Let our kids have their toys, and if we must do something let’s insist that our food is healthier. Why not put toys with veggie burger meals?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Right Thing to Do

I’m listening to conservative talk radio this morning, and I have to admit that I agree with everything the host is saying regarding taxes. He, like me, looks to the administration of John F. Kennedy for guidance when it comes to taxes. He must have repeated his call to follow JFK’s lead in this matter at least a dozen times in less than five minutes. And I agree!

President Kennedy said, “An economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenues to balance our budget—just as it will never produce enough jobs or profits." He was right then, and he is right today. So, along with my conservative colleagues across America, I say let’s go back to the solid fiscal polices of 1965.

I’m urging Congress to say no to the Obama tax plan, and pass a tax plan that mirrors that of JFK instead. By 1965 President Kennedy imposed a top tax rate for individuals of 70%, and a top corporate rate of 48%. He also signed a bill providing a 10% tax credit for business purchases of new machinery. And the economy boomed. If it worked for JFK, it should work for us. Right?

So let’s be clear: If you want to free America from a crippling tax scheme stop coddling the American people, and do what JFK did: set the top tax rate for individuals at 70% and for corporations as 48%. It is the right and right wing thing to do.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Just in Time for Christmas

Thousands of Iraqi Christians are fleeing to the north from Baghdad and Mosul to escape Muslim attacks against them. Of the approximately 100,000 Christians who once lived in Mosul, only 5,000 remain. Of course Iraqi Muslim fanatics are equal opportunity haters, so they continue to bloody one another along the Sunni Shia divide, but it makes me wonder: what are our women and men dying for again? Are we sacrificing American lives so Iraqis have the freedom to murder one another? Is this what we mean when we say, “the surge worked”?

The longer we stay in Iraq the more convinced I am that President Bush was correct: Iraq did and does have weapons of mass destruction. They are the Iraqi people themselves.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tea for Jew

Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Republican Joe Straus is in trouble. Tea Party conservatives, led by John Cook, want to push him out of the Speaker’s position. Speaker Straus’ sin? He’s a Jew.

“I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office,” Mr. Cook said. So Straus has got to go.

Now I don’t considered myself an expert on Texas, Texas politics, or even the Jews of Texas. To be honest, the only Jew I associate with Texas is Kinky Freedman, though now that I think about it, the name of his band, the Texas Jew Boys, suggests Kinky isn’t the only Jew in the Lone Star State. But why do these God-fearing Tea Bag Republicans have to ditch one of the Chosen? Because Speaker Straus’ rabbi is somehow associated with Planned Parenthood. Guilt by association. This gives us a glimpse into the America we can expect as the Tea Party completes its takeover of the GOP and the country.

The simple fact is, when the going gets tough, the tough get going… after the Jews, and Muslim Americans and illegal immigrants and…

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Update to Friday's Post

I just learned of Rabbis Against Racism and their effort to confront the rabbis I wrote about last Friday. Here is there petition. If you are rabbi, please sign it. If you know a rabbi please send it to her or him. To sign the petition on line, go to

לא תטה משפט גר . . . וזכרת כי עבד היית במצרים
Do not pervert the rights of the stranger . . . and remember that you were once a slave in Egypt (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

To our rabbinic colleagues in Israel,

We, rabbis serving in congregations and communities across the world, are turning to you for your assistance and leadership at a time of crisis. The recent halakhic ruling from community rabbis in Israel that forbids leasing apartments to non-Jews has caused great shock and pain to our communities. The attempt to root discriminatory policies based on religion or ethnicity in Torah is a painful distortion of our tradition. Am Yisrael knows the sting of discrimination, and we still bear the scars of hatred. When those who represent the official rabbinic leadership of the State of Israel express such positions, we are distressed by this Chillul HaShem, desecration of God’s name.

This degradation of the Torah threatens both Israel and our communities. We struggle to maintain a strong, loving relationship between Jews outside of Israel and the Jewish state. Every day, that challenge grows more difficult. Many of our congregants love Israel and want nothing more than the safety and security of the Jewish homeland, but for a growing number of Jews in America this relationship to Israel cannot be assumed.

Statements like these do great damage to our efforts to encourage people to love and support Israel. They communicate to our congregants that Israel does not share their values, and they promote feelings of alienation and distancing. Further, these attacks on the principles of our prophets, which form the basis of Israel’s law and society, provide justification for anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment across the world.

Many of you have raised your voices in the past, and have dedicated your lives to pursuing a just society in Israel. You have taught us that the discriminatory attitude expressed in that halakhic ruling does not reflect the belief of the majority of rabbis and Torah scholars or the people of Israel, and for that reason, we turn to you. For the sake of our people, our Torah, and Israel, we beseech you to take a strong public stand and oppose those who misrepresent our tradition.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Say what you mean; do what you say

Fifty state-employed rabbis in Israel have signed and circulated a petition urging Jews not to rent or sell land to nonJews, and saying that those who do should be cut off from their people.

Thankfully the action was condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "This kind of speech should be banned in a Jewish and democratic state."

I am pleased that the Prime Minister is opposed to rabbinic sponsored racism, but his choice of words suggests he doesn't understand the nature of either a Jewish or a democratic state.

First of all these rabbis derived the decision from Jewish law. While their reading is controversial, it is the very nature of a Jewish state (as opposed to a state of Jews) to allow for just this kind of speech. If you don't want your country ruled by the mores of clerics and their pre-modern worldviews, don't set it up as a Jewish (or Islamic or Christian) state.

Second, this kind of inflammatory speech is absolutely protected in a democratic state. Freedom of speech is key to any truly democratic country, so banning opinions, even evil ones such as this, betrays the very promise of democracy.

So is Prime Minister Netanyahu anti-Jewish or anti-democracy? Of course not; he is simply speaking hyperbolically to mask his actions or lack thereof.

These rabbis whose opinions the PM says should be banned actually work for the state. While banning speech is wrong, punishing state employees who blatantly discriminate against citizens of the state is right, appropriate, and just. If the PM is serious he should fire these rabbis. Until he does it is just politics as usual in a country held hostage by clerics.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Christmas is a myth. Thank God.

On the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel atheists have posted a billboard featuring the three Magi approaching the manger. The text reads, “You Know It’s a Myth. This Season Celebrate Reason.” The sign saddens me.

“Myth” is not the same as “falsehood.” Myth is a narrative structure used to convey some of the deepest truths we humans can glean. Myths are not believed in but unpacked and lived.

The problem with contemporary religion is that it devalues myth and imagination, and seeks legitimacy in history and science. The power of Christmas is not that Matthew and Luke were historians (they can’t even agree between themselves), but that they were mythmakers. They used story, just as Jesus did, to convey a truth that science and history could not accommodate.

I am, of course, speaking as a nonChristian, but I say the same about the myths of every religion including my own. If I insist the Exodus is history I have to deal with a murderous God and a host of extraneous, harmful, and self-serving miracles. But if I accept it as myth I am dealing with the liberation of self from enslavement to power; the suffering is mine, the deaths are mine, and the liberation is mind. Myth is meant to lived rather than believed in; it is about the inner life not the political one.

The characters found in myths represent aspects of our own psyches. The Virgin Birth is neither a miracle nor a biological act of parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction). It is a story about how something new and potentially redemptive comes into the world. As a myth Christmas speaks to all humans. As science and history it makes no sense at all.

If we reclaimed the power of myth, and understood its role in our lives, we could reclaim the world’s religions as keepers of myth and train clergy to be guides to myth who can help us live out the mythic and imaginal dimensions of our lives through acts of compassion and contemplative spiritual practice.

If I had the money I would post my own Magi billboards. But I would change the tagline from “You Know It’s a Myth. This Season Celebrate Reason” to “You Know It’s a Myth. This Season Celebrate the Imagination.”

Thursday, December 02, 2010

No Hope

Just when I thought I could not get more depressed about the prospects for peace between Israel and Palestine, I learn that the departments of education of both Israel and Palestine have banned a unique textbook designed by Israeli and Palestinian educators entitled “Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative.”

The book places the Israeli and Palestinian versions of the history of their homelands side by side, allowing children on both sides to learn how the other understands the history they take for granted. Of course both versions are controversial in the eyes of the other, but that is the point. There is no “true” history, there is only the narrative histories told by each side’s historians. And being able to see the reality the other sees is a huge step toward authentic dialogue and empathy.

Of course the leaders on both sides fear both empathy and dialogue, and so both have banned the book from public high school curriculums. How sad.

On the other hand it does show that the leadership of both sides are not really on opposite sides at all. They are on the same side: the side of fear and hatred that keeps them in power.

Just as the Israelites could not enter the Promised Land until almost all of the older generation passed away, peace may not come to the region until all those currently in power are pass away. The questions we must ask are these: how many generations of status quo leadership are left; and how many people must die before these leaders finally die?

Friday, November 26, 2010

The American Dream

The problem with the American Dream—the problem with all dreams really—is that you have to be asleep to maintain it. In the case of the American Dream—the notion that our kids will live richer and more productive lives than their parents—this means being asleep to the fact that real wages have been falling for decades, that corporations are making more money now with millions of Americans out of work then they were when they employed those Americans, and the realization that the lie of the American Dream is the same as that found on the sign heading into the Auschwitz death camp: Arbeit macht frei/Work sets you free.

It doesn’t. Work, especially working at something you hate to maintain a life style you can’t afford and never have time to enjoy anyway, is slavery. When work is fun, it is no longer work. That is why so many employers try to make work fun; they no it isn’t.

I gave up the American Dream the day I decided not to enter my family’s business, and to pursue instead a life as a rabbi, educator, and writer. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have a summer home up north, a winter home down south, and buy a new car every two or three years. My hope now is to inherit one of those homes, sell it, and use the money to buy a more recent used car than the 2005 Mazda Protégé I currently drive. But am I bitter? No.

My dad loved what he did, and I am proud of the business he and my uncle built, and happy for my cousins who are making it even greater and more financially rewarding. And I am delighted with the life choices I made, and recommend them to my own son who is just beginning his career as an educator and writer. What about rabbi? He teaches Jewish American literature at the university—close enough.

So as Black Friday comes to a close and we begin to prep for Shabbos, let me suggest five ideas to share with your kids about the American Dream:

1. Wake up and stop dreaming it. Find what you love and do it. And if you have to do stuff you don’t love to supplement yourself, do that too. Just don’t abandon what you love.

2. Move somewhere cheap and live even cheaper. The less you have the less you have to earn and the more time you have to play. Get a good financial planner to help you manage the surplus.

3. Don’t go into debt. Only exception is when buying a house, and even then buy small and think twice and then twice more.

4. Don’t count on anyone to take care of you: not parents, employers or the government; yet don’t imagine you can take care of yourself. Build a network of friends who pledge to help one another in times of crises. Even then be prepared to be disappointed. Learn to live with anxiety, ambiguity, and doubt. It called adulthood.

5. Measure the quality of your life by how often you are happy and of service to others. The only advantage to being rich and miserable is that the rich can afford legal drugs to mask their misery while the poor have to risk jail time for their’s. Forget about being rich or poor; seek only to avoid being miserable.

Friday, November 19, 2010

TSA Rhymes with Gay. Coincidence?

I travel a lot, often by plane, and, I am concerned about the new pat-down and scanner procedures of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). My concern with the scanners is not so much that they show my naked body to the world, but that my naked body is so not worthy of such attention. If I were 50 pounds thinner, and if I had actually lifted weights at the gym rather than watch others do so, I might be more comfortable. But really, I wear size XXL to cover up a multitude of dietary sins. If I wanted some guy to view my naked body with x-rays, I’d move to Metropolis and kidnap Lois Lane.

Of course I don’t have to go through the scanners. I could allow a TSA agent to run his hands over my body to make sure that my testicles are not in fact grenades. But this option doesn’t appeal to me either.

Yet I am a patriot, and as such I am willing to allow my country to fool me into thinking that this technology can catch terrorists, and to scare me into believing that everyone from an 8 year-old kid to an 88 year-old grandma is a potential terrorist, so I will put up with it. But I
do have two suggestions to make this procedure more palatable.

First, increase the power of the scanners so that they are capable of identifying tumors and diseases, and have medical techs rather than TSA agents review them and inform me of my current health status. I’d be grateful for that procedure.

Or, if some guy is going to fondle me, why not hire trained chiropractors? Then they could feel for bombs and realign my spine at the same time. Given the horror of airplane seating, I’d be willing to undergo this kind of screening getting on and off the plane.

But until the TSA comes up with systems like these, I’m going for a third option: I’m go to claim I’m gay.

The TSA doesn’t allow a male agent to fondle a woman passenger because of the sexual impropriety, so they shouldn’t allow a male agent to fondle a male passenger if said passenger is gay. Since I would be more comfortable with a woman agent, I am, for all travel related purposes, now choosing to be gay.

If the government denies my claim saying that homosexuality isn't a choice, I will harness support from many well-known pastors and politicians who insist homosexuality is a choice. In a free country I can choose to be gay if and when I want to. And for TSA screening purpose I want to, so I am. And where are the churches and synagogues on this, anyway? Do we really want our children molested by people who aren’t even ordained clergy? And if homosexuality is a choice—which when I’m not flying it isn’t, but when I am flying it is—would we want to put homosexual ideas in our kids minds by having them groped homosexually at the airport? Could it be that the TSA is in fact on the front lines of the Gay Agenda? I’m just asking.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Islam has a Muslim Problem

On October 31st gunmen burst into Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation church during Sunday mass and opened fire killing two priests and 48 parishioners. The murderers belong to the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group called Islamic State of Iraq that has declared jihad against Iraq’s Christian population.

This is one of an on-going series of attacks on Iraqi Christians by Iraqi Muslims. Hundreds of thousands (the Catholic Church puts the number at one million) Iraqi Christians have fled to other countries to avoid being murdered at the hands of Islamic fanatics. And make no mistake these are Islamic fanatics; fanatics fuelled by their version of Islam. They are not attacking foreigners, but fellow Iraqis. Their hatred is not fueled by America policies or Israeli occupation of the Palestine. It is fuelled by a belief that Muslims must kill Christians.

Islam has a Muslim problem. The problem with Islam is Muslims who have signed on to a radical, violent, murderous faith that, while violating the deepest principles of Islam, continues to masquerade as Islam, and does so successfully.

Islam lacks a pope who can speak for the religion. And at the moment there is no Reform Islamic movement that can work to bring Islam into the 21st century as Reform Judaism has done for Jews. The kind of academic study of scripture and religion commonplace in so many Christian and Jewish seminaries is largely absent in the Islamic world. There is no quest for the historical Muhammad as there is the historical Jesus. Islam seems to know only competing orthodoxies when it desperately needs liberal reform.

There are factions within Judaism and Christianity that refuse to have anything to do with modernity, let alone postmodernity. And some among them are violent. But these groups are not engaged in wholesale slaughter of innocents. No matter how strongly I oppose the settler movement in Israel and condemn the violence that often defines it, there is no moral equivalency.

This is not religion’s problem; this is Islam’s problem. Only Muslims can solve it. And while no Muslims have asked my advice, I would suggest that someone convene a world council of imams who could make clear to Muslims and nonMuslims alike just what it is Islam stands for, and that would condemn unequivocally the insanity and violence that is perverting the message of Islam. I would also like to see wealthy Muslim visionaries fund
young American Muslims seeking to create a new kind of Islam that embraces science, secular scholarship, critical thinking, and nonviolence even as it affirms the prophetic message of Islam and upholds the beauty and genius of Islamic civilization. Without it I worry that Muslims are doomed to wage a civil war of Muslim against Muslim that will take thousands of nonMuslims down with them.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Farting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Ohioan Christian Summers is eleven years old. Christian Summers is a boy. Christian Summers farts and thinks its funny. Christian Summers suffers from FHS, Flatulence Humor Disorder.

This is not a joke. Millions of eleven-year-old boys suffer from this disease. As explained in Wikipedia, “Flatulence is the expulsion through the rectum of a mixture of gases that are byproducts of the digestion process of mammals and other animals.” ["Other animals" refers to eleven-year-old boys.] “Flatus [the gas generated in the digestive tract] is brought to the rectum by the same peristaltic process which causes feces to descend from the large intestine. [Which is why sometimes farting surprises us with something a bit more tangible.] The noises commonly associated with flatulence are caused by the vibration of the anal sphincter, and occasionally by the closed buttocks.” What Wikipedia fails to tell us is that this entire process is beyond funny if you are an eleven-year-old boy suffering from FHS.

Christian is a mammal and/or other animal. Farting alone is common to his kind. The disorder arises with the involuntary laughter that Christian also expels along with the flatus [so called after the Roman Emperor Flatus Maximus who was known to defeat entire armies by releasing gas from his rectum].

You see those who suffer from Flatulence Humor Disorder think flatus is funny. The louder the expulsion of flatulence, the funnier the FHD sufferer thinks it is. This is a genetic disease found in about 100% of eleven-year-old boys.

The sad thing in this story is that Christian has attacks of FHD while riding on his school bus, and his bus’s driver, who may not be a mammal and/or other animal and who was never eleven years old, gave Christian detention for having this disease.

We should not penalize our children for being the victims of FHD. In fact it may violate the First Amendment. Flatulence may be protected as speech since some eleven-year-old boys can actually make their butts talk while farting.

Whatever you may think of eleven-year-old boys farting on school buses, we must take pity on children who suffer from FHS and not consign them to detention. Or, if detention is the route society insists we take, we must have compassion for the adult who has to sit in a closed room for an hour with these exploding boys.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

GOP vs DEMs? No. Lucy vesus Charlie Brown.

Looking for a metaphor for American politics? Try Charlie Brown trusting Lucy not to pull the football away as he races to kick it.

In 2008 the American voter played the role of Charlie Brown and the Democratic Party played the role of Lucy. The football was Change We Can Believe In. Yes, we believed. And then Lucy pulled the ball away and we found ourselves flat on our backs. This year the American voter is once again playing Charlie Brown while Lucy is played by the Republican Party. The football is still and always Change We Can Believe In.

Is anything going to change come January? No. Why? Because Lucy is Lucy regardless of who plays her.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prime Directive

This morning I head out for my daily five-mile walk with God. About 3.0 miles in I see a huge turtle walking along a concrete path under a roadway. The path links two sections of the Greenway and Lytle Creek. At this point in my walk I am usually in love with everything, and here is this fat old turtle totally exposed to predators and I am convinced that she (he?) needs my help. My plan is to tap on her shell, and when she withdraws inside, to pick her up and carry her to the water on the side toward which she is walking.

This is my version of a boy scout helping an old lady to cross a street.

This act of pure love for my fellow manifestation of the Divine Mother was met with a vicious turn: the turtle attacked me! This huge mouth opened wide and the turtle lunged at me. True it took her an hour to turn around and do this, but it was shocking nonetheless.

Anyway, I backed off, apologized for the interruption, and walked on by. This was a teaching moment, and the tortoise taught me the difference between Rabbis Hillel and Jesus versions of the Golden Rule.

Hillel taught, “Don’t do unto others what you do not want others to do to you.” Jesus taught, “Do unto others what you would want done unto you.” I assumed that I would like someone to pick me up and move me along my path, and therefore so would my turtle friend. But when I think about it, I wouldn’t like this at all.

Just imagine: you are walking along enjoying the fall foliage (or dying leaves, depending on your mood), and suddenly some giant reaches down, grabs you around the waist, and carries you along dangling in mid-air. Doesn’t sound so good. Yet this is precisely what I wanted to do with the turtle.

Next time I see a turtle ambling along I will just let her be, and if she is attacked by some carnivore along the way and brutally torn to pieces and eaten, I will simply smile and say, “Serves you right for trying to bite me, you reptilian brained moron.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I am a bigot. At least by NPR standards. NPR fired Juan Williams yesterday for admitting that when he boards an airplane with Muslims dressed in Muslim garb he feels a twinge of concern. Not because he believes all Muslims are terrorists (he doesn’t) or because he believes that all terrorists are Muslims (he doesn’t). He feels what he feels because (1) we can’t control our feelings and (2) Muslim shoes and underwear tend to explode. This has nothing to do with the people wearing those shoes and underwear, and everything to do with the quality of Muslim shoe and underwear manufacturing. Just like Toyota cars used to race off on their own regardless of the driver’s will, so, as I understand it, Muslim made underwear tends to explode at certain altitudes. It’s one thing to explode into your underwear—that’s what it’s for, and quite another to have your underwear explode into you. So, Juan, I get it.

And if Juan Williams, perhaps the lone liberal voice on Fox News, is a bigot, then so am I. Let me honest about my feelings.

Like Juan, I too am leery of Muslim made underwear. But that’s not all. I don’t want to fly with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, either. I’ve seen these people walking up and down the aisle asking to speak to their fellow passengers about their religion, and I don’t want to be hassled.

Similarly, I inquire into the religious beliefs of my pilot and co-pilot. If they are Rapture-ready Christians, I don’t want to fly with them. Give me a Jew, Muslim, or Catholic over an evangelical Protestant any day. At least I know we won’t crash because God took the pilot and co-pilot up to heaven and allowed the rest of us to die.

I am also nervous when I see Hasidic Jews on the plane lest they conscript me into a mid-air prayer service. And, if I were a Palestinian, I would be nervous about any Jew on the plane lest they try and spread out from their seat into my seat claiming that their great great great great great great great great grandparents sat in that those seats a long time ago and so it is rightfully their seat today.

Atheists too are a problem for me. What if we are going to crash and we have to call on God to save us, and maybe God is Jewish and requires a quorum of ten Jewish men to listen to our prayer and all we have are nine Jewish guys and an Atheist, and so we all die because this idiot can’t go along to get along.

I don’t want hip-hop Blacks on my plane either because they might start singing and making that spitting sound and messing up my Pringles.

And fat people. I don’t want to sit next to fat people because they ooze over into my space.

People with babies are on my no-fly list as well. I don’t want to sit next to some screaming baby, and insist that all parents drug their children into a stupor so I don’t have to buy Bose noise reduction headphones just to keep from getting a migraine.

So, Juan, I’m with you. And if I had a job at NPR I would expect them to fire me as well. Because, hey, who wants commentators to be honest?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Islam is a Religion

Islam is a religion. It’s true. The United States Department of Justice has said so, and it is the banner headline of this morning’s Daily News Journal here in Murfreesboro. This may not be news to you, but it is to thousands of my neighbors, and, to be quite frank, I was beginning to wonder about this myself.

I mean a religion is supposed to be about your relationship with God, and Allah isn’t Jesus, so Allah isn’t God. And a religion is supposed to have a holy book, but the Qur’an isn’t the Bible so the Qur’an isn’t a holy book. That’s why we can burn the Qur’an and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” but not the Bible. And Jesus said it is what comes out of your mouth not what goes into it that counts (Matthew 15:17-18), so any religion that restricts what foods you can eat, isn’t a religion. [Editor’s note: I once heard a gay Christian cite this text to suggest Jesus was in favor of oral sex. Really.]

And then there is the issue of Sharia. What kind of religion is it that wants to dictate to people how they should live? You don’t see Christianity doing that, do you? And what about the idea that Islam is going to fly its flag over the White House and the entire world? What kind of religion wants the whole world to be converted to its way of life? Why that would mean sending missionaries to every country of the world to preach the Gospel! Can you imagine that?

Clearly, if Islam is a religion, it is a religion the likes of which you haven’t seen in this country since the last time you watched the 700 Club. But, look, this is still a free country, even though it is governed by Red Fascist Nazis who are running FEMA concentration camps across the land. I heard that the FEMA camps are actually renting space from the Islamic terror training camps also spread across this country, which proves the link between our so-called President and terrorists of the so-called religion of Islam.

And what does it mean that the Obama Justice Department declares Islam a religion when it refuses to acknowledge that the United States of America is a Christian country? It means that the government is in cahoots with the Muslims against the Christians, that’s what. So I call upon all of you who are reading this to call the Justice Department and demand that they issue a list of acceptable religions in the United States, and when they turn down your request even though they just declared Islam a religion you will know that the United States of America recognizes only one religion and that is the religion of Islam.

Remember that when you go to the polls on November 2nd and they ask you to dip your right pointer finger into a jar of purple ink to prove you are a Muslim. I’m not making this up. I've been told that the confirmation button on the electronic voting booth shoots purple ink onto your finger when you push it. You won’t see it because it only shows up under black light, and even then only in FEMA concentrations camps. But believe me, it is there.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hand to God

If you have been reading this blog for a while you know that I support the expansion of the Islamic Center in my town of Murfreesboro, TN. You also know that I think much of the paranoia around Islam and Muslims is just that: paranoia. But just because your paranoid doesn’t mean you aren’t being followed.

Case in point: The Times of India reported on Monday, July 5, 2010, that Professor T. J. Joseph a lecturer at Newman College in Thodupuzha in Idukki district was dragged from his car and had his right hand chopped off by Muslim fanatics. His crime? He allegedly wrote a question on an exam that was considered by some to be derogatory of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Now I teach Islam at MTSU. And while I try to be respectful off all the religions we cover, the fact is I have a wicked sense of humor, and often point out the more absurd facets of religion and invite comment by my students. I am also an academic and assume that the Qur’an (along with all other holy books) is the product of human beings not gods. I do not single out any one religion for ridicule, and certainly feel no antipathy toward Islam or the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). But blasphemy is in the mind of the beholder, and there is no reason to doubt that if I lived in (or could find on a map) Thodupuzha in Idukki district my right hand too would be lopped off by some Muslim maniac.

This incident leads me to two conclusions. First, if ever invited to teach Islam at Newman College in Thodupuzha in Indian’s Idukki district, I should immediately and emphatically decline. Second, given my nature and teaching style, I should work hard at being more ambidextrous.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Grand Design

Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, makes God irrelevant to creation. “It is not necessary to invoke God to … get the universe going.” All you need, he says, is gravity. He is not the first to do this, and like the others he has unleashed a torrent of protesters.

What Dr. Hawking and his opponents have in common is the notion that God, whatever God may be, is something outside the process of creation. Hawking is saying there is no need for anything outside the process, and hence there is no need for God. His opponents say there is such a need, and therefore a need for God.

My problem with both arguments is the very definition of God as someone or something outside the system. For me God is the system.

But is this merely a matter of semantics? Am I really an atheist with a linguistic tic that has me say “God” over and over again?

Well, I am an atheist if by “theist” you mean someone who believes God is a person outside creation who made and manages the world. I just cannot believe such a being exists. And, like Spinoza, I could use alternative words for God, though I prefer Reality to his Natura (Nature). God is reality, the source and substance of all that was, is, and will be.

When Hawking says that the universe creates itself out of nothing he is using everyday language in a unique way. “Nothing” for him is intrinsically creative. It is, grammar aside, not a noun but a verb. This is how I understand God as well. And what the Hebrew Bible seems to hint at when it reveals God’s name as YHVH, a variant of the Hebrew verb “to be,” rather than its English rendering: the noun, “Lord.”

People want to know how creation got started. I suggest that it never stopped. The universe is a dance of on and off; the multiverse that Hawking posits all the more so. God is not just on or off, but both on and off and the flow from one to the other over and over again.

Of course you can’t pray to my God, and my God doesn’t back sports teams, politicians, specific legislation, or religions, so my God may be of no use to you. I understand that. My God is of no use to anyone. A god you can use is an idol.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Religion & Science, Marriage Made in Hell?

Jerry Coyne, Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, argues in yesterday’s USA TODAY that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. I disagree.

Good science, as Dr. Coyne says, is rooted in reason and evidence, and at home with doubt and testing. I suggest the same is true of good religion. Good science uses math and machines to investigate reality, good religion uses contemplative disciplines such as meditation, imagination, literature, art, and music to do the same.

Good science should be used by good religion to free itself from bogus notions about reality: the sun revolving around the earth, creation being only 10,000 years old, etc; and bogus history: there is no evidence for the Jews’ enslavement in and exodus from Egypt, for example. Free from the burden of affirming what is bogus, good religion can then use the tools of comparative literature and mythology and psychology to find the wisdom articulated in the myths it used to mistake for fact. Good science frees good religion from irrationality.

Of course Dr. Coyne isn’t talking about religion and science in this way. He is pitting the worst of religion (people killing other people over inane dogma), against the best of science: open minded rational seekers of truth. But science doesn’t work that way. New ideas are not welcomed in scientific establishments any more than they are in religious ones. True, scientists don’t kill one another over their findings, but they do seek to kill one another’s careers and funding.

Dr. Coyne sums matters us this way: “In religion faith is a virtue; in science it’s a vice.” Nonsense. First of all he is mistaking “faith” for “belief.” Good religion and good science are both rooted in the faith that the universe can be understood and navigated wisely and well. And just as religion has faith in its contemplative methodologies, so science has faith in the scientific method and reason. What good science and good religion both reject are dogmatic beliefs. Bad science and bad religion, on the other hand, revel in dogmatism.

Dr. Coyne reduces religion to superstition. To the extent that religions are tied to superstitions and demonstrable falsehoods, they should free itself from these. That is how science can benefit religion. But the opposite is also true: the extent to which science is blind to realities uncovered by contemplative practice, or closed to the notion that meaning and value can be found in the human condition, or that the human condition is as much rooted in narrative as in physics, science needs to open its eyes.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Should I be upset that 18% of my fellow Americans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim? I’m not sure. You see according to a Gallup Poll, 18% of Americans also believe that the sun revolves around the earth rather than the earth revolving around the sun. And a Baylor Religion Survey shows that 18% of Americans expect scientists will prove the existence of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. And a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration poll shows that 18% of Americans don’t wear their seatbelts when driving. So 18% may just be a standard for dumbness in America.

Of course it may be a standard for intelligence as well. The First Amendment Center says that only 18% of Americans know that freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment; and a Nature magazine survey says that only 18% of Americans take global warming seriously; and another Gallup poll says that only 18% of Americans believe in the Theory of Evolution.

What am I to make of these numbers? Should I be upset by the ignorance of 18% of Americans or proud of the intelligence of another 18%? I suspect 18% of Americans say I should, and 18% say I shouldn’t. What do you think?

Friday, October 08, 2010

Red Sex?

Public Policy Poling, a Democrat–affiliated polling firm, found that only 4% of Republicans support building a mosque near Ground Zero while over five times that number support building a strip club at the same location. Of course some liberal commie leftists will say this shows how Islamophobic Republicans are, but that is a misreading of the numbers. The real story is that 79% do not support a strip club. Republicans aren’t just Islamophobic, they are anti-sex.

It gets worse. The number jumps to 84% if Republicans are asked whether they oppose an Islamic strip club in the area of Ground Zero. 84% of Republicans don’t want to see naked Muslim women, and yet most Republicans seem to be opposed to the head to toe covering of Islamic women. Which is it? Do you want Muslim women naked or clothed?

The confusion suggests that the real point is this: Republicans don’t want to be around Muslim women, naked or clothed. Again, the leftist crowd will argue that this reflects the fact that so many Republicans are closeted gay men, but this discounts the lesbian faction within the Republican party, and reflects sexism on the part of liberals.

So let’s be fair: Republicans like sex but only between married heterosexual couples who are not Muslims. Is this right? To tell you the truth, I am getting confused. Luckily there is already a strip club near Ground Zero called Pussycat Lounge, so there is no need to build another one, especially since Republicans won’t frequent the place (they seem to prefer Lesbian Bondage Bars).

Monday, October 04, 2010

I'm Stewish

I’m a lot like Stewart. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. The Jew. People a lot like Stewart control the news media. Or so says Rick Sanchez who is a lot like Fidel Castro, and who was fired from CNN after letting the katz out of the bag that the media is controlled by people of the Stewish persuasion.

Do Stews control the media? No, but we used to. Now it’s controlled by some Australian guy. In Bible times we dominated the media which was the Bible and only Jews could write for it. When we moved from print to movies we dominated that as well, but we were careful to hire goyim like Charlton Heston to play all the best Stewish roles. In the Internet age we have Mark Zuckerberg creator of Facebook (his original name for it was Sefer Punim), and Michael Dell (his father was an orthodontist), but Steve Jobs and Bill Gates aren’t Stews so our dominance is over.

Rick also said Jon was a bigot. I have no evidence for or against such a claim, but I admit that I’m a bigot. I hate bigoted people. That means I am a self-hating Stew, but many Stewish people are.

Should Rick Sanchez have been fired for outing the news media as controlled by the Stews? No. Rick should have been fired because his show sucks. Which it does.

Will Rick be back with a new show on a new network that is Stew-free? I bet that Australian guy is calling him right— Wait a minute! This just in: Rupert Murdoch, the Australian guy, is Stewish! His mum’s mum, Marie Grace de Lancey Forth had a mum, Caroline Jemina (nee Sherson) who was Stewish. That means that according to Stewish Law and anti-Semitic paranoia Rupert Murdoch is Stewish!!!!! Rick is right!!!!!

His show still sucks, but Rick is right.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Suggestion for Simchat Torah

Tomorrow, October 1st, is Simchat Torah the day we Jews rejoice with Torah, having finished one complete reading of the text and beginning a new one. I would like to invite you all—Jews and Gentiles—to do something quite radical this Simchat Torah: commit yourself to actually reading the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) all the way through by next Simchat Torah.

Beginning with the Shabbos Bereshit, which happens to be October 2nd, I urge you to follow the traditional schedule of Torah reading. Don’t read the text with commentary. Avoid all gloss, whether scholarly or mystical. Just read the text (albeit in translation) and see what it says.

“But wait,” you might be thinking to yourself, “this isn’t radical at all. In fact it’s what Jews are supposed to do.” So let me add the radical part. As you read the text I want you to highlight those passages that you really believe in, or that teach you something about life that you find true and compelling. For example, you may not take the story of the creation of Adam’s consort literally, but you may find the teaching “it is not good for humans to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) quite compelling. So highlight that line.

By next Simchat Torah (October 21, 2011) you will have completed your reading, and can look back at your highlighted Torah and see just what meaning this book has for you.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Talk Me Out of This, Please

Can someone help me understand why I should care about Israel? Can someone help me understand why I should still be a Jew?

I’m reading, the Israeli newspaper’s website, about the recommendation of the Jerusalem police to press charges against Anat Hoffman, leader of Women at the Wall, for refusing to relinquish the Torah she was carrying at the Western Wall, the holiest wall in the Jewish world.

In 2002 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that women are forbidden to read aloud from the Torah at the Wall. Ms. Hoffman was not reading the Scroll only carrying it, but that, according to Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi in charge of the Wall, was a provocation.

“I am not interested in having a halakhic or an ideological discussion, but the Western Wall belongs to the entire Jewish people. We have to make every effort to make every Jew feel at home here,” the rabbi said. I assume by “every Jew” he meant every Orthodox Jew, and by “the entire Jewish people” he meant the entirety of those Jewish people with penises given by God and clipped by man. And yet I have one of those penises, and I was accosted at the Wall as well. Years ago I led a prayer service of women and men (no Torah) in the plaza far from but in full view of the Western Wall and we were accosted by Orthodox men. We huddled more tightly together and continued our service as they pushed and shouted. And we were outside the office prayer space of the Wall!

When this kind of thing happens in Iran I am happy I am not Iranian. When it happens in Saudi Arabia I am happy I am not a Saudi. When Islam falls deeper and deeper into the mores of the 7th century even as it seeks the weaponry of the 21st century, I am glad I am not a Muslim. And yet Israel and Judaism seem to be doing the same thing. No wonder I am having more and more trouble being a Jew!

Sure we have liberal denominations, but they have no power. What does it mean when a liberal rabbi who would not even be recognized as a rabbi in Israel (and if he or she is a convert to Judaism perhaps not even as a Jew) stands up during the High Holy Days to defend Israel? To me this sounds more and more like Stockholm Syndrome.

Enough! If Israel wants to oppress its women by silencing them at the Wall and forcing them to sit in the back of “Orthodox” buses, and Israeli women want to go along with that, fine, but leave me out of it. If Israelis want to be held hostage to Orthodoxy and medieval mores, that is their business, but don’t ask me to care, and don’t ask me to donate money to support it.

I am opposed to dragging any country into the 21st Century against its will whether it be Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel or even (as I fear the November elections will show) the United States.

I hate feeling this way. Please, someone, talk me out of it!

Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm Insane

I had no delusions about Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. I wrote several weeks ago that if the parties wanted peace they could have it in hours not days, weeks, or months. Nor did I expect Israel to extend the moratorium on settlements that expired on September 26. But against all that I knew, believed, and expected, I still hoped for a different outcome. By definition, then, I’m insane.

What I don’t understand is why Palestinian President Abbas didn’t immediately walk out of the talks. He may be a greater statesman than I gave him credit for; he may be jockeying for some other political reason. I have no idea. But I can tell you this, if I had been him, I would have walked.

If Israel won’t freeze settlements to promote peace talks, then what hope is there for peace? If they can’t wait out the year of negotiations, what hope is there that there will be any negotiation?

Israel has given the Palestinians clear moral authority in this instance (something they often lack), and they should have taken full advantage of it. I would have walked out, gone home, and announced the unilateral creation of a Palestinian State on January 1, 2011. Against all advice to the contrary, this is what Israel did in May of 1948. They declared themselves a nation and then took up arms to defend it. This is what I would do today if I were President of Palestine. I would tell my people that we have a right to a homeland and we are no longer going to cede that right to anyone. We will live or die as free Palestinians.

But that’s me. President Abbas seems to be waiting. But waiting for what? For Israel? For America? For Europe? For the Arab League? Nobody really cares about the fate of Palestine. Honestly, if not for Christian guilt over the near genocide of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and the ecstasy of tens of millions of Christians over End Times Prophecy and the successful conclusion of that genocide, no one would care about the fate of Israel either.

I hope against hope that something will change; that peace will break out all around the region and my own ignorance about politics and the Middle East will be proved so glaring that I will have to abandon this blog. I do hope to be so very wrong. But then again I’m insane.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Does Israel Have a Right to Exist?

As Israel and Palestine continue their peace talks, I find myself thinking about two questions. The first is, “Does Israel have a right to exist?” My answer is “yes.” The second is, “Why does Israel have a right to exist?” Here things get more murky.

There is a tendency among some to delegitimize the State of Israel. According to the Reut Institute of Tel-Aviv, deligitimization “exhibits blatant double standards, singles out Israel, denies its right to exist as the embodiment of the self-determination of the Jewish people, or demonizes the state.”

What do you make of linking Israel’s right to exist to its being “the embodiment of the self-determination of the Jewish people?” If statehood depends on self-determination, should any people hungry for self-determination get a state? Many of us believe the Palestinians have a right to self-determination and a state, but what about the Navaho, the Cherokee, the Basque people, or the Kurds? Should Spain and Iraq consider a two-state solution?

Or is talk of self-determination a distraction from the simple fact that might makes rights? A state has a right to exist commensurate with its ability to secure and defend its chosen borders. In 1948 Israel’s UN backed right to exist would have disappeared within days if not hours had she not been able to resist the invasion of Arab troops. Rights come from the barrel of a gun (or from a barrel of oil as in the case of some states). Even if you imagine that God determines the fate of peoples and states, the only way we know what God desires and which states God favors is to see which people is left standing after the dust of war settles.

Whether we opt for sociology or theology it always comes down to guns. The only reason an independent Canada exists is because the fledgling US lacked the power to conquer it. The only reason the South Western states are a part of the US is because the US did have the power to take them from Mexico. Israel has a right to exist as long as she can defend herself successfully against those who would conquer her. I am not comfortable with this notion, but I don’t see any other way to justify the existence of any state.

So what do you think? Where does a state’s right to exist come from? Is a state’s right to exist the same as a people’s right to exist? How does your answer to these questions impact your thinking about American foreign policy, and Israeli policy toward Palestine, America, and Iran?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Converting Jews

“Where are you going when you die?” asked a well-meaning Christian hoping to engage me in a conversation about Jesus and my personal salvation. “Where am I going when I die?” I parroted, “Florida.” It was the not the answer he expected. “I’m Jewish,” I added as if to explain my answer. He didn’t get it.

Clearly this fellow hadn’t read the USA TODAY article, “How to sell Christianity? Ask an atheist” (Monday, June 28, 2010). According to the article Christians are turning to atheists for advice on speaking to nonChristians about Christ. Cool. In fact, cooler than cool—it gives me an idea. I am now announcing to any would-be evangelist to Jews that I am available to consult on how best to convert Jews to Christianity. It will cost you, of course, but what is a saved soul worth these days? You gotta spend money to save souls.

But let me offer some free advice to whet your appetite for my services.

First, while believing Jews are closest in their world view to believing Christians, essentially differing on only a couple of issues: diet, which day is the Sabbath, and is Jesus the only begotten Son of God who died for our sins, don’t bother trying to convert believing Jews. They can match you chapter and verse in the “Old Testament,” and reject the “New Testament” out of hand. If you’re not careful, they might convert you to Judaism.

Second, don’t waste your breath on secular Jews. They don’t believe in a supernatural god, don’t think in terms of sin and salvation, have no worries regarding heaven and hell, and are no more inclined to believe Jesus is the Son of YHVH than Apollo is the Son of Zeus. They believe people wrote the Bible and did so to support their own beliefs, so when Jesus says he is the way, the truth and the life, this is not convincing. What else would John have him say? Quoting this passage and asking, “Is Jesus lying or insane” you might find yourself facing the answer, “He is neither. He is a figment of John’s imagination, which is why the Jesus imagined by Matthew, Mark, and Luke never says this.”

This leaves you with middle of the road Jews who believe enough supernatural stuff to allow God to have a Son, and who might be worried about going to Florida (or parts further south) when they die. I won’t reveal the secret to converting these Jews here. That is why you have to hire me as a consultant, but I will say that I am not opposed to converting Jews. If a Jew in search of religious certainty can find it in Christianity, who am I to say “no”? If a Jew finds Judaism meaningless, but finds meaning in Jesus, go for it. Who knows? Maybe Jesus is God. Should I deny this Jew eternal life because I reject it myself?

The fact is I don’t believe in any of this, so if you are going to believe in something supernatural all I care about is whether or not it will make you more or less just and kind. Which is how Christians should go about converting people: by demonstrating that Christianity, and their brand of Christianity in particular, is the religion that makes people the most just and kind. If you can make that case, and back it up with facts not Bible quotes, then you have something serious to offer. Just don’t offer it to me. I’ve got my heart set on Florida.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sharia Anyone?

Many people in my town worry about living under Sharia, Muslim law. Personally, I don’t want to live under Sharia or any other religious system be it Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. When I make this point, most people claim there is no such thing as Christian law. Not so.

The on–going battle over embryonic stem cell research, for example, is a religious battle over the imposition of Christian law. Those who oppose embryonic stem cell research do so on the grounds that embryos are human beings, but this is religious doctrine not scientific fact. From the Christian perspective human life begins at conception, but from the Jewish perspective it doesn’t start until 40 days after conception. The embryo has no moral claim. On the contrary, the moral claim falls to those humans who may benefit from the research. Hence prohibition on embryonic stem cell research is the imposition of Christian law over Jewish law.

A similar argument can be made regarding abortion to save the life of a mother. Those most vocal in their willingness to let mothers die are those who have a religious stake in the unborn baby. The mother had a chance to accept Jesus as the Christ; the baby has not. Without that baptism the baby is damned. This is the unstated theology behind much of the abortion debate both when it comes to the saving the life of the mother, and when it comes to outlawing abortions for women who have been the victims of rape and incest. If your religion doesn’t posit ensoulment at the moment of conception, however, there is no moral imperative to the government forcing a woman to bear a child.

The Jewish position is that the mother’s life trumps that of the unborn. The baby cannot take care of itself, whereas the mother may have other children to care for, as well as a spouse, partner, siblings, or parents who will all suffer without her continued life and support. The mother’s moral claim to life is greater than that of the unborn, and if we must choose between them the mother’s life takes precedence.

I would not argue that Muslims cannot live under Sharia, just as I do not argue that Jews cannot live under Halachah (Jewish law). And just as there are Jewish courts to which Jews can turn if they choose not to engage the secular legal system on certain matters, so I would support Sharia courts operating under the same limitations. And of course I would urge those Christians who wish to do likewise to do so. One should be free to live according to one’s religious code assuming that code does no harm to those who do not choose it. But one is not free to impose that code on others.

I like freedom and wish that everyone did. But more and more what I see in the United States are people who love freedom only for themselves, and have no problem imposing their mores on others via courts and legislatures. Freedom is something America stands for, but fewer and fewer Americans are willing to defend.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Questions for People of Faith

With all the demands for Muslims to answer questions about their faith, I thought it might be helpful to develop six simple questions one can ask of all peoples of faith:

1. Do you think your faith is the one true faith, or do you believe that there are many paths to Truth?

2. If your faith has a Holy Book, what makes it holy? How do you know your book is true? Are the Holy Books of other religions as holy as your own? If not, why not?

3. As a person of faith, what is your obligation to all the other peoples in the world?

4. When they die, what happens to those who do not accept your faith?

5. When your theology disagrees with scientific fact and proven theory (theory as understood in scientific circles not everyday speech), do you adapt to science, or insist science adapt to your theology?

6. Why do you believe what you believe about God, creation, humanity, and the afterlife?

Just to be fair, let me briefly answer my own questions:

1. I believe Truth cannot be reduced to any system of thought, though many systems of thought do glimpse a part of it.

2. A book is holy when a community considers it holy. All holy books derive from this sociological phenomenon, so all holy books are equally holy. This does not mean that any holy book or all holy books are true or equally true. Each may contain wise and beneficial teachings, but no book can contain absolute Truth.

3. All people are obligated to treat all life with compassion and respect.

4. I believe that as we die we become aware of a greater and all–inclusive level of reality in which all things exist. When we die we return to that.

5. I change my theology.

6. I would like to say I believe what I believe based on a combination of everyday experience, study, and experiences had during spiritual practice. And while this may be true, I also suspect that I have no idea why I believe what I believe. Not knowing why I believe as I do, and knowing that Truth cannot be reduced to belief, I am humbled. Humility is the sign of true spirituality. Arrogance and certainty are the sign of religious posturing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Muslim Street

We have to stop Pastor Jones from burning the Qur’an or risk the anger of the Muslim street. We have to build a mosque near Ground Zero or risk the anger of the Muslim street. We have to expand the mosque in Murfreesboro or risk the anger of the Muslim Street. Well, Pastor Jones didn’t burn the Qur’an and Muslims in Afghanistan decided to take to the street and call for the death of America anyway. So, honestly, do I really want to live my life in fear of the Muslim Street? And which street is that exactly?

There are hundreds of Muslim Americans in Murfreesboro, and they understand that Pastor Jones has a constitutional right to burn the Qur’an, just as they understand that they have a constitutional right to build their mosque. As distasteful and as horrifying as the burning of a Qur’an is (and make no mistake it is distasteful and horrifying) my Muslim neighbors are not going to riot in Murfreesboro’s town square because of it.

Even if they were denied a permit to build their new Islamic Center, and even if it were clear to them that this denial was fuelled by bigotry and hate, even then they would not riot, burn churches, or commit acts of terror. They would be angry, and they might protest, march, and pursue their case all the way to the Supreme Court because that is their right as Americans. But they wouldn’t do what their coreligionists in Afghanistan are doing. Why? Because they are Americans.

The Muslims in Murfreesboro are not the Muslim Street, but they should be. What Islam needs is more American Muslims; Muslims who know how democracy works, who embrace religious freedom and the separation of church/mosque/synagogue and state, and who could by their own example bring those Muslims trapped in the middle ages into the 21st century.

So let’s stop worrying about the medieval Muslim Street and start supporting the American Muslim Street. If Muslims in Muslim countries want to riot, or stone adulterers, why is that our concern? Haven’t we learned anything from the Prime Directive? If Muslim mothers want to mutilate their daughter’s genitalia, so what? Jewish mothers mutilate the genitals of their sons, and we send gifts. Unless or until Muslims and Jews come after your genitals or those of people you love, leave them alone. And in the meantime, let’s start supporting the American Muslim Street.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Questions for Moderate Christians

An email from ACT of Middle Tennessee asks me to ask moderate Muslims some questions. Here is a sampling:

Where do you stand on these passages from the Koran?:

-- Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve. (8.55)
-- The unbelievers are your inveterate enemy. (4:101)
-- Mohammed is God's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another. (48:29).
-- The true believers fight for the cause of God, but the infidels fight for the devil. (4:76)

Where do you stand on these sayings of Muhammad?:

-- Allah's Apostle said, "You (i.e. Muslims) will fight with the Jews till some of them will hide behind stones. The stones will (betray them) saying, 'O 'Abdullah (i.e. slave of Allah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me; so kill him.' "
-- Mohammed said, "Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him."
-- Muhammad said: "Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war, …"

Where do you stand on the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, which all 67 Moslem-majority countries have subscribed to, which makes Islam legally superior to all other religions; which makes all human rights subject to Sharia. Sharia law, of course, provides for the legal subordination of non-Moslems to Moslems and of women to men. It mandates death for apostates, blasphemers and homosexuals. It defines jihad as making war on non-Moslems.

These are good questions to ask moderate Muslims. Here are some questions I would like to ask of moderate Christians:

Where do you stand on this teaching of St. Paul:

“For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15)

Regarding the status of women, where do you stand on these teachings of St. Paul:

"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church… Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their husband in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-224)

Where do you stand on this teaching of Martin Luther:

Jews are “venomous beasts, vipers, disgusting scum, canders, devils incarnate. Their private houses must be destroyed and devastated, they could be lodged in stables. Let the magistrates burn their synagogues and let whatever escapes be covered with sand and mud. Let them force to work, and if this avails nothing, we will be compelled to expel them like dogs in order not to expose ourselves to incurring divine wrath and eternal damnation from the Jews and their lies” (On the Jews and their Lies).

Where do you stand on the teaching of Pope Clement VIII (1536–1605):

"All the world suffers from the usury of the Jews, their monopolies and deceit. They have brought many unfortunate people into a state of poverty, especially the farmers, working class people and the very poor. Then, as now, Jews have to be reminded intermittently that they were enjoying rights in any country since they left Palestine and the Arabian desert, and subsequently their ethical and moral doctrines as well as their deeds rightly deserve to be exposed to criticism in whatever country they happen to live."

Where do you stand on the following affirmation of Christianity as the one true faith:

“Yes, Christianity is the one true religion. That may sound awfully dogmatic and narrow-minded, but the simple truth is that Christianity is the only true religion. Jesus said that He alone was the way to the Father (John 14:6), that He alone revealed the Father (Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22). Christians do not go around saying Christianity is the only way because they are arrogant, narrow-minded, stupid, and judgmental. They do so because they believe what Jesus said." (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, CARM)

Where do you stand on the Pledge to the Christian Flag,

“I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.” Is liberty to be reserved for Christians alone?

These are all good questions. Let me know what answers you receive when you ask them.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sacred Scripture?

[This is a lengthy post, but I urge you to read it through to the end.]

Last week I suggested one response to the burning of the Qur’an on 9/11 would be to read from the sacred scriptures of many faiths on that day. Happily I was not the only person calling for this, and I applaud those who organized and participated in these events. Having stood on the side of scripture reading, I would now like to ask what scriptures should be read, focusing specifically on the Hebrew Bible and Qur’an, though similar passages can be found in Christian sacred texts as well.

The easy route is to read what I call soft passages, readings that speak about love, justice, and respect. Here are just four examples:

"When they encounter empty talk or derision, they ignore it with quiet dignity... responding humbly even to foolish or aggressive words with the dignified salutation: Peace be unto you." (Qur’an 25:63-76) Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

"Please encourage those who aspire to Islam to be gentle and selfless, to turn whole heartedly toward the Source of Being, and to call out to Allah Most Merciful every morning and evening, longing only to gaze directly into the Face of Love." (Qur’an 18:27-31) You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5) You shall love your neighbor as your self. (Leviticus 19:18) You shall love the stranger. (Leviticus 19:34)

"Whether rich or poor, all persons must receive equal justice, for Allah Most Merciful is equally present to all." (Qur’an 4:131-135) Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Eternal your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 16:20)

"He is Allah, the Creator, the Originator, The Fashioner, to Him belong the most beautiful names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth, do declare His praises and glory. And He is the Exalted in Might, The Wise. (Qur’an 59:24) [Islam speaks of 99 Names of Allah. Among them Ar-Rahmaan/The Compassionate, Ar-Raheem/The Mericiful, Al-Haleem/The Forbearing, Al-Wadood/ the Loving, Al-Ghafoor/The All Forgiving. Eternal, Eternal, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin... (Exodus 34:6-7)

* * *

But not all scripture is so benign. For example regarding those who lived in the Promised Land during the Israelite invasion the Bible says:

“They should be utterly destroyed, and should receive no mercy but be exterminated as the Eternal commanded Moses" (Joshua 11:20); “Utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling" (I Samuel 15:3); “You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear. The Eternal will swallow them up in his wrath and fire will consume them. You will destroy their offspring from the earth and their children from among the sons of men (Psalms 21:9-10).

And in the Qur’an we read:
Sura 9:5: "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."

Sura 9:29-31: "Fight those who believe not in God nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Prophet, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, (even if they are) of the people of the Book [Christians and Jews], until they pay the jizya [tribute] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. The Jews call Uzair [Ezra] a son of God, and the Christians call Christ the Son of God ... God's curse be on them."

Sura 5:36-38: "The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Prophet, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the hereafter, except for those who repent before they fall into your power. In that case, know that God is oft-forgiving, most merciful. O you who believe! Do your duty to God. Seek the means of approach unto Him, and strive with might and main in His cause, that you may prosper."

These texts are read over and over again. And while the Qur’an seems to be more merciful than Torah, offering peace to those who convert to Islam, one cannot but worry about the damage these readings do to the psyches of the listener? Would you want your children to be raised on these texts? When I was a congregational rabbi I refused to read these texts during Shabbat services, studying them only in adult history classes where we could examine them in context.

More difficult still for those of us who are Jews are the passages in the Qur’an that justify Jew hatred as a sacred duty among Muslims:

“And thou wilt find them [the Jews] the greediest of mankind.... “(Sura 2:96)

“Evil is that for which they [the Jews] sell their souls....” (Sura 2:90)

“Taste ye [Jews] the punishment of burning.” Sura 3:18

"They [the Jews] are the heirs of Hell.... They will spare no pains to corrupt you. They desire nothing but your ruin. Their hatred is clear from what they say ... When evil befalls you they rejoice." (Sura 3:117-120)

“Because of the wrongdoing of the Jews.... And of their taking usury ... and of their devouring people's wealth by false pretenses. We have prepared for those of them who disbelieve a painful doom.” (Sura 4:160, 161)

“Allah hath cursed them [the Jews] for their disbelief.” (Sura 4:46)

“They [the Jews] will spare no pains to corrupt you. They desire nothing but your ruin. Their hatred is clear from what they say, but more violent is the hatred which their breasts conceal.” (Sura 3:117-120)

“The most vehement of mankind in hostility [are] the Jews and the idolaters.” (Sura 5:82)

“Allah fights against them [the Jews]. How perverse they are!” (Sura 9:30)

“They [the Jews] spread evil in the land ....” (Sura 5:62-66)

“[The Jews] knowingly perverted [the word of Allah], know of nothing except lies ... commit evil and become engrossed in sin.” (Sura 2:71-85)

* * *

My point in raising this issue is this: just because a book is held sacred, does not mean that everything in it is worthy of respect. On the contrary, there is much in the sacred texts of Jews, Christians, and Muslims that needs to be decried, and until it is, there is no true hope for reconciliation among these faiths.

It is not enough that rabbis, ministers, priests, and imams stand together in interfaith solidarity. It is not enough that they claim to pray to the same God (they don’t). It is not enough that they promote social justice. They must sit together and challenge the hatred that their scriptures promote. They must not hide behind the veil of interfaith respect and shrug their shoulders when they stand before their congregations and, intentionally or not, espouse hatred of the other.

It is not enough to say Islam is a religion of peace, or Judaism is a religion of justice, or Christianity is a religion of love when they all contain seeds of hate that must be uprooted and destroyed.

It is not an accident that Christians and Muslims have and in many cases continue to perpetuate Jew hatred; their sacred texts incite them to it. And unless their religious leaders defuse these texts, the hate will only grow. And the only reason there is no outcry from the Hittite Anti-Defamation League against the Jews is that we did to them what Christians and Muslims have as yet been unable to do to us: we slaughtered them all.

So, yes, let us read each other’s sacred scriptures. And as we do let us applaud the call for mercy, justice, love, and humility we find in them. But let us demand with no less a voice that the evil and hatred they contain be silenced that the flames of human arrogance, wickedness, and spiritual conceit not engulf all the earth.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is. Do you, Pastor Jones?

After a week of on again off again posturing about whether or not to burn copies of the Qur’an tomorrow, Pastor Terry Jones of Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL is once again praying to God about his plan. I believe Pastor Jones will do what his God tells him to do. I doubt, however that he is praying to my God.

My God is the Tao that can’t be named (Tao te Ching 1:1); the reality embracing all that was, is, and will ever be (Exodus 3:14); the reality in which I live, move, and have my being (Acts 17:28). My God is truth, and though different people call it by different names (Rig Veda) it transcends them all. My God is the one and only reality (la ilaha illa allah) from whom, through whom, and in whom all things, both good and evil, play out (Isaiah 45:7). Not everyone believes in my God.

My God has no wife, yet hundreds of millions of Mormons and Hindus cannot imagine God without one. My God has no son (though I am willing to concede a daughter, Proverbs 8:22), yet over a billion Christians cannot imagine God without one. My God chooses no people over any other, no land over any other, and long before the Internet seemed to certain that print was dead, yet countless peoples believe in God-given covenants, real estate, and holy books. My God doesn’t save or damn, though there are millions upon millions of people who find my God irrelevant for just this reason.

My God is reality, and I love my God without reservation. Can you pray to reality? Of course. Does it do any good? It depends upon what you pray for. If you pray that the universe alter its course and overrule the laws of nature so that a loved one doesn’t die, you are probably going to be disappointed. But if you pray for the ability to navigate the horrors of life and loss with grace and compassion, you are tapping into a deep well of both that will allow you to do just that.

But Pastor Jones isn’t praying to my God. Perhaps he’s praying to the God of Leviticus who says to those not of the true faith, “I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars; I will heap your carcasses on the carcasses of your idols. I will abhor you” (Leviticus 26:30). Or perhaps he’s praying to the God of Numbers who says to those of the true faith, “you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:52). Or perhaps he is praying to the God of the jihadis, or the Crusaders. Burning books held sacred by others seems right up the alley of each of these Gods.

So if Pastor Jones’ God tells him to burn the Qur’an this Saturday don’t assume he isn’t talking with God. There are lots of Gods who love to hate, and Pastor Jones’ God may simply be one of these. Of course I wish Pastor Jones would pray to my God because my God doesn’t burn books, though She does urge you not to take them too seriously; but failing that I wish he would at least pray to my father’s God who says, “You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the Sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3). If your going to burn the Qur’an, Pastor, maybe you should wait until Monday.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

What To Do If You Don't Go To Shul?

Tonight is Erev Rosh HaShanah, the beginning of Judaism’s Ten Days of Awe that end at sundown on Yom Kippur. Millions of Jews will undoubtedly go to synagogue during this period. I won’t be one of them.

My reason for not going is simple: I find the experience unfulfilling. When I do participate in conventional Jewish prayer I find myself arguing with what I am reading. I don’t relate to the metaphor of God as father, king, and lord; I don’t believe that God is in control of my life; and I find the medieval worldview of the machzor (High Holy Day prayer book) incompatible with what I know to be true about life. So rather than sit and complain, I stay home.

I am not alone in this, and this post is for those Jews who choose to stay home for the Holy Days. What shall you do with your time? Let me share what I do with mine.

I will spend most of tomorrow morning walking in the woods by the creek near my home. I will chant and pray and talk with God, allowing that the Infinite All can manifest as a finite One with whom I can meet and dialogue. I will spend the afternoon studying Jewish texts: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job for these are the books that speak to me most powerfully. In the evening I will gather with my family to renew ourselves as a family, and to share our thoughts about where we are as a new year unfurls.

During the intervening days I will seek forgiveness, humbling myself until I flow like water into the low and narrow places within me that need watering that the seeds of holiness trapped there can expand and grow and shatter the narrows, and experience and share the spaciousness of love and forgiveness. And I will give tzedakah (monetary donations) to help those, both human and canine, whose lives are bleak and broken.

I will spend Yom Kippur: fasting, walking, praying, and studying. And I will do so alone. I have community in my life, but I find that this time of year is best met alone. That’s just me. But if I were a rabbi of a community, I would no longer ask them to dress in restrictive clothing, sit in a windowless room breathing stale air, and reading old books. I would invite them to wear lose clothes and comfortable shoes, and to walk with me beside still waters, to lay with be in green pastures, allowing the rustling trees to be our liturgy, and the chirping birds to be our cantors, and the babbling brook to be our rabbi teaching us to walk the watercourse way of humility, justice, and compassion.

So for all those who choose not to attend synagogue, know that you are not bad or disloyal or even alone. Honor the holy days in whatever way allows you to deepen your humanity. And may you in this way find blessing, sweetness, and peace this New Year.

L’shana tova

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Aiding and Abetting

This Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the horror of 9/11, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL will burn copies of the Qur'an, the Muslim Holy Book. His actions demean Christianity, and aid and abet the cause of Islamic extremism. I have written about this previously, but now that it is almost upon us, I want to suggest how we might respond to it.

As part of your memorial observances of 9/11, whether alone, with friends and family, or more formally with a larger community, I ask that you read, not burn, passages from the world's sacred scriptures. Pick up a copy of the Portable World Bible, World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, The World's Wisdom: Sacred Texts of the World's Religions, or God's Breath: Sacred Scriptures of the World, and create a global liturgy that speaks to the best within us.

I urge every synagogue to set aside time during Torah reading this Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat between Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur, devoted to repentance, to read from the Qur'an, Gospels, Bhagavad Gita, and other sacred texts. I urge every mosque to do something similar on Friday, and every church to follow suit on Sunday.

It is a small thing to honor the scriptures of religions not your own, but symbolically it speaks volumes.

The Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, in his play "Almansor" wrote about burning texts of the Qur'an by the Catholic Inquisition in Spain, saying, "Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people." This proved true of the Church. It proved true of the Nazis. Don't let it prove true of us as well.

Please use the comments section of this blog to share what you and your community has done in this regard. For myself, I will spend this Shabbat at an interfaith gathering here in Murfreesboro where I will present readings from the world's scriptures as part of my formal remarks.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Blocking the Mosque

How far away from you does a terrorist have to live before a terrorist is no longer a terrorist? This is a question opponents of the “Ground Zero mosque” have to ask themselves.

On This Week with Christiane Amanpour my friend Daisy Kahn, wife of Imam Faisal Rauf the man behind the mosque, was asked if she would consider moving the mosque to another location farther away from Ground Zero. She seemed to say that this is a possibility. As readers of this blog know, I am in favor of the mosque. The Islam taught by Imam Faisal is precisely the kind of Islam Muslims need if Islam is to become a meaningful part of postmodern life. This is the kind of imam all Americans should support. Instead he is being demonized.

According to his opponents Imam Faisal is a terrorist who seeks to impose Sharia on America and set up a terrorist training center next to Ground Zero. While false on all counts, if this were true it would be no less true and no less objectionable if the imam agreed to move the mosque a few blocks farther away. I don’t want a terrorist training camp of any stripe anywhere in Manhattan, or anywhere in the United States.

So what happens to the mosque’s opponents if the decision is made to move the mosque? Will Imam Faisal suddenly be the goodwill ambassador to Muslims worldwide that the Bush and Obama administrations say he is? Will his terrorist ties suddenly melt away?

If they do, then the hypocrisy of those making these false claims is clear: they will say anything, promote any lie, simply to manipulate the masses to their cause. Fair enough. That is what passes for politics in America today.

But I suspect matters won’t end with a move. The haters of Islam are well funded, and smell blood. They, like their forebears Father Coughlin and Joseph McCarthy are using fear of the other (for Coughlin it was Jews, for McCarthy it was Communists) to promote their own political agenda. They craved power, and would step on anyone they needed to in order to get it. The next location will be too close to a school, or a church, or a synagogue, or a strip club to fit in with the neighborhood. Those who seek power through fomenting hate will not allow a change in locale to rob them of their Golden Goose. As soon as people stop fearing Islam and hating Muslims, their game is over. So move or don’t move, the fear mongering will continue.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Can We Talk?

This week President Obama will take up the challenge of brokering a deal between Israel and Palestine. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are in Washington for the first round of what will no doubt be yet another endless series of talks.

I am in favor of talks, and I support a two state solution, but Israeli and Palestinian leaders have been talking peace for decades. Is there really anything left to talk about?

Is there any doubt that the boundaries between the two states will follow some variation of the Green Line? Is there any doubt that Jerusalem will be the capital of both states? Can it be that the Palestinians won’t insist on some version of the Right of Return? Are the Palestinians unaware that Israel wants them to unequivocally affirm her right to exist as a Jewish state? Will the United States not end up paying for most of what will pass as peace?

If they come to any agreement it will a variation of some older agreement they hashed out in the past and then declined to agree upon. Which leads me to ask, Why hold more talks at all?

I can imagine these guys sitting around a table saying, “Hey, remember when we tossed around this idea? That was a nonstarter, so forget that one. Oh, wait, here’s a thought from the 1980’s that might… naa, forget that one. Any of you guys have any new ideas to toss around? I mean we flew all the way to DC. If all we got is what we did in the past, we could have done this via email. How about we order out for falafel? Obama’s buying.”

Why not just sit down and agree to something? They could if they wanted to. But they don’t want to. Talking is a way of maintaining the status quo, and that seems to suit all sides just fine. What’s changed to make us think this time they can do it?

There will be peace between Israel and Palestine when both sides are convinced that they have no other choice. That may come only when Israelis and Palestinians get to the point where the death of one more of their children is just too high a price to pay for their intransigence. As long as they have kids they are willing to sacrifice and backers who are willing to foot the bill for them to do it, peace is impossible.

So Benyamin and Mahmoud come and talk, but don’t pretend either of you is listening. If you wanted peace you could have had it long ago. Please prove me wrong.