Tuesday, January 31, 2012

America a Christian Nation? Sadly, no.

The United States is not a Christian Nation. How do I know? Because the United States does nothing to stop the extinction of Christians.

Right now Christians around the world are in danger. Coptic Christians in Egypt are on the endangered species list, and the same can be said of Catholics in Tunisia. In Afghanistan American women and men continue to die for a regime that has denied building permits for new churches, and over the summer demolished the last remaining church open to the public. In Iraq, where even more American blood was shed, the Christian population has decreased by 2/3 since 2003. 

And we are supposed to be a Christian nation? Not only do we not protect Christians, but we actively support the very regimes that are threatening them.

I’m not saying we have to intervene militarily, but is there nothing we can do? Can’t we link our foreign aide to liberty and justice for all? Can’t we offer asylum to Christians living in countries that persecute them? Isn’t this what a Christian nation would do?

The next time someone tells you the US is a Christian nation, don’t argue about prayer in school and teaching evolution in the classroom, ask them why, if this so, we are so loathe to rescue Christians? 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Israeli Winter?

The other day I read about two Israels. One is called Start-Up Israel. This is the secular, liberal, high-tech and entrepreneurial Israel that has dozens of companies on the New York Stock Exchange. The other is called Medieval Israel. This is the religious, xenophobic, misogynist Israel supported by Start-Up Nation taxes. Medieval Israel is a welfare state as passionate about recreating the 13th century as Start-Up Israel is about inventing the 21st. 

These two Israels used to collide, and still do as women from Start-Up Israel protest the misogynist policies of Medieval Israel. But mostly the war between the two Israels is over. The Medievals have won.

The fastest growing Jewish population in Israel is the haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews of Medieval Israel whom the government pays to stay out of the workforce and in the yeshiva (if male) and the kitchen (if female). Two-thirds of haredi men do not work. Fifty years ago only 15% of Israeli kids attended haredi schools, now 50% do so. Sociologists warn that the number will reach 78% by 2040. Israel is literally educating her people for the past, while the future passes her by. While many Arab nations are struggling with the post-modern world, Israel seems destined to slip into the pre-modern one. Even Iran isn’t doing this.

What will happen? Start-Up Israelis will leave home, taking their wealth, knowledge, and military know-how with them, while Medieval Israelis will inherit a nation incapable of feeding itself. Israel will become a welfare state supported by wealthy American Jews and Israeli ex-pats. 

And then there is the problem of hundreds of nuclear bombs in the hands of apocalyptic rabbis. They might allow themselves to become Palestinians if the Palestinians promise to make them dhimmis, the second class citizen status afforded Jews and Christians under Islamic law, and support them the way the Start-Us Israelis did, but I doubt it. They might just as well see themselves as descendants of the Jewish warriors at Masada and choose to die in a nuclear war rather than fall into the hands of their enemies. This choice would drag Pakistan into the fight, which would invite India to war, which would drag the Chinese, Russians, NATO, and the US into it and pretty much end life on this planet as we know it.

What can we do about this? Probably nothing. Israel is a sovereign nation and makes its own policy decisions. As long as it supports the haredim with welfare, exempts them from military service, and allows them to create a separate society with its own schools, Start-Up Israel seems doomed. Short of a huge influx of secular American Jews willing to make Israel home the way Russian Jews did in the past, the emergence of Medieval Israel seems all but inevitable. And I don’t see that happening—most American Jews (myself among them) prefer to be Americans that Israelis.

As much as I doubt the efficacy of the Arab Spring, I worry about the inevitability of an Israeli winter.  My only hope is that as the last Start-Up Israelis leave they take their nukes with them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Voting Atheist

A Newsweek headline (January 30, 2012) asks Why Jews Vote Like Atheists. Unfortunately the short article doesn’t answer the question. So I will: Jews vote like atheists because most Jews are atheists or at least functional atheists. An atheist is someone who denies the existence of God, and a functional atheists is one who may or may not deny God but lives as if God is irrelevant to their lives.

How do atheists vote?

According to the article, atheists are somewhat conservative on financial matters and liberal on cultural matters: separation of church and state, reproductive rights, gay rights, etc. Yep, that’s me.

Why are so many Jews atheist or functional atheists?

The article doesn’t say, but I suspect it is because the god we are given to believe in is essentially unbelievable. What most Jews know about God comes from our liturgy, and the God presented there is an all powerful Guy who loves us and takes care of us and wants nothing more from us than an endless string of praise and platitudes. It’s hard not to be an atheist when the only God you are offered is the one you outgrew in the ninth grade after reading about the Holocaust.

But don’t imagine that Jewish atheism is a modern phenomenon. We have a 2000 year history of atheism going back at least as far as the first century atheist Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah. (If you haven’t read the novel As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg, you should. If you have read it, read it again.) So maybe it is in our DNA.

I admit I vote like an atheist, and I am a fan of ben Abuyah and other famous Jewish atheists like Spinoza, Einstein, Sagan, Freud, and Emma Goldman, but I don’t consider myself an atheist. Sure if we are talking about the God who walks in the garden of Eden at the cool of the day, then, yes, I have my doubts, but if we are talking about Ain Sof, the all embracing nonduality that is reality, then I am a true believer. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Interfaith Breakfast and The Big I

I know I have mentioned this before, but I want to make sure that those who are interested in the two interfaith events I am hosting at the Scarritt Bennett Center in February get invited.

The first is our 2nd Annual Interfaith Harmony Week Breakfast on FGebruary 1st. Our theme is "Compassionate Nashville," and we will explore Karen Armstrong's Charter for Compassion and how we can bring this alive in Middle Tennessee. If you cannot make our breakfast, I urge you to host your own.

The second event is The Big I on February 4 and 5. The "I" stands for Interfaith, Interspiritual, and Integral three major trends in 21st century spirituality. We are hosting over 20 speakers exploring the future of spirituality.

For more information on these programs please visit http://www.scarrittbennett.org/programs/wisdom.aspx

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Trust the Ball

Now that we have two GOP contests under our belt I turned to my trustworthy Magic 8-Ball to determine the future. Here is what I learned:

1.     Will Mitt Romney be the next President of the United States? Yes.
2.     Will anything really change? Very doubtful.
3.     Will the US go to war with Iran? You may rely on it.
4.     Will we pay for war by cutting the social safety net for the poor, sick, and elderly? Signs point to yes.
5.     Will Americans learn anything from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan? My sources say no.
6.     Will the economy improve in 2012? Outlook not so good.
7.     Are Mormons Christian? Better not tell you now.

The Ball is never wrong. Yet, like all prognosticators you can hire your own to get the results you want. If you don’t like these answers, buy your Ball and let us know what it tells you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hosting an Interfaith Harmony Breakfast

The first week in February is World Interfaith Harmony Week. The week was proposed by the Jordanian delegation to the United Nations and established by the UN General Assembly in 2011. In response Rev. Tim Miner and I (Rev. Tim is the creator of the Big I conference we are hosting in Nashville on February 4-5) began to promote World Interfaith Harmony Week Breakfasts around the globe.

Last year there were numerous breakfasts on every continent, some large some small. This year we are hoping to see the numbers increase. To help with that let me provide a simple outline for hosting such a breakfast.

First, think small and local. If you have a church, mosque, synagogue or other institution to work with that might lend itself to a larger breakfast, but even if you a few friends get together it is worth it. You can meet in a home or a restaurant if that better suits your situation.

Second, set a fixed time to gather. We run our breakfast from 8 to 10 in the morning.

Third, charge a nominal fee. Resist the impulse to make this free. Charging a fee helps people take the event more seriously. In Nashville we charge $15 to cover our food and room rental expenses. We had 100 people for breakfast last year, and hope to add a dozen or so this year.

Fourth, advertise. Depending on how many people you want in attendance do more or less advertising. Let your local newspaper you are doing this, and they will probably interview you for a story. Post it on your Facebook page if you have one. Call some friends and invite them to breakfast if you don’t.

Fifth, do something during the meal. This can be simple such as asking people to share what they like most about their personal faith path (some groups also ask that people share what troubles them the most about their faith, and what they “envy” in other faiths). This year in Nashville I will unveil our Compassionate Nashville campaign (rooted in Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion movement, www.charterofcompassion.org), and we will engage each table in identifying examples of compassion in Nashville and areas that need addressing.

Sixth, follow a simple structure. Begin with a statement of welcome. Then invite people from different traditions to bless the gathering and the meal. Allow people time to eat and talk informally, and then spend a good 45 minutes or more talking about whatever it is you choose to have as the formal topic of conversation. End with another series of blessings from traditions not represented in the opening.

This is obviously a very brief outline of what can be done.  I hope it helps to get you motivated to host a breakfast. If you do, please let post it on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/interfaithharmonybreakfasts/.