In which I blaspheme: Monotheism’s biggest failure.

Ok, that’s kind of a grand statement. Maybe I shouldn’t claim to have uncovered the single biggest failure of the world’s monotheistic faiths. But for my money, it’s certainly right up there.

As readers of this blog are surely aware, I believe in God.

I furthermore believe that God is loving and good, and that when we say that we’re made in His* image, we mean the best of us. “Our better angels” are, to my mind, those parts of the human spirit that fly up to meet their Creator and attempt to express His love, His goodness, on this earth.

I also believe, in what I take to be a very Jewish sense, that God is everywhere and yet nowhere. We are not God, but reflections of Him. He can be found in our homes and in our hearts, but He is neither in the heavens nor in the depths. He is not corporeal, and when we speak of His arms, or His voice, we are only making use of the only tools we have to imagine the unimaginable — yet should I call upon Him, His is the still, small voice that is as near as my child’s breath, as she whispers in my ear.

God is ultimately unknowable, because He is so entirely Not Us. Bigger, Grander, More Powerful beyond measure — how can it be otherwise, when He created the world and all that’s in it? And yes, I believe that the Big Bang was an act of God, and I honestly cannot understand how the one could possibly contradict the other.

What is God not, then? Where did monotheism get it wrong?

On the “perfect” part.

I don’t believe God is perfect. I don’t believe God is all-powerful, and I suspect that He is not all-knowing. I cannot, and continue to believe that He is loving.

There is too much broken and wrong in this world, too much pain and too much horror, for me to believe that our Creator has the power to fix it, and yet chooses not to.

But that’s what the world’s three biggest monotheistic faiths would have us believe. We try to explain it away — in Judaism, many say that God does only good, we just don’t always recognize it as such; some say that we call down upon ourselves the world’s horrors with our behavior — but I think that most believers choose not to think about it too much, because if we do, the whole thing shatters at the feet of a starving or murdered child.

The failure, then, is not simply in getting something so crucial so badly wrong — it’s in creating a system that demands that God’s creatures find a way to believe something truly terrible. Perhaps if we posit a Satan (in which I do not believe, but for the sake of argument, let’s go ahead and posit) we can lay the world’s woes at Satan’s feet — but then we’re positing a genuine rival to God. We’re saying that there’s someone else out there, as powerful or nearly-as powerful as God, whom God is unable to defeat. Because if God is loving and can save us from Satan’s evil hands — why the long game? Why not just be done with it?

It’s  my experience that when people in the West reject God, they’re more often than not (not always, of course, but pretty often) rejecting organized religion, and more to the point, organized Western religion’s vision of a God who is all-powerful, and yet isn’t overly concerned with starving, bloodied children.

So here’s our choice: God – all powerful, perfect and all knowing? Or loving?

I’m sticking with loving.

(And to those who would argue that I’m going pretty far out on several limbs simultaneously, I can only say: Why do you think they call it “faith”?)

*****

*I’m comfortable with the English-language cultural convention of referring to the Divine in the male singular, but I don’t for a minute think that S/He/It is actually anything like any human. 

Judeo-Christian is wack.

Hard boiled eggs on the holiday - we were doing it before you!

From the outside looking in, one might be forgiven for thinking that Christians and Jews have gotten past all that once separated our communities. And, in some ways, one would be right.

But in other ways, one really wouldn’t.

Here it is Lent, with Passover days away — our shared holy season — and the fact remains: Two thousand years later, we Judeo-Christians still really aren’t sure we can trust each other.

And lest you think I’m just talking about paranoid talking heads of the Tea Party and/or Anti-Defamation League variety, I’m not. I mean us, you and me, rubbing shoulders daily. Apparently, we still make each other nervous.

Among some members of my community, the Jews, it’s almost an article of faith that if you scratch a Christian, you’ll find an anti-Semite (not, of course, the Christians you know, but the ones who might be in the press).

Likewise, many Christians approach Jews with an almost comically  exaggerated wariness (not the Jews they know, of course, but the public Jews, the ones who are always so suspicious).

Of course, the distrust itself is an act of hostility, and we can’t deny that both anti-Semitism and paranoia are alive and kicking. But perhaps the more significant truth is this: We are, in fact, very different.

Indeed, I would argue that the term “Judeo-Christian” does a kind of linguistic violence to both faiths.

Yet in modern-day America, many of us are taught to believe (or act as if we believe) that we’re all (in some Free-To-Be-You-and-Me kind of way) “the same.” And if you expect me to be “the same” as you, but I go on insisting on being me — who can blame you for getting a bit tetchy?

I’m here to suggest that rather than strive for sameness, it would be far more more useful to acknowledge our strangeness, learn to value it – and, dare I say, respectfully disagree on occasion.

How else will we ever learn anything? If we spend our time fighting about how to create some ill-advised single vision, we won’t be able to see each other’s coexisting truths – and we may very well miss entirely the wisdom we have to teach each other.

Some time ago, finding myself at Catholic-run hospital, I idly picked up a flier about the pre-Easter season. Intended for those observing Lent, it was a list of alternate understandings of the fast: “Fast from discontent,” it read, “feast on gratitude,” and so on.

This struck a cord for me.

At Passover, Jews are commanded to eat no hametz, or leavening, for a week — a fast from yeast, if you will. On a literal level, a strict cleaning regimen has developed, expunging everything from dinner rolls in the pantry to crumbs (real or suspected) between one’s bathroom tiles and on one’s shelves (and yes, I do — in fact, I just took a break from this year’s scrubbing extravaganza in order to put up this post).

But “leavening” has also taken on subtleties far beyond this.

We’re encouraged to cleanse ourselves of the heart’s hametz — bitterness, egotism, fear.  “The search for hametz and its removal,” we read in The Book of Our Heritage, “becomes a symbol of the struggle against the evil inclination,” and the prosaic act of preparing the home takes on mystical overtones: “The physical has been created,” writes Rabbi Chaim Levine “as a visceral mirror for abstract spiritual concepts.”

Thus, at points, my Lent list sounds familiar: “Fast from anger,” it reads, “feast on patience. Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation” — surely these ideas informed Jesus’ understanding of Passover, and the Seder meal that Christians know as the Last Supper.

“This is my body,” he said of the unleavened bread — and with stunning imagery, asked his followers to literally em-body the qualities the matzah symbolizes, the qualities his mission exemplified.

Yet it must be said that matzah also symbolizes a very particular, historical event for the Jewish people: The moment when the Israelites went from slavery into freedom.

Just as Christians wouldn’t invite me to take communion, as it is an act of Christian faith, we Jews are refering directly and only to ourselves when we say that “in every generation it is a person’s duty to regard themselves as though they went forth from Egypt.”

Our stories meet and separate, inform and exclude. Cultural Christians and Jews who don’t believe in a Divine Creator find their own meanings and lessons, and each of these also differ from each other. As they only can.

Jews and Christians will never be Judeo-Christian. We will always see any one event or symbol with our own eyes.

Perhaps, though, as humans, we can develop the faith that when certain experiences separate us, others will bring us back.

So, Pete King and those hearings. What’s up with that?

A quick and dirty post, with some good links for those looking to catch up on the heck is up with the King hearings into the American Muslim Community.

  1. Excellent one-stop shopping post at Mother Jones, laying out the backstory and facts of the hearings: Peter King’s Radicalization Hearings, Explained.
  2. The House Committee on Homeland Security site – the bare structure of the hearings, including panel composition, and, not for nothing, their actual name: “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”
  3. Adam Serwer’s excellent post explaining why the composition of the panels is part of the problem,”King’s Strategically Arranged Hearing Panels”: “The only Muslims on the third panel will be people prepared to parrot King’s unsubstantiated, negative views of Islam and American Muslims.”
  4. Adam Serwer’s excellent post on the inconsistencies in King’s approach to terrorism as a concept: “But How Does King Feel About Hamas?”: “If King applied his principles consistently, he’d be calling for the Obama administration to negotiate with Hamas.”
  5. Adams Serwer’s excellent post (are you picking up on a pattern here? But I digress) on the facts of Muslim assistance to law enforcement in dealing with terrorism threats, “Terror Plots Foiled With the Assistance of the American Muslim Community”: “Rep. Peter King of New York [has been] repeating the widely held fiction that American Muslims don’t do anything to fight terrorism. Here’s a list of terror plots that have been foiled with the assistance of the American Muslims.”
  6. The study to which Adam refers in his post, “A Tracking of Plots by Muslim and Non-Muslim Violent Extremists Against the United States”: “Muslim communities helped U.S. security officials to prevent over 4 out of every 10 Al-Qaeda plots threatening the United States since 9/11. Muslim communities helped law enforcement prevent three-quarters of all Al-Qaeda related plots threatening the U.S. since December 2009.”
  7. A study that finds that — just like in the Christian and Jewish communities — the more religiously active American Muslims are, the more likely they are to participate in civic life: “American Muslims Find Mosques Help Muslims Integrate into American Political Life.”
  8. My friend Dave von Ebers on the dangers of the constant drip-drip-drip of hate and dehumanization that goes beyond the events in Yorba Linda, and beyond high-profile Congressional hearings, and is simply part of some folks’ daily life: “The Consequences of Prejudice.”
  9. My earlier post with suggestions (including sample scripts and letters) for responding to the recent wave of Islamophobia, including the fact that a member of the US Congress is casting aspersions on an entire faith community.
  10. UPDATE: How could I have forgotten? Dean Obeidallah, a terrific Arab-American comedian best known probably for his appearances in the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour (which was outstanding, BTW), will be — and I am not making this up — live tweeting the hearings (!). He normally tweets at @deanofcomedy, but apparently during the hearings, he’ll be tweeting on the @whatunitesus account (the account associated with advocacy group WhatUnites.Us) — which is only right and meet, as what certainly unites us, on good days, is an ability to laugh at our all too human ridiculousness. And that’s what these hearings are: ridiculous. Check him/it out!

Image by Ridzdesign.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Dear Rep. Rohrabacher; Or: You, too, can take part in democracy!

The observant reader is by now aware that I crosspost most of what appears here at Angry Black Lady Chronicles, a joint that gets less Black, but no less Angry, by the day. We are Team Benetton, hear us roar!

Be that as it may, Angry Black Lady is also a Lady With Many Smart Friends, and one of her friends, Kumar, drafted a really wonderful letter to his US Representative, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), in response to the ugly events that took place in Yorba Linda on February 13. I wanted to post it here, as it really is a terrific example of what these letters can look like. “I challenge you,” Kumar writes,”to toss aside your party affiliation and stand for dignity, respect and tolerance of all human beings, regardless of religion” — and that’s pretty much the whole enchilada right there, isn’t it?

Mr. Rohrabacher,

I am writing to an elected official for the first time in my 43 years.

I’m sure you know by now what took place in Yorba Linda on February 13th.  I am referring, by the way, to the so-called protest, not the peaceful, family-oriented, faith-based humanitarian event that was disrupted in a shameful manner.

I call on you to speak up publicly and loudly AGAINST the participation of and encouragement by three elected officials, two of whom are your colleagues in Congress.  As Federal Representatives, they are sworn to uphold the Constitution, but this video shows that they did exactly the opposite:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NutFkykjmbM

I think it should be abundantly clear from the exact words of the politicians at the “protest” that their views aren’t actually about freedom of speech or freedom of assembly or having alternative viewpoints.  Rather, these officials are clearly speaking of restricting others’ freedom to practice the religion of their choice, and putting their support behind the generalizations that people make as a result of ignorance, fear and hatred.  The latter should be repugnant to any decent human being, but the former is certainly more dangerous to a free society, particularly when government officials are involved.

I don’t know exactly how to implore you to do something about this, except to say “Do something about this!”  I’m asking you to make it clear, in a public forum, that advocating the deaths of fellow citizens, solely based on their religion, is PRECISELY what this country was founded to overcome.

I don’t really care that you and these other elected officials are of the same political party or that you serve neighboring districts.  In fact, I challenge you to toss aside your party affiliation and stand for dignity, respect and tolerance of all human beings, regardless of religion.  If these elected officials’ actions are allowed to happen without consequence, then bigotry begins to become institutionalized in government offices.

I will wait and see what you do (or don’t do).

Write to your people, people! Click here for that list of links and ideas that I posted the other day (I included a short sample letter, but frankly, Kumar’s is a whole lot better).

And one last thing: Matt Duss, National Security Editor at the Center for American Progress and a terrific writer whose work appears at The Nation, The American Prospect, Think Progress (and lots of other worthy places), pointed his Twitter followers today toward this really useful study:  “American Muslims Find Mosques Help Muslims Integrate into American Political Life.” The most impressive number from the study (to my mind) is: 95% — that is, 95% of Muslims identified as having “high levels of religiosity” feel that “Islam is compatible with political participation in the United States.”

Here’s the study’s conclusion (but it’s well worth reading the whole thing — it’s even short!):

Despite the popularized idea that Muslims are radicalized around the country in mosques, we find that mosques help Muslims integrate into US society, and in fact have a very productive role in bridging the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims in the United States. This is a finding in social science that is consistent with decades of research on other religious groups such as Jews, Protestants and Catholics where church attendance and religiosity has been proven to result in higher civic engagement and support for core values of the American political system. Likewise, mosques are institutions that should be encouraged to function as centers of social and political integration in America.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

How to support Muslims.

UPDATE: The “Today I Am a Muslim Too” rally (see #6) is now behind us (read about it here) but all of the rest of the following suggestions are still a go!

UPDATE #2: Make sure you read this post, too — it’s essentially a guestpost, someone else’s most-excellent letter to his Congressman.

In recent weeks, I’ve produced a couple of  posts in which I call on folks to respond to the decision of Rep. Pete King (R-NY) to hold hearings into the “radicalization” of American Muslims, but as we saw yesterday, King’s hearings are not the result of a single, narrow mind, but are rather reflective of a broader wave of anti-Muslim bigotry and hysteria that gripped the nation on September 12, 2001 and has been roiling our society ever since.

I firmly, genuinely believe that the fight for the full inclusion of Muslim Americans into mainstream American society is one of the two defining civil rights struggles of our era (the other being the fight for LGBTQ rights), and I further believe that it is incumbent upon all Americans of good will to stand by their fellow citizens. So today, I’m going to make that a little easier for you. (more…)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

On February 13, members of a faith-based charitable organization gathered in Yorba Linda, California to raise funds to support women’s shelters, help the homeless and combat hunger.

This same organization is active in interfaith outreach. One of its leaders offered the opening prayers at the recent inauguration of the governor of Illinois, and it will be holding its annual banquet in Chicago this weekend, the theme of which is “Fighting Fear, Teaching Tolerance.”

You can understand why, then, on February 13, a handful of elected officials — specifically: Yorba City councilwoman Deborah Pauly, US Congressman Ed Royce, and US Congressman Gary Miller — joined a group of a few hundred protesters (shouting such things as “Go back home!” and “USA!” and, for good measure: “Fuck you!”), in order to declare the faith-based philanthropic event “pure, unadulterated evil.”

Oh wait. Perhaps that’s actually utterly incomprehensible — nay: batshit crazy.

By now, of course, you’ve understood that — oh! It must have been Muslims! Because if it had been Christians or Jews or Hindus gathered to do social justice work, at this point in American history, there would have been no angry, spittle-flecked faces.

No, no, it must have been Muslims, because Muslims — men, women, little boys, little girls, all of them dressed in their finest, hair brushed, party shoes on little feet, come together to help those who cannot help themselves — are clearly, unequivocally, “evil.”

Natch.

What red-blooded American elected official would not, under such circumstances, declare her pride in her 19 year old son, a Marine, and suggest — I’m sorry, not suggest, but rather, say flat out — that there are “quite a few Marines” like her son who “will be very happy to help these terrorists to an early meeting in Paradise” (to the delighted laughter of the crowd).

What group of self-declared “patriotic Americans” who announce that they “love our Constitution” wouldn’t yell at Americans of faith on their way to a social justice event: “One nation under God, not Allah!” (patriotic Americans can’t be expected to know that the word “Allah” is simply Arabic for “God,” like the Hebrew “Yahweh,” a word patriotic Americans often use in Christian rock ditties).

What patriotic Americans wouldn’t yell at these other Americans (still on their way to help battered women and the homeless and the hungry): “Your hands are bloody! Your money is bloody! Get out!”

Indeed, what sitting member of this nation’s legislative branch wouldn’t reach out to a group of patriotic Americans screaming (and I do mean screaming) curse words at children and parents on their way to a charity event in order to say to the screamers: “I am proud of you, I am proud of what you’re doing.”

It was, after all, Muslims.

What do they expect, what with their headscarves and their beards and their belief in one God and the imperative to do good and their American citizenship and their trust in this nation’s founding documents, including that one bit that talks about freedom of religion? How dare they think they can just walk on into some building in California and raise funds for those in need? How dare they think they can bring their children and expect their children to learn about a life of good deeds and holy behavior? How dare they think that their government representatives (local and national) might not suggest that they are ripe for killing — I mean: ripe for being sent by members of their own military to “an early meeting in Paradise”?

How dare they.

The simple truth of the matter is that I’m ashamed to share citizenship with those protesters, and yet more ashamed to know that Deborah Pauly, Ed Royce and Gary Miller have any power, of any kind, in the nation that is my home.

But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen these spit-flecked maws and the venom they spew. We saw them in 1943 when they joined Lt. Gen. John DeWitt in declaring that “we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map”; in 1951, they provided names of the innocent to Senator Joe McCarthy as he and the House Un-American Activities Committee destroyed American lives; in 1960, they stood on sidewalks howling “Nigger!” at six year old Ruby Bridges, as she crossed the color line to go to school; in 1979, they savagely assaulted Sikhs and Mexicans for looking like Iranians, and again in 2001, for looking like Arabs.

They are the worst that this country has to offer. They are the dross of our society, the black hearts and empty shells against which the Framers sought to protect us in our founding documents. They are ignorant, they are dangerous, they are a blight and a stain — and they are, whether we like it or not, us.

I might not want to call these unholy miscreants “American” — but American they are. They are American, they are human, and however much I would set walls between us, I can’t.

I cannot wish them away. I cannot impose holiness upon them. I cannot force them to take on the mantle of the American values they currently trample with such glee.

I can only confront them with the truth, push the ignorance into the smaller and yet smaller corners, and build on the certain knowledge that they will not win the day.

Today, Japanese-Americans serve in the Administration of a black President, and the name “McCarthy” is shorthand for a time universally recognized as one of the darkest in American history.

Today, Americans of good will, of all colors and stripes, are horrified by the events in Yorba Linda. Across the country, across the airwaves, on the internet, in homes and in conversation, we are raising a hue and a cry, declaring our loyalty to our Muslim brothers and sisters in solidarity and faith.

Our union is not yet perfect, and it will likely never be.

But as we face down the remains of centuries of bigotry and hate, and bring our better angels to bear against the underbelly of American society, we make the union better. Stronger. More perfect.

“We the people” means all the people — and if a few hundred ill-informed bigots and their spectacularly un-American elected officials don’t know that, then it’s up to us, Muslim and non-Muslim Americans of good will, to let them know.

This is a moment on which our children will look back, and boggle at what innocent people had to face. It’s a moment in which some will shine as heroes, and others will go down in ignominy. It’s a moment that will help define our nation and our future, and it’s in our hands to decide if we will act in support of the American Idea, or stand idly by.

This is it. There’s work to be done, and we’re the only ones who can do it.

*****************

The event I describe above can be seen in the following video. It’s infuriating and more than a little disturbing, but I urge you to watch it — there’s something to hearing the tenor of the hate, and seeing the dignity with which people under verbal assault go about their business, that clears the mind and sharpens the senses.

Click here to learn about some of the many, many responses of Muslims categorically rejecting terrorism; click here to hear the words of a Muslim 9/11 first responder; click here for a ideas [update: including sample scripts and letters] on how to respond to America’s current rash of Islamophobia.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

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