Monday, March 02, 2009

Resist Evil, Part One

Over the past few weeks I facilitated a conversation on Islam hosted by Congregation Micah of Nashville, Tennessee. With the help of two leading members of the Nashville Muslim community, we sought to grasp the central tenants of the faith, its commitment to justice and peace, its love of God and submission to God’s Will, and to wrestle with the harsh teachings of Qur’an regarding nonbelievers in general and Jews in particular. The question that haunted me was this: Why does God/Allah teach hate?

My answer is simple enough: God doesn’t teach hate because God didn’t dictate the Qur’an or any other book. I believe people write books, and people preach hate, and hate-filled people know that putting their own hate into the mouth of God is a powerful way of promoting their own agenda. This is what the authors of Torah did when trying to convince the Israelites to wage genocide against the peoples of Canaan. This is what Matthew, Luke, John, and Paul did when they taught the vileness of the Jew in an attempt to rally Gentiles to their new religion of the risen Christ. This is what Muhammad did when seeking to ally his forces against his enemies, including the Jews of Medina. It is my opinion that unless and until we root out human evil masquerading as divine will we cannot free ourselves from committing atrocities in the name of God.

Here are some of the teachings of the Qur’an regarding Jews:

The Jews wronged themselves (16:118) by losing faith (7:168) and breaking their covenant with God (5:13). The Jews kill their prophets (4:155; 2:91) and murdered Jesus (3:55; 4:157). The Jews ridiculed Muhammad (2:104; 4:46), and distort the truth (3:71; 4:46). Jews are envious (2:109), and heartless (2:74). They confound the truth (2:42), and deliberately pervert scripture (2:75). They are liars (2:78), and idol worshippers (2:53). Jews are deceived by their own lies (3:24), and try to lure Muslims away from Islam (3:99). Jews are blind and deaf to the truth (5:71), and what they have not forgotten they have perverted. Jews mislead the people (3:69), and cheat Gentiles without remorse (3:75). Muslims are warned against befriending Jews (5:51), and are warned never to forget that the Jews hate them (5:82). The Jews are the devil's minions (4:60) cursed by Allah, and they will be destroyed (4:47), and if they do not accept the true faith of Islam they will be turned into apes (2:65; 7:166) or pigs (5:60), and they will burn in hellfire (4:55, 5:29, 98:6, and 58:14-19).

As painful to Jews as these teachings may be, they are not new. If the Qur’an is God’s word, he is repeating himself. Listen to what the New Testament has to say about Jews:

Jews are “a brood of vipers” and “evil” (Matthew 12:34); they willingly take upon themselves and their children the blood of the murdered Christ (Matthew 27:25); Jews are Satan’s children, murderers and liars by nature (John 8:44-47), and they are “not of God” at all (John 8:47). Jews are stubborn, heartless and deaf to the truth, resisting the Holy Spirit from their very beginnings; and Jews persecute all prophets who foretold the coming of Christ who they have betrayed and murdered (Acts 7:51-53). Jews who reject Christ are members of Satan’s synagogue (Revelation 3:9). And Saint Paul in 1 Thessalonians (2:15-16) writes that Jews killed Jesus and previous prophets, persecute Christians in order to prevent them from bringing salvation to the Gentiles, and in this way have earned the wrath of God that is about to be heaped upon them.

Are these vile teachings of God found in the New Testament and the Qur’an simply artifacts of history meriting no concern? Or do they poison the very religions they birth? Listen to the teachings of Martin Luther, no less a man of God than Muhammad. Like Muhammad before him, Martin Luther imagined that his religious reformation would earn him the allegiance of the Jews, and, again like Muhammad, when that allegiance was not forthcoming, he turned on the Jews with a vengeance.

In his book On the Jews and Their Lies (1543) Luther writes that Jews who remain loyal to Judaism are “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth,” (On the Jews and Their Lies, 154, 167, 229, cited in Michael, Robert, Holy Hatred: Christianity, Anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 111). The Jews are “full of the devil’s feces… in which they wallow like swine,” (ibid. p. 113). The synagogue he tells us is an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut,” and he urges the burning of synagogues and Jewish schools, the destruction of Jewish prayer books, the silencing of rabbis, the razing of Jewish homes, and the confiscation of Jewish property and wealth. Jews should be shown no mercy, granted no legal protection, and should be forced into slave camps or permanently expelled. He even implies that murdering Jews should be tolerated and says that Christians “are at fault for not slaying them” (On the Jews and Their Lies, cited in Robert Michael ("Luther, Luther Scholars, and the Jews," Encounter 46 (Autumn 1985) No. 4:343-344).

Luther’s book was central to the Jew-hatred that defined Protestant Europe, and was proudly displayed by the Nazis during their Nuremberg rallies. It took over four centuries for the Lutheran Church to begin to formally question Luther’s anti-Semitism and distance itself from it. For example, in November 1998, on the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht and 455 years after the publication of On the Jews and Their Lies, the Lutheran Church of Bavaria issued this statement: “It is imperative for the Lutheran Church, which knows itself to be indebted to the work and tradition of Martin Luther, to take seriously also his anti-Jewish utterances, to acknowledge their theological function, and to reflect on their consequences. It has to distance itself from every [expression of] anti-Judaism in Lutheran theology” ("Christians and Jews: A Declaration of the Lutheran Church of Bavaria", November 24, 1998). Other Lutheran groups have made similar statements.

Do not imagine that God-sanctioned hate and genocide belongs to Christians and Muslims alone. Here are the words of Torah:

When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if its answer to you is peace and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded; that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their Gods, and so to sin against the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 20:10-18; RSV)

Regarding those who lived in the Promised Land prior to the coming of the Israelites the Bible says:

They should be utterly destroyed, and should receive no mercy but be exterminated as the LORD 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 LORD 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 RSV).

And lest you think that this Jewish lust for blood ended with the Hebrew Bible listen to the great medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides: “Moses bequeathed the 613 commandments only to Israel,” and “in a similar fashion Moses was commanded to enforce the seven commandments of Noah upon every human being— and whoever does not accept them, must be killed (Laws of Kings 8,10).

The madness so many attribute to Islam alone infects all three Abrahamic traditions. The only reason we Jews seem to have the moral high ground demanding justice from Christians and Muslims is that there are no Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites to bring charges against us. And if there were, and if they did, would we Jews be willing to deny the genocidal god we call Aveinu Malkeinu, our Father our King?

[I will post Part Two of this essay tomorrow.]


Doug Hoag said...

An excellent post, Rabbi! This is an area in which I question the validity of religion and its ability to speak to people of today.
I'm new to your blog, but I'll look it over a bit and see what insights I can glean. Thank you!

AaronHerschel said...

The bloodthirstiness of religion does not surprise me anymore. I had my culture shock reading Prophets as a college student. I remember how disappointed I was in the Torah, and how quickly I turned away from it as a result. I understand the Jeffersonian desire to expunge all this garbage. But I also wonder about the significance of this stuff, and the possible necessity of "evil." I have no arguments in this regard. Just ideas, and phrases gleaned form others: "you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror...." The idea is repulsive, and yet, what if? It's become less repulsive to me recently, even attractive, though I question my own motives in that regard. Anyway, I'm looking forward to part two here, and I hope this sparks a great deal of discussion.