Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Resist Evil, Part Two

Is there any hope that Jews, Christians, and Muslims will free themselves from the insanity and hatred written into the heart and mouth of God in time to save civilization from centuries of religiously fueled conflict? I doubt it. I am persuaded by Samuel P. Huntington’s notion of the “clash of civilizations.” Huntington argues that with the end of communism and the triumph of capitalism (though not democracy) the world is shifting from a clash of ideologies to a clash of cultures and religions. The liberal hope of a future where peace loving and freethinking individuals are the majority is vain. The history of humankind, ancient and recent, suggests that given the choice between free thought and group think, we most often choose the latter. Humanity isn’t evolving toward global peace, but devolving into tribal war.

This is not a new phenomenon. Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), the great fifteenth century Muslim jurist and philosopher wrote: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force... The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense... Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.” (Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: an Introduction to History (abridged), trans. Franz Rosenthal, Princeton: Princeton University, 1967, p. 183).

I think Ibn Khaldun is right about Islam and wrong about the other religions, at least the Abrahamic ones. All three Abrahamic faiths worship a god of war, and all three bear responsibility for the evil that threatens to engulf our planet. If this kind of hatred is to end the god who foments it must die. One way to do this is to admit the human origins of sacred texts.

I am not the first to say this (Spinoza predates me by centuries, and even some of the ancient rabbis hinted at it when they said Torah speaks in human language), nor am I alone in the rabbinate for saying it. But even those of us who do admit the human origin of the Torah (New Testament, Qur'an, etc.) tend to gloss over the madness in the books. Teaching these texts as political documents masquerading as sacred text provides us with the opportunity to identify the humanness of these texts and free ourselves and those we teach from the propaganda and hate contained in them. Teaching Torah et al as human creations allows us to examine these texts for wisdom without obligating ourselves to swallow and follow their teachings whole.

It was to further this effort to teach sacred text in humanistic terms that I wrote An Open Letter to Peoples of Faith. I wrote this several years ago hoping to start a campaign and get people to take it into their churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. I am fairly inept at campaigns, but the text of the Letter still speaks to the point I am making and to one way to end the madness that is God-sanctioned evil. So I am including it here in hopes that one of you might make wise use of it in service to truth, freedom, and peace:

WE BELIEVE God transcends theology; that no idea about God can adequately encompass the reality of God. WE BELIEVE that revelation is not given to a people, but through a people to the world. WE BELIEVE that the truth in each scripture is common to all scriptures, calling us toward justice, compassion, humility, dignity, respect, love for both person and planet, and the transcending of self through service to others.

WE RECOGNIZE that filtering divine revelation through human hands allows fear, greed, anger, ignorance, and violence to masquerade as truth. WE RECOGNIZE that most of the evil plaguing our world is rooted in this masquerade, and the violent image of god that comes from it.

WE COMMIT ourselves to ending this evil by rejecting religious violence and the false god who sanctions it. WE COMMIT ourselves to separating timeless truth from time bound bias in our respective scriptures; affirming the former and moving beyond the later. WE COMMIT ourselves to teaching the God of justice, compassion, love, and respect Who speaks to us through all scriptures, and Who calls us to free ourselves from fear, greed, anger, ignorance, and violence.

WE CALL upon peoples of every faith to liberate the wisdom of God from the xenophobia of tribe and ego, and to free religion from fear and violence by distinguishing the holy from the merely sacred. WE CALL upon peoples of every faith to share their wisdom with the world, to fearlessly speak out when their faith is kidnapped by evil, and to remind us all that there is no god but God, and that justice and compassion are the way of God for all time and for all people.

If we are to turn back from the brink of global apocalypse we must resist the call to endless war; we must resist the lure of ideologies and revelations that perpetrate evil in the name of God and country; we must resist those gods, religions, cultures, and individuals who claim hate is better than hope, and fear is better than love, and cruelty is better than justice, and terror is better than talk; we must resist the claims that evil done in the name of God is any less evil; and we must resist those who wish to engulf the entire world in a thermonuclear bonfire of theological vanities. Do you have the will to resist? The fate of humanity rests on your answer.


dtedac said...

Dear Rabbi Rami,

What a powerful set of commentaries! I agree: we must end the violence and hatred engendered by religions using the name of God or truth. The fact is that these things are not of God and are not true. I just hope that your pessimism about our future is wrong, although you are probably right.


Anonymous said...

What's so difficult here is that many see these criticisms Rami presents as betrayals of God, some with obvious authoritarian perspectives, some less so. How exactly do we get people who don't want to ask these kind questions ask questions?

I'm not sure. The thing I can do is try to express my perspective in my daily life and community.

Grégoire said...

I've been trying to find the source for the description of the communion meal. I could have sworn it was Claude Levi-Strauss who deconstructed the meaning behind it, but I can't seem to find it.

Anyway, there is a tribe someplace (maybe the Matto Grosso, but I don't remember any more) who has funerary rites which include eating the gods at death. These Native Brazilians would gather around their dead relative and eat various plants. "This is the body of sun god," they'd say while eating one type of food, and then they'd pick up another piece of another plant, and chant: "and this is the body of storm goddess, and this drink is the blood of crocodile god..." etc., until the entire pantheon was consumed back inside the believers.

The point is the recognition that the gods (or in the case of most of us: God) is a projection of our own unconscious contents, writ large upon the world. This is an important realization, I think. If you don't realize it in life, then it's repeated in the Brazilians' case at the time of death.

If the God (or one of the gods) that you study is an angry, vengeful, murderous grouch, then it's a reflection of the fact that human beings have that capacity within themselves. If, in another case, God shows a loving, compassionate side, then that's another reflection of another universal aspect of humanity.

Anyway, I loved these articles of yours. I don't have much to offer, except gratitude for illustrating this particular concept so well.

Sharon Wendt said...

A chorus sang in my head as I read your text from An Open Letter. Thank you. The use of positive words, i.e., recognize, commit, call upon, are powerful. In another conversation we might discuss using 'knowing/truth' in the place of 'beliefs' as people tend to argue/fight over beliefs and not over what they know to be True. I copied your text and will post it on my wall and carry it in my wallet so that it is available for prayer.