Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Can Judaism Change In Time?

“Rabbi, can Judaism change in time?” My questioner was a sincere sixty-something man who belonged to and rarely attended his local synagogue. Before answering his question I asked him to define his terms: “Judaism,” “change,” and “in time.”

By “Judaism” he meant synagogue centered communal practice: the saying of prayers in a formal liturgical setting, and the weekly study of Torah in community. By “change” he meant an increase in attendance at these two events. And by “in time” he meant before the vast majority of Jews write-off Judaism as essentially beside the point of their lives.

Having refined his question I offered my answer: Can Judaism change in time? Yes, it could, but no, it won’t.

Change comes when people demand it, but when they make it. Liberal German Jews didn’t demand that rabbis change, they invented Reform Judaism, built new synagogues, and ordained their own clergy. Zionists didn’t demand that the Messiah come, they moved to Palestine. But today there is no great clamor for change because those who want change have by and large opted out of any serious involvement with Judaism, leaving the system to those who are quite happy with the status quo.

By change I don’t mean the cosmetic changes offered by the Alban Institute or Synagogue 3000. I mean deep transformative change: a new view of God and creation that takes us from the 12th century to the 21st; a worship service of no more than 90 minutes that is not afraid of deep and prolonged silence and chant-induced ecstasy; the study of Torah rooted more in Joseph Campbell than Rashi; a communal structure based on mutual support, dialogue, and personal growth and maturation. I could go on, but there is no point.

Why? Because people like me who want such changes to happen don’t want to make them happen. We have abandoned institutional Judaism to those who love the status quo. Lovers of the status quo don’t want to change because they see no need to change. And more power to them! They are the ones who attend each week. They are the ones who sit through long hours of prayer and Torah reading. They put in the long hours and should allowed to davven (pray) in peace.

Demanding that rabbis and synagogues engage in deep systemic change is like demanding that the Amish use zippers and drive cars. Why should they? Buttons and buggies do just fine. If we want a different kind of Judaism we will have to make it ourselves.

What would that new Judaism look like? There is no model, and probably never will be one. But a Judaism that would speak to me it would be a small coffeehouse setting where we would come together to drink, eat, question, argue, and doubt; where we would read and wrestle with Job, Ecclesiastes, Spinoza, Kafka, Jabes, Agnon, Buber, Freud, Fromm, Kaplan, Falk, Bloom (Harold not Judy, though maybe Judy also) and other radical sages of our people both ancient and modern; where dialogue would replace sermons, where silence and chant would replace liturgy, where mutual support would replace mitzvah day, where music, art, literature, science as well as religion would inform and engage us, where we would come with our questions and confusions and doubts and expect no answers but remain open to gleaning fresh insights through contemplative conversation and self inquiry.

What would make this Jewish? Jews! The last time an outside authority established an official Judaism was when God established the priesthood under Moses’ brother Aaron. All other Judaisms— rabbinic, Zionist, secular, humanist, Renewal, Reconstructionist, etc.— just invented themselves.

Will this happen in time? No. In the past Anti-Semitism forced those Jews who wanted something new to remain within the community causing foment and innovation. Today the radicals among us are no longer among us; they have moved on and opted out. Those who are left behind are either happy with what they have or too jaded to do anything to change it.

Yes, I am generalizing, and, yes, there are still visionaries among us, but they are struggling for dollars and the powers that be have not and will never fund them properly. And worse, those who benefit from the work of these creators have this hate¬–hate thing with money that allows them to take, take, take, without paying to see to the welfare of the creators. Of course the creators themselves seem averse to asking for real money and that doesn’t help matter either.

I often hear people complain that today’s Judaism is like the Titanic, but they are wrong. Judaism isn’t the Titanic. It isn’t sinking. There is no iceberg threatening Jewish life, rabbinic hegemony, and synagogue politics. And there is still a minyan (quorum) who enjoy the cruise. Jews who are abandoning ship do so out of boredom not danger.

If you don’t like the Judaism you’ve got, create the Judaism you want. And please stop harassing the passengers and crew who still enjoy the cruise.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Damn Zionists.

I was invited to preach at a very liberal church this morning, and as I entered the building an elderly gentleman walked up to me, glanced at my yarmulke, and asked, “What do you think of those Zionists?”

For a moment I thought he was asking about a sports team, the Nashville Zionists or something, and it took me a moment to realize he was asking me about Israel.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said.

“The Zionists. You know you can’t protest against Israel in Israel, you have to come to America to do that. The Zionists are causing all kinds of trouble.”

Obviously this man had his countries confused. Israelis argue about Israel and Zionism all the time. It is in America that challenging the party line of whatever coalition runs Israel at the moment gets one into trouble. I was going to say something like that, but as he elaborated on his point it was clear that he was anti-Israel on principle. Jews were fine with him as long as we were powerless underdogs, but as soon as we have the capacity to fight back against those who would slaughter us, and—even worse—win, we were the bad guys.

I am more liberal then most when it comes to Israel. I am one of the few Jews who found Jimmy Carter’s books on Israel valuable contributions to the debate around Israeli policies and the future of the Jewish State. But there is no sense arguing with people who think Zionism is the root of all the world’s ills. Especially when they are liberals.

Yes there are right-wing nuts who hope to see the end of all Jews, but they have the decency to live in states like Utah and Colorado, but liberal anti-Semites are every where. They take their anti-Semitism as a source of pride. Somehow it is a sign of just how liberal they are that they are willing to see Israel and Israelis bombed into oblivion. According to this man, African Americans, Amer-Indians, gays, lesbians and transgendered people all have a right to self-determination, but not Jews.

“We’d have peace in the world if it wasn’t for the Zionists. What do you think?”

I think, sir, that you are an asshole. But I didn't say that. Instead I said, “It seems to me you have four choices, so just let me know which one you prefer: 1) We should empower jihadists and neo-Nazis to slaughter every last Jew on the planet; 2) The US should supply Iran with nuclear weapons and encourage them to slaughter every Jew in Israel; 3) The US should forcibly remove all Zionists and imprison them in Gitmo; or 4) We should encourage the only true democracy in the Middle East to behave as such—a sort of do as we don’t kind of policy. Your pick.”

“Damn Zionists,” he said as he turned around and walked away.

"Damn liberals," I said, as I did the same.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Quick Snapshot of Religion Today

Here is a snapshot of religion provided (unintentionally) by this morning’s USATODAY.

Item: “Faith, medicine at odds.” Colleen Hauser, a Minnesota Catholic who also believes in the Native American healing techniques promoted by the Missouri-based Nemenhah Band has taken her 12-year old son, Daniel, into hiding. The boy has Hodgkin’s lymphoma; a disease that doctors say is 91% curable in children Daniel’s age. Mom believes that chemo and radiation, the proven cures for this disease, are unnecessary and that her brand of Native medicine is superior. Is she is killing her son in the name of her faith? Does she have that right?

Item: “4 arrested in NYC synagogue bomb plot.” The FBI arrested four men they had been watching for a year who were about to bomb a synagogue and community center, and shoot down military aircraft. The paper didn’t say what their motive was, but NPR said they were upset about the killing of Muslims by US soldiers. In a war between Christians and Muslims, why are the Jews the easiest target?

Item: “Car bomber strikes in Baghdad district.” Yet another car bomb tore through a Shiite neighborhood. No group has taken responsibility, but you can be pretty sure the murderers were Sunnis. We spent thousands of American lives and billions of American dollars to free these people and all they want to do is engage in religious warfare. Is this the proper use of our American heroes?

Item: “Children forced into exorcisms.” Nondenominational Christian clergy in the Congo are making good money pouring hot wax on little kids and pulling demons out of their stomachs. Claiming to be guided by the Holy Spirit, these priests are demanding $50 per exorcism from people who annual per capita income is $100. Parents who can no longer care for their children are proclaiming them possessed and forcing them onto the streets to fend for themselves. Estimates are that 70% of the 15,000 abandoned children in the capital of Kinshasa are thought to be there because of charges of witchcraft. Jesus performed exorcisms, so there may be no way to stop this, but at least he didn’t charge for his services. Why is Christianity so plagued by witches and demons?

Item: “Report details abuse at institutions.” According to a report released yesterday, “children were beaten and raped for decades” in Catholic-run institutions in Ireland. The study traces abuse from the 1930s onward. How much brutality and rape tacitly sanctioned by the Church do Catholics have to endure before they simply walk away from their church in disgust?

What to make of all this? First, for every story of religious evil there are also stories of religious good. Second, abuse and witchcraft makes headlines, feeding the hungry and housing the homeless do not. And yet… Religion, like any other human institution, can shelter the wicked as well as the righteous; can promote evil as well as good, madness as well as morality. Religion can be trusted no more than any other human institution. The truth is, trust no one. How sad.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Because You Asked

I am often asked for my opinion on matters about which I know nothing. Because I write a blog people assume I know stuff. Well I am happy to oblige. Here are some of my opinions on the pressing issues of the day.

Single Payer Healthcare. I am totally in favor of single payer healthcare as long as the single person doing the paying isn’t me. I suggest we choose a person with lots of money, because I think health care is very expensive, and if he or she is going to pay for all of our healthcare, having lots of money is crucial.

A Two-State Solution. I am totally opposed to a two-state solution. There is no point, for example, to having a North and South Dakota. And why is there a West Virginia next to Virginia when there is no East Virginia? As for applying the two-state solution to Israel, I think this is a good idea. There should be a 13th Century Israel for the Orthodox Jews and a 21st Century Israel for the secular Jews. Let the religious defend themselves and their settlements. Tefillin make great bolos.

Abortion on Demand. I am totally opposed to abortion on demand. Can you imagine some misanthrope passing a pregnant woman on the street and demanding she have an abortion? This is taking individual rights too far.

Nuclear Disarmament. I am totally opposed to nuclear disarmament. If every country, ethnic group, and religious faction had these weapons no one would use them. Or if someone did use them the others would annihilate them in seconds. Peace through strength!

Guns in Public Places. I am totally in favor of guns in public places. I would make gun toting mandatory for everyone over the age of 12. The more guns we have the safer we will be. Just imagine some coked-up 12-year-old shooting up a Chucky Cheese. He’d get off two or three rounds at most before parents and kids around the restaurant would kill him and the other kids at his birthday party. But if he were the only one with a gun and we had to wait for the police to arrive lots more kids would be killed and our dinners ruined.

Nude Bathing. I am totally in favor of nude bathing. Who wants to take a bath with their clothes on?

Gay Marriage. I am totally in favor of gay marriage, why get married if you’re not happy?

Anti-Semitism. I am totally in favor of Anti-Semitism. It is the only thing that keeps nonreligious Jews in the fold. I am petitioning Dan Brown to write a book about how the Elders of Zion control the IMF, banks, media, the USA, and the Vatican. Tom Hanks would star.

So now that you have read my opinions on these pressing matters, I hope you will trust other bloggers to reveal the truth. After all, it is what we do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A “Conversation”

[This is a compilation of comments I hear from Jews around the country. I thought it a good follow up to the 5/10/09 post on Jewish spirituality. I present these comments to invite your response. I'm going to let it run for a few days without another post to give you time to comment.]

1. We liberal Jews are a highly educated, largely secular, postmodern people. Judaism is a pre-modern, pre-scientific, supernaturalist, and largely medieval religious tradition. We postmodern Jews may love our history, our people, our left-leaning (except when it comes to Israel) politics, our comics, our novelists, our scientists, our Nobel Prize winners, and, until Bernie Madoff, our financial acumen, but we just find Judaism as most of us encounter it largely irrelevant to our lives.

So what? If Jews don’t care and Judaism dies out, so be it. But it won’t die out. The Orthodox are the saving remnant. Judaism may go the way of the Amish, but never the dodo.

2. Liberal postmodern Jews do go out on Friday night and Saturday; we just don’t go to shul. The reason we don’t is that synagogue services are more predictable than a rerun of “Law and Order.” Clapping hands to prayers that assume we haven’t read a book since the 13th century can take us only so far. Even those few shuls that do a thriving business on Shabbat owe their success more to social networking rather than religious belief; more to Facebook than the Holy Book.

So what? Who said services are supposed to be interesting? You follow the liturgy because it connects you to your people. It is a sacred obligation not a lifestyle choice. And if Jews come to shul to meet other Jews--great! Where should they meet, at a ribs joint?

3. The Chosen People gambit was a great marketing tool in its day, but that day has long passed. It is the Jewish version of Coke’s “It’s the Real Thing” campaign. The Jews are God’s Chosen because we invented the god who chose us. In other words, the product that sponsors the taste test wins the taste test. I like belonging to a tribe. I am proud to be a Jew (even when I am sometimes ashamed of what is said and done in the name of Jews and Judaism), but I don’t need to think that we are God’s special people. It sounds so Smothers Brothers: Mom liked you best! Infantile!

So what? People still prefer Coke to Pepsi or Pepsi to Coke, and nobody likes RC. Just because every product claims to be the best doesn’t mean we should claim to be nothing. We have to emphasize the brand not reject branding. We need a jingle: “We are the Chosen, the mighty mighty Chosen. Yes we are, we’re the Chosen.” And it's not infantile but primitive. And most people are primitive as any cable or network newscast can attest. The question isn't, "Should I have a tribe," but "Is my tribe strong enough and well armed enough to defend itself against the other tribes?"

4. Torah study is meaningless. There was no Adam, Eve, or Noah. There is no evidence outside the Torah itself that Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Isaac ever existed. There is no archeological evidence that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, escaped from slavery, or wandered in the Sinai for forty years. I don’t gather with friends to read Chaucer, why would I gather to read Moses? The Bible is irrelevant to the lives of most Jews. I recently attended a Torah study group where we discussed how Noah could fit all those animals on the ark, and not one of us believed in the Flood story in the first place!

So what? There was no Hamlet, either. Are you telling me Shakespeare is a waste of time? It’s the story that matters, not the history.

5. Rabbis Have No Intrinsic Authority. Why do you listen to your rabbi? Because she says what you want to hear. As soon as your rabbi says something you disagree with and that matters to you, you begin to lobby for a new rabbi or you change synagogues. That means that the rabbi is stuck trying to second-guess what the wealthy and powerful people in the congregation believe so the rabbi can parrot it back to them and stay employed. My rabbi told me, “I don’t believe a word of what I say, but I have grown accustomed to the lifestyle that comes when I’m paid to say it.”

So what? Rabbis who are in it for the money aren’t real rabbis. Real rabbis teach Torah. No real rabbis works for a shul that finds Torah meaningless. These “rabbis” are just employees hired to perform ceremonies and are no different from the dj, florist, and caterer. I wouldn’t belong to that kind of shul, and neither should you. Don't judge Judaism by its weakest link: the liberal humanists who use their rabbis and their tradition to placate some residual survivor's guilt over the Shoah [Holocaust]. Judge it by its strongest link: the Orthodox and Hasidim who love God, God's Torah, God's People, and God's Land. We don't need a bunch of pseudo-Jews who want a Judaism that makes them feel good, we want Jews who are challenged by Judaism because it makes them do good. I'm tired of Jews whining about Judaism. Go be Buddhists or Christians and leave the rest of us alone.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jewish Spirituality Survey

In September 2008 Synagogue 3000 commissioned a survey to measure Jewish spirituality among American Jews. The fact that they couldn’t define “spirituality” didn’t seem to faze them. What they found was that Jews are less spiritually inclined than the general population. Not surprisingly, the survey also found that Jews don’t talk much about God, and don’t find prayer all that important. Did we actually need a survey to tell us this?

But wait, what about all those Jews rushing to other religions like Buddhism and Sufism? Aren’t they spiritual? Could be, but the survey didn’t count them because they didn’t find their spirituality within Judaism. In other words this was a survey of Jewish spirituality that excluded those Jews (perhaps 20% of the Jewish population according to the survey) that might be the most spiritual.

Given the population studied, the survey came to the following conclusions: (1) Orthodox Jews, who make up only 8% of America Jewry, are the most spiritual Jews; (2) Jews with one Jewish parent or Jews By Choice (converts) with no Jewish parents are the second most spiritual Jews, and (3) Jews with two Jewish parents are the least spiritual and the least religious.

You have to love this! After decades of fighting against intermarriage it turns out that the biggest danger to Jewish survival is Jews marrying Jews!

How are we to understand these results? It isn’t too difficult. Orthodox Jews are more spiritual because they actually believe in Judaism. NonOrthodox Jews with one or less Jewish parent are more spiritual because their non-Jewish parent exposed them to other religions that, unlike Judaism, place a high value on spirituality. NonOrthodox Jews raised in an exclusively Jewish household with two Jewish parents are the least religious and spiritual because no one really believed in the Judaism they were taught in the first place, and they were secular humanists who found spirituality far too woo-woo for their tastes.

I speak in synagogues all over the United States and I can attest, at least anecdotally, to the validity of these findings. The vast majority of Jews I meet are bored to death by the Judaism they are asked to practice. They simply do not believe in God as presented to them in the siddur and Torah (prayer book and Bible), and cannot pretend that this God they do not believe in wants them to engage in religious rituals they cannot relate to. What little involvement they have is due almost exclusively to Zionism, anti-Semitism, and ancestor worship. They love Israel (or at least their idea of Isreal), they fear Gentiles (or at least those Gentiles they don’t know personally), and they honor their mothers and their fathers. If they want God, spirituality, or even a meaningful outlook on life they look elsewhere.

This helps explain two other findings in the survey. First, those nonOrthodox Jews who are spiritually inclined do not talk with their rabbis about their interests. Why would they? I suspect that rabbis are less spiritual then their congregants. Many if not most rabbis I know are atheists when it comes to the image of God promoted by Torah and siddur. They didn’t become rabbis for spiritual reasons, and they have no spiritual foundation from which to help those Jews who are looking for Jewish spirituality.

Second, the survey found that younger Jews are more spiritual than older Jews, and that younger Gentiles are less spiritual that older Gentiles. Which shows, I guess, that younger Jews are becoming older Gentiles.

While this may sound confusing, the survey attributes the rise in spirituality among younger Jews to the fact that younger Jews tend to have one Gentile parent, and that parent brought the spiritual element into their child’s life. Why are younger Gentiles less spiritual than older Gentiles? I don’t know; commission another survey.

The Synagogue 3000 survey was designed to help synagogues plan for the future, so the following numbers seem to matter:

76% of the people surveyed wanted their rabbis to talk about God;
52% of the people surveyed wanted their rabbis to talk about the afterlife;
73% of the people surveyed wanted their rabbis to talk about ultimate meaning; and
78% of the people surveyed wanted their rabbis to talk about spiritual issues.

Houston, we have a problem. First of all most nonOrthodox rabbis don’t believe in God as the Torah and siddur picture God. If they did they would be Orthodox rabbis. If they believe in God at all, most are probably pantheists equating God with nature. If these rabbis tell the truth, what are they going to do with Torah and liturgy? We spend weeks every year reading in the Torah about how God wants us to kill animals as part of a remedy for skin diseases that a bit of antibiotic cream would cure in a day. Can it be that our all-knowing God didn’t know about tetracycline?

Second, most nonOrthodox rabbis don’t believe in a soul that survives death. Since rabbinic Judaism insists on such a soul and the possibility of heaven and hell, what are we to do with rabbinic Judaism?

You see the problem. If rabbis are honest, rabbinic Judaism is dead.

When it comes to “ultimate meaning” and “spiritual issues” I would hope rabbis are on surer ground, especially since no one can define these terms precisely. I suspect people are asking that synagogues become places where they can explore the meaning of life rather than simply get instruction as to how to live as 17th century Polish Jews did.

What difference will this survey make? I doubt it will make any at all. What difference should it make? It should lead to the wholesale re-evaluation of what Judaism is and synagogues are for. If Judaism is simply a matter of ancestor worship then synagogues may be doing the best they can to train people for life in the middle ages. If Judaism is supposed to be an on-going exploration of life and meaning then the synagogue has got to come up with better prayers, better theologies, better language, and a radically different way of engaging people. But since, as Einstein said, you cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it, nothing will change. It can’t.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Christians Deny Jesus at National Prayer Breakfast

When I was growing up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts the town’s only country club was closed to Jews. Yes that was illegal, and yes there were plenty of Jewish lawyers more than capable of suing the club, but we chose not to storm this bastion of Christendom and to build a cooler club of our own down the road. It was called Twin Hills, and while it was open to Gentiles it was a haven for Jews who, simply because they killed Christ, were denied membership at the Longmeadow Country Club.

Twin Hills was very pricey, too pricey for my family, so we joined another club in a neighboring town. This one catered to the lower classes and was open to everyone. You knew it was for poor people because it was called the Yacht Club and yet was landlocked and had no boats whatsoever. The Yacht Club featured a small swimming pool, a ping-pong table, and a Coke machine. Take that you Capitalist swine!

I’m telling you this to say that I am no stranger to anti-Jewish discrimination. So this morning when I learned that today’s National Day of Prayer was closed to nonChristians I was outraged as only a member of the Yacht Club can be.

But wait, I’m not being quite fair. Anyone can attend the National Day of Prayer, but only Christians can lead said prayers. So the National Day of Prayer is really the National Day of Christian Led Prayers to the Christian God who, because he is Jewish, is excluded from leading prayers during His Own National Day of Prayer. This is what really pisses me off— if Jesus Himself came down from heaven and asked to lead a prayer at any of today’s National Day of Prayer events he would be denied.

Yes, you heard me: Christians Deny their Lord!

Woe unto thee Shirley Dobson, woman of Focus on the (Christian) Family founder James Dobson, for thou hast denied thy Lord, and have used thy two million dollar budget to create a cult of exclusion that mocks the One Who Died for Your Sins Who was Himself a Jew and Whom thou wouldst deny a place on thy sacrilegious stage. Woe, I say, to thee, Woman! Woe! Woooooooooooe!

So what to do? Should we sue? No, that’s a waste of money. We should do what the Jews of my hometown did: create our own way more cool National Day of Prayer. We will call it the International Day of Prayer, Meditation, Chant, Psalm, Song, and Wisdom Devoted to the Unification of All Peoples in Service of Love, Compassion, Justice, and Peace or IDPMCPSWDUAPSLCJP for short. This day will be open to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, First Peoples, Pagans, Wiccans, Atheists, Rastafarians, Pastafarians, Mormons, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Fourth Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Allah’s Witnesses, anyone in Witness Protection, and, yes, even Christians, though I imagine they, like the Christians at Longmeadow Country Club, will prefer to be among their own kind at their own puny National Day of Prayer events.

What shall we of the IDPMCPSWDUAPSLCJP prayer for? As founder, president, CEO, CFO, and Chief Rabbi of IDPMCPSWDUAPSLCJP I invite you all to join with me and pray for the speedy return of Jesus during next year’s National Day of Prayer. That way when He comes back the Christians will miss it because He isn’t going to go where He isn’t welcome. Instead He will come to our IDPMCPSWDUAPSLCJP events where He is welcome and He will lift us all up to Heaven so that when the Christians come out of their National Day of Prayer events they will find that they missed Him and we will all be laughing our asses off with Jesus up in heaven. And then all the Christians will be crying and screaming and saying that it’s not fair that they are excluded. They will be jumping up and down and tearing their clothes and wailing, and then Jesus will send Satan down to scare the crap out of them, and they will be running around screaming, and we will all be up in heaven laughing, but only for a while because terrorizing Christians just never seems to be all that much fun, and so we will stop laughing and Satan will get bored with chasing them, and Jesus will lift them all up to heaven where they will build their country club that the rest of us can’t join and they will be happy for all eternity.

Of course if Jesus doesn’t come we can always join the Yacht Club.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Changing My Religion

A new Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life poll reveals that more than half of all Americans have changed religions at least once in their lives. There was a time when people stayed with the religion of their birth. Those where the good old days when leaving one’s religion was punishable by death. Of course in some Islamic countries the good old days are today, but here in the US of A we are free to change religions at will.

As one who likes to keep up with the latest religious fads (I passed on priestly pedophilia, but other Catholic traditions do have a certain allure) I have decided to change my religion. Well, not change my religion, after all how can I change Judaism? No, I mean I will opt out of Judaism and join something else. The question is what religion will I join?

Hinduism attracts me because I love all things elephant (with the exception of today’s Republican Party). But then I would be subject to the caste system, and with my luck I would be tossed in with the Dalits, the Untouchables.

When I first learned this I thought it would be cool because I thought Eliot Ness was going to be my boss. Then someone told me that the dalits had nothing to do with the FBI, so I lost interest. Then someone told me that the dalits were really the Daleks from the Dr. Who television series, and I am a huge Dr. Who fan and hate the Daleks who are always out to get Dr. Who, so Hinduism is out.

Buddhism is an option. By being a Buddhist I can still hang out with Jews since almost all the Buddhists I know are Jews. On the other hand, Buddhism doesn’t make room for God and I can’t seem to shake Her, so being a Buddhist isn’t going to work.

Becoming a Muslim or a Christian are also out since they worship the same insane warlord as the Jews from whom I am trying to switch. This would be like a Coke drinker switching to Pepsi when the whole point was to give up brown sugar water altogether.

Taoism is probably the religion for me. First, its “bible,” the Tao te Ching, is only 81 poems long so there isn’t a lot to learn or carry around. Second, the great Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu seems to share my sense of humor, something that no saint in any other religion does. And third the yin-yang symbol is round and therefore lacks the sharp points of the Star of David and Cross of Christ so there is less chance of poking myself when wearing religious jewelry.

So I guess Taoism is it. And today I am officially switching to Taoism. That’s it, then. I’m a Taoist. You know what bugs me about my Taoist religion? It just isn’t progressive enough. Too traditional. Tai Chi is too slow and too long for me. I’ve got to change Taoism, make it hip and modern, and more to my liking. But I sense resistance from my Taoist co-religionists. They don’t want to change. I’m frustrated with conventional Taoism. Maybe I should find another religion more suited to my nature. I wonder if Judaism has anything to offer me?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Christianity: No Ifs, Ands, or Butts

Jave Neyland is seven years old. She lives in Texas. She is a persecuted Christian.

The godless school board of Irving, Texas (no doubt named after a godless New York Jew) has ordered Jave to tuck in the shirttails of her blouse in accordance with school dress codes. Her mother, Dyker Neyland (named after the flood control devices of Holland and not indicative of the woman’s sexual orientation) claims that the school board is persecuting her daughter because she is a Christian. Christians, as it turns out, are required to wear their shirts untucked.

Dyker’s proof is 1 Timothy 2:9 which requires women to “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation.” Allowing Jave to parade around school with her butt uncovered by shirttails would violate the New Testament and endanger Jave’s eternal soul.

Critics of Ms. Neyland will not doubt argue that little Jave could wear skirts or dresses rather than buttocks enhancing jeans that need buttocks covering. After all, when St. Timothy wrote his injunction against immodesty women weren’t wearing pants. Indeed neither were men. First Timothy could not have imagined tight jeans (though it is rumored that Second Timothy was a butt hound), and could not have been writing with shirttails in mind. Dyker is thus adding her own interpretation to the Bible, which she should be condemned to hell for doing, and which should not be imposed on Texans as a whole.

Now most of my readers will assume that I support the school board in this issue, but in fact I don’t. Texas is one of the fattest states in the United States. If it follows through on its threats to withdraw from the Union it will be one of the fattest nations on the planet. Fat tends to accumulate in the buttocks of many people, and forcing students to confront fat buttocks day in and day out in school will lead not to licentious thoughts, but painful and cruel jokes. Therefore it is my contention that all butts should be enshrouded with as much flowing fabric as possible. This should be true for the butts of boys as well as girls.

The whole point of a school dress code is to create an environment conducive to learning. Forcing students to stare at a sea of giant butts will not only fail in that regard, it will achieve just the opposite of its intended effect. Proof for this also comes from Timothy, in this case 3 Timothy 15: 38 which, in the King Jane’s translation tells us, “the cheeks to which our Lord referreth be not the cheeks of the butt but that of the head, yea the face, and it is these we must turneth to one another and not the lower which must remain hiddeneth behind a shroud, yea even a vast blanket, yea even angels’ wings, for should the nether cheeks capture the eye of the sinner thy neighbors beam will causest thoughts of lust and secure for them a place in the land of burning, gnashing and writhing in which the Lord castest all whose cheeks go unchecked and those whose eyes behold them.”

The Bible is clear: no ifs, ands, or butts allowed.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Outhouse: Reflections on The Shack, Part Five: Final Thoughts

[The Shack by William Young is a major bestseller and worthy of comment. This is the fifth of five quick looks at The Shack from my perspective.]

The Shack is written for Protestant Christians, but not all Protestant Christians. One of the most controversial aspects of The Shack is its theology of universal salvation, and idea that is anathema to those who believe Heaven is a restricted club.

According to The Shack, Jesus is not a Christian, nor does he want others to become Christians: “I’m not a Christian… Who said anything about being a Christian?” (page 182). Whatyoutalkinaboutwillis? Jesus doesn’t want us to become Christians?

“Those who love me,” Jesus says, “come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats and Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, American and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.” (page 182).

Don’t be misled by the use of “were.” Jesus isn’t saying that his followers used to be Buddhists and Mormons but now they are Christians. If that is what he means, it makes no sense to say they were Democrats and Republicans, or bankers and bookies. But neither is he saying that Mormonism and making book leads to Jesus.

Jesus isn’t saying that all roads lead to Papa. In fact, he makes it clear that most roads are dead ends. What Jesus is saying is that he will take any road to meet us and call us to transformation. (page 182) So Jesus is sticking to “I am the way, the truth, and the light,” but disavowing any notion that Christianity has a clue as to what this means. In fact, when Mack asks Jesus about religious institutions Jesus says, “I don’t create institutions—never have, never will” (page 172). And just to make sure we get the point Jesus adds, “I’m not too big on religion” (page 172).

Way to go, Jesus! This is wild stuff. Rather than find the one true path to Jesus, Jesus says he will meet you on whatever path you find yourself. The question this raises is this: Will the Jesus I meet on the Hindu path (for example) look like the Jesus others meet on the Christian path, or will he appear to me in Hindu form, say, Krishna? Or is Jesus the Buddha? Is Jesus Allah? I don’t think The Shack is clear on this point, but it raises the issue that if Jesus isn’t Christian does he have anything to do with the Christ Christians imagine him to be?

According to The Shack anyone can follow Jesus and being a Christian has nothing to do with it. This isn’t the first time Jesus says something like this, listen to Jesus in John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.” Christians who imagine that only Christians are of the fold of Jesus don’t know Shack.

This isn’t relativism—all religions lead to God; this is universalism— God transcends all religions and works directly with individuals regardless of and irrespective of religion. Wow! And this is a best selling Christian novel?

It is, but I suspect it is because most Christians read it the same way they read their Bible—they just notice the passages that they agree with and pretend the rest just isn’t there.

So in the end should you read The Shack or not? Sure, if nothing else it will give you something to talk about with your friends (or soon to be ex-friends if you bring up this blog). And it might give you a new way to look at Black and Asian women. But is The Shack true? Only Papa knows.