Posts filed under ‘intolerance’

Deploring vandalism, local Muslims tell Jews: “What happens to you happens to us”

http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/stories/2010/12/03/news.qp-5337667.sto?1291408818

By Dann Denny
331-4350 | ddenny@heraldt.com

12/3/2010

It was a tiny gathering — 11 people huddled around a table in a small room at the Beth Shalom synagogue — eating cookies, sipping hot tea and talking.

But the five Muslims who had come to express their support and solidarity Thursday afternoon to a Jewish community that’s been shaken by a half-dozen anti-Semitic acts of vandalism in recent days — and six members from the Beth Shalom congregation who agreed to meet with them — spoke with palpable passion.

“We are very moved and grateful to all of you for making this visit, but we’re not at all surprised,” said Beth Shalom member Madi Hirschland. “We know the Muslim community is one of great compassion.”

The visit was prompted by recent acts of vandalism targeting the Jewish community — including the tossing of eight Hebrew texts into toilets and several rock-throwing incidents at the Chabad House Jewish Student Center, Helene G. Simon Hillel Center and other Jewish facilities.

PREVIOUS:

Hanukkah begins amid anti-Semitic incidents; unity events planned Dec. 2, 2010

Editorial: Be relentless in pursuit Dec. 1, 2010

Windows broken at Jewish student centers; scriptures vandalized Nov. 30, 2010

For many Muslims, the acts conjured up memories of similar incidents aimed at Bloomington’s Muslim community. After someone threw a firebomb through a window of the Bloomington Islamic Center and set fire to a copy of the Quran in 2005 — and after local Muslims received death threats following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — Beth Shalom was one of several local faith congregations that reached out with supportive letters, visits, meals and vigils.

“We learned compassion from you,” said Muslim Abdul Sinno. “We think of you as wonderful neighbors. What happens to you happens to us.”

Yusuf Nur, one of the Muslims at the gathering, said it was unfortunate that it took a series of hateful incidents to prompt the meeting between members of the two faith traditions.

“We need to be more proactive and work together as people of faith to educate people,” he said. “These acts of hatred come from ignorance.”

Zaineb Istrabadi concurred, but wondered if some people could ever be enlightened. She said she recently received an e-mail asking her if it was true that a Muslim had to kill a non-Muslim in order to go to heaven.

“We’ve already done a lot of education and some people still don’t get it,” she said. “What’s been happening most recently is one or more persons in Bloomington going bananas.”

Beth Shalom member Deb Allmayer said in addition to education, “We need more opportunities to interact with one another. That helps erase the barriers.”

Hirschland said though she is deeply saddened by the recent incidents, the outpouring of support for the Jewish community from Muslims and Christians has been a refreshing antidote.

At one point in the meeting, Sinno asked the Jewish members in the group how the Muslim community could help Beth Shalom.

“You’ve already helped,” said Perry Metz. “You have touched us with your compassion and your presence here today. When something like this happens, you wonder, ‘Does anyone else care?’ You have given us your answer very clearly, and it means a lot to us.”

Nur said it’s imperative that tolerance be extended to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs.

“Actually, we need to go beyond tolerance to acceptance and respect,” he said.

Paul Eisenberg, president of the Beth Shalom Congregation, could not attend the meeting because he and his family were on their way out of town to celebrate Hanukkah with relatives. But he heard about it.

“The meeting is very heartening,” he said. “There are many, many Jews and many, many Muslims in the U.S. and abroad who don’t get along, but in Bloomington we have a much different situation.”

Faiz Rahman, president of the Islamic Center, could not attend either, because of teaching commitments at Indiana University. But he was encouraged that the meeting took place.

“There is a view that Jews and Muslims are at each others’ throats, but in Bloomington that is certainly not the case,” he said. “This is our chance to show solidarity with the Jewish community that is being attacked, not because it’s politically correct, but because it’s the right thing to do. The members of the Jewish community are our neighbors and friends and colleagues.”

Rahman said it’s ironic that the recent acts aimed at hurting the Jewish community have in fact triggered an outpouring of support for that community.

“There’s always a silver lining to bad acts,” he said. “When bad things happen, good people show their spirit, and let others know they will not bow down to the forces of evil.”

Bloomington United calls for signs, blue Monday 

Bloomington United, a grassroots campus and community partnership dedicated to promoting diversity and responding to incidents of hatred, is encouraging people to download two PDFs at the website iuhillel.org, print them out and display them in windows.

The first states “Bloomington United in Diversity” and the other is a menorah.

The group is also asking everyone to wear blue Monday in solidarity with the Jewish community.

Other acts of kindness: Two clergy offered to have members of their church stand watch during Friday night services at each of the local Jewish communities.

A Christian lit a Hanukkah menorah in her window and asked other non-Jewish friends to do the same.

A Christian couple living in the Beth Shalom neighborhood offered to help with security by driving by the synagogue throughout the day.

A member of the Muslim community asked that a group might light Hanukkah candles with Beth Shalom members.

Radio call-in show about incidents

Today’s WFIU Noon Edition, starting at 12:06 p.m. on 103.7 FM, will be a call-in show that will focus on the recent incidents aimed at the Jewish community.

The station also has other frequencies and streams over the Internet. See http://indianapublicmedia.org/radio.

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December 3, 2010 at 4:59 pm 1 comment

Habits of anti-Judaism

If you’ve not followed the recent Presbyterian-Jewish debate, The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is proposing passing of a report by their  Middle East Study Committee (MESC) which, in effect, vilifies Israel and its treatment of Palestinians (my opinion of course). What follows is the clearest, smartest, explanation of the issue by two scholars – Amy-Jill Levine (Jewish) and Ted A. Smith (Presbyterian). The original ran on The Christian Century’s website, http://christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=8539.

Habits of anti-Judaism
Critiquing a PCUSA report on Israel/Palestine

by Ted A. Smith and Amy-Jill Levine

Old habits die hard. Despite numerous attempts by mainline Protestant denominations to promote historically informed studies of Judaism, repudiate supersessionist theologies and engage in conversations with Jews, the old habit of bearing false witness against Jewish neighbors lives on. In recent years this practice has thrived especially in mainline Protestant statements on the Middle East.

Congregations, denominations and councils have rightly advocated for Palestinians suffering because of Israeli policies. The injustice is real; the situation is urgent. But church statements too often slip from a laudable call for a just peace—a call with which a large and growing number of American Jews would agree—into false and negative depictions of Jews. This slippage contradicts the churches’ own theological convictions. It distorts Jewish teaching and history. And it can discourage both Palestinian Christians and their U.S. supporters from building alliances with Jews who share their commitments to peace and human rights.

Members of the churches that issue these statements frequently express sincere desires to avoid anti-Semitism. Supporters of problematic statements are rarely bigots; they are more likely people committed to justice who have also absorbed centuries-old patterns of Christian anti-Judaism. This false witness is more a matter of habit than of hate. It lives on through good intentions.

Good intentions are crucial resources for the work of breaking bad habits. But good intentions can become obstacles to change when they short-circuit serious conversation about the nature, history and impact of actions. Breaking habits requires bringing them to consciousness. And that requires attending to the gap between action and intention.

A report just issued by the Middle East Study Committee (MESC) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provides an important example of this gap between action and intention—and it presents a real opportunity to begin to learn better habits. The report will be considered this July at the denomination’s General Assembly in Minneapolis. The MESC was created at the 2008 General Assembly, which asked the moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow, to work with his two immediate predecessors in appointing the committee’s nine members. The assembly charged the committee with preparing “a comprehensive study, with recommendations, that is focused on Israel/Palestine within the complex context of the Middle East.”

The study committee made several moves that demonstrate its desire to avoid some of the most common forms of false witness against Jews. For example, it notes that most Presbyterians reject supersessionist narratives in which “Christians have supplanted Jews” to become “the only legitimate heirs of God’s covenant with Abraham.” Signaling this rejection of supersessionism, the report speaks of “Older Testament” and “Newer Testament” in its biblical references. Such language is neither necessary nor sufficient for avoiding supersessionism, but it at least suggests a desire to proclaim a gospel that does not begin with God’s rejection of Jews.

Yet Christian false witness persists in the report despite its authors’ intentions. Habits have that kind of power. Below we name some of these habits and trace the dynamics by which they survive. We write as a Presbyterian and a Jew, as colleagues on a divinity school faculty and as teachers who continue to see the habits of false witness in the work of even our most talented and committed students. We know firsthand how deep-seated the habits can be and how quickly they can outrun our best intentions. We seek not to single out the Presbyterian report, but to illumine patterns that recur in many forms of Christian witness.

Echoes of past interpretations: The report’s opening biblical reflections make conspicuous efforts to avoid anti-Jewish exegesis. But the report pays scant critical attention to Christianity’s long history of anti-Jewish interpretations, and so echoes of these interpretations linger. Those echoes then become amplified by other sections of the report.

The report’s title, “Breaking Down the Walls,” echoes the celebration in Ephesians 2:11-22 of God’s overcoming of divisions between gentiles and Jews in Jesus Christ. The passage, which speaks of abolishing Torah and the formation of “one new humanity in the place of two,” has a long history of supersessionist deployment. There are other ways to read this passage, but the committee does not offer them. The report affirms that Jesus breaks down “the dividing wall of hostility between any two peoples or groups within God’s creation.” Read in the context of the full report, however, that vague affirmation takes on supersessionist content. The church is asked to consider a historical narrative that points indirectly to a single state—a new social body—in which a Palestinian majority displaces Jews. The report’s consistent lament that the time for a two-state solution is rapidly ending solidifies that impression. “Breaking down the walls” in order to form “one new humanity in the place of two” evokes old echoes of theological supersessionism and transposes them into a political key.

Such echoes also linger in the report’s treatment of the story of Jacob and Esau. Framing the story as an illustration of general “processes of human reconciliation,” the report explicitly refuses to identify Palestinians and Jews with one brother or the other. But it describes Jacob in ways that resonate with anti-Jewish stereotypes. He is “characteristically untrusting and wily.” He cannot accept forgiveness. And “in spite of his having seen ‘the face of God’ and received a new name, he had no experience of ‘new being,’ of ‘new creation.'”

The ambiguity of these associations takes on a more pernicious clarity when this retelling of the story of Jacob and Esau is compared to the report’s main historical narrative. The narrative describes the birthright of a peaceful, multicultural Palestine being appropriated by an influx of European Jews. It says that these Jews refused to assimilate, but preferred—like Jacob—to move ahead on their own. It says that Israel—like Jacob—has refused the offer of full reconciliation. While the biblical reflection suggests that Jacob might also be like Palestine, no part of the document suggests how this might be. Jacob/Israel becomes the guilty brother.

Such associations defy the report’s stated intentions. The failure to root them out allows them to resound and replay in later arguments.

Ambiguities about covenant: The report’s biblical section draws upon at least three different understandings of covenant and land. First, its analysis of the term Zion concludes that the church “fully transferred the locus of God’s concrete presence in the world of space and time from the place of Zion—that is, Jerusalem—to the person of Jesus, who had been crucified and raised from the dead just outside Jerusalem.” The covenant has been fulfilled, and its fulfillment involves a transcendence of place in the person of Jesus. Covenant no longer concerns land.

Consonant with this view, the report reaffirms a prior PCUSA statement that “the State of Israel is a geopolitical entity and is not to be validated theologically.” Thus Israel, having neither special sanction nor special obligations, should be judged by the same standards applied to any other nation.

But a second understanding of the land checks this approach. Appealing to a survey of Presbyterians and a collection of biblical texts that limit Israel’s claim to the land, the report states, “Most Presbyterians . . . hold that this promise [of offspring and land] is conditioned by concepts found elsewhere in the first five books of the Bible,” such as the idea that the gift of land is conditional upon Israel’s “adherence to justice.” Here God’s covenant with Israel did and does include provision of land. But that covenant also includes special obligations. And so the report insists that “Israeli Jews” must “fulfill their ‘land responsibilities'” and their “covenant obligation.” Israel is here not just another nation, but a nation held to a special standard. Its claim on the land is not unconditional, like the claims of other peoples upon the places where they live.

A third view of the land further complicates the report’s thinking. When it seeks to expand the Abrahamic covenant to include Palestinian Christians, it appeals to Paul’s view that in Jesus Christ God’s covenant with Abraham expands to include the church. But when the report expands the covenant to Palestinian Muslims, it argues that the covenant extends to all Abraham’s descendants. Thus the report offers different views on who is included in the Abrahamic covenant and how people come to be included. But in neither case does it mention special covenantal obligations. Again the report promotes a vision in which conditional Jewish claims to the land are surpassed by and then reformulated within the seemingly unconditional claims of other communities.

All three views draw upon old tropes of Christian anti-Judaism. The first describes the incarnation as a rejection of God’s covenant with Israel. The second singles Jews out as a people condemned to wander, a people without “natural” ties to land like other people. The third follows a narrative in which Jews are replaced by others.

The use of any of these tropes would be problematic. The problems increase when the report entangles these different strands of thought, with the only significant consistency supplied by political conclusions that stress unconditional Palestinian (Christian and Muslim) covenantal roles while minimizing and holding to special standards Israeli (Jewish) covenantal roles.

Comparative trauma and false stereotypes: The MESC report rightly refuses to engage in comparisons of suffering. It rejects attempts to compare the systematic murder of 6 million Jews (ha-Shoah) and the forcible displacement of 750,000 Palestinians (al-Nakba). Instead it argues that these two catastrophes should be regarded as parallel but incomparable “psycho-traumas.” But the report compromises this sound principle when it compares present-day suffering, calculating that the “ratio of all Israeli to Palestinian deaths [between 2000 and 2008] is 1 to 8.5 and for children it is 1 to 7.4.” Thus suffering is incomparable when comparison might speak on behalf of Israel, but quantifiable to a tenth of a life when it benefits Palestinian claims.

The report makes a further unhelpful comparison in tracing the effects of these traumas. It states, “This sense of historical victimization creates for some Israelis a compensatory reflex to choose power and armament; to reject the claims and critique of others; and the adoption of a philosophy that the ‘end justifies the means,’ even if that means the loss of human rights, life, and the dignity of others.” The summary of effects for Palestinians invites comparison: “The inexplicable pain of the Nakba creates for some Palestinians a sense of historical victimization, which creates a compensatory reflex to choose violence; to reject the claims and critique of others; and the adoption of a philosophy that the ‘end justifies the means.'”

Israelis have a “sense of victimization”; Palestinians have “inexplicable pain.” The Israeli psyche is so damaged that it leads to the “loss of human rights, life, and the dignity of others.” The Palestinian psyche appears better preserved. This comparison is neither social psychology nor pastoral counseling. It is at best unfortunate rhetoric—all the more unfortunate because it draws upon stereotypes of Jews as neurotic, legalistic, bellicose and xenophobic. Again the report’s rhetorical habits betray its best insights: traumas are wounds to be tended, not arguments to be deployed.

Narratives of replacement: The report’s longest section is a sprawling 68-page “Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis,” written by a professor of bioethics and a professor of Old Testament. This study appears alongside a nine-page piece by a Reform rabbi titled “Notes from a Humanistic, Liberal Zionist: A Personal Perspective.” The two documents seem intended, despite the disparity in size, to balance one another.

They do not. “Plea,” which stresses a Palestinian perspective, was written by members of the MESC, and its arguments appear elsewhere in the report. “Notes” exerts no discernible influence on other parts of the report. Even the titles of the pieces suggest asymmetry: “Plea” makes a much stronger rhetorical claim on readers than some comparatively skimpy “Notes.”

The problem here is not simply imbalance. The problem is that neither document is rigorously historical. “Notes” is a collection of personal anecdotes. “Plea,” despite its length and footnotes, ignores violence against Jews in the region both before and after 1948 and so can be easily dismissed as partisan.

The lack of critical historiography in “Plea” also allows old narrative habits to structure the material. For example, “Plea” notes that between “the fourth and the seventh centuries C.E., the majority of those who lived in the Roman province of Palestine were Christians . . .” But it ignores the reasons for this shift, including Christian persecution of Jews, an influx of Christian immigrants and an imperially supported program of Christianization. Worse, it argues that “when Jerusalem was captured by the Persians in the seventh century of the Common Era, it was the Christians, not the Jews, who sang a lamentation over the Holy City.” Here, Christians replace Jews in lamenting Jerusalem, and this replacement then legitimates Christian claims to the land. The form of supersessionist narrative endures, even as the topic shifts from soteriology to politics.

Presentations of history always involve decisions about what data to present and how to present them. The canons of academic history—canons that “Plea” largely ignores—do not eliminate the necessity of such judgments. But they can check political interests, force reflection on inconvenient truths, create conditions for meaningful disagreement and disrupt too-familiar narrative forms. They can expose bad habits and serve as a tool for their reform.

Mischaracterizing Jews: The report begins with a series of letters to groups the committee believes have a stake in the report. One letter, addressed to “Our American Jewish Friends,” laments the difficulty of working with “organizations within the mainstream Jewish community.” This difficulty should be the occasion for dialogue, not an excuse for avoiding it. Moreover, the report does not name these “mainstream” groups. The open-ended designation has the effect of suggesting that most Jews do not care about Palestinian suffering.

Nor is it clear that the committee seriously attempted to engage with this Jewish “mainstream.” Its schedule of interviews included an associate director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, but no other representatives of U.S. rabbinic assemblies, let alone the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The committee did meet with the American Jewish Committee’s representative in Israel, but he told the Jewish Week, “They listened to nothing.” Also missing is a conversation with Americans for Peace Now (APN), a “mainstream” Jewish organization and a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. APN was established to mobilize support for the Israeli peace movement, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), and is the most prominent American Jewish Zionist organization working to achieve a comprehensive, just political settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The report silences some Jews by naming them as difficult. It silences other Jews by presuming to speak for them without having spoken to them. The report states that it is “hopeful as organizations like J Street, B’Tselem, Jewish Voice for Peace and others continue to raise the banner that being pro-Israel and being truly Jewish is not tantamount to complicity in the excesses of Israeli policy.” However, a J Street spokes person indicated that the committee did not consult her organization. She added that J Street had “serious disagreements” with the recommendations and deep concern that the report “consistently downplays Israel’s very real security concerns, appears to shrug off any Palestinian responsibility for resolving the ongoing conflict, and downplays the Israeli narrative throughout.”

The thinness of the committee’s consultation with Jews is especially striking when the report is compared to another Presbyterian document, “Christians and Jews: People of God.” This document followed eight meetings between PCUSA theologians and representatives of the National Council of Synagogues and four additional meetings of Presbyterian ministers and Conservative, Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis.

Erasing Israel: Breaking old habits is hard work. Guidelines can help. But guidelines become fault lines when they slip from being guides for transforming action into standards for justifying action.

A crucial guideline for Christians seeking to break habits of anti-Judaism is to criticize Israeli policies in the same ways they criticize the policies of other states—without calling the very existence of Israel into question. The report follows this guideline in its letter to American Jews: “We want to say to you in no uncertain terms,” it insists, “we support the existence of Israel within secure and recognized borders. No ‘but,’ no ‘let’s get this out of the way so we can say what we really want to say.'”

Having sworn off qualifications of its support for Israel’s existence, the report then offers them: “The phrase ‘the right of Israel to exist’ is a source of pain for some members of the 2009-2010 Middle East Study Committee, who are in solidarity with Palestinians who feel that the state of Israel has denied them their inalienable human rights.”

This frank acknowledgment helps interpret a series of notable silences. While the letter to American Jews affirms Israel as a “home for the Jewish people,” language about a “Jewish state” appears in no policy recommendation. Affirmation of Israel as any sort of state is absent from the letters to American Muslims, Palestinians and Christians in the Middle East. The recommendations do not call the General Assembly to reaffirm its commitment to Israel’s existence. And the recommendations—despite a promise in the summary of past GA positions—do not call “Palestinians and other Arabs to recognize Israel’s existence within secure borders.”

At two points the report insinuates the illegitimacy of Israel through connections to Nazi Germany. A committee member quotes an unnamed Israeli activist as saying that Israel “acts as a Nazi state.” By quoting an Israeli, the report draws the unfortunate connection even while exculpating itself of having made it.

The report also quotes Martin Niemöller’s famous litany: “First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist. . . . They came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.” Then it calls for human rights “not just for the Jew, but for every suffering victim in the world today, including the Palestinians.” When Palestinians become Jews in the quote, Israel becomes Nazi Germany. It is hard to see how such rhetoric attends to the “psycho-trauma” noted in the social analysis. And it is hard to see how it squares with the strong affirmation of Israel’s existence contained in the letter to American Jews.

Critics of Christian statements on Israel/Palestine have too often relied on premillennialist theologies or blanket charges of anti-Semitism that stop conversation before it can begin. The former exempt Israel from criticism because of divine favor; the latter exempt Israel from criticism because of human guilt. We have tried to avoid both gambits. We do not wish to muzzle Christian critics of Israeli policy. We have criticisms of our own. We rather seek to foster conversations that can consider Middle East politics without being overwhelmed by old habits of anti-Judaism.

——————————————————————————–

Ted A. Smith and Amy-Jill Levine teach at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

June 17, 2010 at 10:47 am 2 comments

I believe…

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day starts tonight. 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, murdered…
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
I believe in love even when feeling it not
I believe in God, even when God is silent
anonymous

April 12, 2010 at 7:51 pm Leave a comment

Rick Warren gets mixed reviews

Rick Warren gets mixed reviews… that’s charitable! My take is Warren totally botched the inaugural warreninvocation. Starting with Deuteronomy 6:4-9, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God…” (text of the Shema) was encouraging. But everything started downhill from there.

I predicted he would end the prayer invoking the name of Jesus, and he did. It was bothersome in the sense that it excludes all non Christians. What really stung was his attempt to invoke Jesus’ name using multiple languages including the Hebrew for Jesus, Yehoshuah. This version is most often used by the ‘Jews for Jesus’ folks as a way of pacifying or mollifying listeners. It did the opposite, raising the collective hairs of informed listeners.

The pièce de résistance (or straw that broke the camel’s back) – ending with the Lord’s Prayer. Now, there’s nothing objectionable in the text of this lovely piece. However, it is unrepentantly a Christian missive. I happen to know that Warren was coached, or at least requested, to be inclusive. Come on Rick!

But let’s be real here – Warren had to be Warren. He’s an evangelical, fundamentalist pastor. While he might think differently in private (and I think he does), he has a constituency he must serve. So, was it really Warren’s fault? I think not – I think Obama screwed up. That’s screw up number one for President Obama and I’m sure not the last. He’s entitled, and I’m sure he thought having Warren up there would broaden his appeal with evangelicals. The truth is, they still think Obama’s a Muslim. Let it go Barack… you can’t appeal to everyone. Stick with us folks who already like you!

January 21, 2009 at 8:44 pm 2 comments

Christian? You are probably in trouble….

Wed Nov 12, 2008 at 08:40:40 PM PST

Ok.

I am Jewish and gay.

And I am sick and tired of seeing homophobic asses using my bible to base their attacks on my life.

Many of them do not understand what they call the “Old Testament” yet they continue to use it to justify their hate.

When people come on DK and attempt to do so I often engage in various discussions of both Torah and Talmud law and they move on… but I thought what if I look just at the Christian bible?

This is NOT an attack on Christians.

This is, however an attack on Christians that use my Bible to base their hate of me to produce events such as

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I admit I am not a Christian.

What the heck, though… they are not Jewish yet they use my Bible. So I say “No harm, no foul”

So…

Let’s talk about Jesus and some of his views.

Slavery:

I looked and could not find a single thing uttered against slavery by Jesus in the entire book. Slavery was around at the time, so I’d think it would be odd if Jesus was unaware of slavery as he lived in a world and a time where and when slavery was common.

So.. what did I find on slavery?

“Those who are slaves must consider their masters worthy of all respect, so that no one will speak evil of the name of God and of our teaching. Slaves belonging to Christian masters must not despise them, for they are their brothers.” (1 Timothy 6:1-2).

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism. (Colossians 3:22-4:1)

So slavery is OK…just don’t ummm..treat the slaves too bad?

And I like the part starting with “work at it with all….” so.. what it is saying is Mr or Ms. Slave, work as hard as you can as a slave, like a duty of some kind?

Ok….some other good ones.

Don’t call someone a fool. If you do, wear a fire-proof suit….

“But I say unto you, That whosoever shall be angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22).

But it is just us the gays going to hell, right? I mean…for having the sex, right? Nope. ‘fraid not. Huh?

“Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7)

So all you not married heteros having sex…shame shame shame. Hell-fire awaits.

Have YOU ever been drunk or jealous? Uh oh. Doomed as Doomed can be.

Ruh roh.

“Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).

Well, at least, thank G_D, Christians are not like ‘those other religions’ that tell people everyone else is going to Hell…er…wait…

“He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).

And last and not least.

If you are a woman and decide that you will not have children….or if you are a woman and for whatever reason you cannot have children, tough luck.

“And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” (1 Timothy 2:15).

So….I guess I feel so much better. I mean, since some Christians use my book to tell me I am going to a place called Hell, I can use their book and tell most of them that THEY are going to hell.

November 19, 2008 at 3:29 pm 4 comments

Religion is Ridiculous?

Sightings  10/23/08

— David G. Myers

Ridiculous, and worse.  So say the new atheist books:  In God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens does not mince words, calling religion “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”  Now Bill Maher’s movie Religulous lampoons the plausibility and social effects of all religion, ominously concluding that the world will end if religion does not end.  But I suggest that social science data point to a different conclusion than do the new atheist anecdotes of hypocritical and vile believers.

Many in the community of faith gladly grant the irrationality of many religious fundamentalists − people who bring to mind Madeline L’Engle’s comment that “Christians have given Christianity a bad name.”   But mocking religious “nut cases” is cheap and easy.  By heaping scorn on the worst examples of anything, including medicine, law, politics, or even atheism, one can make it look evil.  But the culture war of competing anecdotes becomes a standoff.  One person counters religion-inspired 9/11 leader Mohammed Atta with religion-inspired Martin Luther King, Jr.  Another counters the genocidal crusades with the genocidal atheists, Stalin and Mao.  But as we social scientists like to say, the plural of anecdote is not data.

Maher and the new atheist authors present anecdote upon anecdote about dangerous and apparently irrational religious behavior, while ignoring massive data on religion’s associations with human happiness, health, and altruism.  The Gallup Organization, for example, has just released worldwide data culled from surveys of more than a quarter-million people in 140 countries.  Across regions and religions, highly religious people are most helpful.  In Europe, in the Americas, in Africa, and in Asia they are about fifty percent more likely than the less religious to report having donated money to charity in the last month, volunteered time to an organization, and helped a stranger.

This finding – that the religious tend to be more human than heartless – expresses the help-giving mandates found in all major religions, from Islamic alms-giving to Judeo-Christian tithing.  And it replicates many earlier findings.  In a Gallup survey, forty-six percent of “highly spiritually committed” Americans volunteered with the infirm, poor or elderly, as did twenty-two percent of those “highly uncommitted.”  Ditto charitable giving, for which surveys have revealed a strong faith-philanthropy correlation.  In one, the one in four Americans who attended weekly worship services gave nearly half of all charitable contributions.

Is religion nevertheless, as Freud supposed, and Maher’s film seems to assert, an “obsessional neurosis” that breeds sexually repressed, guilt-laden misery?  Anecdotes aside, the evidence is much kinder to C. S. Lewis’s presumption that “joy is the serious business of heaven.”  For example, National Opinion Research Center surveys of 43,000 Americans since 1972 reveal that actively religious people report high levels of happiness, with forty-three percent of those attending religious services weekly or more saying they are “very happy” (as do twenty-six percent of those seldom or never attending religious services).  Faith (and its associated social support) also correlates with effective coping with the loss of a spouse, marriage, or job. 

Maher would surely call such religiously-inspired happiness delusional.  But what would he say to the surprising though oft-reported correlations between religiosity and health?  In several large epidemiological studies (which, as in one U.S. National Health Interview Survey, follow lives through time to see what predicts ill health and premature death) religiously active people were less likely to die in any given year and they enjoyed longer life expectancy.  This faith-health correlation, which remains even after controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, and education, is partly attributable to the healthier lifestyles (including the lower smoking rate) of religious people.  It also appears partly attributable to the communal support of faith communities and to the health benefits of positive emotions.

These indications of the personal and social benefits of faith don’t speak to its truth claims. And truth ultimately is what matters.  (If religious claims were shown to be untrue, though comforting and adaptive, what honest person would choose to believe?  And if religious claims were shown to be true, though discomfiting, what honest person would choose to disbelieve?)  But they do challenge the anecdote-based new atheist argument that religion is generally a force for evil.  Moreover, they help point us toward a humble spirituality that worships God with open minds as well as open hearts, toward an alternative to purposeless scientism and dogmatic fundamentalism, toward a faith that helps make sense of the universe, gives meaning to life, opens us to the transcendent, connects us in supportive communities, provides a mandate for morality and selflessness, and offers hope in the face of adversity and death.

 

David Myers is a professor of psychology at Hope College and author of  A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists:  Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isn’t Evil (Jossey-Bass, 2008).

October 23, 2008 at 5:27 pm 4 comments

Is this American?

Today is the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. King said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Not the number of people who support the evil versus those who oppose, but especially note the number of those who choose to remain silent.”I’m afraid we’ve not gotten too far from the bigotry and narrow-mindedness Dr. King described. Watch this video and make a sound judgment by asking yourselves, “is this American?”

April 4, 2008 at 1:51 pm Leave a comment


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