Archive for category Judaism

The common lectionary: antisemitism in John’s Gospel. Surprise? Not really.

Like most Christians who went to church last Sunday,  I found myself listening to the  familiar story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9,  But for the first time this jarring line leaped out at me:

“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.”  (John 9:22) NRSV

Now, in Protestantland most people are probably reading out of the NIV, which has politically sanitized this verse to say “Jewish leaders” rather than just the “Jews”.   But in the ever popular King James bible it is even worse than my NRSV:

“These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.”

Just in case anyone missed it, the Early English authors used the words “the Jews” twice,  to ensure that we all understand who the bad guys were.  You could almost forget that the blind man and his parents were Jewish too.  Or that everyone in this particular passage were Jewish, last but not least, Jesus himself.

Am I nitpicking here?  Is this just a bit of trivia?  Well, not when you consider that throughout the centuries this is how Jesus, his disciples and his adversaries have been depicted, I don’t think you can deny that this Johannine depiction of  “the Jews”  has shaped much of the Christian world view. Even to this day, as seen in Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” or the Millinialist’s championing of Israel for the purpose of advancing Armageddon,  antisemitism is thread throughout the fabric of the church.  To the detriment of all Christian and, of course, to the detriment of our Jewish neighbors. And to the detriment of world peace.


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The longest word in the dictionary is all about the problem with Christians in politics

When we were kids they told us that the longest word in the dictionary was antidisestablishmentarianism. Though I could spell it, I never really knew what it meant.

Until recently, when it occurred to me that if the Founders had actually been Christian, as many neo-evangelicals claim, and not the Deists they actually were, then it is unlikely that the United States as we know it would ever have existed.

Because the founding documents were not Christian, but the product of secular deistic philosophy, they  expressly forbade the establishment of a national religion in general, not just in specific, as many of today’s religious conservative suggest.  It is not only that they made sure that no denomination – Anglican, Congregationalist or Roman Catholic – would hold sway over other denominations but that Christianity itself would not be privileged.  Which makes sense when we remember that Deists are generally distrustful of organized religion, particularly of Christianity, which many of the most influential founders had personally rejected.

Without the constitutional disestablishment of religion, in an America governed by explicitly specific Christian values, I seriously doubt we would today enjoy any of the rights that we  take for  granted.  Because  a Christian (near) theocracy would find itself  at odds with true democracy.  True democratic principles – individualism, free thought, self-reliance, the right to protest authority – are not exactly compatible with those  Christian doctrines about the sovereignty of God and the power he has granted authority (as some Christians will admit).

There are many Christians who believe that Satan is real, and that he influences those who do not accept Christian doctrine.  These people are not on the fringe,  but make up the bulk of Christian Right, who have tremendous influence within the Republican party.  It is not too difficult to imagine a Christian government that would accuse those who oppose their God-given authority as being in the clutches of Satan.  After all, this is a frequent complaint coming from the pulpits (and radio pulpits) of American neo-evangelicals, many with strong political ties and a few having sought political office.  Is there any reason to think that they would leave their religious doctrines on the Capitol steps or outside the doors to the White House, as John Kennedy promised to do? On the contrary, they’ve made it plain that they would be intentionally deliberate in applying (their conservative)  religious principles to the execution of political office.

When the media criticized General William Boykin for dressing in combat fatigues, touring churches  and telling them that God was on America’s side while the  idol worshiping Muslim’s are destined  for defeat,  Christian conservatives rallied to his defense.   President George Bush favorably compared American military intervention with God’s will and Sarah Palin recently has said much the same thing.

It is easy to think this way, especially if  your enemies happen to be non-Christians. The prevailing neo-evangelical wisdom is that Islam is a false religion, that Mohamed was a false prophet and that Muslims are misguided pawns of Satan. The Tea Party movement is outspoken about their love of Christianity and their fear and hatred of Islam.

Many Bush appointees  were influence by conservative Christian ideals and now conservative Christians have a loud, if not controlling, voice in the House. There is a very good chance that in 2012 they may find themselves in control of the Senate and the White House as well.

Do we want a government that takes Genesis into account while considering environmental action? Or makes judicial decisions based upon scriptural precepts? (Which is OK as long as that scripture is from the Bible and not the Quran). Or crafts economic policy according to a narrow reading of the Old Testament (which, btw, conveniently  ignores the teachings of Jesus in the process?)  Should our civil rights legislation be pre-determined by men who wrote over 2000 years ago?

Some people asked similar questions back in John F. Kennedy’s day.  To be elected Kennedy had to promise that he would be led by the Constitution and not Roman Catholic orthodoxy.  If an irreconcilable difference presented itself, he would resign his office.  He did not try to square the Constitution to his religion, claiming that our government is founded on his religion, as so many  conservative Christians are saying today.  But he understood that a complete separation of church and state, that which  kept the Protestant majority in check, was the only reason a Catholic would ever be allowed to run for office.

It has become popular to insist that politicians reveal their religious beliefs.  Let’s  be honest; this demand is almost always made to satisfy the doubts of Christians (who question  the wisdom of having non-Christians in office).   Apparently,  Americans of other religions, in minority positions,  need not be concerned about who governs them. Or their own political aspirations.   Fortunately, the Constitution protects politicians from having to comply, although some go to great lengths to  prove their Christian bona fides.

Looking at it from a different perspective,  I believe that any outwardly religious person,  anyone who  is willingly  outspoken about his or her faith or uses it as a political tool towards election,  should take an oath similar to Kennedy’s.

Though not on a Bible.

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Judaism is to Christianity is to Islam as Blues is to Jazz is to Rock

In an article on the Veterans Today website, Dr. Ashraf Ezzat said some things that struck me as rather profound:

It is hard to imagine that after thousands of years of man’s pursuit of divinity we still worship not one GOD.  Human knowledge and experience have critically evolved throughout history. We don’t eat or read or think or even listen to music like in ancient times. Music has dramatically evolved from folk – prehistoric- music to large scale symphonies. But we still practice religion like in ancient times worshiping multiple deities with different names.

Music is the universal language of mankind, why can’t religion play the same role?

Let’s detach religion from the hate rhetoric and dirty politics. Let’s strip away the false appearances. Let’s liberate religion from the bounds of ignorance and extremism. Let’s delve into an era of enlightenment and coexistence amongst believers of different faiths and beliefs. Let’s agree that we could practice different religious rituals but that we glorify the same GOD.

Let’s not hate and kill each other over religion. Nobody’s GOD will like that. Nobody’s GOD could have decreed that.

Religion should be like music acting as a subtle form of communication which, at its best, transcends the limitations of language and ethnicity in unifying the people.

Which got me to thinking about other ways in which religions, particularly the Abrahamic faith traditions, are like music:

Though some dispute it, most believe that blues music predates jazz – that the blues initially spawned and influenced jazz but then they developed concurrently. Later rock and roll emerged, relying heavily on the blues and (less so) jazz.

Which seems analogous to how Christianity has its roots in Judaism while Islam incorporates elements of both pre-existing religions (though it leans more heavily upon the Hebrew scriptures than the New Testament).

When a musical form becomes the springboard for a new genre, it is in no way outdated, invalid or incomplete.  And just because it existed before the newer genres does not make it in any way superior. Though some people listen to only one kind of music, most people can appreciate many different styles. Even the die-hard head-banger can appreciate the elements of jazz, blues (and even classical music) that make up the DNA of rock’n’roll. (Just as the religions of the West and the East share the DNA of Zoroastrianism.)

Huston Smith, in his autobiography “Tales of Wonder”, tells us how he has for years ‘religiously’ practiced the spiritual traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, yet ultimately identifies himself as a Christian:

“Of most things that happened to me, if they had not happened, I would still be the same person. Erase Christianity from my life, though, and you will have erased Huston Smith.”

I had a little trouble understanding this until Dr. Ezzat’s analogy stimulated my imagination and reminded me of a Neil McCoy concert I once was cajoled into attending ( consequently missing Buddy Guy’s performance at the Annapolis Blues Fest). I’m no great country music fan but I do like some of the older classic songs. Neil McCoy was good, but his music didn’t really turn me on, except for the “Hillbilly Rap” in which he spoofs Jed and Granny’s theme song in the style of an early rapper.

Just before that song he introduced the members of his band, each one showing off a little of their prowess with other musical styles: blues, jazz, heavy metal – they were all excellent. I have to assume that these fellows (like me) enjoy various types of music and that they (like Smith with religions) are virtuosos when it comes to their musical applications. Yet it is country western music that defines them,  just as Christianity defines Smith.

I think it is perfectly reasonable to understand, accept and celebrate other faith traditions while realizing that it is through only one of them that you most easily meet God. Sure, some elements of all the great religions are simply awful,  just as some music is played poorly ( and a lot of religion is practiced poorly) while a lot of music (and a lot of religion) is merely commercialized crap.   There must be a common muse that inspires all good music, just as there is a common spirit that inspires all good religion.  Obviously not all musical performers can find that muse, just as many religious people can’t seem to find that spirit.  A good part of it, though, is pretty good, even if not to everyone’s liking.

But what goes into making a religion good, anyway?  As with music, you’ll know it when you find it.

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