Readers Respond: Letters from Summer 2011
A NOTE ON LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
We welcome your responses to our articles. Send your letters to the editor to Letters@Tikkun.org. Please remember, however, not to attribute to Tikkun views other than those expressed in our editorials. We email, post, and print many articles with which we have strong disagreements, because that is what makes Tikkun a location for a true diversity of ideas. Tikkun reserves the right to edit your letters to fit available space in the magazine.
GMP ASSUMES U.S. SUPERIORITY
I cannot help thinking the idea of a Global Marshall Plan that Rabbi Lerner proposes is farfetched and misguided. It would probably be better if the United States “simply” withdrew its military (bases and all) from around the world, stopped selling weapons to everyone, and stopped political and corporate intrigues, but this is wishful thinking, of course. The idea of a Global Marshall Plan would only lead to more empire building.
An Iraqi friend of mine and cofounder of the Muslim Peacemaker Teams was interviewed by a news reporter some years ago, and the reporter asked what the United States could do to help rebuild Iraq. He replied that the rapist cannot be the therapist. It would be best, he continued, for the United States to simply withdraw from Iraq and let Iraq and the Middle East work on their own problems. Perhaps, he added, those European nations that have not been involved in the war could also help.
The Global Marshall Plan assumes a certain superiority that the current U.S. military hegemony and excess (in consumption, per capita pollution, and reliance on external goods) belies.
Perhaps if Americans first learned to moderate their consumption to levels their own environs could sustain (without relying on taking from others what in the end those others need for their own well-being) and moderate their penchant for international violence,
weapons sales, corporate promulgation, and support for oppressive foreign dictatorships, etc., the United States could begin seeing clearly enough to be of help to others.
Currently we could use help from others, rather than the other way around, perhaps no more so than from older indigenous cultures, on how to live “reasonably” and sustainably, even if not perfectly (since neither we, nor our societies, are ever perfect).
BIN LADEN’S ASSASSINATION
Thanks to Peter Gabel and Michael Lerner for their important message about the response to Osama bin Laden’s assassination. I was uncomfortable with all the celebrating on the day after the announcement, and was delighted to read this thoughtful and life-
affirming piece from Tikkun. I shared it with many friends along with this note: “This article from Tikkun expresses well what I have been feeling all day. It is unseemly to be celebrating the death of anyone — even a sworn enemy and dangerous terrorist — with such glee. Feeling relief and feeling safer are not the same as feeling the call to wild
celebration. Thanks again to Tikkun for keeping our eye on the prize of peace and connection.”
US VERSUS THEM
I agree with Peter Gabel and Michael Lerner’s joint web article, “Tikkun’s Spiritual Response to the Assassination of Osama bin Laden,” which expresses shock at the media exultation over the announcement of the bin Laden killing. Peter calls for Americans to conduct themselves “in a way that manifests our empathy and compassion for … every human person” and conveys “our awareness of the tragic distortions in human relations across the globe that still hurl human beings into the horrors of ongoing violence and war.”
By now it is well known that many Americans reacted with similar aversion to the widespread celebration of the killing of bin Laden. Thousands apparently found articulation for their feelings in a widely reproduced quote on the Internet — which, as it turns out, was, at least in part, falsely attributed to Martin Luther King.
In his 1963 book Strength To Love, King had written: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
It seems that a Facebook user picked up this quote as content for her personal profile and then added this lead-in sentence: “I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” Though the portion of the profile comprising the quote from Dr. King was enclosed by quotation marks and duly attributed, the quote marks separating the King quote from the entire profile statement were lost in its viral iteration on the Internet. In consequence, the entire statement, including the attribution at the end, was accepted without challenge by most who saw it as, in its entirety, a genuine quote from Dr. King.
Much has been made of this development as an illustration of why you can’t trust everything you find on the Internet, especially on social networking sites. This complication aside, the misrepresented statement appears to have also reflected the feelings of at least tens of thousands of Americans. It certainly did for me. Killing, even in the apparent cause of justice, is always a moral tragedy, a failure of human reason, empathy, and compassion. As such, it offers no basis for celebration, especially when that is marked by vengeful glee. When news of the bin Laden killing broke on Sunday night, May 1, 2011, I too was dismayed by all the triumphant chanting of “U.S.A! U.S.A!” shown from around the White House and even at ballparks. I found the response inhuman, not patriotic and unifying, as the president would later have it.
The notion, moreover, that “justice has been done” struck me as the sheerest hypocrisy. I hate all violence, including bin Laden’s, but when you compare his murders to America’s, he comes out a piker. How many millions did we kill in Vietnam and Iraq — and for what reasons? And when bin Laden laid out his grievances against us — our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan; our stationing of troops prior to “Desert Storm” in the Muslim Holy Land of Saudi Arabia; our propping up of Arab dictators, especially Mubarak and the Saudi royal family, to ensure unhindered and cheap access to Middle Eastern oil; our abandonment of Afghanistan after bin Laden and the other Mujahideen had done the dirty work for us in helping bring down the Soviet Union; and, above all, the uncritical and contemptuous onesidedness of our support of Israel over the Palestinians — who’s to say, considering the sorry history of the world, that he didn’t have his reasons to wage war against us in the only way he could? Can’t we at least say, now, starting with the president, that, while the killing of bin Laden has fulfilled America’s promise to bring justice to his victims, we look forward to, and will work for, a day when people of every nation will recognize their common humanity with all other humans and no longer settle their conflicts by violence?
I hope that Americans can in time come to define their sense of identity not by their differences, but by their own creativity and efforts to contribute constructively to the world. It remains a fact, however, that after two thousand years of Christian preaching about the need to base human relations on love and forgiveness, most Americans, as perhaps most humans generally, still see the world as “us against them.”
The possibility clearly exists that division, not unity, is the destiny of the human race. But, for those of us who cannot accept that outcome, conscience and compassion give us no choice but to fight to change the world. We’re in the minority now, but so were those few who once found repugnant the spectator sport of duels between gladiators and lions, or the spectacle provided by public executions. We must operate on the evidence and faith that moral progress is possible; that one day, as Beethoven’s Ninth proclaims, all men will be brothers.
TIKKUN’S HAGGADAH SUPPLEMENT
Thank you. Your Haggadah supplement is most inspiring for an Anglican priest in South Africa struggling with issues of Palestine/Israel and the inevitable (for us) comparison with apartheid South Africa. I was born in Poland eighteen months before the war broke out, my father on one side and my uncle on the other in that war, and I remember as a child the horror of the films shown at local cinemas as Dachau and Belsen and many others were opened. I remember having made a pilgrimage to Auschwitz and having “seen” in my deepest soul those people’s suffering. And then having visited Palestine/Israel and seen. The question always is: how can we do to others what was done to us? How can the Israeli State do to the Palestinians what was done to them?
This isn’t the time for answers, but I am trying to contribute to the struggle through the Kairos Palestine movement — and have been very moved by the struggle of some Jewish theologians around the meanings of all this. I’m not sure how I will find your coming book Embracing Israel/Palestine, but I will try. I need to continue my main focus this year of encouraging people of faith to come to Durban in late November/early December so we can together move mountains of stubborn opposition by governments (especially the United States, even under Obama) to sign anything that would bind them to save Planet Earth, our only home most graciously bestowed on us by the One we know as Creator, Sustainer, Strengthener.
So, I just wanted to thank you and hold hands with you for a moment, with tears in my eyes, over the miles.
KwaZulu Natal, Republic of South Africa
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN RELIGION
In view of the photo of Isis, Osiris, and the Imyut emblem (the animal skin on a pole) on page eleven in your Passover Haggadah supplement, I think it’s worth noting that despite the oppression in Egypt, ancient Egyptian religious texts present significant values, concepts, and imagery that resonate strongly with those of the Tanakh, and in some cases are even considered to be related by critical scholars. I have commented on some of this in my papers:
“The Caring God: The Experience and Lexicon of Grace in the Ancient Egyptian Religion,” in The Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities.
“Cosmic and Personal: The God of Awe and Grace in Egyptian Texts, the Hebrew Bible, and Rabbinic Commentary,” in Text and Community: Essays in Memory of Bruce M. Metzger.
Edmund S. Meltzer
Stevens Point, WI
THE NATURE OF EVIL
I was delighted to find Terry Eagleton’s “Nature of Evil” in the Winter 2011 issue of Tikkun and to read his argument that the rise of working-class values of sacrifice and hard work have managed to dull the image of Virtue while sexing-up the image of Evil. I would have liked him to have expanded upon this theme and articulated some ideas as to how the ordinary mortal — ensnared in life’s dull regimes and tired rituals — could break free and live fully, and therefore more virtuously. Instead, the second half descended into an intellectual exercise attempting to explain how fictitious and mythical images of evil are flawed and why, as if by seeing this we would no longer find zombies and vampires entertaining. I would argue that most of their appeal has nothing to do with the dullness of the portrayal of virtue and a lot to do with their fictionality. If we actually awoke to find vampires or zombies at our bedside, we would not entertain such positive images of them.
What really troubled me was the paragraph at the bottom of the first page, which seemed to equate the struggle for democracy in the Middle East with this desire for the glamorous image of evil. The piece was written before the events in Cairo unfolded, but if I am reading it correctly, it seems to echo a refrain conservative American pundits have been using in support of Mubarak: namely, that if democracy comes to the Middle East, and if voters there decide to elect anti-Israel governments, then their efforts at democracy should be cut short. Even by the standards of arrogance set by earlier Zionist statements, this is arrogance personified. Americans have been rather polite in refraining from asking the hard questions of the Israel Project that should have been asked decades ago. While that willful ignorance and intellectual blindness troubles me, I have little doubt that once Americans are faced with the idea that Israel’s survival depends on its millions of neighbors — in ancient and historical nations — living in tyranny in order to maintain Israel’s “freedom,” they will instead begin to dissent and demand answers. Is this, then, the argument we want to see the light of day?
I am no friend of Israel, but I am gravely concerned with the future of American Judaism and how the reduced status of a post First Republic America will be abused to blame America’s Jews for America’s post imperial existence. If Israel is in any way involved in that last great battle — where the First Republic staggers into the sands of the Bible and can’t get up — Americans will echo their German brethren of 1919 and look for simple answers and scapegoats, and I fear they will find the Usual Suspects, and “It Will Happen Here.” We need to find a voice to kill this arrogant argument. Let democracy ring throughout the Middle East.
San Francisco, CA
AN EFFECTIVE PEACE PROCESS
In response to Rabbi Lerner’s editorial on “Middle East Peace Negotiations?” (Tikkun, November/December 2010), an effective peace process will only begin to develop between Israelis and Palestinians when both peoples conclude that neither is to blame for the historical situation they are in. They will only arrive at this judgment when they both realize that (1) ultimately they are both victims, direct and indirect, of the centuries-long historical process of anti-Semitism; (2) this historical process was indifferent to collateral damage to all “innocent bystanders”; and (3) if their historical places had been switched at the beginning of history, each people would most likely have acted in a very similar manner in reaction to the combination of the events of the twentieth century and the cumulative arc of events from the previous centuries. Only then will they be able to officially, unofficially, and subconsciously forgive each other — collectively and individually — for what they have both been provoked into doing to one another.
The requisite transformative insight is recognition that the historical and cultural forces mounted by the numerous forgotten, unknown, and unacknowledged, as well as obvious third parties in the histories of Europe and North America caused the current Arab-Israeli conflict as surely as heat and water produce steam.
Many post–World War II third parties made mistakes of judgment and/or opportunistically sought to profit from the conflict, or to use it for their own ends, such as diverting attention away from oligarchic corruption and malfeasance. These opportunistic actors may be despicable by today’s standards, but their overall share of blame is very minor compared to the European and North American historical actors through the end of World War II. But their “sins” still loom large enough that they will not want to acknowledge their wrongheadedness, mean-spiritedness, and exploitative behavior. They will, out of necessity, also resist the conclusion that both the Israelis and Palestinians are effectively blameless for their acts in the conflict over land to live on. Some sort of co-catalytic process of both negotiations and larger public and private discussions (with this item of “who’s really to blame” at the top of all the agendas) will most likely be required to develop the prerequisite “non-blame understanding” among the main adversary groups and subgroups.
Unfortunately it may also require at least a few outside third parties willing to take implicit responsibility, if only by proxy, for the now more historically remote third parties that really caused the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Finding the appropriate proxies qualified by historical linage and current position, and also willing to acknowledge the necessary level of responsibility for this conflict is not very likely to say the least! Any candidates for such agency would fear the bad public relations, adverse domestic political consequences, and potential financial liability, even if they acted jointly to acknowledge this historical responsibility. They may conclude that the probability of success is not worth the multiple risks, that accepting proxy responsibility may still not be enough to facilitate a “non-blame understanding” (between the Israelis and the Palestinians), and a relinquishment and reduction of long held hostilities by all sides.
I’m not very optimistic, but I hope I am wrong and that it will take far less than what I have just described to bring real peace to the Palestinians and Israelis.
REFLECTIONS ON THE 2010 NSP CONFERENCE
I’ve been an active member of the Network of Spiritual Progressives in Palm Beach County, Florida, since 2007. Attending the June 2010 NSP conference in Washington, D.C., reenergized and inspired me to continue to advocate for a caring society and world. I resonated most with Peter Gabel’s talk on relationships. I bought The Bank Teller and have read a sampling of essays that further strengthened my alignment with Gabel’s ideas. Reading Gabel’s article — “A Call for Sacred Biologists” — in the March/April 2010 issue of Tikkun prompted me to connect you with Michael Dowd, a spiritual evolutionist/cosmologist, who is an answer to your “call.”
Today, Michael Dowd seems to be branching into the realm of neuropsychology, which leads back to the psychological underpinnings of Gabel’s, Lerner’s, and my work: teaching, research, and psychotherapy/progressive activism to change culture.
I agree that we need to bridge the conflict between the emerging revelation of science and Bible-based fundamentalism and its narrow, literalistic interpretations, which restrict, rather than expand, our minds and spirits. Closed systems are choked off from the air and the light of new truths. We can’t move together to solve the human and planetary crises of our times if we fight with each other and cling to our rigid defenses. This bars us from communicating in a common language for the common good. We can’t reach our higher levels of consciousness to handle democracy responsibly if our government fails to enact and protect laws and policies that foster meeting basic human needs.
There is little room for growth and compassion in people who are fighting for survival in a hostile environment. Draconian cuts to services and environmental safeguards will cost us in more crises, dysfunction, economic loss, dependency, violence, illness, and death.
Thank God for Evolution (the title of one of Michael Dowd’s DVDs) and the injunction of tikkun olam that birthed the Network of Spiritual Progressives!
Briny Breezes, FL
Rabbi Lerner’s March 29, 2011, editorial, “Violence in Libya,” gives new life to a very good old idea. As a former professor of international relations, it has been a lifelong sadness to witness the wrong action coming too late to be right. Even that legendary warrior, Winston Churchill, fully understood this when he called the Second World War “the unnecessary war.”
El Cerrito, CA
CHRISTIANITY, EMPIRE, AND HUMAN RIGHTS
I wish to thank Tikkun for publishing the bold “Life in Just Peace” portion of Ulrich Duchrow’s “A European Revival of Liberation Theology” in the Winter 2011 issue. The destructive effects of the unregulated market system supported by the politics of empire have been analyzed and deplored by the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches because their members include Christians from the global South who look upon the world from the margin. The Churches of Europe and North America have become more timid, betraying the critical statements they made in the 1970s. The European groups and networks that have signed “Life in Just Peace” represent a small minority, just as the corresponding groups do in the United States and Canada. I live in the French-speaking province of Quebec where the Catholic Left is still a significant minority addressing church and society. My colleague Ulrich Duchrow is a prophet and troublemaker who will not give up: I greatly admire him. But before I sign his declaration, I would ask that it acknowledge the human rights crisis in Europe, caused by the spread of racist hostility to immigrants, especially Muslims, and the emergence of extreme right-wing parties in all European countries.
LOVE YOUR SITE
I just wanted to compliment you on your site, most especially its content. The issues you are addressing are so important. I am in Madison, Wisconsin, and trying to fight against the cruel austerity budget presented by our governor. It’s inspirational to find a site that provides some hope, especially on a day when I’m finding it hard to hang on to hope in a state where the government is now totally controlled by corporate interests. I will definitely spread the word about the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to those who have been protesting with me over the last four months and anyone else who will listen.
A GROSS MISINTERPRETATION
I am shocked by the title of “The Culture Wars Continue: Catholic Church Blames the 1960s for Priests’ Pedophilia,” Michael Lerner’s article about “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010” by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The latter was commissioned by the United States Catholic Conference, but the John Jay College is hardly the Catholic Church. And saying the five-year study blames the sixties for priests’ pedophilia is a grossly inaccurate characterization of the report. I refer you to “What Caused the Crisis?” by Kathleen McChesney in America magazine June 6-15, 2011:
Less than 5 percent of priests with abuse allegations exhibited behaviors consistent with pedophilia…. Formation seems to have played a significant role in the likelihood of a man becoming an abuser. Abusers failed to recognize the harm they did to their victims…. As seminaries gradually intensified the focus of formation on the “human” aspect of development, the number of incidents of abuse began to diminish…. The failure of some diocesan leaders to take responsibility for the harms caused by priestly abuse was egregious in some cases…. The study fairly notes that some bishops were “innovators” in dealing with the issue of abuse well before 2002 and some, the “laggards,” were not…. The study found that the increase of abuse incidents during the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with “the rise of other types of ‘deviant’ behavior such as drug use, crime and changes in social behavior such as the increase in premarital sexual behavior and divorce.… This finding may be dangerously misinterpreted by some as a “cause” of the abuse. While the sexual activities of clergy members with consenting adults during this time may reflect a sexually liberated society, at no time was the sexual abuse of minors legal, moral, or justified. As adult followers of the Catholic faith, these offenders knew, or should have known, that their behaviors violated and injured the young. The sexual abuse of minors is a long-term societal problem that is likely to persist, particularly in organizations that nurture and mentor adolescents…. The report’s recommendations reinforce the actions undertaken by bishops and religious superiors to prevent future abuse — actions that can and should be replicated in other countries and by other organizations. The suggested prevention policies focus on three areas: education, situational prevention models, and oversight and accountability.
I think we can agree with the John Jay College report that the sexual abuse of minors is a long-term societal problem. All faiths need to cooperate together to minimize future abuse. I would add that the world family abuses minors in many other ways as well. Children are hungry, poor, homeless, lacking in proper education, exposed to violence in video games, entertainment, a real-life war system, an exclusive global economy, a deteriorating planet. Tikkun has done much to make this a better world for children and adults. Misinterpreting reports and efforts to minimize sexual abuse can’t be listed among your many good works.
Father Benjamin J. Urmston
Michael Lerner responds:
Dear Father Urmston, Thank you for your letter. Obviously our intent is not to distort the report or the meaning, and I think your letter goes part of the way in that direction. Still, it leaves a few things unclear that you might choose to clarify. First, you distinguish between the Catholic Church and John Jay College. Is that distinction meant to say that the Church does not feel that John Jay College did a good job of fulfilling its commission from the Catholic Church? If that is not your point, then what point are you making when you say “the John Jay College is hardly the Catholic Church?”
Second, what exactly did you mean by saying: “The study found that the increase of abuse incidents during the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with the rise of other types of ‘deviant’ behavior such as drug use, crime, and changes in social behavior such as the increase in premarital sexual behavior and divorce”?
Most of those who have commented on this report have understood this claim to either be a) causal and/or b) a thinly veiled contextual excuse. If it wasn’t meant to be either of those two things, what exactly was the reason that this would appear in relationship to a report about Catholic priests’ sexual abuse cases? Suppose I said that the sexual abuse cases unveiled at Abu Ghraib by the U.S. military were consistent with the increase in sexual abuse that had been taking place in other U.S. institutions at the time, for example in the Catholic Church and on the Internet. Would you find that statement suggestive of either a causal relationship or a possible attempt at excusing or reducing culpability of those engaged in Abu Ghraib? If, of course, you don’t think that there is any problem in the conjoining of elements in the original report, perhaps it would be helpful to say why.
SINGULARITY AND SYNCRETISM
At “my” church (St. Luke’s Episcopal in Knoxville, TN), we do not think of religion as a set of beliefs; we think of religion as a way of life. In that case, the teachings of Rabbi Hillel (what is hateful to yourself, do not to another), Jesus (love your neighbor as yourself), and Muhammad (God is beneficent and merciful), are essentially the same, as are the sutric teachings of the eastern religions. So what is the problem? (A rhetorical question, I guess.) Onward and upward; special blessings to the people in North Africa and the Middle East. Keep the faith!
LIMITS OF EXTREMISM
What are the extremists in Indonesia or in other parts of the world achieving except civil disturbance?
With great sadness and pain I heard about the killings in Indonesia. My deepest sympathy goes to the families. Three members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community were martyred in Indonesia in an utterly barbaric and brutal attack by self-proclaimed “Muslims.”
Such attacks are definitely not compatible with Islamic teaching. Islam is a religion of peace and guarantees freedom of speech. This is not the first time that members of the community have been murdered because of their faith.
Again and again members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have been the target of violent persecution, whether in Pakistan, Indonesia, or Bangladesh.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a peaceful and tolerant community that does not support any kind of violence. I appeal to the politicians in Indonesia, and worldwide, to raise their voice against the extremists and to take severe action.
EGYPT AND ISRAEL/PALESTINE
Israel would not be harmed but helped if an Egyptian regime should arise that promotes Israeli/Palestinian peace, beginning with an end to Israel’s cruel siege of Gaza.
Of course, the particular Israeli politicians who chose to impose destruction and siege on Gaza might find their political prospects clouded, but that is a price for them to pay — and I pray the price is steep — but not a price to be paid by Israel, or by Jews elsewhere.
Israelis, like Palestinians, and especially like the people of Gaza, need to be rescued from Israeli governmental intransigence. Egypt might just help, particularly if the example of Tunisia and Egypt spread throughout the Arab world.
As an American, I am coming to understand the helplessness of living in a hyper-aggressive imperial state (soi-disant “democratic”) and thus to sympathize with Israelis who share that problem. We will all be better off after a democracy comes into being in the Middle East — that is, a democracy for all the people of the country and not just for a royal, racial, religious, or economic ruling class.