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Mazal Tov on Overcoming the Fearful & the War Mongers on the Iran Nuclear Deal


by: on September 17th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Thank you so very much for your help in making it possible for the the major powers of the world, the U.N. and most of the people of the world to confirm the deal with Iran which will prevent them from developing nuclear weapons for the next ten to fifteen years.

Your support for the Tikkun position, (a position we articulated in full page ads we bought in the NY Times, the Hill magazine read by most Congressional people and staffers), plus your willingness to share your reasons for supporting the nuclear deal, eventually became part of a powerful surge of voices that created the context critical to the ability of Democratic Senators to feel that they could reject the pressure from the right-wing of the Jewish world, represented by AIPAC, The Conference of Presidents of Major (sic) Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Congress, and many local Jewish Federations and synagogues and instead embrace a deal which, while flawed in some ways, was far better than any achievable alternative. (See, sometimes us little guys can make a difference if we pool our energies and resources.)


It was sad for us to see the Reform movement in Judaism unable to take a stand on this issue–the movement that had once proudly proclaimed itself a voice for tikkun olam, but we can have compassion for the leadership that feared it might lose some of its support in being in favor of a deal that raised fears among many Jews who had been influenced by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s manipulation of PTSD flashbacks from the Holocaust. Yet this is the same reason why so many Jewish leaders and rabbis fail to take courageous stands countering Israel’s horrendous treatment of the Palestinian people, behavior in sharp violation of the Torah’s commands “Do Not Oppress the Stranger/the Other.” The excuse of fear of breaking your organization apart or losing some of their supporters starts to wear thin, don’t you think, as we approach the 50th year of Occupation (in 2017)? It would be great if American Jews could push for an end to the Occupation (not just for less abuses inside the Occupation) with a focus on demanding that it be ended by 2017. And, as in the campaign for the nuclear treaty, such a campaign would necessarily require powerful involvement of non-Jews and the next President of the U.S. so check to see if your candidate, whoever that might be, would join such a campaign (the terms of a peace treaty to end the Occupation are spelled out in detail in my book Embracing israel/Palestine which you can get on Kindle from Amazon.com or in print from www.tikkun.org/eip).


The Best Way to Deal with ISIS


by: on September 17th, 2015 | 14 Comments »

Editor’s note:  The two perspectives articulated by Uri Avnery and Rabbi Arthur Waskow below deserve to be well known and discussed. We at Tikkun have a slightly different approach: we believe that the hate-filled and barbarous approach of ISIS will continue to manifest in a world that is fundamentally unjust, creates huge amounts of suffering in daily life for at least 2 of the 7 billion people on the planet, and privileges military power over kindness in its expenditures of money and in the organization of nation states. We have long argued that what we need is to convince the Western powers to privilege generosity over domination, and to launch as a first step in this process a Global Marshall Plan to once and for all eliminate global poverty, hunger, homelessness, inadequate education and health care, repair the global environment, resettle refugees, and eliminate the unjust global trade arrangements (read our proposed version at www.tikkun.org/gmp).  Yet Uri Avnery and Arthur Waskow, both strong allies of Tikkun, have proposals which differ from our approach and from each other, though because they fit into the “realistic” dialogue of power politics both might be achieved sooner than our plan, though Arthur’s seems much closer to us precisely because it does not envision the direct use of force but only the power of the US to implement it.  In my view, it is more likely to get the US population behind a fundamental change in worldview called for by the Strategy of Generosity than to get a piecemeal acceptance of Iran as an ally in the Middle East reconciled to Israel, unless we were simultaneously challenging the notion that their security depends on power over enemies (the Strategy of Domination). But these are the kinds of debates that ought to be taking place in national elections in 2016, so you decide if any of the candidates are even approaching this level of discourse on foreign policy—and if not, what you could do to get them to address this kind of discussion. Rabbi Waskow and Uri Avnery present important ideas for your consideration.  –Rabbi Michael Lerner   rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com


Uri Avnery

September 12, 2015


                                                The Real Menace



I am not ashamed to admit it. I am afraid.


Repentance & Reparations by Kate Poole


by: Arif Qazi on September 16th, 2015 | Comments Off

With the High Holidays here. Kate Poole has published a new comic commenting on some of our concerns today regarding wealth, race and consumerism. Explore more of Kate’s work here.

All Should Be Repenting for the Suffering of the Refugees


by: on September 9th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

This article appeared on the Huffington Post home page column this morning (Sept 9th), view the original here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-michael-lerner/we-all-should-be-repentin_b_8109612.html

As we watch millions of refugees struggling to survive, hundreds of thousands of them seeking refuge in a Europe which has by and large shut its doors to them, it is all too easy for those in the U.S. to piously implore the Europeans to do more. Or for the U.S. government to take in a few thousand of them.

Most Americans seem completely blind to the way that we have played a major role in creating the problem, and have a major responsibility to fix it. Instead, many Americans are rallying behind Donald Trump and other Republican politicians who are competing with each other on who can be more ruthless toward our own domestic refugees who came to the U.S. without official government sanction.

Few Americans realize that there was no major refugee problem until the 1990s. Here’s what happened since then to change the world:

1. The U.S. got involved in Middle East wars, eventually overthrowing Saddam Hussein and throwing out of government and the Iraqi army leadership everyone associated with Saddam’s Sunni Muslim allies. Those thus disempowered began a war with the U.S. occupying forces which the U.S. pursued with torture at Guantanamo and at many torture locations around the world and in Iraq. Millions of Iraqis fled their homes. Eventually Americans’ patience with that ongoing war led to the decision to leave the area.

Not surprisingly, many of those who had felt resentful at the U.S.–and resentful at the Shiite government that the US empowered and left behind in Iraq, and which continued to oppress Sunni Muslims–created the preconditions for popular acceptance of ISIS with its ruthless treatment of Iraqis and Syrians whom they deemed as enemies, making it unsafe for vast swaths of the Iraqi and Syrian populations.


Tikkun Wins Best Magazine of the Year Award


by: Tikkun on September 9th, 2015 | Comments Off

Tikkun Wins Best Magazine of the Year Award from the mainstream media’s Religion Newswriters Association

This year’s meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association was held in Philadelphia and its major focus was on how best to cover the Pope’s forthcoming visit. Panels filled with members of the Catholic Church hierarchy, many of them people who strongly disagree with the Pope’s progressive politics, were chosen to give the mainstream media people who attended this gathering a way to think about the pope’s visit. Their problem was obvious: as leaders of the Catholic Church they are not supposed to oppose the Pope, but they also don’t want his message too widely spread to the world, and particularly not to the Catholic world. Their solution was the same that many (not all) of the mainstream media often use when dealing with US elections—rarely report on what the candidates are advocating, focus instead on the personalities of the candidates and their standing in the latest polls.

Translating that strategy into the Pope’s visit, many of the Church leaders urged the media to focus on what a nice guy the Pope is, how caring he is for the poor and down-trodden through personal visits to them, and to avoid politics altogether, including his recent encyclical which linked both global poverty and the accelerating destruction of the environment to the destructive materialism and selfishness and competitiveness that are rooted in the daily dynamics of global capitalism. “Not the point,” they insisted. “The Pope has no politics—he is a religious thinker and leader, he is not Left or Right, his only commitment is to Jesus.” Apparently none of these archbishops and bishops and priests seemed to know that Jesus had a revolutionary politics that was very much about ending the suffering of people on this planet, and it was precisely that message that had made it so easy to spread the religion that St. Paul created in Jesus’ name.


Remembering Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) and His Gift


by: Howard Cooper on September 3rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

picture of Oliver Sacks

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The strain was beginning to show. In a smart London hotel suite, surrounded by a chaos of scattered papers, books, empty whisky glasses, Oliver Sacks was decidedly grumpy. No, more than grumpy: he was angry. January 1990: at the end of a week immersed in round-the-clock interviews about his latest book (Seeing Visions, on deafness), Sacks was faced with yet another publicity chore. I felt I was sitting with a man ready to explode.

He’d already spoken to the Jewish press in the west of England, he told me – I’d been commissioned by the Jewish Chronicle to interview him – and he didn’t know why he needed to speak to me. Neither did I. Maybe my helplessness touched him. Or maybe when I said I wasn’t a journalist, but a therapist and rabbi, something in him shifted, mellowed.

He spoke about (I asked about) his formative years – until the age of six he existed within the security of a north London medical family, his father a Yiddish-speaking doctor in Whitechapel (east London), his mother the first Jewish woman elected to be a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. In this Orthodox household “the Sabbath bride was welcomed in”, he said, “I always felt there was a sense of mystery when I saw my mother’s hands hovering about the candles.”


Ten Things I Learned from Hugo Chávez


by: on September 2nd, 2015 | 12 Comments »

I like to gather signs of hope that things really can change for the better in a major way. With that in mind, I keep the website venezuelanalysis.com as my browser’s home page. Ten years ago I would have said, “No way!” if anyone had told me I would have great enthusiasm for a country where these elements combine forces: government, military, religion, and the oil industry. But there I was, initially inspired by the documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, participating in political delegations to Venezuela as often as my budget would allow.

On the afternoon of March 5, 2013, I had to catch my breath when I saw the venezuelanalysis.com headline, “President Hugo Chávez has Died.” Because the typical characterization of Hugo Chávez by media and government in the United States has been so different from what I observed, I have been moved to share what I learned.


God and Man in Toronto


by: Ed Simon on September 1st, 2015 | 1 Comment »

In Scottish poet James Robertson’s brilliant 2008 novel The Testament of Gideon Mack, the reader is confronted by the titular character: a Presbyterian minister and seemingly devoted “son of the manse” who discovers that he can “be a Christian without involving Christ very much.” Gideon Mack’s ministerial career seems to hum along under his dutiful and thorough skill, and his flock seemingly doesn’t pick up that the good reverend is secretly an atheist. Echoing Robertson’s fellow countryman, James Hogg in the 1824 gothic masterpiece The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, the good Rev. Mack finds his faith (or perhaps lack thereof) challenged not when he meets God, but rather when he is confronted by a distinguished and cosmopolitan Satan. The problem is that Satan is just as much at a loss as to where God is as Rev. Mack.

book cover of "The Testament of Gideon Mack"

Credit: Wikimedia

Hogg’s earlier novel, which seems so influential to Robertson’s post-modern pastiche, in part functioned as a parody of the rigid Calvinism of the Scottish Presbyterian Church in the nineteenth-century. This is demonstrated particularly by the stern belief in double-predestination, and also by the potential ethical lapses that could be encouraged by a misinterpretation of the potential dangerous doctrine of being a “justified sinner” (with the adjective’s ambiguity triggering all of the novel’s gothic horrors). If Hogg’s novel is a dark satire on the ways in which extreme faith can be twisted to justify atrocity, Robertson’s novel looks at the strange cynicism of a society in which faith is seemingly absent. Or is it? After all, Gideon Mack may seem to be a hypocrite – an atheist who knows that the Devil is real. But, is this any contradiction? Why can an atheist not wear the collar of the ministry?

I reflect on these paired readings because the United Church of Canada is about to start proceedings against the Rev. Gretta Vosper – a minister at the suburban Toronto West Hill United Church, where she has made her non-belief in God known since 2001 and where she has popularly become known as the “atheist minister.” Unlike Gideon Mack, Rev Vosper makes no secret of her apparent apostasy, telling the Canadian Press wire service that “I don’t believe in the god called God,” and further elaborating to the March Toronto Star that she didn’t think Jesus was the son of God. Now the general assembly of the UC Church, which is both the largest Protestant denomination in Canada and one known for its relatively liberal views (though apparently with a limit to that), is convening an assembly to judge if she is true to her ordination vows which affirm a belief in the Trinity. It’s the first time that this body has ever asked one of their ministers to do this.

Rev. Vosper is obviously not Giordano Bruno, and the United Church of Canada isn’t the Roman Inquisition. Further, I would be remiss to lecture an organization which represents a denomination, of which I am not a member, in how they should define ordination requirements – especially when that something is as basic seeming as a belief in God. And yet, I would like not just the United Church of Canada but indeed all people concerned and interested in theological expression and exploration to consider the possibility that an “atheist minister” need not be a contradiction at all. Too often our discussions on faith and theology are simply too shallow and restrictive – atheism is regarded as the absence of faith, but that’s what indifference is. An atheist ontology is by definition passionately concerned with the metaphysical status of a deity. It simply arrives at a different conclusion than the mainstream of Abrahamic understanding. The issue has been muddied by the arrival of the so-called “New Atheists,” who on one hand allowed previously closeted atheists to proudly declare their non-belief in God (admittedly through the most bellicose of rhetoric and often justified with an appalling ignorance of western philosophy and culture), but who also ironically restricted severely the many meanings of the word “atheist.” It’s the great ironic fallacy of the “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet and the late Christopher Hitchens, that their writing has done more to diminish the philosophical variety around the word “atheist” than writers before.

Rev Gosper is not a “New Atheist.” In writings like With or Without God she seems to embody the most radical and fascinating aspects of atheism as embodied by figures such as Friedrich Nietzsche. The so-called “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” who represent the “New Atheism” to so many people, simply don’t like religion – theirs is a bourgeois, suburban, elitist prejudice against something integral to western civilization. It should not be confused with or reduced to atheism in general, or in all its great variety. Nietzsche may have declared the “death of God,” but he also knew what was significant about religion, and he took it seriously. Rev. Vosper is in this category, this particular tradition, which, contrary to the idea that this is a view against theology, is really just a theology in itself.

In fact, this sort of theology, which focuses on the silence of God to the point of his non-existence, has a venerable tradition. While apophatic and via negativa expressions about divinity, which were important to many medieval mystics both Catholic and Orthodox, aren’t atheistic per se, they certainly don’t reflect the positivism of fundamentalist religion today. Nietzsche’s pronouncement was central to a mid-twentieth century theological movement called “Death of God” theology, about which thinkers like Thomas J.J. Altizer, Gabriel Vahanian, Richard Rubenstein, and more recently John Caputo and Peter Rollins wrote. In their works there is a vital, impassioned, committed approach to understanding faith and religion, and their “atheism” more clearly matches the mystical visions of figures like Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagete, Meister Eckhart- the anonymous medieval author of The Cloud of Unknowing- William Blake, and Nietzsche. Today this movement is mostly famous for the Time Magazine “Is God Dead?” cover from 1966, which remains the bestselling edition of that periodical. It was also heavily featured in a scene from Roman Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby. This movement was of course never within the mainstream of American seminaries, even during its hey-day, but it never really disappeared either. I do not know whether Rev. Vosper would align herself with this movement, but, like a good minister, she seems to take the most complicated theological ideas of the movement and to simplify them so that her congregation can understand. She tells the Huffington Post “It’s mythology. We build a faith tradition upon it which shifted to find belief more important than how we lived.”

The great twentieth-century Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich said “God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him.” This is strictly speaking an ontology which could be considered a type of atheism, yet to confuse it with the simply anti-religion pronouncements of the “New Atheists” is a mistake; to assume the same about Rev. Gosper would be the same. “Death of God” theology offers a vibrant, mystical, passionate, counter-intuitive, paradoxical approach to faith and religion right at the moment when it seems that the ghost-in-the-machine that is western spirituality is being exorcised. Thinkers such as the prominent Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek have popularized “atheist Christianity” in the academic world, but Rev. Vosper takes these ideas to the pew. While I do not argue that the UCC has no right to defrock her, I would ask them to consider the full multiplicity and variety that an engaged religious practice might take – even if it seems extreme. It is possible to both be and not be an atheist, as Gideon Mack, the unbeliever who met the Devil, knew.

Ed Simon is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department of Lehigh University. His research focuses on religion and literature in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Atlantic world. He has been previously published in Salon, Quartz, The Revealer, the Journal of the Northern Renaissance, and the Public Domain Review among others. Currently he is the assistant editor of the Journal of Heresy Studies, and one of the founding members of the International Society for Heresy Studies. He can be followed on Twitter @WithEdSimon.

Dare to Live The Future Now: Be An Emissary


by: on August 31st, 2015 | Comments Off

Do a little thought experiment with me. Imagine we’re sitting over a drink in your favorite place, but it’s 20 years from now. Instead of the dystopia mass media tell us to expect, look around: it’s the future we wanted to inhabit!

“Think about how it would have been back then,” you say, “if we’d only known we had the power to accomplish all this.” “Yes,” I reply, rolling my eyes. Then we click our glasses and burst into ecstatic laughter.

Take another breath in 2035, then come back here for a minute, because there’s something we want to tell you: we do have the power.

Do you want to live the future now? Just a couple of clicks and you’ll be signed up as an Emissary From The Future in #DareToImagine, the next National Action of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (where I have the honor of serving as Chief Policy Wonk), taking place all across the country from 10-18 October 2015.

Why #DareToImagine? Imagination is our birthright, but too often, we’re persuaded to believe our voices don’t count or that the future is determined by a powerful few. Social imagination is a radical act, restoring personal and collective agency, shifting dominant narratives, and affirming that all of us make the future. When we have the audacity to dream in public, when we begin to unleash imagination and turn it into action, we can move the world.


I Want to Be Left Behind


by: Brenda Peterson on August 27th, 2015 | 11 Comments »

Since the best-selling Left Behind series, the religious right in the US has been obsessed with Israel. Their support is not because they revere the Jewish traditions; in this Christian Zionist Armageddon belief, Israel is simply the setting for the longed-for Rapture – an evacuation plan that saves only Christians. All other religions are left to endure the Tribulations.

For decades this belief has dominated our international foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Even today it is the subtext for much of the pro-Israel “blind support” as Rabbi Michael Lerner writes about in his recent letter: “There are an estimated 30 million Christian Zionists, and they play an important role in shaping the dynamics of the Republican Party and the Christian Right.”

Here’s an excerpt from the recent memoir, I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, by author Brenda Peterson, which describes the darkly comic, but deeply troubling world view that comes from this Rapture-bound belief still shaping our Middle East policies.