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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



Tisha B’av does not have a happy ending

Jul31

by: Aryeh Cohen on July 31st, 2017 | 3 Comments »

Tisha B’av is not yom kippur. We are assured neither atonement nor redemption on Tisha B’av.

Tisha B’av is not the day that we beat our chests and promise to do better.

Tisha B’av is the day that we force ourselves to look into the heart of darkness, the darkness that we have created, the ways in which we are complicit in the evils of the world and we must be overwhelmed and distraught and paralyzed. There is no ray of hope on Tisha B’av.

Tisha B’av is the day of reckoning.

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The Crown Jewels of the Jewish People

Jul25

by: Ilana Kurshan on July 25th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

There is a story in the Talmud about Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hanania, who was known for being homely. Rabbi Yehoshua was once approached by the daughter of the Roman Emperor, who took one look at the sage and asked, “How can such beautiful wisdom be contained in so ugly a vessel?” Rabbi Yehoshua promptly came back at her with a question of his own. “Does your father store his wine in vessels of clay?” “Of course,” responded the Emperor’s daughter. “Doesn’t everyone?”

“But he’s the Emperor!” Rabbi Yehoshua exclaimed. “Shouldn’t he store his wine in the finest of gold vessels?” Acknowledging that he had a point, the Emperor’s daughter transferred all her father’s wine to gold vessels, where it promptly spoiled.

This story seems to challenge the oft-quoted dictum from the Ethics of the Fathers, “Don’t look at the vessel, but at what is inside it.” No, Rabbi Yehoshua seems to be saying. The vessel matters. The Torah we study is shaped by who we are, just like wine – and all liquids – take the shape of their container. Moreover, there is a chemical reaction that takes place between the vessel and the contents, such that we are transformed by the Torah we study, and the Torah we study is transformed by our encounter with it. No single person – and no single sector of the Jewish people – has a monopoly on Torah. All of us have the potential to transform Torah through our engagement with the texts of our tradition.

Perhaps this is why the recent Kotel controversy has been so infuriating. The Kotel, like the Torah, is the heritage of the Jewish people. It is the holiest site where Jews are permitted to pray – the object of millenia of Jewish longing, and the place toward which Jews the world over direct their prayers. Fifty years ago, when the Israeli army conquered the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel launched a political battle for control of the site. They won that battle, and the Kotel essentially became an Orthodox synagogue, with men and women divided by a partition, and only Orthodox prayer services allowed at the Wall. The Kotel – which had once been the site to which Jews from all the world were enjoined to make pilgrimages three times a year – became the province of one sector of the Jewish people.

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Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2017 | Comments Off

“Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions

of our Day,” that is, environmentalism.

Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Note: This article includes excerpts from my book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, to be released by Fortress Press in July.

Like many of you, I am appalled by many things that Donald Trump has said and done in the first months of his presidency, including his announcement that he’s pulling the United States out of the (largely symbolic) Paris Climate Agreement. But we must look beyond the daily spectacles of the Trump Administration to see what’s really going on. Now that Republicans dominate Congress, they are quietly working to enact regressive policies that have been in the works for decades, policies that target the poor, people who are sick, people of color, immigrants, women, our young and aged, and yes, the environment.

Donald Trump didn’t get elected in a vacuum. He has lots of backers, including the Religious Right. This primarily Christian constituency is aligned with conservative social, political, and economic interests and is a powerful and organized force in the Republican Party. The cruel policies supported by those who espouse right-wing Christian beliefs are the antithesis of Jesus’ teachings about loving God and loving our neighbors.

The Religious Right also exerts a strong influence on the debate about climate change in the United States. This conservative religious lobby’s talking points and policy proposals on energy and climate are largely indistinguishable from those of the fossil fuel industry. Recent initiatives have focused on Academic Freedom legislation, designed to “teach the controversy” about climate change in public schools. Legislation to this effect has been drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative secular organization that brings corporate leaders together with conservative lawmakers to draft model legislation on various issues to be presented in state legislatures. Teach the controversy legislation has also been supported by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, and the Discovery Institute – a creationist think tank. This uninformed and deliberately confusing approach to climate change was reflected by then-candidate Donald Trump in a 2016 New York Times interview, when he said, “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind…. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”

Right-wing Christian groups deny climate science and evolutionary science on the basis that they are unbiblical. The Cornwall Alliance’s website hosts a sign-on declaration, “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming,” stating that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.” The Cornwall Alliance also offers a DVD called “Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day,” which outlines the dangers of the new and false “religion” of environmentalism. Not surprisingly, the organization also works to prevent the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Although political and economic interests help fund and influence the Christian Right’s opposition to climate science, there are also theological factors at work. An analysis of anti-environmental sentiment within the Religious Right reveals that some are convinced that concern for the environment is based on the worship of nature. Others, who believe in apocalyptic prophesies about the coming end times, feel that it is pointless to worry about climate change. What they hold in common, however, is their insistence that the creation stories in the book of Genesis must be taken literally.

Creationism, the belief that the creation stories of Genesis are scientific fact, is widespread among conservative Christians, who seek to introduce this doctrine even in public schools. This sets the creation stories in scripture in opposition to the scientific story of the origins and natureof the universe. Was the universe created in fifteen billion years or in seven days? In pre-scientific times, most believers did take the creation stories in Genesis literally, but times have changed. Scientific discoveries have revealed aspects of the universe unknown in ancient times.

One form of denial at work in these and other conversations about climate change is people’s refusal to consider facts or evidence that contradicts their worldview. Science is continually revealing new information about the natural world, its origins and interconnectedness, and the causes and impacts of planetary warming. Reason enables us to weigh the evidence, reflect on its implications, form rational conclusions, and make informed decisions as we consider how to respond to the earth’s changing climate in a reasonable way. But in the words of Naomi Klein, “it is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered…”

The debate about climate change is political, not scientific, and confusion need not hold us back. Faith in the One who brought creation into being enables us to overcome denial, fear, and confusion as we seek truth about these issues. Jesus insisted that the most important measure of human life is loving God above all and our earthly neighbors as ourselves. In this time of climate change, love of God and neighbor requires honoring creation and working to establish justice for our human family, especially those who are most vulnerable, for our young and future generations, and for all creation.

 

Sharon’s new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, describes some of the ways that the Religious Right has impacted US climate policy, and explores the topic of climate change in a way that takes climate science seriously and is grounded in Jesus’ teachings and example. Sharon’s blog can be found at sharondelgado.org.

For more information and an analysis on the Religious Right’s backing of Donald Trump’s policies on climate change, see “Politics, culture, or theology? Why evangelicals back Trump on global warming,” by David Gibson.

 

 

Asleep in a Prison: Reflections on Pacific School of Religion’s “Borders and Identity” Lectures

Mar24

by: Paige Foreman on March 24th, 2017 | Comments Off

“Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?”

~Rumi

The day after attending Pacific School of Religion’s “Borders and Identity” 2017 Earl and Boswell lectures on March 17th in Berkeley, I swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco. The island and its infamous prison looked desolate and lonely surrounded by an iron sea and a gray sky. I shivered in my bathing suit on the deck of the boat that was approaching the island and stared wide-eyed at the 58-degree water I would have to dive into soon. Doubt crept into me like the cold – I was not sure I would make it across.

Alcatraz Island surrounded by the sea and clouds.

When it comes to immigration, America has confined itself in a prison. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas gave the keynote lecture the evening of March 17th. He is the founder and CEO of Define American, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing the stories of immigrants in order to elevate the conversation around immigration.


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A Response to “Overcoming Trump-ism” and More

Mar16

by: Gilbert Caldwell on March 16th, 2017 | Comments Off

Gilbert Caldwell of Asbury Park, New Jersey – a longtime Methodist pastor and activist in many progressive causes – offers a thoughtful and personal response to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s recent article on Tikkun.org, found at this link:

Overcoming Trump-ism

and to Rebecca Solnit’s article “Grounds for Hope” in the Winter 2017 issue of Tikkun Quarterly.

My re-reading of “Grounds For Hope” by Rebecca Solnit in the Winter 2017 issue of Tikkun has caused me to respond from a personal standpoint, as a clergyman in the United Methodist Church, and with reference to what Rabbi Lerner has written in his article “Overcoming Trump-ism.”

Solnit begins her article: “Your opponents would love to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win.” But, she writes; “Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away … hope is about the future, grounds for hope lie in the records and recollections of the past.”


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Is Ryan a Religious Hypocrite? A Priestly Letter to Speaker Paul Ryan from Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox

Mar14

by: Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on March 14th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

Dear Speaker and Congressman Paul Ryan,

As a priest who commemorates his 50th year in the priesthood this year (28 as a Roman Catholic and 22 as an Episcopalian), and as your elder, I am writing you this letter because I am worried about your soul.

We all know you take good care of your body, working out frequently in the congressional gym we taxpayers provide for those in Congress, and that is a good thing. But I am concerned that you are neglecting your soul. It too requires work-outs and practice to stay healthy.

You claim to be a good and a practicing Catholic Christian but I have serious doubts that you are. Our Christian beliefs include these words of Jesus after all: “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” These powerful words are surely important for anyone serving in public office or any other places of responsibility, whether in government or business or church or wherever. Yes, they even apply to your close buddies the Koch brothers, upon whom you depend so fully for your income and ideas and campaigns and job.

You see, another passage that grounds Catholicism and Christianity is found in Matthew 25: “Do it to the least and you do it to me.” Not to mention the Golden Rule which is found in Matthew 7:12 and is reflected in some form in every world religion since the time of Hammurabi: “Sowhatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this isthe Law and the Prophets.”


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A ‘Moment’ for our Movement: The Work of Creating a More Perfect Union in 2017

Mar10

by: Karin Swann-Rubenstein on March 10th, 2017 | Comments Off

Following the now-famed Women’s March on the day after President Trump’s inauguration, speculation mounted about whether we were seeing a real “movement” or simply a “moment” of reaction from an outraged electorate. Since that day, there’s been no dearth of citizens speaking up, in town halls, airports and on city streets. People who never imagined themselves “protesters” have seized the reins of citizenship suggesting that surely somethingisgalvanizing America. But the question is an important one,doesthis yet qualify as a movement?

Since my days as a student at UC Berkeley in the 1980s, the question of what makes a movement has always intrigued me. I noted the vast difference between the Iran-Contra protesters, characterized by fierceness and all-black garb and the masses, and 20 years prior, of tie-dyed youths who turned out for the summer of love. The Civil Rights movement was something different altogether, and ultimately the force that most powerfully redefined the politics and consciousness of our deeply divided country in the 1960s.

What strikes me most about what we see emerging today is that the vast majority of protests in recent weeks have taken place inreactionto President Trump’s initiatives, mobilized largely by a strong “anti-Trump” sentiment. Looking back at movements that have proven successful, however, I question whether this axis for organizing is enough?


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Anti-Semitism is Back … and Won’t Go Away

Mar10

by: Michael Lerner on March 10th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Suddenly anti-Semitism is back. Over one hundred headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were overturned in a hate act early Sunday February 26, a week after a similar assault on a Jewish cemetery in Missouri. Since the election of Donald Trump there have been hundreds of incidents of bomb threats to Jewish institutions, 20 more on Monday February 27th, along with college campuses reporting a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic graffiti.

 

President Trump is reported to have followed alt-Right conspiracy theorists in suggesting in an off-the-record briefing that these might be false flag operations coming from Jews who are seeking to build sympathy and reclaim our victim status.

 

Jewish leaders around the country are calling upon President Trump to order a full-scale investigation of this surge in acts designed to frighten Jews. Unfortunately, they have been facing some indifference from a media and public which have been overdosed with cries of anti-Semitism. When progressive Jews and some major Protestant denominations have dared to criticize Israel’s denial of human rights to Palestinians the Jewish establishment and many rabbis in synagogues around the U.S. have said that those people critiquing Israel’s denial of human rights to Palestinians are either anti-Semites or “self-hating Jews.” Just two weekends ago Congressman Keith Ellison lost his bid to be chair of the Democratic National Committee after Jewish organizations and fundraisers spread the rumor that he was an anti-Semite based on his mild criticisms of Israeli policies. After decades of mainstream Jewish organizations crying wolf by reviling young Jews who want the same rights for Palestinians that Jews correctly have sought for ourselves and many other oppressed groups, the Jewish establishment deserves some responsibility for weakening their own credibility and diminishing the American public’s concern when now our community is facing real anti-Semitism.


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AIPAC Cheered Trump, Now They Will Cheer Pence: We Won’t Be Silent

Mar10

by: Katheryn Simpson on March 10th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

 

For six months in 2011 and 2012, I lived just minutes from Beersheba and its Iron Dome. When the siren screamed, people would rush indoors. It stopped missiles, but the threat of rockets remained, simmering as a constant question. It wasn’t a question of if, but when we’d hear the siren again. There is no wall high enough and no dome strong enough to give Jews, Muslims, and Christians true security or peace of mind. Only justice can do that.

Still, AIPAC continues to claim that safety can be found in defense spending. In a recent tweet, AIPAC shared a recent successful test of the improved Iron Dome. They would have us believe that security can be bought. But I never saw that in Israel.

That’s why, at the end of this month, Jews will march up to AIPAC’s doorstep in both Los Angeles and Washington D.C. to make American Jews face a hard truth: AIPAC has failed to show moral Jewish leadership. Instead, for a false sense of safety, this institution — and others in the American Jewish establishment — have undermined the Jewish values of justice and dignity so critical to our own fight for equality.

AIPAC’s mission, it claims, is to work toward the security of the State of Israel. Yet now, fifty years into the Occupation, AIPAC shows no signs of understanding what a path to true security might look like, let alone of how to start traveling down it. Instead, its members gave then-candidate Trump a standing ovation when he promised to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step that could easily —if not surely — inflame violence. AIPAC has also remained silent in the face of David Friedman’s support for non-democratic Jewish rule over all Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

In its single-minded pursuit of Israeli security, AIPAC has also been silent about the many threats against Jewish communities in America. It remained silent after the vandalism of Jewish graves in several cities, the more than one hundred bomb threats against JCCs, and the recent spike in hate crimes against Jews. For an organization concerned about the Jewish state, its leaders are noticeably silent about this rise in threats against Jews domestically, threats that appear fueled by rhetoric from the Trump administration.

Though this recent silence in the face of the bigotry and anti-Semitism of Trump’s administration is particularly chilling, AIPAC has long aligned itself with policies that undermine the possibility of peace between Jews and Muslims. In 2016, its national conference hosted Steven Emerson, a man who lied about government ‘no-go zones’ in Muslim areas, including the entire UK city of Birmingham. Nina Rosenwald, a member of its national board, supports multiple organizations that fan the flames of American Islamophobia, such as the Middle East Forum. Emerson and Rosenwald aren’t on the fringes of the organization — they are its core.


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Fordham Shows the Hypocrisy of its Values by Banning SJP, Silencing Students

Mar10

by: Brian Walt on March 10th, 2017 | Comments Off

Jewish tradition celebrates  ‘makhloket l’shem shamayim’  or ‘disagreement for the sake of heaven’ – the principle that open debate and critical dissent on ethical and moral issues is a necessary and holy task. Open debate, especially on controversial moral issues, is critical in any community committed to the sacred Jewish commitment to pursue justice,  tzedek,for all.

As a Jewish child growing up in Apartheid South Africa, I saw how many of those who opposed Apartheid were often silenced, shamed, banned, not allowed to organize, arrested, imprisoned and murdered. As a result, we all lived in fear of openly expressing our opinion and too many in my Jewish community and in other faith communities betrayed our faiths by not speaking up for justice and not challenging the denial of freedom of speech.


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