Within two of the most prominent monotheistic religions in the world, Judaism and Islam, tradition dictates it blasphemous and highly insulting for any person to physically depict their G*d in Judaism, and the Prophet Muhammad in Islam, even positively or respectfully. So why then did the so-called American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and its leader, anti-Islam activist Pam Geller, organize their “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, a small suburb near Dallas? Geller offered a $10,000 prize to be awarded for the “best” cartoon caricature of Muhammad.
According to Geller, as well as the invited keynote speaker, far-right politician Geert Wilders, head of the Dutch Freedom Party, the event was called as an exercise in free speech. Evidently, Geller chose the site in reaction to a pro-Islam gathering, “Stand with the Prophet” held there last January. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which follows extremist hate groups, defines AFDI as an extremist right-wing organization.
by: Warren Blumenfeld on April 15th, 2015 | Comments Off
Throughout the ages, individuals and organizations have employed “religion” to justify the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, and oppression of entire groups of people based on their social identities. At various historical periods, people have applied these texts, sometimes taken in tandem, and at other times used selectively, to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and groups targeted by these texts and tenets.
Proponents of the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRA) recently passed in states like Indiana and Arkansas argue that these laws promote religious freedoms and freedom of speech – two tenets already covered by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court opened the flood gates for the enactment of new and enhanced RFRA laws in its 2014 decision Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. While human and civil rights anti-discrimination laws primarily have never covered bone fide religious institutions, the Hobby Lobby ruling extended such exemptions to “closely held” (where no ready market exists for the trading of stock shares) for-profit corporations when these owners claim that to follow anti-discrimination statutes would violate their religious beliefs.
President Obama is correct to characterize efforts against terrorist groups as a struggle against violent extremism and not as a struggle against “Islamic” terrorism. He is correct to deny groups such as Islamic State/Islamic State in the Levant/ Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (IS/ISIL/ISIS) the imprimatur of Islam, to deny them the cover of religion.
Just as words have multiple meanings, groups, individuals, acts, and texts have multiple meanings. Meaning comes not only from what an individual or a group says it is, but meaning also come from what we agree, to what we say: “yes and amen.” When IS says it is Islamic, we can agree to that or we can say no. I say no. President Obama and other world leaders also say no. ISIS is not religious, and it is not Islamic. It is a death-dealing cult of destruction. It deserves no respect. Thus, let us call it by its Arabic name of derision: Daesh. (pronounced daEEsh or dash)
Some people argue that the reason to say “Islamic” terrorism is because to deny the so-called Islamic elements of its ideology would cause misunderstanding and miscalculation in war. It would break an important rule of warfare: “Know the enemy.” I say it is possible to know the ideological goals of Daesh while demonstrating how its ideology falls short of the goals of Islam and is not religion.
Let us consider the meaning of Islam – submission to the will of God. The Koran refers to God as the Most Gracious, Most Merciful Master of the Day of Judgment. Thus, Islam is submission to a gracious and merciful God. The concept of radical means extreme, basic, the root of the thing, so radical, extreme Islam would require an extreme, basic submission to a God of grace and mercy. Too often we use the term radical as a synonym for violent. Further, in Islam, Jesus is a revered prophet whose teachings ought to be obeyed. So Muslims, like Christians, have an obligation to love one’s enemies, to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. So to refer to Daesh and other terrorist groups as Islamic is to insult Islam. To even refer to Daesh as religious is a mistake.
by: Rev. Rich Lang on April 4th, 2015 | 4 Comments »
Credit: CreativeCommons / Lisa.
This weekend, Christians will remember the last week of Jesus’ life. If you ask Christians what the significance of Jesus is, they will tell you that Jesus “died for our sins,” paving the way for our souls to go to heaven after we shed this mortal coil. This common view is really a rather odd answer.
Some Christians tell the story as if God, the spiritual source of the material world, is really angry with us human beings. We are a rebellious sort who eat apples off the wrong trees and have sex with the wrong people. God the spirit is so angry with us that when our mortal coil is shed, our own spiritual essence will descend into an eternal torture chamber for an afterlife marked by weeping and gnashing of teeth. But thankfully, Jesus takes one for the team, becoming the scapegoat that represents all of us filthy sinners, and in doing so, appeases the God who otherwise would roast and toast us like an eternal marshmallow at a campfire. If you don’t believe Christians talk this way, just ask one: “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”
A still from the movie 'American Sniper.' Credit: remolacha.net/ Creative Commons
Editor’s note: While we at Tikkun do not feel it’s fair to blame Christianity or imply that all Christians somehow implicitly support the kind of Christianity that leads some American Christians to feel that their murdering of Arabs or Muslims is doing Jesus’ work, and want to remind our readers of the many progressive Christians who join the Network of Spiritual Progressives and other organization that oppose the US “Strategy of Domination” and instead identify with Tikkun’s Strategy of Generosity (as manifested in our proposed Domestic and Global Marshall Plan (please re-read it by downloading the full version at www.tikkun.org/gmp), we do think that Hedges’ powerful critique of the movie “American Sniper” should be read by those who are too willing to forgive the American media for its implicit and sometimes explicit glorification of the U.S. military. And shame on President Obama and liberal Democrats for not having stopped the (what was at first just Bush’s) war in Iraq when they had control of both houses of Congress and the presidency 2009 and 2010, instead backing a “surge” and providing the background and equipment that eventually led to ISIS and all its cruel perversions and murderous ruthlessness.
Below we have excerpts from Chris Hedges’ piece, “Killing Ragheads for Jesus”, which can be found here, at Truthdig.com.
by: Rick Herrick on December 22nd, 2014 | 2 Comments »
Credit: Creative Commons / tpsdave
There’s a new threat on the climate change front, and it’s a big one. The recent midterm elections not only put Republicans in charge of the Congress, but the party of science deniers made dramatic gains at the state and local levels. This impressive victory was made possible by huge infusions of cash from oil, coal, and natural gas interests.
The problem is these interests do not donate money. They invest it. With victory in hand, they are already seeking a return on their investment. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, fossil fuel industry lobbyists are looking for ways to delay implementation of the Obama administration’s plan to place limits on coal-fired power plant emissions. Their hope is that with a Republican president in the White House in 2017 they can then reverse the policy. They are also demonizing the EPA as an out of control government agency in an attempt to weaken its authority.
How do you fight these people? Environmental groups are well aware of this new threat and will do everything in their power to combat it. But these groups need our help. The best way to defeat narrow vested interests is in the arena of public opinion. This is a difficult task, however, because public opinion is often uninformed and not much interested in national political issues.
by: Y. A. Shir on December 15th, 2014 | 4 Comments »
Credit: Creative Commons/ Ian Wilson
I spent last Christmas at a Jewish meditation retreat. Stepping into the lobby of the Jewish summer camp where it was held was crossing over from one world into another. There were no poinsettias, no mistletoe, none of the amped-up holiday cheer. This was Jewish space: mezuzahs on every doorpost, Hebrew letters on the bulletin board, kosher everything, faces of people I’d never met but somehow already knew—their gait, the furrows on their brows, the occasional clothing item we Israelis recognize immediately as coming from over there.
Much of the retreat was spent in silence. One of the things that silence can do is wake us up to the noise inside our own mind. On this particular retreat, the silence made me realize that it took two days for the Christmas carols to stop playing in my head.
During Shabbat and as part of the morning blessings, we broke the silence and sang other songs, songs that for fleeting intervals made me understand what people mean when they talk about raising the roof.
Ozi vezimrat ya, vayehi li lishua.
God is my strength and my song, and will be my salvation.
It was as if the room—like my body after a good session of yoga—had discovered more space between its vertebrae.
For the remainder of the retreat it was these melodies that reverberated through me. On my drive back, instead of turning on the radio or plugging in my iPod, I stayed in silence and I sang. When I arrived at my house I parked, dropped off my bags, and walked to the river, where I sang some more. Then I went home.
by: Robert Cohen on November 18th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
Credit: Creative Commons/ Kathleen Tyler Conklin
I want to talk about difficult conversations. Conversations that could put decades of valuable Christian/Jewish interfaith dialogue in jeopardy. It’s risky I know, but I think the stakes have become too high to shy away from it any longer.
Jewish communities receive lessons in Israel advocacy from our leadership, who seem to think the solution to Israel’s growing isolation can be resolved with nothing more than better presentation skills. Meanwhile, Christian communities are morally paralyzed by fear of causing offense to a people they spent so many centuries persecuting.
But it’s time to stop the Jewish moral denial and the Christian moral paralysis. With so much ethical common ground, why not both stand on it for a change and see what happens?
And who knows, through challenging the current no-go-area consensus on Israel, it could take us all to somewhere more dynamic, truthful and powerful in interfaith relations.
But with all that Israel advocacy training taking place in our synagogues, I feel like my Christian friends need some insider guidance on how to get this conversation going.
So what follows is the Micah’s Paradigm Shift Online Guide to Starting that Difficult Conversation on Israel with your Jewish neighbors, friends, colleagues, and local communities.
Feel free to adapt the following to your local circumstances and understanding.
Students at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, reenact the slaughter.
Who is a martyr? The question comes to mind twenty-five years after what has become known as “the Jesuit massacre” in El Salvador.
On November 16, 1989, an elite battalion of the Salvadoran military forced its way into the Jesuit residence at the University of Central America, or UCA, in San Salvador. Most of the soldiers had received counter-insurgency training in Georgia, at the U.S. Army School of the Americas. They proceeded to murder six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter.
Unlike the martyrs of ancient Christianity, these men were not killed simply because they professed the faith. They were targeted specifically for speaking out on behalf of the impoverished and against persecutions carried out by the U.S.-backed military. Still, in the view of many, they died for the faith no less than the martyrs of old.
This happens to be subject to dispute in some quarters. The argument has surfaced mostly in connection with the sainthood cause of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down by a paramilitary death squad while saying mass in the chapel of a cancer hospital in San Salvador in 1980.
by: Kevin Daugherty on November 5th, 2014 | 2 Comments »
Credit: The Hampton Institute
Growing up, I was often exposed to the idea that capitalism and Christianity go together. Profit and wealth were not simply compatible with Christianity, but were a sign of God’s blessing or your personal piety. I remember going to the Christian bookstore once or twice and seeing large piles of books with that topic specifically in mind, usually by Dave Ramsey, who was recently on the 700 Club for a new book of his. In that interview, one of the first things mentioned is how Ramsey and Robertson agree that wealth is a good thing, and that those who see wealth as bad are wrong, even “gnostic.” I don’t think the heretics here are the “gnostics” who believe that wealth is wrong; rather, I think the heretics here are Ramsey, Robertson, and others in their camp, who seem to have forgotten what the New Testament and early church taught concerning economics.