by: William K. Barth on May 17th, 2013 | 9 Comments »
If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.
- Ehud Olmert, former prime minister of Israel
While international attention has shifted to the war in Syria, little media focus is given to the recent successful initiative at Blair House in Washington, D.C., between Secretary of State John Kerry and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani on behalf of Arab League states. Sheikh Hamad agreed with Secretary Kerry to endorse the American backed proposal for a two-state solution that partitions Israel in order to create a new Palestinian state. As Arab state representatives retreated from their prior demands that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders, the Arab League initiative represents progress toward a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Graffiti marks the wall dividing the Palestinian city of Bethlehem from Israelis in the West Bank. Credit: Creative Commons/Montecruz Foto.
Currently, Israelis and Palestinians live interspersed together within non-contiguous borders. However, the problem with partition is that it divides the population based upon ethnic, racial, religious, or linguistic characteristics. Partition actions use types of profiling to assign people to states based upon their human characteristics. The use of profiling contradicts human rights because equal treatment requires that people be recognized as individuals irrespective of their ethnic, racial or religious identity. So, Israelis and Palestinians must reject obnoxious forms of human profiling should they agree on a partition plan. This poses a particular challenge for Israel because it is the homeland of the Jewish peoples who are themselves a persecuted religious group.
Chris Stedman was the very first atheist I’d ever met who was actively engaged in interfaith work. When I became aware of him a couple years ago on Twitter, he’d just been offered a position at Harvard as the Humanist Chaplain and he stood out from the thousands of people I followed because of his positive attitude and sense of humor. I found myself wanting to engage with him because he seemed to genuinely like other people. Back then, Stedman regularly drew fire from both the religious and atheist communities for daring to put forth the idea that people really ought to be able to live together peacefully, even agreeably, while maintaining vastly different opinions about life’s biggest questions.
When he announced he was going to publish a book, I knew it was going to be a game-changer. I watched him online over the past couple years as he went through is writing and editing process, and I’ve followed with what felt like a vested interest over the past few months as he’s Tweeted through his book tour. (Still no book tour dates in Austin, though! *hint, hint*) He’s still getting those same criticisms from both atheists and religious conservatives, but what is heartening is that I’ve watched as an ever-growing crowd of people who are on “Team Human” rally to him– people who are genuinely happy to share space with others they don’t always agree with. People who are like me–who see diversity of thought and belief as a benefit to humanity, not a liability.
by: Rob Agree on March 8th, 2013 | 12 Comments »
Humanistic Judaism is a comprehensive response to the needs of contemporary Jews to create personal and communal experiences that celebrate identity, values, and connection. In my experience as the lay ceremonial leader of a congregation of Humanistic Jews, the pursuit of these experiences can lead to great rewards in unexpected places, places never visited by the other branches of the modern Jewish tree.
Our congregation includes the Levy family: mother, father and seven year-old (adopted) daughter, Ruth. Last year, the parents asked me to help them prepare a celebration of Ruth’s conversion to Judaism (her birth parents were not Jewish). We discussed Humanistic Judaism’s philosophy that adoption is a better term than conversion, and that it requires no ritual to accomplish, merely an affirmative identification and association with Jews, their historical and cultural experiences, and the values of Humanistic Judaism. The parents still wanted to do something special to welcome Ruth -an active member of our Sunday School – into the Jewish family, and, consistent with our philosophy, to allow Ruth to declare her adoption of Humanistic Judaism.
by: Dave Belden on December 24th, 2012 | Comments Off
As an agnostic appreciator of spirituality and amateur student of evolution, I like this article by the UK’s Chief Rabbi on Darwinian reasons why religion persists. Jonathan Sacks asks why it is that “still in Britain three in four people, and in America four in five, declare allegiance to a religious faith.” A couple of quotes point to his answer:
To put it at its simplest, we hand on our genes as individuals but we survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole.
…It [religion] reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct, through the rituals we perform, the texts we read and the prayers we pray. It remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. Religion binds individuals into groups through habits of altruism, creating relationships of trust strong enough to defeat destructive emotions. Far from refuting religion, the Neo-Darwinists have helped us understand why it matters.
I agree, subject to the usual caveats that strong group identity can be highly toxic: viz, history of Christianity. Granted that in strong community groups we too easily give in to group-think, excessive elevation of leaders, and demonization of outsiders. Nonetheless, we need community. And it’s remarkably hard to create it among freethinking liberal/lefties. There’s a persistent hankering for community among many of the folks I know best. Still, new efforts are being made. From the American Humanist Association:
A few months ago I had the pleasure of “meeting” Chris Stedman on Twitter. He quickly became one of those non-believers with whom I enjoy discussing topics that tend to make everyone else a little crazy. It’s a rare and beautiful thing to find someone who you can disagree with heartily and still adore for his or her personality, intellect and ability to challenge you.
Chris recently announced that he’s working on a book based on his own transition from an Evangelical Christian to an openly gay atheist: (F)a(i)theist: How One Atheist Learned to Overcome the Religious-Secular Divide, and Why Atheists and the Religious Must Work Together (working title, Beacon Press 2012). I am honored to be able to share a short excerpt with you here:
“You coming to youth group tonight?” Her voice sounded distorted coming through the phone’s speaker.
“Maybe,” I said in a kind of drawl. “I might just stay home tonight and do my own Bible study.”
“But you’ve done that the last few weeks,” she said, groaning. I could picture her on the other end – decked out in her favorite Jesus fish t-shirt, four “WWJD?” bracelets on each wrist, and a Bible by her side – running her hands through her thin brown hair, closing her eyes tight and pinching her forehead. She sounded anxious. “Are you okay, Tiffer? I feel like I never see you anymore. We all miss you at church!”
“I’m great!” I replied, too quickly. “Of course, I’m just fine!” I said, scrambling to reassure her, practically yelling.
“Well, we’re going to be talking about what makes a Christly man this week,” she said, “so I just thought you’d be interested.”
I was, of course, but it was too late for me. I knew what being a Christly man meant, and I wasn’t it. Instead of answering, I reached under my bed and pulled out a collection of childhood artifacts that my mom had assembled for me, retrieving a worksheet I’d filled out in first grade. When I grow up, it said in a passable attempt at cursive, I want to be: A dad. Because: I want a family.
In the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s killing a very active discussion emerged on the email forum used by the community of trainers certified with the Center for Nonviolent Communication. One thread of this conversation has been about responses to the particular event, and especially how to relate to the people celebrating Bin Laden’s death. This exploration was the primary inspiration for my previous entry (to which I still intend to come back). Another thread has focused on a more general question: can killing in any way be compatible with nonviolence?
This is by far not a new dilemma in human affairs. The Dalai Lama, one of the living icons of nonviolence, also engaged with this same question, citing a Buddhist scripture that suggests killing may sometimes be necessary, so long as it’s done with utmost compassion and in extreme and rare circumstances. Whether or not the stringent criteria implicit in the story were met in this circumstance, the Dalai Lama’s essential claim is that Buddhism, in principle, is not categorically opposed to killing.
Others, including Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist leader who is also deeply associated with peace and nonviolence, and others who embrace a consciousness of nonviolence, are suggesting that killing is never to be done. For some, true nonviolence entails the willingness to die rather than to kill.
Earlier today an NVC trainer from Germany who is also a Sikh posted on the email forum, and included this sentence: “Killing seems to be part of nature – the question to me really is, what is the consciousness behind it.”
With some significant changes and additions, I am posting here my response to this post. This is an invitation to engage with this question, with all questions, with complexity and with love. In our times, with what we are facing, I don’t believe that simple one-dimensional answers will do. I sense that paradox and complexity are essential for our survival.
Lambert Wilson as Christian (left) and Michael Lonsdale as Luc, flanking a villager
A little-noted outgrowth of the current wave of popular upheaval sweeping the Arab world is that Algeria’s nearly 20 year rein of martial law has been lifted. Most of the 1990s were marked by a savage civil war that pitted a variety of Islamist insurgent groups against Algeria’s military regime and against each other. By the time it petered out early in the 2000′s, the massacre of whole villages, urban bombings, shootouts and assassinations had claimed 150,000 to 200,000 lives.
Eventually, this conflict engulfed the French Cistercian Trappist monastery situated in a remote village, where its monks were much loved by their Muslim-Arab neighbors. They incorporated them into their everyday lives, even inviting them to family weddings and other life-cycle events.
Michael Lonsdale, the dignified bilingual French actor, plays Luc, the elderly monk and physician who ran a much-needed medical clinic. From the vantage point of his once secular life, Luc is charmingly depicted providing advice on love to a village girl who tends the abbey grounds and seeks out his wisdom.
Last week the atheist blogosphere lit up with reports that Molly Norris, the Seattle cartoonist who inadvertently inspired “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” (EDMD), had been forced to change her identity and go into hiding due to death threats she received from extremists.
How did these same bloggers who promoted EDMD respond to this news? They expressed sadness and frustration. And who wouldn’t? Poor Norris – imagine having to give up everything you knew because your life was in danger. They are right to condemn those who have targeted her.
However, many also used it as yet another opportunity to take broad swipes at Muslims.
For example, popular atheist writer P.Z. Myers addressed Islam as if it were a single entity, writing: “Come on, Islam. Targeting defenseless cartoonists is your latest adventure in bravery? That’s pathetic. It’s bad enough to be the religion of hate, but to be the religion of cowardice ought to leave you feeling ashamed.”
I’m disappointed at such assessments, and I have a feeling Norris would be too. After EDMD took off, she insisted that she did not wish for it to become a movement. In a post on her now defunct website, Norris asked people to try to find common ground with others instead, adding: “The vitriol this ‘day’ has brought out… is offensive to the Muslims who did nothing to endanger our right to expression in the first place. I apologize to people of Muslim faith and ask that this ‘day’ be called off.”
I live in Espanola, New Mexico, a town of 9,000 people, mostly Hispanic and Native American, with a lot of churches but without a Jewish synagogue. I live in an agrarian mestizo community: most of my neighbors are of mixed Spanish and Native American descent dating from the arrival of Juan de Onate in the 16th century. Leaders in my community worry about passing their cultural heritage on to the next generation in the face of industrial encroachment. Rio Arriba County reminds me of Israel at the time of Akiva, immediately preceding the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.
Although I invited my Hispanic Rio Arriba colleagues to my son’s Bar Mitzvah, none came. Many of my more urbane Hispanic friends in Santa Fe were present. They lived in “the city.” Many had moved away for college and then returned. They were familiar with Jews. I wish I could explain the significance of the B’nai Mitzvah to my struggling agrarian friends. It has helped the Jewish people to maintain our identity in exile for thousands of years.
Last week, I had the privilege of reading from my novel, Hold Love Strong, at Pete’s Candystore, a great venue in Brooklyn, a few blocks from 334 Manhattan Avenue, where once I lived in the middle of a friend’s apartment and often climbed the fire escape to the roof where I began to piece my life back together; or rather, began the process of reflection and self-possession necessary for living a full and meaningful life. After I read, Nadia and I had the chance to speak with Mira Jacobs, one of the curators of the event and a mother to a one-and-a-half-year-old son, Zakir, a name that means remembering and/or grateful. Talking about new motherhood, pregnancy, and childbirth, Nadia repeated a phrase a friend had recently said to her, and although she meant it in reference to having a baby, it is, I think, at the very core to the solutions of our present social and political problems, and thus what we — those of us who wish for a peaceful, humane world if not for ourselves then for our children — must do and anchor ourselves to in order for there to be the chance for the world we can imagine, the world we deserve.
“Be ready,” she said, “for overwhelming joy.”