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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



Our Self-Sufficiency is Ruining Relationships — Here’s How to Stop the Cycle

May15

by: Dovid Gottlieb on May 15th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

A psychiatrist asked to consult with me about a problem. He had lived through five failed relationships in a row. Each ended when the other party left him. He could find no reason for the failures. “Rabbi” he explained, “you must understand that I gave each of them everything anyone could wish for. Unlimited money, my time and attention [I never let work or anything else distract me from my responsibility to each of them], my deep understanding of human nature to provide whatever they might need, want, or even fancy. With all that – in spite of all that – each left me. What could possibly account for it?”

I was able to understand his frustration because of my own history of feeling as he did. As a man, and a teacher, casting others as needy and myself as provider came very naturally. It was a struggle to learn where this stance misses the mark. But I finally did learn it from my wife. With her insight in mind, I asked him: “And what did each of them give you?” He answered: “Give me?! Rabbi – I am a giver, not a taker. I asked them for nothing, gave them everything, and yet they walked out on me!?” I answered: “Well, maybe that is precisely what they needed to give to you. To feel validated by what they could do for you. Everyone needs to be needed.” The idea was utterly foreign and unacceptable to him and that is where the conversation ended.

I learned this from my wife when we were counseling a young man who was looking to get married. He presented his “wish list” – the characteristics he desired in a spouse. Compiling such a list is good preparation for the search for a spouse since it takes considerable self-understanding to recognize what one needs and what one wants in a marriage partner. Then my wife added two thoughts. First: “You need also another list – your give list. What can you share, support, encourage, inspire, model or teach a spouse? When you meet a possible match, and each of you has both lists, then see if your give list matches the other’s wish list and vice versa. If so, you have a good chance for a profoundly integrated relationship.”

Second: “And don’t think this is just altruism. It is in your own best interest. Imagine you meet someone who has everything on your wish list and is willing to marry you – but does not need you at all. Would you be happy? In a healthy relationship you need to be needed.”

It was this second thought that I tried to share with the psychiatrist. He did not even recognize his partner’s need to be needed. The illusion of giving when really representing the other as needy and dependent and thereby bracing one’s own fragile ego is a common male problem. It came as a revelation to me to learn that true giving must include showing one’s own needs.

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Atheism and the Modern World

May14

by: Mitchell Stephens on May 14th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

Many Americans view atheism as an odd and obnoxious intrusion into American life – just look at the Gallup polls that have repeatedly placed atheism at the top of the list of qualities Americans would not want in a president. But atheism in fact has been a major contributor to the Enlightenment worldview that has shaped the core political and intellectual values of the United States.

Indeed, the path that leads to the modern world can be said to have begun with an atheist – an unlikely one: a French country priest who died in 1729 and had been unknown outside his two tiny parishes in northeastern France.

That priest’s name was Jean Meslier, and after his death four copies were discovered in his home of a lengthy handwritten manuscript attacking all religions – most definitely including the one he preached. “I did not dare say it during my life,” he wrote. “But I will say it at least in dying.” He says that what has been preached about “miracles,” about “the magnificence of the rewards of heaven,” about “the dreadful castigations of hell,” about the existence of God, is “nothing but delusions, errors, lies, fictions and impostures.”

Jean Meslier’s manuscript stands as perhaps the first argument for atheism published in Christian Europe to which a real name, albeit that of a man who was now dead, was attached. It became an underground sensation in Paris. “I believe that nothing will ever make more of an impression than the pamphlet of Meslier,” Voltaire gushed in a letter. Voltaire printed an excerpt himself. (Although in Voltaire’s version Meslier becomes a Voltaire-like deist rather than the atheist he was.) Denis Diderot would borrow some of Meslier’s ideas. At one point during the French Revolution the National Convention proposed erecting a statue in Paris of Jean Meslier.

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Jews in America: Our Conflicted Heritage

May12

by: on May 12th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Two young girls wearing banners that read "Abolish child slavery" in English and Yiddish. Credit: Creative Commons

On the one hand, Jews are deeply grateful that America provided us with a safe haven when so many other Christianity-dominated cultures had represented us as demon Christ-killers and created the preconditions for the rise of both secular and religious anti-Semitism. American Jews rejoiced in the promise of freedom and equality before the law, and played a major role in organizing, shaping, and leading social movements that could extend that promise to all of America’s citizens. The role of the United States in defeating Nazism at the expense of so many American lives remains an enduring source of pride even for the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who fought in World War II, and an enduring source of appreciation for this amazing country. And the generosity of the American people toward Jews has made it possible for us to thrive and feel the kind of safety we haven’t felt for two thousand years of exile and diaspora.

On the other hand, Jewish well-being in America came not because this society didn’t seek scapegoats, but rather because it already had a scapegoat long before most Jews arrived on these shores – African Americans, Native Americans, and other targets (most recently, feminists, homosexuals, and “illegal” immigrants). While other immigrant groups from Europe found their safety in part by identifying with the dominant culture and becoming “white” (a social construct for all light-skinned people who bought into the existing systems of privilege and power), a significant section of the Jewish people in the past 150 years of presence in the United States chose instead to identify with the oppressed – most significantly with African Americans, but also with the poor (of which we were a significant part in the years 1880-1940), the oppressed, the homeless, and the hungry.

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Supreme Court Ruling on Public Prayer Re-enforces Christian Supremacy

May12

by: Warren J. Blumenfeld on May 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution. The inaugural and emphatically Christian prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians. The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history.

Indeed, as U. S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy write in the 5-4 majority opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway , “…the rest is history.”

Church Ave and State Street intersect in Knoxville, Tennessee. Credit: Creative Commons/ Wyoming_Jackrabbit

While a strict separation of synagogue and state, mosque and state, Hindu and Buddhist temple and state, and separation of atheists and state and virtually all the other approximately 5000 religions and state has been enacted, on the other hand, church – predominantly Protestant denominations, but also Catholic – and state, have connected virtually seamlessly to the affairs and policies of what we call the United States of America, from the first invasion of Europeans in the 15th century on the Christian Julian to the Christian Gregorian Calendars up to 2014 Anno Domini (short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi – “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

In the court case, two local women from Greece, New York filed suit against city officials for approving invocations with primarily overtly Christian content at monthly public sessions held on government property. However, according to Kennedy, “The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”

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Botched Oklahoma Execution Reveals Self-Deception

May9

by: on May 9th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

‪At 6:23pm yesterday, the state of Oklahoma initiated its effort to kill Clayton D. Lockett. Twenty minutes later, after being declared unconscious by a physician, Lockett cried out, “Oh man,” writhing in pain. Addled by this unexpected display of pain, one of the executioners said, “Something’s wrong.” Soon after, the window to the observation room was covered and media were escorted out of the room.

A state official later reported that Mr. Lockett died of a heart attack at 7:06pm.

The fact that this unexpected scene was preceded by months of arguments by lawyers about the constitutionality of resuming executions in Oklahoma guarantees that a debate about the death penalty will ensue. Those who have argued that this ultimate form of punishment is “cruel and unusual” will make last nights scene their case in point. The Governor of Oklahoma has already declared that a thorough investigation of what went wrong will take place before any other executions go forward. Privately, in conversations at home and on their computers, many will say, “Did he suffer? Sure. But why shouldn’t he after what he did.” Most national polls show that support for vs. opposition to the death penalty is about 50/50. Both sides will have plenty of people to argue.

But I think it would be the greatest of tragedies if we did not notice that what happened in Oklahoma last night reveals perhaps our deepest national self-deception-that, no matter what goes wrong, we will fix it because we are in control.

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Investigating Christian Privilege: Its Time Has Come

May9

by: on May 9th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

As spring peers forth from the soil and tree limbs, the annual Easter Egg Roll, sponsored by the President of the United States and the First Lady, thrills elementary and pre-school age children each year. Also, in school classrooms throughout the country, students and their teachers dip hardboiled eggs into brightly colored dyes, and display Easter eggs of pink, yellow, blue, green, red, and lavender. Some students adhere bunny, baby chick, rainbow, or angel decals to their Easter eggs. Some paint flowers or clouds; some sprinkle glitter of silver or gold. An excitement wafts through the classroom as students imagine sharing their treasures with parents or caregivers, as teachers reward the good work of their charges with delicious gleaming chocolate bunnies. A palpable excitement fills the air in anticipation of Easter Sunday as children adorn classroom bulletin boards with images of the season.

As an educator of pre-service teachers in the university, I am gratified to find that an ever increasing number of Colleges of Education include instruction on issues of power and privilege related to our socially constructed identities. We know that teachers must thoroughly come to terms with their social positions (“positionalities”), the intersectional ways in which they are privileged as well as how they have been the targets of systemic inequities, and the impact this makes on their students.

Depending on our multiple identities, society grants us simultaneously a great array of privileges while marginalizing us based solely on these identities. Inspired by Peggy McIntosh‘s pioneering investigations of white and male privilege, we can understand dominant group privilege as constituting a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to members of dominant groups, with which they often unconsciously walk through life as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders. A number of researchers have developed extensive lists (white, male, heterosexual, cisgender (“traditional” gender presentation), able-bodied, Christian, adult, age, socioeconomic class, physical size) charting the benefits and privileges accorded to individuals within differing dominant identity categories.

Many people (most likely the majority) consider the Easter events I outlined, played out in Washington, DC and in some schools in the United States, as normal, appropriate, and joyous seasonal activities. Upon critical reflection, however, others experience them as examples of institutional (governmental and educational) (re)enforcements of dominant Christian standards and what is referred to as “Christian privilege,” though presented in presumably secularized forms. They represent some of the ways in which the dominant group (in this instance, Christians) reiterates its values and practices while marginalizing and subordinating those who do not adhere to Christian faith traditions.

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Spirituality and Technology: The Case of the Caring Bridge

May8

by: on May 8th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons/John Wright

(Originally published on Patheos)

The Caring Bridge is a great example of spirituality reshaping technology and technology reshaping spirituality. Caring bridge is a website. It lets caretakers stay in touch with the community of people who also care about the afflicted person. If I get cancer, my husband will want to update people on my status. He will have little time for phone calls and repeat information. Thus he might distribute information through a web site, a bridge that cares. By broadcasting, he is creating a bordered space, for hugs and intimate conversations with those who are his real web and real net, not his World Wide Web or “internet.” Community is the word for both the bordered and the outer circles.

Caring Bridge can also announce a death – as can an email. At my congregation, we are just developing etiquette for how to announce a death on line. We have arrived at the following formula. There is nothing great about it; instead it is a compromise about using our list serve to create nets and distribute information. “Sad News” is what we say in the message line. Details follow in the body of the email. In the old days, the telephone, just another technology would suffice to spread information. “Everybody” would know but not all at once. One of the biggest concerns was who would be left out. “Don’t let her find out before she hears from you.”

What is good about talking about human suffering and death using technology? What is not? At these moments of great stress and distress, we want nothing counterfeit. Thoreau said that humans often become the tools of our tools. Spirit is finding its way on line, through technology in multiple ways. You can go to church on line. You can contribute to church on line. Even our Sunday School kids show up for Sunday School with cell phone in hand. All the other kids gather round the cell phone and play the game and connect eye to screen. If I thought their parents weren’t on line during the sermon, I might be concerned. We don’t even do the “turn off” message any more.

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Open the Eyes of My Heart

May8

by: on May 8th, 2014 | 13 Comments »

So begins a prayer that could well be sung while touching the feet of the newest life-size public sculpture of Jesus: Jesus the Homeless. Sleeping on a bench with his nail-scarred feet protruding from the hem of his blanket lies Jesus, adorning the front of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in the upscale neighborhood of Davidson, North Carolina.

The statue has sparked both commendations and disapproval from Davidson residents, one of whom even called the police thinking the statue to be a live person.

Pointless spectacle or profound statement?

Recently a friend and I were talking about the church as compared with other religions. When most people in the United States think of Buddhism they don’t think of the intolerance expressed in the Buddhist expulsion of Hindus from Bhutan or the anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka. They think of meditation. When most people think of Hinduism they don’t think of the Hindu communal riots against the Muslims. They think of yoga. When most people think of Judaism there’s a tension between the powerful Jewish stand for justice through the centuries and the current bad behavior of Israel. “If only Christianity could get to the place where Judaism is!” We laughed.

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Israel’s 66th Birthday Celebration: a Spiritual Progressive Perspective

May7

by: Tikkun Administration on May 7th, 2014 | 6 Comments »

I still celebrate Israel’s existence even while I deplore its racism and oppressive policies toward the Palestinian people, just as I celebrate the existence of the U.S. even as I deplore the genocide of Native Americans and the enslaving of African Americans which accompanied the creation of my homeland here in North America.

–Rabbi Michael Lerner

Yesterday was Israel’s 66th birthday. Rabbi Michael Lerner reflected on the meaning of this day from a Spiritual Progressive Perspective, and his article appeared on the home page of Huffington Post. Please click here to read it and leave some positive comments on that page to offset the “it’s a sin to criticize Israel” folk who often are well-organized and dominate the mass media when anyone expresses the slightest critique of Israeli policies.

Of course, as you know, Lerner is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine and believes that there is a win-win possibility, which he presented in the Winter 2014 issue of Tikkun (If you haven’t subscribed yet, or haven’t re-subscribed, how about now? Please subscribe even before you read the Huff Post piece!). You won’t read this kind of visionary analysis anywhere else – and it is explored more fully in his book Embracing Israel/Palestine. Lerner predicted long in advance the failure of the Kerry/Obama sponsored negotiations because they failed to present the kind of balanced but visionary win-win that we’ve been advocating in Tikkun.

Why is this piece on Huffington Post? Every once in a while we think it a good idea to take some of the topics we consider in Tikkun and put them out to a few million people who might not yet understand why they should be reading and subscribing to Tikkun. Your encouragement and support in helping us spread the word of Tikkun is greatly appreciated.

Secular Buddhism and the Illuminated Tenfold Path

May2

by: Phil Wolfson on May 2nd, 2014 | Comments Off

Secular Buddhism — a relatively new development in the world of Buddhist practice — can serve as a resource for people who are seeking to escape atomization and instead create loving connections with each other and nature. The notion of an Illuminated Tenfold Path is a helpful guide on this journey.

I explored the idea of the Illuminated Tenfold Path idea in more depth in my print article on “Secular Buddhism and the Quest for a Lived Ethics” in Tikkun‘s Winter 2014 issue. Here is a quick introduction for the readers of Tikkun Daily

Introduction to The Illuminated Tenfold Path

siddhartha

A mural in Chiang Mai, Thailand, shows Siddhartha, the man who became the Buddha, witnessing death and disease for the first time. Credit: Creative Commons/Akuppa John Wigham.

The Noble Eightfold Path has served historical Buddhism as the ‘way’ – the path leading to the cessation of suffering – as the ‘medicine’ of the last of the Four Noble Truths. It has been the source of the awakened wisdom that eliminates the obstacles to realization of greed, anger, and delusion and gives insight into the true nature of phenomena. Reciprocally, the first of the eight is View, which leads back to the first of the Four Noble truths and their comprehension and application. The Eightfold Path has also been called the Middle Way and is represented by the Dharma Wheel with its eight spokes.

With all of its sanctity and the great devotion given for over 2000 years to the Eightfold Path, there comes a time for its re-examination, modernization – if appropriate and beneficial – and a new languaging that is engaging for its meaningfulness for our time. Within a framework of what is being called secular Buddhism – namely, that which is a pragmatic path for this life without the Absolutes of religious metaphysics, the elements in the Eightfold Path that are renunciative of this life and its difficulties – and its bliss and pleasure states as well – these are removed from the Illuminated version.

This revision, the Illuminated Tenfold Path, then is a here-and-now vehicle for transformation of the same obstacles, but without the influence of monasticism and with the stress on acceptance of the varieties of humans and sentient beings living together in the complexities of relationships and connection, in a world that is overpopulated and stressed by our human impact on the very nature of life. The Illuminated Tenfold Path is adapted to our time’s focus on sexual/love relationships and our fundamental need to learn to share and nurture each other. The adjective ‘Noble’ has been supplanted with the less aristocratic, more to the point ‘Illuminated’ – as in light on the path of awakening – and other language has been substituted to make meanings clearer and more contemporary.

The Illuminated Tenfold Path is an offering for our times – a guide to our inner life and our connection with community and nature. It is to be further adapted by others like you and presented in the hope that it will serve you and yours.

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