A NOTE ON LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
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Donna Schaper’s web article “Beyond Interfaith Marriages to Multi-faith Marriages” is a worthy statement of options for married couples whose members identify with different faith or ethnic communities. I appreciate her terminology (i.e., multi-faith vs. interfaith) as it offers couples with equal strengths of faith identity a framework in which they can live in a growing, loving, and intimate marriage. But what of couples who do not believe in God but identify with their family and/or ethnic backgrounds? They are neither interfaith nor mixed-faith. I refer to such couples as simply “mixed.”
As a congregational rabbi of thirty-three years, I recently changed my policy of not officiating at mixed marriages and told of my struggle and decision in my Rosh Hashanah sermon this past year (tinyurl.com/clergystudy). I will now officiate at many mixed marriages. Yet, as much as I respect, appreciate, and love many of my Christian and multi-ethnic congregants, I retain a strong interest in assuring both the continuity of the Jewish people and resisting religious syncretism.
I no longer require conversion to Judaism in order to officiate at a mixed marriage. In my opinion, however, it would be disrespectful of the other religious faith for me to officiate at a wedding in which one party is a religious Christian or religious Muslim. Though our faith traditions share much in common, they are also very different, and to suggest otherwise is dishonest and lacking in religious integrity. My other requirement before agreeing to officiate is that the couple will become part of the synagogue community and agree to raise their children as Jews.
Pastor Schaper effectively addresses ways in which mixed-faith couples can respect each other’s differences while affirming their own identities. She does not address the challenges in helping to fashion a religious identity of such a couple’s children.
A person cannot be Christian and Jewish. One is Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Each of these great monotheistic faith traditions have developed different ways of understanding God and practicing their faiths over centuries, as well as different relationships to sacred literature, rules, laws, customs, traditions, ethics, rite, and ritual. To tell a child that he or she is both Christian and Jewish or any other combination is oxymoronic, disingenuous, ignorant of our respective religious traditions, and therefore lacking integrity.
Having said this, the mystics of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all point to the same ultimate reality. But, as light refracts through a prism and separates into the colors of the rainbow, so too does God’s “word” refract through our different faith streams and then become manifest in practice, culture, and identity.
We can find inspiration in other streams, but we need to be able to choose which stream is our own. Informed choice results only after serious study of each tradition and its sacred literature, sustained religious practice and contemplation, and understanding of the historical development of our respective traditions. The great challenge of modernity is for individuals and communities to find clarity about who we are and who we are not while remaining open to new ideas.
—Rabbi John Rosove
Los Angeles, CA
A SPIRITUAL WAY OF SEEING
I very much appreciated Peter Gabel’s essay “A Spiritual Way of Seeing” in the Spring 2013 print issue of Tikkun. He expressed so clearly that we are animated either by the ethic of fulfillment through connection with others and all of life and the entire universe, or else by fear motivating contraction into the false and inevitably temporary sense of security through alienation. He encouraged presence in relationship through perception of our commonality with others, and the rediscovery of spiritual kinship in the eyes of everyone. This is a loving affirmation, and sharing such a vision is an act of love itself. I received it with gratitude.
CHRISTIANITY WITHOUT THE CROSS
Many people have responded to “The Death of Christianity,” my article in the Fall 2012 print issue of Tikkun, by suggesting that what I really need to do is to find out more about Christian theology, so that I can think more as they do. But I’m not interested in theology. I’m interested in behavior, and the way that religion and spirituality influence good and bad conduct. I judge religion by its fruits, not its theology. Why? Because behavior is the test of religion and the best evidence for its true nature in the world that we all share. We can argue about what constitutes good behavior, but at least we’re talking about something real.
Also important is the way religion influences our political and social ideas, because in a world in which power is increasingly brutal and exploitive, religion and spirituality must be translated into language appropriate to the defense of human rights. At present much organized religion in America tends to be irritating at best, and at worst evil to the core. The hijacking of mainstream Protestantism by conservative evangelicalism and the suppression of social-justice Catholicism by Republican bishops have made them worshippers of power and the most active (and dangerous) constituency within the Republican Party. Having lost much cultural power, they now seek political power. We must develop religion and spirituality that can effectively oppose these forces in the public square.
Religion is successful when it inspires kindness, cultural literacy, and a passionate love of justice. It is successful when it influences compassionate behavior and life-affirming social advocacy. Theology, on the other hand, happens entirely in the imagination. When separated from the behavior and social commitments of the believer, it is simply a way to avoid living in the real world and quickly becomes a toxic disease of the brain. Look to your behavior and your support of justice in society, and in them you will find the success or failure of your religion.
DID THE DALAI LAMA SAY THAT?
I stumbled upon Be Scofield’s “Why the Dalai Lama is Wrong to Think Meditation Will Eliminate Violence” on Tikkun‘s blog while trying to ascertain the source of the viral quote attributed to the Dalai Lama, around which the piece was based.
I’m just writing to remind you that both author and publisher have a responsibility and duty to do their due diligence to ascertain the legitimacy of quotes and sources whenever they publish a piece.
Like most viral quotes, I have my doubts as to the legitimacy of its source. (If I’m mistaken and Be Scofield has found the actual citation, which wasn’t shared in his article, please share it with me!).
In any case, to write and publish a lengthy rebuke of a simple one-line viral quote feels a bit disingenuous, especially considering the source may never have said what he’s purported to.
My advice to Mr. Scofield is to look beyond a single, uncited viral quote, and respond to something substantial the Dalai Lama has actually written or said so his thoughts can’t simply be dismissed by the anti-religious, knee-jerk reactions of his opponents. Even if the quote is accurate, the Western secular yoga movement can’t be taken as representative of the traditional Buddhist path.