Religion like rain: sometimes soft, sometimes murderous
By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel
CHULA VISTA, California –Today in the news I came across the following article:
- · On September 18, 2012, Muhib Ru’yat Al-Rahman, a senior writer on leading jihadi forum Shumoukh Al-Islam, suggested that Muslims living in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.S. kill Westerners and display their decapitated heads along roads with a statement reading: “This is the punishment of those who insult our prophet.” While expressing respect for those calling to boycott European and American products over the release of the film Innocence of Muslims, which negatively depicts Muhammad, Muhib insists that the best way to deter people from insulting Muhammad and his wives is to implement his proposal.
In Israel, we see the Ultra-Orthodox attacking little girls who they claim are immodestly dressed. It seems that the more “religious” people claim to be, the more neurotic they actually become—so said Freud long ago in his famous short book, The Future of an Illusion.
The atheistic thinker Christopher Hitchens defined what he viewed to be the basic problem we are confronted with:
* Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.
When I see the countless crimes perpetuated in the name of religion, I find myself is strange agreement with Hitchens and Freud.
Faith and religion—are they good for people? Or is religion debilitating? What value is faith?
Jonathan Swift once said:
- We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough religion to make us love one another.
C. C. Colton put it:
· Men will wrangle for religion; write for it, fight for it, die for it; anything but live by it.
When I was 15 years, I use to love reading philosophy. One of the most memorable books I recall reading at that young age, was a book entitled, Why I am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell. Russell regarded religion as:
· A disease born of fear, and a source of untold human misery to the human race.
Aside from the brutal wars of genocides that killed tens of millions of people over the past two thousand years, religion, according to Russell, was responsible for the oppression of women also. Femininity was always associated with temptation and sin. The church was also responsible for retarding scientific progress; religion attempted to keep civilization in the Dark Ages.
Are the skeptics of religious correct? In this week’s Torah portion, I believe many of Judaism’s great teachers arrived at a similar conclusion, much like the skeptics I mentioned above.
- · Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distil as the dew, as the gentle rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb. — Deut. 32:1-2
The metaphor of rain is significant. Rain can be a blessing if it falls gently upon the earth. If the rain comes down in the form of a deluge, or a tsunami, hundreds of thousands of people can die in a matter of minutes.
We have a paradox here: rain is the very substance that provides life; yet, it can also function as an instrument of death and destruction.
Sounds a lot like religion, no?
This idea can illustrate the power of religion. If the message of religion is suffused with love and tolerance then it will create a community of kindness and gentleness. If the message of faith is forcibly disseminated through war and hatred, people will rebel against it, defy it, rise up to destroy it.
In an age where prophecy no longer occurs, God—in his infinite wisdom and humor—has given us the atheists and skeptics to serve God’s role in chastising the hypocrisy of “religious people.” When I listen to their words, I think of the prophet Amos who brazenly exclaimed:
Thus says the LORD:
For three crimes of Israel, and for four,
I will not revoke my word;
Because they sell the just man for silver,
and the poor man for a pair of sandals.
They trample the heads of the weak
into the dust of the earth,
and force the lowly out of the way. — Amos 2:6-7
The prophet Isaiah was also disgusted with the piety of the religious people of his generation:
The Lord said:
Since this people draws near with words only
and honors me with their lips alone,
though their hearts are far from me,
And their reverence for me has become
routine observance of the precepts of men . . . – Isaiah 29:13
The life of a prophet is very difficult. Like a good rabbi, his job is not to give platitudes or avoid speaking about difficult issues. In ancient times, people often killed the prophets. They took their anger on the messenger because they could not bear to hear the message.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid, an Egyptian Muslim scholar, is such a person. He boldly said, “I am a Muslim by faith, a Christian by spirit, a Jew by heart, and above all I am a human being.” — He adds further:
- · We Muslims need to stop blaming our problems on others or on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. As a matter of honesty, Israel is the only light of democracy, civilization, and human rights in the whole Middle East. We kicked out the Jews with no compensation or mercy from most of the Arab countries to make them “Jews-free countries” while Israel accepted more than a million Arabs to live there, have their own nationality, and enjoy their rights as human beings. In Israel, women cannot be beaten legally by men, and any person can change his/her belief system with no fear of being killed by the Islamic law of ‘apostasy,’ while in our Islamic world people do not enjoy any of these rights. We Muslims need to admit our problems and face them. Only then we can treat them and start a new era to live in harmony with human mankind. Our religious leaders have to show a clear and very strong stand against polygamy, pedophilia, slavery, killing those who convert from Islam to other religions, beating of women by men, and declaring wars on non-Muslims to spread Islam. Then, and only then, do we have the right to ask others to respect our religion. The time has come to stop our hypocrisy and say it openly: ‘We Muslims have to change!
- · Muslims denounce these attacks to look good in front of the media, but we condone the Islamic terrorists and sympathize with their cause. Until now our ‘reputable’ top religious authorities have never issued a fatwa or religious statement to proclaim Bin Laden as an apostate, while an author, like Rushdie, was declared an apostate who should be killed according to Islamic Shari’a law just for writing a book criticizing Islam. Muslims demonstrated to get more religious rights as we did in France to stop the ban on the hijab (head scarf), while we did not demonstrate with such passion and in such numbers against the terrorist murders. It is our absolute silence against the terrorists that give the energy to these terrorists to continue doing their evil acts.
- I have to admit that our current Islamic teaching creates violence and hatred toward non-Muslims. We Muslims are the ones who need to change. Until now we have accepted polygamy, the beating of women by men, and killing those who convert from Islam to other religions.
I admire men like Dr. Hamid because we need more leaders like him to change the world. The Orthodox Jewish world could certainly benefit from this kind of courage as well. Religion can be a healing force in the world—provided it is honest enough to critique itself in the name of truth and morality.
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=31480