Re-Appreciating Our Freedom To Worship

Seeing how the Chinese government can interfere with religious freedom helps us better appreciate our own–Thanksgiving makes one think of the Pilgrims. One of the reasons they came to the New World was freedom of religion, not only the freedom to worship whatever religion they were called to, but to practice that religion without government interference. We all know that the Chinese government does not make religious freedom easy, and yet when I read recently about rules issued about the practice of Islam in a northern province where 46% of the people are Muslims, I was reminded of what we tend to take for granted in the United States. The rules aren’t actually new but they were recently made more prominent, posted in mosques and public places. The imam’s sermon cannot be longer than 30 minutes. Prayer in public areas outside the mosques is forbidden. In Khotan, one of the province’s main cities, the residents are not allowed to worship at mosques outside of town. The passports of Uighurs, who are mainly Muslim, are being confiscated, to better control their going to Mecca for The Hadj, the pilgrimage which is one of Islam’s five pillars, and also it is said to keep local Muslims from having contact with other Muslims. There were many other rules such as keeping students from leaving the university during Ramadan to prevent them from fasting and joining their families for the evening meal.
The debate between the separation of church and state in the United States can sometimes take so many turns, it’s helpful sometimes to reconnect to what religious interference really is.

The Dead-End of Anger

Both sides in the Middle East are engaged in a dead-end cycle of anger which is more and more likely to lead to the destruction of one by the other–This morning’s NYT’s had a long article about camps in Lebanon teaching youths about Islam, about having a clean heart and also about Israel being their enemy and Jews being deceitful and liars–presumably hating Israel with a clean heart. Another part of the paper also had an article about Israel’s refusal to allow food, fuel and medical supplies to be delivered to Gaza. For the last 2 1/2 weeks since the cease fire with Hamas ended Israel has sealed the border not allowing UN humanitarian aid thus ensuring the collective punishment of civilians, an act against international law.
It’s no longer who’s right and who’s wrong in this war, it’s who can commit the most hostile act, who can punish the most, engage in the most extensive retaliation. Many months ago columnist Tom Friedman wrote that at some point people in the Middle East would have to decide that they loved their children more than they hated each other. This kind of tit-for-tat that leads to a dead end and ensures the hatred of future generations makes one ask, isn’t now the time to love one’s children more?
It is no longer news that the solution has a pre-requisite, one that may no longer see, as naive as it once did–Stop the violence. While the more people understand this, the faster it will stop, people also need to grasp that the more one waits, the most likely is the alternative–The destruction of one side by the other.

Israel–"From Trauma to Trust"?

There ought to be more to what underlies Israel’s policies than the Shoah’s traumatic suffering–When one writes a blog and one tries not to knee-jerk or be too superficial, one reads a lot. So much of that reading is a must, or have-to in some way, rarely does a piece stand out because it offers a penetrating idea. Avraham Burg wrote such a piece published a few days ago in the Los Angeles Times’ Op-Ed section. A former speaker of the Israeli parliament,now a businessman and author, he wrote about what it was that has made him retreat from Israeli politics–their focus on the Shoah. To him the way the Shoah has permeated all aspects of Israeli political life, interferes with the vision necessary to make the country inspire others. “The deeper we are stuck in our Auschwitz past, the more difficult it becomes to be free of it,” he writes. An individual overly focussed on a past trauma would be said not to have digested, learned, processed or overcome it. More than likely we would suggest he or she find a good therapist. The principle is the same for a country, although obviously nations can’t be referred to therapy. An individual is more than the suffering he or she has endured, so is a nation. A religion too is more than how to address suffering. Hopefully Israel will find a way to honor its history, including the Shoah, without that part of its past running the risk of becoming a stumbling block to getting beyond it, or as Mr. Burg puts it, go “from trauma to trust”. If it does, then Israel will surely find the key to its non-ending war with Palestinians and its promise of justice, tolerance diversity and democracy will shine not only for all Israelis, but for all in the region, for Jews everywhere and even for the entire world.

Dear Governor Palin: God’s Will or Yours?

Isn’t there a difference between divine and human wills and if so isn’t it easy to fool ourselves?–Dear Governor Palin: During your interview with Greta Van Sustren you mentioned your faith and the fact that if god opens a door a little, you won’t mind pushing through it. I’m writing because I am not clear as to your understanding of the divine will. Was it His will you run as vice-president on the Republican ticket? His will you run for governor? And if one reads between the lines correctly maybe His will that you run for president in 2008 or 2012? How do you know the difference between what you as Sarah Palin want and what god wants? It seems that is a line of thought President Bush engaged in before deciding to go to war in Iraq. Mohammed Atta believed he was following god’s will on 9/11. It is so easy to fool oneself. To me, the more serious one is about one’s spiritual practice the more the issue comes up. Perhaps you have also found it so.
You have the right to run for anything you want to or can, but implying, or believing, or assuming that it is the will of god may or may not follow, may or may not reflect that higher will. If my concern has any relevance, I hope that between now and the time you decide when and for what to run, that it is a difference that will be so clear to you–not in terms of a phrase or a string of words to justify your decision to the public, but as an act of private humility, and ultimately also as one of integrity.