Tag Archives: Religion

Jewcy Thoughts: My Interview With Gabriel Meyer (Co-founder of the Sulha Peace Project)

For my latest with Jewcy, I interviewed Gabriel Meyer – the co-founder of the Sulha Peace Project. While covering a few different topics, the interview was at its best when we discussed the difficulties inherent in the making peace, and the role of religion in peacemaking.

Here is an excerpt:

Q: Many people see religion as an inflexible force that perpetuates the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews, yet at the Sulha Peace Project religion is harnessed as a force for peace and unity. Can you speak to the use of religion as an instrument for peace?

A: There a saying in Hebrew: hadinim nimtakim beshorsham, which means “stern judgment is sweetened from the root.” I believe that religion is at the root of both the conflict and the solution. At our gatherings, we have all kinds of people – religious & secular – but we do use the gems of religion as possibilities for healing. I think that one of the problems with the Oslo peace process for example was that the religious were kept out of the discussion. There was zero mention of the root of peace in the Koran and Torah, for example. Something was missing. For most of the people who are involved in this conflict, religion matters. If you touch the positive part of religion, it has highly medicinal power.

Q: On your website, you say that the goal of the Sulha Peace project is to heal and reconcile the children of Abraham. Why the emphasis on Abraham?

A: Abraham is our common father. Likewise, Sarah and Hagar are our mothers. We all come from the same family, the same tribe.

Q: I am sure that such recognition goes a long way — but isn’t Abraham also the father who is willing to sacrifice his children in the name of God? Isn’t Abraham’s relationship with his children also an apt metaphor for the willingness of authority figures in this conflict to blindly sacrifice their children on the altar of some religious or secular ideology?

A: I personally think Abraham is an archetype. I realize that he is a very complex figure. We can go into a discussion about the binding of Isaac/Ishmael, or how he let Hagar and Ishmael go out into the desert (though he made a point to visit them there), but I see him as a figure of compassion and humanity. He opened his tent to the four directions, and provided hospitality to strangers. Legend goes he would wash the feet of pilgrims and feed them. He defended the innocent at Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Kabbalah he’s related to unconditional loving-kindness, as the creator of the morning prayers, as flowing water.

To read more, click here.

Indian Madness – The Dark Side of Spirituality.

India was always a land for the spiritually and superstitiously inclined. That is all fine and well when we think about Buddha and Gandhi. But like everywhere else, such thinking can have dangerous consequences. Recently, a witch in India was filmed being beaten while she was tied to a tree.

The story: A man hires a woman with spiritual powers to magically cure his ailing wife. When his wife conditions turns worse, he blames the woman for putting a curse on his wife. In a fit of rage, he chains the woman to a tree, gathers a mob, and proceeds to beat and abuse the woman. Here is a vid of the incident – Warning, this video is graphic and disturbing.

Disturbing as this video is, such behavior is text book example of what psychologist and sociologist call displacement and scape-goating. The man could not fight the invincible power of his wife’s sickness, so he displaces his frustration on the poor woman who tried to help. He blamed her for something that was clearly out of her (or his) control. By attacking her he was able to feel less powerless (and perhaps less guilty). Likewise, the group took up the opportunity to take out their trouble and frustration on a stranger who became the symbol of their lowly condition. By doing so, the sociologist tell us, the group managed to redirect and allay their collective fears and anxieties onto an “other”, a scapegoat.

Such events are sadly not all together uncommon in certain parts of the world. But the winds of change are blowing, even in India. A friend of mine recently sent me an article about a TV show in India which featured a live confrontation between a famous tantrik “holy man” and self-proclaimed rationalist Anal Edamaruku. They came together to discuss “Tantrik power versus Science”, and to opine on wither or not people can have magical powers. When the tantrik man claimed that he had the power to kill and harm others with magic spells, Anal challenged him to prove it by trying to kill him. The tantrik man agreed, and for the next few hours he tried to kill Anal with his spells. While the events garnered large ratings, at the end no one died, and Anal was pronounced the winner of the encounter.

The rationalist’s victory may seem to us amusing and silly, but in a society that still experiences pockets of witch-persecution it is nothing to wiggle your nose at. It is a small but important triumph of rationality over superstition. The irony, of course, is that if the millions of people who watched the show were to take the message to heart, the witches and magicians in India would be deprived of their occupation. But if you look at the face of the woman above as she is being beaten and humiliated, loss of job seems to me to be a price she would be willing to pay.

Moses May have Smoked the Bush that was “Not Consumed”.

Haaretz reports on a new paper by Israeli psychologist Benny Shanon that suggest that Moses’ encounters with God were visions precipitated by hallucinogenic plants found in the Sinai and Negev.

Shmuley Boteach VS Christopher Hitchens

Here is the debate/massacre that people have been talking about. Enjoy.

Godless Jews – The Original Atheists With Attitude (Part I)

I am starting a series of articles for Jbooks.com on the subject of Jewish Atheism. Each article will profile a great figure in the tradition of Jewish atheism. Below is an excerpt from the first essay exploring the godless thoughts of Ernestine Rose. Hope you like it.

Godless Jews – The Original Atheists With Attitude (Part I)
By Roi Ben-Yehuda

Before the intellectual trinity of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins set the theological world ablaze with their atheistic best-selling books, there was the unique phenomenon of the Godless Jew.

For almost two centuries Jews have contributed a disproportionate creative role to the discourse of doubt, skepticism, and atheism. Jewish intellectuals, the likes of Emma Goldman, Ernestine Rose, Sigmund Freud, Woody Allen, and Ayn Rand have all brought to bear their considerable talents on the question of God’s non-existence.

It should come as no surprise that the same people that gave the world monotheism also played a significant role in its negation.At the heart of Judaism there is a profound respect for questioning, dissent, and doubt—a tradition of theological chutzpah.

Moreover, the experience of Jews as outsiders, with its consequence of “otherness,” has created a culture that is tragically familiar with the absurd and unjust.

To read the rest, please click here.

Some weakness in the Atheists Arguments

Professor and Economist David Friedman, cogently points out some of the obvious and not so obvious weaknesses of the “New atheism”.


“Dawkins complains about four year old children being labelled “Christian,” “Muslim,” “Hindu.” What he is ignoring is that religious labels identify communities as well as systems of belief. For many people the communal identification–“I am a member of this group”–is probably more important than the belief; there are surely lots of members of one Christian denomination or another who could not adequately explain the difference in beliefs between their denomination and others. Seen from this standpoint, it makes as much sense to describe a four year old child as “Christian” as it would to describe her as “French.”

I’m reminded of the story of the visitor to Northern Ireland who is asked by a local whether he is a Protestant or a Catholic. He replies that he is a Jew. To which the local responds with “Are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?” The religious labels here have become primarily identifications of which faction you are a part of, not of what you believe.

It’s tempting to blame religion for a good deal of past violence, but it isn’t clear if the fundamental cause was religious beliefs or the tendency of humans to identify with groups. There’s been lots of violence between Catholics and Protestants or Christians and Muslims, but also between English and French or French and Germans. And the USSR, whose official religious doctrine was atheism, was also one of the most murderous states in history.”

To read rest, click here.

Sacred Texts Function As Mirrors

In Moment Magazine, conservative writer David Frum writes about the imperative of wrestling with our holy texts. Frum refreshingly and poetically (but not unproblematically) reject the notion that our sacred books contain some unadulterated essence.

Money Quote:

“Holy books are like mirrors that reflect us back to ourselves. The peaceful man finds words of reconciliation, the vindictive woman reads a summon to revenge. The loving hear calls to love more deeply; the hateful are confirmed in their hate. It is not the text that makes the religion what it is; it is the reader.”

I say that it is not unproblematic because if religion means whatever the reader wants it to mean, then what value does it ultimately have? A wholly subjective religion can hardly serve as a light to civilization. Such a system of beliefs and practices simply can’t demand prescriptive and universal standards of behaviour from its adherents.

Being the conservative writer that he is (i.e. a believer in moderate Islam), Frum’s real focus in the article is salvaging the Quran from either being whitewashed (Islam means peace) or from being vilified (Islam means war). Taking a page from Irshad Manji writings (although not crediting her), Frum calls on Muslims to re-open the gates of ijtihad (Islam tradition of independent thinking), and reinterpret their texts in such a way that the passages which call for exclusivity and violence are rendered nontoxic.

To read the article, click here.

Quote of the Day: Tom Cruise

“When you’re a Scientologist, and you drive by an accident, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you’re the only one who can really help. We are the authorities on getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind…. We are the way to happiness. We can bring peace and unite cultures. Now is the time. Being a Scientologist. People are turning to you. If you are a Scientologist, you see things the way they are, in all their glory, in all their complexity… It’s rough and tumble. It’s wild and woolly. It’s a blast. It really is. It is fun. Because damn it, there is nothing better than going out there and fighting the fight, and suddenly you see — boom! — things are better. I want to know that I’ve done everything I can do, every day… I do what I can. And I do it the way I do everything.”

To watch the insane video from which this quote is taken, click here.

The Problem with the phrase “Oh my God”

Interesting short article about the use of the expression “Oh my God”. The one point that the articles misses is that “OMG” is problematic not only because it invokes God at inappropriate times, but also because it suggests that God belongs to individuals and that your god may be different from my God (hints of polytheism).

“Oh my God!

”The expression, once considered taboo in polite conversation, has become as commonplace as “that’s cool” or “see you later” in American parlance. The acronym, OMG, is nearly as ubiquitous. Room-chatters rely on it; so do text-messagers. The search engine Yahoo now uses OMG as the name of a gossip-alert service.

But for many, the omnipresent phrase sounds like a sinful swipe at the Almighty. Or at least another iceberg of disrespect cracking away from the ice cap of civility.

”To read more, click here

“Religion Ceases to Exist in the Middle East”

Here is a scenario and question for you: You wake up tomorrow morning and to your utter astonishment your paper’s front page reads: “Religion Ceases to Exist in the Middle East”. Will this increase or decrees the chance for Peace between the Arabs and the Jews?

Here is what some good folks over at facebook had to say when I posted my hypothetical scenario and question to them:

Shalom Roi, The scenario you describe would be the perfect setup for a false “peace” that would merely become “the calm before the storm”, and then with everyone doing “what’s right in their OWN eyes” outside of moral guidelines, there truly would be hell on earth such as has not been seen since the days of faithful Noach just before the Flood…..

If there is no more religion in the middle east then there definitly wudnt be any problems between arabs and jews .. and that only because jews will cease to exist .. since jews refer to people who follow judaism.. which is a religion and thus doesnt exist..

I do think religion plays a major role, I think the Jerusalem and the settlers issues would be easier to accept for both sides, there would be no groups like hamas and islamic jihad, hence much less terrorist attacks….

This is my view. The whole conflict is based around the concept of religion. Time and time again you see Jewish settlers and Muslim Palestinians over the news. Religion, if one believes in it, is supposed to be peaceful, the whole Palestine/Israel conflict seems to contradict that notion…..

I think if anything it would cause more violence. These people believe in their religion so much, i think if they found out that it wasn’t real they would probably lash out against their counterparts whom they already hate….

In my opinion, I think religion doesnt play a great role in the conflict. Jews and Muslims lived togeather under each others rules in Madina with the prophet (pbuh)…..

The issue here is tolerance, not religion. No matter what you call your creator, if you call it God, Jesus Christ, Allah, Science, Mother Nature, or a host of other names.. the simple fact is that we are all brothers and sisters of the SAME creation. Jews and Arabs weren’t created by different forces. We all have the common brotherhood of humanity and should peacefully work toward achieving more tolerant societies. Neither religion preaches intolerance and hatred yet it exists. So i think without those guiding forces a similiar conflict would still exist. It would certainly have a different origin. the same sort of conflict could exist over economics, capitalism vs. socialism. The FARC in Colombia have been fighting for 40 years over economics of their country. The U.S. have been waging a much more silent, yet still just as real) economic war against Cuba for 50 years. I think it comes down to tolerance.

I’m a Christian, but I believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people. Although he took it away at times throughout history, he always returned the Jews to their land, because it is rightfully theirs….

The conflict has very little to do with religion anymore- yes Judaism always ‘yearned for a return to Zion” and Jerusalem is a Holy City for the Muslims too. But I think the conflict has moved beyond religion. Its about land, power, racial supremacy and pride. On the other hand if there was no longer a Koranic quote that states “”The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” Then maybe there could be peace. Because after the Arabs wouldn’t be fighting for an Arab and there Muslim majority. Don’t know its a difficult question……I sometimes think that if Israel was a Christian country rather than a Jewish one the conflict would be no different. Look at what happend to the Coptic Christians in Lebanon. Not much different in some ways.