Demonstration of Solidarity of Christians and Jews at Temple Adath Israel: Friday, August 18, 2017

Thanks to support from our Christian friends for the Jewish community on Friday. With me is Rev. Marsha Charles who helped to organize this demonstration of solidarity at Temple Adath Israel. She is a mensch and my former student at Lexington Theological Seminary!

 

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Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass Press Release: On Tolerance, Hatred, and Respect (including response to Stephen Bannon appointment)

PRESS RELEASE

SUMMARY

The Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass (JFB) issues a call for tolerance, a rejection of hatred, and a respect for all. The JFB also asks that President-elect Trump reconsider his appointment of Stephen K. Bannon.

———

STATEMENT

THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF THE BLUEGRASS CALLS FOR TOLERANCE, A REJECTION OF HATRED, AND RESPECT FOR ALL

The Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass issues a call for tolerance, a rejection of hatred, and an embrace of diversity and pluralism.

In recent months, we have seen a spate of incidents of intolerance and prejudice in the U.S. and abroad. Numerous instances of bullying, vandalism, violence, ugly language, and name calling targeting ethnic, racial, and religious minorities have led to a climate that both adults and children find unsettling and even frightening.

The appointment of Stephen K. Bannon, especially, as President-elect Donald Trump’s “chief strategist and senior counsellor” has caused consternation among many Americans, and particularly in the Jewish community.

All presidents should have the right to make their own choices as to who advises them on strategic and other matters. We respect the latitude necessary for a president to work efficiently and productively on issues of national and ultimate global significance.

Yet, Mr. Bannon, through his position as chief executive of Breitbart News, has associated himself with a variety of radical views that fall into the categories of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and misogyny. For these reasons, white nationalists and neo-Nazis celebrate him as one of their own. No one with these associations should be in the White House, especially among our president’s closest advisors.

It is the responsibility of our Federation to support and defend the rights of the Jewish community and all minority communities against all forms of bigotry, racism, hatred, and persecution.  We understand that prejudice, including anti-Semitism, exists at both ends of the political spectrum. History has taught us that silence is both unacceptable and dangerous.

We urge President-elect Trump to demonstrate his commitment to the pluralism, diversity, and respect for all Americans he pledged in his victory speech when he promised to “bind the wounds of division” in America.

As a first step in this endeavor, we ask President-elect Trump to reconsider his appointment of Stephen K. Bannon. We also request that he reach out and show in all his personnel appointments his desire to work toward genuine healing in our divided society.

Our Federation, along with other federations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, continues to stand for the values we have always upheld: welcoming the stranger, fighting injustice, repairing the world, supporting Israel and Jewish communities around the world, speaking up for the voiceless, and protecting the orphan and the widow.

Hate is neither a Jewish nor an American value. We urge local, state, and national leaders on both sides of the aisle to speak up against this threat to American democracy, to uphold inclusion, to fight against bigotry and discrimination of all kinds, and we encourage other community groups to join in our efforts to combat prejudice and abuse.

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“Selma,” Film Criticism, History, and Racism

Radio show host Limbaugh speaks at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington

Here’s my take. Much of the criticism of “Selma” is accurate. However, why is there so much criticism of “Selma,” but not of other Hollywood historical films? it’s not the substance of the criticism which I find problematic, but the ferocity and amount of it.

From what I know, LBJ and King were partners in the civil rights process, but that relationship later fell apart over the Vietnam War. I’m sure that King was pushing harder for the Voting Rights Act than Johnson, but the dynamic was a lot more subtle than “Selma” shows. I also did not find Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of Johnson at all convincing. It just didn’t ring right for me. Personally, I was particulary bothered by the absence of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who was replaced by a Greek Orthodox figure. This photo of King and Heschel from the Selma march is iconic, and one has to wonder what was the motive for air-brushing out a prominent Jewish activist. Does this say something about current Jewish-Christian and African-American-Jewish relations? Was this an attempt at Christianizing a more diverse event? Is this about Israel? Or is there something else going on, some kind of Hollywood soap opera? Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that many Jews were saddened by this.

That said, “Selma” was a powerful film with brilliant portrayals of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King. It shows a flawed hero and the importance of community activism. King did not come out of nowhere, but emerges out of a broad movement (which also includes women).

Where was the same criticism of “Lincoln,” which edited out the prominent role of Frederick Douglas? More recently, the “Imitation Game” played fast and loose with the story of Alan Turing. Turing was not as difficult and rude a person as Cumberbatch portrays (though I thought his portrayal was nevertheless also brilliant). The Turing machine was much smaller than the one depicted. There were others that worked on this project before Turing, particularly Polish mathematicians (never once mentioned). And the depiction of Commander Denniston as a hectoring, bureaucratic bully is not accurate either (thanks to Dianne Bazell for this info).

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” won an Oscar for best picture in 2013, and yet the entire film was essentially a fiction that had little to do with the historical event depicted with Iran and the Khomeini revolution. “Argo” makes “Selma,” “Lincoln,” and “imitation Game” look like milquetoast documentaries (which I realize is unfair to documentaries–a genre that I love). Looking at “Argo” is no better than watching “Quo Vadis” in order to understand the historical Roman world and early Christianity. I noted this in an essay on my blog in 2013, and there were others who did so as well, but the bigger-click oped writers carried the day: and they loved “Argo.” There was very little prominent or strong criticism of “Argo.”

Why do “Argo” and others get of the hook, while “Selma” receives such deep historical analysis? Why didn’t David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo receive Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress?

I think the answer is clear. There is an element of prejudice and racism in the focus on “Selma.” Critics (particularly white liberal critics) are much more defensive of “Selma,” because they feel a personal connection to the event which is not the case with most other films. And they feel hurt and slighted, because they feel lumped together with LBJ as resistant to civil rights progress.

I have never understood why drama and historical accuracy have to be opposed to be one another, but that is the way Hollywood screenwriters, directors, and producers seem to view the matter. That is the reality of these films. Critics, who know this full well, have to be consistent in their critiques. If you criticize historical inaccuracies, then you should do it consistently. Don’t lower the boom on one film, while letting the others slip through the cracks. If you do, be prepared for the return volleys that you will inevitably receive from the other side. This is rightfully so.

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/01/21/maureen_dowds_clueless_white_gaze_whats_really_behind_the_selma_backlash/

 

Addendum:I keep looking at the thumbnail photo accompanying, and I just can’t it out of my mind how Heschel is air-brushed out. I still find “Selma” a superb film, but this erasure saddens me deeply. So here’s the original photo:

SelmaKingHeschelPhoto1

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Charlie Hebdo and the Comic Tradition

CHARLIE HEBDO AND THE COMIC TRADITION

I’ve read and watched an awful lot of news analysis of Charlie Hebdo, but rarely do pundits mention some of the salient facts about what Charlie Hebdo actually does and about the tradition of satire:

1) Charlie Hebdo mocks all three Abrahamic religions, not just Islam, and it does so offensively with no special favorites, but Jews and Christians do not attack and demonize Charlie Hebdo;

2) The tradition of satire and caricatures or religion in France is very old going, back to at least the French Revolution, and is tied to the deep distrust of religious institutions (the Catholic Church primarily) that was closely linked to the royal dictatorship that crushed economic, social, and political freedoms in France;

3) Charlie Hebdo does not only mock religion; it mocks other institutions and prominent public figures;

4) Charlie Hebdo is a part of a tradition of offensive satire that goes back to ancient Greek comedy. It includes writers such as Aristophanes whom many profess to love (mainly because they don’t understand, or care about, the ancient references). However, if Aristophanes were alive today, he would probably engender hatred among the people he would gleefully pillory and mock.

5) Commentators are shocked by all the sexual references in Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. However, ancient comedy (and drama), which is the literary predecessor of Charlie Hebdo, was associated with phallus processions, accompanied by obscenities and verbal abuse.

So what some consider juvenile, stupid, and offensive in Charlie Hebdo has roots in literature and dramatic traditions that we profess to admire and call “classic.” We in the U.S. live in a culture that is still relatively Puritanical in its approach to public sexuality, and that is coming out in the U.S. media coverage.

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Holland Lee Hendrix Passes Away

HendrixHolland1

Sad news. Holly Hendrix was the man (then a senior Ph.D. student) who convinced me to go to Harvard Divinity School and study New Testament and Judaism for a masters degree on my way to a Ph.D. He gave me a whole slide show to get me interested and excited. Most of my family and friends thought I was nuts, but he was persuasive, and the course of my life changed.

I remember Holly chain smoking cigarettes in the library lounge during bull sessions. I roomed with him in Thasos (Greece) during a summer archaeological dig–he was the head of our team; I was a young graduate student. I recall swimming in the ocean in the afternoon with other grad students and him, laughing, and soaking up the sun. I recall evenings of ouzo and late nights of scotch (I was not much of a drinker, but he enjoyed himself), followed by cold Greek sink-water instant coffee in the morning (disgusting, but classic Holly). Holly would stay up half the night preparing for the next day of digging, while I tried to sleep.

Holly was a lot of fun to travel with. One time we went on a joint trip with HDS and Haverford (where he was teaching), and I watched him relate to his students who clearly loved him. He was also a fantastic dancer, and I saw him once walk into a Greek disco (Athens, I think) and just let loose. I still wish I could dance like that. Do people remember the string quartets with Helmut Koester? Helmut could not play the violin very well, but he loved to play. Holly played the viola (if I recall correctly), and he was a very good musician. I cannot get the picture out of my mind of Helmut sawing away with Holly and others masterfully playing their instruments: a very funny juxtaxposition both of musicianship and power.

I am sad to hear this news and recall him fondly as one of the primary people who set me on my professional path in life–in many ways.

http://utsnyc.edu/pages-primary/institutes–initiatives/institutes–initiatives—holland-hendrix-obituary

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Idolatry

Anything can be idolatrous. Therefore, question everything.

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What Are We?

We are intersecting fields of eternal becoming.

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Mizrahi Nation: Middle Eastern Jews in Israel and a Brief History of Jews in the Middle East

MizrahiNation1

A superb article by Matti Friedman, one of the best of I have seen not only on the history of the Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jews) in Israel, but on what it means to be Israeli, Jewish, and living in the Middle East. This article offers a perspective that is rarely found in discussions about Israel and the Israel/Palestinian conflict. After reading it, you may find your views on Israel, Jews, and the Middle East at least a little different.

I particularly enjoyed his characterization of the “religious vs. secular” Jewish dichotomy as a Western/Ashkenazi labeling. For Mizrachi, that distinction doesn’t exist. They have their own “liberal” form of Judaism which is not Orthodox, but “traditional”/Masorti–the name for Conservative Judaism, but different, because it has its own history and application that is completely different from the European-based movement. For example, some Mizrachi may go to Synagogue in the morning, head to the beach in the afternoon, text to one another, while celebrating Havdalah (end of Shabbat) later.

Overall the Mizrachi are much more “liberal” in practice than the Ashkenazi (European-based) religious, but more politically conservative than many Ashkenazi. Their conservatism is not based on ideology (as is typical of Ashkenazi on all sides of the political spectrum), however, but more on experience in having lived in the Middle East for many centuries (well before Islam ever got there).

http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2014/06/mizrahi-nation/

 

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Media Bias and Israel

FriedmanMatti

More on the bias of Western media coverage of Israel by a former AP reporter, Matti Friedman: hostile fixation on Jews and Israel; censorship of Gaza coverage under pressure from Hamas and failure to report Hamas using civilians as human shields; and failure to report on an Israeli peace proposal. The original story discussed the failure of Western media to report on the corruption of the Palestinian Authority; the all-consuming media criticism of Israeli society and politics, with virtually no criticism of Palestinian society and politics; intense documenting of Israeli violence against Palestinians, with no corresponding, remotely equivalent documenting of Hamas’ brutality and vast military infrastructure; failure to report on Hamas intimidation of reporters; failure to describe the Hamas charter, which call for the genocide of Jews and uses the notorious Jew-hating Protocols of Zion to call for the murder of Jews; failure to report on Israeli peace proposals prior to the Netanyahu government; failure to report on the tiny size (both geographically and demographically) of Israel in contrast to the Arab/Muslim world; failure to connect Hamas to other extreme, exclusivist, violent Muslim religious movements (e.g. al Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbollah, Taliban); and the overall equivalence of Israel as bad oppressors and Palestinians as sympathetic victims.

I am a strong critic of many Israeli policies (settlements, racism against Arabs, too much religion in government, the Netanyahu’s goverment failure to engage the Palestinian Authority), but it’s appalling how media coverage is so one-sided and tilted against Israel (and Jews as well) and so relatively non-critical of Hamas (which advocates genocide of Jews, believes in forced conversion to Islam, supports brutality and violence, and opposes democratic and secular values) and the Palestinian Authority (which is notoriously corrupt, inept, suspicious of democratic values, and refuses to accept Israel as Jewish): http://tabletmag.com/scroll/184707/ongoing-controversy-around-the-most-important-story-on-earth

Here’s the original article by Friedman: http://tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/183033/israel-insider-guide?all=1

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The Christian Left and Jew-Hatred

bruce-shipman

Hard to see how anyone can rationalize Jew-hatred (antisemitism) by blaming it on Israeli policy, but many are doing just that now. Shipman and anyone else have the right to criticize Israel as they reasonably see fit (and I would do so as well), but they don’t have the right to excuse hatred–which is exactly what Shipman and others are doing. Attacking Jews on the street and putting swastikas on synagogues and fraternities does not happen because of Israeli policy. It happens because some people hate Jews. Period.

No one on the left (which is what many apparently consider me) would attribute assaults on women to provocative dress or police brutality toward African Americans on black-on-black violence, but somehow it’s OK for liberal Christian activists to do so when it comes to Jew-hatred. They don’t see how they’re drawing on 2000 years of ugly history. All this exposes the ugly underside of Christian prejudice toward Jews. Jewish-Christian dialogue has made progress since the Holocaust, but not as much as we had thought. We’re now seeing the public viewing of what was always there, but hidden.

All people have prejudices that are unknown even to them. I’m no exception to that. It’s part of the human condition. However, the most dangerous people are those who act as if they are immune to prejudice. If Shipman had apologized and reframed what he said differently, we could have moved beyond this. Not only does he refuse to do so, but he plans to continue in his crusade. Clearly we still have a long way to go: http://time.com/3340634/yale-chaplain-bruce-shipman-israel-anti-semitism/

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Gaza, Israel, and Media Coverage

Why are the global protests all focused on Gaza? Many more are dying in Syria: 700 over a two-day period.

Israel is the bogeyman for world media, but no one gives a hoot if Arabs are slaughtering other Arabs. What does this say about Israel and about antisemitism (yesterday protesters looted and ransacked Jewish businesses in a Paris suburb)?

Part 1: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGING THAT MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS SO EXTENSIVE BECAUSE OF ISRAEL’S FAILURE TO AGREE TO A CEASEFIRE

I don’t agree with you that the ceasefire issue is what drives the media.

The reason everyone pays attention to Gaza, and not to Syria, is because no one in the West gives a darn about Arabs and Muslims dying, but they do enjoy scapegoating Jews wherever they are. Whatever problems there are in the Middle East, blame it on the Jews. Now Muslims and Arabs have joined in on this. Take a look at Paris and its suburbs, where protesters have now burned and decimated French Jewish businesses. This is not primarily because of Gaza, but because fundamentally, at root, people blame Jews for whatever problems exists in their communities and cultures.

It’s sad, but it’s a fact. I don’t see a lot of people in Europe attacking Russian churches and community centers, because Russian separatists shot down a passenger jet. Where are the protesters on Iran’s treatment of the Bahai? Israelis are trying to protect their civilian population. You can argue about their tactics and effectiveness, but they do have a good argument based on self-defense.

No, fundamentally, the media and most people are fixated on Jews. This is a 2500-year-old problem, deeply rooted in history and culture. Those of us who devote our lives to working on antisemitism, Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, must face this on a daily basis. That’s the reality, and no amount of rationalizations get around this fact.

PART 2: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT EXTENSIVE MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS DUE TO LIMITED FINANCIAL RESOURCES

a) It’s not just Syria that the media ignores. Last I heard France is pretty good digs for reporters. Yet how much media attention is focused on protesters burning down Jewish shops and businesses, calling Jews “pigs” and shouting “kill the Jews,” vandalizing and storming synagogues, and hunting Jews on the streets? There were similar (though less destructive) events in Germany. I don’t see much on the TV about that. Iran is a police state, but it’s relatively safe to travel in. Where is the attention on the Iranian treatment of the Bahai, who are viciously persecuted and murdered? What about the Iranian treatment of their native Arab population and political dissidents, whom they like to hang from cranes? Where is the attention on the destruction of indigenous communities worldwide (including in the US and Canada) for corporate profit (oil, minerals, gems, whatever)? What about China and Tibet? What about the treatment of women and gays in the Arab/Muslim world? How much media attention is there on that compared to Israel? I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is, the media, and people in general, are obsessed with Jews. Israel is a good proxy for that.

There is one financial factor you did not mention: Israel coverage markets well to a public that is focused on Jews and Judaism. In other words, “Israel” sells. As the newspaper people used to say, “Israel” makes good copy.

That said, I do agree that the safety and cheapness of travel to Israel is a factor in media coverage of Israel. Part of the attraction is also that Israel is a pleasant place to which to travel and a democracy with a free press. There’s just a lot more to it than your explanation.

b) Israel is in the news all the time. The media always has stories about the Palestinian situation–not as intensely as Gaza right now, but these stories are all over the place regularly. They’re hard to miss. I don’t see nearly as much attention on the stuff I describe above as I do on Israel, even when Israel is not involved in a war.

Beyond that, there has been massive violence (with concentrated deaths in short periods of time) in other locations over the past decades with relatively little media attention: Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Congo, Ivory Coast. Back in the 1960s through the 1990s we saw hideous numbers of deaths in conflicts in South America, Africa, and East Asia (remember East Timor) without comparable attention. Naturally disasters such as occur in Bangladesh and India attract relatively little attention. These are not all impossible to cover (not as easy as Israel, but not Syria), and yet we saw very little on them. I would not expect the equivalence of Gaza, but I would have expected a lot more than we got.

Somehow the media figured out a way to cover our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Vietnam. The media covered the breakup of Yugoslavia, including Bosnia/Serbia. They covered the Tiannamen Square uprising in China. They gave blanket coverage to the Indonesian tsunami. They focused on the 2009/10 election protests in Iran. In the U.S. the media covered the Tea Party, but much less the Occupy movement.

If it wanted to do so, the media could cover Syria to a greater extent than it has recently. Yes, it’s not easy, and, yes, it’s more expensive. Coverage of Syria would never equal coverage of Gaza, but the media could give Syria much more attention than it has–even without a lot of reporters on the ground. It chooses not to, because Syria, Arabs, and Muslims just don’t hold the attention of the public or of news decision-makers. They’re just not sexy or meaningful to enough people.

I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable to give Gaza a lot of attention. And I’m not saying that a Jewish fixation is the only reason the media focuses on Israel/Gaza/West Bank. I am saying that Gaza has attracted much more attention than other stories of similar magnitude and that part of it has to do with the public’s fascination (for both good and ill) with Israel and Jews. I’m also saying that the media picks and chooses what it decides to cover, in part based on what it thinks sells best. And Israel sells real well. And it has since 1948, especially since 1967.

And I can tell you this. Unless a miracle happens soon, stories about Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors will continue to abound (massive deaths or not), while stories about Ukraine and Russia will have long since faded into oblivion. This does have to do with the prominent place of Jews (in spite of their small numbers) and Israel in human culture and history.

c) All in all I just don’t buy this argument. It does not pass the smell test. The amount of coverage on Israel/Palestine (the former British Mandate), a tiny piece of land with a miniscule population of Jews and Arabs is massive and overwhelming, even without the current Gaza conflict. The overwhelming coverage cannot be explained away simply by reference to limited media resources. An alien from another solar system who dropped onto earth and saw the media coverage would assume that Israel/Palestine must comprise a large continent and a major portion of the world’s population. Obviously, that’s not the case. There are other reasons why the public and the media are obsessed with this little slice of our planet. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

d) I do think antisemitism is a major factor, but not the only one. It’s fixation on Jews that’s really at the core here. Even some supporters of Israel are motivated in part by the Bible and by their belief in Jews as part of God’s plan. And there are philosemitic non-Jews who focus on Jews and on Israel for a whole host of reasons. I wouldn’t call that antisemitism, but it does reflect a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Jews and Judaism. So fixation on Judaism is not simply antisemitism, but can actually be philosemitism as well. I would certainly rather have the latter than the former, but even that is a sword cutting more than one way.

I think it would be best for Jews if others would simply live their lives and leave us be. At the same time, I admit that Jews sometimes cultivate this fixation, and I’m certainly uncomfortable with that. There should be dialogue and conversation–not as an attempt to convert or to preach, but in order to learn and grow. I think it’s much better for Christians to become better Christians than to become Jews or something else, and I think it’s much better for Jews to become better Jews than to spend our time distinguishing ourselves from Christians and others.

As for one-sidedness, that’s a red herring. There are lot of one-sided conflicts in the world (some of which I already mentioned above) that do not get the same attention as Israel/Palestine. In Tibet, it’s mostly Tibetans getting killed, not Chinese. In Iran, no government officials get killed, only dissidents and disfavored minorities. In Central America, governments killed rebels and dissidents far more than the latter killed the former. In France, supporters of Israel are not attacking pro-Palestinian demonstrators, while Palestinians supporters are engaging in numerous attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Right now in Syria, ISIS seems to be inflicting most of the damage.

Actually, the death toll in Gaza is now over 700 Gazans and 32 Israeli soldiers, plus two civilians. Of course, that’s because Israelis try to protect their civilians, while the goal of Hamas is to have as many civilians as possible killed in order to promote their PR/media campaign. It’s amazing (though sadly not surprising) to me that the media mentions this only in passing or skeptically. Also, we have no way of knowing how many Gazan civilians vs. soldiers are being killed–Hamas is not exactly a trustworthy source for this kind of info.

In any case, the media would do well to spend more time looking more deeply at what’s going on and not simply reporting death numbers as if it’s a football game. From that perspective, however, Hamas is winning. For them the side with the most dead is the victor. So on the media scoreboard, Hamas is currently ahead of Israel, c. 1,058 vs. 53. That’s a lopsided victory for Hamas. I’m sure Hamas’ leaders are thrilled. The culture of death is winning in a landslide over the culture of life.

Perhaps, however, the distancing of other countries from Hamas that I have observed recently is a move in the right direction. That would certainly show some sophistication in not simply accepting Hamas’ explanations at face value. I hope the media will move in that direction as well.

 

PART 3: ON ISRAELI AND ARAB POSITIONS ON A PALESTINE STATE (INCLUDING THOMAS FRIEDMAN WHO WANTS ISRAEL TO FOCUS ON DEVELOPING THE WEST BANK AS A THRIVING DEMOCRACY)

I’m not a fan of Netanyahu and have never supported him or Likud. I’m not sure he’s as opposed to a Palestinian state as you think, but I’m not sure he believes in much of anything–except his own political survival. And I wrote on this blog that most Arab governments don’t want a Palestinian state either: see the same thing here-http://mysticscholar.org/whats-really-going-on-in-the…/

As far as the West Bank goes, Friedman is right in principle, but that’s no easy task either. Fatah is corrupt, inept, and non-democratic, and there is not much of a prospect for more salutary groups or institutions that could take the lead. The West Bank would need a massive shift in culture and outlook for what Friedman suggests to happen. And Arab governments, as well as Iran, have no interest in an autonomous, free, democratic Palestine. They will do everything possible to prevent that from happening. So that leaves essentially a mess for Israel to deal with. Netanyahu is not much of a leader, but I doubt that anyone or any Israeli party could deal with the current state of things. 

So what are the options? What should Israel do in light of all this? I have no idea. Neither does anyone else as far as I can make out. The best I can think of is play a waiting game and hope that the West Bank cleans up its act and that the Arab world develops some kind of democratic institutions (Tunisia??).

As far as handling Hamas, I don’t know what Israel should do. I’m not an Israeli, and I don’t live there. But I know I wouldn’t put up with rockets firing on my land and tunnels with terrorists pouring out. Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with Hamas, but I don’t know what it is, and I haven’t heard anything plausible. Demilitarizing Gaza would make sense, but that seems impossible, given Hamas and given the sentiments of Gazans. 

If you have something practical to suggest, I really would listen–really. But most of what I’ve heard out there is, quite frankly, naive, totally impractical, or simply wrong. I’m waiting–but sometimes, you just have to tread water for a while. 

Friedman can talk and talk, but his ideas are not really pragmatic or feasible; they just sound nice and thoughtful. He’s not really suggesting anything workable, just a lot of hopeful words.

In the meantime, I have to deal with the antisemitism that’s out there and that’s integrally related to the media’s depiction of Israel. France is a mess, and the attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions is reminiscent of Nazi-era events. And this is happening across Europe. The situation is ugly and screwed-up, and the media is making it worse by not explaining what’s going on.

It does bother me that Israel gets singled out for its deplorable conduct, while the other nations you mention get a pass. The BDS movement focuses on Israel, but shows no interest in advocating divestment in other countries with far worse human rights violations (in the Middle East, that would include Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, among others). This too is ugly and antisemitic, and the media does not address it at all. When you’re dealing with the detritus of the Holocaust that still remains with us and the burgeoning global antisemitism, this is very disturbing indeed.

 

Part 4: ON ISRAEL LEAVING THE WEST BANK AND THE CREATION OF A PALESTINIAN STATE THERE

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

PART 5: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT THE CONCEPT OF THE “CHOSEN PEOPLE” AND OF “DIFFERENCE ARE WHAT DRIVE SOME OF THE ANIMOSITY TOWARD ISRAELIS AND JEWS

On the whole “chosen people” business, I rarely hear Jews, including most Israelis, talk about this. Most of the Israeli settlers are looking for suburban plots near Jerusalem and have no interest in theology. There are extreme settlers who talk about the Chosen People (Hebron, for example–and quite a number of them are American immigrants), but they are a small minority, and most Israelis (even religious ones) strongly dislike them.

It’s mostly Christians who talk about Jews as the Chosen People. I’ve led a lot of Jewish study groups, and that topic hardly ever comes us, except in response to Christians. Conservative/Evangelical Christians love the whole “Chosen People” trope and run with it non-stop. They have their own agenda, with end-time theology and mass conversion. Mainline and liberal Christians hate the whole idea of it and complain incessantly about Jewish superiority and tribalism.

Jewish sources talk about the Chosen People, but mostly not with pride. In Jewish tradition, God asked every other people to be the chosen ones, and they all refused. The Jews were the last, and they finally agreed to it–with a lot of complaints that have continued through the centuries. The concept of being “chosen” is not necessarily positive at all, but a burden that Jews are stuck with, forcing them to live difficult lives without much reward.

Even so, most Jews today don’t talk about it much, because it’s not an important part of daily life, of identity, or of practice. It’s mainly Christians (and now Muslims) who obsess over it.

Now, on the concept of “difference,” that’s a different matter. Lots of individuals and groups think of themselves as different. And, in fact, they are.

Teilhard de Chardin (who was a Catholic evolutionary biologist and theologian) had a concept known as the Omega Point, which he believed was the ultimate level of collective consciousness that human beings could attain in the distant future. He thought that collective consciousness depended not on homogeneity, but on hyper-individuality–each person’s authentic uniqueness.

We’re all different, and, yes, we’re all similar too, but Jews focus more on the “difference” part. They’re not the only group to do that. I don’t think that everyone should have to be the same. There should be a place (I hope) on the planet and in the human species for individuals and groups who focus more on difference.

 

ON THE DIFFICULTIES OF A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

 

ON PROSPECTS FOR A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

Actually, believe it or not, I think there will be peace some day. So I’m not pessimistic in the long term. I may be wrong, but, in my view, the Arab/Muslim world will have to move toward a more democratic system of governance before a two-state solution works. That’s going to take time. In spite of its shortcomings, the “Arab Spring” (which is not Spring in some places I realize) was a positive step. Tunisia will be interesting to watch.

Dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians will also help over time. This will not transform the region over night, but it is slowly affecting the situation and will continue to do so..

As for your idea, Ehud Barak offered something similar in 1999. Arafat and the PLO rejected it. It may not have been the right time, and Barak was a terrible negotiator.

Israel did not “seize” Gaza and the West Bank. Israel entered them in 1967 after facing a massive Arab attack. When the Arab world decides to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East (which governments are beginning to), then it will be easier to deal with the logistics of this problem.

On the Arab right of return, this is obviously a thorny issue and will involve compensation. The Palestinians are the only group in the world given “refugee” status after multiple generations of absence from a territory. When the Arab countries expelled Jews after 1948, Israel accepted them as full citizens of the state of Israel. On the other hand, Arab governments forced Palestinians to live in refugee camps and did not integrate them into Arab societies.

Israel will have to deal with this issue financially, but it’s not as one-sided as your words imply. There are two stories here, each having legitimacy: two peoples with two painful histories and competing narratives and claims to the land.

As for Hamas, I’m glad you’re confident in Gaza tossing them out under the right conditions. I’m not. And I don’t think Israelis can assume anything. All I have to do is look at other parts of the Middle East to draw another conclusion.

Nevertheless, at some point, the day will come when a two-state solution can be put into action. I just don’t think that day has arrived yet. Let’s hope it comes soon.

RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE WHO ARGUES THAT ISRAEL IS NOT A DEMOCRACY, COMPARING IT TO ALABAMA 100 YEARS AGO

KantGazaExchange1

On the Barak proposal and the Camp David Summit, most observers (including many Palestinians ones) lay the blame on Arafat–that he never offered a concrete counter-proposal and could not give up on the right of return. In the end, Arafat could not accept a Jewish state on land that he still considered as belonging to the Palestinians. In other words, he was not ready to make a deal–Barak was (even with his weaknesses as a negotiator).

As for democracy, Israel is not a perfect society, and there’s racism and prejudice there, along with at times poor treatment of its Arab population. And, yes, it is a Jewish state, with Jewish governing principles and a Jewish majority.

That said, Arab citizens in Israel have more freedom and rights than they do in almost any Arab/ Muslim society that I can think of. The rights of Arab Israeli women are far higher than in any Arab society. Arab Israelis also have a considerable higher standard of living than in the surrounding societies and can actually be openly gay without being murdered.

In 2011, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion commissioned a poll of Arab residents of Jerusalem. A plurality indicated that, if given the choice, they would choose to live under Israel rather than the PLO and that they thought their neighbors would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship. Most Israeli Arabs vehemently oppose an Israel-Palestine settlement, because they do not wish to live under the PLO. Senior PLO and Hamas leaders (including three sisters of Ishmail Haniyeh, the top leader of Hamas) have sought Israeli ID cards so that they can live in Israel if they choose. Many of them have done so, including Haniyeh’s sisters. (Haniyeh’s sisters currently live as Israeli citizens in the Bedouin town of Tel as-Sabi near Beesheva on the edge of the Negev in Southern Israel; several of their children have served in the Israeli Defense Force/IDF!). I don’t know what the polls are saying now and who is living where and who holds which ID cards, but not all Palestinians and Israeli Arabs view Israel as a authoritarian state (as you suggest). Further, their view of the Israeli government versus the PLO and Hamas is filled with complexity, nuance, and contradictions.

If we consider Germany a democracy or Italy or France or Japan or South Korea (countries that presume ethnic/linguistic/cultural majorities), then Israel is no less a democracy than any of those. Israel believes it has a right to preserve its Jewish character, that Jews need to have a place where they can live without fear of persecution, discrimination, and murder. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or contrary to democratic principles. Perhaps others have a new definition of democracy with which I am unfamiliar.

Would you really compare Israel to Alabama a 100 years ago– lynchings; micegenation laws; separate water fountains, bathrooms, park benches; not to mention effective voting prohibition? Are you sure that you thought this analogy through? I don’t think there are many objective observers who would consider your comparison legitimate or reasonable. You might want to try a new tack.

 

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Evolution Gaining Greater Acceptance in the U.S.

Public views in U.S. are shifting toward support for evolution. I never understood this one. Maybe it because I’m Jewish and the child of a scientist, but I never saw the conflict with Genesis or the Bible. Genesis doesn’t really weigh in on the subject. Even a literalist view (which I certainly don’t have admittedly) could leave a lot of room for alternative interpretation. Opposition to evolution in the developed world is peculiar to the United States and is primarily found among evangelicals. Most others do not share this belief. I would truly like to better understand the reasons for opposition to evolution, because it’s so foreign to me. Perhaps there is a much deeper issue at play. If we could get at that, we might be able to address the real difficulty.

http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/

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PC-USA/Presbyterians Assault on Zionism and Judaism

The Presbyterian Church/PCUSA has recently promoted as a congregational resource a booklet called “Zionism Unsettled.” This has caused an enormous amount of controversy in the Jewish community (from the left to the right), as it essentially denies the legitimacy of Jewish aspirations and questions the right of Jews to have their own state.The attack on Zionism is not a critique of particular Israeli policies, but rather an assault on Israel as a Jewish state and an attack on Jewish history. It is nothing less than open and unapologetic antisemitism. Among other things, it claims that European Zionism ruined the lives of Middle Eastern Jews and that blame for the suffering of those Jews (the Mizrahi) should fall on European Jews who are colonialist usurpers. According to this narrative, European Jews have duped poor, benighted Middle Eastern Jews who were living blissful lives until those nasty Euro-Jews came along. This is a lie, pure and simple. Middle Eastern Judaism has a long history of love for Israel and hope for a return to their homeland, as do all Jews everywhere on the globe. And Jewish history in the Middle East is complex and often harsh. For example, in Yemen, Jews faced vicious persecution and lived lives of abject poverty and constant harassment and intimidation. They were not even allowed to own musical instruments, and the men were relegated to working in sewers. And, although there were times when Jewish life flourished in the Middle East, Jews throughout the Middle East also faced regular pogroms and persecution for centuries.

Many Presbyterians (if not most at the local levels) do not support this antisemitic position, but a small group of advocates and ideologues have hijacked their church. I wish the challengers all blessings and offer my support in whatever way I can be of use.

For these reasons, I am giving you links to a series of articles that Middle Eastern Jews have themselves written on this topic. I hope you find them of interest.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lyn-julius/presbyterians-have-it-bac_b_4896724.html

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/open-letter-to-the-presbyterian-church-from-an-iraqi-jew/

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/presbyterian-churchs-guide-is-dead-wrong-about-iranian-jewry/

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Review of Robert Nicholson, “Evangelicals and Israel”

The author is intelligent, knowledgeable, and thoughtful–but also generally wrong: http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2013/10/evangelicals-and-israel/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share-via-email

I won’t go into great detail, but here are just a few points:

1) Eschatology is a BIG deal for evangelicals. In my many years of encounters, conversations, bull-sessions, and scholarly exchange with evangelical Christians, I cannot remember many times of serious interchange when the subject of eschatology did not come up. Nicholson is right that evangelicals do not agree on the details, but wrong when he downplays the importance of eschatology. In fact, I would go so far as to say that evangelicals are obsessed with both end times (all it takes is a cursory google search to see this), and that’s why evangelicals don’t always agree. In any case, in almost every scenario, Jews do not fare well. The “voluntary” conversion that Nicholson identifies is also generally accompanied (no matter which scenario) by the mass death and slaughter of the vast majority of the Jewish population. In fact, those Christian end time images of genocide (which one also finds in some Catholic depictions) have inspired antisemites for centuries, including the Nazis.

While eschatology may say nothing about the actual future, it does say something about the ways in which some Christians view Jews–and it’s not good. It says that Jews are not worthy of life in the same way that believing Christians are worthy of life. It implies, in essence, that Jews are somewhat less than human. To be fair, the view of Jews as sub-human (which the Nazis glorified) also applies to members of other faiths and to agnostics and atheists,* but Christians have had a special relationship to, and history with, Jews. For that reason, the symbolism and language of eschatological discourse and the implied status of Jews as sub-human means that Christian-Jewish relations are fraught with particular dangers and risks.

The relentless drive to convert Jews to Christianity, which characterizes most evangelicals, also presumes that Jewish practice and belief without Jesus Christ are insufficient for full human status.

2) Christian evangelical anti-Zionism is not simply a left-wing phenomenon. The author does not discuss the conservative Christians who hold disturbing views on Jews and Judaism and oppose the state of Israel. This is nothing new and has existed for a long time.

3) Since the topic of Christian Zionism, particularly CUFI (Christians United for Israel and John Hagee), has come up in many Jewish communities, I have warned that the worm will turn. There may be a substantial number of Christian Zionists today, but many of their ancestral co-religionists persecuted Jews and opposed the state of Israel. A movement which owes much of its theology to Martin Luther and other antisemites cannot just shed its inheritance in a decade or two without a serious discussion and eventual confession. And I have not seen that take place–not even remotely. Until I do and until enough time passes afterwards, I do not think that Jews should place much faith in alliances with Christian Zionists.

What’s more likely to happen is that Christian Zionists will eventually perceive Jews as intransigent and difficult because Jews are not willing to convert. Then, when their frustration reaches a tipping point, these same Christian Zionists will turn on Jews. That’s what I think is happening now. It’s not a question of “liberal” (whatever that means) evangelicals, but rather the inevitable reemergence of hatred and prejudice that has always sat lurking just beneath the surface.

This does not mean that I am opposed to conversations (which I still relish) or even to occasional alliances on very specific issues of mutual interest. I remain deeply committed to Jewish-Christian dialog, especially to the interfaith study of biblical texts, the history of Jewish-Christian relations, and theological reflection. However,it does mean that we Jews need to be clear-headed and honest about our interlocutors. The naivete, or perhaps willful ignorance, of many in the Jewish community (especially the organized Jewish community) is an even greater danger than the antisemitism of many Christians. If we Jews were more self-aware and sober in our understanding of the evangelical point of view, I would feel a lot more comfortable about Jewish-Christian relations on Israel.

And, by the way, I would have much to say that is critical of the mainline Christian community as well (especially their siding with Palestinians and their reflexive criticism of all Israeli policy), but they do not currently seem to present the same set of problems for leaders in the organized Jewish community that Christian evangelicals do. In addition, we Jews will have to confront our own prejudices and assumptions about all Christians, including evangelicals.

This article by Robert Nicholson has the potential to further cloud the minds of many in the Jewish community and lead them astray in a time of anxiety. In my view, especially when it comes to Israel, we Jews are on our own, and the sooner we realize it, the better off we’ll be. Hope, if I dare pronounce that word, comes from a survival instinct that has guided our community for over three thousand years and from the realization that resilience is part of our spiritual makeup.

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Is the U.S. Post-Christian?

BarnaPostChristian1

Evangelical Christian demographer, George Barna investigates whether the US is a post-Christian nation. He concludes that the US is moving in that direction:

http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/613-how-post-christian-is-us-society

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How We Should Respond to a Pro-Nazi Teaching Assignment

This teaching assignment that compelled students to take a pro-Nazi position against Jews was obviously a bad mistake, but it is one in which we all of us (especially those in the Jewish community) need to demonstrate compassion and forgiveness to the teacher. Justification of hatred is not something that is legitimate in a class teaching students how to think, especially in a classroom of teenagers. Yes, we can justify any horrible action or idea through reasoned argument, but humanism and our ethical principles have to intervene at some point. At the same time, the teacher was probably not intending to promote antisemitism and hatred, but rather the opposite. Further, all the time we permit actors in theater and film to portray Nazis (think Ralph Finnes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List or Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler in Downfall [Der Untergang]), and we want them to do so in a convincing fashion. In fact, we applaud them for it and give them awards. This is not an easy topic, and it’s one where all of us can go astray. Let this event not be an opportunity for recrimination and shouting, but a teaching moment.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/nyregion/albany-teacher-gives-pro-nazi-writing-assignment.html?_r=0

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Matthew Fox’s 95 Theses for a Christianity for the Third Millennium

A powerful statement of Christian faith in a post-religious era (via Joseph Engelberg): http://www.rexaehuntprogressive.com/prayersaffirmationscollection/affirmationsmanifestos/95_theses_or_articles_of_fa.html

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Argo Oscar: Oy

The victory of Argo at the Oscars is a major disappointment. The film is not much more than a video game played on the silver screen. It’s Hollywood fast food, pablum served to those who do not want to think much about history, art, or the Middle East. The creators of this film assumed that the audience was ignorant and mindless, and the Academy of Motion Pictures rewarded them for their cynical manipulations.

The film is historical flimflam. So many of the basic, asserted facts in the film are simply untrue: In reality everything went smoothly at the Tehran airport with no problems from Iranian security or customs; there was no airport chase; there was never a cancellation of the mission at the last minute; there was no location scouting in Tehran; the escapees were not in one house, but two; the escapees did in fact have access to the outdoors; there was no film producer played by Alan Arkin; the film vastly overstates the role of the CIA and vastly understates the Canadian component of the effort (which was in fact primary); the British and New Zealand embassies did not turn away the Americans, but helped them in many ways; and Ben Affleck resembles Latino Antonio Mendes about as accurately as Bible paintings that depict the historical Jesus as blond and blue-eyed.

The lack of historical accuracy is galling given that Steven Spielberg made every effort to adhere to veracity when he directed the epic film, Lincoln. Even more important, we are dealing right now with real, live Iranians and Muslims in the Middle East. Producing a film that distorts history and outright lies destroys American credibility and makes us look almost as manipulative and hateful as some of the leaders in the Iranian government. How do we criticize Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, for denying the Holocaust, when an Oscar-winning American film fabricates historical events in Iran out of thin air?

Iran has an ancient history, a rich culture, and a sophisticated, intelligent population. Yet, the film not only depicts Iranians as cartoonish caricatures, but also creates the impression of Iran as a giant, throbbing blob-like mob of dark, olive-skinned paranoid idiots. It reeks of Islamophobia, indulges in classic stereotypes about the Middle East and Iran, and belittles others whom we do not understand. Not only is this morally wrong, but it also harms our capacity as a society to figure out how to deal with a nation that has enormous influence over our strategic interests and is threatening to obliterate Israel with a nuclear weapon.

The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has done many hideous things: torturing and murdering political dissidents, arresting and humiliating political opponents, suppressing freedom of speech and the press, persecuting and murdering Bahais and gays, discriminating against other minorities, preventing free elections, spying on its own people, imprisoning US diplomats, engaging in global, state-sponsored terrorism, denying the holocaust, and threatening to annihilate Israel with a nuclear weapon. There is plenty to criticize here. Why would a film misstate the facts about the hostage episode and depict most Iranians as stupid, ignorant? Doing so does nothing to help anyone and seriously impairs the credibility of those trying to stop the Iranian government from engaging in nuclear terror.

Yes, Argo is a fun film to watch. It’s exciting, fast-paced, and keeps viewers hooked for every moment of the film.  But the world is not a video game, nor are people stick-figure cutouts. And, no matter what postmodern academic critics (and also apparently Hollywood directors and writers) claim, events really do happen in ways that historians and journalists can often verify. Indeed, while interpretation is enormously multifaceted and complex, we do not live in a world where facts are irrelevant and non-existent.

Maybe the film would not have garnered this kind of attention, but a film that adhered to the basic facts, focused on a story that was nuanced and subtle, and developed characters that felt authentic and genuine would have been moving, transcendent, and actually added something meaningful to our increasingly disintegrating world. Unfortunately, Argo does the opposite.

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Environmental Prophets of Doom

There is something I want to say about many in the environmental movement. I hear a lot of people predicting “The End” and the collapse of everything. In fact, I understand their point of view, and I have some sympathy with it. We as a species certainly can destroy the earth through pollution, nuclear catastrophe, destruction of eco-systems, and other means.

However, I don’t really see the value in this. What good does such pessimism and hopelessness do? If everything is going to be destroyed anyway in the near future, then please shut up and live your life. We don’t need to hear prophecies of doom any more than we need to have it rammed in to us that we are going to die some day. Yes, I know, but I don’t need someone screaming at me about it every minute of the day.

I guess I place these environmental prophets of doom in the same category as I place fundamentalist Christian evangelists who speak of the coming apocalypse. Doom-saying, apocalyptic Christians can go to Jerusalem or Texas or Salt Lake or wherever else they have a vision to await the return of Christ; ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Hasidim can await the return of Rabbi Schneerson to Brooklyn and Jerusalem; Shiite Muslims (like the current President of Iran and many others) can go to Damascus to await the descent of the twelfth imam (the Mahdi); and perhaps secular environmental prophets should go to Greenland or the Antarctic or Alaska or Polynesia to await the final collapse of civilization and planetary life.

Yes, we have problems, and they’re serious, life-threatening, even cataclysmic. We’ve been around for a little while now, and empires comes and go, as do societies and peoples. But the earth has continued, so has life, in spite of what human beings have done to the planet (and they’ve done a lot even before now). And the earth is certainly not the only planet with life, nor is this the only universe, and there are other life forms we on the planet have yet to encounter (or perhaps don’t recall).

While there is reason for an apocalyptic voice now and throughout history, sometimes it enters into pointlessness, even silliness. Often it reflects a kind of species narcissism, as if our problems, however difficult, portend the end of all that is. There’s much we don’t know or remember about our our own lives, the history of our species, and the origins and characteristics of our solar system, galaxy, and universe. Yet we presume to predict future outcomes and events based on our own limited knowledge and life-experience.

Just because our efforts do not seem to have much affect, if any, does not mean that nothing is changing. When we assume we are failing or having no impact (and I’ve done that too), we are in fact acting selfishly, assuming the world depends on us, that we have some inherent right to see change, and that our individual lifetimes have a greater value than thousands upon thousands of generations that came before us and that will come after us–not to mention the millions upon millions of generations of every cell and life-form. Maybe we need to lighten up and enjoy the music. I know I need to do that.

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Mali and the Cruelty of Fundamentalist Religion

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Mali is a wonderful African country with gorgeous music, a cosmopolitan history, and a diverse population, but Al Qaeda Islamists have wreaked havoc on the northen section, including the culturally renowned cities of Gao and Timbuktu. This is another warning about what happens when the fanatically religious take control of a society (take a look at Christian fundamentalists in Uganda who are persecuting gays). The embedded video is hard to watch, but powerful:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/24/world/africa/mali-victims-speak-out/index.html

 

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Climate Change and Political Action

ClimateChangeMcKibben1

Bill McKibben complains that Obama is too patient on global climate change in the Guardian article below. However, we can’t expect Obama or any president or congress to do anything on their own. Politics never works that way and never has. Churchill responded to Hitler only because he really had no other choice other than to surrender to a brutal, maniacal dictator.

Environmentalists complain incessantly about how little Obama has done for the planet. However, it’s not his job. It’s our job and the job of activists. If not enough people accept climate change or the urgency of solving the problem, it’s up to environmental leaders to change the discourse and persuade people otherwise. If they aren’t up to the task, it’s their fault, not that of Obama or any politician.

Politicians like Obama will respond, and respond with urgency, if enough people demand it. Right now there is insufficient political space for Obama to do anything on climate change. Environmentalists must stop whining about the failure of political leaders and create the space themselves. This kind of action is what the planet is calling for us to engage in.

The job of a president (or any political leader in a democratic society) is to push people when they are not quite ready to do something, but need the extra lift to get them going. A president cannot create something out of nothing (only God–maybe–can do that in Genesis 1). It’s the job of the rest of us to move us to a place where the president can act without getting totally eviscerated.

From a spiritual point of view, humanity needs to act locally as members of broad-based coalitions and groups. We have depended far too long on individual leaders to do this work for us. By acting on our own as part of collective movements that transcend nation states, ethnic groups, socio-economic classes, and religions, we move humanity toward authentic empowerment by serving as co-creators.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/06/fossil-fuel-special-interests-barack-obama?commentpage=1

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Mormon Women Protest by Wearing Pants

MormonWomenInPants1

In a move to assert their rights in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and to bring attention to gender inequalities, Mormon women put out a call to wear pants to church. We may think of women as having achieved parity in many sectors of American society, but in religious institutions women often find themselves caught in the backdraft of ancient traditions and historical precedents.

In my own Jewish tradition, for example, women have found themselves arrested by Israeli police simply for wearing a prayer shawl (talit) while praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In fact, there is nothing in Jewish law that would prevent women from doing this: it’s simply a custom that men in authority don’t like.

This is another example of religious institutions trailing behind other sectors of society in promoting economic and social progress. In the modern world, organized religion has in fact mostly stood as an impediment to the expansion of freedom and to cultural advancement. In contrast, spiritual thought and practice is much more attuned to the unfolding consciousness that is very gradually bringing humanity to a higher state of awareness and living.

Thanks to these Mormon women for helping humanity move forward just a little bit further.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/us/19mormon.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/us/19mormon.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121220&_r=1&

 

 

 

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The Middle East and the Israeli Political Scene

THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE ISRAELI POLITICAL SCENE

Laurence H. Kant

Thomas Friedman is right on the mark in this recent New York Times article, “The Full Israeli Experience,” describing (on the one hand) the justifiable frustration Israelis have with left-wing Europeans who don’t understand what it’s like to live in the Middle East and (on the other hand) pointing out the depressing absence of significant political support for peace initiatives among Israeli parties and political leaders.

As Friedman explains, Israelis will not listen if you don’t demonstrate you have a clue as to what’s going on in the Middle East. In my view, most left-wing Europeans–and some left-wing Americans as well–haven’t got the foggiest idea. They just don’t. They live in la-la land without a meaningful sense of the history of the Middle East or of Jews (or of Arabs and Muslims for that matter). Further, their own self-confidence leads them to think that they are somehow exempt from the prejudice and antisemitism that so deeply inhabits their being. They are just too arrogant and self-righteous to see it.

I would add, however, that Israelis are themselves naive at times. They think the US religious right is on their side, and they’re wrong. As some have said, fundamentalist Christians may love Israel, but they don’t like Jews much. Or maybe they like Jews from the “Old Testament” (as they envision it), or if Jews look funny in black hats from another time. However, such Christians are not very comfortable with mainstream Jews (secular, Reform, Conservative, and some Modern Orthodox, among others) who participate in global society, wear modern clothing, and constitute the vast majority of worldwide Jewry. Many millennarian Christians are not that different from the Palestinians in an odd sort of way. The PLO and Hamas are ok with the state of Israel as long as it’s inhabited by Arabs and Muslims. These evangelicals just replace “Arabs” and “Muslims” with “Christians” (after Jews convert, and Israel becomes a Christian state in the millennial age). Other evangelicals just want all Jews to convert to Christianity. Nobody, it seems, can envision Israel as Jewish, or can see Jews as staying Jewish, much longer. Apparently that concept is verboten.

The Middle East climate is rough right now, with the Arab/Muslim world in a whirlwind of tumult. In the midst of that, Israeli politics is more confused and chaotic than usual, an environment that is, to put it simply, a crazy mess (a mischigoss, balagan).

The main thing Bibi Netanyahu seems to care about is winning elections, while Avigdor Lieberman and his party, Yisrael Beteinu, is racist and authoritarian (though Lieberman is progressive on reducing the power of the religious). Lieberman and Netanyahu especially use the settlers (who constitute about 10% of the total Israeli vote) to drive their foreign policy and keep them in power, because in the fragmented Israeli system relatively modest numbers can drive your vote numbers high enough to win a lot of seats.  Moshe Kahlon threatened a breakaway party that would espouse a challenge to corporate interests in Israel, but he decided to stay with Likud and not run this year. Recently emerging further on the right is Habayit Yehudi (The Jewish Home),  a coalition of the National Relgious Party and the National Union, which are further to the right of Israel Beteinu, but represent a religious Zionist approach (in contrast to Likud/Israel Beteinu, which is secular). Led by Naphtali Bennett, this party is a settlers’ movement (closely associated with the West Bank settler’s council, Yesha) that envisions a greater Israel including the West Bank, opposes a two-state solution (in a wierd way, aligning with Hamas),  and takes away votes from Likud/Israel Beteinu.

The religious parties (who represent the ultra-Orthodox Haredi), besides bent on discriminating against women, primarily want welfare for themselves and military exemptions. They are not Zionist or genuine supporters of the Israeli political system. These include primarily Shas (representing the ultra-Orthodox Sephardim, led byEli Yishai) and United Torah Judaism (UTJ, representing the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi). They rely on the weakness of the Israeli political system to essentially shakedown whatever government (right or left) is in power. Despite the portrayals of them in Western media, these groups have very little interest in, or influence over, the debate on Palestinian statehood or on West Bank settlements.

The center- and left-wings of Israeli politics are splintered and in tatters, filled with narcissists and limelight seekers (there are plenty of them on the right also, but there are more constraints on them at the moment). Friedman’s favorite centrist, Ehud Barak just sold his Tel-Aviv apartment for 26.5 million shekels or 6.5 million dollars–now there’s a real man of the people at a time when many Israelis cannot make ends meet. Beside his fondness for intrigue and drama, Barak also badly misjudged negotiating tactics in the Camp David discussions with the Palestinians in 2000.  Tzipi Livni has added former Labor Party leader, Amir Peretz, to her new party (Hatnua) list so that we have two leaders whom many Israelis perceive as having failed miserably during the 2006 Lebanese war. Most Israelis naturally don’t want them in leadership. Shaul Mofaz, the current leader of Kadima, is not a popular leader, lacking charisma and political skills. Some have floated the name of Shimon Peres. While he’s been quite a statesman and leader (the man partly responsible for Israel’s nuclear program), he’s not at the right age to reenter politics at 89, and, though popular now, he did not inspire confidence in Israelis when he was in power as a Labor Party politician. Ehud Olmert has serious legal problems and his own political baggage. Shelly Yacimovich, the Labor Party leader, who is growing in popularity, has virtually no foreign policy or security experience. Yair Lapid, head of the new party, Yesh Atid, advocates for a secular society and for women’s rights in explicit opposition to the religious, but his platform is probably too narrow to attract enough  votes to make him a significant player. The left-wing party, Meretz, describes itself as the peace party and as socialist, but most Israelis view it as too idealistic and unrealistic.

Overall, most Israelis don’t particularly like Netanyahu, but at least he’s competent in their view.

HBO or Showtime could easily serialize Israeli politics into a weekly evening soap opera, with wild twists and turns, intrigues, plots and counter-plots, jam-packed with drama-kings and drama-queens.

At the same time, one can trace the currently disturbed state of Israeli politics back to the 1995 assassination of Yitzhaq Rabin by a right-wing settler (Yigal Amir) who was himself goaded by the inflammatory rhetoric of settler leaders, politicians, and rabbis. Many Israelis (and diaspora Jews as well) are still stunned by the idea that a Jew would murder the Jewish leader of a Jewish state. Just as it took the US a long time to recover from the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, it may take Israel a long time to find its political way after this traumatic event. The incapacitating stroke of Ariel Sharon in 2006 just after he had successfully led Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza further exacerbated the political trauma and left Israel without another of its seminal leaders. Rabin and Sharon may not have seen eye to eye, but they were powerful leaders who had a vision for Israel and its place in the Middle East. They had obvious military credentials, were tough individuals with strong egos, and possessed a willingness to fight in the political underbrush. They also believed in seeking peace through strength, taking measures to demonstrate both their toughness and their openness to reconciliation. Their loss has had a deeply depressive effect on the Israeli body politic. We should not forget this.

Of course, the structure of the Israeli political system is flawed, allowing for the proliferation of smaller parties some of which wield power well beyond the numbers of their supporters. It makes coherence, consensus, and political stability more difficult to achieve than it should be. What we end up with is an already fragmented electorate even more fragmented.

Israelis are particularly bleak at the moment about the Arab world and about Palestinian society. All you have to do is take a look at the recent statement of Hamas leader, Khalid Meshal, about Israel: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land.” How do you have a rational discussion with a group that openly states that it wishes to annihilate you? Plus, Israelis have their own internal problems with an outrageous cost of living and enormous divisions between the secular and the religious.

Yet, in the final analysis, most Israelis want peace and will go a long way out of their comfort zone to make peace. Eventually the political culture will reflect that. Unfortunately, it may take more time. Given the situation in the Arab world and the lack of acceptance of a Jewish state, Israel’s neighbors are clearly in no mood to recognize a Jewish Israel. And, given Israel’s own divisions, Israelis find it difficult to harness a unified vision and national identity.

Things never move as quickly as we would like, but still they’re moving, however slowly. For example, attempts to bring Israeli Jews and Palestinians together are flourishing in all sorts of unlikely places in Israel and the West Bank. Within Israel we are seeing attempts from all sides of the political spectrum to lower the cost of living and help disadvantaged Israelis. And there are movements now to bridge the divide between the secular and religious in Israel.

Further, while the so-called Arab Spring could devolve into chaos or produce fanatic Muslim fundamentalist governments (see Iran, but this time potentially mostly Sunni rather than Shiite), it also presents the only real possibility for change in the Arab/Muslim world. The risks are enormous, but the previous corrupt, repressive governments of the Middle East (some of which still exist, with a few more barely holding on to power) would never have been able to bring about peace with Israel or democratic prosperity at home. Realistically, as dangerous and as anxiety-provoking as possible outcomes are, this change is the best hope Israel has for peace.

Part of the problem is that we can visualize peace, and that makes it seem closer than it actually is, but in reality peace is there on the horizon, just further out than we would like. Sometimes hope (as Pema Chodron says) holds us back and pushes us to do things which we should not. What we really need is neither hope nor despair, but an honest, clear-headed view of what’s in front of us, supported and nurtured by a fundamental trust in the universe (which is, after all, the Jewish way).

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/09/opinion/sunday/friedman-the-full-israeli-experience.html (Thanks to Nelson French! for this article)

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The Far-Right Goes after the Girl Scouts

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Political Turbulence and the Coming World Transformation

I just saw Rachel Maddow’s program this evening. Did you know the extent to which Democrats have been winning unexpectedly in heavenly Republican districts? Obviously there’s the stunning victory in New York 26, but there’s much more going on.  Democrats are winning everywhere: for Jacksonville mayor, for Tampa mayor, in New Hampshire for a state senate seat, and in Wisconsin for a state assembly seat.  In a 50-50 Maine state senate district, the Democrat won by over 40 percentage points. In Ohio a Republican state senator who voted for the union busting bill resigned after relentless criticism for that vote. In Alabama, a state senator flipped from Republican to Democrat. The Republican governor of Florida (Rick Scott) has a 29% approval rating, while Republican John Kasich in Ohio is cratering in the polls and Republican Scott Walker is doing poorly in Wisconsin. In Ohio a poll showed an 18% lead for the opponents of the union busting bill.

What’s going on? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this quick of a political turn-around? This is more dramatic than what happened after the government shut-down in 1994-95. Now you never know what will happen down the road, but what were the Republicans thinking? Their strategy makes no political sense. It’s as if the end of the world were coming, and the Republicans tried to grab as much stuff as they possibly could before all hell broke loose. Busting unions, destroying Medicare, eviscerating social programs, offering tax-give-aways to the super-rich and corporations, gutting the environment, criminalizing abortion, and much more does not seem to be working out so well for them politically.

Honestly, I can’t make sense of what they’re thinking politically. It’s totally illogical and just plain bizarre. They could have caused a lot of damage and still maintained some semblance of political viability, but they chose instead to take a wrecking ball. The only thing that I can postulate is that Republicans were not thinking politically, but were instead doing the bidding of a few very powerful super-rich people such as the Koch Brothers. In other words,, Republicans had marching orders and happily walked the plank. Somehow, I guess, they think that these guys will rescue them or do something.  I’m not sure, but that’s all I came come up with.

They are handing the 2012 general election on a silver platter to the Democrats. Why?????  Do you have any ideas out there? It makes no sense. I’m perplexed.

Now, that said, I am concerned for our country. Yes, I want far-right-wing crazies, nut-jobs, and loony-tunes to lose, but our country needs at least two viable competing parties. Without that either party will probably mess things up even more. I can’t imagine that Democrats will know what to do with the massive majorities they might win in next election if things go as they seem to be going. We need two real parties with serious ideas that must compete with the serious ideas of the other party. Right now the Republicans are nuts, like invading locusts destroying everything in their paths, while Democrats are gleefully watching the self-destruction, but they don’t have any real ideas. Now Obama, I believe, has a vision, but the Democrats as a whole are pretty much empty.  So where does that leave us as a country?

What I wish for are two parties: one which is expansive, trying to move the nation forward by advocating expenditures that will improve our quality of life and develop a new strategy to keep our economic global prominence; and another party that stands for fiscal responsibility that creatively figures our ways to save money, keep taxes reasonable, and act as good managers and stewards of our resources.

What’s happened? Where are these parties? I consider myself a progressive independent, a strong supporter of Obama, who has no alternative but to vote Democrat in light of the madness that currently passes for Republican policy.  But that’s not what I want. I want a Democrat party that stands for something meaningful and hopeful and a Republican party that recognizes itself as a solid citizen watching over expenditures carefully and supporting change while also understanding the value of tradition. Instead, the Democrats just kind of float along living in FDR’s shadow, while the Republicans have gone off the deep end. Where is the imagination and creativity? Where is honor and responsibility. It exists with a few individuals, but it’s absent from political groups as wholes.

This is a wild time. Maybe we have to go through it as a country, but we are sure facing tremendous uncertainty and volatility unlike anything I can remember and really know about historically, at least since the Civil War. This is, I think, part of the great shift happening at a global level. We are entering a new period of history and consciousness, watching the collapse of old systems (including political ones) while new ones emerge.  Perhaps we should not get caught up in the day-to-day, political and social earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but look through and beyond that to the world that is coming–for us and the globe. Perhaps nation-states will disintegrate as new forms of governance emerge that act at both global and local levels. A lot of people focus on up-and-coming countries like China, but perhaps we need to look toward the new structures that are emerging that have nothing to do with nations or political parties, but with movements–such as environmental activism or freedom movements in the Middle East or micro-financing or the post-religious “spiritual but nor religious” phenomenon or whatever –that are creating systems that we can’t even really seen just yet.

I have for a long time sensed a global shift and world transformation bubbling up from the depths, but experiencing it is completely different from envisioning it.

Any thoughts out there in the blogosphere and web world?

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Right-Wing History Re-Writes

If you don’t like history, simply rewrite it and persuade people that lies are true. That’s the conservative method of attaining political victory.

http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/150937/the_right’s_’big_lie’_strategy:_when_losing,_simply_rewrite_history/?page=1 (via Dianne Bazell)

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Changing the Minds of Climate Change Deniers

It’s occasionally possible for the facts to change the minds of climate change deniers. The politicization of this issue in the U.S.. as well as the anti-intellectual and anti-scientific basis of American evangelical Protestants and the power of corporate interests, has made the U.S. one of the only places in the world to have such a substantial number of people who deny the clear conclusions of science.  In the U.S., this follows the pattern of denying other scientific assessments, including evolution, damage to the ozone layer, the use of marijuana, the age of the earth, the dangers of nuclear power. and much more.
http://www.slate.com/id/2293607/pagenum/all/ (via Dianne Bazell)

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Cairo’s Garbage People

A tour of a Christian district in Cairo where the garbage collectors live in squalor amidst sewage and garbage:
http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/6031-garbage-people

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How to Deal with Your Pets After the Rapture

At last a realistic and practical way to deal with the rapture and its aftermath: http://eternal-earthbound-pets.com/ (via Michael Rebic)

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General Boykin and Christian Dominionism

Former General William “Jerry” Boykin is busy promoting Christian dominionism, targeting Islam, and promoting “Christian warriors.” This is one wierd world. George Bernard Shaw was right when he said that “earth is the insane asylum of the universe.” I guess General Boykin and his allies are not very familiar with cultures and traditions other than his own. Just living in his own little isolation chamber, I guess
http://coloradoindependent.com/85808/palin-to-honor-troops-in-colorado-with-christian-military-crusader-boykin

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Secret Mercenary Force Set Up by Blackwater Founder for UAE

Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater (now XE) is now working on building a mercenary force of mostly Latin American soldiers that will work on behalf of the UAE in order to put down internal revolts, defend pipelines, and combat terrorism. No Muslims need apply, because the leadership and Prince is convinced that Muslim soldiers will not shoot other Muslims.  Prince is also associated with Christian dominionism. Meanwhile, is this legal? Can an American citizen hire out a mercenary force on behalf of a foreign nation without permission of the U.S. government? At the least, this will not make the United States look very good to the Arab/Muslim world.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/world/middleeast/15prince.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

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Delphi

I have been to Delphi three times, twice with other graduate students, faculty, and archaeologists, and again later with Dianne, my wife, who was then a graduate student herself.  In 1986, Dianne and I visited Delphi so that we could share travel in Greece together.  It was that third time that Delphi became a magical place for me, full of wonder and deep feeling.  We spent three days there, enjoying great food and scenery, with Mount Parnassus majestic in the background.  Yet it was during our visit to the archaeological site, with our Blue Guide (and other guide books), methodically going over as many stones in as much detail as we possibly could, when we encountered the sacred character of this site.  Anybody who watched us would think we were somewhat compulsive, trying to figure out the location of as many details in the Blue Guide as we possibly could.  We spent hours and hours identifying the monuments, thinking about their organization and layout, and reflecting on the religious nature of the place (including the Sybil who apparently ingested hallucinogenic gases to open her up to cosmic forces).  Somehow, as we read painstakingly through this rather dry book, the Dephic energy arose almost out of the ground itself suffusing us.  We did not go there looking for something, seeking some kind of mystic message,  Rather, it was by studying and observing, and relating to each other that (even when we did not fully understand things) we unexpectedly felt what it was to be in a holy place.

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Christian-Muslim Clashes in Egypt

Clashes leave twelve dead and two churches in flames in Cairo: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/world/middleeast/09egypt.html

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Ganges in Queens

Here’s one way the environment and a religious tradition (Hindu) can come into conflict.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/22/nyregion/hindus-find-a-ganges-in-queens-to-park-rangers-dismay.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha29

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Israel and the U.S. Are Ultimate Allies

This is an excellent analysis and survey by U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Michael Oren: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/04/25/the_ultimate_ally?page=full

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Huckabee Indoctrination

Huckabee wants Americans indoctrinated at gunpoint by David Barton, pseudo-historian who claims the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. Barton apparently denies that the First Amendment protects the religious rights of all US citizens; rather it protects only those who are Christian. Another Oy vez.
http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2011/03/30/mike-huckabee-says-he-wants-americans-to-be-indoctrinated-at-gunpoint/

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A New Day

A NEW DAY
© 2010, Dr. Laurence H. Kant
Essay for the Evolutionary Envisioning Circle of the Annual Great Mother Celebration, September, 2010

A new day emerges, as so many have in millennia past. Once, after we foraged and gathered, we became hunters. Once, after we hunted, we became farmers and shepherds. Once, after we lived in villages and small enclaves, we became city dwellers. Once, after priests and kings ruled, leaders came from the people. Once we did not know what was on the other side of the ocean; now we can not only travel there by boat or jet, but we can be virtually present on other continents when we’re secure at home half a world away. Once we thought that mass violence and genocide were normal; now we don’t. Once we did not even have a word for genocide; now we do.

Each time we move a few steps closer to the land of Eden, where, amidst friendship, dance, love-making, study, and work, we will dine again with God, the Source of All That Is. The sparks of fire that scattered at creation slowly come together to create a flame that lights our world in times of dissolution and chaos. We move from confusion toward knowledge, from fear toward courage, from despair toward hope, from separation toward unity, from pieces toward wholes.

What is wholeness? In Hebrew and Arabic, shalom/salaam connects to a Semitic root that means “whole” and “complete.” Some say “peace,” but that’s only part of the story. In its mystical sense, shalom/salaam really means interconnected oneness. It is that place where difference and oneness coexist, where each being finds its own unique purpose and self-expression as part of one planetary tableau, one eternal poem, one cosmic body, one collective consciousness, one Source.

During the shift, the ego (the I) recedes, and the authentic person emerges from its mother’s womb. The true self, the person You truly are, takes its place in the chariot palace, near the blazing wings of the multi-headed cherubim and the flashing heat of the serpentine seraphim. There it dines with other new-born true selves to seek wisdom in the new Temple of Knowledge and Love. Feminine and masculine energies, whose significance we assumed we understood, reveal unexpected meanings to thinking bodies and heart-filled minds. Days of pleasure and collective communing finally allow a slumbering species to shed its ego hide and put on a healing garment of shared awareness.

What will wholeness mean for evolving human culture? “Conformity” means a mass of individuals forming a collective mega ego (an I). Genuine “community” means a critical mass of individuals building a whole that transcends the individual egos and creates a collective Higher Self.

The events we see on our television sets and computer monitors—boiling, jittery delirium and tumult accompanied by earth’s eruptions, swirling storms, and disappearing ice—signal a shift from one age to the next. There will be many more such shifts in the future. But, for now, at this moment, our twenty-five-hundred-year sojourn at the inn of familiar habits, nations, and institutions has ended. Dying structures make way for new. Another day of travelling begins toward another inn on the road circling back and forward from and toward Eden. Here, in another time long, long ahead, we will be able to eat of both trees—of life and knowledge—but with experience enough to do so as humble partners of the Source, adult co-creators, sharing in the miraculous birthing of new worlds.

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The Power of Symbolism

Here is my dissertation:  “The Interpretation of Religious Symbols in the Graeco-Roman World:  A Case Study of   Early  Christian Fish Symbolism” (3 vols):  Yale University, 1993.  Please note that the pagination in the PDF files, though close, is not exactly the same as in my original dissertation (due to formatting issues).

I originally intended this as part of a comparative study of ancient symbols, including the menorah for Jews.   Given the length of the project, this was not practical.  However, I regard my dissertation as comparative project whose goal is to understand the nature of religious symbolism.

There are many things that I would now change, including writing style.  Of note is the Avercius (Abercius) inscription text, which has several errors; for a correct edition, see http://mysticscholar.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/AverciusText1a.pdf.  I also wish that I had  included a section on the use of fish and fishing symbolism in the gospels.  If interested, take a look at the text of a talk I gave on this topic in “Essays and Talks” in “Larry Kant” (http://mysticscholar.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/FishNTTalk1.pdf).

I have also somewhat changed my views of Freud and Jung.  I always appreciated them, but my dissertation is more critical of them than I would be now.

Diss1Diss2Diss3Diss4Diss5Diss6

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Dalai Lama Cedes His Political Role

The Dalai Lama cedes his political role.  Clearly the Dalai Lama understands the Western idea of  “separation of church and state,” its importance for entry into the modern world, and its role in fostering healthy civil institutions.  Of course, there are many traditions that Tibet will maintain, and it will adapt on it own terms.  Perhaps we will how a society can maintain its deep spirituality while developing democratic, secular institutions. This is impressive:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/world/asia/11tibet.html

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Time Never Stops

Time never stops. It is inexorable. In moments of joy and tragedy, the earth continues to rotate and the seasons continue to alternate. Shabbat and meditation offer a glimpse of existence outside of time. There we reside in the presence of the Source: no limits, no boundaries, only the vibrations of no/thing.

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