Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Religion According to the "Times"

The New York Times featured an article today about a traveling clerical roadshow called the "Interfaith Amigos", who circle the United States giving presentations on interfaith dialogue. Most troubling to me was the entire tone of the article. Reading it, I got a sense that this article represented what the Times considers the ideal form of religion: one in which religious ideology contains not eternal truths, but as optional path towards God. My favorite section:
The room then grew quiet as each stood and recited what he regarded as the “untruths” in his own faith. The minister said that one “untruth” for him was that “Christianity is the only way to God.” The rabbi said for him it was the notion of Jews as “the chosen people.” And the sheik said for him it was the “sword verses” in the Koran, like “kill the unbeliever.”
“It is a verse taken out of context,” Sheik Rahman said, pointing out that the previous verse says that God has no love for aggressors. “But we have to acknowledge that ‘kill the unbelievers’ is an awkward verse,’ ” the sheik said as the crowd laughed. “Some verses are literal, some are metaphorical, but the Koran doesn’t say which is which.”
And, at the end of the piece,
Afterward, Mark Wingate, a computer programmer and a Methodist, said: “Talking about the untruths of each tradition is very courageous. It gets it out of the platitude category and into dialogue.”
Mr. Wingate’s wife, Sally, added: “They had to work really hard to get to that point. Most of us are not willing to work that hard.”
First of all, to Sheik Rahman: Really?
"Kill the unbeliever" is taken out of context? It's not meant to be taken literally? I'm very sorry, but I live in a place where a great many of my neighbors take that verse quite literally indeed. Our young people spend their formative years learning and working to ensure that those believers cannot translate their beliefs into reality. Maybe instead of preaching to Methodists in Nashville he should be speaking to Muslims in Rafiach. Only I doubt that they'd really want to hear what he has to say.
But looking at the larger picture, in essence, interfaith dialogue and common ground carry great importance in the world of the NY Times. In this worldview, in the end we really all believe the same thing and want to get to the same place. We just disagree about how to get there.
But we don't agree with one another. And more importantly, the Jewish people are the "chosen people." It's a fundamental tenet of the Jewish faith, established through an eternal covenant with God at Sinai:
וְעַתָּה, אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי, וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-בְּרִיתִי--וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים, כִּי-לִי כָּל-הָאָרֶץ. וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ-לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים, וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ:
Now therefore, if you will listen to My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)
Did God mean that figuratively? Was He only kidding? Which part of the deal did He not mean literally? The problem becomes acute, because when you start throwing out some truths, you eventually throw out them all. All that you're left with then is a vague sense of religious allegiance; a desire to approach God but no real way to do so, and a religion that speak not in absolutes, but in obscure platitudes.
Which is exactly the type of Judaism (and religion) that the New York Times likes.