Monday, November 14, 2011

On Violence in Religion

"If we want to get rid of violence we have to get rid of human beings. It has nothing to do with religion, it has to do with us." ~Tariq Ramadan~

Tariq Ramadan speaking on the future of Islam in a pluralistic society. I know this video is a bit dated but I believe these are the types of conversations we should be having in regards to religion. He doesn't go as far as stating that religions and scriptures are man-made creations but that when sacred text mention elements of violence they are touching about aspects of our humanity. Essentially he states that the problem is not the source (the text) but the reader. I would personally go a bit further and state there is a problem with the source, but I believe mankind is the source. I applaud moderates like Tariq Ramadan because they struggle with the text and their faith while remaining faithful to their religion in an attempt to understand our neighbor, The Other.

On a similar note my favorite Tennessean rabbi, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, recently wrote on ending violence in religion and his hopes on interfaith dialogue.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

This is Your Neighbor

This is your neighbor.

 Beautiful set of pictures found here from the Hajj and Eid al-Adha 2011 of Muslims across the globe.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Thoughts on the Greatest Commandments

I woke up this morning oddly thinking about the Greatest Commandments which for those who don't know their Bibles (myself included, I had to Google it) is found in Matthew 22:36-40.

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

(I know I've used this picture in a recent post, but I just love it to bits. You can get the t-shirt here, now for only $12. Argh, I should have waited.)

The first thing I do whenever I read a passage from a sacred text is remember that these words were written in a different time and place. These words carried different weight and meaning back in 1st century Palestine than 21st century America. Regardless I am aware that these two commandments are references to the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) and to a reference to an Old Testament Law (Leviticus 19:18) Jesus was once again using to pull the rug from under his debater's feet. He took something his audience was familiar with and turned it upside down and inside out to make a point. How his message(s) were read depends on us the reader. Once we read, think, or write about it, the meaning changes. There are timeless truths in the Bible but I don't believe the Bible itself IS a timeless truth. If the Bible were a timeless unchanging truth our legal system, culture, heck even our grocery stores would be completely alien.

This passage reads differently for me than it would to a Southern Baptist Christian (my favorite example of Christianity because I live in Southern Baptist country, gimme that ol' time religion!), not because I want it to be different to fit my worldview but because I speak in a different language than a Southern Baptist. The words carry different meaning in my language.

To me the first commandment reads:
  • Open your heart, make yourself vulnerable to Reality with every ounce of your being, and by opening your heart you struggle lessens in shared suffering. No one has to suffer or enjoy bliss alone. 
  • Be open-minded to what you can discover about Reality, you don't have to believe in magic there are enough wonders in the universe for humanity to unravel, experience, and explore.
  • Open your soul to Reality by understanding and embracing your individual uniqueness. You are a unique cosmic phenomenon, the universe never has nor will ever see the likes of you again.
The Second commandment reads like the first:
  • By opening your heart, mind and soul to the wondrous and beautiful reality we live in we understand that we are connected to one another. We don't have to live life as if we are completely separate and isolated beings, but connection to one another and to the universe makes us vulnerable, which, in my humble opinion, scares the shit out of us. We're all scared even though we try to hide that fear behind beliefs and faith (faith in general, not just religious faith). By understanding that we all (yes, that includes homosexuals and Muslims) are connected to one another we can empathize with our neighbor no matter how strange their beliefs and culture may seem on the surface. And through understanding and empathy blossoms the opportunity for love and beauty.
I know I might sound overly optimistic and slightly ignorant of how the real world works, and you might be right. I admit I'm a fairly open-minded person but I'm not going as far as saying that holding hands with your neighbor and singing "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles will make war and poverty go away. I'm just saying that by understanding our interconnectedness to each other, to the universe, we may begin to minutely understand how our personal actions and beliefs may affect our neighbor. I believe that even a tiny bit of understanding and empathy can go a long way.