Monday, September 3, 2007

Jewish Extremism

The Associated Press reported on August 27th on a controversy in Israel. Ovadia Yosef, a strong spiritual leader of the Shas movement, an ultra-Orthodox political group in Israel, made controversial statements about Israeli soldiers. Speaking during a weekly televised sermon, he said:

"Is it any wonder if, heaven forbid, soldiers are killed in a war?" he said, "when they don't observe the Sabbath, they don't observe the Torah, they don't pray every day, they don't put on phylacteries every day. Is it any wonder that they're killed? It's no wonder."

Of course this statement was met with outrage by the families of fallen soldiers. "Foolish words" by a "primitive man," is what Ran Cohen, a lawmaker from the dovish Meretz party, said of Yosef's remarks.

The head of the Shas party, Eli Yishai, quickly prepared a statement that Yosef was misunderstood, and would be issuing a clarification.

Yosef called Hurricane Katrina "God's Retribution" for President Bush's support of the Israeli plan to withdraw from Gaza.

Falwell and Robertson were silent on Katrina, but Yosef filled in for them. This is an example of religious extremism we are familiar with in the US, however, may not have heard much from Israel. Is this the result of basing your life on a religious text from thousands of years ago? The moderates were quick to condemn Yosef's statements, however, isn't he right? If you look at the Torah, isn't he right? Doesn't God punish those who don't follow his covenants? The moderates condemn him, but do they have a religious reason for doing so, or are they using reason, and common sense?

Moderate religious adherents allow extremism to flourish by using the same scripture as they do, but choosing to ignore parts they don't agree with. Modernity has allowed for much greater tolerance of people, and a more practical means for establishing ethics then stoning homosexuals or disobedient children. However, modernity, in a religious sense, has not updated scripture with the times. Is this because scripture is set in stone? Are there no more divinely inspired works because we now have the means to quickly discredit would be prophets? Why do we not treat ancient scripture with the same scrutiny we would treat David Koresh? If you are going to tell me that if I don't pray every day, and keep Mishvot, that God will kill me, you'd better have good evidence, otherwise, I'd just be wasting my time. Like Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."


Chris Schommer said...

"Moderate religious adherents allow extremism to flourish by using the same scripture as they do, but choosing to ignore parts they don't agree with."

This is falling into the idea that fundamentalists read the bible literally, something they parrot constantly and would love for every one to believe. I would argue that they too are in fact choosing to ignore huge swaths of their chosen religious texts to support their own internal hatred of their society or their enemy or both.

I am not usually too interested in religious debates, but pointing out the fallacies of religious extremist like Yosef, Falwel, Robertson, and Westboro Baptist Church is just too easy. They are mean, brutish people who use religion as club to guide their lost lives. To them religion is a dead thing. Something set in stone that you must obey.

I see it as the opposite - religion/spirituality is something that must be constantly flexible to prevent the kind of intolerant death that those extremists have fallen into.

I remember in my Catholic middle school saying that the "our father" prayer could really be translated different ways than we said it because it was written in ancient hebrew not english. I was chastised, told that no it was just like this, and it was written in Greek. To her, I was some sort of heretic. Fast forward to college and our required religion course, where I find out I was right, it is open to lots of interpretations, people are still debating, the bible is a mish-mash of text written by lots of different people and so on.

So I just ignore people like my old teacher who tell me with absolute certainly that they are reading their text the way God intended and it has all the answers. Sometimes that means ignoring a lot of people! But I have yet to see any benefit from addressing their religious beliefs.

Bjorn said...

You're not the first I've heard of who had problems with interpreting for yourself meanings of Catholic practice. It's stifling to not have open interpretations. However, scripture being as varied as it is, can be used for all manner of justifications, good and bad. Should you help those who you hate, like the Samaritan story, or do you stone a man to picks up sticks on the Sabbath? Should you love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you, or are homosexuals worthy of death? Should we love one another, or should we not associate with those who don't confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, because they are deceivers and anti-Christs?

Thankfully, most people follow the former passages, rather then the latter. The trouble comes when a dynamic individual can use inner hatred within people to stoke the flames of bigotry and use scripture to defend and justify their beliefs as an order from God. Is the Koran a book of peace, or of war, it's both. It just depends on what you read, and how you interpret it. A commandment to not kill, can be interpreted to mean, don't kill other Jews, but everyone else is fair game. Society certainly wouldn't buy that rule, but we still don't have an all out abolition on killing as a global society, if there is such a thing. I'll have to pick up a copy of the Jeffersonian Bible. It's Thomas Jefferson's attempt to edit the Bible, at least the gospels, to better fit what he thought was important.

Bjorn said...

Dale McGowan was a teacher at St Kate's College. He's one that grew frustrated with the school, because he had to teach critical thinking to his students. The administration claimed everyone was free to think what they'd like, but the results of that critical thinking always had to agree with Catholic Doctrine. It's this authority that you can't trust your own mind which makes a lot of people angry.