Twisted, perverted religion is on the rise, and it must be stopped
"What seems to us more important, more painful, and more unendurable is really not what is more important, more painful and more unendurable, but merely that which is closer to home. Everything distant which for all its moans and muffled cries, its ruined lives and millions of victims, that does not threaten to come rolling up to our threshold today, we consider endurable and of tolerable dimensions."
-- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
One of the great challenges to living a religious life is feeling the pain of others.
This is the meaning of compassion, to "feel with." As Solzhenitsyn observed, it is easy to feel the pain of those closest to you or of those who are your coreligionists. Their pain is your pain. Their tears are your tears. No, the type of compassion we need now was needed by all non-Muslims a few weeks ago for the Muslim victims in Christchurch, New Zealand. It is the type of compassion that is needed now by all non-Christians for the Christian victims in Sri Lanka, and it is the type of compassion that was needed by all non-Jews after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting of six months ago and the Poway, Calif., synagogue shooting of just a few days ago.
I am devastated by all these attacks as a Jew. I pray for the souls of the dead and for the recovery of the injured and for the trauma of the survivors. May the God who created us all help us to heal the anger that tears at our souls and leads some of us to distort, and to debase the true teachings of our faith traditions which is the teaching of love and peace.
Because of the goodness of our core teachings and their ability to surface and assert themselves over time, I refuse to believe that religion is the source of the problems in our world. However, reality brings me tearfully to admit that distorted, perverted religion is indeed a growing problem in our world. There is a strain of perverted religion that has emerged in our time that must be stamped out and this cannot be done through force of military might or even through diplomatic negotiations. The defeat of perverted religion can only be accomplished by people of faith who are not perverted themselves. The defeat of perverted religion can only be done by those who know that murdering in the name of religion is a violation of the most sacred teaching of all religions. The defeat of perverted religion can only be done by us, and the beginning of our movement is the simple ability to feel the pain of others. The next step is to shout to the world, "They do not speak for me. Their murderous perversions are not the faith I know."
I am often asked by readers who are not Jewish why Jews have suffered so much at the hands of anti-Semites over the centuries and especially during the Holocaust, when one out of every three Jews who were alive on the planet in 1938 (6 million) were murdered by 1945. I try to explain to them that Jew hating is an ancient cancer in the life of Western civilization, but I cannot fully explain why that cancer cannot be cut out totally.
It is enough for me to see my questioners cry for my people. Today it must be enough -- dear God I hope it is enough -- for those of us who have been shaken by the vicious attacks in New Zealand and in Sri Lanka and in Pittsburgh and now Poway to cry for the Muslims, Christians and Jews who were murdered by those who thought it was God's will. During the First Crusade in 1096, thousands of Jews were murdered by Crusaders carrying crosses and shouting as they slashed, "Deus vult," which in Latin means, "God wills this." Then and now the cries of the murderers were false, and the cries of the victims were true. God does not will murder. God cries with us and the victims when God's words are twisted and profaned.
I must also add in this unusually sad post-Easter week my sadness at the fires inside Notre Dame de Paris, where an 800-year-old Gothic cathedral went up in flames. There is a spiritual magnificence to Gothic Cathedrals that is not merely the consequence of their size but has to do with the awesome fact that they were built to glorify God. Yes, they were also built to glorify kings, but if kings were their only reason, they would surely not move us the way they do. They move us because they remind us that sacred space is as important as sacred time.
May next Easter/Passover/Ramadan bring us more peace, far fewer fires and far fewer tears.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)(c) 2019 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.