The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Judaism’

CHRISTMAS CONTROVERSY

Perhaps you’ve heard about various communities which have determined that Christmas displays in public places are not acceptable.  Some of the impetus for these decisions has come from atheist groups who are offended and cite the fact that the Constitution does not allow for government to establish any religion.  They equate the displays as equivalent to violating this provision of our governing document.

Personally, I’ve never felt offended when I’ve seen public displays of Menorahs.  I do have a lot of Jewish friends and I think that their Holiday is a wonderful one, signifying the indomitable nature of the human spirit.  And my Jewish friends have never told me that they object to seeing Nativity scenes.  If they were offended they certainly never aired that opinion.  Nor would I be offended if I were to see a display advocating atheism, such as the recent display that was put up in Times Square.

It shouldn’t surprise us that there have been local protests aimed at individual homeowners who have put up extensive Christmas lighting displays and portray other aspects of the Holy Day.  Some of those are, in my opinion, a bit over the top and garish.  And if I lived next door I might have thought that a little less might have been more artistic.  But knowing myself, I would have lived with it and kept my tongue.

The Christmas season will soon be over for another year, the decorations will be stored away and we can put this conversation back in the closet.  No – wait, I misspoke.  You see Christmas is not a seasonal event – it’s a Forever event – at least according to the United States Postal Service.

This year the USPS printed a new forever stamp – a Christmas stamp.

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Following is the USPS’ description of this philatelic issue, taken directly from its website:

The Holy Family stamp, first issued in 2012, celebrates Christmas with a scene from the Nativity story that reminds us of the joys of the season: family, togetherness, and the birth of the baby Jesus. It continues the U.S. Postal Service’s tradition of issuing beautiful and timeless Christmas stamps and will be a treasured addition to cards and letters sent during this season of goodwill and sharing.
Working together, art director William J. Gicker, designer Greg Breeding, and artist Nancy Stahl created an evocative image of the Holy Family. The stamp illustration shows Joseph leading a donkey that carries Mary and Jesus, guided by a star shining in the twilight of a desert sky.
The Holy Family stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.

While it is hardly part of my agenda to offer suggestions which further undermine the religious celebration of Christmas, it seems to me that if these people are so offended at viewing Christmas that way, they ought to be in front of Post Offices all over the country protesting the issuance of stamps such as these.  And when they finish their morning activities, they can march to our Public Libraries, demanding that they remove all copies of the Bible on hand and throw them into the fire that they’ve built outside the front door.

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THE MILLION MUSLIM MARCH

Twelve years after the original 9/11, theories surrounding what really happened that day are flowing as fast as the blood in Cairo.  It’s fifty years since the JFK assassination and that is still the subject of new books.  And it’s almost seventy years since the Holocaust and there are still those who deny that it ever happened.

Interestingly, some of those who claim the last event is a fabrication and whose co-religionists are widely blamed for the first event will be marching for “Muslim rights” in our nation’s capital – if things go according to plan.  Truly, these are strange times in which we live.

In all probability, the “March,” if it comes off will have far fewer participants than the organizers’ goal of one million.  From the admittedly inaccurate numbers of perhaps 2.6 million Muslims in America, that would require nearly every other Muslim to participate.  Islam, which is the fastest growing religion in our prison systems, would have to secure a one day release for some of its incarcerated adherents to achieve its goals.

But the issue isn’t whether a million people show up in Washington.  It is a matter of the presumed motivation which is causing the organizers to make the effort to pull this event off.  That is, theoretically, “to combat the discrimination that Muslims endure in America and to give us non-Muslims a better understanding of what Islam is really about.”

Perhaps I’ve been fortunate.  My third and fourth years of college I lived across the street from Elijah Muhammad’s Temple of Islam #2.  There were always a few young men, nicely dressed in suit and tie who stood outside the Temple and made sure that no incidents occurred there.  This was about a mile and a half from the complex that Muhammad Ali built.

Because I lived in a very well-integrated neighborhood – not just in terms of race but in religion as well, I knew a number of Muslims who were proprietors of stores.  One family started in this country with one brother who came from Pakistan, who worked two jobs and saved enough to buy a Standard Oil gas station.  He then brought over two other brothers and his wife and all of them worked in the family business and purchased several more gas stations.

These were people who came here for opportunity, worked hard in what has clearly become the old-fashioned and now passé way and were well-integrated in their communities.  But that is my experience and one that is not shared by a lot of Americans.

What is the American perception of Islam?  It is rather different – and perhaps more accurate than mine.

The Twin Towers; the Taliban; accurate stories about the suppression of women’s rights in countries in which Sharia law rules the land; the Boston Marathon; the persecution of Christians; the constant defamation of Jews as pigs; Afghanistan; Pakistan; Iraq; the issuance of fatwas against anyone who speaks ill of Islam; well, the list goes on and on, but you get the picture.

In some respects, the presumed “persecution of Muslims in America” is very little different than Al Sharpton’s categorization of how blacks are mistreated in this country.  And the problem is that when any group engages in what most of us consider to be uncivilized behavior, it is hard for even the objective observer not to extrapolate from that and conclude that is how all members of that group behave.

It is understandable to me that Americans who see constant reports about the number of violent deaths which occur in Chicago and our other major cities and see that the assailants and the victims are mostly black conclude that blacks are violent.

It is understandable to me that Americans who read about young girls in Islamic countries who are the victims of rape or refuse the advances of a male whom they spurned being stoned to death or being the victims of “honor killings” conclude that is the way Islam works.

Well, although it isn’t the politically correct thing, there is a tremendous amount of violence in our inner city black communities.  And there is a tremendous amount of medieval behavior in countries where Islam is the majority faith.

If we start by admitting that, perhaps we’ll look for the path which will lead us to fixing those problems.  And that would be worth a great deal more than having a march on Washington – or anywhere else.

THE TWO HALF-SISTERS

Ever since their births there have been two half-sisters who have been quibbling and bickering and quarrelling.  Their names are Religion and Science.

Both half-sisters attempt to explain the true “nature of things”.  But they do that in very different ways.  Religion, the older of the two, relies on “faith” and Science relies on “fact”.  Faith may be described as that which cannot be seen but can be believed and fact on that which is observable and provable.

Both half-sisters make some excellent points which favor their positions.  Most people subscribe either to the philosophy espoused by one of the half-sisters and in so doing reject that offered by the other.  But are what both have to offer, really so different?

Religion, on her side of the family was blessed with a plentitude of cousins.  Her many family members include Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam to name a few.  Science points to these various relatives as proving the case that if Religion truly had merit there would be only one way in which she expressed her world view.

Science too has many relatives on her side of the family; mathematics, medicine, astronomy, archaeology among others.  While Religion tries to come to an understanding of everything, Science segments her analysis of life into different disciplines, each concerned with its own specialty and ignores and shows little interest in the others – unless they happen on a discovery which might impact her own studies.

Science points out correctly that, despite Religion’s underlying theme of love and compassion, she has been the responsible party for so many of the wars that have plagued the earth.  But if Religion has the responsibility for starting these conflict, Science has elevated them to a destructive art form.

Mankind first fought these wars in the name of Religion with slingshot and spear and arrow.  Science gave us gunpowder and machine guns and the missile which could bring destruction all around the globe.

“Now am I become death the destroyer of worlds”  quoted J. Robert Oppenheimer from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita as the first A-bomb was set off at Los Alamos, NM.  Here was an example of how both Religion and Science could co-exist.  And it wasn’t a pretty picture.

It happened one day that I was at a conference which both Religion and Science attended.  During a break I was enjoying an iced tea on the patio of the conference center.  The two half-sisters sat down at a table near me and I overheard their discussion.

“You know, Religion you preach a message of love and understanding, compassion and forgiveness and yet as I am looking at today’s paper I see how that is actually carried out by your followers.  They murder each other, rob and steal and break all the commandments which you have established based on your faith.   How do you explain that?  To me it is evident and observable proof that what you have to offer is false.”

“Well, Science you are correct that what I teach and how that is applied by my students do not always coincide.  But how is that any different than one of your mathematics students who is given a simple problem, say what is the answer to the question how much is 3 x 5 who responds with 14?  Does the fact that this student and perhaps many more answered this question incorrectly invalidate the truth which you have found in your system of mathematics?  Or does it simply mean that they have not understood the principle correctly?”

“Well, Religion let’s look at another example.  For many years your leaders believed that the earth was the center of the universe; that the sun revolved around our little planet and then Galileo proved that was not true and that the earth revolved around the  sun.  Those leaders forced him to recant his position and shut him away in his house until he died.  How do you explain that?”

“Science, they were wrong.  But I would remind you that at the same time this was all happening those who were followers of your discipline believed that there were six planets in our solar system.  Then later our knowledge grew and suddenly there were seven, then eight then nine.  But then they reconsidered and decided that the last of these wasn’t really a planet and so now we’re back to eight.  If facts are just that, facts – how can they change over time?”

“Let me give you another example.  As you know, barbers were the first surgeons in your discipline that we know as medicine.  It was customary for them to apply leeches to an invalid patient to draw out the “bad blood”.  They were confident that this would help the patient heal.  Yet today if you were to go to any modern hospital I think you would be hard pressed to find even one which has a supply of leeches to treat any of the maladies of those who come there for help.”

“You see, Science we are not all that different.  I would assert that both you and I have a system that is based on faith.  What we believe today is what we think is true.  But as both of us have evolved over time our understanding has grown and our outlooks have changed to accommodate our greater knowledge.  And if you don’t mind, I would like to quote one of my followers, a man named Paul who summed this up rather nicely.”

“For now we know in part, and we prophesy in part.  But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”

At that point I finished my beverage and left to re-take my seat at the conference.  The two half-sisters were still debating with each other.

I suspect that conversation will continue for a long time.

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