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We Must Ignore the Destructive Teachings of Scriptures

The sacred literature and history of each contain both peaceful and violent components. It depends where the voice who speaks for the religion chooses to look

First published in the Newark Star-Ledger and NJ.com


It’s not true that Islam was also "hijacked" by the 9/11 hijackers.

It’s not true that the "Price Tag" thugs, who vandalized and torched mosques and other institutions in Israel, misrepresented Judaism.

It’s not true that prominent Christian preachers in the United States who justified slavery by quoting the New Testament misquoted that Scripture.

It is true that the sacred texts of Islam, Christianity and Judaism are double-edged, conveying contradictory messages.

One edge cuts to hate, exclusion, insularity and violence. The other edge flows to love, pluralism, universality and acts of kindness. Which edge prevails depends on who reads which passage, when it is read and how it interpreted.

During a visit with my daughter to Israel, close brushes with terror, and a close-up view of Israeli repression. Still, courageous souls on both sides work towards peace.

In Islam one does find passages in the Hadith where Muhammad proclaims:

"I have been commanded to wage war against mankind until they testify that there is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God … ."

But the Quran also says: "Let there be no compulsion in religion" and "whoever kills one soul it is as if he has killed the entire world."

And Jewish Scripture – the Torah – does command "Holy War" and genocide of ancient Canaan’s original inhabitants.

That same Torah, though, mandates to "love your neighbor as yourself."

And as for Christianity – the same Jesus who told his disciples to turn the other cheek also told them that he did not come "to bring peace but the sword" and "he who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one."

Not just the Scripture, but the actual human history of the followers of the three Abrahamic-produced religious terrorists.

In ancient Israel, the descendants of the Maccabees who are lionized at the Chanukah festival forcefully converted through the sword a neighboring people. The killing swath of the Crusades in Europe, the cruelty of the Inquisition, and the 30-year war between Protestants and Catholics in Europe are a matter of record. The Sunnis and Shiites, in the name of God, have killed tens of thousands more of each other than have died in attacks on Western urban centers.

How does this bad stuff happen?

Rabbi Donniel Hartman in his new book, Putting God Second; How To Save Religion From Itself , explains how too often the life of faith can lead to a tragic moral indifference to the "other."

It’s the outcome of what he calls a mixture of "God Intoxication" — when adherence to "one transcendent God demands an all-consuming attention that can exhaust one’s ability to see the needs of other human beings." And, "God manipulation" — where God is aligned only with "the interests and agendas of the one who lay claim to God’s special love."

God intoxicated and God manipulators

God intoxication and God manipulation drive the believer to the sacred texts of hate, exclusion, insularity and violence.

Other religions too produce their own share of religious violence. Consider, for example, the aggression and killing of Muslims by Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. But the common monotheistic core shared by Judaism, Islam and

Christianity is especially prone to give birth to violence in the name of God. Why?

Because monotheism means one God: a God that orders one the right way.

Anything that departs from God’s way becomes the wrong way, a spiritual pollutant. A pollutant, whether physical or spiritual, must be exterminated. But as we approach the 15th anniversary of 9/11, our hearts and minds are on Islam’s "God intoxicated" and "God manipulators."

Surely, they are but a small percentage of the world’s Muslims. But a small percentage of 1.6 billion adherents is a lot of people. However, there is also a large percentage of Islamic leaders and adherents who opt for the merciful and universal edge of Islam.

I am sometimes asked, "Where are those Muslim leaders who publicly stand up against Islamic fanatics? Do you know any?"

"Plenty," I answer.

For example, this past summer in Jerusalem, where I studied Judaism along with 150 other rabbis in the Shalom Hartman Institute, a parallel group of 20 American Muslim clergy, journalists, academics and entrepreneurs, we’re learning how Jews understand Judaism and Israel as part of a Muslim Leadership Initiative . And I was able to study modern Muslim identity with Haroon Moghul, director of development at the Center for Global Policy, where he works on U.S.-Muslim relations. (He’s also author of the forthcoming "How To Be a Muslim: An American Story.")

There is also the recent "Open Letter to al-Baghdadi," a theological missive signed by several hundred prominent Muslim leaders worldwide who reject 24 planks of those whose lens is focused on the violent components of Islam. Among the letter’s admonitions are: "It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat Christians or people of the Scripture" or to "force people to convert … to torture."

It is as erroneous to claim that Islam, Christianity or Judaism are uniformly peaceful as it is to claim that they are unvaryingly violent.

The sacred literature and history of each contain both peaceful and violent components. It depends where the voice who speaks for the religion chooses to look. In the United States, the preponderance of believers of all three religions opt for the universal and merciful components, eschewing the underside of our Abrahamic religions.

It is that bulk which should be bulked up, becoming increasingly outspoken in public, persuading others to focus on the moral face of our faiths. We should not deny but, yes, ignore the dark underside.

Gerald L. Zelizer is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen and a regular attendee of the Hartman Institute  Rabbinic Torah Study Seminar

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