Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Open Letter to "Christian" Groups that Preach Hatred

I wrote this some time ago on my Livejournal, and looking at it now, it definitely strikes me as a blog post that I wrote before I'd actually created this blog. So here it is. Please feel free to post it on the pages of as many groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, who preach hate in the name of a loving god. Rebuke your neighbor when he sins, people. My words are here for you to use for that purpose, if you like them.

If a friend or debate partner has sent you to this page, it's because he or she cares about you and wants to help you become a more considerate person. Take a few minutes, read what I have to say, and see what you think of it. It may even inspire you if you let it.

First: the bible isn't meant to be taken literally. Take it from someone who comes from a culture that's been analyzing and interpreting it for thousands of years: The most disrespectful thing you can do with the bible is to read it like it's the daily news. The only way to treat the text with genuine respect is to look for all the different layers of meaning that are in there. The surface layer is the least important, and in many cases was only directly relevant to the time in which it was written. For example, homosexuality is a problem if you're wandering in the harsh desert for 40 years, because your number 1 priority should be to have as many babies as you possibly can, so that your people will survive. The bible is one of the greatest works of history, literature and mythology that we have, and it forms the basis for our entire culture... so please try not to read it like it's a laundry list.

Likewise, it's silly to try to pretend the world was created in seven literal days. The people who wrote the bible didn't have anywhere near the science or astronomy that we have, so they did their best trying to explain how the world came to exist. Proverbs 24:3-4 tells us, "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." This means we should value scientific knowledge in all its forms, because it comes from our God-given intelligence and reason, and it's given us all kinds of miraculous cures and technology. It has a different creation story than the bible does, but that should be no surprise, because science is rational and the bible is spiritual. They're describing the exact same thing, but the authors have very different understandings of what science is and how the universe works. The biblical creation myth isn't very different from the Greek creation myth: beautiful, poetic, and interesting, but not meant to be taken literally. The point of our creation story isn't the seven days, it's that you should listen when God tells you to do something.

Secondly: the bible is all about treating people decently and with respect. Matthew 7:12 agrees: "Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets." If you want to be a good Christian you need to listen to Matthew, instead of spreading hate in the name of a loving God.

What happens if you don't? Have a look at Matthew 6:15 : “But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Or look at 1 John 4:20 : “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” "Brother", there, means “your fellow humans” as it frequently does in the bible. 

But the most damning passage on hate – literally – is this one. John 3:15 : “Anyone who hates his brother is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don't have eternal life within them.” Pretty harsh, isn’t it? When the bible effectively says, “People who hate other people will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” that’s really its way of saying, “Let go of your hate, because it will ruin your life and then destroy you.” 

It's really important to be able to express your feelings, though, so also remember Leviticus 19:17 : “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.” The entire 19th chapter of Leviticus is very important in Judaism, and is sometimes called “The Holiness Code” because it's a large collection of ethical commandments. What this one means is, “If someone is doing something you think is sinful, you shouldn’t hate him. You should go to him and tell him what you think, so that he knows you're not going to help him sin.” A good way to do this in conversation is to say something like this: “I want you to know I’m a devout Christian and I believe your lifestyle is sinful. I also want you to know that this isn't a personal judgment, and that I value you as much as anyone else, because only God can judge a person's sins.”

Remember, Genesis 18:25 tells us that God is the only true judge, so judging other people is really the same thing as telling someone, “I am God.” That means judging other people in God's place is both idolatry and blasphemy. Matthew agrees for different reasons. In chapter 7, verses 1 to 5, he says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment that you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”

The log in your eye is homophobia. And make no mistake, homophobia is just one particular form of hate. Hate is incompatible with being a good Christian – with being a good member of any religion, really – and it will destroy you if you cling to it. It may even turn into cancer, a heart attack, or any one of dozens of diseases that are linked to stress. Everyone knows hating someone can be stressful and draining… so think about how stressful and exhausting hating millions of people must be.

There must be something more productive you can do with all the energy you've been spending on hating people you don't even know. Maybe volunteer at a shelter or at your church. If you really want to help people that need all the love and care you can give them, consider children with cancer or terminal AIDS patients. Or read, or play video games, or find a new sport you like. It really doesn't matter where you put that energy, because by spending it on doing things you love instead of holding on to hate, you're making your life better, and that means everyone who gets to spend time with you has a better life too. Hate is destructive and contagious, and having it out of your life is better for you and for everyone around you.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Practical Jewish Magic

This is a very short post just to mention that I've officially begun research for the Practical Jewish Magic book. There are only three or four books on Jewish magic in English, and my plan is to read all of them before starting the writing process.

If you have any particular topics you'd like to see addressed in the book or on this blog in the future, please comment and let me know what they are.