Sunday, January 16, 2011

Le Regard de l'autre... Israel/Palestine and religion

To continue on with this idea about the other's gaze, I'd like to reflect on a recent trip to Israel/Palestine and the role of religion in general.

When I arrived at the Jerusalem airport, one of the first things I was asked when I got off the plane and was waiting for a sherut to fill up with passengers was:  "Are you Jewish?"  Soon after, a Moroccan taxi driver told me, out-of-the-blue, with no preamble, "I hate the Palestinians."  The only thing I could think of was WHY?  I couldn't help but wonder if he'd ever even seen a Palestinian, sat down for coffee with one, looked him squarely in the eyes.  There would be plenty of emotions there...  And I wonder if that sea of emotions would prevent that Palestinian from truly seeing the Israeli, too.

The real question is why does the lens of religion so often determine our perceptions?  Once there is a label assigned, a corresponding reaction is developed.  And it wasn't just in Israel.  The question of my faith came up in Cairo quite a bit, too, only there the question was:  "Are you Muslim?"  I would reply, "No, no, I'm Catholic, you know--ahl al-Kitab (people of the Book!)"  This prompted amused smiles, and I even had an interesting conversation with one of the guards at the Citadel about religion and inter-faith marriages, what works, what doesn't. 

Overall, my experiences in both countries, juxtaposed one after the other just confirmed what I already believed about religion.  First, we should all be so lucky as to be free to practice our religion as we see fit: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Pagan, Zoroastrian, whatever.  Faith isn't about twisting an arm or burning at the stake in order to force conversion.  We can arrive at these conclusions on our own, hearing the voice of God or the Universe as it speaks to us.  Second, the instant religion is invoked to inflict pain or suffering on another individual, I think it is no longer serving its purpose.  No religion has the monopoly, and I think it's truly about teaching us how to live with one another peacefully (even if through history it has led to quite the opposite).  I happen to enjoy practicing my faith as a Catholic, but I don't hate anyone who doesn't share my beliefs. 

There seems to be one common thread across all faiths and life philosophies, and I think that's the primary thing we should be focusing on... 

Judaism: From the Torah~Leviticus 19:18: "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself." (This verse was actually written on the wall between Palestine and Jerusalem.)

The 20th-century Jewish theologian Will Herberg argued that "justice" is at the heart of the Jewish notion of love, and the foundation for Jewish law: "The ultimate criterion of justice, as of everything else in human life, is the divine imperative — the law of love .... Justice is the institutionalization of love in society .... This law of love requires that every man be treated as a Thou, a person, an end in himself, never merely as a thing or a means to another's end. When this demand is translated into laws and institutions under the conditions of human life in history, justice arises.

Islam:  From the Qur'an~41:33: Nor can Goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!

60:8: Allah does not forbid you respecting those who have not made war against you on account of (your) religion, and have not driven you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly; surely Allah loves the doers of justice.

From the Hadith-~"You will not enter paradise until you have faith; and you will not complete your faith till you love one another." (Muslim)
Christianity: John 13:34~A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

1 John 3:18 : "Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth".

Buddhism:  The Buddha taught the following to his son Rahula (from "Old path white clouds" by Thich Nhat Hahn): "Rahula, practice loving kindness to overcome anger. Loving kindness has the capacity to bring happiness to others without demanding anything in return.  Practice compassion to overcome cruelty. Compassion has the capacity to remove the suffering of others without expecting anything in return.  Practice sympathetic joy to overcome hatred. Sympathetic joy arises when one rejoices over the happiness of others and wishes others well-being and success.  Practice non-attachment to overcome prejudice. Non-attachment is the way of looking at all things openly and equally. This is because that is. Myself and others are not separate. Do not reject one thing only to chase after another.  I call these the four immeasurables. Practice them and you will become a refreshing source of vitality and happiness for others."
Hinduism:  The religious teacher Sri Ramakrishna (1836–1886) taught that "Lovers of God do not belong to any caste . . . A brahmin without this love is no longer a brahmin. And a pariah with the love of God is no longer a pariah. Through bhakti (devotion to God) an untouchable becomes pure and elevated."

Secular Humanism:  Carl Sagan~ "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."

"The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

To sum it up, all you need is love, no matter where you sit.  If anyone has other examples of religious traditions or philosophies that focus on the same thing, feel free to comment or share a quote..,

1 comment:

  1. I love it.

    I'm a Latter Day Saint (Mormon) so I could add a Mormon perspective.

    There's this talk given by one of our general church leaders, Russell M. Nelson about tolerance and love that is quite a propos.

    Your writing also brings to mind one of our Articles of Faith, specifically #11: "We claim the priviledge of worshoping Almighty God, according to the dictates of our own conscience and allow all men the same priviledge. Let them worship how, where and what they may."

    I love reading your blog. It's both deep, academic and reveals your sensitive, highly spiritual spirit. More please! Love you!