What Held writes of Judaism can and should be said of any world religion:
The world is not divided between those who read selectively and those who don’t. It is more accurate to say that the real division is between those who acknowledge that they read selectively, and those who do not – or who, given their assumptions, simply cannot. If contemporary Jews want to accentuate those voices in Torah that stand for the ontological superiority of Jews over Gentiles, voices that often end up demeaning the other, we can do so. If, on the other hand, we want to focus on those sources that insist upon the shared dignity of every human being created in the image of God, and upon God’s concern with the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, we can do that, too. If we want to be responsible heirs of Torah, we will have to decide – either explicitly or implicitly, either consciously or unconsciously – what to read in light of what.
“It is forbidden,” Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook writes, “for the fear of heaven [yirat shamayim] to push aside the human being’s natural morality, for then it would no longer be pure fear of heaven.” Kook argues that every human being has an internal – we might say, God-given – moral compass, and that religious passion must never override its teachings. Piety is pure when it deepens our concern for others, impure when it dilutes our sense of ethics, or even gives us license to behave in ways we would have found unconscionable had we not been religious. (Many of Rabbi Kook’s presumed spiritual heirs would no doubt benefit from an intensive review of his words. )
In light of Rabbi Kook’s words, I would remind religious leaders around the world: If your religious commitments render you less moral than you would otherwise have been, then your religion is impure and idolatrous. Each of us, all of us, must ask: How do we build religious lives in which our care for others is intensified rather than attenuated? There is no more urgent religious question.
Ben Witherington has posted a response by Robert Gagnon to Jennifer Knust on the Bible and Homosexuality:
Be sure to read Knust’s original article, “The Bible’s surprisingly mixed message on sexuality.”
My former teacher, David Garland, once said that he had more respect for someone who boldly stated “I think the Bible is wrong on this one” than for someone who tried to shoehorn it to say something it clearly doesn’t say. With all respect, I think Dr. Knust is guilty of the latter.
“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.” (Mt 21:31-32)
Elder Pophyrios spoke of the following experience:
In the old days, during the feast of the Theophany, we used to sanctify homes. One year I also went to sanctify. I would knock on the doors of the apartments, they would open for me, and I walked in singing “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….”
As I went along the road called Maizonos, I saw an iron door. I opened it, walked into the courtyard which was full of tangerine, orange and lemon trees, and proceeded to the stairs. It was an outdoor staircase that went up, and down was the basement. I climbed the stairs, knocked on the door, and a lady appeared. Since she opened I began my common practice singing, “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord….” She stopped me abruptly. Meanwhile, girls began to emerge from their rooms after hearing me from the left and right of the hallway. “I see that I fell into a brothel,” I said to myself. The woman walked in front of me to stop.
“Leave”, she told me. “It is not right for them to kiss the Cross. I will kiss the Cross and then you should leave, please.”
I took seriously her disapproving attitude and said: “I cannot leave! I am a priest, I cannot go! I came here to sanctify.”
“Yes, but it is not right for them to kiss the Cross.”
“But we don’t know if it is right for them or you to kiss the Cross. Because if God asks me for whom it is more right to kiss the Cross, the girls or you, I probably would say: ‘It is right for the girls to kiss and not you. Their souls are much better than yours.'”
With that she became a bit red in the face, so I said: “Leave the girls to come kiss the Cross.” I signalled for them to come forward. I began to chant more melodically than before: “In Jordan, You were baptized O Lord…” because I had such joy within me, that God had ordained things so that I may also come to these souls.
They all kissed the Cross. They were all made-up, with colorful skirts, etc. I told them: “My children, many years! God loves us all. He is very good and ‘allows the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matt. 5:45). He is the Father of everyone and God cares for everyone. Let us make sure to come to know Him and for us to also love Him and to become good. May you love Him, and then you will see how happy you will be.”
They looked at me, wondering. Something took a hold of their tired souls.
Lastly I told them: “I rejoice that God has made me worthy to come here today to sanctify you. Many years!”
“Many years!” they also said, and I left.
Students in my CHR 101 class might appreciate this discussion from Matt Flanagan of the book of Judges and the morality of God’s commands to “exterminate” the Canaanites before we delve into the Settlement of Canaan next week.
I have not written anything about the uprising in Egypt mainly because I’m still mostly dumbstruck. Egypt seems to be caught in a three-way vise between Mubarak and his supporters, the pro-democracy demonstrators, and Muslim extremists, who hope to leverage the pro-democratic uprising because they believe the majority of Egyptians would favor a Sharia state. (According to Pew Global data , 85% of Egyptians believe it’s a good thing for Islam to play a role in government; only 2% say this is a bad thing.) I don’t envy the US State Department or other world governments attempting to respond appropriately to the tangle of thorny issues involved.
In the midst of all the human tragedy and uncertainty, there is also a threat to Egypt’s cultural heritage. The following map from Ancient Egypt Online shows the areas of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum:
This map is based off of Al Jazeera footage. Please note that it is currently unknown which mummies have been damaged – but based off the footage, it appears that it could be the mummies of Yuya & Thuya [King Tutankhamun’s grandparents—DJP]. We will keep you updated as we learn more.
The good news is that most of the protesters had enough respect for their heritage to form a human chain around the museum. This kept many of the looters out. Unfortunately, Muslim extremists take a very dim view of their countries’ cultures before the coming of Islam. This era is considered the time of jahiliya or “darkness,” and it is generally disparaged if not erased. One can only hope, therefore, that the treasures of ancient Egypt do not suffer the same fate as the Bamiyan Buddhas.