Category Archives: Religion/Spirituality

Jim Luce: Evil in America? U.S. Fundamentalist Group to Burn Koran on 9/11

One need not journey to the mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discover evil. We have our own home-grown variety of dangerous extremism here in Florida. The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, whose pastor Terry Jones has written a book called Islam is of the Devil, believes he is called by God to defeat non-Christians in general, and Muslims in specific.

Terry Jones has written a hate-filled book.

Fortunately his excessive ideas have not carried widely. The church, according to Voice of America, has about 50 members (VOA). Their web presence is far more ominous, with a Facebook page and an active website. With only 16 fans, the Facebook site is more lethal than meets the eye — as is the website. The church published an essay this week on-line an entitled “Ten Reasons to Burn a Koran.”

Photo taken from the Facebook page of “Islam is of the Devil.”

It states:

On 9/11/10 we are burning Korans to raise awareness and warn. In a sense it is neither an act of love nor of hate. We see, as we state in the Ten Reasons below, that Islam is a danger. We are using this act to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful. We do not hate any people, however. We love, as God loves, all the people in the world and we want them to come to a knowledge of the truth. To warn of danger and harm is a loving act. God is love and truth. If you know the truth it can set you free. The world is in bondage to the massive grip of the lies of Islam.

2010-09-05-Fundamentalist_Group_toBurn_Koran_C.jpg The book now has its own website with products.

The essay continues:

The earliest writings that are known to exist about the Prophet Mohammad were recorded 120 years after his death. All of the Islamic writings (the Koran and the Hadith, the biographies, the traditions and histories) are confused, contradictory and inconsistent. Maybe Mohammad never existed. We have no conclusive account about what he said or did. Yet Moslems follow the destructive teachings of Islam without question.

Islam (not us) is totalitarian in nature, like Nazism, Communism, and Fascism. T his evil nature of Islam needs to be seen. Moslems around the world burn and kill on a regular basis, every week, properties and people. All you have to do is follow the news. T he many death threats we are receiving, the warnings about terror attacks also prove our point. Do Christians make these threats when Bibles or churches are burned? No.

2010-09-05-Fundamentalist_Group_toBurn_Koran_D.jpg T-shirts on sale at the Dove World Outreach Center site.

In 1985 I co-founded Fundamentalists Anonymous to combat the Fundamentalist Mindset, a black-and-white way of thinking described by the Dove World Outreach Center above. Sadly, this church embraces this mindset to counter not only the excesses of Islam, but all of Islam. This is as dangerous and illogical as condemning Christianity because of the Dove World Outreach Center.

2010-09-05-Fundamentalist_Group_toBurn_Koran_E.jpg Sign posted by the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida.

On the Phil Donahue Show in 1985, I described this Fundamentalist Mindset for the first time on national television: A mindset that sees the world in black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. A mindset that cannot compromise. A mindset that is intrinsically unhealthy. This mindset creates extremism in any theology or worldview from Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, to atheism, Communism – any set of values that cannot accept gray. In short, Extremism.

The church’s extremist website essay ends defiantly:

We have fallen asleep since 9/11/01 and have been hoodwinked by the growth of a (for now) non violent Islam. Shall we give in to threats, then, and allow Islam to grow in America unopposed? We at Dove World Outreach Center will not, even if it costs us our lives. For those who support us, we say thank you for standing with us in courage. For those who oppose us, we say wake up and do not give in to the fear and lies!

Given the brouhaha about Muslims creating their own spaces of worship in lower Manhattan, near New York City Hall, it cannot be said that this anti-Islamic sentiment is an isolated case, however extreme. Throughout Europe and Canada laws exist regarding hate speech. Although I support the ACLU’s position on Freedom of Speech in this country, there has to be some way to protect my Muslim friends from this type of outrage. I remember the words of Martin Niemoller, If we do not stand up when they come for different groups, there will be no one left to stand up for us (saying).

I know the most difficult intellectual challenge to liberals and moderates like myself is being totally opposed to extremism. We are rightly afraid of becoming extremist ourselves. I have wrestled with this quandary since 1985 and find that if we cannot stand up against extremism, we will lose. Extremism won in Germany, was responsible for the Cultural Revolution, and the Killing Fields. The Dove World Outreach Center does not have this power, but the concept that ‘Islam is Evil’ is an ideology that can and has killed all over the world.

I do not know what the most appropriate response is to this growing Islamophobia in the United States — and in Europe — but I know this mindset is extremely dangerous. I call on minds loftier than mine to propose immediate solutions to this human crisis before the flames of hatred engulf us all.

This essay appears in Indonesian on The Jim Luce Stewardship Report (JLSR).

See also by Jim Luce:

Remembering My Battle Against Fundamentalists

I Asked: Is the Fundamentalist Mindset Diseased?

Muslims & Non-Muslims Hear about Terrorist Threat, Solutions at Harvard Club

Jim Luce on Extremism

Jim Luce on Peace, Conflict Resolution

Jim Luce on Islam and Islamic Issues

Read more: Terry Jones, Communism, Europe, New York City Hall, Evil in America, Cultural Revolution, Islamophobia, Ten Reasons to Burn a Koran, Pakistan, Fascism, 9/11, Anti-Islamic, Prophet Mohammad, Canada, Donahue Show, Worldview, Fundamentalists Anonymous, Martin Niemoller, E-Filled Book., Moderates, Theology, Muslim, Gainesville, Manhattan, Fran Ingram, Jim Luce, World Trade Center Mosque, Atheism, Liberals, Florida, Germany, Islam Is of the Devil, Fundamentalist Mindset, Evil, United States, Islam Is Evil, Devil, God, Facebook, Freedom of Speech, Burn Koran, Dove World Outreach Center, Nazism, Hatred, Killing Fields, U.S. Fundamentalist Group, Christianity, Afghanistan, Terrorism, Aclu, Buddhism, Hinduism, Extremism, World News

Mariana Caplan, Ph.D.: Is Guru a Four-Letter Word?: The Need for Discernment on the Spiritual Path

The can of worms is open. Opening up the question on my last blog of “How To Find a Spiritual Teacher,” or whether we need a teacher at all, tends to incite even the most dormant of creatures. We have strong reactions, powerful opinions and oftentimes righteous convictions regarding this topic, as was seen from the many and varied, but never lukewarm responses to my last post. In fact, when I toured an early version of my book in 2002, there were two uprisings in bookstores where I spoke — one in Manhattan and the other in Barcelona. In both cases, the movement was to incite the crowd to see that spiritual authority comes from within! I have absolutely no problem with this approach, nor with those who deeply feel the need for a teacher, or those who are confused, but why so much energy?

Is Guru a 4-Letter Word?

I have spent time with gurus who are living proof that “guru” can be a four-letter word. Nobody has asked me to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, but I have been offered plenty of other substances. And most of the other crimes of power and passion one hears about in relation to purported gurus have been perpetrated upon me and people I know. After 17 years of experience on four continents and 10 years of research in the field, I am both personally and professionally all too familiar with the kinds of shocking abuses of power that have been committed in the name of spirituality. Yet I cannot denounce spiritual teachers in general, any more than I can denounce all men simply because I have had some less than desirable lovers.

I have learned that when one writes or speaks publicly on this topic, four potential positions can be expected: 1) The strong assertion that the guru and the source of all spiritual authority comes from within, and that people who seek from without are essentially deluded. This group speaks the loudest and the strongest, usually with a slight edge of disdain towards those who have or want teachers; 2) The people who have a particular guru and not only think that the Guru Road is the only destination in town, but more specifically that their guru’s home is the center of the universe. They want the world to join their guru’s mission because they sincerely believe that the world would be a better place if this was so; 3) One step down from this are those who believe that we need a teacher, but that it need not be their teacher. This group is less likely to proselytize their perspective; 4) Those who are either questioning whether they need a teacher, or are looking for a teacher but cannot locate one — this group is humble, open, curious. If we look at the responses to my previous blog, we see all of these perspectives represented with their predicted intensity.

Not Always So
If there is anything I have learned over 20 years of study, practice and research on the spiritual path, it is the truth of the teaching propagated by Zen master Shunru Suzuki of “not always so.” There is not one clear-cut road of beliefs and practices to suit all human beings. There are well-trodden paths and religions that have proven to be helpful to many people in indescribable and irreplaceable ways. Yet whether we practice in one of these traditions or find our unique path through the labyrinth of life, we each walk the path differently, in a way that only the inimitability of each of our beings can do — our “unique self.”

I now understand that there are as many unique paths to spiritual unfolding as there are human beings. I remember when Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, my Sufi “uncle,” and Huff Po blogger, told me this. I was a die hard seeker in my twenties. Although in theory it made sense, inside I secretly believed, “But my path is the best path, or at least one of the very best, and there is a best way to follow my path.” Now, almost two decades later, it is clear to me that each human being follows a unique trajectory in relationship to spirit, truth or God.

The Need for Discernment on the Spiritual Path
Spiritual discernment, called viveka khy?tir in Sanskrit, is said to be the “crowning wisdom” on the spiritual path.

The Yoga S?tras of Patañjali say that the cultivation of discernment is so powerful that it has the capacity to destroy ignorance and address the very source of suffering. According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, to discern is “to recognize or identify as separate and distinct.” Discrimination, its synonym, “stresses the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent.” Those who possess spiritual discernment have learned this skill in relationship to spiritual matters, and they can consistently make intelligent, balanced and excellent choices in their lives and in relationship to their spiritual development. Their eyes are wide open and they see clearly.

Viveka khy?tir is believed to be such a powerful tool that it has the capacity to pierce all levels of the physical, psychological, energetic and subtle bodies of the human being. In “Light on the Yoga S?tras of Patanjali,” B. K. S. Iyengar explains that through this unbroken flow of discriminating awareness, the spiritual practitioner “conquers his body, controls his energy, retrains the movements of the mind, and develops sound judgment, from which he acts rightly and becomes luminous. From this luminosity he develops total awareness of the very core of his being, achieves supreme knowledge and surrenders his self to the Supreme Soul.”

I believe that more potent than any of our current spiritual convictions — which if we observe closely and honestly within ourselves over many years, we discover, do in fact change no matter how certain we were of what we believed — is the capacity for discernment. The degree to which our discernment is refined is the extent to which we can move through the complexities of the spiritual marketplace and the deepening of spiritual life with effectiveness and wisdom. We make radiant choices that serve others in smaller and larger ways, and become part of the evolutionary and healing force in life, instead of what George Bernard Shaw calls, “a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making me happy.”

Read more: Yoga, Religion, Gurus, Psychology, Spirituality, Happiness, Leadership, Spiritual, Spiritual Power, Living News

Paul Golin: God’s Covenant, Judaism and Interfaith Marriage

In the weeks leading up to the Jewish High Holidays, pulpit rabbis across North America will spend countless hours preparing for their most listened-to sermons of the year. For 2010, “intermarriage” may be a popular topic thanks to the recent nuptials of Marc Mezvinsky and Chelsea Clinton. Compared to years past, I believe significantly more of those sermons will be about welcoming intermarried couples into the Jewish community, rather than discouraging young people from following such a path. And that’s a positive development.

Still, even among the most welcoming and inclusive sermons, there will likely be strings attached. Most rabbis will add caveats, perhaps using similar language as Rabbi Steven Wernick, leader of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, when he wrote about the Clinton-Mezvinsky intermarriage: “Judaism teaches that in-marriage is a mitzvah, a sacred act that we are commanded to fulfill. As such, it’s always the preferred choice for Jews to make, contributing to the continuity of our peoplehood [emphasis added].”

Almost nowhere among Jewish leadership — even in the liberal movements — has there been a full shedding of the preference for in-marriage. And that preference for one type of family over another inevitably must lead to a lesser welcoming for intermarried families.

You simply cannot say, “We welcome everybody equally, but we prefer one kind over another.” Maybe the difference in the way people are treated doesn’t always manifest on the surface level, but it bubbles up. This is not to say that we can’t discuss the challenges of raising Jewish children when one parent is not Jewish; what I’m talking about is the open preference for one type of couple over another, even when both may choose to raise Jewish children.

As an advocate for accepting intermarried families into the Jewish community, I have a rebuttal for every argument against a full welcoming, except one: “Because God said so.”

When observant Jews take an exclusionary approach to intermarriage, I understand. If you’re among the 15% or so of American Jewry who tries to keep all the mitzvot (commandments) all the time, and you believe intermarriage is a “sin,” I won’t argue with you. My challenge is to those among the other 85% of Jews, who pick and choose which mitzvot you find relevant and want to adhere to, but then use the “mitzvah” of in-marriage to criticize me for choosing a different sub-set of mitzvot to observe.

All of non-Orthodox Judaism would be greatly served if our leaders would finally admit — and put into practice — the reality of today’s Judaism, which is (to paraphrase Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan) that Jewish law gets a “vote not a veto” in the lives of the overwhelming majority of American Jews. Mitzvot that seemed essential in the past, including in-marriage, are no longer considered ethical or moral litmus tests.

In the 1970s, when radical modern-Orthodox thinker Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg grappled with the full implications of the Holocaust, he concluded that God’s withdrawal from earthly affairs and failure to protect His chosen people meant, quite dramatically, that “the covenant was broken.” However, Rabbi Greenberg suggested that “the Jewish people was so in love with the dream of redemption that it volunteered to carry on with its mission.” And in fact those who took up the “voluntary covenant,” as he called it, were even greater than those who acted “only out of command.”

The notion of “voluntary covenant” is a powerful one, and yet it seems to imply that the covenant itself is still an unbroken entirety. If you’re going to take it on — whether by command or voluntarily — you take it all on. But that’s not what I believe is happening among the majority of Jews.

Instead, we’ve adopted a “selective covenant.” Vast swaths of mitzvot are completely irrelevant to our lives. And unlike what I’ve heard bemoaned from some observant quarters, it’s not that if we were just more Jewishly-educated, we’d understand the beauty and relevance of the mitzvot enough to follow them. I know which mitzvot I’m rejecting, and I know why I’m rejecting them. Whether God withdrew as Greenberg and others have suggested, or died at Auschwitz along with so many of our relatives, or simply never was, to me the tradition is only relevant if it improves my life and the lives of those around me. I am never going to believe that separating milk from meat will make this world a better place.

With a “selective covenant,” rejecting the dietary laws of keeping kosher (for example) does not mean rejecting Judaism. We can and do pick-and-choose which mitzvot are relevant to our lives, and I believe the majority of Jews among the 85% not-fully-observant would still say they’re guided by the principles and morals they learned through the Jewish tradition — even if it means reinventing some of those rituals as we go.

When it becomes important to modernize while maintaining a halakhic (Jewish legal) facade, like on gay and lesbian acceptance — or women rabbis, or driving on Shabbat — the Conservative movement demonstrates remarkable ability for Circ De Soleil-like theological contortions. Even the Reform movement’s decision to accept patrilineal descent was based on a responsum. So if the liberal movements disagree that there’s now a selective covenant, and instead believe we must still try to maintain all the mitzvot (or at least rationalize what we do based on the mitzvot), then I recommend they contort their way into equal acceptance of in- and intermarried.

Because for a majority of young Jews today, the mitzvah of “Not to intermarry with gentiles” is about as relevant as the mitzvah “To keep the Canaanite slave forever.” And the harder our leadership tacitly or explicitly “prefers” one type of Jew over the other, the less ethical our community seems. This extends not just to the explicit preference of in-married over intermarried, but tacitly to rich over poor, married over single, white over other races, hetero over homosexual, and so on. I’m not saying that no boundaries should exist in Jewish ritual practice, just that the choice of a non-Jewish spouse, in and of itself, is no longer a decision that should be considered communally punishable.

Once you acknowledge a selective covenant, then objections to welcoming the intermarried are not based on what God wants but on what you want. And as another great theologian once said, you can’t always get what you want. All those other fears about an equal preference for intermarried couples are just fears, and refutable. They raise Jewish kids less frequently? It went from 18% to 33% nationally in the ten years between 1990 and 2000, and it’s at 60% in Boston; no reason to think we can’t encourage those percentages higher. They care less about Israel? That’s not a causal relationship; you don’t change your feelings about Israel because you got married. They dilute Jewish ethnicity? We were never just one ethnicity. And so on.

Over the last quarter-century, nearly as many American Jews have married non-Jews as fellow Jews. Today, there are more intermarried than in-married households in the U.S., perhaps by as large a ratio as 60%-40%. The high rate of intermarriage can be seen as the defining opportunity to transform the Jewish community from an insular, tribal entity to a diverse and expanding peoplehood based on key common causes and beliefs. But first we have to make sure our common causes and beliefs are the right ones to be shouting from the mountaintops (hint: “don’t intermarry” isn’t one of them), and then we have to let go of the fear and begin genuinely welcoming as equal all who would select Judaism for themselves or their children.

Read more: Marriage, Intermarriage, Chelsea Clinton, Inclusion, Judaism, Jewish, Interfaith, Rabbis, Interfaith Relationships, Jewish High Holidays, Religion News

Aasim I. Padela: Imam in the Middle, But Is He in the Center?

As the Park51 community center and mosque project near Ground Zero is painted as an issue of the rights and future of the American Muslim community, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has been challenged to demonstrate that he is a moderate voice for Islam. By portraying the mosque issue as one of American Muslim rights the community is forced to align itself with an Imam who may not represent our true center.

I first met Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in 2002 at his NYC apartment where a group of young Muslim professionals had gathered for a study circle. After the events of 9/11 many Muslims in NYC were struggling to find their place within American society. Imam Feisal and his wife Daisy Khan filled the void and continue to create venues for Muslims to meet and discuss their faith without prejudice. This work is exemplified by the projects undertaken through their American Society of Muslim Advancement (formerly the American Sufi Muslim Association), the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow Project (MLT), the Cordoba Initiative, the Listening to Islam documentary, and the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, amongst others. I, along with many other Muslims, have been privileged to be part of some of these programs.

The inclusive spirit however has its shortcomings as well. At the first MLT gathering in 2004,we contemplated Islam’s stance on homosexuality, the status of women in the legal code, and what it meant to be a progressive or modern American Muslim. While important, and soul-searching, questions were raised there was little offered to guide the perplexed and Imam Feisal does not necessarily bear the “Islamic” credentials to successfully engage those within the faith: he is not an Islamic scholar.

This point was exemplified in 2005. As the War on Terror in full-swing, Imam Feisal became more an international figure. His book What’s Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West was published, and his interfaith work began to be supported the US State Department. In the televised Doha Debates, it was Imam Feisal arguing that the War on Terror was not a War on Islam, while Mustafa Ceric, the grand Mufti of Bosnia, argued the opposite. The apparent discrepancy in stature might have been lost for the non-Muslim audience, but not for its Muslim one. On one side an Imam from a small mosque in New York City, and on the other a grand Mufti who represented an entire nation.

The Doha debate demonstrates a critical failing in championing Imam Feisal as a voice to speak to the Muslim world. The Imam, unlike his father, and his opponent at the Doha Debates, is not a formally trained Islamic cleric, nor is he a university-trained Islamic studies expert. Thus, both within the Muslim world and in the American Muslim context, one struggles to properly assess Imam Feisal’s place.

In 2007, the RAND Corporation issued a report entitled “Building Moderate Muslim Networks“. The policy paper urges the United States government to ally itself with moderate Muslims. RAND argued that capable partners would found within “Sufis.” Since Imam Feisal’s trips to the Middle East are at times sponsored by the State Department, as noted by a recent NY Times article, it seems that RAND was heard. However, Imam Feisal may be on the fringe of the American Muslim fold in several important ways. Firstly, most American Muslims do not consider themselves Sufis, and if they do the belong to those Sufi orders which are backed by Islamic seminaries across the globe and tied closely to the Sunni Islamic schools of law. These orders such as the Naqshabandi, Chisti, Shadhili, Ba-Alawi, and Muhammadiyya are organizational giants with histories dating back hundreds of years. Imam Feisal’s Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi order is less than a few decades old and does not allay itself with an Islamic legal tradition. If the idea is to have the Imam spur change his limited traction within the Muslim tradition posed an obstacle.

Imam Feisal’s greatest strength is his ability to engage people from other religious traditions and foster interfaith collaboration. One of the aims of his work is to foster Abrahamic ethics with Christian and Jewish groups. While the Imam’s accomplishments in this arena are many, it is curious to note that he is not on the roster of mainstream Muslim interfaith programs. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), arguably the largest civic organization representing American Muslims, is heavily involved in interfaith dialogue. Yet, Imam Feisal is rarely seen at their events and is not part of the initiatives through ISNA’s Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances. Similarly, Imam Feisal is not part of many university-based interfaith initiatives either. Nazareth College recently inaugurated the Center for Interfaith Study and Dialogue and tabbed Muhammad Shafiq, a former Imam and author of Interfaith Dialogue: A Guide for Muslims, as its director. Imam Feisal is conspicuously absent from this group as well. Imam Feisal’s absence is in part due to the perception that he is not representative of the Muslim middle. As organizations attempt to foster dialogue between the center groups within each religious group he may be perceived as a little removed.

As the Park51 project near Ground Zero has become painted as an issue of religious freedom, American Muslims are confronted with championing the cause of a man who may not accurately represent them. While Imam Feisal is in the middle of the debate, he may not necessarily be at the center of the Muslim tradition.

Dr. Padela is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar and Islamic bioethics researcher at the University of Michigan, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding, and a Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in the UK. His opinions here are his own and do not reflect those of his sponsoring organizations.

Read more: Islam, Ground Zero Mosque, park51, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Cordoba House, park51 Ground Zero, Muslims, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Muslim, Religion News

Jesse Shapiro: Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats: The Definitive Reason

Why Dogs are better than cats, cats would kill you if they could

I had an important epiphany while at my friends BBQ over the weekend. I’ve always been a dog guy. I think most sane people feel the same way. My hang up is that I can never clearly express why someone being a cat person is SO truly crazy, other than saying the plainly obvious, “cats suck … dude … I mean how are we even having this argument cats just suck…”

Yes, cats are selfish and they don’t come when you call them. But most humans are selfish and don’t come when you call them — so I’ve hesitated in using that as my main argument for casting off the entire cat race.

But there I was on Sunday — watching Planet Earth in HD (exciting BBQ I know) — watching a tiger chase down a gazelle, and I realized something. There is absolutely NO DIFFERENCE between that tiger and your average house cat, EXCEPT for size. If little Muffin who cuddles with you every night was large enough to KILL YOU … she would.

I’ll go so far as to say that 98% of all house cats would kill you if they could. I have encountered around two percent of the cat population that act like dogs are incredibly sweet. My scientific observations lead me to believe that they’re a genetic anamoly and their mentally retarded cat brains aren’t fully developed. Therefore, the two percent of cats who WOULDN’T kill you on purpose — would do so on accident — much like Lenny in George Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men.

Mice AND MEN. The other thing cats would kill if they could.

Case closed.

Picture by Joel Telling courtesy of Creative Commons License

Read more: Killing, Cats, Humans, Cats Are Evil, Dogs, Death, Comedy News

U.S. Quran Burning Sparks Indonesia Protests Outside American Embassy

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Thousands of Indonesian Muslims rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta on Saturday to denounce an American church’s plan to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by burning copies of the Quran.

The Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, said it will burn the Islamic holy book Wednesday, the ninth anniversary of the terror attacks. Local officials have denied a permit for the bonfire on the church’s grounds, but the center – which made headlines last year by distributing T-shirts that said “Islam is of the Devil” – insists it will go ahead with the plan.

About 3,000 members of a hard-line Islamic group marched to the U.S. Embassy in downtown Jakarta waving banners and posters condemning the plan. The group organized similar rallies in five other cities across Indonesia, the world’ largest Muslim nation.

Religious leaders in Indonesia have condemned the plan and called on the U.S. government to use its influence to get the fire canceled.

Read more: Islamophobia, September 11, Islam, Jakarta, Indonesia, 9/11, Protests, The Dove World Outreach Center, Christianity, Quran, Florida, Koran Burning, Gainesville, World News

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: My Purpose in Debating Christopher Hitchens on the Afterlife

Is atheism necessary for religion? Rabbi Zusya would say yes.

The great Russian Hassidic Rabbi, who lived more than two hundred years ago, was one day teaching his students when he emphasized the necessity of atheism and agnosticism. His students were aghast. Had the master lost his mind? He proved his point. “Say you’re walking down the street and you see a hungry man or a homeless woman. If you’re certain there is a G-d you’re reaction might be, ‘I need do nothing because G-d will provide.’ But if you don’t believe in G-d, or if you doubt his existence, then there is only you who can provide.'”

Religion is the most powerful tool known to mankind. It is capable of inspiring the artistic wonders of the Italian Renaissance and the reliefs of Michelangelo, and it is capable of inspiring 19 young men to fly airplanes into buildings. It can lend mankind a vision of a perfect world in which ‘the wolf lies down with the lamb’ and it can impart to the world a vision of people needing to be burned at the stake as infidels.

Without intelligent and earnest critics of the faith the heavenly vision of religion can easily spill over into the hell on earth. Hence, the necessity of atheism and agnosticism. I would argue that religion learns more about itself from its critics than it does about its admirers.

I have debated many atheists in my time, from Richard Dawkins to Daniel Dennett to Sam Harris to Christopher Hitchens. Of them all Hitchens stands alone. He has by far been the most formidable and the most interesting opponent, the one I have most loved and the one that has most gotten under my skin. Religious people have no real interest in Dawkins, whom they find extreme, clinical, mechanical, and monolithic. But Hitchens is passionate, utterly unpredictable, contrarian, and fluent. And while he has been, at times, in my opinion, highly unfair in his criticism of religion, he redeems it all by being all too human. It is his most likable quality. He is also supremely entertaining.

I believe this is the reason that my upcoming debate with Hitchens on 16 September in New York City at the Cooper Union on ‘Is there an afterlife’ has generated such considerable interest, particularly among religious people. The news that Hitchens has esophageal cancer and may be terminally ill has provoked sadness all around, particularly among the faithful. When I told my friends at the excellent Baron Herzog vineyards in California that Hitchens was ill, we all immediately decided to send him fine bottles of kosher wine so he and his friends could toast L’Chaim, to life, for his recovery. Religious prayer groups for Hitchens’ healing have sprung up all over America.

Are the faithful praying for Hitchens recovery because they want to have enough time to convert and win a great victory? Is it because they want a miracle in Hitchens’ life to open his eyes to G-d’s presence? I cannot say. I can only speak for myself.

I have no interest in converting Christopher Hitchens to religion. His atheism has not stopped him from being a singular champion of human rights throughout the world, and he can teach we religious people a thing or two about courageously standing up to tyrants. I am not so naïve as to believe for a moment that Hitchens would be so intellectually dishonest as to suddenly now change his antipathy toward religion because of the possibility of impending death. Only a coward would forsake his personal truth out of fear of death, and one thing Hitchens certainly is not is a coward. I am not a believer in religion-in-the-foxholes and deathbed confessions. Religion is too important to be embraced out of fear or trepidation.

Rather, what I intend with our debate is to finally dismiss this notion that religious people invented the idea of an afterlife out of a sense of weakness and insecurity. We’ve heard it all before. Religion is the opiate of the masses. It’s a drug that weak-minded people take to help them deal with the meaninglessness of life. They invented the afterlife because they couldn’t accept the finality of death. Then they invented G-d to give purpose and design to a fundamentally chaotic and unjust world.

The afterlife in Judaism is none of these things. It is not an escape from the flaws of this world or a reward for the suffering endured here. Any religion that promises an eternal reward for living righteously is better characterized as a business promoting celestial remuneration. Worship G-d so that he’ll pay you in the hereafter. Judaism certainly demands that we do the right because its right and never for the consideration of any external reward.

Most Jewish sages understand the World to Come as the world the way it will be when it reaches a state of perfection through human endeavor and G-d’s finishing touches, what we call the messianic era. Judaism’s focus is not on the heavens but on the earth, not on a disembodied existence in the sky but on souls animating bodies and doing good deeds here on earth. Our ground zero is not G-d’s celestial throne but the earth’s sacred spaces.

I have no intention of converting Hitchens to my religious point of view and do not believe I could do so even if I wished.

But I can convince Hitchens that his ideas about religious people are wrong. That we are strong rather than weak, focused on this life rather than the next, dedicated to healing the world rather than gaining entry into the heavens, fundamentally opposed to fundamentalists, extremely suspicious of any kind of extremists, and open to ideas – and criticism – from every quarter.

And that’s what Rabbi Zusya was trying to demonstrate in his story. Religious people learn how to serve G-d and humankind better from all whom they meet.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of ‘The Shmuley Show’ on 77 WABC in NYC, America’s most listened-to talk radio station. He is the international best-selling author of 23 books and was the London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium. As host of ‘Shalom in the Home’ on TLC he won the National Fatherhood Award and his syndicated column was awarded the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. Newsweek calls him ‘the most famous Rabbi in America.’ He has just published ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Read more: Religion, Christopher Hitchens, Atheism, Judaism, Christopher Hitchens Cancer, Afterlife, Agnosticism, Religion News

Saul Segan: HuffPost Review: Lawyers as Peacemakers — Not the Oxymoron You Might Think it Is

In an age where chaos abounds, politically, economically and socially, marked by much dissatisfaction with one’s chosen profession, it is comforting to behold hope on the horizon. The legal profession is no exception. The multitude of lawyers leaving their line of work is reaching significant, if not alarming, proportions. The adversarial atmosphere and the combative confrontational approach ultimately wears thin on the brows or psyches of those whose sole aim is to bring order and stability to the lives of they who seek their services.

A newer, more beneficent methodology is becoming more widespread and more mainstream, bringing with it a more fulfilling result for the parties to a controversy or dispute and a greater sense of accomplishment for the advocates within. There is a shift in paradigm, or worldview, a set of beliefs about what is real and true.

Suddenly, terms like restorative, collaborative, and cooperative found their way in front of the word law as categorical adjectives as commonly as “criminal,” “civil,” “administrative” or any of the typical branches of the law. What distinguished the differences in approach can be summed up in the magnificent label, “holistic,” defined as relating to, or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts, such as in medicine when attempting to treat both the mind and the body .

J. Kim Wright lives her entire life that way, and just as holistic thinking and methodology has led patients and doctors to alternative medicine and enhancement of existing traditional forms thereof, the same can be said of holistic law, which carries a spiritual perception of life into legal practice and enhances both the well-being of the practitioner, the client, and the system by its compassionate and pragmatic perspective. Lawyers as Peacemakers is Kim Wright’s nuts and bolts manual to this visionary and revolutionary means of rendering legal services.

Kim is co-founder of the Renaissance Lawyer Society and has been the clarion to make lawyers aware of another way to achieve the lofty goals they set out to reach when they decided to pursue a legal career.

The book itself, as the author tells you, is not necessarily one to pore through cover-to-cover, but to use as a continual reference source, “and a possible source of inspiration on those days when you would rather be doing something else. ” It is a guide to a holistic approach to law that includes the lawyers’ well being and the best interests of the client and society. We as lawyers have been so totally embedded and captured by the adversarial paradigm that a massive mental metamorphosis must take place so that we who might be interested in this other way of lawyering can make the shift.

A paradigm shift requires objectives and methodology which has to move away from the divisions between members of society and the segmented disposition of legal concerns. The path must aim toward the overall benefit of compassion and transformation of the relationship between citizens and the legal system. Instead of us against them, it is all of us together seeking a solution in each area of law that has a long term, mutually beneficial solution Too much to hope for? Not at all, as is being demonstrated by lawyers all over the country. We are conditioned to an adversarial system where the resolution may be satisfactory for the moment and can produce satisfaction for one or a few of the parties, but not with lasting and continuous benefit to society on a larger scale.

The author details how to go through making the shift, suggesting a coach, or a therapist, or both. It is hard to believe how badly one or both are needed, but the rewards are great in the sorting-out process.

One major question always revolves around the viability of making a living in the new legal frontier. The reviews are mixed, but encouraging. The author and her wealth of contributors warn of the need for training and reorientation. But there appears to be virtual unanimity in the pronouncement that one by-product of the new legal specialty is happiness, satisfaction, peace of mind and yes, in some instances economic improvement.

The Movement is the transition from the adversarial to the restorative and the collaborative. Probably hard to conceive for those of us who are so ingrained in the stereotypical call to battle. The author starts with a chapter describing holistic law, a methodology that focuses on the spiritual aspects of a legal person’s nature and to find a commonality of purpose between those with opposite interests and positions. It seems revolutionary to employ devices such as love and religion or spiritually in the process of resolving legal confrontation but it actually bears fruit more in producing a durable outcome, emotionally than a knockdown drag-out court battle…where no one wins and a bitter taste lingers.

There is something labeled “cooperative law,” which basically starts with a determined aim toward reaching a settlement, pledging civility and cooperation. There is implicit in this approach, full disclosure of all relevant financial information, thus heading off the individual appraisal and expert opinions by obtaining joint appraisals and joint expert opinions. There is the promise to cooperate by obtaining meaningful input, for example obtaining an expert child specialist before requesting appointment of a guardian to be appointed by the court, good faith negotiation sessions and four way meetings where appropriate, to reach fair compromises based on valid information. And of course a prime requisite is cooperation by conducting oneself in a respectful, civil and professional manner.

Kim proceeds to tell those aspiring to enter the area of law how to go about making the transition. There is a step by step guide to the changes that must be undergone to reach the “promised land.” Some will find it easier than others if they have a predisposition toward spirituality. And that is something that everyone in any vocation or way of life can use more of.

Kim Wright is the author of Lawyers as Peacemakers: Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law,
An ABA Flagship Book and bestseller

Read more: Government, Book Review, Living, Spirituality, Law, Mediation, Courts, Books News

Brad Hirschfield: Rosh Hashanah 2010: Liberate Yourself, Renew Your Life and Help Others Do the Same

Editor’s Note: Huffington Post Religion has launched a scripture commentary/reflection series, which brings together leading voices from different religious traditions to offer their wisdom on selected religious texts. We are pleased to announce a series of reflections on scripture associated with the Jewish High Holidays with reflections by Rabbis from across the country and diverse traditions.

This is the third such series following Ramadan reflections on the Holy Qur’an as well as Christian reflections on the Gospel. Next month we look forward to having Hindu leaders offer scriptural reflections upon the occasion of Diwali.

We hope all readers, Jewish and non-Jewish will gain wisdom from the insights of our contributors during the High Holidays.

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud (horn) blasts. Leviticus 23:24

Rosh Hashanah 2010, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown on September 8th. And while it marks the turn of Jewish calendar year 5770 to 5771, it also celebrates the fundamental human need for liberation, return and renewal.

The Jewish holidays, especially Rosh Hashanah, are not only for Jews. In fact, they celebrate the most basic human quest — the quest to make our lives richer, happier and more productive. They also invite us to think about how to help others achieve the same things.

Without ignoring the centrality of our own happiness and fulfillment, these holidays, especially Rosh Hashanah, remind us that we humans share a common past, present and future — that we, in the widest sense, are in this together.

Leviticus 23:24 speaks of the best-known Rosh Hashanah practice, the blowing of the Shofar, ram’s horn, which has come to symbolize the holiday itself. The verse commands Moses as follows: “Speak to the Israelite people thus — In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud (horn) blasts.”

While that is how the verse is generally translated, taken literally, it teaches us that the Israelites are to have a sacred day marked by “the memory of loud (horn) blasts”. But what horn blasts are to be recalled? While the verse offers no direct answer, it seems to refer to the loud blasts that were sounded, according to Leviticus 25:8, at the beginning of the biblical Jubilee which occurred every 50 years.

During the Jubilee year, as the Shofar was blown, the bible teaches that the ancient Israelites were to “proclaim liberty throughout the land.” This meant that slaves were freed, debts forgiven and that lands were redistributed according to the original map at the time the Israelites entered the land. Whatever inequities had built up over the preceding 49 years, this system was intended to address them and, in the words of Leviticus 25:13, allow each person to return “to their holding” – to what was most deeply their own.

Rosh Hashanah invites us to do the same thing — to be free to return to our holding, to what we feel is most deeply our own, to be the person we most deeply feel we ought to be, not the one we may have become due to the inevitable complexities of life. Rosh Hashanah reminds us that is the person we really are, and that if we stop long enough to remember who that person is, and to get reacquainted with that person, we can be that person. In fact, it is our destiny to be so, no matter what others may say or how often life seems to get in the way.

In case you are wondering who is deemed worthy of this right, the answer is all of us. In fact, that is why the Jewish New Year is celebrated on the first day of what the Bible calls “the seventh month.” After all, there has to be some reason for a people to celebrate New Year’s not on the first day of the first month, but on the first day of seventh, right? And indeed there is.

Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of humanity. It may do so on the Jewish calendar, but it celebrates more than Jews and Judaism. The Jewish people were born during what the Bible calls the first month, Nissan, when they left Egypt at Passover. Adam and Eve however, were born according to rabbinic tradition, during what the Bible calls the seventh month, Tishrei. And it is on the first day of that seventh month when Rosh Hashanah, the return to who we most yearn to be — deserve to be — is celebrated. In effect, Rosh Hashanah affords each of us the opportunity to become Adam or Eve, to go back to the beginning and start fresh.

So this Rosh Hashanah, whoever you are, and wherever you may be, take advantage of one ancient tradition’s ideas and practices to relocate the person you most want to be and enjoy the renewal and liberation that come from finding that person once again. Here’s how.

1. Go Back To The Beginning – Imagine that you are actually the first person in the world, that it was created for you. Who do you want to be, regardless of who others expect you to be? What is it that you want to accomplish? Experience? Create?

2. Take Stock Of What You Have – What values, relationships, skills or possessions do you value most and how can they help you achieve that for which you hope?

3. Repair What Is Broken – Reach out to those whom you may have hurt. Seek their forgiveness. Even if they are not ready to grant it, seeking it will help you move forward.

4. Offer Forgiveness – You need not forget the past, but the more able you are to forgive those who have hurt you in the past, the freer you will be of the pain they have caused.

5. Taste Something Sweet – Take a moment to savor something delicious, something that reminds you that even if life is not always sweet and good, we can always find something which is.

6. Make A Plan – Create two lists to carry with you this year. On the first, list a few things to which you feel genuinely entitled and treat yourself accordingly. On the second, list a few things you feel truly obligated to do for others, whether it’s convenient or not.

7. Take It Slow – Our lives are all a work in progress. Often that progress is slow, sometimes we stand still, and we even slip backward from time to time. When that happens, simply return to step one.

Read more: Jewish Holidays, Holidays, Religion, Rosh Hashana, Bible, Judaism, Rosh Hashanah, Leviticus, Rosh Hashanah 2010, Renewal, Religion News

Paul Robert: The Right to Decide When You’re Done Living

More than 115,000 people in the Netherlands, a country of 16 million, have supported a civil initiative to start a parliamentary discussion on the right to a dignified end to life. We’re not talking euthanasia here, because the voluntary ending of life in the final stages of terminal illness has been legal in the Netherlands for years, under strict conditions. This goes one step further in the development of full individual human rights.

What is it about? It is about the right of the conscious, elderly individual to a dignified death when he or she decides that life has become unlivable.

Many years ago a friend’s father ended his life. He was a libertarian in his early sixties, diagnosed with cancer. He had had a rich and adventurous life and a wonderful family. The diagnosis at the time was an absolute death sentence. The man carried on as long as he felt that his life had “quality.” He took care of his business, discussed his options with his family and decided that enough was enough. He hung himself. That is an awful way to go, for all involved. That man should have had the right to end his life in another way, a dignified way. If he could have chosen to die in bed, his family could have been by his side. I had to think of him when I met a friend this week who is terminally ill.

Let me stress that this is not about depressed, suicidal people who could be helped with medication or therapy. This is about elderly people who have led a healthy, full life and choose to end it out of their own free will, earlier than is medically necessary. Although arbitrary, the petition suggests an age limit of 70 years for this right.

Objections against the initiative were mostly based on the religious conviction that life is a gift from god and only god has the right to take it. There are endless rational arguments against these objections but religion and reason often don’t go together very well.

Other objections are emotional, based on fear that such legislation could lead to a Soylent Green world where the government would push people over 70 to kill themselves. But again, fear is rarely rational.

The Dutch petition was presented to parliament with the request to place the subject on the agenda for debate later this year. The initiative unfortunately doesn’t stand a chance, not even in the Netherlands, one of the most liberal countries in the world when it comes to the dignity and personal responsibility of the individual. As long as any political party with a religious basis takes part in a governing coalition, this subject will be immediately vetoed. But the civil initiative is an impressive show of hands.

I personally enjoy my life utterly, with all its ups and downs. But I know that there will be a moment, maybe 10 years from now, maybe 20 or even 30 or 40, when the ups are so seriously outnumbered by the downs that it would be a great comfort to have access to the means to end it in a dignified way. I might even decide not to use them. After all, life is a human right, not a duty.

Read more: Ending Life, Euthanasia, Death, End-of-Life, End of Life, Death & Dying, Living News