Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Sanctified Texts, You Gotta Love Them

Every now and then in my learning I imagine meetings between people and what those conversations might entail. So, in that vein, Charles Kimball (When Religion Becomes Evil) – I would like to introduce you to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning).

You see, both of you love texts. Both of you are committed to protecting the integrity of the institution of religion and sanctified texts that serve to define it. Both of you speak about the potential problems of reading texts out of context, especially when one desires to make a case for what they believe (ahem, KNOW) to be true. Both of you talk about the need for humility, to remember that there are many ways to interpret the texts that are foundational to who we are and what we believe.

Mr. Kimball, as you speak so eloquently about the danger of misusing and abusing these important texts, so too does Rabbi Sacks. Allow me to use his words:

Every religion based on a body of holy writings, a sacred scripture, contains hard texts: passages which, if taken literally and applied directly, would lead to results at odds with that religion’s deepest moral convictions. There are passages in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran that, taken in isolation, are radically inconsistent with the larger commitments of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons as bearers of God’s image. (The Great Partnership, pp. 251 – 252)

In these words, Rabbi Sacks gives us all clear warning. God gives us our sanctified texts to use and wrestle with, NOT to claim ownership and absolute knowledge of them. How true it is that too many people in our world riddled today with religious extremism just love to claim that ownership and knowledge, using what amounts to no more than slight and misused soundbites to further their own sense of correctitude and slam the rest of us over the head with their “I know better than you” stance. Mr. Kimball, you most correctly point out that religion does indeed become a force for evil, and not good, when this is done.

How sad and painful this is for us; how horrifying it must be for God. God, who wants to guide us and help us to be better, to rise above the challenges and missteps so overwhelmingly present in our world, gives us the gift of these sanctified texts – to pour over, to think about, to use carefully and humbly.

I learned a pithy but quite dangerous saying from a colleague of mine a while ago that goes like this: ‘My Leviticus is better and bigger than your Leviticus!’ Remembering that the book of VaYikra, or Leviticus, is about ritual purity – that is trying to be the best we can in our world, resisting the practices of Egypt that went against every standard of human rights we uphold, observing discipline in eating, remembering the purpose of worship, balancing what it means to be a human being in this world while confronting its challenges and so much else.

As I often like to remind all of us, the very middle of this book, which is the middle of the Five Books of Moses reminds us to LOVE YOUR FRIEND/NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF, … FOR I AM GOD. Beautiful! If you want to take one phrase out of context, I cast my vote for this one. Yes, there are wars that are difficult to read about in the Torah, annihilations that we do not fully understand, practices of other people that were heinous, rebellion and so much more. But, all of this is part of the much larger picture of which the central message is LOVE YOUR FRIEND/NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF, … FOR I AM GOD.

Just imagine what kind of world we could build if THIS was the text we would take out of its framework and throw around all the time. So here is an idea, for those of us who JUST LOVE text, choose the text the best exemplifies the best of who we are and what we can become -- Here are a few suggestions -- Do not judge another until you have reached his place; Judge the other one favorably; Do not place a stumbling block before the blind, etc. -- and just point that text with a loving finger and gentle voice at everyone you know. Leave the “I will take you down” texts in favor of the “I want to build you up” texts. That is the point of Torah, of the New Testament and the Koran…. And too often that is forgotten or lost. Thank you Charles Kimball and Rabbi Sacks for reminding us how much we should just … Love those texts!

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