Imagine No Religion
I am writing this post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is a festive occasion, but I am having trouble getting in the mood, despite the beautiful service, music and wise words of our leaders.
Last week was a shitty week. While addressing a group of students on Friday night at Hillel (SF Jewish student center where I work), I found myself talking about the violent events that were still going on as I spoke.
We have enough to worry about in this world – overpopulation, global warming, violence, hunger, natural disasters… do we really need to intentionally add any?
That a few people made a movie that they knew would be deeply offensive to a large group of the population is plain stupid. It is okay to be controversial if you have a point that needs to be made, but there are some lines that don’t get crossed. Anyone associated with this movie and intentionally knew of its controversial nature have blood on their hands. I hope they are not sleeping at night.
I understand that many of those involved did not know what they were participating in. Here is a link to a statement made by actress, Anna Gurji on Neil Gaiman’s website (thanks to reader Christopher Wright).
It is natural to be angry when your religion has been deeply offended and to express that anger in demonstrations, but to take the steps needed to violently attack and kill a fellow person, innocent bystanders who are there to create bridges of understanding with your people, shows a woeful lack of comprehension of your own religion’s teachings. Where were the religious teachers teaching the sin of violence and murder? If religious men were leaving their mosques in an angry and violent mood, bent on murder, what were their Imams preaching? And if they were preaching peace, understanding and taking the higher moral road, why weren’t they being listened to?
Finally, the rumor, no – the lie – that this movie was produced and funded by Jews was not only baseless, but anti-Semitic. It traveled around the Internet at an intense speed, and took a long time to be disclaimed. It was too easy.
“Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace“
In times like this, John Lennon’s lyrics make sense, but it doesn’t have to be like this. I want to live in a world where we celebrate diversity and without everyone being the same. I want to celebrate Chanukah, and join my neighbors for Diwali, and my good friends around their Christmas tree, secure in my own religions identity. I want my Israeli-born son to continue sitting at the same school table with the Palestinian child, and I would prefer that child bring his own food to my son’s birthday party, rather than not come at all because his parents fear offending me.
Last week, Muslims were offended, Christians murdered, and Jews blamed. It is not a question of moving on: we must learn the lessons that have haunted and tainted all our histories.
There is no religious justification for hate, violence and murder.
Wishing everyone of all races and religions, a peaceful and hate-free new year.
Shana Tova L’Kol Bnei Adam.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).