Monday, July 19, 2010

Freedom of Religion and Freedom From Religion

Today in Indyposted, I covered a man named Edward Kagin, who is a leader of the American Atheists. His latest claim to fame is his performance of "debaptisms" in which he symbolically dries the waters of baptism with a blow drier. Some things he said about Christianity were pretty offensive to believers of that faith. I am sure that he had choice words about Judaism as well. Kagin has a sense of humour, and a personality that is a lot more easy going than that of Madalyn Murray the famous atheist of the 60's. Both Kagin and Murray raised sons who became born again Christians. To Kagin's credit, he maintains contact with his son, despite their religious differences.

On Shabbos, I was reading the commentary on Devarim, and it mentioned an early Christian named Arius, whose difference with Christianity was that he believed in the oneness of G-d and not in the trinity. I checked out Arius on line. His writings had been destroyed. His followers were either forcibly converted or killed. Although there are those who espouse the beliefs of Arius, there is in community of believers in his philosophy that traces its ancestry back to his original followers.

Both Christianity and Islam settled their early disagreements through bloody warfare. In France, the Huguenots were almost wiped out by the Catholic Church. In Italy, the Waldensians endured similar persecution. The Muslim fundamentalists of today give us an idea of what Christian religious intolerance was in Europe in the Middle Ages and even in the 19th century.

We take western freedom of religion for granted. Believers and skeptics can debate, harangue and insult each other. But violence is off limits. Not only is violence off limits, it is also a confession of theological bankruptcy.

What would the world be like if religions became dominant not through physical conquest but through debate? In modern society, we have the opportunity to see what sort of faith will evolve from spirited debate rather than persecution and conquest.

America is a nation of searchers. People have come here for religious freedom. They have even started a few religions as well. With all of our religious, political and ethnic diversity, it is amazing how well we get along.

In Jewish belief, G-d hides Himself enough that we have free choice. It does not trouble me that there are so many different strains of religious faith. Rwanda, Cambodia, Auschwitz and the Congo trouble me far more than religious differences. A day will come when people will be incapable of genocide and cruelty. Such a day will come when people are transformed to a higher level of awareness. But the suffering that has preceded this messianic era in the future troubles me terribly. I simply have no answer other than to shudder at what people become who fear no final judgment.

The following words were found scrawled in a place where Jews were hiding in Cologne,Gemany.

I believe in the sun
even when it isn’t shining.
I believe in love
even when I am alone.
I believe in God
even when he is silent.

The only answer that makes any sense to me is that the world is an extension of what we have become. When people murder each other in the name of faith and politics it is usually because they are worshipping a god created in their own image.

We are fortunate to live in a country where people can offend and be offended without shooting each other. I hope we stay that way. Sphere: Related Content

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