(Unholy War series)
Religion is a very sensitive subject. This post will address religion in a way that is offensive to some readers. It is intended to be illustrative of how religion affects the way we reach out to the world around us. It is meant to show that we need not to shrug the strict devotions to faith at times if we are to show the true messages of said faiths. That we should be willing to reach beyond our religious boundaries to help those in need. The message is at times rough and hard to read. And it is not meant to be taken as fact but a mere suggestion. If anything, the purpose of this post is to make you ask questions, not to tell you what to do.
When it comes to religions there aren't many in the West that people think of as being oppressed more so than Judaism. 70 plus years ago was the most iconic time our oppression and near extermination. Yet there was also Russia's repressive role over it's Jewish population. And there is the lingering issue of antisemitism across the West. But there is also the issue of Israel itself. And it is this issue that transforms Judaism, if only in part, from victim to oppressor.
However, before we dive into the portion of Judaism that gets a particular portion of readers foaming at the mouth... lets go back a little ways first.
Judaism was the first of the Abrahamic faiths that depicted in it's holy book violent imagery that some could argue was in fact genocide. Entire populations were forced out of what would become Judea (later Israel) while others were killed off altogether. These somewhat barbaric "holy wars" were said to be ordained by Elohim (G-d). His holy word was said to have directed our ancestors to slaughter men, women, babies, and even the farm animals as well. Not a living soul was allowed to be spared the wrath of the Lion of Judah. And all the while we were forging what the world would later come to know as "the holy land"... a land drenched in blood from it's birth.
So one might expect that if you are raised to believe that G-d intended His spirit to reside upon a small patch of sand and not in the heart of man, well then Israel is just the place... right?
We did a marvelous job at turning the blood over into the soil and bringing forth olives, wheat, and other various crops. We did a great job at building upon the ruins of those who had come before us (of course this was easy since they weren't city builders). We even managed to erect the temple just as G-d had commanded (twice actually). There were kings who had giant mines to dig up the gold and precious metals that Israel's land had to offer. There were religious leaders who made sure that the laws of the land were adhered to strictly. And there were even a handful of the underclass who made sure the fun things in life weren't totally banished by the prior said class of man. All in all, we did a great job for a very long period of time when it came to building up the culture that would define Judaism for centuries to come.
And those centuries did come and go. The Greeks came and tried to kill us all off, we remained. The Romans came and tried to kill us all off, we remained. The neighbors found religion and came over to share it (somewhat violently), we still remained. Of course some of us did pack up our things and take off from time to time. But for the most part, we remained.
My ancestors in particular packed up and left when the neighbors over in what is now Syria had a little argument amongst themselves and a small group of them took off for Africa. Hitchhiking with the Moors, they eventually made it to Spain. Then when the party ended and the neighbors to the north got annoyed with the new kids on the block... well they took off again (just this time without their traveling companions). And hello Croatia it was. Well until the locals found a new form of faith and suddenly the neighborhood went to hell. But I digress...
Over the time in diaspora some of us got a little nostalgic, and by a little I mean a desire for a few hundred years or so ago. This led to a little mingling of fact with fiction and the such. But it eventually ended up with the belief that G-d wanted all "His people" back in the land of Israel. And in this sense we almost got it right when we started to realize what G-d's temple really is (but we'll get to that later).
Packing up and headed off to a new neighborhood was easy this time. We had been sold a belief that this was a homecoming of sorts. Some were even claiming that if we had just done this a couple decades ago those pesky Germans wouldn't have had a chance to be such bloody... I digress again.
Arriving "home", the European Jews found that some other people had moved in while they were gone. Or so it would seem if you bought the idea that this was their land in the first place. They didn't however seem to realize that the Jews who didn't take off all those centuries ago (the indigenous population one might say) were relatively comfortable with their counterparts in what was then Palestine. Instead of realizing that integration was perhaps more preferable than a hostile takeover, the newcomers decided to take back what they viewed as being rightfully theirs.
And this is where we slow down and really get into why Judaism has forsaken it's principles when we allow for the oppression of others in the name of our own faith.
There isn't anything that was covered in the prior paragraphs that was meant to be a joke. Just as there isn't anything in this post that is humorous. What happened to my people over the centuries has been tragic. We have been made to suffer for our faith. We have been sent to camps, ghettos, and pits in open fields where they killed us. My family was lined up on a ledge and shot. There isn't anything in this post that is easy to write about. And what happened when my people came "home" isn't easy to write about.
We came back to Israel to find that the people who had most recently invaded and colonized it were now well established. If you are Muslim, this is the time to admit that those we now know as Palestinians weren't the first people to be born and raised on that patch of soil. If you are Jewish, now is the time to admit that those Palestinians were born and raised on that patch of soil for generations before European Jews arrived. We came back to a land that wasn't the way we left it. In some ways it was better. In other ways it was alien and denied us the privilege of practicing our faith in the same holy places we had centuries before.
There aren't easy answers as to how things should had been. There aren't easy ways of saying that one party was wrong or one party was just a little more wrong than the other. After all, over a long enough timeline each party comes off looking like a bunch of savages out for blood.
The fact is that when the decisions were made to expel and kill Palestinians so that Judaism could prevail... that is where Judaism is to blame.
We believe that G-d loves all His creation. We believe that we are to honor that love by revering G-d's creation in the same way G-d did when He breathed life into it. These beliefs are not confined to the way we conduct ourselves with other Jews but extends to all G-d's children and creation. We are to treat our brother as we would want them to treat us, but more importantly... in the ways G-d has blessed us (love, compassion, and understanding... to name a few).
This way of practicing Judaism can't be easily depicted when one looks at Israel today. Though the argument can be made that Israel is a modern state and not a religious institution in and of itself... that argument is flawed. For Israel upholds Judaism above all other faiths through laws, traditions, and policies. It's bias toward Judaism is seen in laws that can be characterized as "race laws". It's propping up of Judaism is so prevalent that it can be seen in laws regarding marriage within Israel.
The continued persecution of those who once lived upon the land where Israel rest leaves a stain upon Judaism as a whole. As long as it is perceived as being permissible within Israel to devalue the lives of a few than no life is truly valuable. This hatred, the tainting of Judaism's teachings, leaves all equally miserable. It makes life easy to extinguish in as much the same way as it was when our historical oppressors stole the lives of our ancestors.
"... As Yourself"
Christianity is born out of blood. The creation of this faith created a new branch of the Abrahamic traditions. It took the principles of Judaism and highlighted portions while easing away from others. And in this tightrope like walk through the laws of Judaism it created opportunity for new branches of it's own faith to form. What started as being washed in the blood of the Lamb of G-d soon just became a bloodletting. From the wars of Europe to the conquest of the New World, Christianity has spread through the desires of man rather than the will of G-d. From the death of one man, Jesus of Nazareth, came the deaths of martyrs and victims alike.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." ~ John 13:34
Christians did start out being persecuted. It's in fact their desire to branch away from Judaism that first got them put out on the road in the first place. The Jewish leaders of the day didn't care much for the new heretics in town. So the Christians got thrown to the Romans, who decided to kill them to start with, where they found European converts. Eventually the Romans softened up and backed away from the whole circus bit. And in the end the Christians end up with an entire city in Rome that acts as it's own little nation within a nation (however over the years I've been told by Protestants that Catholics aren't real Christians... and the same the other way around). But the just because you have the heart of an empire doesn't mean you stop there...
Christians spread out to the Germanic tribes, over Spain, and the British isles. They got held up in Romania for a bit when the empire died back. But Russia and the Eastern Europeans eventually came under the cloth as Christianity fought to claim as much of Europe as it could before the new kids down in the Middle East could come rushing north. From Greece to the Balkans Christianity was actually doing alright it seemed (given the local religions were subdued or erased all together). All Christianity had to do was make a few adjustments here and there to mask prior beliefs across the continent (examples: Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day, St Patrick's...). This cultural genocide was alright of course since the message out of Rome was that Christianity spread civilization (with a little barbarism to enforce said civilization).
Once the initial bloodshed was finished then the in house fighting began. This long period of bloodshed is partially to blame for sending some Christians out on the road again. Over a length of time those wandering groups of Christians would eventually end up on new lands far from home. One batch would become the seeds from which the United States would grow (somewhat exaggeratedly so). However, just as any new species can be once introduced to a new environment, these seeds quickly became invasive.
"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
Native languages, cultures, and ways of life were rapidly displaced as Christians took to what some were selling as the promised land. Spanish Christian armies stole gold, silver, and slaves in the name of their god (greed) and country. English Christians came to fine religious freedom while openly denying even basic liberties to the native peoples and the slaves they brought with them. French Christians did a less invasive method of Spanish expansion yet still managed to spread disease (not really their fault, but had they stayed home...) wherever they went. The Dutch Christians and other assorted allotments tried to grab what they could before France and England divided up most of the north while Spain clung to the south. All the while the message of Christianity was that Europeans had a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of anything native peoples had prior to their arrival.
All this was done as Christians had to swallow their faith's principles and give into the lust of man. Their colonialist of the world would become known as the "white man's burden" for the native peoples they conquered. However it wasn't the white peoples' race that was often held up as the reason for their massive excesses across the globe (however it was one of the reasons given, i.e. racism), it was their religion that was given as justification. The church often rationalized the cost the native populations had to pay by telling itself that Christianity would at least save their souls. So even if they did die from disease, hunger, or outright murder; at least their souls would be with G-d.
Today this hatred in the West can be depicted as being confined to religiously based hate groups that scatter across Western civilization. And for the most part that is right. However, in countries where religion has not been separated from state, the pushing of Christianity as "the culture" rather than allowing diversity... the hate that fueled colonialism still persist.
Jesus replied; "Love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'. All the Law of the Prophets hinge upon these two commandments."
Christianity teaches it's followers that love is the greatest commandment of all. First they are to love G-d above all other things in this life. Secondly they are to love their fellow man in the same way they would love themselves. These two commandments in Christianity allow little room for hatred of others or other cultures. They show that Christians should be willing to express the same love for their fellow man that G-d has shown for them. If they have been blessed by their creator with freedoms, liberty, and health; then they should fight for those things for others who have not been given such blessings. Not so that those others will turn to Christ but so that in doing these things they are serving the Lord their G-d. For showing love is the basic principle of Jesus's message to his followers.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." ~1 Corinthians 13:4-7
"... of Mankind"
The third and final branch of the Abrahamic faiths is Islam. And like it's predecessors, Islam first arose from blood and still mingles with blood to this day. The Prophet Muhammad brought forth a faith that was meant to be the final word of G-d. It preached peace, love, and tolerance (for the Jews and Christians at least). Yet in it's implementation and founding in the deserts of Arabia it spread at first by the word and then eventually by the sword. Through no fault of it's own (of course) Islam had taken the path of the religions that came before it. It sought converts (like Christianity) and the rule of law (like Judaism). And somewhere in that rough start the message seems to have gotten lost.
"The blessed of mankind is the one who is the most beneficial for mankind." ~Prophet Muhammad (s) in Beyhaki 6/112.
Groups like the Turks (Ottomans) really took things to a level that made the whole "peaceful religion" portion seem to be a fallacy of sorts. Their excesses, however occurring way down the road chronologically speaking, showed to the modern world how Islam had been abused since within the Middle East. Yet if we look back to the Moors in Spain we can see how Islam was abused far before that. It was only when the Moors started to lose their war of conquest that the Moors sought help from Muslims in northern Africa. While the Moors had been very tolerant of Christians and Jews, the incoming reinforcements were barbaric in their treatment of Jews and European Christians. It was in the excesses of these Muslims that the reconquista by the Christians really gathered steam. Blood begot blood in amounts that drenched Andalusia in waves.
The Turks just expanded upon this belief that Islam was superior to the other "peoples of the book". Their abuses against the Greeks, Assyrians, and Armenians became so pronounced that they surpassed the levels of pogroms and entered the realm of genocide. Entire communities were labeled as enemies of the state... a state based on religion, and thus enemies of Islam. This created deep divides amongst the communities that still persist to this day (100 years later).
Where the Prophet Muhammad had told his followers that the "blessed of mankind" are those who bless their fellow man; some followers had gone astray. And as with every religion, these stray followers did not just cast a stain upon themselves, their country, or their particular ethnic group. No, these followers became a blight upon all of Islam due to the reality that outsiders (especially those being killed off) do not make such distinctions when all they have been shown it hate.
This is where Islam's presence in governments like that of Sudan continues to create a blight upon the faith itself. If a man who claims to have been blessed with a religion of superior intellect is seen firebombing villages and killing women and children... well that person's faith becomes a particularly rigid subject of debate. While another Muslim can claim that that one (or that group) isn't Muslim, to the outside world they are the poster child of Islam. And that's sadly how religions are portrayed no matter what faith it is. That whole "one bad apple" saying carries some weight.
"None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself " ~Hadith #13
Actually Being A Blessing To Our Fellow Man
Regardless of religion, we all should be striving to be a blessing to our fellow man. Those of us who have been born into a life of freedom and prosperity have a duty to fight for those things for all mankind. Especially when there is a history of our given faith being the source of their repression. We may not be able to right all the wrongs in the past. But we can struggle every day to heal the wounds those events did create. This goes for our personal lives and in our struggle for human rights.
We aren't perfect. Our religions aren't perfect. We will make mistakes when it comes to how we treat others. Other members of our faith will go well beyond just making mistakes. It is in how we conduct ourselves that we change the image of what it means to be religious and a supporter of human rights. By reaching out to all of mankind and not just with whom our faith is concerned, it is in this that we show the love of which all our faiths speak.
Just as importantly, it is in showing that love and being a blessing to our fellow man that we help the causes that we do hold dear to us. You can no more uphold the rights of one oppressed community when you deny the oppression of another. After all, "love does not dishonor others". It is fair in all things. And it is far from blind. For it is the love our fellow man that convicts us to act in the first place.