Category Archives: Religion

It’s Not Easy Being…

The last six months have been very good for some Americans…especially if you are anti-Semitic.

I will start with a few examples from my home state of Florida, you know, that place where “tolerance comes to die.” During the Georgia/Florida football game in Jacksonville on October 29, the following was projected on the stadium façade. “Kanye is right about the Jews.” One day earlier, an I-10 overpass was covered with banners. “End Jewish Supremacy in America” “Honk if you know it’s the Jews.”

Not to be outdone, two Florida-based neo-Nazi groups–the Goyim Defense League and NatSoc Florida–chose the Daytona 500 as its venue. They left nothing to the imagination, projecting “Hitler was right” on the outside of the grandstands. Where better to pull this off than the self-proclaimed, “Great American Race,” populated by many individuals who assume “great American race” refers to white Evangelicals.

Of course, the GOP leadership–governors and members of Congress–immediately denounced this fire hose of vile hatred. NOT! Just the opposite. After the GOP’s piped piper posted on Truth Social that “Alvin Bragg received in EXCESS OF ONE MILLION DOLLARS” from George Soros (not true), the snakes lined up in formation. Ohio Senator J.D. Vance tweeted Bragg was “bought by George Soros.” And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis described Donald Trump’s indictment as “a manufactured circus by some Soros-DA.” [NOTE: There is no truth to the rumor Disney Studios is planning a reboot of 101 Dalmatians with DeSantis cast as male villian Cruello Deville.] Not to mention Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan and the Eight MAGites, who yesterday starred in a premiere matinee performance of “Bullies on Broadway.”

But that’s not what I came here to talk about. Certainly, I am concerned some deranged zealot might listen to this symphony of dog whistles and bull horns and deface a Jewish Community Center or desecrate a Jewish cemetery. Or worse, emulate Frazier Miller who killed three people outside a Jewish retirement home outside Kansas City in 2014. Or Robert Bowers who murdered 11 members of the Tree of Life Synagogue outside Pittsburgh in 2018 because right-wing media told him George Soros was funding immigrant caravans.

This morning, however, my concern is whether the Jewish community can have an honest discussion, including criticism of policies or actions by Jewish leaders, without adding fuel to the fire. I will start with the most serious case, Benjamin Netanyahu’s failed effort to castrate Israel’s judiciary system. Or his kowtowing to the ultra-Orthodox members of his fragile governing coalition when it comes to settlements on the West Bank or adherence to the Oslo Accords. Does vocal disapproval by Jews of what other Jews say or do feed anti-Semitism? I wonder when I read or hear white supremacists ask, “How can you call me anti-Semitic when some Jews admit their own people are making the world more dangerous?” Again, not true but we know that does not matter. Haters seek refuge in any port in a storm they, themselves, generated.

This next example may seem trivial, but none-the-less significant. While reading yesterday’s Washington Post article how GOP members of the Senate Judiciary opposed a temporary replacement for ailing California Senator Diane Feinstein, I had a visceral reaction. Not directed at Republicans. Instead I wanted to scream, “What is it about old Jewish women that makes them intent on letting the Federalist Society continue to pack the courts with ultra-conservative judges who nullify hard-fought-for rights?” First, it was Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She put longevity on the court ahead of the nation’s best interests. Now Diane Feinstein is holding up confirmation of almost all of President Biden’s judicial nominations.

It is not hard to imagine how different the court might be if Ginsberg had allowed Barack Obama to nominate and a Democratic Senate to confirm her successor. Would Chief Justice Roberts have delivered a less draconian majority opinion in the Dobbs case with support of four moderate and progressive justices? Has Feinstein considered whether the next Republican president would fill vacancies resulting from her absence with more Matthew Kacsmaryks, the Texas district judge who thinks he knows more about women’s health than the FDA and the AMA?

Does this make me anti-Semitic? Misogynist? Agist? All of the above? Or have I become another stereotype, an old Jewish male, sitting on the front porch, constantly annoyed about who is traipsing all over my lawn?

Maybe it is time for the Democratic National Committee to create its own actuarial tables. Not based on factors that determine how long someone will live. But considerations that signal when one of their own risks undermining the very policies and legal precedents they espouse.

For what it’s worth.

A Lack of Faith

Fewer than half the people in England and Wales consider themselves Christian, according to the most recent census — the first time a minority of the population has followed the country’s official religion.

Jill lawless, AP News LONDON, 11/29/22

If you think someone who considers himself a devout agnostic would revel in this report out of Great Britain, you would be correct, but not for the reasons you might expect. I have never been anti-religion. It is simply not my thing. I am, however, strongly anti-theocracy and bristle at the very thought of an “official religion.” Fortunately, in England, official and mandatory are not synonymous, and non-believers are not beaten or imprisoned.

The “lack of faith” in the title of today’s post is not about the decline in British adherence to the Church or any other religion. Instead, it refers to those who feel they need to establish a theocracy. If they truly believed in the goodness and benefits of their respective faith, there would be no need for theocracy. Their countrymen and countrywomen would participate voluntarily. And the response to a decline in followers would not be incarceration, but introspection.

For example, why are former Catholics the fastest growing denomination in the United States? Could it have anything to do with the inability of some priests to keep their hands off young parishioners? Or how many years it took the Vatican to admit there was a problem and make any attempt to rectify it? Or for disaffected Jews, sitting in a synagogue listening to a sermon about “tikkun olam,” healing the world, when the prized front-row pews are occupied by wealthy congregants who finance politicians who deny climate change? Or followers of Islam, being expected to recite daily prayers when young women are beaten to death for not wearing the “appropriate” apparel?

Nothing advances rebellion like compulsory allegiance. Especially when political and religious leaders who promote such fidelity routinely violate the core values of their respective faiths, whether it be the beatitudes, the covenant between God and the Jewish people or the five pillars of Islam.

It is easy to make Iran the poster child for theocracy, although it is more a role model why theocracy does not work. And yet, those on the extreme right of America’s political spectrum condemn the Islamic Republic while, in the same breath, advocate Christian nationalism. And do not, for one minute, think they are in the minority.

An October 2022 Pew Research poll found 60 percent of adults “think the founders originally intended for the U.S. to be a ‘Christian Nation’,” ignoring the establishment clause in the First Amendment, crafted by those very same founding fathers. This is the same “originalist” hypocrisy by which which a Catholic dominated Supreme Court, despite proclaiming to be strict constructionists, has repeatedly chipped away at the principle of separation of church and state.

But, let’s be honest. I do not believe I will be arrested next month if I return someone’s “Merry Christmas” with a “Happy Holidays.” Nor will I take to the streets because some individuals believe I am going to Hell because I have not accepted Jesus as my salvation. I would rather believe a deserved ticket to Hades, if it existed, could not be voided by a deathbed conversion.

I have been in the minority all of my life. First, raised as a conservative Jew and now as an agnostic. Over those seven decades I have been repeatedly exposed to the promises of a Christian life, on billboards, radio, television, in magazines and newspapers, by mail and multiple strangers on my doorstep. And that is their right because in America people, but not the government, have the freedom to try and recruit new disciples. To date, I have not been persuaded, which is my right.

Yet, those who promote Christian nationalism do not accept that choice. They lack the faith that Christianity is so appealing non-believers will eventually see the light. Therefore, they want to force it on us. If that day comes, I too will take to the streets and hold up a blank piece of paper as have my brothers and sisters in Iran.

For what it’s worth.

I’m a Believer (Almost)

Especially in the Fourth Commandment (King James version), “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” No, I was not struck by lightning and thrown from a horse on my way to Damascus. (Acts 9:3-6) Nor was it a death bed conversion. I have too many other sins to enumerate on that date.

It was none other than Ron DeSantis. On the weekend before the election, as has been reported on most media outlets and mocked on every late night talk show, the now re-elected governor of the Sunshine State ran an ad on social media declaring himself to be the “chosen one.” The following voice-over accompanied one after another picture of DeSantis “saving” Floridians from a broad range of manufactured threats such as CRT being taught in elementary schools, banning award winning literature, the dearth of immigrants pouring into his state via the Texas border and non-existent voter fraud (unless you include The Villages).

And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said: ‘I need a protector.’ So God made a fighter.

God said: I need somebody who will take the arrows, stand firm in the face of unrelenting attacks, look a mother in the eyes and tell her that her child will be in school. … So God made a fighter.

While 60 percent of voters responded positively to this parable in the Gospel According to Ron, evidence suggests his Divineness did not share their enthusiasm. Within 24 hours of DeSantis’ victory, God unleashed his fury in the form of a category 1 hurricane upon the east coast of Florida.

Now you true believers (I am of course talking to the Christian nationalists) will argue this was mere coincidence. But Carl Jung would describe it as a synchronistic moment when two seemingly unrelated events occur simultaneously. Jung then suggests we ask ourselves two questions. What is this trying to tell us? And how is it relevant to our lives? I doubt they followed Jung’s advice.

I would call it a miracle. I know, the term “miracle” is reserved for good things. However, you cannot convince me there is not something supernatural about an “act of God,” i.e., a hurricane striking the U.S., more commonly limited to July through October, occuring in November for only the third time going back to 1851. It makes you wonder what those someone elses did to piss off the Lord on the other two occasions.

It is almost enough to make you believe in God. But then again, it is hard to accept a loving, omniscient supreme being who is capable of populating the landscape with the likes of Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

For what it’s worth.

Idle Hands…

Moses should have quit while he was ahead. If only the Torah had consisted of the “two books of Moses” instead of five. And ended with Exodus, a historical account of repression, courage and perseverence. And he delivers the Ten Commandments, the equivalent of the U.S. Constitution. A rather short document which assumes people of good will can figure out the rest.

Although I prefer George Carlin’s distillation of the tablets into Three Commandments.




[Complete Carlin transcript]

But Moses faced an age-old problem. He was the leader of a tribe over which he was losing control, as first evidenced by that golden calf incident at Mount Sinai. To make matters worse, God told him all those people who had been subjected to Pharaoh’s tyranny were incapable of participating in the new order. He had to make them crisscross the desert for 40 years until they all died off (including Moses himself).

Forty years is a lot of time to kill. So, what does Moses do? He decides to expound on the Ten Commandments just in case the Israelites did not get it. If the Ten Commandments was the Constitution, Leviticus is the U.S. Code.

Think of Leviticus as a compilation of responses to unimagined behavior. But it did not end with Leviticus. For example, today in Alaska, it is illegal to wake a hibernating bear for the purpose of taking its picture. Why? Because you know some fool tried exactly that. As comedian Costaki Economoupolous (real name) suggests, the penalty for violating this law? “Death by bear.”

Imagine Moses watching over his flock and each time he observed behavior which seemed out of place he made a note to himself. “You need to tell the people ‘DON’T DO THAT.” Some of them make sense though you would hope unnecessarily.

  • Finding lost property and lying about it. (L6:3)
  • Having sex with your mother. (L18:7)
  • Marrying your wife’s sister while your wife still lives. (L18:18)
  • Cursing the deaf or abusing the blind. (L19:14)
  • Making your daughter prostitute herself. (L19:29)

Some made sense at the time, especially those related to sanitation or proper preparation of food, problems hopefully addressed by the invention of the refrigerator and the USDA.

However, when you have 40 years, there was no telling what people would do to kill a few hours or days.

  • Letting your hair become unkempt. (L10:6)
  • Picking up grapes that have fallen in your vineyard. (L19:10)
  • Mixing fabrics in clothing. (L19:19)
  • Eating fruit from a tree within four years of planting it. (L19:23)
  • Selling land permanently. (L25:23)

It makes one wonder how portions of Leviticus could possibly have been penned contemporaneously. If, as reported, the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the desert, were they ever in one place long enough to grow grapes or fruit trees? Or who would take out a 10-year mortgage to buy land if they knew they would soon move on to the next location?

If this looks or sounds remotely familiar, maybe that is because we have our own restless tribe with its own golden calf (or one with dyed golden hair). Out of power, they are adrift in a political desert with lots of time on their hands. So, they have decided to fill that time by creating their own version Leviticus including:

  • Do not give nourishment to voters in line even if they have to wait hours to enter the polling place.
  • Restrict the right to assemble unless you are a Canadian trucker or headed to DC.
  • Make up non-existent justifications to ban books.
  • Challenge election results whenever you lose.
  • Accuse anyone who supports gay rights of being a pedophile.
  • Claim to be pro-business unless a private corporation disagrees with your bats**t policies.
  • Decry “cancel culture” whiling trying to cram LGBTQ Americans back in the closet.

As you know, I am not a believer but there are valuable lessons to be gleaned from the evolution of religion. Despite my Jewish heritage, I admire the change in tenor between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament (once you get past Exodus) is about power and control. Written approximately 15 centuries later, the New Testament speaks of comfort, mercy, peace and a thirst for righteousness.

Is present-day America capable of a similar enlightenment? I do not have the answer. If it does, I hope it does not take another 1500 years.

For what it’s worth.

In Defense of Secularism


My favorite part of 9/11 (pause) was the Muslim terrorists, when they went to Muslim heaven, which we all know isn’t true.  They can’t be in Muslim heaven because they’re in Christian hell.  Unless they go back and forth, which you can do because they’re both pretend.

~Comedian Dana Gould/”Anything Can Be Funny”

As is so often the case, the theme of today’s post was triggered by the convergence of the following unrelated events.

  • An August 26 New York Times report by Emma Goldberg titled, “The New Chief Chaplain at Harvard?  An Atheist.”
  • Reports, upon the departure of last U.S. military from Harmid Kharzi Airport, of Taliban soldiers shooting their weapons in the air, chanting, “Allah Akbar” (“God is most great.”)

The New Chief Chaplain at Harvard? An Atheist. - The New York TimesI became aware of the Harvard University story when a friend and colleague, who also happens to be an ordained minister, emailed it to me and sought my opinion.  My response, as any regular reader of this blog might suspect, “I find this somewhat refreshing.”  A perspective affirmed as I read Greg Epstein’s justification for his appointment to his new post, one in which he is expected “to coordinate the activities of more than 40 university chaplains, who lead the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious communities on campus.”

There is a rising group of people who no longer identify with any religious tradition but still experience a real need for conversation and support around what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life.

There it was, a focus on universal spirituality rather than membership in any religious movement.  More relevant today than ever.  When the Taliban believe they were commanded by their God to twice rid Afghanistan of foreign invaders.  Or American religious leaders who declare certain candidates for public office are part of God’s plan.  The irony, in this latter instance, being the white evangelical community preferring the least Christian-like option in 2020 over a practicing Catholic who continually draws on his faith.

Please do not take the above as a denunciation of all religion.  If participation in a religious community helps one find the path to spirituality, no argument here.  After all, a religious leader in the Jewish tradition is called “rabbi,” which literally means “teacher.”  But the role of educator and mentor is not reserved for any single denomination.  The same can be true of any priest, pastor, minister or imam.  The question associated with Harvard’s choice of Epstein as chief chaplain is whether he can serve that same function without the trappings of a church, synagogue or mosque.

To answer that question, look at a principle of religious faith which transcends one’s choice of religious affiliation, belief in something greater than oneself.  For many that “something” is belief in a divine presence.  For the atheist or agnostic, that “something” needs to be more tangible.  One’s community.  Human rights.  A mission with an external purpose.  Something other than one’s own well-being or acquiring power.  There is no dearth of available alternatives.

However, as a devout agnostic, my personal spiritual journey must also be one of continuing questioning and discovery.  In that vein, I often find atheists as frustrating as those who are convinced their religious testament–old or new–is the literal word of God.  Especially since so many before them watched (assuming there is an afterlife) their absolute religious tenets become literature (Bulfinch’s Mythology) or their deities displayed as mere works of art relegated to museums.

In Genesis, Abraham is portrayed as the father of monotheism.  As the story goes, he refused to accept the fact an idol, easily destroyed by humans, had divine power.  How is that any different from questioning whether an omnipotent, compassionate God would tolerate genocide, innocent children dying from cancer or a global pandemic?  In 1988, on a flight from Dallas to Honolulu, I sat next to Victor Stenger, a physicist and author of Not By Design: Origins of the Universe.  Stenger, who died in 2014, continued to pursue this theme in later books such as God: The Failed Hypothesis (2007) and God and the Folly of Faith (2012).

Victor Stenger (1935-2014) - Atheism's Arguments Against God? - YouTubeAs Stenger explained to me, the existence of humanity on earth without divine intervention was not only possible, it was mathematically probable considering the infinite number of galaxies, stars and planets.  However, it also explained both the biological and sociological shortcomings of mankind.  The probability of a perfect world with no disease, where everyone gets along with each other, though possible, is exponentially less likely.  As I recall our conversation, I realize why I could never fully embrace his atheist views.  In a universe with so many possibilities, there still remains that slight possibility there is a divine presence that is responsible for creation though not quite the way it is described in the first chapter of the Old Testament.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson admits, “I know HOW the big bang happened.  I just don’t know WHY.”

Maybe this explains Harvard’s counterintuitive choice of Epstein as chief chaplain and why a institution of higher learner is the right place for this “experiment.”  If I were Epstein, I would begin my first conversation with the other religious leaders on campus as follows.

To paraphrase Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the beginning of the second Iraq war, “You go to life with the world you have, not the world you might want or wish to have.”  It is why a university has two roles as it trains generation after generation to address the reality of an imperfect society.  We of the spiritual community can help these adults in training find purpose.  The academics train them to be doctors, scientists, politicians, historians and artists, giving them the tools to eliminate, or at a minimum ameliorate, the negative consequences of the imperfect world in which they were born.

In closing you might wonder if Epstein’s appointment is one more example of elite “woke” liberalism of a university president or board of trustees.  It is not.  Epstein, who has served as humanist chaplain at Harvard since 2005, was the unanimous choice of his peers.  It suggests students who are seeking a different form of spirituality are not the only ones having second thoughts about their religious upbringing and training.

For what it’s worth.