Religion is so complicated!
By birth, I am a Jew. Both my mom and dad are Jewish, as are both of their parents (and so on and so on). When I was a young child (about 7), my parents became Christians. For a number of years, we were part of a church in the St Petersburg area (it was associated with the Church of G-d). A few years after this, we became what is called “Messianic” Jews. Messianic Jews believe that Jesus (Yeshua) is the Messiah of the Jews. They celebrate Christianity, but with the Jewish aspect of the original Christians (who of course were all Jews as well). Jewish holidays were celebrated, as well as Christmas and Easter. My mom and dad are still involved with Messianic Judaism, however I am not.
So why am I telling you this? Because “Religion” (yes, with a capital R) is an important part of our identity (whether we participate in it formally or not). Both of my parents became ordained Messianic Rabbis, so my brother and I were raised in an extremely religious way (our upbringing was similar to that of a fundamental Christian). I am intimately familiar with the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament. I am familiar with many streams of both Christian and Jewish thought. Where this has left me is very confused.
I mentioned that religion is an important part of our identity. Though I am no longer practicing any kind of organized religion (and have very little tolerance for it), my religious upbringing is still a part of me. Both Christianity and Judaism are monotheistic religions. They also both share a trait common with many other religious credos – the belief that their way is the one true and correct way. Christianity tends to take this to more of an extreme, though, with their belief that anyone that does not believe in Jesus Christ is doomed to eternity in hell.
Here’s where my problem comes in. A lot of these teachings were drilled into me growing up. And now, even though I no longer believe that way, I still find myself hesitating. For example, I love Asian statues, particularly Buddhas. But Buddha is a “false god” according to my upbringing. The same would apply to Ganesh and other Asian deities. So in the back of my head, I still get a little uneasy when I look at these statues.
Halloween is another example. I was taught that it is a celebration of evil spirits and Satan, and therefore should not be observed. To this day I still have trouble participating in Halloween festivities.
I wish that I could just shed all of this baggage, but it is not that easy. Even though I do not attend services of any kind, I still strongly identify as a Jew, and that still has meaning to me. But I just cannot fall in line with any belief that has at its center the idea that our way is right, your way is wrong and will lead to eternal damnation. How can that possibly be? What kind of a G-d is that?
I think the kind of fundamental Christianity that we see so much of today in the United States is the religion that I have the most trouble with. There has been an ongoing debate for some time now on whether same sex couples should be given the right to marry. Opposition to same sex marriage is almost completely on a religious basis. The Bible says….. But what does the Bible really say? I am not going to get into that discussion here, because I think it would be a waste of time. But what I do find interesting is the ability of modern Christians to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to follow, forget the rest, and maintain that they follow the Bible completely. The same book that is used as the basis for not allowing same sex marriage also talks about the animal sacrifices that are required on a regular basis. It prescribes “eye for an eye” justice for things such as stealing, lying and adultery. It instructs women to be outside the town for 7 days during their period of uncleanness.
I see it as all or nothing. If you say you believe and follow the Bible, it has to be the whole thing. If you do not follow every part of it, then you may as well not follow any of it – it becomes a free for all with each person deciding what to include and what to exclude.
I would love to hear from anyone that reads this post about their own experiences with religion.
At the present time, the US is fighting two major wars; one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. The rationale for both wars is pretty widely known. Afghanistan is where al-Qaeda and bin Laden trained the terrorists that took part in the 9/11 attacks. Iraq was supposedly a hot bed of al-Qaeda training as well (though this was proven to be false, with al-Qaeda not coming to Iraq until well after our invasion). It was also supposedly sitting on a store of weapons of mass destruction (also proven to be false).
This past June, the nature of our involvement in Iraq changed to such an extent that you could almost say that we are really not fighting a war there anymore. American troops left all Iraqi cities and turned over the security of these cities to the Iraqi armed forced and police.
Afghanistan is a very different story. When we first went into Afghanistan, we quickly made substantial progress towards removing the Taliban from power. 8 years later, however, the Taliban is back in control of the majority of the country. How is this possible? One of the reasons, in my opinion, is that once again, we went into the conflict without enough troops. We like to believe that war has changed and that it is run more or less like a video game, with superior air power overriding the need for troops on the ground. I think Iraq, to some extent, and Afghanistan, to a much greater extent, prove that this is just not the case. Afghanistan’s hills and mountains are full of deep caves that are virtually impenetrable from the air. So no matter what we throw at them, it is not going to work.
The real problem, again in my opinion, is that we want to fight these “limited wars.” Sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan is just not sufficient. I feel that if we are willing to go to war, we should be ready and willing to use ANY AND ALL tools at your disposal. If we are not willing to do that, we should not go to war. Now believe me, I am not in any way condoning war. I don’t think we should have ever gone into Iraq and I am not sure that we should have even gone into Afghanistan. The real enemy is not any particular country. It is an ideology that seeks to destroy America and all other Western powers and impose a theocratic government based on warped interpretations of Islam and the Koran. That makes it hard to pin down and even harder to defeat. Every time we cut off a head, another one grows somewhere else.
I think that it is high time we end our involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan completely. We need to bring all of our troops home and stop wasting our resources in these areas. We should not be involved in nation building. We should be worrying about fixing our problems at home.
I recently heard a statistic: the poverty level in the US has risen to 13.2%. That’s 1 out of every 8 people. That, to me, is heart breaking. We have spent $1 trillion dollars in Iraq and Lord knows how much in Afghanistan while people at home are barely able to feed themselves. I am not saying that we should go into protectionist mode, but I still think our primary responsibility should be to our own citizens. Then after that, we can worry about problems overseas.