This piece ran as a newspaper op/ed in late September, 2023.
For the most part, religions can be seen as efforts by human beings to achieve meaning and value in their individual and social lives.
But the religious realm is not immune to that Force of Brokenness that’s continually working to degrade the human world.
And lately, such a destructive force has risen in power in the three world religions with the most adherents — Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Likewise also in Judaism—a religion that is considered “major,” despite its small numbers, because of its historical role in being the root of Christianity and Islam.
Judaism in Israel
In the case of Judaism, Israel — the world’s only “Jewish state” – is now governed by a faction that includes the supposedly “ultra-religious,” but whose spirit is the direct opposite of what was famously declared to be the essence of the Jewish religion.
As articulated a couple of centuries B.C. by Rabbi Hillel, the essence of Judaism is “That which is hateful to yourself, do not do to others.”
But that principle is being systematically violated by those Jews of Israel declaring themselves the “most” Jewish:
- treating the Palestinians in ways they themselves would find utterly hateful; and
- and jamming a “judicial overhaul” down the throats of the Israeli majority who find that power-grab hateful.
While Hillel’s rule is a recipe for a much better human world, this Jewish form of fascism, by contrast, threatens to
- tear Israel apart,
- poison the relationship with the “others” with whom they are compelled to share a piece of this planet, and
- make the Jewish state more vulnerable to destruction by its enemies.
How did Judaism in Israel become home to such a fascist spirit? How might Hillel’s better spirit play a more powerful role?
Christianity in the United States
In America, ever since the rise of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority,” the most vocal – and most politically powerful – representatives of Christianity have been aligned with forces whose conduct has grown increasingly at odds with Christianity’s moral teachings.
Lately, the most visible representatives of “Christianity” on the American political stage have been those “Evangelical Christians” who have been a substantial part of Donald Trump’s base– an alliance epitomized by the recent strong embrace between Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University.
Today’s most visible American Christians – like the “ultra-religious” Jews in today’s governing coalition in Israel – give their support to a political party that acts in direct contradiction of their religion’s basic moral messages: “Peace on Earth,” “Goodwill Toward Men,” and Jesus’s “Golden Rule.”
Instead of Peace, that Party insists on making every issue – even a deadly pandemic! — something to fight over. Instead of Goodwill Toward Men, that Party demonizes others and targets them with their hatred. Antagonism is the Party’s one consistent position.
Recent reports from Christian pastors show quite dramatically how this part of American Christianity is being pulled toward its opposite: some of their “Christian” congregants repudiate the Sermon on the Mount, explicitly rejecting Jesus’s teachings as “weak.”
How did that spirit gain so much foothold in American Christianity?
Islam’s Most Visible Manifestations in the World
Americans don’t need reminders of how Islam, in these times, has likewise been taken over by ugly and destructive elements.
Islam has been represented on the world stage largely by fascistic actors like the Taliban oppressing Afghanistan, the Islamic State (ISIS) that bringing horrors to the world as they sought to establish their Caliphate, and the 9/11 terrorists who brought down the World Trade Centers in 2001. Not to mention the tyrannical fascistic regime of the Ayatollahs in Iran.
Some religious Muslims declare that their destructive co-religionists are betraying the true principles of their religion. But, nonetheless, it is the Spirit of these fascists and terrorists that largely represents Islam as a force in the human world.
Hinduism in India
At the center of the moral teachings of Hinduism is the requirement for compassion. But the Hindu nationalist government now in control of India is described by one Indian commentator as an “avenging” nation, “bulldozing Muslim properties without due process.” Adding the lament, “We now appear to be ruled by gangsters fitted out as Hindu godmen.”
Hinduism also values Truthfulness. But like other fascistic regimes, the Hindu nationalist government headed by Narendra Modi is warring on the truth.
Modi’s regime is enforcing propaganda on the nation’s educational system. The young are to be taught a false picture that feeds the assertion of Hinduism, such as removing from the curriculum some basics of modern science (rejected as something from the West) in favor of teaching that the important ideas were all contained in the ancient Hindu texts.
And meanwhile, like other fascist regimes we have seen, Modi’s regime has also used its powers to imprison – and even perhaps to assassinate on foreign territory – its critics and rivals.
The fact that this same pattern is visible in so many religions, suggests that it is not the religions themselves that are the root of the problem.
It seems, rather, that a kind of global force – of Fascism – has arisen, and used religion – at the core of people’s lives, that taps into people’s passions – to advance its power.
Why has that force become so powerful in our times, that it can even take over religions that are basically anti-fascist in their spirit?
(And how can these religions be recaptured by their better spirits?)