Op-Ed: Religion: Please Enjoy Responsibly
Earlier this week, I was asked to provide news coverage of a speech by ever-controversial blogger and critic of Islam Pamela Geller at the Chabad of Great Neck, for a Long Island-based newspaper. As you might already know, the original venue (the Great Neck Synagogue) yielded to outside pressure and canceled the event, citing security concerns. In the end, the initial cancellation turned the event into a Second Amendment issue for some, probably bringing in hundreds more people than it otherwise would have. Secular and devout, Jewish and Christian—I think there was even a motorcycle club standing guard! (Politics makes strange bedfellows.)
I've had some time to mull over this whole Geller affair in my mind. When I left the event at Chabad, a single Muslim counter-demonstrator was handing out flyers explaining how Pam Geller is an Islamophobic bigot. Among the points raised by the pamphlet:
"Orthodox Judaism treats women more 'harshly' than Islam. Why does not Geller launch a movement to save Orthodox Jewish women?"
My immediate reaction was to wonder what planet this guy lives on, and exactly what narcotics one would have to consume in order to get there.
“Many more Christian and animist African women suffer female genital mutilation [than Muslim ones]. Why does Geller make no attempt to save them if she's really sincere?”
While I can neither confirm nor dispute this point, it seems to me that attacking Geller for railing against an injustice carried out among one group, when there are others doing the same, is tantamount to saying that someone who donated money to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, but didn't contribute to relief after Hurricane Katrina, is somehow a hypocrite. While both are worthy causes, taking in active role in one but not the other does not invalidate the act of charity.
The pamphlet also contains a diatribe about how the "Old Testament" allegedly contains far more "violent" passages than the Gospels or the Quran. Of course, by that reasoning, one should be all the more astounded by the virtual non-existence of Jewish terrorism.
After tangentially mentioning several flaws of Judaism, the flyer's author claims that people like Geller harm the Jewish faith by "contributing to growth of anti-Semitism in the U.S." Now, call me crazy, but somehow I don't think this guy needed the right-wing Atlas Shrugs blog to inspire his anti-Semitism.
After reading this pamphlet, I had something of an epiphany. You see, religion is a lot like booze. It's not inherently bad. In fact, it's a great thing. When taken in moderation, it's good for the heart, gives us an excuse to celebrate, and can make one's life happier than it would otherwise be. It's also like alcohol in that you shouldn't force it on people who don't want it.
Also, some folks just get completely wasted on the stuff. They take way too much of it, and suddenly they think they're bulletproof and infallible, and superior to everyone else in the room. Some will become belligerent and go around picking fights, not to mention losing their capacity for rational thought while “under the influence.” In the long term, they poison themselves slowly, causing permanent, perhaps irreversible, damage.
So, the Hebrew Bible is rife with references to violence, where the Quran is not? (For the moment, we'll just disregard the Sunna and Hadith which comprise Islam's oral tradition, and the eschatological vision of rocks and trees excitedly telling Muslims: "There's a Jew hiding behind me! Come and kill him!") Yet, as I mentioned before, one doesn't see Jews walking into school buses, hotels, and pizzerias and blowing themselves and everyone around them to bits with C-4 laced with nails and rat poison. Why is that? Could it be that, when it comes to violence in scripture, there's a difference between descriptive and prescriptive?
Or could it just be that the Jews know how to “handle their liquor”? To answer that, I'd point out that only one of the two faiths literally prohibits the use of alcohol.
In light of the above musings, however, I can say with confidence I don't have a problem with Islam as such. I mean, I don't personally hold by it, but the same can be said every religion other than my own. My point is that I see no need for disrespect or name calling. My problem, then, is with Islamist “religoholics.” And that's not to say that one shouldn't make spirituality an important, even central part of their life. That's totally cool. If indeed there is a G-d (and I posit that there is), then cutting Him out of one's life is just plain ungrateful, and ultimately detrimental to one own well-being.
All that I'm saying is, don't make a habit of drinking alone, and don't chug from the bottle.