And [on account of] their saying: “We killed the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Messenger of God.” They did not kill him and they did not crucify him, but it was made to seem so to them. Those who argue about him are in doubt about it. They have no real knowledge of it, just conjecture. But they certainly did not kill him. God raised him to Himself. God is Almighty, All-Wise. (Quran, Surat An-Nisa’, 4:157-158)
Jesus is a symbol that pre-dates Christianity. He is the man who stood up for the truth and no one could kill him because even in his alleged death, his message prevailed. And that message was clearly reasonable. Those who are killed for speaking the truth are never dead. They are the very soul of mankind.
There is a problem within the anti-war movement, which is that the most radical peace activists are so aggressively hostile to the thing in life which gives the majority of humans on the planet a sense of peace. Obviously, if my personal focus in life is to strive upon a path of purification of my worship, and the other person views me for this reason on some level as a stupid idiot or mentally ill, we do not have an equal relationship. If I am politely avoiding saying “Praise the Lord!” in your presence and never mentioning my personal relationship with Jesus so as not to upset you, but you feel like it’s ok to disrespect God, or to devalue someone’s Faith, we don’t have an equal relationship. Our “peace movement” is stuck in a rut.
I personally cannot claim to be part of a Muslim, Christian or Jewish tradition-based community. My faith has never been group-oriented but rather came as a result of personal meditations on various readings of the sages as well as the direct experience of life and its karmic lessons. What I am more interested in is to study what the books say. I like to approach the Bible and the Quran as meditational literature. Whether you believe in religion or not, theological texts are the collective property of mankind and as such are worthy of being studied, in order to understand the foundation of reason (or sometimes lack thereof) upon which our human society is based. I am inspired by the anti-Zionist church movements, where folks are switching to home-based worship and dropping out of the Zionist churches. I am inspired by Moses, who told his followers to transform their homes into temples, to repudiate the tyranny of the Pharaoh.
I want to promote non-denominational, intellectual analysis and light-hearted brainstorming about the similarities and differences between the way the Bible and the Quran approach various concepts and legendary stories. For example, we could look at the story of Noah’s Ark in both books and see how they compare, and search for the theological and historical reasons for the differences. Joachim can fill us in on the Aramaic and Greek Biblical originals and a little bit of Arabic. We could also look at different English translations of the same verse. It would not be necessary for a person to be religious at all to enjoy such a discussion. I am envisioning a very non-demanding “liberal arts” approach. This Quran-Bible discussion idea has nothing to do with trying to get anyone to become religious or more religious. Many Americans do not actually know what the scriptures say. Or some are very familiar with the book of their tradition but not at all aware of the intellectual connection with the other books. Yet, the spiritual Path has many basic features for all religions.
I envision some kind of local and neighborhood oriented revolution. There are many people from diverse ethnic backgrounds who live on my street that go to church. The problem with the dominance of the Ashkenazi ethnic group on the “progressive politics” scene is that there is a very dogmatic forced conformity which demands that people put their religion aside or else they will be reviled by the group. It is very much similar to the level of forced conformity in the orthodox religious Jewish community. It is simply an ethnic trait that has been adopted by the entire peace movement, which I believe is destructive because at least 80% of Americans believe in God. So that is a big part of why I think the peace movement up to now has been a self-defeating political movement. We need to acquire a language that we can use to connect with people who are very different from ourselves.
Most of all, we need to train our minds to get beyond ourselves in order to let go of what we know and let our deeper unconscious give us the solutions to our problems both personal and global. Clearly, what we consciously know right now is not adequate to run this planet smoothly. But I believe that humans have the answers within our DNA.
We have to create wisdom. We have to create it out of ignorance. That leap is a miracle.
Most of the peace organizations are co-opted. Dorchester People for Peace for example accepted grants for the sake of enmeshing Black youth in Save Darfur through “Project Hip Hop” -funded if you look into it essentially by US tax dollars recycled through the Jewish community.
So that was why I was wondering if it might be a good idea to start a regular kind of neighborhood Quran-Bible study as an alternative to “progressive politics” and maybe change/unite hearts and minds of the community that way. We need to have some reason to meet regularly that is not stressful, where we can meditate on ideas. Individual opinions about the meaning of religion to oneself and family is really totally irrelevant to attending a Bible and Quran as Literature class or study group. My idea has to do with engaging with people on a civilizational level, including expanding outreach to build anti-war sentiment.
Maybe only a certain “class” of people want to discuss “the Classics,” or to meditate on the core questions of existence while drinking tea. This is traditionally what Palestinians do for fun too, you know, when they are not being besieged.
In High School I took a very interesting Bible as Literature class from a Jewish atheist lesbian teacher. She made it really amusing and interesting. I also benefited from Presbyterian Sunday School, which used the philosophical, self-exploratory, psychological validation approach to the texts. People who have never read the Bible lose out on benefiting from the entire history of western civilization.
My main reason for wanting to have an academic sort of theological discussion about religious texts is precisely so that those people who engage in the anti-religion/anti-Gentile polemic won’t come, so that new potential leaders and organizers, letter-writers and shleppers for the movement, fresh blood, can come in. There are so many people who have been marginalized by the peace movement because they can’t open their mouths without having to deal with all this intense, blind, secular fundamentalist dogma. So what I’m looking for is an emotionally safe environment free of anti-God hostility, where the Meek can speak quietly.
There are ways to align your mind with the forces of the universe to maximize your effectiveness and joy in life. My Zen teacher referred to these methods as “spiritual practice.” The disciplining of the mind to polish the mirror of the heart through meditation on eternal questions is just like raking leaves. It can be done with or without religious belief.