Friday, August 06, 2010

Short Thoughts: Prop 8, The Orthodox Statement on Gays, and Cordoba House

I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like, so I thought I'd throw out some quick thoughts on various current events:

Prop 8 Ruled Unconstitutional

Congratulations to California gays and lesbians, their children, and all who care about them! Congratulations to America for taking another step in the right direction. I wish this issue were over and done so millions of people could move on with their lives, but it's great to watch America continue to overcome the small-mindedness of social conservatives.

Statement of Principles

Some of the Jblogs and various news outlets are praising the Orthodox rabbis who signed a Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community for preaching a message of tolerance and inclusion and patting themselves on the back for being tolerant Orthodox Jews. While I agree it would be far better if Orthodox people followed these principles rather than continuing to shun, mock, and abuse gay people, I don't think you can be genuinely tolerant as long as you support Orthodox Judaism.

What good is it to preach tolerance when you maintain that God himself wrote that men who have sex with men should be killed? When you stand against not only gay sex, but gay marriage and even commitment ceremonies?

It's not enough to send mixed signals. You can't convince your gay son that you fully love and accept him if you also tell him he can never marry or even have sex. You can't convince the bullies that they should stop bullying gay teens into mental illness and suicide when you also teach that God thinks gay sex is an abomination worthy of death. You can't teach your children that gays and lesbians are people to be loved and accepted and also that halakha is a good thing. It just doesn't compute, not at a gut level, no matter how clever your apologetics are.

Looking down the list of signatories, I recognize some of the most liberal Orthodox rabbis in America, people whose natural inclination would be -- if they were not Orthodox -- to recognize and accept gays and lesbians as equals and embrace gay marriage as wholeheartedly as they do straight marriage. But they are Orthodox. And so we get half-measures and mixed signals.

If you're genuinely for tolerance, you cannot continue to support the tenets of Orthodox Judaism. The two are mutually exclusive. Still, something is better than nothing, and I commend the rabbis for going as far as they have to reduce harm. I hope it helps.

Cordoba House

Various Republicans including most famously Sarah Palin but also lesser luminaries like Rudoph Giuliani and demi-Republican Joe Lieberman have been ranting and raving about plans for a Muslim cultural center to be built several blocks from Ground Zero on the grounds that Muslims perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and therefore it's insensitive to allow the center to be built nearby. Or something.

They disgust me. They do not get what makes America great. They're small-minded and hateful and eager to exploit the average American's fear for political gain. They think the difference between America and (e.g.) Afghanistan is that we are (Judeo-) Christian and they are Muslim. It's not. There were Christian countries for centuries that engaged in slaughters much larger than 9/11. What makes America great is not that so many citizens are Christian or Jewish but that in spite of that religiosity, we are a pluralistic and tolerant country.

I have no illusions about Islam. Traditional Islam is without a doubt worse than Orthodox Judaism or any of today's mainstream Christian denominations. Worse for women, worse for gays, worse for nonbelievers, worse for intellectuals, worse even for the pious -- pretty much worse in every way. But it doesn't have to stay that way.

Ancient Judaism was much like modern Islam -- just open the Torah and you'll find exhortations to execute gay people and those who don't keep the Sabbath, condoning of child marriage and slavery and treating women as property -- pretty much everything we rightly revile Islam for today. And yet Judaism changed. The largest denomination of Judaism today allows for and encourages total equality between the sexes, full rights and tolerance for homosexuality, and total engagement with secular scholarship. Even the Orthodox holdouts have long since jettisoned the implementation of most of the Torah's horrible rules and mostly restrict their bigotry to words and social ostracization.

Christianity for centuries engaged in the kind of mass slaughter and forced conversion that the pathetic al-Qaeda could only dream of, and even they reformed. (I'm not speaking of Luther's Reformation -- Luther was probably as bigoted a man as ever existed -- but rather the reformation that occurred as Christians absorbed the secular ideas of modern humanism and modern science. The Catholic Church today can't even convince a majority of American Catholics to oppose legal abortion.)

The Cordoba House, rather than helping the likes of al-Qaeda, is instead part of the solution to al-Qaeda. We can't beat radical Islam by killing people. Every radical we kill has children and siblings and cousins and friends who now hate us more than they did before, if they did hate us before. Every civilian we kill or maim has loved ones who hate us perhaps even more passionately.

But every Muslim we welcome and influence for the better just by our example (not by Palin's or Lieberman's but by everyday Americans') takes a piece of Islam away from the fanatics and turns Islam into a less dangerous ideology. It demonstrates that modernity and Islam can coexist and that you don't have to hate America to be a good Muslim.

But that's not even the point. The point is, this is America. We're supposed to stand for freedom, regardless of religion or ideology. Palin, Giuliani, and Lieberman are a disgrace to the country they so ostentatiously claim to love.