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When The Most “Religious” Align with the Least Moral: A Tale of Two Nations

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This piece is appearing as an op/ed in newspapers in my very red congressional district (VA-06).

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Why is it that often it is the very people who most explicitly declare themselves to be “religious” align themselves with the least righteous political powers.

Before we talk about America, consider Israel—the Jewish state, where the Jews who are most “religious” back Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition.

The acquisition of the lands won by Israel in their great victory of 1967 posed Israelis with a serious moral challenge: how would they deal with a whole people who had come under their power, who regard them as enemies, and in whose fate they are inevitably bound together?

What would be the way to deal with that situation most in accord with Jewish teachings? Here’s what the great rabbi Hillel declared:

“What is hateful unto you do not do unto others. That is the whole of the Torah. The rest is commentary.”

Yet the most religious parts of the Israeli electorate support a political force — led now by Netanyahu – that deals with the Palestinians in a manner that those religious Jews would find intensely hateful unto them if the shoes between Israelis and Palestinians were on the other feet.

(Even if the claim were true, as many Israelis would say, that the Palestinians offer no way now to make a “just and lasting peace,” what is telling is this: the right-wing coalition shows no interest whatever in moving toward an eventual mutually agreeable future in which the conflicts between the peoples are resolved in a reasonable and fair way.)

So on the vital Palestinian question, if Hillel is right about what is the heart of what the Torah requires of a good Jew, then the side these religious Jews are supporting represents the side of evil.

So why would the most religious Jews be supporting the wrong side in the battle between good and evil?

Another basic teaching of Judaism is Tikkun olam, which commends the life-mission of “repairing (or healing) the world.”

Surely, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is one important part of the world that badly needs repair. How much better it would be if the Israelis and Palestinians could heal their enmity.

But the political force supported by the haredi (the very orthodox Israeli Jews) takes the approach that is almost entirely one of imposing one’s will, which assures that the wounds will not be healed but will fester, further damage the world.

In what way is the Netanyahu coalition “Jewish”?

The picture is much the same in the United States.

In the United States, the battle between good and evil in the United States does not revolve around how to deal with a conquered people, but rather around different issues, such as:

  • how to deal with immigrants,
  • whether black lives matter,
  • whether to give more money to the rich and greedy,
  • whether to help or oppress the weaker members of society

On all those issues, the right-wing political force takes positions that are contrary to the basic moral teachings of Christianity — the nation’s majority religion. But that political force is nonetheless supported by most of those evangelical Christians who are the loudest in expressing how very Christian they are.

I have written here several times of this contradiction:

  • How can the followers of “blessed are the merciful” give approval to the leader whose policy strips children from their parents, while violating American law to provide sanctuary to those who might face death at home?
  • Do onto others as you would have them do unto you? Yet these self-declared Christians support a political party that — when it wins elections — acts like it has a mandate to not give the other side anything, and — when they lose elections — does everything it can (as lately in Wisconsin and Michigan) to take away the powers that the people just gave to their opponents.
  • Jesus answers the question, “Who is this ‘neighbor’ whom you are telling me to love?” with the story of the Good Samaritan. The choice of the Samaritan makes the point that your “neighbor” is not just about people like oneself: Samaritans were a group held in bigoted contempt by the community to whom Jesus speaks. Yet those in America most loudly claiming themselves Christian support a President who falsely labels brown-skinned immigrants “rapists,” a President whom the white supremacists regard as one of them.

In what way is the Trump Party “Christian”?

All of which leaves this puzzle: Why is it that in both countries –the United States and Israel — it is those who are most strongly claiming their deep commitment to their religions who give their power to a force that is so clearly in violation of those religions’ central moral teachings?