18 November 2001

Lessons from Dogs

In 1990 I wrote in Obscenity and Peace that

We are now living in the "post-Communist" era, whose shape is only beginning to be delineated. Regional or "tribal" conflict rather than peace seems to be at hand, as proliferant nations attempt to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

A decade later, things are worse than I had anticipated. Our technologies are becoming so powerful that a clever band of psychopaths can inflict mass destruction without warning on any society they please, in order to gain some advantage or notoriety for their tribal conflict. And our media are so pervasive that they can find an audience sufficient to hijack an entire religion as they murder in the name of their idolatrous misrepresentation of God.

On September 11, 2001, a band of terrorists who fancied themselves to be Muslims hijacked four passenger airliners and deliberately crashed two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and one into the Pentagon. The terrorists crashed the fourth plane into the ground rather than let the passengers (who by this time had discovered their intent) overpower them. In all, some 7000 non-combatant people of all nations and creeds were brutally murdered. It was a brave act, in that the perpetrators lost their lives doing it. It was a cowardly act, in that they struck soft, unresisting targets by surprise. But mostly it was obscene, evil, and blasphemous.

The responses available to us as the injured nation-state are limited. We are attempting to make our society more difficult to attack, and, we are attempting to eliminate this particular threat — organized global terrorism. But we are also attempting to make peace with the population from whom this particular band of terrorists, the al-Quaeda network, extracted support and safe haven. In other words, we are empowering the powerless, enfranchising the disenfranchised, and destroying (because they cannot be deterred) the wilfully destructive. Our ultimate effectiveness will depend upon whether we can help establish a genuinely Islamic, genuinely democratic, and genuinely pluralistic government to replace the Taliban in Afganistan.

We are implacably against those who are implacably against us, yet we are generous toward those who are willing to reason with us. It is simple, but not simple enough for a distressingly large number of Americans, some of whom are in positions of political power. For instance, the Chancellor of New York City public schools, Harold Levy, has decreed (in violation of the US Constitution) that each NYC school must set aside a room for Muslim children to pray in during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan ("Schools OK Ramadan Prayers," New York Post; Nov 15, 2001).

Let's replay the action: (1) Terrorists kill 7000 people in New York in the name of their brand of Islam. (2) New York Schools set aside places for Islamic students to pray. Might I add: (3) Hardline Islamic terrorist sympathizers declare a major victory has been won against America, the bastion of secularizers and Crusaders.

Anyone who is capable of training a dog knows what Mr. Levy has done wrong. Never give your dog a treat when it bites you. The dog will take that as a reward, and bite you again. You must assert dominance over your dog by doing whatever is necessary to force it to the ground and onto its back. The dog will understand that biting you results only in reinforcement of its inferior status to you, and will give up trying to challenge you by biting. If asserting higher status than your dog goes against your ideal of your relationship to your pet, then you shouldn't own a dog. Your lack of common sense, fortitude and responsibility will teach almost any dog you own to become viscious.

Since I believe we humans are all like little blind Chihuahuas, making noise in God's general direction, the parallel is obvious. When terrorists attack, don't abrogate your own laws in favor of the religion they play as a team sport. You make war on the terrorists, and you make sure all people of all religions have the same rights, protections, and priveleges in this pluralistic society. Period.

But there is another thing we can learn from dog ownership in terms of making peace with those who are willing to be reasonable. I remember walking my dog, Samwise, along a street near my home, when he suddenly stopped and left his third poop. I had taken a bag for his usual one poop, and a spare for a possible second, but was unprepared for this third, which was, to be frank, a real steamer. There was nothing for it but to head for home to get resupplied. At that moment, a car swerved up to the sidewalk, and the driver began to berate me for not cleaning up after my dog. The driver was getting angrier and angrier, and so was I. Then I thought to myself, "How would I react to this if I were actually a Christian?"

I smiled at the driver, and asked, "Would you like me to go home, get a plastic bag, and pick this up?"

The driver was flabbergasted. He could only smile back and say, "Well, yes, I would." Grace had struck. The conflict was over.

"That's what I'll do." When I got back with the bag, the driver was gone.

The driver, even though he was venting his anger with irresponsible dog owners at me, was nevertheless a reasonable human being, trying to deal with me concerning values we both shared. He was not a terrorist fed up with dog poop who would kill anyone who walks a dog.

The driver you talk to. The terrorist you confine or kill. If you can't tell the difference, don't vote or run for public office. You'll just teach terrorists to become more viscious.

16 November 2001

Thinwa against Paranoid Conspiracy Theory Fundamentalism

In the Name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, greetings to all people of good will.

There are among us Fundamentalists who believe, as a matter of Religion, in various Paranoid Conspiracy Theories, by which they permit and impel themselves to commit acts of gross violence against those who would do them no harm. They do this because they perceive that their way of experiencing the world is under attack by an aggressive and inexorable modernization of human material circumstances, and with it human sensibilities and desires. But rather than non-violently reject or confront modernization, they attribute it to some group of people they can identify, isolate, demonize, and brutalize. They usually start by fighting their co-religionists (as those who endanger their pure faith by sympathizing with modern notions) in order to establish for themselves a unique group-identity. Then they reach out to attack those whom they consider to be the source or driving force of the bad (modernizing) influences. At various times and in various cultures they have attacked Jews, Women's Rights Activists, Abortionists, Americans and others.

I, a nobody, on no authority whatsoever, declare this Paranoid Conspiracy Theory brand of Fundamentalism to be anathema, a poison infecting the lifeblood of true religion, and its adherents to be enemies of that which is holy. I call upon all people of good will and good faith to say unto them, "Piss off!" and "Get a Life!" and all such manner of expression as may seem appropriate. Let all Paranoid Conspiracy Theory Fundmentalists (henceforth PCTFs — pronounced "pucktuffs", which is f__ed up pronounced backwards) be laughed to scorn in all venues in which they dare to air or act on their delusions. May their gatherings become objects of intense study by social psychologists. Let them be parodied, joked about, and cartooned without mercy. Let them be embarassed into dealing more constructively with the world.

Let them eat Prozac.

I have spoken this thinwa, which cannot be undone.

(See Bin Laden's fatwa.)

Religious Non-Entity Calls for Yeehah!

Paradise, Ky (AP - Oct 25, 2001) In a rare appearance, the Blind Chihuahua, the world's most unrecognised religious non-entity, came out of occultation to call for yeehah (comic conflict) against the worlds' dictatorships. "Large parts of the world are still under the control of clowns who think being an S.O.B. gives them the right to rule. These wannabes can take it from the real thing — being an S.O.B., which I proudly am, gives you nothing more than the right to pee on a tree," he said, standing atop glowing clouds, while the sun shone out his anus.

Sources close to the Blind Chihuahua revealed that yeehah derives from the pleasure-whoop originally uttered by Lutherans of New Braunfels, Texas, whenever they were having a really good time. Now is the time for all good people to chide dictators, apologists for dictators, supporters of dictators, and even the families and pets of dictators, in a humorous manner, they claim.

"Dictators instigate most of the world's warfare," elaborated the Blind Chihuahua. "They either start wars themselves, or simply sit on people so hard that their only chance to participate in any kind of political process is by throwing stones and doing suicide bombings in displaced rage against someone else." The Blind Chihuahua then urged his cult of followers, none of whom were to be found, to take up ridicule and sarcasm against the true foes of world peace.

"Take Saddam Hussein," continued the Blind Chihuahua. "He and his stooges claim that sanctions against Iraq for continuing to develop biological and other nasty weapons are starving the Iraqi people. But the amount of trade Iraq is now conducting under the UN's Oil for Food program is equal to the amount it was conducting before the Gulf War. To them I say, 'Liar, liar, pants on fire!'"

In a related development, the Pooper Scooper, the Blind Chihuahua's webmaster and self-appointed spokesperson for the Blind Chihuahua during his periods of occultation, issued a thinwa (opposite of a fatwa) against Fundamentalists who indulge themselves in Paranoid Conspiracy Theories. "By concocting false conspiracy theories about how their one true way of believing is about to be annihilated by somebody else, these people emotionally masturbate themselves out of anxiety/depression into violent rage," claimed the Pooper Scooper. "They go from being the 'God's fearful faithful' to the 'devil's deadly dick-heads,' as it were."

When asked to respond to the Pooper Scooper's thinwa, the Blind Chihuahua responded, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain..."

Violent Fundamentalists of various religions declined to comment for this story, preferring instead to assault reporters with knives, guns, burning torches, box cutters and other ritual weapons. The world's Dictators all claimed to be too busy to respond to charges leveled by imaginary creatures and fictitious web personae.

08 November 2001

To US Military Members and Families

I pursued my enemies and overtook them; and did not turn back until they were consumed.
I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet.
For you girded me with strength for the battle; you made my assailants sink under me.
You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. — Psalm 18:37-40

If you are called to this service, your duty is to fight, kill, and, if need be, to die for the rest of us, or to support with your untiring effort those who do. Your work is hallowed in so far as the cause for which you fight is just, and in so far as you use no more force than necessary to subdue our enemies. You serve well if you fight not to destroy what you hate, but to defend what you love.

Let us here acknowledge that those who espouse pacifism do so with the expectation of living full lives only because you protect them with your willingness to make war. May a great and grateful nation welcome you home, or if your fate is beyond this world, may it always remember you. And may it take good care of those of you return with injuries.

May the rest of us take care not to squander the peace that you now buy with your courage and hard work. And may these words be a comfort and inspiration to you and your family.


As far as we know, the first sacred literature were the Vedas (Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda), which consist of hymns to the various gods of the Hindu pantheon (which has uncountably many). The philosophy implied in the Vedas (ca. 4000 — 1500 B.C.) was made explicit in the Upanishads (600 - 300 B.C.). Overlapping and following the period of the Upahishads came the great narrative epic poems. These are the Ramayan, which tells of the adventures of the great hero Ram and his wife Sita (and ascribed to the poet Valmiki), and the Mahabharata (ascribed to the poet and sage Vyasa), which tells of the great hero Arjuna, and the great civil war in which he fought. The sixth book of the Mahabharata is the famous Bhagavad Gita, or Song of the Lord, which tells of the philosophic conversation between Arjuna and the god Krishna, who during his incarnation was Arjuna's chariot driver.

The gods, and indeed everyone and everything, are manifestations of a single divine principle called Brahman. The principal manifestations are three: Brahma - the Creator, Krishna (aka Vishnu) - the Sustainer, and Shiva - the Destroyer (who is also associated with eroticism). The manifesting and unmanifesting of Brahman creates and destroys the entire Universe in an endless series of long cycles. Thus what appears to be progress is illusory — it is but the change associated with this particular cycle.

In addition to this, Hinduism posits that every sentient being in the Universe is reincarnated countless times, until it attains Enlightenment and returns to the eternal Brahman, thus exiting the cycle of Birth and Death. Bad deeds negatively affect one's karma, leading to a less auspicious rebirth, and decreasing one's chance of becoming Enlightened in this lifetime and the next one (or even several).

This Hindu conception of Time is distinct from that of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which implicitly hold that time is linear - that the Universe had a beginning and will have an end, and that one's actions take place in the context of an overall Divine Plan for the Universe. This leads to morality as a heightened concern on the part of monotheistic religions for conformity to what is perceived as God's Will, as distinct from Hinduism and Buddhism, which are concerned with morality as providing a shorter path to escape the suffering associated with the cycle of being reborn, living, dying, and being reborn again. An interesting parallel with Christianity is that Hindus believe Krishna became incarnated as a man for a single human lifetime (although Krishna's mortal life lasted 125 years, ending when he was shot accidentally by a hunter).

Hinduism is the progenitor of Buddhism, which is a simplification of Hinduism from uncountably many manifestations of Brahman to no god at all. That is to say, since you yourself are a manifestation of Brahman, and since Enlightenment is realizing your one-ness with Brahman, it facilitates Enlightenment to eschew conceptualizing Brahman as distinct from oneself, and vice versa.
Jainism is a sect of Hinduism that emphasizes non-violence, which leads many of its followers to take up professions that do no violence to any living or non-living thing, such as being a lawyer like that most famous Jain, Mahatma Mohandas K. Ghandi.

One of the bits of negative cultural baggage to which popular Hinduism in some parts of India still clings is the caste system, which classifies people as
  • Brahmins (the priests and academics)
  • Kshatriyas (rulers, military)
  • Vaishyas (farmers, landlords, and merchants)
  • Sudras (peasants, servants, and workers in non-polluting jobs), and
  • and Dalits (Untouchables) who do labor that is considered polluting to one's body or soul.
India has officially disbanded the caste system and has enacted a number of anti-discrimination measures to ameliorate the situation of the Dalits, but more work needs to be done.

Hinduism has produced a system of medicine called Ayurveda, which arose from observation and anecdotal information, without benefit of statistically controlled trials, a germ-theory of disease, internal anatomy or surgery. What is remarkable about Ayurveda is the extent to which some of it works, despite these limitations. Finally, Hinduism in India has led to a rich musical tradition, in which a musical performance is a guided meditation of the audience by the performers. The Hindu varieties of meditation are called Yoga, and some of them involve various bodily movements and postures, because we are an integrated body-mind — the movement of one affects the movement of the other.

Hinduism has enjoyed a reputation of being tolerant of other religions, but has proved itself capable of being as violently intolerant and xenophobic as any other religion when it is politicized.

Hinduism Links

Hinduism, including links to online scriptures
Wikipedia article on Krishna
Resources for the Study of East Asian Language and Thought


The sacred literature of Buddhism is both immense and non-essential. It consists of written accounts of Sutras (sermons) spoken by the most recent Buddha, who was born in ancient India as prince Siddhartha, and by others of his disciples and enlightened followers. But none of these is essential for Enlightenment, the unmediated experience of Reality as It Is. Since you are part of Reality, this includes the experience of your real self, as distinct from your personality, which is your own creation. Thus, Enlightenment can occur in a sudden flash, without any prior conscious preparation, or after years of meditative discipline, or after meditating on the Sutras, or any combination of the foregoing. Because the Enlightenment experience of Reality transcends dualistic distinctions between self and other, or between anything and anything else, there is no personification of God in Buddhism. (In other words, there is no God in Buddhism, because you're It. So is everyone else.) Buddhists do revere the Buddha, because such reverence evokes emotional states that are conducive to Enlightenment, and because those who are Enlightened are grateful to Buddha for having pointed the Way.

That said, Buddhism has divided into many traditions. Zen Buddhism, which began in China, but later became popular with Japan's samurai warriors, emphasizes sudden Enlightenment, and uses riddles called koans to awaken and develop Enlightenment in Zen students. Tibetan Buddhism produced the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is a set of instructions to be spoken to a person immediately before, during, and after death, which tell how to achieve Enlightenment in the bardo state between lives, or, failing that, to achieve an optimal rebirth. According to these instructions, a person's spirit commonly swoons into unconsciousness for three days following death, after which it awakens and imagines a body for itself — a curious parallel with the Christian account of the Resurrection of Christ after three days, and with the Christian notion of bodily resurrection in general.

Buddhism's atheistic conception of Divinity is distinct from, but not in opposition to, the Hinduism from which Buddhism arose. Hinduism's infinity of gods are all emanations from a single Divine Principle, as is everything else, including you. Thus, ultimately, you are that Principle, as is everything else. However, there are many traditions within Hinduism, honoring various deities as ends-in-themselves, which leads to religious conflict with peoples of other traditions.

Buddhism Links

VCBC's Favorite Zen Sayings
Buddhism in Ottawa
Tricycle Buddhist Review
Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors. See also Popular Zen Stories.
The famous "Ten Oxherding Pictures" and commentary describing the stages of enlightenment.
Resources for the Study of East Asian Language and Thought


The Earth is but one country, and Humankind is its citizenry...
These words of Mirza Husayn-'Ali-i-Nuri (1817-1892), known to Baha'is as the Baha'u'llah (Glory of God) summarize the thrust of the Baha'i faith toward the unity of all humankind. He was preceded by his mentor, Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad (1819-1850), who declared himself to be the Bab (Gate) after a Shi'ite Muslim concept, on May 23, 1844 in Shiraz, Persia (now Iran). The Baha'is consider this event to be the founding of their religion, which is as different from its origins in Islam as Islam is from its orgins in Judaism and Christiantity.

In 1866, after years of persecution (both the Bab and the Baha'u'llah were imprisoned, and the Bab was executed in 1850), the Baha'u'llah declared himself to be the new Messenger of God for this age, whose coming had been predicted by the Bab. He left the world a large number of writings, including The Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book), and the Kitáb-i-Íqán (The Book of Certitude) as major theological works, and the Hidden Words and the Seven Valleys as mystical treatises. He died under imprisonment in Akka in what was then the Ottoman Empire, but is now Israel. The Baha'u'llah left a will which made his eldest son, Abbas Effendi, also known as Abdu'l Baha (Servant of Baha) the next leader of the Baha'i faith. He eventually passed leadership to his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi.

After him, leadership has passed to the Universal House of Justice, currently located in Israel.
Baha'i worship takes place in the homes of individual Baha'is or rented quarters. There are seven Baha'i temples in the world (one for each continent). Baha'is believe that the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other religions are sacred, and that the Prophets sent by God for each Age include Adam, Krishna, Buddha, Y'shua of Nazareth (Jesus), Muhammad, the Bab and the Baha'u'llah. Baha'is do not have clergy.

The Baha'is
Baha'i Faith on Wikipedia
Baha'i Faith in the US
About.com: Baha'i


In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful...
These words begin 113 of the 114 surahs of the Qur'an, the Book of the words revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Qur'an's beauty and severity shine through even English renderings.

While the Qur'an is the heart of Islam, much can be learned from Muhammad's extra-Qur'anic utterances and deeds, preserved for us in the Sunnah, of which his sayings are called the Hadith.
Still more is revealed in the Salah, the Islamic way of prayer, which involves the whole person, body and soul, in reverence to the Creator, five times per day, with special observances for Islamic Holidays.

In the Qur'an it is twice written (2:62, 5:69):
Surely, those who believe, the Jews, the Christians, the converts; all those who believe in God and in the Hereafter, and do righteousness, will receive their recompense from their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
Surely, we can all get along.

But, reading between the lines of the Qur'an we see that while Jews and Christians initially supported the Prophet because he was teaching monotheism, they felt betrayed when they realized that his teachings diverged from theirs. When two Arab-Jewish tribes who had previously pledged their support to the prophet fought against him at a critical battle in Medina, the Prophet considered them to have committed treason, and he had the men of those tribes executed. This incident has since been considered by Muslims to be an example of the treachery of Jews, and by Jews to be an example of the brutality of Muslims. Thus the seeds of misunderstanding were sown.

This misunderstanding is amplified by those Jews, Christians, and Muslims who have become what the Qur'an calls People of the Book, those who use the narrowest interpretations of their respective Scriptures to justify making enemies of one another.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all claim to worship the one true God of Abraham. Let us take those claims at face value, and respect each other as brothers and sisters proceeding along parallel paths to our Lord. We could in principle even briefly pray together.

This is not to ignore our differences. Muslims do not observe Jewish Law and ritual, nor do Muslims and Jews accept the Divinity of Christ (nor his death on the Cross and subsequent Resurrection). And neither Jews nor Christians accept the authority of the Prophet and the Qur'an. But Muslims observe Islamic Law and ritual, and honor the Hebrew Prophets, among whom Muslims count Jesus. Our differences are not so great that God cannot overcome them. Let us remember that Islam's Prophet was the first to say so.

The central narrative of Islam is the story of the first Muslim community, from the first revelation received by the Prophet until his death. The community underwent periods of violent struggle for its very existence, until it finally triumphed over its enemies. The Qur'anic revelations during the periods of struggle naturally dealt with war, and have led many to develop a warlike understanding of Islam, an understanding that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional in a world in which weapons of mass destruction are becoming increasingly available.

Islam has divided into two major movements, Sunni, and Shi'i originating in a dispute as to who should succeed the Prophet as leader of the Islamic world. Minor movements include the Amahadis, the Nation of Islam in America, and the Druse. A new universalist religion, Baha'i, emerged from the Shi'ite Islam practiced in Iran during the 1800's. A blasphemous perversion of Islam is believed by certain terrorists and the regimes and sects (like the Wahhabis) that support them — they transgress the rules of engagement prescribed for jihad, the sacred struggle.

Sufism is the mystical or esoteric tradition in Islam. Islam's esoteric tradition began with with the teachings of the Prophet and his Companions (Abu Bakr, Ali, Salman al-Farsi and Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas, may Allah be pleased with them). In this tradition there are three levels: Islam (submission to God's Will), Iman (faith), and Ihsan (perfection). Muslims strive to journey through these stages until they experience the Beatific Vision of God. Tassawuf is the discipline of achieving Ihsan, and one who achieves it is called a Sufi (Saint).

Islam is not so much a religion of orthodoxy (right belief) as of orthopraxy (right action). To become a good Muslim, one need only recite the profession of faith (shahada — "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his last Prophet."), keep up prayer (salat — five times a day, facing toward Mecca), give alms to the poor (zakat), fast (sawm) during daylight for the month of Ramadan, and make the pilgrimmage (hajj) to Mecca at least once during one's lifetime if one is able. This last, the hajj, has been a transformative experience for Muslims, including Malcom X, who shed his racism in Mecca. Muslims believe in God, the Qur'an (and therefore in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and Prophets mentioned in it), fate and destiny, the unseen realm and the day of Judgement, and the angels. Many Muslims also believe in the jinn (singular jinni, also written genie), because they are mentioned in the Qur'an.

Islamic Links:

Al-Qur'an al Kareem: English Translation and Arabic Text
Blogging the Qur'an: a serious reader's companion.
Searchable Hadith
IslamiCity in Cyberspace
Masud Ahmed Khan bills itself as a resource on traditional Islam.
About.com: Islam
Faith, Practice, and Law in Sunni and Shi'i Islam
Finding the Law: Islamic Law (Sharia)
A Shi'ite Encyclopedia
Lila Forest suggests the International Sufi Order and a Cherag's library.
Q-News, the Muslim Magazine of Britain
Islamicfinder helps you find all things Islamic, including mosques near you
Ijtihad: a Return to Enlightenment
al-Tafsir: the most comprehensive resource for Qur'anic study on the internet


The Kingdom of God is at Hand.

This was the Good News (Gospel) proclaimed by an itinerant Jewish teacher (rabbi) and faith-healer called Yesu (a Galilean short form of Yehoshua) bar Yosef (Jesus son of Joseph) from the hick town of Nazareth in the Roman province of Judea (formerly the southern Kingdom of Judah), in what is now Israel. Jesus was regarded by his Jewish followers as the Meshiach (Messiah). They expected him to liberate Judea from the brutal Roman Occupation. During the Passover of approximately the year 30 of the Common Era, the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, had Jesus scourged and crucified (executed by being hung from a cross) for the crime of sedition against the authority of the Roman Empire. Three days later, Jesus began appearing to many of his followers alive, in the flesh as the Risen Christ. This event, the Resurrection, galvanized his followers to proclaim what they had witnessed by teaching and preaching throughout first Judea, and then the world.

The most effective of these preachers was a Pharisee named Saul (Greek name Paul). Paul undertook as his special mission to bring Christianity to the Goyim (Gentiles) throughout the Roman Empire. The letters (epistles) he wrote to the churches he founded form the earliest documents of the Christian faith. Others wrote epistles as well, and these were read at clandestine gatherings of Christians until some of the original eyewitnesses of the Resurrection (Apostles) among Yesu's closest students (disciples) began to die. At this point, disciples of the Apostles wrote what we now call Gospels, which were various versions of the life and sayings of Jesus.

Some 300 years later, the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of the Empire. This completed the transformation of Christianity from a variant of Judaism to distinct and exclusively Gentile religion. During this process, much of Jewish liturgy (especially the use of Hebrew) and ritual (especially rituals for worship at home) were discarded or simplified in order to make the religion palatable to a Roman pagan sensibility. Constantine's Council of Nicaea fixed (for the most part) the present form of the Christian Bible, which includes a rearrangement of the Hebrew Bible called the Old Testament, followed by the New Testament, which consists of the four canonical Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Epistles of Paul and other writers, and the Revelation to John.

Christianity has split into Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) traditions, and Protestantism has further fragmented into Lutheran, Anglican, Calvinist, Presbyterian, Baptist and other flavors, all with slightly different theological emphases, liturgical (worship) practices, organizational structures (or lack thereof) and social traditions. Christians understand that these schisms (and church politics generally) are manifestations of the present flawed Human Condition, which they attribute to Original Sin (an innate tendency to use our God-given Free Will to disobey God's Will). All of these branches adhere to some version of the Christian Calendar. A new, North American variant of Christianity is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormon Church.

The central message of Christianity is the Incarnation of God as Jesus, his death by Crucifixion, and his Resurrection to new life. Christians believe that this event sequence establishes a new covenant between God and all of Humanity, by which we humans receive Forgiveness of our Sins so that we, too, will be Resurrected to a glorious new life with God, after we die to this Universe. In response to this Good News, Christians are expected to spread the message of Christianity through thought (prayer, study), word (teaching, preaching) and deed (right living, obedience to God's Commandments, ministry, charity).

While there are strains of exclusivity in Christianity, including a poisonous anti-Semitism which set the stage for the Holocaust (Shoah) of the Jews during World War II, as well as a poisonous antipathy toward Islam which set the stage for the Crusades in the Late Middle Ages, there are also strong movements within Christianity to reach out to adherents of these religions, as well as to Buddhists and indeed, to all Humanity. Christianity contains several opposing traditions, such as Just War theory (a temporal ruler may be under a positive moral obligation to make war to defend his or her people) and pacifism (there is never any justification for violence).

Christianity has shaped most of the history, philosophy (political and moral), and legal tradition of Western Civilization (including idea of the sanctity of individual Human Rights). The current fashion on the part of Western intellectual elites to abandon Christianity therefore risks cutting off Western Civiization from the powerful mythic basis (in the Joseph Campbell sense) of its identity and reason to exist. That is to say, if these elites cut off the past, they may lose the way forward as well.

For more on Christianity, check out the links below.

The Christian Church as a Whole
The Roman Catholic Church
The Eastern Orthodox Church
Protestant and Other Churches


Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
Thus spoke Moses (Judaism's most important prophet) to semitic warrior nomads and former Egyptian slaves in the 13th century B.C., as he exhorted them to follow precepts that would give rise to Judaism — the world's first instance of ethical monotheism. Emphasing progress, individuality and freedom, Judaism became one of the chief the cornerstones of Western and now world civilization. Judaism is the progenitor of Christianity and Islam, both of which are enriched when they look to their roots in the more ancient faith.

The sacred literature of Judaism begins with the TaNaKh (the Hebrew Bible), which contains the Torah (Law), the Nevi'im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (Writings), arranged in roughly historical order to take the reader from the beginning of the Universe to the end of the Age of Prophecy in ancient Israel. (The Old Testament contains the same material, but rearranged by Christian editors to convey a sense of prophecy leading up to the event of God's Incarnation in Jesus Christ.)

After the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and its priests in 71 A.D., a group called the Tannaim (rabbis who had been spared by the Romans in hope they could help pacify the Jews) produced the Mishna, a compilation of Biblical and Halakhic (legal) interpretation which would govern Jewish living and worship. After the Mishna, one could be a good Jew without having to make an annual pilgimmage to sacrifice animals at the Temple in Jerusalem. Over the next few centuries, rabbis in Palestine and Babylon wrote the Talmud, which contained extensive commentaries on the Mishna in the form of debates spanning both geography and time. To this are added various collections of Midrash, which are commentaries on the Torah concerning matters of Law. What emerged from this process was rabbinic Judaism, a made-for-diaspora religion in which only a teacher (rabbi) and a few books were needed to pass on the learning and tradition of the faith to the members of the community, all of whom could lead the community in worship. The Jewish legal/moral tradition is continued in many great works, the Mishneh Torah by Moses Maimonides and the Shulhan Arukh by Joseph Caro, among them. For more details see Talmud & Midrash. Central to the observance of Jewish Law is the observance of the Holidays of the Jewish Calendar.

There are strong spiritual and mystical traditions within Judaism, most particularly the tradition of teachings known as Kabbalah. The roots of present day Kabbalah are found in the Zohar.

Judaism has since split into three principal movements since the haskala (Jewish Enlightenment) of the 18th and 19th centuries: Reform Jews do not acknowledge the authority of the Talmud, while Conservative Jews consult it. Orthodox Jews (of whom there are several varieties) observe its precepts as literally as possible and seek to establish Halakha (Jewish Religious Law) in place of current secular law in Israel, just as Islamic Fundamentalists seek to establish Shariah (Islamic Religious Law) in Muslim countries.

Jewish worship consists of daily prayer and ritual in the home for both men and women, and communal worship at a synagogue on Shabbat (Sabbath, observed on Saturdays) and High Holidays. There are also special holiday prayers and rituals for the home. Jewish liturgy is written in several types of prayer-book: a Siddur for home prayer and Shabbat worship, a Mahzor for High Holidays (like Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement), and a Haggadah for the seder (Passover — which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt) service held in the home. Various versions of prayer books have been written for these observances according to one's preferred style of Judaism. For a quick introduction to Jewish observance, holidays, literature, and the state of Israel, see Herman Wouk's, This is my God.

The central narrative of Judaism is the story of the Israelites, from God's promise to Abraham and Sarah that their descendants would inherit Canaan and be God's Chosen People, to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the beginning of the dissolution of the Southern Kingdom (Judah). The central story within that narrative is the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt: Moses challenges the Pharoah (Rameses II?) and leads his people out of Egypt to the border of the Promised Land. In a dramatic encounter with God at Mt. Sinai, witnessed by all the people, Moses receives the first Ten Commandments of the Law, which establishes both a code of behavior and a covenant between God and the nation of Israel. This is a story of liberation combined with one of responsibility: the Israelites are freed, but their freedom is not arbitrary. They are freed to become People of God.

Judaism Links:

About.com: Judaism
HADASSAH - because my grandmother said so.
Jewishnet - Global Jewish Information Network
Online Jewish Library
Maven - The Portal Directory to the Jewish World
Virtual Jerusalem - another Jewish Portal
National Museum of American Jewish History
Nizkor: A Holocaust Rememberance
Navigating the Bible II: Online Bat/Bar Mitzvah Tutor
Torah.org — online study of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament)
Where was God in the Holocaust? — A RealAudio Sermon by Rabbi Dr. N. Cardozo, hosted by 613.org
Chabad.org - Chabad Lubavitscher Hasidic Judaism for the Internet Age.
A Jewish Catechism

07 November 2001

Statement of Belief

I believe that the members of the VCBC believe all kinds of different things.
I believe that what I believe is not nearly as important for you as what you believe.
I believe that what I believe is not ultimately important even for me, because I refuse to commit the idolatry of worshipping my own opinions (some of which must be wrong, because I am human).

I believe the following, common to most faith traditions:
Organized religion tames the idea of God (or Ultimate Reality) to support its existence and to affirm its cultural milieu. This is a leading cause of atheism.
God is one. Truth is one. We are one. We need love, honesty, and faith to get ourselves together. Since all truth is God's Truth, any honest method of inquiry, pursued faithfully, with loving regard for the subject, will point toward God. This includes science, which can serve to correct our idolatrous beliefs.
Being human means being on our own, free to become ourselves without reference to God. To enable this, God makes the universe work according to rational principles, which means that God does not fix things when they don't work out the way we want.
We think we are human beings who occasionally have spiritual experiences, but we are really spiritual beings who are here to have human experiences. When we think we are the only spiritual beings in our world we deceive ourselves.
The spirit of God creates, sustains, pervades, participates in, and transcends, everything.
I believe the following, specific to Christianity:
God, for love of us, became an ordinary person — Jesus — to be with us as one of us. People just like us — which means that we are just like them — killed him because he did not conform to their beliefs about God.
Belief is an act of embracing opinions, which becomes idolatry when our opinions about God become more important to us than our relationship with God (i.e., when we crucify Christ).
Jesus arose from death — an act by which God not only forgives us for being like his murderers, but promises to bring us into a new relationship with God beyond our present lives. This act is powerful enough to redeem the entire universe.
I further believe that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are different ways to worship the same God, see below.
I believe that because the moral teachings of the world's major religions are summarized in passages like these (from the Bible):
"And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
"Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thine heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength... Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
we need to quit fighting over the details of what we believe.