Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Freedom Formula; how to repay G-d for what was more than enough

"All who are hungry - come and eat. All who are needy - come and join the Pesach celebration."

There are different kinds of hunger. The text here refers to physical hunger and a need for food and water for sustenance, I referred to this yesterday. In my opinion, the most interesting and special things about Judaism is our idea of tzedakah. The word tzedakah is used to mean charity but it means righteousness; our understanding of righteousness and the dictates of our religion makes them more of a distributive justice, which lies at the heart of all mitzvot. We have what we have by the grace of G-d, but we do not own it. We have not only responsiblities to ourselves and our families, but to others (including strangers):
Genesis 18: 18-19 "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just*, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him." * tzedakah u-mishpat (right & just)
Mishpat means retributive justice. The statement in the Haggadah also enjoins those who are needy (those who are aware they are lacking something) to join in our Passover celebration. This is a call to all of those lacking freedom, as well as to those of us already at the table: as long as people are enslaved or oppressed we are reminded there is work to be done on their behalf (as G-d interceded on ours).
Passover is a celebration of freedom that enjoins us to remember the hardship and bitterness that can come from being enslaved and the fight for that freedom. This is the reason the
4 questions (Dr. Seuss version) are at the heart of our seder.

The inaccurately named fundagelical event "Justice Sunday" is scheduled for today. The irony of the title of the event is only second to its timing on the first day of a celebration of freedom. According to the letter Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, wrote to encourage involvement in the event [emphasis added]:

"We now have a President who is committed to nominate judicial candidates who are not activists, but strict constructionists -- judges who will simply interpret the Constitution as it was written. We now have a majority in the U.S. Senate that will confirm these nominees. However, there is a radical minority that has launched an unprecedented filibuster against these outstanding men and women.
According to the President, the prime example of a judge who fits the description is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. According to Scalia, the frist amendment of the US consititution (the one that gurantees freedom of religion) is neutral on denomination not religion - this is his literal reading of the 1st Amendment, which states [emphasis added]:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The amendment does not say ". . .no law respecting establishment of a religion. . ." To go on to make statements that he believes the words say we are a Christian country (or can be one) provided we don't further one specific denomination of Christianity over another is not only interpretting the amendment, it's mis-interpretting it (and doing so to further a specific agenda, otherwise known as judicial activism).
"Many of these nominees to the all-important appellate court level are being blocked, not because they haven't paid their taxes or because they have used drugs or because they have criminal records or for any other reason that would disqualify them from public service; rather, they are being blocked because they are people of faith and moral conviction. These are people whose only offense is to say that abortion is wrong or that marriage should be between one man and one woman."
They are people with a goal of not just maintaining their own faith, but of using their position in the bench to impose their personal beliefs by reinterpreting laws specifically for this purpose. President Bush has had more judges confirmed in his first term than his father, Reagan or Clinton. He had the luxury of filling all of Clinton's nominees that were obstructed by Repbulicans plus newly created seats. All of the judges under contention were initially nominated (and re-nominated multiple times) during that period. Among those nominees Perkins refers to above is Priscilla Owen, who has been shot down multiple times not because she's a Sunday School Teacher but because she engages in judicial activism to the point that Alberto Gonalez complained she intentionally disregards the law to fit with her extreme right-wing agenda, something he called an "unconscionable act of judicial activism." She has been accused on multiple occasions of trying to re-write standing laws from the bench.

The goal of the Fundagelical movement and their pet Senators (DeLay, Frist & Santorum) is to not only turn this country into a Totalitarian Christo-theocracy but to do so in a subversive manner because they realize that in order to do so legally, they'd need to re-write the US Constitution (and even moderate to moderately Conservative Republicans) will not support that agenda. They wish to pull the wool over the eyes of unsuspecting Christians by claiming that anyone that is not in agreement with strict Orthodox Christian Scripture is anti-religion or is trying to destroy Christianity. Their platform is that the US is and has always been a Christian Nation and that activists judges have reinterpretted the Consititution to say otherwise. John Adams, the 2nd President of the US explicitly stated otherwise in the Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli [emphasis added]: "The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries" (the article was removed after the treaty was broken in 1801 and the treaty renegotiated in 1805).

What the fundagelical movement wants to do, in the name of G-d and religion no less, is to have the government legislate based on their particular religious beliefs. Abiding by the doctrine and dogma of their own religion is not enough, they seek to ensure everyone else does so as well (they can't force us to believe as they do, so they insult our religions to try to force us to live by their religious dictates). This is the antithesis of the central ideas on which our nation was founded. The Puritans came to escape a liberal religious environment when they wanted the right to be punitive, many more came to escape a punitive religious environment (what the Puritans considered liberal, the rest considered punitive). Granted, the Puritans weren't too happy when folks could escape their punishment and find acceptance elsewhere; these modern day Puritans (fundagelicals) are pretty much the same, except they fully intend to do what the originals could not: make every one else fully accountable to their religious dictates. This is completely unacceptable and it's not only the atheists and secular people who are fighting back.

One does not have to be a supporter of Conservative, Orthodox Christian dogma to be a person of faith and good moral convictions. Religious people from different religions and denominations around the country are organizing to fight and speaking out against the hijacking of religion. Religious leaders are decrying the unholiest mix of religion and politics.

Declarations of faith and actual faith are neither mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive. Faith for show is hypocrisy. A show of faith is made in how you live your life, how you seek redemption and make restitution, how misphat and tzedakah are part of your life and how you go about achieving justice.

Two years ago, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center suggested 8 flourishes for Passover and a link to a seder supplement for economic rights from Rabbis for Human Rights. By honoring these traditions during our observance of Pesach and, as applicable, in our daily lives we have a formula to engender freedom.

We sing Dayenu at the Seder because each of the gifts G-d bestowed upon us would have been enough individually. Each additional gift reminds us of His generosity and grace. Anything G-d does for us is enough and we owe it to Him and the world to show our appreciation by doing for others as He has done by us. We can sing Dayenu to Him but must not think we can stop helping others when there is more to be done; we owe no less than to merit to conduct additional feasts of freedom in the future.

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