An intriguing convergence is taking place this month as 9/11 coincides (within a week) of Yom Kippur, the highest of Jewish holy days, and the end of Ramadan, the centerpiece of the Muslim calendar.
The world’s three great monotheistic religions spring from the same source but are perpetually in conflict – never more so than now.
For Christianity, the holiest days are Christmas and Easter, celebrations of birth, then death, then resurrection. For Islam, the month of Ramadan is about fasting and spiritual cleansing. In Judaism, Yom Kippur is called the Day of Atonement, i.e. making amends.
Atonement is an interesting word. Play with it, and it becomes “at-ONE-ment,” which implies that true atonement leads to unity. Clearly, though, the three great religions of the Middle East are not “at one,” even though they share one God.
Currently, the conflict between Christianity and Islam is evident in the victim mindset of a sizable segment of our population, stemming from the 9/11 attack and illustrated by the raw emotion (and multiple misperceptions) unleashed by the Islamic center controversy in Manahattan and the subsequent threats to burn the Koran – among other protests at mosques nationwide.
Many Christian Americans feel Islam is at war with us, thanks to all the suicide bombings of the last three decades. Many Muslim Americans feel Christians have declared war against them. Muslims around the world see the way we’re behaving and believe the worst – that we want to destroy their culture. Our latest hysterics likely confirm those suspicions. The fact that so many Americans seem to believe President Obama is some sort of secret Muslim agent hell-bent on the destruction of this country further encourages such conspiracy theories.
We seem determined to make Al Qaida’s job easier by handing terrorists a compelling recruiting narrative. If we really wanted to prove Osama bin Laden wrong, we would go out of our way to support that Islamic center near Ground Zero.
The longstanding conflict between Islam and Judaism, meanwhile, is symbolized by the perpetual futility of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The U.S. is making yet another attempt to revive that process, hoping for a conclusion both sides can live with. But attempting to broker the deal puts the mostly Christian U.S. in the middle, aggravating conflicts with both Jews and Muslims. Whose side, after all, are we on?
And whose side is God on?
My guess is God is on the side of at-ONE-ment. Christians, Muslims and Jews have much to atone for. Christians have a long history of persecuting Jews and a surprising amount of virulent anti-Semitism still thrives in this country. Israel, on the other hand, is acting like an oppressor despite the fact that Jews themselves were victims of oppression for centuries in Europe and elsewhere.
Supporters of Israel justify their strong-arm approach on the basis of Palestinian (and Muslim) threats and aggression, but there seems to be plenty of injustice to go around in the Mideast. It’s hard to take sides.
And taking sides, of course, is at the heart of this three-way conflict. Muslims think they’re the victims, Jews believe they are the victims, and Christians say 9/11 proves we’re the real victims. The tendency toward fundamentalist extremism in all three faiths is, to say the least, alarming.
Everyone insists the other guys need to atone, but no one seems to be doing much soul-searching – which is what, I’m told, the Day of Atonement is supposed to be about.
So this Friday, I propose we expand Yom Kippur and launch an annual international, interfaith Day of Atonement. Ministers, rabbis and imams could meet for a day and make amends for the intolerance and indecency spawned by each religion. Then the true spirit of each faith should be celebrated, emphasizing their common source and reaffirming our common humanity.
I suggest they meet at Ground Zero because that’s where all of us seem to be stuck.