Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Children of previous and current generations have imagined a world that John Lennon envisioned in his song “Imagine”: No heaven or hell, no national boundaries, no religion, no desire for possessions.  The message of his visionary words and lilting melody is that eliminating the primal, distinguishing desires of humanity will yield a more peaceful world.

Perhaps it was quite natural, then, that in the wake of the IS terrorist attacks of the last few weeks, residents of Paris used John Lennon’s song as a prayer, a paean that longs for a world with no religiously-inspired violence, meaning no religion.  In makeshift shrines and informal gathering places around the city, Parisians offered Lennon’s tune and words, swaying and praying for a better future.

John Lennon was correct in one aspect: As religious believers become radicalized, they come forth with hubris, threats, and eventually lethal violence against non-believers to achieve their distorted visions.  Sadly, you can find these ideas among the philosophies of some of our religious texts, which the radicals deform and misrepresent.

And further, sadly, each of the three Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism – these are the ones with which I am most familiar – can ‘boast’ its radical fringe of adherents and activists.  Fanatics who claim faithful Abraham and Sarah as their ancestral parents have used those holy scriptures to justify xenophobia, usurpation of territory, and destructive violence.

One solution would be to flee from religion altogether, as in Lennon’s vision.  Taking no risk means receiving no potential bad results.  In this view, eliminating religion means taking away motivation for aggrandizement and radicalization.

But we must not throw the baby out with the baptismal font.  Let us examine and NOT overlook the core human values of these religions' ideas.  Each one contains seeds of peace and love and humanity which can be sown and nurtured in the soil of the mind and heart.  Let us not blindly and completely abandon the wisdom of ages.

Rather, let us discover, in each faith, the statement that directs us to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’.  Let us direct our kavannah (Hebrew for ‘intention’ or ‘devotion’) toward the preservation of life and the potential of progress for humanity.  When we can accomplish these difficult but important tasks, we will have prevailed over the radicals.  Not only that, we will have actually moved closer to John Lennon’s vision of a world “as one.”

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