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Dangerous Questions
Written May 27, 2024


When I was an Oberlin College freshman in 1965, I described basketball games on WOBC radio alongside sophomore Paul Lawn (right).  Known as “CR,” Paul was also a sportswriter for the student newspaper.

Nowadays, on the Class of 1968's reunion website we've been reading Message Forum opinions about the Palestinian situation.  More than 50 have been posted during the month of May.

Here are a couple.  The first is from Andy Ward, who left school in 1966.

History is always forcing people into making false choices.

In our parents' generation it was between fascism and communism, and woe betide anyone, like George Orwell, who tried to map out an alternative.

In our generation it seemed to be between pacifism and war.

But the world of nations, theologies, bigotries and greed is too complex for us, at a distance, to conceptualize as pro-this or anti-that.

I condemn Hamas (which is not to say Palestinians) and Netanyahu and his boys (which is not to say Israel nor Jews) for a cycle of injustice and brutality to which only humane statesmanship can bring an end.  But such has been so lacking that it makes me wonder if monotheism is to blame.

That the land Israel occupies has become the nexus for so much conflict may have more to do with the collision among the four great monotheistic religions that were born there, each believing its God is the one and only.

If that seems overly lofty, I apologize.  For what little it's worth, I hope with all my heart that this war will be over and some measure of humanity restored on both sides.

Paul responded:

Thanks for a stimulating discussion reminiscent of those during our undergraduate days.

Here we face much more than a dispute about territory; it is a religious war.  Religious wars have caused more death and destruction than any other single cause except disease.  Who knew that the medieval crusades claimed more than a million lives?

As a Jew I am forced to confront some difficult questions:

What does it mean to be a chosen people?  That other peoples are not chosen?  Or that we Jews have agreed to a special covenant that places upon us certain ethical responsibilities?

When both Jews and Arabs have legitimate historical claims to a region that go back centuries or even millennia, how can we reconcile that both the Hamas and Likud Party organizing charters claim all the land from the river to the sea without continuing an endless religious war that destroys the entire region?

Much as abused children often grow up to be abusers, must oppressed tribes or nationalities turn into oppressors when they gain power?  How do we change that dynamic?

Isn't the concept of a Jewish state a heavy lift when 20% of the country is Arabs?  Can a democracy elevate the rights of one religion within it over another?  Can't one be a good Jew without supporting the concept of a Jewish state?  Judaism survived many generations without one.  Is the present right-wing regime making it safer to be Jewish in Israel or elsewhere?

As a Jew in America, shouldn't I feel uncomfortable about a growing Christian nationalist movement seeking to alter fundamental relationships between church and state?  Or a Supreme Court with a super-majority of Catholics and trained Catholics rendering ahistorical decisions changing those relationships to embrace one form of religious doctrine?

How do we resolve the two sides of three principal religions in the region?  On the one hand, all uphold lofty ethical values.  But on the other hand, all three scriptures — the Pentateuch of the Jews, New Testament of the Christians, and Quran of the Muslims — all were written after the fact of territorial acquisition/adoption.  They were written in part to justify that, and also in part to justify misogynist practices that placed men in power over women.  Each contains potentially contradictory passages demanding great discernment in interpretation and therefore inviting misinterpretation by zealots.

“A most thoughtful series of questions,” commented classmate Rich Zitrin.  And Dan Miller wrote, “Good on you, CR.  As Mafalda once said, ‘That isn't a good question.  It's a dangerous question.’”



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