I know we Jews are taught tolerance, etc., but I’m curious about something. As you’ve probably heard, your friend Dave Ramsey signs off his radio show with “…there’s ultimately only one way to financial peace, and that’s to walk daily with the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus.”
If I’m interpreting Dave correctly, he seems to be saying that the right way to live—in fact the only way—is as an Evangelical Christian. I’d be very interested in hearing about how you were able to forge a friendship with him, despite his position.
I know we can like someone without liking everything he does or says, but given your differences in religion and how fundamental faith is to each of you, hearing how you deal with this might help me in my own life.
Thanks very much!
You are asking a very important question whose answer is fundamental to how people of all religions live peacefully together in the United States. Interestingly enough, it is in today’s non-religious and even aggressively secular environment of the universities and schools of academia that free speech and ideological latitude are sternly repressed. By contrast, religiously committed Jews and Christians find themselves increasingly allied in facing common concerns. This peaceful co-existence among people of different beliefs has been fundamental to America’s success and is today increasingly under assault by hard left groups as well as by many Moslems and others under the camouflage of “political correctness” .
We’re going to make a guess that, like most Jews, you are fully aware of religious persecution that the Jewish people have endured over millennia. You are most likely well versed in the Roman conquest of Israel, our expulsion from England in 1290, the tortures inflicted on Jewish communities during the Crusades, our expulsion from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms in Russia, and the more recent oppression and eventual expulsions of entire Jewish communities from many Moslem countries. These are just some instances of Jewish suffering over the ages because of our people’s refusal to betray its Jewish faith.
However, we would also guess that, like most Jews, you are far less aware of the European death toll during years persecution of Catholics by Protestants and Protestants by Catholics, of Huguenots being forced from their homes, of executions of Quakers in colonial America, of the persecution of the Latter Day Saint community in the 1800s in America and of continuing Christian persecution in some Moslem countries today. We deplore the myopia of those who focus on the deaths of victims of religious battles while ignoring the vastly higher death toll of societies grounded in atheistic belief including that of the French Revolution, and Socialist and Communist societies. Such people will mistakenly conclude that religion must lead to bloodshed.
In reality, strong belief in anything, be it a god or an “ism,” can lead to bloodshed unless there is a stronger belief that places a premium on the sanctity of human life and in freedom of belief. Despite pitfalls in the American experience, including those mentioned above, America has, for the most part, excelled in elevating freedom of religion as an ideal while at the same time recognizing that Judeo-Christian values in general underpinned American civilization. That crucial balance that has provided Jews their most tranquil and prosperous home in the past 2,000 years is now in peril as today’s dominant religion of secular fundamentalism demands obeisance and subservience by both Christianity and Judaism.
We do question your opening statement that Jews are taught tolerance. Our faith actually demands that we be highly intolerant of much behavior, including some of that which is commonplace in society today. What you might mean is that Jewish theology does not insist that Heaven or God’s favor is reserved exclusively for Jews. However, neither do we insist that all people must have similar theologies.
That was a long introduction to our answer. We are privileged to count many passionate Christians among our close friends and we daresay they cherish our relationship as much as we do. We have been honored to share meaningful time with great men like the late Zig Ziglar, Jerry Falwell, and Chuck Colson and to participate in important and heavily Christian-directed experiences such as the National Day of Prayer. This means that we have sat respectfully as friends bless their meal in the name of Jesus and have received many faith-themed Christmas letters. We have also been honored by our many Christian friends who have joined us for religious events such as Shabbat meals, our son’s bar-mitzvah and our daughters’ weddings.
Among those Christian friends are some whose beliefs state that our refusal to accept Jesus prevents us from ever entering heaven. (We don’t begin to know the theological variations among our friends’ denominations just as they would have trouble differentiating between Jewish denominations.) Their believing that we are precluded from heaven in no way hurts us.
Similarly, there were periods when the Catholic church had both ecclesiastical and political authority in Europe and under that regime, certain Jewish texts were censored. Sentences that offended Catholics were removed and often books were burned. That does not happen in America. Our Christian friends never demand that we renounce passages that might contradict their theology.
We do not need to understand or accept each other’s beliefs in order to understand or accept each other. We know that our lives can be enhanced by people who may believe differently from us.
We should all feel knowledgeably secure in our own convictions so that contradictory ideas do not threaten our faith. We need to share an ability to respect the statements and ideas of other people without demanding that they become exactly like us. To circle back to your example of our friend, Dave Ramsey, we respect his strong faith and thank God to be living in a country with a history and heritage that has him befriending and hiring people of all different religious backgrounds and cultures without needing to alter his beliefs in the slightest. Our respect for his beliefs and his respect for ours, is what allows us to meet in harmony and on equal footing as Americans and as human beings.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin