Recently, I sent you a note regarding your misplaced love for the Islamic religion. In your last column, however, you conveniently missed another chance to lambaste this religion of hate and terror. Are you on the payroll of some Arabic organization?
- S., via e-mail
Thank you for your letter, you ignorant bigot. I don't lambaste Islam because I believe it is a great religion, a religion of peace, discipline, charity and submission to Allah, who is God.
I also believe that a part of Islam in our time has been hijacked by a group of terrorist thugs who claim to speak for a great religion.
They do not. They merely speak for their own bloodlust and bigotry, which, tragically, mirror your own. This is a tough time for Muslims.
Let me remind you that had I been writing about Christianity during the Crusades or the Inquisition, or when Oliver Cromwell was murdering Irish Catholics in the 17th century, I would also have prayed for true Christians to stand up and purify the ugly, murderous perversions of their faith. Every religious tradition has tough times and glorious times, and every faith produces both saints and sinners.
What I pray for all of us to remember is that God is not finished with us. I pray that we can take a broader view of religions we don't understand and distrust.
Shame on you for blaming an entire religion for the sins of the few. May God soften your heart and bring you a spirit of repentance. I also pray that true Muslims might have the courage to reclaim their wise and ancient faith from those who are merely using it to kill what they can't understand.
I have some concerns about Christianity and some other religions. First, I reject the concept of original sin. Second, it follows that the shedding of Jesus' blood was not necessary to expiate that fictitious sin. Third, I believe that any blood sacrifice is basically an egregious carry-over from paganism and that no loving God would condone it. What do you think?
- D. via e-mail
Judaism also rejects the notion of original sin, so I understand your difficulty. However, as a sympathetic admirer of Christianity, let me tell you what I appreciate in this religious belief. The difference between the concept of original sin and what we might call "regular" sin is not as great as you might think.
Original sin is the sin of Adam, which by extension stains all succeeding generations until it is cleansed by the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus.
Regular sins are those each of us commit in the course of daily life. The problem is that whether sin is original or regular, it remains a fixture in our lives and we need to find a way to expiate that sin. The belief in the power of Jesus' atoning death helps Christians feel the close and intimate love of God in their struggles to overcome sin.
The blood sacrifice of Jesus was not intended to glorify blood sacrifice but to replace blood sacrifice forever by making his the last such sacrifice and by transubstantiating it into the Eucharist.
Judaism does the same thing by transforming the animal sacrifices of the ancient Temple into the prayers in the prayer book.
There is something to be said for the concept of original sin, or primal sin, even for non-Christians. It's too simple and naive to think of sin as just an occasional mistake. Sin is a constant snare, an ever-present failure of each of us to live up to our highest potential as loving human beings made in the image of God.
"The inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth," we read in Genesis (8:21). Every serious attempt to deal with sin must recognize that it's a constant threat to our spiritual existence and that we need help in admitting, atoning for and recovering from the consequences of our broken souls.
Based on your closing comment in a recent column on pets ("Unless you're prepared for a 10- to 15-year commitment to a dog or cat, don't get one! Stick to goldfish.") I'll assume you're unaware that a goldfish, if properly cared for, can live as long as, if not longer, than a dog or cat - 20 years or more. Having had a goldfish that lived 11 years, and having owned other pets, I would instead suggest hamsters, guppies or inexpensive tropical fish, whose natural life spans are in the 2- to 5-year range.
- J., via e-mail
My deepest apologies to all my goldfish-loving readers. Sadly, most of my goldfish died prematurely when they committed suicide by jumping into the toilet and forcing my mother to flush them into the great goldfish bowl in the sky (at least that was her version of events).