Speaking out on religion, salvation or destruction

I was born a Jew and grew up in The Bronx in New York City. At the age of 13, I was Bar Mitzvad. As I grew older, I became more and more disenchanted with religion as an institution. I became aware of the historical role religion played in the life and destiny of man, a history which demonstrates wars, deaths, and destruction all in the name of God.

My disenchantment began during my Bar Mitzvah lessons when the Rabbi made comments about not trusting or befriending non-Jews. Two of my closest friends were not Jewish and I resented my spiritual leader giving such advice.

As I grew older, I realized that organized religion did more to separate us than to bring us closer to God. Every religion wants to be God’s chosen and they are ready to commit atrocities to attain that position. Our current example is found in Israel’s willingness to destroy the lives of millions of Palestinians in order to possess the land called Israel. As one Israeli, Jewish woman stated a short while ago, “Israel is ours, God promised it to us”. I was never taught that God was in the real estate business.

Man has been endowed with the ability to see his/her future and a knowledge of predictable death. As a result, man turned toward a supreme being, someone who transcends the human condition and would provide the comfort needed to face life.

For many, religion has provided a comfort and a means to explain the dangers of life and the finality of death, offering hope that there is more after death.

At the age of 49, I faced coronary bi-pass surgery. I was frightened and thought that I might not survive the operation. The surgeon met with me and in an attempt to comfort me said that only one in every two hundred thousand people died from the procedure. I thought, what if I’m that one. I realized how much easier it would be for me if I believed.

Today, I stand before you as an atheist, one who cannot find it possible to believe in what I see as a mythical being. Although I perceive organized religion as a destructive force in the human condition, I recognize the good that some agents of these religions have provided to individuals and communities. But, I am also aware that these benefits could be derived from individuals with humanitarian goals without the need for religious connections, rituals, and biases.

I respect the right of people to seek their own answers to the nature of life and death provided they do not impose their beliefs and rituals on me or any other who does not believe.

At this moment, Muslims have been targeted, and have experienced oppression, suspicion, and hate from the Judeo-Christian communities. When any group is alienated from the human community, I feel I must speak out.

On February 11, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, three Muslim students living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, were summarily executed by 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, who reportedly “turned himself in to the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office in Pittsboro following the shooting.” All three victims were shot in the head. After searching through public records and Hicks’ Facebook page, it was quickly recognizable that he is feverishly anti-religious, racist, as well as militantly nationalistic.

Hicks, who is a self-proclaimed atheist has also claimed an appreciation of Sam Harris, Bill Maher, and Richard Dawkins, who Roqayah Chamseddine, a Sydney based Lebanese-American journalist and commentator, has named the Islamophobic trifecta.

Bill Maher, the “progressive” Tv comedian? Yes, my friends, Bill Maher . . . who has been outspoken in his ridicule and denunciation of Muslims, feeding fuel to the fire of fear and hatred.

Maher says there is something different about Islam, noting that “there is no other religion that is asking for the death” of people who dare to criticize it. “[M]ost Muslims, at least half of them, I think, around the world think it is okay to kill somebody if they insult the prophet. And that is a big problem.”

Maher expressed support for the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006 when Israel bombed cities and farmland not occupied by the Lebanese military. He also made an obnoxious comment when he stated that the people of Gaza deserved to be “nuked.” So we see from these comments by Maher, that violence is not limited to what the white man contends is in Muslim scripture. As an aside, Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians and its support from many Jewish communities throughout the world demonstrates that there are many non-Muslims who are prepared and able to commit murder in the name of their God.

He is far from my idea of a progressive and I don’t find him funny, I find him dangerous because he is admired by so many. His reactionary views go beyond that of Islam. In the midst of the most recent Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, Bill Maher likened Hamas to a “crazy woman trying to kill you . . . You can only hold her wrist for so long before you have to slap her.” Does anyone find his sexism and insult to women funny? Does anyone feel that Maher’s comments have no effect on the perception of the general public regarding Islam?

While Israel proceeds to slaughter thousands of unarmed Palestinians, people like Maher continue to talk about violence generated by Muslims and find ways to excuse Israel, couching his statements in the rationale of the need for Jews to defend themselves.

Initially, Hicks was portrayed as an irrational, lone killer. His motivation for the execution of these three students was his “road rage” over a dispute regarding a parking space. My understanding of road rage is that the violence is spontaneous and uncontrolled. Here we have Mr. Hicks walking to the students’ apartment either breaking in or being invited in and then executing the three students. This act was far from spontaneous and uncontrolled. The next rationale for Hick’s behavior will be that his mother refused to breast feed him and should be held responsible for his violence.

The parking lot dispute as motivation for the murders did not gain much momentum so the police, with the cooperation of the media, began promoting Hick’s mental health problems. This is the same formula used when any white man commits violence against others . . . he is a troubled, lone, abhorrent murderer and not a reflection of the white community. This is what separates us from the Muslim community . . . they are a community of terrorists looking to destroy us and, therefore, are collectively guilty.

The only collective guilt appears to be centered on the issue of atheism. Hicks, having declared himself an atheist has drawn attention to atheism which we all know is not popular here in the U.S. In fact, he has identified himself as anti-theistic. I’m not certain I could explain the difference having never heard that term used before.

Atheism does not promote violence against any religious group or institution. I feel as most Muslims or the unfavored feel when a member identified with them has committed an act of violence, a need to explain that those who think as I do are not guilty by association.

Yet, no one has drawn a connection between him and the white community in general. The white man as an entity, remains pure and does not suffer collective guilt, which is as it should be for all.

Dave Alpert has masters degrees in social work, educational administration, and psychology. He spent his career working with troubled inner city adolescents.

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