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Thursday, August 29, 2002

Tragic freedom.

David N. wrote:

I can't see that we are 'totally depraved' or inherently good.'

Me too. I think there is wisdom in the concept of sin — in the sense of "radical discontinuity" between the real and the ideal, but also in the essentially contingent nature of real relationships. Our choices are tragic not just because we can't quite live up to the ideal, but because even our best choices have consequences that can't be controlled or foreseen, and because we always pursue multiple and conflicting goals. We're fated to be free. We are at odds with ourselves and with each other as well as with our ideals.

I do reject the notion of original sin as the willful defiance of divine intention, though — the inheritance of Adam's rebellion, as it were — if God's will for us is conceived in ideal terms. Perfection, I think, is not what God really asks, at least not perfection in the sense of the absence of faults and weaknesses. God's "will" for us may be our creative engagement with the concrete, historical circumstances of our lives — our fullest freedom — much more than the achievement of otherworldly perfection. In other words, what God seeks for us and offers us through grace is the freedom to forgive, repent, and persevere as limited creatures in time. There may be a more metaphysical or cosmic dimension to redemption, but I think of sin and salvation primarily in terms of tragic contingency and creative freedom.

(Originally posted to UUCF-L)

Posted by Philocrites, August 29, 2002, at 03:52 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

How Unitarian Universalists can help.

Paula R. cuts to the chase:

So here's the question: If peace is the ultimate goal, if we want Israeli children and Palestinian children (and Lebanese children, heck, all children) to have a fair shot at a future, what power do we have to make that happen?

Great question. I think the most helpful thing we can do is to tell our president and elected representatives that we want our government to remain involved until a real solution is in place.

President Bush has only reluctantly given his attention to the Middle East, even though it seems clear to everybody that both sides need the sustained involvement of the United States for negotiations to move toward real solutions. The U.S. doesn't need to draw up a full plan, since the real concessions have to come from Israel and from the Palestinians — but both sides need pressure from the U.S. to get some momentum going. So for us, the important thing is to continue to make a solution a high political priority in the United States, and to keep it at the top of the agenda, no matter what happens in Iraq.

Our own UU recommendations, however, are unlikely to make much difference in Israel and Palestine. The Middle East doesn't need us to dream up possible scenarios; it simply needs real commitment from the West to keep negotiations open. The truth is that Israel has almost all the cards: It's up to Israel to pull out of the territories, and that will only happen when Israel feels that it can and must do so to preserve its national integrity. (Either that, or the United States would have to invade and force them out. That won't happen.)

That's why I suggested in my first post to this list that the most important thing we can do in the West is to reassure Israel that we are genuinely committed to its existence and success — not because Israel is somehow "better" but simply from the pragmatic consideration that the Israeli left has been most successful when the most paranoid fringes of Israeli society can't point so easily to anti-Semitism in the larger world. When Israel feels relatively secure in the international community, it's willing to take some risks for peace — as it did under Rabin and tried to do under Barak.

The emerging Labor candidate Amram Mitzna, for instance, supports immediate negotiations with the Palestinians — and it looks like he has significant support in Israel. We need to ask ourselves what will help people like him succeed. When Israel feels attacked, the radical fringe finds a large following among people who fear that they have no real allies in a dangerous world. The Palestinians' worst miscalculation — or, if you're a partisan of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, their intention — was to alienate Israeli liberals and provoke the Israeli government with suicide bombing. That's why Sharon is in power, and why Netanyahu may follow him. The Boston Globe reported today that the Palestinians now consider this approach a disaster.

Most Palestinians and most Israelis would welcome a compromise that really would decrease violence and increase economic opportunity, and which shows real progress toward Palestinian statehood. The enemies of such a compromise are radical groups on both sides who would rather encourage violence, who feed off the panicked overreactions in the rest of the world, and who build political coalitions out of frightened people.

(Originally posted to UUsMiddleEast.)

Posted by Philocrites, August 21, 2002, at 05:57 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, August 4, 2002

Want to help the Palestinians?

"The more the Israelis are treated like pariahs," writes Yossi Klein Halevi in the New Republic, "the greater their tendency toward recklessness." The ultimate irony for human rights advocates is that taking up the Palestinian cause by condemning and isolating Israel won't help the Palestinians and will certainly harm Israel and the Jews.

"A benign or at least neutral international climate is a key precondition for Israeli willingness to take risks for peace," Halevi writes. He shows how Israel entered the peace process in the early 1990s partly as the international climate toward Israel thawed at the end of the Cold War. But international pressure on Israel is currently strengthening the Israeli far right's siege mentality and spawning apocalyptic scenarios among Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jews. Worse, it's bringing anti-Semitism back out in the open all over Europe.

When a critic of the Israeli occupation can say — as one of Halevi's friends casually remarked — "If the world can't find space for a sliver of a Jewish state, then the world doesn't have the right to exist. And if it blows up because of a nuclear war in the Middle East, maybe that's poetic justice" — the last thing we need is to encourage greater isolation. Halevi observes, "In the current atmosphere, it's ludicrous to assume the Israeli public will feel safe enough to consider returning to the concessions offered by Ehud Barak, let alone the concessions envisioned by the Saudi plan."

Religious liberals and people of good will must not forget the reality of anti-Semitism as they rush to embrace the human rights of the Palestinians. Halevi writes that "perhaps the Holocaust's deepest long-term wound on the Jewish psyche isn't the actions of the murderers but the passivity of the onlookers. Jews must continually resist the suspicion that even the enlightened world cares little for their survival. The consequences — political, social, and theological — of feeding that suspicion could be shattering." The best way to bring about lasting improvements in the lives of the Palestinians is to help Israel feel secure enough to take risks for peace again.

(Originally posted to UUsMiddleEast)

Posted by Philocrites, August 4, 2002, at 09:00 PM | 0 comments

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