Two news stories caught my attention this week. One is about a trial that is going on now concerning a paragraph which is mandated to appear at the beginning of all high school science books which teach the theory of evolution.
This paragraph states that evolution is a theory and that another possibility is creationism.
The other regards a high school textbook company in Texas which is revising its books so that instead of writing that a marriage is between two people, it now states that a marriage is between a man and a woman.
These textbook changes illustrate the direction in which our country is moving. We are witnessing our country moving toward a more fundamental society. Science is being questioned and an individual’s right to fulfillment is being undermined, all in the name of religion.
At a time when our country is at war against terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, we Americans are instituting our own form of oppressive fundamentalism here at home. It seems as though many Americans feel they must impose their own beliefs on all of us. Whatever happened to freedom of expression and freedom of belief?
Our country is free enough to allow many motorcycle riders to choose whether or not to wear a helmet. This decision is made on a state-by-state basis. And our country is free enough to allow citizens to purchase weapons, even assault rifles, since President Bush did not continue the 10-year ban against assault weapons. This decision is made on the national level.
It seems incongruous to me that some of our leaders are pushing so strongly to ban, on a national level, same-sex marriages and women’s reproductive rights, yet we have the right to bear assault weapons. In the meantime, states determine whether a motorcyclist can choose whether to wear a helmet.
If I seem confused, it is because I am. I am disappointed, sad, confused and worried. Why are we as a nation having such difficulties reconciling modernity, science and enlightenment with God, religion and faith? Why can’t we better balance the two instead of putting them at odds with each other? Why do we see them as enemies or as opposites?
The theory of evolution adds wonder to our understanding of the divine presence in our world. Scientific developments only add to the marvels of this world on which we are blessed to live. The diversity of plant and animal life serves as a source of amazement for all of us who take the time to enjoy and appreciate nature. Yet, many are threatened by differences among our human family members. Differences in color, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation unsettle some of us. Acknowledging love only increases the love we have in our world and we need more love and acceptance, not less.
We are blessed to live in America; at least I have always felt that way. My concern is that the rights of many minority groups are being denied. I do not understand why personal rights for women, gays and lesbians and people of different beliefs are being eroded and not further protected as we progress into the 21st century.
I am so thankful to be an American. We American Jews are now celebrating our 350th anniversary of life in America. Three hundred and fifty years ago, 23 Jews came to New York from Brazil, from which they were expelled due to religious persecution. This country has been a haven for so many of us. American Jews, like all Americans, are grateful for the freedoms this country offers, the freedoms of religion and expression. It is critical that our country’s freedoms flourish and grow, that we continue to be a beacon for tolerance, understanding and even enlightenment.
My values as an American Jew include honoring the rights of the individual while protecting our society. For this reason, I would hope to see a ban on assault weapons and the protection of a woman’s right to choose as well as the legalization of same-sex marriages. My faith is personal. I am not a judge and I try not to be judgmental of others.
I hope that America will remain a beacon for freedom, that our war in Iraq is not a crusade but ultimately will help spread freedom, that our laws here at home will maintain our personal liberties and dignity, and that we will be a nation which understands how to balance modernity and faith so that we will remain an enlightened and just country for all.
Rabbi Barry Krieger is the rabbinic facilitator for the Hillel organization at the University of Maine in Orono. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by five Maine columnists who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.