Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
I heard an interesting discussion on the radio the other day, about water being found on the surface of Mars. I expected the conversation about this phenomenon to be about something scientific, but the show’s host did something unexpected. He posed this question to the listening audience: If intelligent Martian life was found, would you want the Martians to have a faith?
This deceptively simple question and the resulting responses provided a powerful telescope to examine faith. The topic sparked massive debate (no shock there). However, the debate wasn’t over which specific ideology would be best — the moderator explicitly explained, the question was about Martians having a faith in general, not whether it would be better if they were Christian vs. Muslim vs. Jewish vs. some other Earth or non-Earth-based-faith. The conversation didn’t hinge on any “low-hanging fruits” of religious debate, such as specific tenets, laws, or traditions. Rather, the debate was focused on how Martians having faith might impact their interactions… including with us.
This leads to an interesting analysis of how mankind has enacted our faiths over millennia– and even minus Martians, that’s a complicated subject. As callers shared their thoughts, very few argued that any one particular faith was good/evil… but many spoke about the danger inherent in individual members of a faith committing horrible acts in the name of their religion.
In this conversation, there was no concern over if G-d would start smiting Humans on behalf of Martians, or anything like that. The entire debate was reflective of the idea that human beings are capable of horrific acts, which has been borne out in history, and there was a palpable fear that although the Martians may be “good” and their “faith” may be morally sound… having a faith, at all, was a risk. And so the vast majority (more than 75 percent of callers and online respondents) ultimately that they would NOT like Martians to be beings of faith.
I’m not sure if I agree with those results.
Yes, we have seen faith and violence go hand-in-hand — which is terrifying. We see those who are fearful of change digging in and digging dangerously, clinging to or even bastardizing religious texts to reflect an ideology that deems it acceptable to kill others in the name of a deity. This still happens today, right here on this planet— so I do understand the caller’s concerns.
But at the same time, I am blessed to spend my days working with congregations in the South who eagerly dive into social action and community engagement. I work every day with Jewish communities, but also people of all faiths, who are driven by their beliefs to make this world a better place. At the end of the day, I am not so sure that “faith” is to be feared on the Martian landscape. We on Earth have shown that although great injustices have been executed in the name of belief, so too have amazingly benevolent and beautiful acts.
Maybe if Martians head this way, they should start down here in the South. We know all about working with people of various faiths to make our community better. Maybe we can extend our community to encompass the entire galaxy and beyond. Interstellar, interfaith– has a nice ring to it!