12/5/2015—The last few months have given us examples of terrorism—the killing of innocent civilians—by representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths. What do these examples tell us?
For the first category, many recent attacks sponsored or associated with the Islamic State: the Russian plane on October 31, the attacks in Beirut on November 12, the Paris attack on November 13 and the shootings in San Bernardino on December 2.
For the second, the November 27 attack on Planned Parenthood by Robert Dear that killed three.
For the third, the July firebombing of a Palestinian home in Duma that killed three.
Now obviously the three religions are not provoking terrorism in the same ways. For Islam, there is a worldwide network and some kind of religious message that inspires these acts. In contrast, Robert Dear was apparently a lone wolf. The two shooters in San Bernardino acted alone, apparently, but at least one clearly saw herself as acting in concert with the Islamic State.
Islam has a serious theological problem. Somehow, thousands of people believe Islam teaches the propriety of the slaughter of civilians. Christianity as a world-wide movement does not have this problem.
What about Judaism? At its heart, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is religious. Both religions believe the land and its political structures must be dominated by one religion. This makes it difficult to see a proper role for members of other religions in the region. I am not leaving out secular nationalism, which plays a role as well. But there is this religious aspect.
We are not used to thinking of Judaism in these terms. But Judaism has never come to terms with the place of the non-Jew. Famously, Rashi, the medieval authority with the greatest influence on rabbinic Judaism, taught that the reason the Old Testament begins with creation is to show that God created the land of Israel and can give it to the Jewish people if he chooses—not to show that all humans are brothers in the eyes of God. There are universal voices in Judaism’s classic sources, but they are not as dominant as the ideology of the chosen people.
Until we admit that religious violence is a religious problem that must have a religious solution, the violence will continue.