Altering Moderation

On Monday August 24th 2015 history was made. One billion people used Facebook. Even with the exponential population growth that means one out of every 7 people on the planet was on Facebook that day. Considering that less than half the human population has internet access the number is even more staggering. And remember Facebook is only 11 years old.

Despite the numbers I still don’t get Facebook—I’m on it but I don’t “get” it mostly because it is overwhelming with people posting all matter and manner of life. There have been a few and very important occasions that Facebook has alerted me to events in friends and acquaintances lives that I otherwise would have missed and on occasion an old friend or acquaintance finds me and reaches out. I have yet to ask anyone to friend me though I usually respond to friend requests.

Two weeks ago though I entered the fray of a back and forth dialogue on Facebook started by a Rabbi who used to live in Denver and has now moved to the East Coast. The rabbi posted his views seeking input from others. He started with a distinction between (religious) moderates and fanatics and whether moderates bear any responsibility for the action of fanatics—in this case the rabbi was addressing the fatal stabbing of marchers at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. This moderate rabbi flatly stated that he sees no homophobia or racism within his (moderate) communities and therefore he and other moderates “bear no responsibility” for the horrendous actions of fanatics in the Jewish community. By the time I weighed in many posts had already provided critique of the rabbi’s viewpoint, and one, written by KE student and teacher, Julie Geller, addressed the rabbi’s claim that homophobia was not a concern in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Julie’s words (with her permission): “It’s not that the Orthodox community is mean to people who are gay. It’s that people who are gay are not welcome to show up in their entirety. They can participate in Orthodox life as long as their sexuality remains a secret.”

I wanted to support Julie’s point and address a larger issue so I added: “While there is a range of attitudes within Orthodoxy toward LGBTQ Julie’s point highlights the need for self-examination; lesser prejudices and discrimination exercised by e.g. a modern orthodox day school firing a female teacher upon discovering she is a lesbian contributes to the lack of regard for our goal of loving thy neighbor as thyself.”

This is a point made by many others that “moderates” provide the underlying support for ideologies that are taken to extremes by fanatics. Moderates therefore need to see that their beliefs, attitudes and actions play a (determining) role in supporting fundamentalist fanaticism, whether they themselves find commonalty or are totally opposed to such fanaticism.

The rabbi replied to me: “David, do you think the firing of the (lesbian) teacher contributes to the creation of an environment where someone goes ahead and murders someone at a (gay pride) parade?

Before I could reply Julie responded: “Obviously, the hate crime he committed is extreme. Many people hate gays and lesbians and never kill them. But, yes, I would say that the firing of a teacher contributes to an environment where that can happen. It creates an environment where there is an Us and Them. Whenever we view someone as being the Other, it is easier to lose our sense of shared humanity with them, making it easier to harm or kill them.”

Julie’s comment was followed by her husband, Josh Fine, adding (with his permission):
“Firing the lesbian teacher is saying that gay and lesbian people’s very being is so offensive that they do not belong in our midst. Of course, we’d never phrase it that way – but that is the message. And when you give that message in an active way, I can see how someone less stable might think that violence is an acceptable way to remove these people from among us.”

I would go further than Josh in suggesting that fanatics are not to be seen simply as unstable (that can be a quality of anyone along the religious or political spectrum)—fundamentalist views can be considered rational by those abiding by them and rationalized as not only reasonable but even holy to justify their actions. That is why self-examination is so important for moderates (and liberals) who must look at their own attitudes and beliefs which serve to support fanatic actions by fundamentalists who find common cause among the continuum of opinions.

I would have responded further to the rabbi (I was busy seeing clients) but I felt no need to say more after reading Julie’s one word response when the rabbi returned to the question he posed to me:

“I also am trying to understand David’s comment. Let’s assume that we all agree that the firing (of the lesbian teacher) is problematic. Does it contribute to a culture that leads to the horrific stabbing and murder of others?”

Julie’s reply: Yes.


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