Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Is there a war against Christianity?

Sri Lankan army soldiers secure the area around St. Anthony's Shrine after a blast in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than hundred people were killed and hundreds more hospitalized from injuries in near simultaneous blasts that rocked three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, a security official told The Associated Press, in the biggest violence in the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/ Rohan Karunarathne )

Do you know the expression “pearl clutching?”

Here is one good definition: “a very shocked reaction, especially one in which you show more shock than you really feel in order to show that you think something is morally wrong.”

The latest subject of pearl-clutching: how some people reacted to the Sri Lanka church bombings.

By “some people,” I mean former President Barak Obama’s tweet:

The attacks on tourists and Easter worshipers in Sri Lanka are an attack on humanity…we pray for the victims and stand with the people of Sri Lanka.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did pretty much the same thing:

…I’m praying for everyone affected by today’s horrific attacks on Easter worshipers and travelers in Sri Lanka.

The problem?

That term “Easter worshipers.”

Dennis Prager is particularly disappointed (full disclosure: Dennis and I have had a cordial relationship over the years. I admire many of his writings on Judaism. I often disagree with him on political and social matters).

Here’s what’s critical: Neither used the word “Christians.” And in order to avoid doing so, they went so far as to make up a new term — “Easter worshippers” [sic] — heretofore unknown to any Christian…

The reason neither of them mentioned Christians or churches is that the Left has essentially forbidden mention of all the anti-Christian murders perpetrated by Muslims in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa and of all the Muslim desecration of churches in Europe, Africa, and anywhere else.

In the minds of conservative pundits, the invention of the term “Easter worshiper,” and the failure to refer to the Sri Lanka victims as Christians, can only be part of a wider plot — the culture war against Christianity.

I got curious about this alleged war against Christianity. So curious, and with obviously far too much time on my hands, that I actually did some internet research to discern how the media talked about other such horrors in religious places.

Like, for example, what happened at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

This is what I discovered.

The New York Times:

Armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and at least three handguns, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning, killing at least 11 congregants and wounding four police officers and two others, the authorities said.

In a rampage described as among the deadliest against the Jewish community in the United States, the assailant stormed into the Tree of Life Congregation, where worshipers had gathered in separate rooms to celebrate their faith, and shot indiscriminately into the crowd, shattering what had otherwise been a peaceful morning.

(Yes, the lead used the term “anti-Semitic,” and then in the second paragraph, “Jewish community.” But, it referred to the victims as “congregants” and “worshipers,” not “Jews.”

Washington Post:

A man armed with a semiautomatic assault-style rifle stormed the Tree of Life synagogue here Saturday and shot worshipers during Shabbat services, killing 11 and wounding six in the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States.

(Yes, the lead mentions “Jews,” but pretty far down in the paragraph. Again, the victims were ‘worshipers.’)

New York Post:

A gunman burst into a baby-naming ceremony at a Pittsburgh synagogue and opened fire Saturday morning, killing 11 people during a massacre believed to be one of the worst attacks on Jews in U.S. history.

Some three-dozen worshipers had been attending services inside the conservative Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill…

(No mention of “Jews” until much further down in the article. The victims were “people” and “worshipers.”)

The Guardian:

Eleven people were killed and six wounded in a shooting at a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh on Saturday.

My response to all this: Yes, jihadists have targeted Jewish and Christian targets.

But, no: The use of the term “Easter worshiper,” however awkward, is not part of a war against Christianity, or a desire to erase the Christian faith of the victims.

No more than the use of “worshiper,” “congregant,” and “people” testifies to a war against Judaism, or a desire to erase the Jewish faith of the victims.

(Interesting to note: when a gunman opened fire in a historic black Charleston, SC church, the press did not refer to the victims as “Christians,” either. They were “churchgoers.”)

If there is a “war” against Christianity, or against Judaism, or against any other religion, then that war is not against those individual religions per se.

There is a soft war against the institutions of religion.

According to a Gallup poll that came out this week:

Twenty years ago, 70 percent of Americans said they were members of a church or a synagogue. Today, said Gallup, that has declined by 20 points to just 50 percent. Said Gallup: “The decline in church membership is consistent with larger societal trends in declining church attendance and an increasing proportion of Americans with no religious preference.”

The decline among Millenials (born 1980-2000) was equally drastic. Twenty years ago, 62 percent of Generation Xers belonged to a church, while among Millennials today just 42 percent say they belong to a church.

This should be # 1 on an agenda for interfaith conversation: can we rescue religion? How do we create meaning in people’s lives? How do we make our services touch more people; our faith sing out to the heavens; our churches, synagogues, and mosques change lives?

Speaking personally, when I have those conversations with my non-Jewish clergy colleagues, I always find that just raising the issues has a way of lifting my soul.

One last thing about what happened in Sri Lanka, and in Christchurch, and in Pittsburgh.

It is a paradox.

In America, it seems that fewer people are living with faith.

And yet, both in America and internationally, more people are dying for their faiths.

It pains me to write this: Martyrdom is alive and well in this world.

Now, if we could only get more people to live for their faiths….

 

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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