"The Forgiveness Journey", Interfaith Perspective( Excerpt)

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1 Rabbi Moshe Ben Chaim = " Forgiveness Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim Shawn Bose invited me to offer Orthodox Judaism’s response to Deily’s “Forgiveness” video, which presented the major religions’ views on forgiveness. To open, it is vital that you know that the Bible — Judaism — is not a system of belief like all other religions, but a system of proof and reason. As it is true regarding science, all concepts we hold to be truths — including forgiveness — must be validated. Now, as forgiveness falls into the category of morality (good and evil, i.e., what requires forgiveness) we must recognize that this is not determined by man. God alone defines all morality. Morality is of an “authoritative” nature, unlike the area of true and false, where man is equipped to independently determine what is a “truth:” for example, what is wet or dry, heavy or light, and tall or short. Man can determine truths, but man cannot determine morality, viz., whether one is morally correct to kill an embryo to save the mother, or spare the embryo, or which crimes deserve death or monetary penalty. Only God can determine these matters, as He determined when life begins, which life is of greater value, and which crime is capital or criminal. Man cannot determine if killing an animal is “as evil” as killing a man. There is no tool with which man can accurately evaluate either being. But as God created all life, He can permit man to kill beasts for his needs. But we require His word to know this. We also require God’s word to know how to evaluate who to forgive, when to forgive, and if we should forgive. God’s Bible is God’s only revealed religion. God communicated no other religion. And this is sensible, as there is but one mankind. Yes, there are claims of God’s communications or prophets, but without mass witnesses as was so during Revelation at Sinai, one either believes in other religious claims or he does not…but he has no proof as we have regarding Sinai. Therefore, we can only rely on the Bible as God’s proven words, and from here alone we may study His view on forgiveness. We must then dismiss the various religious views of forgiveness presented in the video based on the following considerations. The Islamic leader said the Koran believes a “devil” is the cause of man’s evil. However, that religious leader did not offer evidence that a devil exists. Nor does world history offer this evidence. And as God planted eyes in each of us, He desires we accept what we witness, and dismiss what has no evidence. Religion is not a free for all, but must be guided by God’s will, evidence and reason, and a large part of His will can be derived from His design of nature, human biology, human intellect, and our psyches. Let us not ignore this obvious lesson. The Islamic leader also suggested retaliation is permitted, but forgiveness is preferred. However, he did not qualify why this is morally correct. By what means was this conclusion made? This is a baseless opinion.  Christianity professes complete and unconditional forgiveness. Do Christians forgive their teenage children who constantly steal their hard-earned money for drugs and alcohol? Or should they teach them accountability by expressing clear disapproval, and suspend forgiveness until they end their self-destructive habits? Forgiveness sends the wrong message, making the teen feel his crime is not really “bad,” empowering them to continue their destructive behaviors. If a man was to murder another man’s wife, should the widower embrace the murderer and forgive him, endangering himself and others by not demanding death or incarceration to protect society? Is a man to deny his feelings of love for his lost bride in such a case? Does God ever ask this of us? No. God wishes man to live in reality and not deny his proper feelings. If a man repeatedly attacked a senior citizen, or repeatedly raped a child, is repeated forgiveness truly God’s desire, or does God demand that disgust with such morally-decayed animals is warranted? Should a Jew, whose 4 year old daughter was shot dead at by an Arab terrorist forgive that terrorist? Or should the terrorist be killed, as God says in His Bible? Should we forgive and embrace ISIS butchers who have beheaded countless Christians? Should we befriend Hitler? I believe this illustrates just how morally and intellectually distorted, and how damaging Christian forgiveness is. What does God say about forgiveness? Regarding the person who rejects God’s Biblical curses, feeling he will escape punishment, God says, “God will not forgive him for then God’s anger and jealousy will kindle against that man and he will meet with the all the curses written in this Book and God will erase his name from under the heavens (Deut. 29:19).” God does not forgive this man. This position to forgive anyone for anything is not God’s position. God teaches that a robber must repay, and that repentance is not repentance if we remain in our evil ways. If God does not forgive in many cases, He does not wish man to veer from His Biblical lessons. Man is then morally correct not to forgive another unless the sinner corrected matters, and himself. As God teaches in Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy for I am Holy…” The lesson is that we are to mimic God, since His ways are perfect. Moses clearly tells us to “walk in His ways” (Deut. 28:9). God plagued Egypt ten times and did not forgive them. God did not forgive Pharaoh but drowned him and his army in the Reed Sea. God killed many others like Korach, Amalek and other wicked people and nations. God Flooded the Earth, killing all but Noah and his family. But God did not kill the generation of the Tower of Bable; He dispersed them instead. Thus, God has parameters when forgiveness is correct, and incorrect. We learn that unconditional forgiveness clearly violates God’s Bible. It is then incomprehensible how Bible readers violate God’s words. These Biblical cases are not written to record history, but rather, are God’s education of what is evil, and His systems of morality and reward and punishment. They Bible must be studied for years, as God’s wisdom is of immeasurable depth. But He embedded clues in the verses, making the Bible a unique book, and offering us the means through which we can determine His morality system. Simplistic formulations of morality and forgiveness as I saw on the video, block our understanding of God’s lessons. Such Biblical violations riddle God’s reputation and morality with corruptions. Just as a scientist and a doctor require decades of study to understand God’s natural laws, the Bible student too must study under the original recipients of the Bible — the Talmudic scholars and Rabbis — to learn God’s morality. I have personally studied the Bible and Talmud for about 40 years, and I am still awed by the brilliance I see each day. No other book compares, as no other book was authored by God. Christianity also suggests Jesus died for mankind’s sins. Yet, this too violates God’s Bible. God says, “a father is not killed for his son’s sins, and a son is not killed for a father’s sins; each man in his own sin is killed (Deut. 24:16).” Thus, the opinion that “Jesus died for mankind” blatantly rejects God’s words. And since God also said to never alter His Bible (Deut. 13:1), this principle will never change. Additionally, God’s principle makes sense to our minds. Would you deem it wrong to assist your enemy? Is it wrong to keep unjust weights in your home, as long as you don’t use them? If a man owed you money and his collateral is his only jacket, do you need to return it to him at night? If a cow gores another person, after how many gores is the owner liable? If your father and teacher are drowning, who must you save first? Is homosexuality forbidden? What sexual partner is permitted, and when? Exodus 21-23 includes dozens of laws that we cannot conclude without God’s authoritative, moral and just instruction. King Saul spared the Amalek king Agag and was removed from his position due to relying on his own sense of morality. How much less are we qualified to posit morality, certainly when God says otherwise? Humans err. But God allowed repentance to erase our stains of sin, if we are genuine. Ezekiel 18 teaches that God is so kind and merciful, that the truly penitent man is viewed as never having sinned. But he must first repent, admitting his error, regret it, and resign to never repeat his evil. Self-correction renders him a new man, one who no longer requires God’s punishments (corrective measures). Thus, forgiveness depends on man initiating his own correction. God does not forgive unconditionally. Conditional forgiveness is expressed in God’s commandment that each year we fast and pray on Yom Kippur for 24 hours. For without correcting our flaws, we are not forgiven. This is in the Bible, and again, the Christian view of unconditional forgiveness disregards the message of this holiday. To understand the objective standards that demand forgiveness, we must study God’s words alone. All religious views conflict and therefore they all cannot be correct. God’s only communication to man was Revelation at Sinai when He gave mankind his Bible. This is the sole source of instruction of religion and morality, and when forgiveness is a valid and warranted. All of God’s systems — natural or religious — have a design and guidelines. Gravity functions within certain frameworks, plant life grows only with certain conditions, and forgiveness is a just, moral and obligatory response, but only when specific parameters are met. God alone determines these parameters, and His Bible is the sole guide. It behooves us all to spend the necessary time studying the many Biblical lessons — not only of forgiveness — but of all of God’s ways and laws. In this manner, we can attain the goal God has mapped out for us all, to live morally correct, helping others, accepting truths and rejecting fallacy. And along this amazing journey of Bible study, we will be awed by the brilliance of our Creator, realizing this book is unique. "
2 David Zuniga PhD MDIV MA = "My friend Shawn Bose asked me to comment on this video. I appreciate that this video focuses on forgiveness through an interfaith perspective. In a world filled with war, racism, sexism, homophobia, and inequality there is certainly a need for forgiveness on the most profound of levels. There’s also a lot of beauty and goodness in the world, and one form of that profound, transforming beauty is forgiveness. There’s a lot of great information in this video. Respectfully, two sentiments that concern me are statements from the Catholic priest and the Muslim Imam. The Catholic priest was the first speaker and he stated that we are “required to forgive” and that it’s “stupid” not to forgive. If this were a longer video perhaps this priest could have elaborated on his theology of forgiveness, but statements like this can be harmful.And I respectfully question the Imam who asserts that God will reciprocate if we forgive. What are the logical corollaries to such a statement? Are God’s actions dictated by ours? What if someone suffers an extreme form of wrong and someone is in a place where they can’t yet forgive? Does God then punish the person? Many theologies convey God as all-loving. Is such a theology of forgiveness congruent with a benevolent deity? God is usually defined as beyond all words, language, and concepts. On what ground do we make assertions about what God does and how do we know such assertions are universal?I’m both a clinical psychologist and a Zen Buddhist priest. I have sat with people in profound states of sadness and tragedy from many different cultural backgrounds and belief systems. A problem with the topic of forgiveness is that we often rely on simplistic conceptions. There are over 7 billion people in the world and the vastness of cultural and spiritual diversity is almost inconceivable. Is there any one way to forgive? Is there any one single, universal process or definition of forgiveness that is universally skillful?I’ve supported parents who had children who were raped and murdered. What does it mean to forgive in those situations? A problem with some forms of religion is that we compel people to forgive before they can possibly be ready. In religion, we can sometimes be very quick to prescribe solutions to situations that we don’t personally understand. Forgiveness, like everything of value in the world, is a process, not a universal formula. Forgiveness is something that fits into the fabric of our life. To forgive, we need a system of philosophy to make sense of the injustice in the world, and one can be atheist or non-religious and still be able to forgive on a profound level. More important than beliefs, is a methodology for how we live in the world—how we make our beliefs or philosophy a lived experiential reality. And we need a community of support to hold us when we are struggling. There is no single model of forgiveness. Forgiveness means different things to different people. Sometimes a dimension of forgiveness means refusing to be limited or defined solely by the wrong that has occurred. Sometimes forgiveness means remaining engaged with the world even when the world is very cruel. As a psychologist and as a Zen priest I’m interested in questions such as: 1. How do you personally define forgiveness? 2. How did you arrive at this definition? 3. How does this definition serve you? 4. What helps you arrive at a place of forgiveness and what are obstacles to you forgiving?Peace, Rev. Dr. David Zuniga"
3 Rabbi Moshe Ben Chaim = "Dr. Zuniga,All fine questions. Logically, we must first define what requires forgiveness, i.e, what is the definition of “being wronged,” or what is “evil.” Evil is defined both objectively and subjectively; both possessing degrees. Examples of objective evil are murder, rape, and robbery, and these are of a greater degree of evil than baseless suspicion, and miserliness. Subjective evil might be determined due to one’s age, like a child who steals, or circumstance, like a grieving widower who attacks his wife’s murderer. Certain evils are arrived at through reason, like murder and robbery, but how do we determine absolutely and in all cases, what is a crime? When do subjective elements warrant forgiveness or less severe punishments? Does the sinner’s regret play a role in my forgiveness? Is unpremeditated murder equal to premeditated murder? Is abortion a crime? As you can see, left to man, debate on these issues will never end. An authoritative answer is therefore required. And God did not leave us without direction. As He alone created mankind, He alone determines evil, and its response. As I have mentioned in a number of recent essays, it is essential that we first prove what God has transmitted. Only then can we be certain what is evil, what is not, the varying degrees of evil and their proper response from man and the courts.I have demonstrated that the Bible remains the only proven divine transmission. In it, God answers your question. He teaches us of Cities of Refuge for those who kill accidentally, and that until such a careless person enters, a relative is not held responsible if he retaliates. Premeditation vs. carelessness is addressed too. Is an idolater to be killed? What about children of an idolatrous city? Why did God flood the entire Earth in Noah’s generation? If my beast gores once or three times, why is my responsibility different? Aside from the Bible, there are 300 years worth of Talmudic analyses that share theories and conclusive laws, each based on God’s Bible and His Oral Law, the Mishna. It is no small study, but it offers us the answers you seek. Knowing and appreciating God’s judgements, we can mature from subjective feelings that are of such variety and inconclusiveness, to living by an absolute system that imbues us with a full understanding of evil, human nature, responsibility, and forgiveness. Understanding that God alone created mankind, we defer to His reasoned judgements, but we also will arrive at an appreciation and an agreement with His laws, for our minds too are His creation and He ensured that our reason will accept His laws as truths. Knowing God’s determinations of levels of human responsibility, His punitive measures, and my ability to separate myself from petty matters and focus on my life instead of retaliation or hate, all contribute to how God expects man to conduct himself in matters of forgiveness. God’s Bible and Talmud are replete with lessons of human perfection, like Joseph forgiving his brothers, and God’s laws, all complete in their scope. Their study is the only method to accurately answer your questions. "
4 David Zuniga PhD MDIV MA = "Dear Rabbi, Thanks for reaching out and sharing your thoughtful theology. I appreciate the depth and commitment of your religious faith, and I’m sure it is a great comfort for you and many others. Judaism is so vast and rich I can’t claim to be an expert in it. I have attempted to study it a bit. One of my greatest forms of studying Judaic thought was studying with Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel when I was a grad student. I believe Judaism and Buddhism share a lot in common in terms of the centrality of focus on transforming suffering. I share that because I also think we may have reached a place of respectful disagreement. You state: “I have demonstrated that the Bible remains the only proven divine transmission.” Respectfully, that isn’t true. Judaism and Christianity define the bible differently. Even denominations in Christianity can’t agree on what the “divine” bible is. For example, you state: “Why did God flood the entire Earth in Noah’s generation?” It sounds like you engage in textual literalism. Yet I know other learned rabbis who see that biblical story more as symbolic mythology than a literal, historical account. No one, in any tradition (Jewish, Christian or otherwise) has “proven” what the divine transmission of the bible is. Proof means discovering and demonstrating empirical evidence that can repeatedly be verified in a variety of settings. You, just like believers of other traditions, have faith that satisfies you. And I’m glad you do. But respectfully, your theology of the bible isn’t objective proof. You state that studies of the bible and Talmud is “the only method to accurately answer your questions.” But I’ve known Muslims and atheists and many others from other traditions who don’t share your central emphasis of your texts and yet develop equally sophisticated philosophical perspectives, which likely make them just as happy and ethical as you are. This discussion may bring us back to the classic distinction between most forms of religion and science, i.e. empiricism vs. belief. My original comments for this video were more about the Catholic priest calling people who don’t forgive “stupid” and that we are “required to forgive.” The Imam seemed to be suggesting that the Koran could be the basis for civil laws—an assertion I would disagree with as well. The Imam seems to believe the Koran provides a basis for civil law. Conversely, you may believe the bible and Talmud provide the basis for civil law. Neither of you can empirically prove the other is definitely wrong. As a Zen Buddhist, I don’t want the bible, Talmud, or Koran to be the basis for civil law. I also don’t want the Pali canon or Koan literature to form civil law either. I respect people’s right to have individual differences. Personally I appreciate the richness of religious perspectives and that different things work for different people. While I think that beliefs can be helpful, I think what may be even more important is the practices that make our beliefs a lived, experiential reality. But then again, that’s a Zen perspective. Zen has the courage to generate comfort in not-knowing. Zen works for me, it probably doesn’t work for everyone. And I’m ok with that too. Peace, David"
5 Rabbi Moshe Ben Chaim = "Dr. Zuniga,  I will quote you and reply…  Dr. David Zuniga: No one, in any tradition (Jewish, Christian or otherwise) has “proven” what the divine transmission of the bible is. Proof means discovering and demonstrating empirical evidence that can repeatedly be verified in a variety of settings. You, just like believers of other traditions, have faith that satisfies you. And I’m glad you do. But respectfully, your theology of the bible isn’t objective proof.  Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: David, respectfully, you have made an error by projecting onto me your guess of what I hold to be true. It would be productive to first inquire of my position, prior to making a false decision. I do not “believe” in the Bible, but know it to be truth, as true as any historical event attended by masses. I will explain shortly. As the proof I will repeat below is the core foundation of the Bible, the very event of God giving man the Bible, I am surprised you did not hear of it.  Dr. David Zuniga: “Why did God flood the entire Earth in Noah’s generation?” It sounds like you engage in textual literalism. Yet I know other learned rabbis who see that biblical story more as symbolic mythology than a literal, historical account.  Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: It appears you prefer the student over the teacher. The original recipients of the Bible, i.e. Moses, Joshua, and the Bible’s original teachers, Kings David and Solomon, the Prophets, hundreds of the authoritative Talmudic and Mishnaic sages, and the Rishonim — medieval Rabbis including Rashi, Maimonides, Nachmanides, Ibn Ezra, Sforno and many others — all hold the Bible to be literal. I am not concerned that those with lesser minds (rabbis with whom you’ve conversed) who have not authored works like Deuteronomy (Moses), Psalms (King David), or Proverbs (King Solomon) will casually suggest a fantasy or whim that the Bible is not literal. Today’s rabbis are not authoritative.Now, as you see today’s rabbis conflict with the Bible’s recipient Moses, and its original teachers, both views cannot be correct: either the Flood (and the entire Bible) occurred literally, or it did not. How do you decide the truth? I am interested in clarity and a conclusion. I would not suggests to someone to simply follow his heart on such a decision, as the matter is great. Similarly, I would not suggest to someone to follow his heart on which surgeon to perform a life-threatening operation. I would, instead, urge him to use his mind to determine definitively, who is the most fitting doctor.  The existence of God is not left to faith. God designed man with reason and intelligence so that we engage both, and certainly in the most vital of areas, our relationship with God, i.e., religious life. Using reason, we today realize that such a massively-attended event — Revelation at Sinai — must have occurred. We possess the same proof as those eyewitnesses over 3300 years ago. For if Revelation at Sinai did not take place, and Moses attempted to convince some nation that they and millions of others saw something which they had not, the story would never get off the ground. Moses would be viewed as a psychotic. That nation would not adopt Moses’ lies in place of what they all knew was their true history. Imagine someone telling a few thousand New Yorkers that they just witnessed the Twin Towers suddenly reappearing. Not a singe soul would pass this on to his children as a true event, and 3000 years for now, such an event will not be incorporated by major religions. This is exactly what Moses would have confronted, had he lied about Sinai. But the fact that the world accepted the account throughout time and up to today, is a testament to the truth of God’s revelation. It must have occurred. As is true regarding any historical account, Sinai too relies on mass witnesses for its validation. But had it simply been Moses’ word alone, or the word of small groups, this does not provide proof, for motive to lie can be found in small groups. Only with mass witnesses do we know for certain that an event transpired. This was the single time in history where God revealed Himself to man. Additionally, had Moses lied, today the world should be in receipt of the “true” history of the Jews during the time of Moses’ lie. But there is no “alternative Jewish history.”  Mass witnesses is how the Bible — and any history — is proven, and all other religious claims are unproved, explaining why other religions demand faith. For they have no proof. You follow this reasoning to accept the historical truth of Caesar, Alexander and others. The Bible is no different.  Without proof of a doctor’s credentials and history of success, one endangers his body when undergoing a life-threatening operation. Without proof of a religion’s claim as “God’s word,” one endangers his soul by violating God’s will, a will that he could have learned had he expended the proper energy and intelligence in research. It must, at the least, be a concern to learn that from Moses to Maimonides, their was no confusion: they all understood the Bible as literal. Why do you think they had no argument on this?  Dr. David Zuniga: You state that studies of the bible and Talmud is “the only method to accurately answer your questions.” But I’ve known Muslims and atheists and many others from other traditions who don’t share your central emphasis of your texts and yet develop equally sophisticated philosophical perspectives, which likely make them just as happy and ethical as you are.  Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Happiness with an ethical system does not equate to truth. Psychotics too are happy. Your original question was how one determines whom to forgive, and I replied that this depends on what is a worthy matter, to which one may rightfully take offense. This can only be defined by an Authority — God — as a large portion of morality cannot be arrived at by reason.  Dr. David Zuniga: As a Zen Buddhist, I don’t want the bible, Talmud, or Koran to be the basis for civil law. I also don’t want the Pali canon or Koan literature to form civil law either. I respect people’s right to have individual differences.   Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: I don’t see how your personal wants play any role in determining objective truth. There is but one mankind. Two people with the identical illness are treated similarly. Our bodies are identical. So too, our psyches and minds are identical. We all strive to be happy and avoid pain. We all sense loss when one dies; and we are joyful at a birth. We all sense justice, feel anger, love and the myriad of emotions and feelings. As there is but one design of man, it is reasonable that God gave only one religion. I too respect people’s right to have individual differences. But they cannot all be correct, if they differ. My search is for truth, not a faith which might very well be wrong…certainly, if it conflicts with God’s proven words. "