Sitting in the chill basement of one of Tucson, Arizona’s Protestant churches I began to wonder what the heck a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn like me was doing there. But my friend who introduced me to the discussions is truly a good person so I put my skepticism aside. The discussion group was relatively diverse: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and atheist. All however were middle class white. The topic of the six weekly meetings revolved around the Hebrew Bible as reflected in a book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks titled Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. The discussions were sometimes interesting and always earnest- as were the participants. But sincerity is not a substitute for knowledge, nor is passion an excuse for philistinism. While “faith based learning” can be rewarding to people of faith, it is quite a different thing when theology is replaced by ideology. Stereotypes abounded. Italian immigrants of the early 20th Century were sneeringly referred to as Mafioso, Israel frequently cited as the embodiment of all evil. This from people who had never had any meaningful contact with those whom they maligned. These were well-meaning people but unfortunately prime examples of the “Well everybody knows that those people…” form of thinking, the basis of all bigotry. They spoke of “love” but were consumed with anger, wishing to smite the imaginary enemy rather than to build bridges, predictable actually considering we were discussing Sacks’ subtitle of confrontation. Perhaps also this is part of the zeitgeist today in an America in which our prospective presidential candidates include an angry, shouting, mudslinging Jewish “Progressive” and an equally angry, shouting and mudslinging Protestant “Conservative.” But aside from the pious sanctimoniousness, was the obtuse and shallow source of their opinions. When the point was made by the group leader that the current wave of online cell phone videos was a key breakthrough in his understanding of the world around us that was the point at which it was time for me to go. It was a disappointing outcome but, regrettably, people with a need to feel empowered can unwittingly empower a variety of villains who are emboldened by the naïve support of our solid citizens. An assortment of organizations with grandiloquent words such as “justice,” or “freedom,” or “liberation” in their titles are funded and supported by well-meaning but gullible supporters who accept their half-truths and disingenuous claims at face value. Supporters who, ensconced in the comfort of their middle class living rooms, far away from danger, applaud the suicide bombers, hijackers, and casual violence as long as it is euphemistically described as some sort of retaliation of the oppressed or repressed or depressed, or whatever. Sacks uses the term “altruistic evil,” Tom Wolfe coined the less dramatic tag of “radical chic.” Whatever it’s called however naiveté is a frequent handmaiden of evil doers including Stalin and Che Guevara in my own time, and continuing back through Robespierre and on through the timeline of history. Is the hypocrisy I found lurking in the basement merely a form of self-deception that enables a harmless feeling of self importance? Or is it better described as a form of the smug self righteousness that’s given the go-ahead to some of the more unfortunate events in our history?

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