On Religion, Scripture, and Weaponization: How to Lead with Love
Recently I heard Benjamin Netaynahu’s speeches as they have increasingly shifted towards quoting religious scripture as justification of violence and this time he quoted Deuteronomy. ‘Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass’," (1 Samuel 15:3)
As I think about ‘Amalek’ and the weaponization of religion towards violence in the recent speech by Bibi I think about a couple things. The first is that these semi-nomadic people, who were indigenous to the current nation-state of Israel first of all, have been called up many times. What was interesting about this quote was the use of Bible versus Talmud, likely a pander towards Christians, who have used this quote to justify violence. In the United States it has been used throughout time since the beginning of the nation-state. John Winthrop, gave sermons to the Puritans on the “Amalek” referring to indigenous peoples to justify their murder. And it was also used by preachers to justify the Invasion of Iraq. Finally, it has also been used to justify the Rwandan Genocide, again by Christian Preachers.
In the same way quotes in the Quran or the New Testament, have been used for the same violent ends such as Quran 8:12 or Quran 9:5 by groups such as ISIS, the Taliban, and Boko Haram. At the base level, these texts serve to create a mythical “other” and ensure that they are in the wrong, because god has said so. And in many of these cases they refer to a specific historical battle with many historians agreeing to their specificity. Using history to justify violence is nothing new, because history is about humans and humans have the capacity for violence.
But also if we dive deeper into texts we see that this transference of energy is not dissimilar to the Palestinian cause. In a Midrash, a text of rabbinic interpretation, it states that the reason the Amaleks became the enemy of the Israelites was the first prejudice. It was Timna, Amalek’s mother that was slighted and denied entry into Judaism and then vowed revenge on its people.
And I think religious texts broadly are not just weaponized but rather they resonate and resound with human experience. I don’t think religion is bad, I think it's accurate. Understanding a religion that has taken hold of a society is the key to understanding people themselves. Texts are stories of the mix between the self or selves and the spirit. And when they are weaponized, the quotes show the human side, but it doesn’t show the whole scripture. Whether it's the Quran, Bible or Talmud, all of these abrahamic religions highlight mercy and justice as an overarching theme.
And yet like in the Midrash, we learn that these stories have deeper truths. To Move towards collective peace in Gaza like the Amaleks we need to acknowledge that initial harm. What does Timna’s healing look like and what could have happened if she was allow to convert into Judaism?
What would it look like if the Jewish immigrants, legal and illegal, actually did business instead of discriminating against Palestinians when they began arriving in the dawn of the 20th century. And then to go back again, what reparations and healing and integration would’ve looked like in post WW2 Europe after jews had been subject to constant harassment since their ancestral migration across the Roman Empire into modern day Europe?
These reverberations of energy live in the duality of prejudice and trauma, and echo like a Ping Pong Ball eternally and physically through the last century. And in the moment we are in now, the rise of Antisemitism (not just anti-Zionism), and Islamophobia is another swing at the ping pong ball. What brings me fear is that as technology evolves, the capacity for violence is at a greater risk than ever. And like in a previous article I shared, technology could actually be used as a tool to bring folks together.
When we see apartheid states, whether its American Slavery, South Africa, or Israel, physical separation is never the start. Rather, the separation, the divide, and the othering happens at the mental level. And when we see groups of people as not fully human, or rather are unable to see ourselves in them due to physical, cultural, or religious differences and practices, that is our DMN at work. And this tool is one that again can be reduced but when we are in that Ping-Pong Battle, our emotional centers interact with our DMN in ways that create fear, anger, rage, and make predictions about how and who are dangers to ourselves.
I’ve seen few insta-graphics that focus on empathy and most people I know support those who they are able to see themselves in. But when we do that we have to reconsider and de-empathize with ourselves in order to see a broader picture of the reality of the situation. Complexity is simplified when we begin to see the world in blacks and whites, and in the self versus the other. Whether we use technology (including books!), conversation, or psychedelics, the key to opening our hearts and consequently our borders are our minds.