“One Nation, Indivisible” features excerpts from The Sun’s archives that speak to the current political moment.
I don’t mean to be flip, but the national religion in this country is shopping. Most people in our society want their children to grow up to be good earners and consumers and to have a comfortable lifestyle. When a young person graduates from college loaded up with loans, almost like an indentured servant, and says to Mom and Dad, “I am going to do a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps,” good parents might feel proud. But if that child comes back and says, “I’m going to do it for a second year,” or a third, or a fourth, then the response is “Isn’t it time you grew up?”
“And a Time for Peace,” Kathy Kelly, interviewed by John Malkin, February 2006
The glory of the universe, whether it comes from God or nature, has a value beyond its usefulness to humans. No matter if you’re a member of a church or not, you can appreciate that glory, which calls us to action.
“If Your House Is on Fire,” Kathleen Dean Moore, interviewed by Mary DeMocker, December 2012
The hardest thing in the world is this: while you serve God, you have to be in paradise. You have to be aware that the world is so holy, so beautiful, so deep. There is no evil in the world. Then there are moments where you have to realize that there is evil, and you have to help get rid of it. In kabbalistic terms this is the difference between the weekdays and the Sabbath. On the Sabbath I am living in the world that is completely holy. During the week I am aware that there is evil in the world and I have to clean it out. If you live only in paradise and ignore the other six days of the week, you’ll go crazy because it’s not true. But if you live only in the six days of the week, you’re never aware of how beautiful the world is. If you can’t see that beauty behind all the ugliness then you’re not the one to clean up the world. You become part of the evil.
“Fixing the World,” Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, interviewed by Howard Jay Rubin, November 1982
My own efforts are not political acts for me. What I do has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with justice, equality, compassion, and mercy. We’re here to take care of the garden, but we’re tearing it apart. If you have a religious heart, how can you not speak to this? How can you not be there with the poorest of the poor, who are bearing the brunt of the sins of this system? This, for me, is a religious and spiritual obligation — nothing more and nothing less.
“Be Not Silent,” Sister Joan Chittister, interviewed by James Kullander, June 2007
I try to understand what I call the Church’s institutional priorities, which are mainly survival and a good relationship with the government, because the Church is trying to avoid taxes. If the Catholic Church ever had to pay property taxes, much of it would just collapse. The Church has tens, maybe hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of property in the U.S., including its college and university system, parish real estate, and so on. So the Church maintains a relationship with Caesar. They are in and out of bed with Caesar all the time. Major Church leaders’ shameful support for the war in Afghanistan is an indication of that.
“Acts of Faith,” Philip Berrigan, interviewed by Rachel J. Elliott, July 2003
If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion. I think more people are dying as a result of our religious myths than as a result of any other ideology. I would not say that all human conflict is born of religion or religious differences, but for the human community to be fractured on the basis of religious doctrines that are fundamentally incompatible, in an age when nuclear weapons are proliferating, is a terrifying scenario. I think we do the world a disservice when we suggest that religions are generally benign and not fundamentally divisive.
“The Temple of Reason,” Sam Harris, interviewed by Bethany Saltman, September 2006
The Sun: You’ve written that the Left views religion as “either intellectual retardation or psychological handicap.”
Michael Lerner: I call it “religiophobia.” It’s a prejudice on the same level as homophobia, sexism, or racism. As in every form of prejudice, there’s some truth in it, though its overall conclusion is wrong. Many of the people who are religiophobic came out of religious communities that were oppressive, sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic. They generalized that experience to all religions without ever discovering that there’s another tradition inside each religion that is oriented toward peace and social justice. I don’t want to dismiss their anger. Those atheists, agnostics, or secular humanists who feel anger at religion often have a valid foundation for it. What’s invalid is to ascribe it to all religious people.
“Loving the Stranger,” Rabbi Michael Lerner, interviewed by Mark Leviton, September 2012
I was in Nicaragua in the 1980s, and Pope John Paul II came to visit the country. The day before his visit there had been a funeral for seventeen teenage coffee pickers. The boys had been killed by the Contras, antigovernment forces that the U.S., under the Reagan administration, was supporting. . . . The mothers asked that the pope pray for their dead sons, and he refused. We heard later that an advisor had told the pope it would be too political to pray for these young men. The crowd that had gathered for the Mass reacted strongly when it realized that the pope was refusing to pray for their native sons. The mothers were holding up photographs of their boys, crying, “Presente!” and at one point the pope was yelling, “Silencio!” It was awful.
The next day, all over Central America, Catholics gathered to talk about what had happened. I asked a woman if she thought many people would leave the Church because of how the pope had responded. She looked at me strangely. I thought it was because my Spanish was so awful, so I had another sister translate for me. The woman still appeared confused. Then she said, “Leave the Church? We are the Church.”
“Sisterhood,” Sister Louise Akers, interviewed by Barbara Lyghtel Rohrer, November 2013
The German government is stuck in negotiations regarding the construction of a Holocaust monument. For years, members of the German parliament have been unable to agree on a plan from among the hundreds presented to them by artists from around the world. Some believe the camps, which are open to visitors, are the monument, and that selecting another site might artificially seal the ongoing process of grappling with this history. A facile “ending” may banish memory, rather than sustain it.
There is one memorial to the Holocaust that is not a place to visit. Rather, it’s an event that occurs once every April in Israel. At midday, a siren wails for two minutes, and everything — people, trains, buses, cars — stops dead in its tracks. People stare ahead or look down or close their eyes and, before the world starts up again, observe a few moments of silence: the fathomless silence in which all our dead reside.
“Curtains,” Genie Zeiger, May 1999
There is a mistaken belief among many that spirituality is opposed to the concerns of this world. . . . In Judaism, however, there is no dichotomy between everyday life and holiness. Your charge is to be holy and to make the world holy. Your spiritual practice reveals your interconnectedness with the world and the interconnectedness of the world with God. . . . The awakening to unity is accompanied by a powerful sense of shared suffering, a deeper compassion, and a compelling need to do justice in the world.
“In Search of Zen Judaism,” Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro, April 1998
Lynice Pinkard: Novelist Henry James called America a “hotel civilization,” where you never see the people who clean up your mess. We are so obsessed with comfort and contentment and convenience that it is difficult to talk about the pervasive suffering in the world. Americans, and American institutions in particular, are adept at evasion and denial of suffering. Not only our government but our churches and mosques and synagogues and temples are full of people who are good at looking the other way.
Also religious institutions have largely been co-opted by the state and so do not have the capacity to fulfill their original function of disturbing the peace. We have lost our cutting edge, and we are no longer capable of issuing a substantive critique of the death systems of this culture. Now we are obsessed with personal piety and prosperity.
The Sun: Isaiah 58:6 says, “Is this not the fast I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, to untie the yokes, to let the oppressed go free?”
Pinkard: Religion is that, or it’s nothing.
“Dangerous Love,” Rev. Lynice Pinkard, interviewed by Mark Leviton, October 2014
The Sun: Politics and religion have a long and tangled history. What does the biblical command mean: “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and render to God what belongs to God”?
Daniel Berrigan: Dorothy Day was asked the same question. She responded, “When you’ve rendered to God what is due God, there’s nothing left for Caesar!”
“Odyssey of Resistance,” Daniel Berrigan, interviewed by Luke Janusz, April 1993
Coming from a good, progressive Jewish family, [the spiritual teacher Ram Dass] was much interested in tzedek, or justice. One day he was kvetching to his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, about the suffering in God’s creation, and his guru cut him short, saying: “Look, Ram Dass, suffering is perfect.” And Ram Dass, shocked by this apparently callous statement, began to marshal his intellectual resources to argue with his guru. But Neem Karoli stopped him again and said: “And, Ram Dass, your attempt to end suffering is also perfect.”
“Coming Back to the World,” Timothy Conway, interviewed by Arnie Cooper, April 2003