“Love wins” was a popular reaction throughout social media last week to the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. I thought about that wonderful slogan as I attended two love-filled religious events — one connected to Islam and one to Christianity.
The events made me reflect on the very notion of love. We’re used to seeing love in a romantic context, as a deep emotion between human beings who share a unique bond. But equally compelling is a more universal kind of love among peoples of different cultures and religions.
Can Muslims love non-Muslims? Can Christians love non-Christians? Can Jews love non-Jews?
We rarely ask these simple questions because they seem too corny and idealistic. They feel naive. When you see so much violence and hatred and divisiveness happening in the name of religion, the first instinct is to be cynical and protective, not idealistic. You want to build walls to protect yourself, not bridges to connect with others.
And yet, there are still plenty of people on all sides who embrace this idealism and preach that because we are all God’s children, no matter what our differences, we ought to love each other.
At an event for the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which I attended last Saturday night in Pasadena, the word “love” seemed to be repeated every few seconds. They spoke of CBN’s humanitarian efforts throughout the world, including building 16,000 water wells in the Third World, distributing 68 million pounds of food supplies a year and running orphanages in 55 countries.
Sure, my cynical side kicked in, and I thought about all the caveats: They want people to believe in their savior, their conservative views can drive liberals nuts, and they’re really good at raising enormous sums of money.
At the end of the day, though, I have to give them their due: They are helping millions of suffering people, and, corny or not, their efforts are motivated by love.
There was plenty of love among the 300 people in attendance last Thursday night at the Community Iftar and Fellowship Celebration at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, an annual event organized by NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.
The first page of the evening’s program set the mood: “At NewGround, we believe that conflict is natural and inevitable. Yet it is not intractable — no matter the history. Being stuck is a choice. Therefore, we build relationships between Muslims and Jews in order to transform communities through lasting partnerships.”
One of the partnership rituals was a recitation of parallel prayers for Ma’ariv and Maghrib. For example, while Muslims recited, “Ya Allah, let our hearts recognize the sacred in one another,” Jews recited, “Let us know one another and through one another know You.”
What especially caught my attention was a statement from one of the Muslim leaders of the event. It’s commonly known that Iftar is the nightly breaking of the fast during the 30 days of Ramadan, but what I didn’t know was that, according to the Muslim tradition, you’re also supposed to fast — to refrain — from “anger and frustration.”
Again, as much as I loved hearing those words, my cynical side kicked in: “Didn’t those Islamist fanatics at ISIS get the memo? Which Quran are they reading?”
Putting those thoughts aside, though, I was grateful to see that not everyone is as cynical as I am, and that there are still dreamers and lovers doing the real work of reconciliation.
It’s true that with all the religious-based violence we see in so many parts of the world, we have a tendency to turn inward. Our love becomes more tribal. Feeling threatened, we become more protective. Throw God and religion into the mix and the emotions are magnified. It becomes that much harder to break through our well-earned cynicism to reach a place of love.
That is one of the advantages of living in a free society like the United States: We have the luxury, and the privilege, of indulging in idealism. That might be the ultimate compliment one can give to a country — to be free to dream and be idealistic and create organizations that build water wells in Third World villages and bring Jews and Muslims together in a synagogue.
In this free nation, which we celebrate on the Fourth of July, we also have the luxury of imagining a world where the highest calling of religion is not to turn us into better Jews, or better Muslims, or better Christians, but into better humans.
This is a world where love wins.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at email@example.com.