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December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 12, 2007 / 12 Adar, 5767

Revisiting the Power of Faith

By Jonathan Tobin



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Film reminds us that combining religion and politics can make a righteous cause


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | To listen to some who claim to speak for American Jews, the greatest danger facing our republic is the rise of a religiously based conservatism that threatens to overturn the separation of church and state.


This has been a familiar argument for the last two decades as most liberal Jews viewed an increasingly assertive Christian right as its chief antagonist.


The source of much of this angst that has helped keep the majority of Jewish votes securely in the pockets of liberal politicians has not been so much the actual issues on which most Jews disagreed with conservative Christians. Rather, the really scary thing for most Jews has been the fact that American evangelicals were being propelled into the political arena by their religious beliefs. After centuries of viewing religious Christians as the most likely source of anti-Semitism, the Jewish community's intuitive reaction to public expressions of Christianity was to view them as inherently dangerous.


Nothing, not even the fervent support for the State of Israel that consistently comes from these same Christians, is enough to calm the fears that the mixing of faith and politics engenders.

NO ABSTRACT VISION
Given the persistence of this debate, perhaps this is an apt moment to re-examine the role of faith in democratic politics with a recently released film as the starting point.


The movie is "Amazing Grace," which depicts the long struggle by English parliamentarian William Wilberforce to end the British slave trade.


Arriving on the 200th anniversary of the House of Commons' vote to outlaw the slave trade in 1807, the film tells of the triumph of Wilberforce and the abolitionists. For 20 years, they persisted despite repeated defeats at the hands of a large and wealthy pro-slavery camp. This faction was funded by West Indies sugar planters whose money enriched the British Empire, as well as corrupt members of Parliament. But this film is not merely the history of a good cause. It is primarily the tale of how religion can improve, rather than pervert, politics.


Any telling of Wilberforce's story must come to grips with the fact that his primary motivation wasn't an abstract vision of the injustice of slavery, but one based almost entirely on his evangelical Christian faith.


The title of the film comes from the popular Christian hymn written by John Newton, a former slave ship captain who repented and later mentored Wilberforce. Newton penned the famous lines that spoke of how faith — the "amazing grace" that Christianity conferred upon his troubled soul — had turned his life from one of bestial crime to service in the cause of freedom. One need not embrace this faith to recognize and honor the good wrought by this vision.


The anti-slavery forces prevailed because they were fueled by a spirit of religious revival that spread, as historian Simon Schama has written, "an army of righteousness" across the political landscape of Britain. Wilberforce ultimately won (slavery was itself abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833, shortly before Wilberforce's death at the age of 74) primarily because the arguments he and his friends made spoke to the core of the faith of a people and its government.


Many conservatives believe that this message is one for our own time, and right-wing pundits have gone out of their way to both praise "Amazing Grace" as cinema and to urge Americans to take its example to heart.


Indeed, the filmmakers themselves have created a Web site (theamazingchange.com) to promote their movie's values and to sensitize viewers to the fact that slavery still exists in SubSaharan Africa (primarily in Muslim countries like Sudan), as well elsewhere in the form of the exploitation of women and children. The site urges its viewers to emulate Wilberforce not only in his saintly principles but as activists and to create their own "Clapham Circles" (the name by which Wilberforce and his allies were known) to work to better the world.


Though some would dismiss this as mere marketing, one wonders whether critics would be happier if the film had a deal with MacDonald's for Wilberforce action figures?


Yet for all of the hoopla from conservatives about its celebration of faith, " Amazing Grace's" greatest failing is that it shortchanges the pervasive influence of religion in Wilberforce's life. Though lip service is paid to his decision to do the work of G-d via politics, the theme is not developed enough to make this as clear as it should be. Ioan Gruffudd's Wilberforce is driven to do good, but his portrayal does little justice to the real person whose life was a testament to the power of faith.


Given the obvious intent of the filmmakers to raise this issue, their failure to follow through speaks volumes about their fear of turning off viewers with secular sensibilities.

GOOD INTENTIONS
That said, the film would probably have a much greater impact if its quality matched its good intentions. Though blessed with a handsome cast and sumptuous costumes, filmmaker Michael Apted would have done better to have commissioned a better script than the convoluted mess that spills onto the screen.


Though I suppose we must forgive it for its numerous conflations of characters and events in order to simplify things, it fails the basic test of maintaining a coherent narrative. The film travels back and forth throughout Wilberforce's career with a flexibility that recalls Kurt Vonnegut's method in Slaughterhouse Five. But while being "spastic in time" may have worked for that fantasy, it fails here, especially since it must surely confuse even that small percentage of the audience that may already know the history.


Stuffed with righteousness but lacking in power or sweep, the film careens amiably along to its conclusion in the manner of a a flat-line historical pageant or a mediocre "Masterpiece Theater" serial.


But its shortcomings as art should not divert us from Wilberforce's heroic example and its influence on Christians and Jews today. The truth is, modern Jewry has long embraced Wilberforce's faith-based activism on issues from civil rights to freedom for Soviet Jewry. Those non-Orthodox Jews who regularly speak of tikkun olam or a Divinely ordained mandate to "repair the world" are, ironically, most likely to fear evangelicals who revere the same tradition.


"Amazing Grace" can, at the very least, remind us that a person whose faith leads him or her to politics is actually more likely than not one who fights to make society a better place. The spiritual light that opened the eyes of men like John Newton and William Wilberforce may not be that of our own religion, but it's one we should nevertheless honor. We should also understand that many contemporary Christians, including those conservatives whom many of us wrongly despise, are their spiritual descendants.


Rather than fear them, let us look to our own faith to seize every chance to embrace a common spiritual mandate to banish the darkness that pervades a still sinful world.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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