Archive for Saturday, November 14, 2009

Faith Forum: What’s the strangest question you’ve had about your faith?

November 14, 2009


The Rev. Andrew Mitchell, Stull United Methodist Church, 1596 E. 250 Road:

You’ve heard it from schoolteachers — “there are no stupid questions.” Stupid answers, however, are another matter — and one of my big worries as a pastor who gets quite a few questions dealing with life and death from a faith perspective.

I remember one particular question catching me off-guard — and it wasn’t the usual case of a church member trying to play “stump the pastor.” I was asked if there is an increase in suicide rates before Easter because people are confronted during this time with the story of Judas killing himself.

I had never considered that hearing about Judas hanging himself in shame might provoke someone to attempt or complete a suicide. That rationale, to me, seemed similar to blaming song lyrics for driving one to end his or her own life (the subject of a 1990 trial against a heavy metal band named, ironically, Judas Priest — that was cleared of any responsibility for the fatality).

Many times I do think that a question posed to me sounds rather “strange,” but I have to remind myself that it probably doesn’t seem so odd for the person asking it. This particular question, in fact, did have some merit — suicide rates indeed peak in the spring (most people tend to think it is higher during the winter, but they actually drop). I was skeptical, though, that Judas would be responsible for lives taken beyond his own, centuries beyond his time.

So my answer? “I don’t know. But I do hope that the Easter story of Jesus’ resurrection — a restoration of wholeness to life — resonates much more deeply than Judas’ story with those who might be contemplating suicide.”

David Berkowitz, president, Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Drive:

Because I am Jewish, I have been asked a number of, what seemed to me, strange questions about what Jews believe in or do.

Among them was, “Do Jews believe that children are a blessing from God?” Yes, we do, but like all parents, some days the blessing is more evident than others.

“Do we allow nonmembers to take communion at our services?” No, we don’t allow anyone to take communion at our services since that is a Christian rite and one not practiced by any other religion, including Judaism.

Perhaps the strangest question of all took place when I had been invited to address an adult education class that was studying Judaism at a Baptist church in Ottawa. After I had answered the submitted questions, one of the members of the class asked me, “Do Jews still sacrifice animals?” The short answer is no, we have not done so since the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE. Except for a very small number of extreme Orthodox, no Jews want to see the reinstitution of animal sacrifices. Nowhere in our bible, which most people refer to as the Old Testament, is there the statement that God needs sacrifices either to sustain his powers or even as in some Pagan religions to survive. The prophet Micah also states that what God really wants is that we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. When the Temple was destroyed, the Jews were prepared to accept the ruling of the most important and learned rabbi of that time that we had a better sacrifice to substitute: that of our hearts and our lips.

The important thing about these questions is that they were asked not in a derogatory manner but in an attempt to find out more about Judaism. As long as questions are asked in that spirit, I or others will be more than happy to answer them.

— Send e-mail to David Berkowitz at

— Send e-mail to Andrew Mitchell at


sustainabilitysister 8 years ago

A couple of years ago I was at the 'new teacher hire' induction luncheon for USD 497 employees and was asked by a principal, as all of the teachers were at the table I was sitting at, "What denomination are you?" This is kind of tough to answer when you dance on the atheist/agnostic fence. Not a good ice breaker either.

Cait McKnelly 8 years ago

"Nowhere in our bible, which most people refer to as the Old Testament, is there the statement that God needs sacrifices either to sustain his powers or even as in some Pagan religions to survive."

I want to take exception to this statement. Neo-pagans do not do blood sacrifice and, although there is no way to be certain since there is no written record, indications are Druidic blood sacrifice stopped prior to even Judaism stopping it. Yes, they did human sacrifice but in studying the Bog People the very latest possible human sacrifice was almost 200 years BCE. There is symbolic "sacrifice" of grains and such in some ceremonies I have seen but these ceremonies are no different from Christian communion which is actually symbolic "human" sacrifice. The very idea that European pagans, specifically the Druids, even committed blood sacrifice comes from historical sources written by the Romans that have since been discredited as the propaganda of a conquering people. I would really like to know where Mr. Berkowitz got his ideas to make this statement.

cato_the_elder 8 years ago

It's good to see that Dave Berkowitz believes in something other than the Democrat Party, concerning which he is at all times zealously religious.

FloridaSunshine 8 years ago

cait48, if you don't mind, I have a couple of questions for you. Since you're wondering where Mr. Berkowitz got his ideas, I am asking about your resources for your statements...e.g., WHAT are the "indications" regarding the ceasing of Druidic blood sacrifice...with the very latest possible human sacrifice almost 200 years BC? Where did you obtain that information?...if you don't mind my asking. Exactly where have you seen ceremonies sacrificing grains and what does it represent to the people who perform this act? Exactly who was it that discredited the historical sources written by the Romans regarding blood sacrifice by the Druids?

cait48, how wise is it to make the statement, "Neo-pagans do not do blood sacrifice and, although there is no way to be certain since there is no written record"...?? Well, you get my drift.

And I thank you in advance for answering my questions.

FloridaSunshine 8 years ago

Rev. Mitchell...I have to smile when I agree with you that there are no stupid questions...but, oh, there are some answers that are indeed another matter!

Mr. Berkowitz...I laughed out loud reading your answer about children being a blessing. I have three adult children...I can relate!!

Thank you both for thought-provoking responses to the question.

wordgenie8 8 years ago

As the prototypical betrayer Judas at least metaphorially most certainly continues to be responsible for a lot of suicides.

Interesting how the Rabbi defines his response in terms of questions about his faith asked by outsiders--many of them likely pretty thick-headed

wordgenie8 8 years ago

Judas as the prototypical betrayer most certainly contunues to be responsible for a lot of suicides.

Interesting how the Rabbi defines his response in terms of questions about his faith asked by outsiders--many of them likely pretty thick-headed.

FloridaSunshine 8 years ago

I don't understand where this blog is going.

wordgenie8...your two statements make no sense whatsoever.

And BlessedSap...what in the world are you talking about???

This is ridiculous.

Cait McKnelly 8 years ago

@FloridaSunshine 1. Google "Bog People". There are a number of interesting articles about this phenomenon. The very latest body excavated to date is c.180BCE. There has been some speculation that these were not actually sacrifices to begin with but possible memorials to war dead. 2. The ceremonies I have witnessed were neo-pagan ceremonies performed here where I live. There is a very large network of neo-pagans in the Midwest. One of a handful of pagan centers, the Gaea Retreat Center, is just a few miles from where I live. You might look up an organization called Witches Voice ( online as well. And by the way I think it's a very wise statement to say that neo-pagans do not practice blood sacrifice, at least not within any of the very large networks to which I have had access. Those that do (if there are any) would be very insular cults ostracized by main stream neo-paganism. Neo-paganism is an Earth based religion that emphasizes harmony with nature and blood sacrifice has no part in it. As for sources on other things I have said, look for a book by Ronald Hutton called "The Druids". There are a number of books out there but this is the best I have found. For a look at a novelization (and an easier way to learn about it) of what Druidic society was like, based on very good sources (there's a three page bibliography at the end of the book), look for a book called "Druids" by Morgan Llewellyn. She also has another book called "Greener Shores" about the Druids of Hibernia (Ireland).

Cait McKnelly 8 years ago

@FloridaSunshine Oh wait. You also asked what the symbolic "sacrifice" of grains meant in neo-pagan ceremonies. It occurs at the harvest festivals and represents a "payback" or thanksgiving to the gods/goddesses for the bounty of the harvest. It also occurs at Imbolc (February 1), which is the feast of the goddess Brighid, and again at Beltane (May 1) as a prayer for fertility of the fields. Much of this is online and easily accessed.

FloridaSunshine 8 years ago

cait48: Thank you so much for the information...I appreciate your time. I'll check out each resource you mentioned...fascinating!!

Have a lovely Sunday.

pace 8 years ago

I worked at a place that had a lot of religious people. When I was asked what my faith was I would usually answer "sufi" but I admit to being ornery. They complained to the boss. So at a meeting he said " we are tolerant of religions , but they have to be real religions, those that accept Jesus christ." The remarks are made at me, but unhappily for him the two jewish girls stood up and walked out of the meeting. At the next meeting he apologized and said he considered the jewish faith a religion too. Oh those good old days.

Cait McKnelly 8 years ago

@TRA You must be a Scientologist, right?

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