I passed several orthodox Jews on my way to work today and it got me thinking about atonement. First of all, what is it? And second, atonement for what? I did a little research on the subject via the Internet and found out it has to do with forgiveness. It reminded me of a conversation I overheard a little while back about the "trouble" in the middle east. That's what we call it when innocent people are murdered in the streets: "trouble". Anyway this one guy said he heard on a talk show that the reason the Arabs and the Jews are unable to stop fighting each other is because they don't believe in Jesus. And since Jesus invented forgiveness, that means they don't have the concept of forgiveness in their cultures and so they just keep on hating each other. I really wanted to smack these idiots for being such narrow-minded, boneheaded bigots. But I thought, considering the circumstances, it was better to forgive them.
It is astounding to me how rampant ignorance is and how easily people will believe anything they hear on the radio, or see on TV, or read on the Internet, or in an email... On 60 Minutes a few weeks ago they did a story about how most Muslims seem to believe that the attack on the World Trade Center was engineered by Israeli intelligence and that 4000 Jews who worked there were called that morning and warned not to go into work that day. This is gospel truth to hundreds of thousands of people, many of them supposedly well-educated and intelligent. And it was apparently started by some misquoted news story that hit the Internet and spread like wildfire. Perhaps we have moved from the Information Age into the Misinformation Age.
Or more accurately the Disinformation Age.
There have been so many "leaks" to the media about our "plans" to "invade" Iraq, I'm starting to wonder if the Pentagon isn't really just a big P.R. agency. Maybe we aren't really planning to invade Iraq at all, maybe we're just trying to create a "buzz." If the word of mouth is good and the project seems to have legs, we can develop it into a concept and try and get some backing. If we can line up the foreign markets and pre-sell the distribution, we'll be sure to get greenlighted for production. And if that happens, we can always hire someone to write a battle plan. Hell, it practically writes itself. I mean it's a sequel after all, how hard can it be?
And what about this big "misunderstanding" involving the Shoney's waitress and the three middle-eastern medical students? First they were terrorists with bombs. Then it was all just a hoax. Now they're persecuted minorities accusing everyone of racial profiling. I'll tell you whose being profiled: that poor waitress at Shoney's. Don't tell me you haven't repressed a snicker yourself once or twice picturing poor old Eunice dutifully writing down the plate numbers of three alleged terrorists who were probably just messing with her head.
So what does all of this have to do with forgiveness? Apparently what one is being forgiven on the day of atonement is breaking a promise made to God. So what promise have I ever made to God? Thou shalt not kill? That's a place to start. But do you really get forgiven for that? I think there's something more basic than that. Something like what happens when your parents leave you on your own for the first time. They say "Be good." But they know that as soon as they leave we're going to go hog wild, jumping off the roof and having keg parties and what not. What they really mean is "Try not to hurt each other, and don't burn the place down."
I think that's all that God wants us to do. When he left us here, I think he made a deal with us that we could have the place to ourselves as long as we didn't hurt each other and we didn't burn the place down.
So I think it's a good idea, at least once a year, to take responsibility for your sins. And it's nice to think that if you do, you will be forgiven. Our parents forgave us when they came home one night and found the kitchen table broken in two and the backyard littered with beer cans. And I think that's because we didn't try to talk our way out of it. We admitted our sins. We didn't try to blame it on the godless next-door neighbors or the evil white-trash party-crashers. Even if it was their fault.
In the Disinformation Age, nobody takes responsibility for anything, because nothing is true. It's all a hoax or a spin or a hype or a ploy or a cover story or a red herring or a scapegoat or some other figment of the underdeveloped imagination.
So forgive me Lord, for I have sinned. I hated the bad guys and cheered the good guys. I felt relieved when bombs went off places other than here. I tried to ignore the suffering of others because it made me uncomfortable. I was glad that it didn't happen to me. And I promise to try harder this year to be good.