But some people-especially Jewish theologians-do worry.

A few years ago a Harvard professor of Jewish theology gave a rather pointed lecture called "The Jew in the Christmas Tree," the title playing off my book. His point, I believe-he never actually engaged me personally so I heard this second-hand-is that, from a Jewish perspective, becoming a Buddhist is just as "bad" as becoming a Christian. And how "bad" is that? Pretty "bad." Because of the history of persecution over the last thousand years especially, Jews have traditionally regarded those Jews who practice Christianity as having left the fold. That's because Christianity has historically presented itself as a replacement for Judaism-with a great deal of success, I might add-so that even many Jews will refer to the Torah as the Old Testament, not realizing that this means that their book has been superseded by a newer covenant. That was the Harvard professor's point: From an outside point of view, it might seem puzzling or contradictory to say that a Jew who practices Buddhism is still a Jew but a Jew who practices Christianity is no longer a Jew.

Within the Jewish community, this increasing hyphenation-like increasing intermarriage-has been seen predominantly as a crisis. I view it more as an opportunity. Both hyphenation and intermarriage reflect the open-and opening-nature of our society, the breaking down of barriers between religions, ethnicities, and races. I think God is pretty pleased by this. First of all, it's clear God loves variety-one glance at the blessed variety of nature and of human nature can tell you that. God loves mix-and-match, and so clearly God is on the side of the hyphen. Second, the curse of all religion is triumphalism, the insane belief that "My religion is right and the rest of you are going to go to hell." Almost every religion on the planet is plagued with this virus of triumphalism. But people who take the trouble to learn two religious languages are less likely to be bigots, less likely to be dogmatic, less likely to hate. God bless the hyphen.


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