Howard Voss-Altman: But sadly, most people do paint with a very broad brush. Why does the U.S. Congress hold hearings on the dangers of radical Islam? To fan the flames of bigotry and to distract people from the real, substantive problems that the United States faces. People who wish to dismiss Christianity and Islam don't need more quivers in their bow.
Michael Higgins: I wonder if the larger question is not so much the authority or abuse of religious authority around the end days, but the extraordinary explosion of interest in apocalypse in the popular media and what that says about our political and cultural insecurities and, therefore, our collective vulnerability to false prophets.
Guy Nicholson: Howard, what does Judaism have to say about "end times?"
Howard Voss-Altman: The Hebrew Bible, as far as I know, does not specifically mention any end times or end of days. Following the destruction of the Temple in the year 70, rabbis began writing about the Messiah and the "world to come," as a response to our darkest hour. Today, certain ultra-Orthodox sects speak regularly about the Messiah, when all the Jews will be resurrected - body and soul - and the world will be at one with God. However, this represents the beliefs of a very small minority of Jews. Reform Jews believe we are all working toward the day when, inspired by God, our world will resemble the kind of place that God envisioned for us in the Torah. Such days will be due to the work of our hands.
Lorna Dueck: Sometimes I have great hope in the work of our hands to bring about the shalom that the Hebrew Bible presents to us, but I'm discouraged at how evil can present with ferocity, or insidious systemic ruin in each new generation. I'm acting on, but also anticipating, a world where "there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." ( Revelation 21:4) That is where history is going … we just have no idea of when.
Howard Voss-Altman: As a voice of religious dissent, I must confess that I have no desire to see a world where "there will be no more death." If there were no more death or mourning or crying or pain, there would also be no life, no joy and no happiness. The old order of life and death (with some much-needed improvements) gives me great comfort and solace.
Lorna Dueck: That makes me smile Howard - so, in other words, this world is as good as it's going to get? No, I'm holding out for better.
Sheema Khan: It's interesting how the end seems to be similar in all three faiths. How we get there, is another matter.
Guy Nicholson: Sheema and Lorna have noted how lives have been ruined by following the type of prophecies we're discussing. Should a religious or spiritual leader bear any responsibility if his or her teaching encourages a follower to make bad choices? It's a much wider question than this case, wider even than religion itself.
Michael Higgins: Those who exploit the credulous and/or the innocent bear a heavy responsibility. Admittedly, this is difficult terrain to police or judge, but a rhetoric that endangers lives or incites hatred should be held to account.
Lorna Dueck: Yes, a religious leader bears the responsibility for false teaching. That too is part of the end times warnings of Scripture - your actions do impact your individual death.
Howard Voss-Altman: The spiritual leader must bear responsibility for his or her hateful teachings. The recent example of the killing of the physician in Kansas (just outside the doors of his church) was triggered by the fanatical rhetoric of the anti-choice movement and its agents. In 1995, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, who was under the influence of a rabbi who called for Mr. Rabin's death. One cannot light a fuse and then be surprised when an explosion occurs.
Sheema Khan: Wholehearted agreement here. We all bear responsibility for our own actions and words. If our deeds inspire others to do harm to others, then we also carry some of the responsibility. This, however, does not diminish the responsibility of those who choose to harm - they can't just say "So and so made me do it." We are responsible for the choices we make.
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