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The God Squad: Is it always righteous to die for faith?

August 02, 2013|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: When I was young and in Catholic schools half a century ago, we were taught that those who gave their lives for our religion were saints. Do you think those who die for their faith, even suicide bombers, will spend eternity in the presence of God? Stated differently, do you think God would see this as the most fervent way of demonstrating faith? We may think they are wrong, but they think, even more strongly, that we are! — A., via godsquadquestion@aol.com

A: Are you seriously asking me if God is pleased with the piety of terrorists? Dying for God does make one a martyr, but dying for a twisted and murderous version of what God never taught or desired is obscene. It's not the willingness to die that matters to God. It is the willingness to die for the good that matters, and all religions, properly understood, teach that God wants us to live and die fighting for the victory of love and kindness, justice and goodness.

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Blind obedience to what no religion teaches is a path to hell, not heaven. I have no idea why people admire conviction over moral character. Zealots have conviction, but they do not have a reverence for life that is the fundamental conviction of all the Abrahamic faiths. The saints you revered, and should still revere, were not just martyrs for God, they were also exemplars of the good.

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Q: As a Catholic, is it a sin to serve as a juror, and pass judgment on others? Scripture reads: "Judge not, lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1). — S., Lindenhurst, NY, via godsquadquestion@aol.com)

A: It's time to open your Bible to Matthew 22:21: "Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Also Mark 12:16-18 and Luke 20:25).

Juries belong to Caesar, my dear. Courts depend upon juries, and juries depend upon you. Serving on a jury is your civic duty, which if you had certain occupational duties you might be able to pass on to others, but otherwise is your responsibility. The reticence to judge others mentioned in Matthew has to do with humility, not justice. Juries are about justice, not humility. Do your duty if you can, and in your personal life, avoid being judgmental. If, however, you quote Matthew 7, my hunch is you will be quickly excused.

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Q: Please help me understand the difference between Jews and Messianic Jews. — L., via godsquadquestion@aol.com

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