I am a lover of God and a student of religion. I do my best to understand the nature of religion, and how it justifies the worst of which we are capable as well as calls us to the best.

There are people of faith on all sides of an issue. Religion is what we interpret it to be, even as we deny we are interpreting; and God says what we choose God to say – even as we deny we are choosing. This denial makes us vulnerable to those among us, both religious and political, who hope to rise to power on a wave of fear. Their current target is Islam.

I, too, am afraid of Islam, but no more than I am afraid of Judaism and Christianity. All three religions are steeped in blood, even as God calls for compassion, justice, love and peace. Worse still, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are mutually exclusive faiths; only one of them can be true, and each measures truth in body counts. Read our holy books, read our histories, read the daily news. But none of this excuses the demonization of Islam and our Muslim neighbors.

If you want to keep yourself, your family and your country free from theocracy, don’t opt for muscular, xenophobic, fear-based and hate-filled rhetoric disguised as Christianity and draped in the American flag; stand up for the First Amendment. Freedom of religion has kept us free from theocracy. Repressing religion only empowers it. Welcome Islam to our community and demand transparency from every faith.

I challenge all believers to take up the hard work of cleansing their respective faiths of the hatred and violence embedded in them. I call all believers and especially the clergy to an Abrahamic reformation, one that helps us deal with and heal from the shadow side of monotheism by cleansing ourselves and our religions of fear, hatred and violence. Find ways of disempowering the fear, hatred and violence in our sacred texts, customs and institutions.

Let us encourage our clergy to gather together and produce guidelines for interpreting our respective religions that make compassion and justice our primary concern. Let us state unequivocally our opposition to terror, violence and oppression of peoples, persons and the planet. Let us state unequivocally our support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And let us measure our religions against those rights, boldly changing what we teach and what we practice whenever they come into conflict with those rights.

Let us show the world a new way of being religiously diverse, one not rooted in fear or kumbaya, but in humility, honest dialogue and the First Amendment as the best antidote to theocracy and political demagoguery.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an author and educator. He blogs at Beyond Religion, where a version of this column previously appeared.

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