Whose God?

I’ve seen a number of discussions about God lately, not so much intentionally about God as about the nature of gods, inspired in part by Professor Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College. Professor Hawkins had decided to wear a hijab to show solidarity with Muslims, and stated Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

As you might imagine, there has been quite an uproar over the suggestion that the God of the Christian Bible is also known as Allah. If he’s the same guy, why are the religions so different? Well, let us look at that question. Start with why do you think God, Allah, or any supreme being is male? You are trying to define the creator of the universe in human terms because they are the terms you are capable of understanding. For my part, when I refer to God I avoid gender specific pronouns, preferring “it” over “him” or “her.” This practice is the first step in incorporating the concept that God is in no way human.

One of the more troubling (to me) arguments to come out of these discussions suggests members of a religion in some way possess ownership of their God. This does not appear to be distant from the concept of my car owning me.

To answer the initial question, are these worshiped entities the same, very little investigation is required. Looking back a couple of millennia before Christ, Abraham makes his mark as a prophet. From Abraham comes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, three different approaches to the same prophecies, commonly referred to as “The Abrahamic Religions.” The same God, called by different names as time passed and languages changed. As those religions developed, “God” was attributed with different qualities, the manner of worship acquired different rituals. God didn’t change, the way humans interpreted God changed. Islam is simply the latest developmental spur of the Abrahamic tradition, in which Jesus is merely a prophet, as is Mohammad; the Quran being the inspired message of God to Muslims.

The evolution from Abraham gives us Judaism, Jesus appears and is rejected as the son of God by the Jews but accepted as the Messiah by those who create Christianity, Mohammad comes along and delivers the Quran rejecting Jesus’s status as Son of God, creating Islam. God did not change, just who is believed to have delivered his latest instructions. Being most recent, the Muslim believes his religion to be most evolved, thus the correct or “true” religion. Christians may counter their religion is still evolving, Protestantism produces new denominations routinely, but the core of Christianity, Christ, dates the religion as beginning with his birth. Each of the Abrahamic religions believe they are the one and true religion, leading the followers of each religion to believe the followers of the other religions are at best misguided and at worst following a different God, perhaps even an evil God. Some take it a step further denouncing other beliefs as not being religions at all.

As I stated earlier, we as humans define God using the measurements we are capable of understanding. God is seen as a fatherly, therefore male, figure. He must be very old, so he would have grey hair, and he would carry a staff to assist in walking. Even if you are one of those who believe the religious texts date the universe at six thousand years old, God would be well beyond the aging process of humans. Yet no one ever depicts it as a young being, creating the universe is thought to be the work of a mature being. Do you think its hair turned grey at the age of forty, or forty million? The question may already be in your mind, how is the dimension of time traveled by a being who created the universe and time along with it? As humans we travel about seventy years, yet God has traveled at very least billions of years, with some of those being before the current measure of years existed, does it appear older today than at the origin of the universe?

As humans, we cannot pretend to understand the details of what God is physically, much less its motives. The best we can do is to interpret God’s intentions for us, and every religion on Earth teaches we should love each other. If you honestly believe a religion teaches otherwise, tell me how long you practiced that religion before saying anything else, don’t tell me what you have heard about a religion you have not been involved with. Religions are different because they were created by different humans, each believing they understand God better than anyone else.

So I believe the answer to the question “Do we believe in the same God?” is quite obviously “yes,” but not in the way most people mean when they ask the question. I believe the answer remains “yes” regardless of the religions being compared, well beyond the Abrahamic religions, because God is not the rituals we follow in worship, or what we eat or wear.

God is Love.

If you do not believe God is Love, then you do believe in a different God than I do, you might want to check with your religious leaders to see if you believe in the same God they believe in.

Us and Them

 

Let me start with a simple question. After 9/11, when you all met Osama bin Laden, who said “I guess he’s right, let’s give him what he wants.”? Anyone? If anyone wants to contact me through the comments but does not want their name published, I will update this, but my thoughts are no one was convinced of his position by his ability to kill three thousand people.

So when we blow up a village chasing a terrorist, how many of the relatives of the dead or injured villagers do you think are going to congratulate us on a job well done? Far more likely, they will hate us and support further terrorism against us.

This is not a war with fronts and battle lines with soldiers lined up shooting at each other. This is a war where all those things we thought only happened to other people can happen to us, are happening to us. That is the lesson. We are all other people in the eyes of other people, if you see “us” as humanity, it was never happening to others, it has always been happening to us, we are doing it to ourselves. When we turn away refugees because they happen to be of the same religion professed by terrorists, we have have lost sight of that which makes us different from the terrorists.

I’m not saying I don’t want terrorists eliminated. As far as I am concerned they have violated their contract with humanity and invoked the most prejudicial Golden Rule, but killing innocent people has never won anyone any friends. This is a war of intelligence, and although as a former member of the intelligence community I made jokes about the oxymoron of military intelligence I can say in all seriousness we are woefully unarmed as a species. A terrorist is far less likely to spend two years being processed as a refugee in order to enter America than he would be to simply walk across the border with the other illegal immigrants.

If you are not familiar with the term “Daesh” please become so. It is a pejorative term in Arabic for those terrorists who no one can agree on a name for. IS, ISIL, ISIS, Those bloodthirsty motherfuckers, whatever, they don’t like Daesh. Kind of like when Bush 41 referred to Saddam Hussien as “Saddem” a word meaning “shoe shine boy.” This is one of your weapons, perhaps your only weapon, the ability to deny the terrorists access to your terror. Very much as when dealing with animals, show no fear. You should certainly take prudent precautions, but should the feces strike the oscillating rotary device, laugh in their faces.

 

Remember that stuff about turning the other cheek? Which part did you think was negotiable? Here is your biblical lesson for today. The punishment for any transgression was once death. There was no measure, only one response to bad behavior. God spoke to Moses, providing the concept of measure; an eye for an eye, then Jesus brought us to the next level, teaching that our Earthly existence was of little importance. As a species we are not moving in the right direction, death for any transgression seems to be returning to popularity, when we should be ready to move to a level beyond turning the other cheek. Look into your soul, are you prepared to evolve towards Homo Sapiens Supra, or are you among those left behind, as Homo Sapiens Sapiens left Homo sapiens neanderthalensis behind?

I do not make these statements based only on Daesh and the responses to their war on everyone. You had to realize they were just plain old crazy when even Al Qaeda rejected them as “too extreme,” they are not representative of any religion, or any thought process for that matter. Extreme is becoming normal, tolerance is increasingly vilified as weak or even subversive. Tolerance is not the goal of extremists, obliteration of opposing viewpoints is their goal. Turn that around as well, those who seek to obliterate opposing points of view are terrorists. This applies not only to Daesh and Al Qaeda, it applies to anyone who seeks to silence (and at its most severe, destroy) anyone in disagreement.

In the same sense all Muslims are not terrorists, all white people are not racists, and all racists are not white. You might think after a century and a half of racial awareness in America we would make some progress. We did, now we have slid back down from the mountaintop. “Students,” more appropriately “professional activists,” have started a wave of protests at universities across America, using the arguments of their grandparents against the reality their grandparents forged. Demanding, among other things, a return to segregation, a group of privileged students calling themselves the “Black Justice League” occupied offices at Princeton University. “Jim Crow” is invoked in some twisted argument for a “blacks only” space. In the Twilight Zone episode in my mind, these children are slapped into unconsciousness by their grandparents over Thanksgiving dinner, and wake up to face actual racism, so they might understand the words they are using.

We have seen tolerance and sensitivity turned upside down. Rather than seeking knowledge, the “prize” today appears to be offense. Free Yoga classes for disabled students have ended due to complaints of “cultural appropriation.”  Following this line of reasoning, it would be inappropriate to learn a language other than that of your nation of birth, listening to music from other cultures would be banned. How do these practices bring us together as a species?

They do not. They splinter us, until we are seven billion distinct cultures, churches of self, paranoid of the knowledge other churches even exist. A recent Pew Research poll found forty percent of Millennials support censorship under certain circumstances (no one seems to be in favor of censoring themselves, regardless of how offensive I might find them). Suppressing the expression of unpopular ideas does not make them go away, and as Larry Flynt said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like, it protects speech you don’t like.” More golden rule stuff here, give my thoughts the respect you seek for your own, you don’t need to agree or even listen, but allow my words to exist if you expect me to allow yours to exist.

The United States of America is an idea. An idea forged from the oppression of our founders. The rights specified in our constitution were not theories, they are rights which had been denied. Denying those rights today is anti-American and unpatriotic, regardless of the number of flags on your pick up truck. I don’t care if we lead the world or if we just follow along, but if we continue to move backwards, against our principles, we deserve to be left behind with the terrorists by people more civilized than us.

Faces in the crowd

Good morning, today is my birthday. I’m spending the weekend relaxing in the mountains, so on Friday evening I was talking with a friend and not watching any news. I woke to the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

As of now one hundred and twenty nine people are listed as dead, with another ninety nine of the three hundred fifty two wounded in “very serious condition.”

One hundred and twenty nine families will have an empty seat at the table. Lovers will lay down in empty beds, children will live their lives without a parent, parents will bury their children. One hundred twenty nine times over, for now, this time. The day before, forty three died and two hundred thirty nine were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in Beirut, one hundred forty seven were killed and seventy nine wounded in an attack on Garissa University in Kenya. Brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and friends lost forever.

Every face in the crowd is loved by someone, the eyes which once lit up when that face entered the room are now filled with tears.

On Saturday morning, my circles of friends checked to see if they were intact. Most were. Not all. I haven’t heard from Beirut yet, Baba had a way of knowing where his next restaurant should be blown up.

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe was in Paris to complete an album with his band Captain Americano. He decided to catch the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Bataclan with his girlfriend. They are now faces in the crowd.

It is not a good day to be a Muslim.

I knew a woman who grew up in Germany during the second world war. She was a child, she did not know any Jews, she lived on a farm and knew there was a war going on. She had no idea about the holocaust taking place. Years later, in America, she was just another German, a NAZI, a Jew killer in the eyes of anyone who heard her heavy accent.

In America during the war we “interned” people of Japanese descent, American citizens were sent to what were essentially prisoner of war camps inside America.

As a society, I do not believe we have matured much since then. After the 11 September attacks anti-Muslim prejudices were so out of hand that Sikhs, who have nothing in common with Islam but happen to wear turbans (unlike actual Arabs or Muslims) were the target of hate crimes.

I do not expect people to be able to differentiate between peaceful Muslims and ISIS terrorists when they cannot tell a Sikh from a Muslim.

It is time to make some tough decisions, and in order to make intelligent decisions you must be armed with facts. Hear that well extremist friends. Be more intelligent than your adversary.

We are indeed at war, our my opponent is hate. So look deep inside yourself, which side are you on? It does not matter if you are Muslim or Christian; if your motivation to action is hate, you are on the same side, and you are not on my side of this battle.

My God tells me to love everyone. I return to Matthew 5:43-45; “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

If you choose to feed hate, it grows just like any other organism. One friend stated it quite well; “Let us not get polarized and divisive. Extremist organizations thrive and recruit from divisive societies. Let us not cast blame on an entire community because of the actions of a minority. People killing people are not fueled by differences of race or religion. Those are just the excuse for a deeper seeded evil fueled by extremism. So let’s not provide the soil on which those seeds of extremism can thrive and flourish.”

Do not mistake my intentions. The individuals who are responsible for the destruction of lives and families should be hunted down and eliminated like the cancer they are. Feeding that cancer by attacking innocents is counterproductive.

My time here on Earth nears its end, but my time with God has only begun. I will NOT spend eternity reconciling hate, that task is to be completed here. Besides, I hear they have a pretty good band in heaven, they just got another guitarist.

Hearts and Minds

I am not your typical Christian, if there is such a creature. I’ve read the Bible a few times, the New Testament several, from which I believe I understand what God expects of me.

There are some parts which may be more significant than others, I shed tears when I get to Acts 5:30 “30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

Jesus’ words are the most important part, and his most profound and simple message is expressed in “The Sermon on the Mount,” recounted in the various gospels, of which I prefer the writing of Matthew. In Matthew’s fifth chapter, verse 17, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (emphasis mine).” He makes several examples of a “that was then, this is now” nature, culminating with my favorite verses; “43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matthew finishes with Jesus’ final instructions in his 28th cahpter “19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

This is the call to proselytize, the foundation of mission work. Note that Jesus told the disciples to “teach,” not belittle the beliefs held by others, or torture them into submission. One definition of “proselytize” is “to advocate or promote (a belief or course of action).

Obviously, some people misunderstand Jesus’ gentle ways, missing the message of Matthew 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

You can capture hearts with love, and minds with knowledge, but when you simply attack someone’s beliefs you should expect them to be defensive. If in your attack you misrepresent their beliefs, it’s time to go home. You lose. Think how you would respond to the same behavior. Offer the truth, and if you are turned away, turn away.

Presently the Muslim culture has been hijacked by terrorists, who distort their religion to justify acts of hatred and violence. So far the terrorists have been successful in convincing the Western world they represent Islam, routinely murdering any Muslims who dared to disagree. This is the forced conversion, from Islam to Al Qaeda, that results in resentment, and the eventual overthrow from within. Eventual.

Fearing the terrorists’ and their brand of Islam, Christian missions in the Arab word have flourished. This is not in response to Jesus’ call to teach, but true “Islamophobia.” Islam is not the problem, terrorism is. The two are different. Proselytizing as a political weapon is not what Jesus had in mind.

Recently I came across an article claiming pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam. No, not any more than it is a cornerstone of Christianity. There are events in the Quran that could be called child molestation if they happened today, fortunately the Old Testament doesn’t mention ages in all that “begetting.”

Luke gives the most details about Jesus’ mother (Mary), from which it has been calculated she was 14 at the time of Jesus’ birth, and may have married Joseph at age 12. Judged in the same light as Islam, Christianity would include a cornerstone of child molestation.

We simply cannot judge a civilization of two thousand years ago by the standards of today. Are there Muslim pedophiles? No doubt in direct proportion to the number of Christian pedophiles. Oh, you’ve been in the same cave with the Pope? Pedophilia has more to do with power than sex. It is not an “American” problem, it is a “Human” problem.

When our missionaries attempt to convert Muslims by spreading lies about their religion, they are no different than the terrorists. Hearts and Minds follow attractive examples, Jesus (to me) is the best example of how to live. His message appeals to one third of the world’s population, he didn’t touch that many souls by lying to them.

Spreading lies and distortions are hate mongering. Anyone doing so in the name of any religion has missed the teachings of their religion. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t like that, and there is no avoiding his judgement. Our lives in this world are finite, choosing to live those lives opposed to God has consequences that last for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

On Pens and Machine guns

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I am Charlie

As most of my readers are American, they have probably never heard of Charlie Hebdo prior to the mass murder that took place on 7 January at the magazine’s Paris office. It is not the type of publication that would be popular with most Americans, or for that matter, most people. I am not Charlie, nonetheless Je me tiens avec Charlie. Free expression is an alleged cornerstone of American and other free societies, I often find myself defending the rights of people I would never shake hands with. My heroes have been the Marquis de Sade and Larry Flynt, not for what they published, but for their ability to be published at all. One of my favorite quotes of Larry is “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you.” We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have suffered to insure our rights.

Charlie Hebdo is a rather adolescent publication, perhaps satirical, perhaps simply another incarnation of the insult humor of Don Rickels. The humor often is more of a “I can’t believe you said that” reaction, or “That’s really going to piss off the X,” where X equals any group. Charlie Hebdo didn’t single out Islam, they poked everyone, Islam just rose to the top of the list of favorite targets by lacking any sense of humor. In America we give the same honor to North Korea.

The Charlie Hebdo attack contains some interesting points many will miss. The first Police officer on the scene, Ahmed Merabet, was from an Algerian family (Algeria being a formerly French territory). He happened to be Muslim. After being wounded by the terrorists he begged for his life and was then shot to death. Obviously not all Muslims are terrorists, but Ahmed’s brother makes the point that terrorists are not Muslims at all. Al-Qaeda and ISIS may wrap themselves in Islam, but if you truly believe in an all powerful God, what use does your God have with your machine gun? Can’t God take care of its issues without assistance?

This is not a religion

This is not a religion

This may be the catalyst for separating terrorists from Muslims, even though Magritte’s surrealism was lost on this artist. My prayers continue.

Another point to consider is the response to the murders. One French newspaper ran the headline “12 morts, 66 millions blessés,” as this was an attack on France. The terrorists were hunted down and killed in days. This was also an attack on the arts community, which has come out strongly supporting freedom of expression (no real surprise) with the pencil versus the machine gun theme.

“Artist” is a vague description, after years of being described as an artist I have accepted the title, but I still maintain everyone is an artist in their own media. Many of my fellow artists take the title more seriously than I take them, one illustrator commenting “Are there ideals worth dying for? Certainly. But does blood need to be shed? I think not,” demonstrating why his chosen media is pictures rather than words. This is a tough one for my generally mild mannered colleagues, dying involves spilling blood. We can celebrate the brave martyrs who stand up to the terrorists, but please do not claim to be willing to die for your beliefs if you are going to whine about scraping your knees. Do me a favor, stand behind me, not beside me. Just because the pen is mightier than the sword we are not guaranteed to survive every battle.

Free expression is the essence of free society. Each and every one of us has the right to say whatever we feel. The celebration of that right is allowing it to those who offend us. It is not an expression of free speech to tell someone to shut up, free speech is the recognition you can respond to any statement with a statement of your own. You don’t need to kill them, nor they you, due to a disagreement. This is often referred to as civilized behavior.

This is where we draw yet another lesson from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on free expression is an attack on free society, and the attack is not just being waged by radical Muslims. One of the beauties of free speech is its ability to highlight the sensitive and the obscene. Every time one group speaks of the annihilation of their opponents they expose themselves as intolerant to the degree of being uncivilized. Certain elements attempt to shut down speech they find offensive, which in itself is the greatest offense. Charlie Hebdo probably could not have been published in America, where tolerance is defined as being intolerant of offensive views. Maybe it is because I am a writer, a musician, a communicator, an educator, one of my strongest beliefs has always been “silence is death.” By surrendering our basic rights in the name of “political correctness” we have failed to nourish the practice of critical thought and debate, leaving violence as the only response for the simple minded.

Remember the words of Larry Flynt, and apply them to the poem by Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the free thinkers
and I did not speak out
because I was not a free thinker.
Then they came for the Cartoonists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Cartoonist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

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Religions, Chapter five “What is God”

The previous chapters, Religions, Islam, Eastern Religions, and “Others”, may be viewed by clicking those links.

Having reviewed the major religions of the world, we have (I hope) seen the similarities at their cores. Most common is a belief, or faith, in a higher being, “God” or “Gods”. These God concepts may differ in manifestation, but one commonality is love, God’s benevolent love of mankind, and the teaching that we should love each other, and love ourselves.

So why do differences in religion generate so much hatred?

Most people are raised in a religion, and taught its ways through childhood. Whether they agree with the religion or not, they accept these teaching as “fact” (with the exception of Atheism, which I’ll get to later). Anyone challenging those facts, directly or indirectly, is challenging their childhood. You’ve probably known people who have abandoned their faith, but still defend it. So it’s not difficult to understand how people who don’t understand the nonviolent nature of their faith will kill to defend it.

Every religion I have studied tells its followers to share their religion. If you live life as a Buddhist, you share your values with others. No religion that I have studied advocates in their sacred teachings to force others to convert to that religion. This is where organized religions slip away from their roots. Catholics have had forced conversions, Muslims have chosen to kill non believers, Jehovah’s Witnesses have bored many people nearly to death, but the actual scriptures of these religions teach respect for other beliefs.

It is the human element, the ego, that chooses to interpret ancient texts to justify actions rather than be a guide to actions. It is the charismatic element, religious leaders, who guide the uninformed away from the path laid out by the foundations of a religion. If a belief system is based on faith, how does forcing someone to accept it allow for free will? No God says “believe in me or die”, but many say “believe in me or I will not be there for you when you die”. Only the weak minded will believe by force, and it is the weak minded who attempt to convert by force.

One of my favorite moments in the television program “Seinfeld” is when one character, an Atheist, is in a relationship with a Christian. When she challenges the Christian with “Why aren’t you angry with me?” he nonchalantly replies “What do I care? You’re the one going to hell”.

Atheists, by and large, seek justification for their refusal to believe in God. They routinely (not always, I have known more enlightened Atheists) will practice their belief by insulting the faith of Theists as lacking in intelligence. “Faith” has a meaning. It does not mean “proven”, it means “believed”. My wife is an Atheist, and her motto is “I’ll do my thing, you do yours”, I try to take a similar approach with her. What do I care, she’s the one going to hell.

Most Atheists will insist that Atheism is not a religion. It most certainly is. It is faith that God does not exist. A negative (God does not exist) cannot be proven, so it is faith. Atheists tend to be rebelling against a particular religion (quite obvious when you see them react to being identified as a religion), most often because they are rebelling against authority, they didn’t like being told how to behave, Nonetheless, they accepted the teachings of that religion, and confused “religion” with “God”, so in rejecting that religion they believe they have rejected all God, and with it all religions. An Agnostic, on the other hand, has examined his spirituality, and finding no “proof” of a God chooses to question its existence. They neither proclaim that God exists, nor deny its existence. Atheists are as susceptible as Theists to not understanding their religion.

Monotheistic religions tend to refer to God as “He”, and the majority of religions have a human explanation of what God is. What other explanation could humans have? With Christianity, people will describe God as a man in a long robe with a flowing white beard. I suppose, having lived for eternity one’s beard might grow quite long, but did it go white when he was sixty, or sixty million? My description of God comes from Genesis 1:2 “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”. That’s it. God created us in the image of its soul, not of its body. The being that created the universe most likely does not have a corporeal form, much less two legs, two arms and genitalia. Being capable of creating the universe would put God apart from time, it would not age or breath oxygen. God’s being is beyond our ability to comprehend, in fact some religions teach that actually seeing God would cause death. Religion is about knowing God, but we are confined by what we can imagine. God said to Moses “I am”, no further description can be put into words. But words are all we have.

Knowing all this, people still try to define God. People attempt to poke holes in different beliefs because the adjectives used thousands of years ago don’t fit our level of understanding. Religion is our interpretation of descriptions given by people who had just developed a written language. The stories had been passed through the generations verbally prior to that after humans developed the ability to speak. And we expect an in depth description of the process of creation, the being that accomplished it, and a complete history of the world? There are no dinosaurs in the Bible because they are not relevant to the subject.

Holy texts contain the elements germane to the faith. The Qur’an describes the life of Mohammed, and very clearly states that it is not a pattern to be replicated. The Old Testament speaks to the people of the Iron Age, the New Testament proclaims itself as NEW, in several passages Jesus says “that was then, this is now” (in Aramaic).

Each of us has a personal relationship with God. I believe that is far more important than the religion we belong to, and it is only important to the individual, and the God in which they believe. Beyond that, we can share our beliefs, but we can never expect anyone to feel the way that we do.

I think that wraps up this series, next Sunday will be a spiritual topic not directly related to this set. And I’ll probably write an article on the “religion of politics” at some point, but that will be a secular piece.

Religions, Part two, Islam

This week, I continue the series on world religious beliefs, focusing on the second largest block of religions, Islam. If you missed chapter one, you can see it here.

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In America, prior to 1979, Islam was “unknown” in the sense that it was ignored and misunderstood. For the most part, it still is. With the hostage crises in Iran, Americans were introduced to a form of Islamic government, which was largely taken to be the Islamic religion. Just as within Christianity, charismatic leaders often pervert the teachings of the religion. Over the following years, we assisted Muslims in Afghanistan, using them as our proxies against the Soviets. When the Soviets left so did we, and in the power vacuum the Taliban took control, building in fanaticism up to the attacks on 11 September 2001, tarnishing the name of Islam and all Arabs.

To this day, Islam is associated with terrorism, not the peace from which the name “Islam” is derived. A total lack of understanding has resulted in “revenge” assaults against Muslims, and in fact anyone who appears to be Muslim. Sikhs, a radically different religion, wear turbans, and have been the target of anti-Muslim attacks.

Islam_branches_and_schools.svg

As you can see, Islam is as splintered as Christianity. I have not been able to get accurate numbers of the members of the various sects (the word “sect” is commonly used rather than denomination, more on that later). Sunni is the largest sect, making up as much as ninety percent of all Muslims. Shias follow with as many as ten percent, and the remainder make up as many as six percent. As you noticed, those numbers don’t add up, but they do indicate how few Muslims fall into the “other” category.

Like Christians, Muslims have certain sects they universally agree do not fit into Islam, most notably the Druze, but the reason that the groups are called “sects” rather than “denominations” is that, for the most part, members of each sect see outsiders as not being part of Islam.

Also much like Christianity, within a sect are sub sects, also called “orders” or “schools”.

And like anything else in the world, there are extremists and people who don’t follow what their sect is about.

Also like Christianity, Islam is based on reading and understanding the holy scriptures, in this case the Quran. Take my next words very slowly. More than half of Muslims are illiterate. This is not a prejudice against Islam, it is a fact born out in study after study. There is nothing genetically wrong with Muslims, and many great minds happen to be Muslim. As a whole, the community resides in parts of the world where education is lacking, and is simply not available. Add to that the sects and extremists who prohibit the education of women, and you end up with people who are unable to understand the meaning of their religion.

The Quran is a history of the prophet Mohammed. It tells his story. In the same way that the Old Testament is misquoted by Christians (who have been given charge of “The New Word” by Christ and should only live their lives by his teachings), some Muslims either take scriptures out of context or misinterpret them. When God tells Moses to commit genocide, that does not mean that we should continue doing so today. Neither do passages in the Quran apply outside the context in which they occurred.

While justice is harsh in the Quran, there are many non-Muslims in the world today that may wish severe corporeal punishment would be allowed. The crime rate in Muslim countries is markedly lower than other countries. The Quran also prescribes mercy and compassion, and states that justice is to be dispensed by a court, not a street gang.

It should be remembered that one famous American Muslim, Muhammed Ali, refused to enter military service because of his interpretation of the Quran’s teachings on war. In his typical, authentic style, Ali said “I ain’t got no quarrel with the VietCong, no VietCong ever called me nigger”.

You may hear Muslims refer to “True Islam”. This again can be compared to Christians who feel that certain “Christian” groups are not following the teachings of Christ. You may be familiar with this situation. Both sides claim to be following the root religion, one side is obviously wrong. In my experience, the side advocating violence is usually the side that is wrong.

As I said last week, just because someone claims to be a follower of a particular religion, they do not necessarily follow the teachings of that religion, or speak for any other members of the religion. One of the most common forms of propaganda is called “Bandwagon”. It is used to make others feel that your message is shared by a majority, and it also affects the members of your group, making them feel united with a larger cause. This form of propaganda is common in advertising, and very popular in politics. It is quite common with extremists, in trying to gain support or bolster their sense of importance, and it is also used destructively, as when we ascribe the beliefs of extremists to an entire group.

This is what brought me here. I am angered by those who tarnish my beliefs as a Christian with the actions of such groups as the Westboro Baptist Church. It occurred to me that perhaps I tend to see all of Islam as the Taliban. I was considering that when Christian extremists act in violence, they are operating outside the teachings of Christ, but when Muslim extremists act in violence, they are following the teachings of Mohammed. I was wrong. I started to realize that I might be wrong when I made the argument “Violence is caused by crazy people, it doesn’t matter what religion they belong to”. Islam is just another religion, it can be followed or perverted.

Many thanks to Lena Winfrey Seder for her insights into Islam. She also recommends the following books to anyone interested in exploring further; Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar) which is about the Biography of Prophet Muhammad and Islamic Awakening Between Rejection and Extremism: by Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi.

Next week I’ll be focusing on “Oriental” religions, if there is anyone who would like to be involved you may contact me via comment, just ask that I not publish your comment if you wish.