Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Christianity and Islam, part I

There has been much ado (mainly in certain American Christian circles) since the French Paris Terror attacks about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Before I continue on my blog series on comparative religion, I suppose I should put down up front where I am on that issue. I personally have issue with saying Muslims worship another God because if you posit that they worship another God solely on the fact that they don't have an understanding of the Trinity, then you logically have to say that Jews worshiped another God too. If you go there, it's Marcionism all over again. I just can't go there personally.

Muslims claim to worship the God of Abraham. Scientific tests of genetics have concluded that modern Jews and Arabs do have a common ancestor. To me, it is not my place to tell God who is or is not in the "Children of Abraham" club; that is for God and God alone to sort out. Any child of Abraham, no matter how much I may disagree with them about the nature of God, deserves respect.

This is not to say that I engage in indifferentism, or that all religions are all somehow equally valid or on a pathway to God so it does not matter what you believe. I do not hold this at all. I firmly believe in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe in the Incarnation, and that Jesus was fully God and fully man. That having been said, how God deals with all the Children of Abraham is none of my business. All I can be is the icon pointing toward Christ and the revelation of the Cross and Resurrection. God does the saving and forgiving. All I can do is point to the revelation I have been given. It's up to the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

I could go into a long discourse at this point as to why I believe what I do, but largely my points have already been made for me on this blog here. The author there does it quite eloquently and well from a solid Catholic understanding of theology and history. There are a few minor points in that article I might quibble with, but they are so minor that I feel no need to re-invent the wheel. In coming days, I am sure I will touch on some of the points that article makes, but I am largely in substantive agreement with his line of thinking.

I would only add that I feel that my tact in dealing with our Muslim brothers and sisters is simply more productive in terms of being a good Christian witness. Coming out with guns blazing that someone is going straight to hell for their deeply held religious belief seldom, if ever, is conducive to making friends or sharing of serious faith matters. I find it not in showing of charity, and not in keeping with the model of the Apostle Paul.

In Acts 17, Paul preaches one of his most famous sermons to the Aeropagus,to the altar to the unknown god.

"   22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." (ESV)

Note what Paul does here. He does NOT try to tear down the altar and call it a worshiping of another god. He does not start well, "Y'all are going to hell cause you don't believe in Jesus!" What does he do? He compliments them for the faith and finds common ground. He continues to reveal the revelation that God had already started, even within the confines of Greco-Roman paganism. He meets people where they are at in their belief and then proceeds to point them toward Jesus from within their own religious context.

I think that is crucial. Fire and brimstone does not make anyone want to listen to you, regardless of whether or not you are right. Charity, love, and mutual sharing is much more productive to having meaning conversations about religion than condemnation and polemics.

So, that is where I am coming from on the relation of Muslims and Christians. There are profound ideas and theologies that separate us, but I find it not helpful to alienate people before the conversation has even yet begun.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Different Track for Lent

In years past during Lent on this blog, I have done various series on different theological topics. I have not done a good series in a while, mainly because I just have not had the inspiration and/or time. However, I think I have hit upon a topic that might interest people. Perhaps it is more precise to say that what I have in mind is of interest to me, and maybe the topic will be for you. With all things social media, I find it difficult to guess what will generate the most discussion and what will flop, as it seems to me that the more innocuous and mundane a post, the more discussion it will generate. For instance, Facebook back around New Year's had an app that let me see my top 3 most liked postings of the past year. I was astounded that my number one post with both the most comments and 'likes' was a picture I had posted back in August of my home grown tomatoes. I was quite surprised, which can only lead me to believe that either I am the greatest tomato grower in the world or my Facebook friends really lead extremely boring lives, but that is neither here nor there.

I have for some time been exasperated with American culture's penchant for being willfully ignorant. We like to be ignorant and how dare you question my preconceived notions of how the world works, regardless of however ignorant it might be! We like to wallow in our ignorance like pigs in the mud and post asinine social media memes to that end unto the ages of ages, amen. One particular topic that is a American cultural lightning rod is the whole topic of Islam.

Now, when I bring up the topic of Islam, you no doubt can picture easily the hate filled anti-Muslim rhetoric that floods our airwaves and social media feeds. This was particularly true since 9/11 (though less social media back then) and resurfaced with a vengeance after the Paris terror attacks a few months back when my Facebook feed looked like an advanced French computer strike force had hacked the accounts of virtually all my friends and put in place of their profile pics a French flag. I have never seen so many pictures of the Eiffel tower in one place at one time in my life. Now, as reactionary as that was, I can somewhat understand the phenomenon. People felt unsafe, and when people feel unsafe, they have to find a bogeyman to blame, either real or imagined.

But the bizarre over reaction of the other end of the political spectrum surfaced as well. You had a Presidential administration and (largely) media bending over backwards to avoid using any semblance of the term "Islamic terrorist" or "Muslim extremist" to the extent that the President on numerous occasions openly said that the Islam or Muslim influence had in no way, shape, or form anything to do with any terror attack anywhere ever. This, with all due respect to the office of the President, is simply just as ignorant. No one in the history of the world ever strapped a bomb to themselves and blew themselves up with the words on their lips of Allahu Akbar" (الله أكبر) if they have never heard of Islam in any form. 

The media usually (ignorantly) always translates Allahu Akbar as meaning "God is Great." This is actually not technically correct. Allah, of course, means God in Arabic (as it does also in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.) 'Akbar' in English is more properly translated 'greater,' not 'great.'

Great = كبير (Kebir)
Greater = أكبر (Akbar)

The phrase is a quote from the Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam in what is know as a Hadith, or saying of Islam. The Hadiths are not part of the actual Qu'ran. (I will discuss more on this in a later post.) For purposes of this introduction to my Lenten series on Islam and Christianity, the following is accepted by and translated into English by Muslims from the Sahih Hadith

"The Prophet set out for Khaibar and reached it at night. He used not to attack if he reached the people at night, till the day broke. So, when the day dawned, the Jews came out with their bags and spades. When they saw the Prophet; they said, "Muhammad and his army!" The Prophet said, Allahu--Akbar! (Allah is Greater) and Khaibar is ruined, for whenever we approach a nation (i.e. enemy to fight) then it will be a miserable morning for those who have been warned."
Sahih Bukhari 4:52:195

What I intend to write on periodically during Lent is not intended to be some form of apology for Islam nor an attack upon it. For people who know me, my pedagogical method in teaching is primarily just to get people to think at all, not necessarily to think like me. While I am Christian, I do have Muslim friends. That being said, I also understand that there are some grave misunderstandings about what Islam teaches, both among Christians and among Muslims as well. Muslims and Christians have some points of agreement and some serious points of disagreement. I will be writing from a Christian perspective, but, as in all things, I always endeavor to be fair and to show respect to everyone, even I disagree with them.

Interfaith dialogue, if it is of any value (and I think that it is) must always start with and end with the idea that we must all be allowed to come to the table and share our points of view and theology unashamedly. This must be grounded in a sense of respect for the other, for the other, no matter what they believe, are still made in the likeness and image of God. Human dignity is something given by God, and it is not only for people who might possibly agree with us or our worldview or might end up being persuaded by us. Polemics (arguing for the sake of arguing) is not helpful, nor is the belief that we have to somehow agree. Likewise, interfaith dialogue must include the freedom to disagree respectfully. If, by you and your beliefs having a seat at the table must mean I must give up my seat and my opinions or beliefs at the table for fear of "offending" the other, then any meaningful discussion will never be forthcoming, and the whole enterprise is doomed to failure before it even begins. Freedom and respect of the other must always be a two way street in any meaning dialogue. 

After studying and discussing for some months with actual Muslims, I feel prepared to give some thought and information on what Islam actually teaches. I think this is important because, like it or not, the culture clash of this century will continue to be a clash of civilizations. I think it is important to be informed as both a citizen and an a Christian. I do hope my musings and explanations on the basics of Islam and its divergence from Christian theology (and what we might actually learn from or about Islam) might help you better understand your Muslim neighbors and be a better Christian at the same time.

I hope you continue to read this blog in coming weeks. I think it will be an interesting ride. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

This is how an Empire dies. Right here.

These new projections by the Congressional Budget Office are truly horrifying.

"The projected deficits would push debt held by the public up to 86 percent of GDP by the end of the 10-year period, a little more than twice the average over the past five decades. Beyond the 10-year period, if current laws remained in place, the pressures that had contributed to rising deficits during the baseline period would accelerate and push debt up even more sharply. Three decades from now, for instance, debt held by the public is projected to equal 155 percent of GDP, a higher percentage than any previously recorded in the United States."

Can a Catholic in good conscience vote for Bernie Sanders?

Fr. Longnecker puts it succinctly: Democratic Socialism is not necessarily the deal breaker.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Beware the Moloch's Insatiable Appetite for Human Flesh...

US Military Generals now want women to register for the draft.

Apparently, the lessons from the French Revolution, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and Khmer Rouge have already been forgotten. The anti-human agenda of the egalitarians always -- ALWAYS -- requires blood sacrifices. As the Roman Empire US Government stumbles blindly along the path of absolute equality between the sexes, it will inevitably cause the death of many women who simply are not capable of combat. Then there are the unfortunate male soldiers who will suffer because their female comrades couldn't perform up to speed.

But so what? All that matters is that we pretend to believe in official doctrine. The human consequences are of no concern. At least not to those in charge -- after all it is not daughters they want to send to war.

I had fun making this...

Is this Donald Trump or P.T. Barnum?

Please feel free to share.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Prayer attributed to Mother Teresa

           People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

            If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

            If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

           If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

            What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

            If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

            The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

         Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

         In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

-Allegedly framed and hanging in her tiny room at the mission in India until she died.

Watching Post-Modernism Deconstruct Itself.

This is hoot.