Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Walk Humbly with God

Last night Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom held a rally in support of the First Amendment, religious diversity, and our local Muslim community whose property was vandalized yet again this past weekend. I was invited to be one of the speakers.

It was a different venue for me: standing outside on the steps of the Court House without a sound system speaking loudly to a crowd of three to four hundred people. My talk was extemporaneous so I have to written speech to share with you here, and, to be honest, if the local newspapers had quoted me accurately I wouldn’t even bother with this post. But I want to go on record saying what I said, rather than what I was quoted as saying.

I made two points last night. First, we are living through a time when fear is gripping the lives of more and more Americans. Whenever that happens demagogues rise up to manipulate the fearful in order to grow their own power. This demagoguery usually involves demonizing the “other.” Who that “other” is changes over time. It was the Catholics in the late 19th century, the Jews in the first half of the 20th century, and today the Muslims. Hating the other is, for some, as American as apple pie. So I urged people to have compassion on those who are being manipulated, and to take care not to be manipulated themselves.

But the main thrust of my talk, and the part that got lost in translation, was my use of Micah 6:8, “You know, O Humanity, what God requires, Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” I emphasized “your God” and referenced the rabbinic tradition that interprets the use of the word “your” to be a warning against taking your personal belief system too seriously. Be humble about what you say you know, because when it comes to God, no one can know anything definitively. The God who is God cannot be reduced to theology or religion or any set of ideas or concepts. I am no opposed to theology, religion, or ideas, but I don’t want to allow them substitute for Truth, which is ultimately beyond words.

So I urged people to listen carefully to the teachings of their gurus, priests, pastors, rabbis, and imams, and to pay close attention to what is being said and read in their respective religious institutions and challenge anything that smacks of violence and demonization of the other. All this was predicated on the use of “humble” in the book of Micah.

What did every newspaper in middle Tennessee quote me as saying? Not “walk humbly with your God,” but “walk comfortably with your God.” Comfortably? Are you serious? This is the problem: people are too comfortable with their gods; so comfortable that they don’t challenge them or the insanity of much of what they have to say. And the true God, Reality itself, is discomforting. God challenges you to step out of your comfort zone: to leave nationalism, ethnicity, and parental bias behind, and to travel into the unknown and ultimately unknowable realm of divine mystery (Genesis 12:1). The only response to this call is an uncomfortable humility.

I loved standing with all these people. I loved sharing what I had to say with them. And now at least some of you will actually know what it is that I did share.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why I Can't Own Canadians, Part 2

OK, you’ve read and I hope chuckled at the previous “letter” to Dr. Laura from Dr. Kauffman. His point is simple: the Bible is an outmoded relic of the Iron Age, and its values, mores, and ethics are completely irrelevant to modern life. Anyone who claims to base her ethics on the Bible is either a brute or a liar or both.

This line of thinking isn’t new. In fact it is more than 2000 years old. The Pharisees were the first to come up with it when they invented the idea of a second revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai that they then used to undermine the authority of Torah and the Levitical Priesthood that derived its power from it. They called this second revelation the Oral Law and juxtaposed it to the Written Torah about which both Drs Laura and Kauffman are concerned. Whenever the Pharisees or their heirs, the rabbis, found a Written Law they didn’t like they “remembered” an Oral Law that ether rendered the Written Law moot, or made the implementation of it impossible.

For example, the Written Law says that adulterers are to be killed (Leviticus 20:10), something the rabbis found repellant. So they remembered an Oral Law that says that this can only be done if the adulterers are repeatedly interrupted mid-coitus by several witnesses who proceed to explain in detail the nature of the crime the couple is committing and the penalty to which they are leaving themselves open. Since few adulterers invite witnesses, the law as written cannot be implemented.

The rabbis were not alone in this subterfuge. Early Christians, themselves Jews, continued the effort of freeing themselves from Torah by using Jesus to undermine and even demonize the Written Law. Later Christians, by then mostly Gentile, went on to demonize the Oral Law as well, though they themselves were never subject to it. The very idea that Jews could still claim to be heirs to God’s revelation after the birth of Christianity was anathema to them.

The point is no one follows the Written Law. Instead they use it to give the aura of sanctity to their own opinions. Rather than have the guts to say, “I despise all homosexuals and wish to see them killed,” as the good folks of Uganda are doing, they feign helplessness before the word of God. “I don’t hate homosexuals, but God does, and I have to side with God.”

The fact is religion is all too often a way of ginning up one’s own opinions and clothing prejudice in the garb of piety. Stop taking your cues from demagogues and ancient tomes, and start thinking for yourselves.

Why I Can't Own a Canadian, Part 1

My holy brother Rich sent this to me. This “letter” or ones similar to it have been floating around for a long time. This one uses Dr. Laura (Queen of the N-Word) as its foil. Dr. L claims to be an Orthodox Jew (I don’t know this for a fact, but I take her at her word) who, so I am told, opposes homosexuality on the basis of Leviticus 18:22 which calls homosexuality an abomination. I want to share this letter with you in this post, and then comment on it in the next one.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than
homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading
glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14) I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education
University of Virginia

Friday, August 27, 2010

Keeping Up with the Jones

Keeping Up with the Jones

Several days ago (August 10) I wrote about Terry Jones, the Gainesville, Fl. pastor who is sponsoring Burn the Koran Day on September 11th. Today I listened as he explained to Chris Matthews on Hardball (MSNBC) that the purpose of Burn the Koran Day is to send a message to Muslims that America is opposed to Sharia positions such as killing people who are homosexual simply because they are homosexual.

Good for Pastor Jones! I too am opposed to such horrendous anti-homosexual laws, and that is why I want to add a sacred text to Pastor Terry’s Burn a Koran Day. I want to burn Christian Bibles as well, and in so doing send a message to Christians that America is opposed to their homophobia.

And just as Paster Jones rightly points to the barbarism of stoning in some Islamic countries as reason why Americans should fear American Muslims, I will point to the bill written by Christians in the United States and soon to be passed in Uganda, a nation whose population is 84% Christian, that makes it legal for the state to kill homosexuals, as reason to fear and oppose all things Christian here in the United States.

If we are to fear Muslims bringing Islam–sanctioned murder of homosexuals to our shores, and I agree we should; we should be no less fearful of Christians bringing Christian sanctioned murder of homosexuals to our shores as well. And make no mistake, the Ugandan leaders are acting from their faith, and are backed by the Christian extremist and politically powerful group known in this country as The Family, who, one can only assume, would like to see their good work in Uganda become the norm here in the United States. Indeed, the Ugandan President said that his country is only doing what any God-fearing country would do. The United States, he opined, is loosing its faith by not killing its homosexuals.

If Pastor Jones is correct that burning Korans will send a clear message to Muslims, then I urge those who, like Pastor Jones, wish to protect the lives of homosexuals, to burn Christian Bibles and send a similar message to Christians everywhere: we Americans don’t want your laws in our land.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Height Speech

I was speaking with an opponent of the so-called “Ground Zero” mosque who told me that she wasn’t opposed to Islam, a hater of Muslims, or even an enemy of mosques in general. It was this mosque in particular that bothered her because it would cause needless pain to those affected by 9-11 by being located two blocks from Ground Zero; ground she considered hallowed.

Fair enough. I can understand and even respect that opinion, so I didn’t disagree, but simply asked her why a mosque was offensive while a strip club, bar, fast food restaurants, and an off-track betting parlor, all as far away from Ground Zero as the mosque, did not violate her sense of hallowed ground.

“Well, she said, ignoring my question, “I just don’t think people want to see this mosque from the new structure when it’s built.”

“That is an interesting point,” I said. “Since the new building will be a huge tower, when you say you don’t think people want to see this mosque from the new building, do you have a specific floor in mind? I mean, you won’t be able to see it from the first floor, so how many floors up should we go when deciding when the mosque would be offensive? Because if you count the entire building, all the floors, well you can see the entire city from the top floors, so if you are thinking of the feelings of those who might work on the top floors you’re really against this mosque entirely.”

“No, I’m not saying that,” she said. “I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be able to see a mosque from the new tower.”

“Even the top floors?”

“Of course. If you can see the mosque it is hurtful. So, yes, the top most floors as well.”

“So no mosque anywhere.”

“Not really. I just don’t think it should be seen from the tower. It isn’t my fault they want to build a tall tower. “

“You’re right,” I said. “So how about we help each other out. I will join you in your crusade to make sure the mosque isn’t built within view of the new tower, and you join me in a new effort to insure that the new tower is only two stories tall. Fair enough?”

She looked at me as if I was insane. Then she turned and walked away. I don’t fault her for this. I was looking at her the same way.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Nonbeliever or Different Believer?

I got an interesting piece of hate e-mail the other day. Most of it is too nasty to print, but the part that I found interesting was the claim that I am a nonbeliever. This in and of itself marked me for death and eternal damnation, and disqualified me from making any honest comments upon anything.

I’ve heard this many times. The God of Love seems to attract followers filled with hate no less so than does Allah, the All Compassionate and All Merciful. It is an irony not unique to Christianity or Islam, but one that Christians and Muslims must (but usually don’t) deal with in public. It is much easier to deny the authenticity of hate filled Christians and Muslims than to admit that one’s religion has a shadow side given to hate, death, and murder.

Anyway to the question at hand: Am I an unbeliever? The answer depends on what it is I am supposed not to believe in. If you are Christian who believes that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. If you are Muslim who believes that the Qur’an is the final word of God, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. If you are a Jew who believes that Torah is the only revelation from God and the Jews are God’s Chosen, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. If you are a Hindu who believes that Krishna is Lord, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. But if you believe that the universe is a single system of intelligence evolving toward greater and greater levels of consciousness, and that it is possible to realize yourself as a manifestation of this intelligence, and that doing so makes you a vehicle for compassion and justice, then I am a believer after all.

In other words, a nonbeliever is simply a person who doesn’t believe as you believe. There is no absolute standard for belief or nonbelief, and labels such as believer and nonbeliever are relative to the particular standard held by the person doing the labeling. The only value such labeling has is to make the person doing the labeling feel a bit more secure in her position. It is totally self-serving and without any objective truth-value whatsoever.

The whole thing saddens me. I would like to retire the words believer and nonbeliever in favor of different believer. Everyone believes something. No one believes in nothing unless Nothing is what you believe in, which, of course, makes that person, too, a believer. It is not right to call atheists nonbelievers. They have beliefs. Just not ones at home with a supernatural Supreme Being.

So please lets begin to speak of one another and ourselves as different believers. Let us believe differently if we choose. And, if we must label (and I sense that we must) let that be the only label we toss around.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is Obama a Muslim? Yes we can!

According the Pew Research Center there is widespread and spreading confusion over the religion of President Barack Obama. Eighteen per cent of Americans say Mr. Obama is a Muslim (up 7% from six months ago), while only 34% knew he was Christian (down from 48%). Now some of you may believe this is yet another example of the growing plague of stupidity that is rampaging through the United States, but I think it is due to the growing influence of Islam in America and the consequent decrease of the power of Christianity.

People want their president to be like them. The fact that more Americans think President Obama is a Muslim may simply reflect the fact that more Americans are converting to Islam. To find out just how crazy my idea is, I too turned to the Pew Research Center (www.pepelepewresearchcenter.org) to conduct another poll. Here are some of the findings:

• 63% of those polled believed that Rahm Emanuel is the unborn child referenced in Isaiah 7:14

• 87% identified the religion of Rush Limbaugh 87% Republican, while 3% answered Methodist

• 54% identified Sarah Palin’s religion as Assemblies of God (AG), while 11% said Assemblies of God (USA)

• 99% correctly identified Ronald McDonald as Irish Catholic

• 87% of Americans surveyed could not identify the religion of the Pope, though the same number did know that a bear shits in the woods, and

• while 97% of Americans could identify the religion of the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel as Jewish, only 2% could further identify him as Sephardic.

What does this tell us? I asked the Pepe le Pew Research Center to ask this question also, and it turns out that 100% of Americans had no idea, while another 75% had no opinion, which leaves me free to make up whatever I want. And what I want is to scare the crap out of you over how stupid, bigoted, and xenophobic Americans are.

So let’s recap: President Obama was almost half Christian six months ago, while today he is only one third Christian. This on-going loss of Christ is of great comfort to American Muslims who are trying to impose Sharia on America in order to get the First Lady to stop going sleeveless and start wearing a chador in hopes of increasing chador imports into this country and thus help improve the economy of Chadoria.

America: love it or leave it, it really won’t help either way.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Su Casa Mi Casa

“I won’t support the building of any mosque anywhere in the United States unless and until the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen allow me to build a church and a synagogue in their countries.”

This is one of the rallying cries of Americans who oppose the building of mosques in the U.S. I, for one, find it compelling. The logic is unassailable, and free from bias. If Saudi Arabia won’t allow me to build a synagogue in their country why should I allow them to build a mosque in mine? We are not saying there will not come a time when mosques will be welcome here. We are only saying that that time will come only when Muslim despots and dictators turn their countries into full-fledged democracies.

This logic is so compelling that I believe we should apply it to other areas of life as well. Here are just some of them:

I won’t support true democracy anywhere in the United States unless and until the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen do so as well.

I won’t support the drinking of alcohol anywhere in the United States unless and until the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen do so as well.

I won’t support the full equality of women anywhere in the United States unless and until the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen do so as well.

I won’t support the State of Israel anywhere in the United States unless and until the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen do so as well.

I won’t support the freedom of worship anywhere in the United States unless and until the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen do so as well.

In fact, I won’t support the Constitution of the United States or the Bill of Rights unless and until the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen do so as well.

My list could go on, but you get my point: Why should the United States be more moral, egalitarian, free, or democratic than Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen? Why should we support democracy, liberty, human rights, civil rights, religious freedom, etc. when these and so many other nations around the globe do not? Why should we set the bar of human rights so high when other countries set them so low? I, for one, am sick of it. If theocracy and totalitarianism are good enough for Iranians, they are good enough for Americans as well.

I want to applaud our brave leaders in the anti-Islam movement for bringing this kind of thinking to my attention, and I want to urge all Americans to adopt it. The best way to affirm and support American values is to bring them in line with Saudi, Iranian, and Yemeni values. You just can’t argue with logic like this.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Burn a Koran Day

Next month on September 11th the Dove World Outreach Center, a church in Gainesville, FL, is sponsoring Burn a Koran Day. Now some will say that doing this is an offense to Muslims everywhere, and while that may be so, it is not the intent of these good Christians to offend anyone. They are burning the Koran to draw attention to the fact that it is not a holy book and is in fact keeping Muslims from eternal salvation under the loving grace of the one and only Jesus Christ.

The church gives ten reasons to burn a Koran. 1) The Koran says Jesus isn’t the Son of God and was not crucified; 2) The Koran is of human origin; 3) The Koran includes aspects of pre-Islamic religion; 4) Historical proof of Muhammad’s existence is lacking, and the earliest writings about him came 120 years after his death; 5) Muhammad had worldly ambitions, something God hates; 6) Islam does not promote the separation of church and state; 7) The Koran supports the second class status of women; 8) a Muslim is not free to convert to another religion; 9) Islam hates the West; 10) Islam is imperialistic and supports the suppression and persecution of Jews and Christians.

I have to hand to Dove World Outreach Center, this is a very compelling argument. My only question is this, why limit ourselves to burning Korans? Let’s burn every so-called holy book that disrespects Jesus, women, and democracy, denies the separation of church and state, is of human origin, and was written decades after the events its relates. Based on these criteria we could have one hell of a bonfire. In fact let’s pick a date, say, September 11th, and hold a nationwide Bonfire of the Inanities in which we burn every holy book ever written, since all of them, including the New Testament, meet many if not most of the reasons given for burning Korans.

But as cool as this sounds, will it really change hearts and minds? Even though they are inviting Muslims to join them at Burn a Koran Day, the good people at Dove World Outreach know that simply freeing people from their false holy books isn’t enough. Christians, they write on their blog, “are called to live and speak the truth, and to tear down the strongholds of the kingdom of darkness. Islam is of the devil and the Koran is a lie.”

This is more like it. We have to tear down the strongholds of Islam. It isn’t enough to burn their books; we have to burn their strongholds. Books are only the beginning. Our wars with Iraq and Afghanistan are only preludes to the bigger wars we are planning against Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Dearborn, Michigan.

The only problem I have with what Dove World Outreach is doing is their claim that they are doing what early Christians did in Acts 19:19. They are too modest. In Acts the converts to Christ who had been practicing magic didn’t burn books held sacred by others, but gathered and burned their own books as a sign of their love for Jesus. The people at Dove Outreach are far more bold and true to their Christian principles than those early Christians. They want to burn their enemy’s books, and more power to ‘em!

So let the burning begin: paper today, tomorrow the whole planet. Ain’t religion grand?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Voting Basil, Tennessee's Best Hope for Governor

Today my fellow Tennesseans and I go to the polls to determine whom among us will run for governor of the Volunteer State. My choice is Basil Marceaux. Let me share a few reasons why.

First, I like a man whose parents’ weren’t afraid to name him after an herb.

Second, Mr. Marceaux is going to make carrying guns mandatory for all Tennesseans. I know some liberals hate this, but why should only the most violent among us pack heat? Do you think Jesus would have let the Romans crucify him if he and his posse had AK-47s? Read the Book of Revelation: when God comes back to earth He comes loaded for bear (Russian Bear not Sister Sarah’s momma grizzlies). Who says there are no second chances?

Third, Mr. Marceaux promises that, should he win the election and become governor, anyone who votes for him will receive lifetime immunity from all criminal prosecution under state law.

Fourth, while in favor of universal health care, Mr. Marceaux promises to keep the size of one’s waistline out of any health considerations.

Fifth, Mr. Marceaux plans to remove all traffic lights believing that they make slaves out of those of us forced to abide by them.

I could go on, but you can find out more about my candidate by visiting his website, http://politics.freesitenow.com/basilmarceauxforgovernor/.

Mr. Marceaux isn’t the only Republican running for governor, but I can’t see myself voting for Mr. Ramsey who says that Islam is a cult out to subvert America, or Mr. Zack Wamp who, despite incredible name recognition among fans of the 1960s Batman television series, is building his campaign on the secession of Tennessee from the United States if Mr. Obama’s healthcare bill isn’t repealed.

Of course I could always vote Democratic, and maybe I will. I admit, however, that I have no idea who is running on the Democratic ticket, or what he or she may stand for, but given the candidates on the other side does it really matter?

Monday, August 02, 2010

ADL and Cordoba House

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization devoted to fighting bigotry, has come out against the building of Cordoba House, a proposed Muslim center, on a cite two blocks from Ground Zero. The ADL gave two reasons for its opposition, both of which deserve comment.

First, the ADL said that building a Muslim center so close to Ground Zero would unnecessarily hurt the feelings of those who lost loved ones there. I have two problems with this argument: 1) many among the 9/11 families support the center, so why side with one group and not the other? And, 2) this argument links all Muslims to the acts of extremists among them. Any mosque of any kind would be offense simply because it is Muslim. This is the kind of thinking that even President Bush warned us against, and this is the kind of libel against which the ADL fights; how sad that it would use it against Muslims.

Everyone should oppose any religious institution that supports terrorism and preaches hatred, but the Cordoba House is nothing of the kind, and deserves the support of progressives everywhere. Including the ADL.

The ADL’s second concern regarding Cordoba House’s funding is rooted in the fact is that Saudi Arabia funds Wahabi mosques around the globe, and these mosques do promote hatred, misogyny, and terror. The fact that the United States supports the Saudi dictatorship which in turn buys the support of Wahabists who agree not to topple the House of Saud as long as they fund Wahabist activities is just one of many geo-political absurdities that plague our world. And while the concern is genuine, it is also loaded.

Just asking the question, “Who funds Cordoba House” raises doubts in the minds of people. Who does fund Cordoba House? We don’t know. Why don’t they list their donors on their website? We don’t know. What have they got to hide? Well, it must be something…

But the same can be asked of the ADL. Who funds them? We don’t know. Maybe they get money from right wing extremist groups in Brooklyn or Jerusalem. We don’t know. And why don’t they list the names of their donors on their website? What have they got to hide?

I know Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of Cordoba House. I have taught with him, dined with him (and his wife), and argued with him about the Middle East. And I am proud to call him a friend. I believe we need more ventures like Cordoba House, not less. I believe it is long past time for progressive clergy to come together and support one another, and condemn and actively oppose the work of those hate-mongers in all faiths. And I am saddened that the ADL lacked the guts to do so in this case.