Posts Tagged ‘religion’

The Hollowness of God

August 20, 2017

So many people dis God these days–criticizing him because he (she, or it) doesn’t correct the dysfunction and atrocity of this world. And the word on the street or in the web is that the Deity, if he (she, or it) does exist, doesn’t seem to care enough about us and our faith  to make our proper expression of that religion a little easier to validate.

My guess is that God is a little skittish. When he did show up here to give us some direction, we nailed him to a cross. So perhaps you can understand why he doesn’t just throw his weight around; he knows we’re likely to just crucify him again. In fact, some of his people are probably being given the third degree in places right now here on this earth.

One thing that God has done lately that I know of, however, is: he has taken a lower profile. The deity’s presentation to us these days doesn’t appear to be aimed at  compelling us to revere the high and mighty aspect of his being.

This is a different scenario than what it used to be among us homo sapiens.

There is evidence in the earth, however, that in ages past, God’s presence was experienced and conceived of amongst his people in way very different than what his minimal interface with us today would indicate.

In times of long ago, it seems that God was Big.

Which is to say, when humans strove to express their devotion to the Almighty, they did it in a big way. They built big structures for a big God.

We were in Europe a few weeks ago, traveling between three fascinating capitals, Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. Traipsing through such ancient cities was a real eye-opener for me. These old megalopoli are amazing in the eyes of a clueless American such as I, who was born and raised, you see, in a the “new world.” I have discovered now that America truly is a new world, compared to this very old place.

In the new world we do have Big, but our Big is mostly applied to commercial stuff, like the Empire State building, Sears Tower, TransAmerica building, World Trade Cent–er, not that one. Anyway, we Americans developed Big Business, so we have built big buildings to express our big ideas about capitalism, and our big development projects and our big bank accounts.

In Europe, hundreds of years ago, Big was all about God. Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a shot of the inside of the Cathedral that the Czechs built in Prague, at a complex called Prague Castle. It’s named the Church of St. Vitus:

Pretty huge, huh?

You betcha. The Catholics worked on this thing for over 600 years before they got it finished. As you can surmise from the photo, the inside view of this structure is quite impressive, possibly incredible enough to even inspire the beholder’s belief in God, or at least provoke a thought or two within the viewer’s brain that God’s non-existence is an unlikely proposition, since humans would go to so much time and expense to build such a place of worship for Him.

The outside is pretty impressive, too:

PChrch2

In the 21st-century, however, most folks, mostly tourists such as myself, walk around such places and snap pics on their phones, and maybe ooh and ahh a little bit at the remarkable immensity of human propensity to fill the God-shaped hole in our collective souls by going to all the time and trouble and blood and sweat and tears to erect such an edifice.

Surely they. . . we. . . would not do all that for a God who doesn’t exist.

In the olden times, when believers would gather together in this place and others like it, they would attend masses that were performed by priests, and they would pray to God and pray at God and receive communion and then be dismissed by the priest to go back to their humble domiciles and live their simple lives. That’s what doing church was all about back in the middle ages when the construction of this Catholic temple was begun.

Nowadays, though, doing church is typically more like what these folks  were doing in Vienna, on a typical summer Monday morning,

lingering outside the incredibly impressive superstructure of the cathedral, buying trinkets, snapping pics, sipping coffee, then going inside and oohing and aahing at the hugely structured religion, or excuse me, the the huge religious structure, and whispering to their companions, admonishing them to be quiet so as not to disturb those Catholic worshippers who are up there in the front as we speak doing their religious thing. . .

Apparently that’s “doing church” in the 21st century.

But for the worshippers in that sancturarial up-front, whatever transpires mysteriously in that hollowness between the congregants and their risen Saviour is not the same as whatever we tourists are doing in the periphery as we gaze up at the distant ceiling.

I do wonder what’s going on up there. It’s a long way up. Incredible what men and God can do when they put their souls to it.

King of Soul

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Vienna

July 8, 2017

My mama raised me to be a Catholic. Daddy wasn’t into religion much.

After I grew up, and became a man who could/would relate to the world on my own terms–after I had reached the age of reason and I had decided for myself what this life was all about. . . after I had lived life to the full, and managed to do a few things right and many a thing wrong–after I had made a grand mess of my life, then allowed the Lord of the Universe, our Creator, to take hold of me at the ripe old age of 27 and turn me around and plant my wayward feet firmly in the ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ–after all that. . .

I met my wonderful little women, Pat from New Jersey. We got married in 1980 and by n’ by she presented three lovely children to me. Eventually the kids grew up, became responsible adults, etc and, long story short, we have followed each one of them to various points of interest all over the world.

Our current adventure in following progeny has brought us to the wonderful city of Vienna, Austria.

Now I have to say that this is an amazing place. Walking around this city for just one evening has already taught me some profundities about what life is all about and where things came from, long before I was born. Previously unexplained elements of my childhood, my heritage as a Catholic kid who later turned born-again Christian, can now be contemplated from the perspectives of history itself, and the movement of certain people groups at various periods of time from the Old World to the New, which is to say, America.

I mean, we grow up and we see things and we don’t really have a clue where all this stuff came from or how it got here and how we came to be in the midst of it all. In my case, I was a kid in the middle of the Deep South, in Mississippi in the 1950’s. Growing up, snotty-nosed and clueless as I was, now I’m wondering how likely it could have been that I grew up Catholic instead of Southern Baptist.

Well, my mama was a French-American Catholic from Louisiana, and my daddy’s people were from Scotch-Irish stock from up in the piney wood of Mississippi and before that they had come through Pennsylvania and before that from the old country, Ireland or Scotland or somewhere over there on the other side of the Pond.

So now, at this particular moment in time, it just so happens that I wake up this morning on the other side of the Pond, which is to say: now we are in Europe, the Old World, because yesterday (or maybe it was the day before that) we flew from America– formerly the New World– to this Old World, and one plane led to another and now I find myself in Vienna on a sunny morning and thanking God for such a wonderful life a the one we now find ourselves in.

As we strolled along the Karntnerstrasse last evening, we encountered this very impressive big cathedral structure, so I snapped a pic:

Steph-z

The immensity of history–what has gone before–is what I’m feeling as I pondered this structure. The erection of this church building took lifetimes of work and toil and sweat, and devotion, back in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, whatever that was, and its long tails of historical development through Peter and Paul and later Constantine and then all the Popes in Rome and eventually the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Hapsburgs and their hunky-dory relationship to the Catholic Church. . .

Until that fateful day in 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand got shot in Sarajevo by an angry young Serb and the Empire ended and the Old World ended and World War I dealt the final death blows to the ancient reins of power and the reigns of the royal houses that had ruled Europe for a couple a thousand years or so.

As I was pondering all this, we did stroll inside, into the Church at Stephensplatz. We found there a group of devoted Catholics celebrating Mass. This kind of thing has been going on here for a long time. And I don’t care what you think or say about it . . . This was a good thing.

Steph-in

That devotional setting took me back to childhood memories of being Catholic because that’s the way Mama raised me, even though Daddy wasn’t into it.

So as I contemplated, and in some sense, entered into. . . the devotion of these congregants to their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their expression of that devotion in the sacrifice of the Mass,  and as I reconciled in my mind between those ancient strains of high-church faith and the Protestant Reformation that later changed everything . . . right down to the johnny-come-lately tides of Charismata that had drawn me into my experience of the Christian faith in 1978, and my present appreciation for all that God has done for me and Pat and our grown-up children and their spouses. . . as I stood there in the quiet reverence of a tourist who just happened into a cathedral while other believers worshipped in their strange high-church way . . .

I could relate. I could relate to what they were feeling.

This morning, I can still feel it, devotion.

Devotion goes way back. This is a good thing.

King of Soul 

The Nutcase

February 8, 2017

Recently I discovered this empty shell of walnut.

NutSquirl

I saved it, because I wanted you to see it. Looking into its vast crevice provides a poignant glimpse into the world of a squirrel.

SqrlEat

Even more significantly, however, it affords us a view into nature itself. Furthemore, this empty nutcase gives us a profound view into life itself, the meaning of it.

Peer into that void and ye shall see the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

When I was a young man, I make some poor choices, some mistakes. At one juncture, when I was about 27 years of age, my life went into a skid. I hit bottom, was in a bad spot, between a nut and a hard place and I was at a loss as to what to do, so I turned to God; Jesus pulled me out of the pit of my own errant ways.

Everything got better after that, although it has certainly been no bed of roses in the 38 years since I the Lord of the Universe saved me.

Shortly after that salvation turnaround, I met a loverly girl and married her. By n’ by, she presented a son and two daughters to me and since that time we’ve been in squirrel heaven, insofar as we abide in a woodsy area, happy as a squirrel in sugar maples.

In the first year of our marriage, we did an exodus from the rat race and relocated ourselves to a remote mountain town where we have lived ever since. A big part of that move was our involvement with a group of Christian believers, good people who are saved and sanctified by the blood of the Lamb.

Those were good, productive years, in which we took possession of our promised land–which is to say, our very own lives, instead of life as defined by superfluous externals such as success and keeping up with the Jones’ blahblah. Up here in the Blue Ridge we were living as  a bunch of young bucks and does, with many fawns coming along as a natural outcome. Many of us had been refugees from the destructive influences of countercultural excesses, having slogged, wounded and bleeding through the minefields of a corruptive world.

We were pretty excited about our quasi-communal churchified project, most of us raising our kids together, training them up together in the fear and admonition of the Lord. It was all good for a sufficient time; then things changed and we eventually went our separate ways, although a few of us still hang together, and that collective friendship is as satisfying now as  the old wine that might have been bottled in Napa valley or somewhere  during that era.

Our son recently joined with his wife near Napa Valley. Life is grand.

But back in the day, you see, when we were . . .  as Don McLean sang, “. . .  all in one place, a generation lost in space” (although we were no longer lost because we were all found, in Jesus) . . . back in that day– a primary reason we were of one mind about such things as God and family was this:

We were all reading from the same script, the Bible.

And this was a good thing, although it had its drawbacks.  We were trying to do everything “by the Book” instead of getting bogged down by the religious systems from which we had fled; as time passed, we did have a problem with spiritual pride. Arrogance.

Well, by ‘n by, we–long story short–we paid the price for that pride, which is a very real sin issue for folks who think they know a thing or two about God and spirituality.

But in our born-again zeal we had a tendency toward legalistic judgements toward others who did not share our vision. So doctrine became a real sticking point for us, and  actually, further along in the big picture, it turned out to be quite a stumbling block.

This is nothing new. It’s been going on for thousands of years in the human race. There’s always some person or group around who thinks they’ve got it all figured out better than everybody else.

But it was new to us, being young and wet behind the ears. In some ways. . . although we were living in a woodsy region, we could not see the forest, because of the trees that occluded our immediate vision.

Uncle Remus might have spoken that there is, among all creatures great and small, another minuscule mammal who inhabits our fancified forest: the squirrel.

And somehow or another, back in those old dogmatic days, we maligned that lowly creature’s integrity when we used his identity for purposes of identifying what we considered to be bad doctrine.

If we didn’t agree with the way a person or group interpreted scripture or even life itself, we’d called them “squirrely.”

It was a euphemism, much easier to utter than saying plainly that we judge them to be wrong about something. Because, deep down in ourselves, we knew that we were not right about everything either.

But I’m here to tell ya that we were too hard on the squirrel; heshe is actually blameless, and I appreciate herhis dutiful purpose in the great forest in which we live. HeShe’s actually a pretty good little critter, minding herhis own business and feeding their young’uns. And I greatly appreciate hisher Museship for having inspired this here squirrely stash of nutty musings.

No wise-cracks please. We live in a dangerous world. Remember another nutcase from back in our boomer childhood: Nikita Khrushev stood at the UN and said: We will burrow you!

SqStandg

Glass Chimera

What do you see?

January 17, 2016

Look at this.

Cross

What do you see?

Two lines crossing?

Yes.

Use your imagination. There’s more to this symbol than meets the eye.

Maybe you see an X/Y axis where mathematical equations can be graphed in two-dimensional space.

Maybe you see a crossroads, a place where a traveler, perhaps you, would retain a straight path, or make a turn.

And we know there’s the possibility that you see here a religious symbol.

Maybe you see organized religion fastened irretrievably to a stiff framework of dead tradition.

Think about this. This configuration has been used, at different times in history, as

         an instrument of torture,

         where one human being might be nailed, even unto death, by other human beings.

Or perhaps can you see, in the crossed paths of historical nations,

     the desires of different people groups at cross-purposes with each other,

     or the interests of different ethnicities at cross-purposes with each other,

     or the dogmatic stubbornness of different religions crossing each other in warfare?

You may even see any possibility of World Peace nailed to this cross–

     straightjacketed hopelessly to the hard reality that this world is a cruel, bellicose place.

Maybe you see any hope for true justice in this world bound repeatedly by the terrible deeds that men do.

Stretch you imagination. Canst thou discern Peace On Earth nailed to our inescapable propensity toward war?

Can you, perhaps, even see the hopes and dreams of fearful Syrian citizens nailed to a ubiquitous grid of war?

Or, the lives of black men and women that matter, strewn lifelessly across an intersection of corruption and injustice?

Maybe you can visualize, in the collective memory of our history, a cross burning in front of Great-great Grampa Tom’s cabin.

Can you envision all the wasted time that Saeed Abedini spent in an Iranian prison fastened to a cross of injustice?

Can you imagine all the terrible deeds of mankind throughout history nailed to this cross?

There was a man crucified on it at one time. But he is not bound to that cross any more.

A couple of days after our sentence upon him was passed, and the execution complete, he was carried to to an intersection with eternal life.

Can you imagine eternal life on the other side of that deathly cross?

I can. I’ve been to the crossroads.

Glass half-Full

The Sacred Place

September 26, 2015

This world is a wonderful place, but it’s also a terrible place. We are not in agreement here about a lot of things. The human family is all torn up as a result of our disagreements. So what else is new.

Well here’s something new for me, but it’s actually a reshaped experience of an old conundrum.

It started yesterday when my wife and daughter I, who are presently on the big island of Hawaii, took a drive in the rental car up onto the slopes of Mauna Kea volcano.

It was a large experience: there we went crawling, in a mid-sized automobile as any tourist would do, up the slope of this massive hunk of hardened magma, which had piled up 32,000 feet from the Pacific Ocean floor, to a peak 13,796 feet above sea level.

We didn’t go all the way to the top, because having no 4WD limited our ascent. Of course, as tourists, we wouldn’t be taking the time to hike the rest of the way to up, so we satisfied ourselves with what was available at the Visitors’ Center, as most “visitors” or tourists probably do.

We arrived at this little outpost/equipment store/educational display that is the the Visitor’s Center, and bailed out of the car to have a look around. It’s at about 9300 ft. above sea level. With some disappointment at not having reached the summit, I decided, as most tourists who stop here do, to check out the what was inside the small building.

I learned a lot up here, three quarters of the way up Mauna Kea. There were two information sources:

~the instructional video about the Mauna Kea volcano itself, its history, and the scientific station up on top with very high-tech telescopes.

~the vigilant We Are Mauna Kea representatives, across the road, who were protesting further developments on the summit.

The video inside was very impressive, and informative. You can probably find it online somewhere. For my purposes here, I’ll say merely that the big picture for the scientists seems to be exploring, visually through super-telescopes and scientifically through electromagnetic data collection, the outer regions of our solar system and beyond. I can appreciate this, find it interesting, but its pretty much beyond my down-to-earth curiosities.

The protesters across the road had set up a small Hale, a special shelter made of stones and leafy coverings. At its entrance was a stylized artistic rendering of Queen Liliuokalani with her fist raised high in the air. This was interesting to me. Having developed an interest in Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, I had read her biography during a previous trip to Oahu. Queen Liliuokalani’s life was so interesting to me that I had included parts of her story in my 2007 novel, Glass half-Full. But I always thought of her very regally, as a queen, not typically standing with her fist in the air. But that’s the position in which she was depicted at this protest site.

ProtestKea

A cheerful, young woman there explained to me that they especially want to prevent construction of a newly proposed 18-story high observatory. She handed me a printed page which was quite professional-looking and concise, with an explanation of their We Are Mauna Kea objectives. My reading of it later unearthed another objection of theirs– the disruption/excavation of 8 acres and 64,000 cubic yards of public lands. The basis of their protest is stated with several points listed. The first one is:

Mauna Kea is a Wao Akua, a holy realm, a sacred piko.

About an hour later, as we departed that place of instruction and confliction, my heart and mind were disagreeing with each other about the controversy between these two camps of human beings– the Sacred Place Savers who were protesting, and the Knowledge Gatherers who were erecting tall telescopes in order to learn more about the expanding universe.

This is a little bit like the ancient dilemma of mankind: choosing between the Tree of Life or the Tree of Knowledge.

Who is to say what place is sacred?

Who is to say what place is useful?

The protesters’ plaintive objections reminded me of a song I wrote and recorded many years ago. It’s a tuneful lament that touches on this great divide between two different people groups of mankind:

Sitting Bull’s Eyes

I wrote the song In 1978, which was about the same my time my life fell apart in a big way, and I turned to the Creator of the Universe for some help. I then returned to the faith of my fathers and mothers, which is Christ.

As my walk with the Lord through this life has progressed for lo, these many years since that time, I have from time to time studied the sacred places and beliefs of different people. In human history, we can find thousands of incidents of one trive desecrating the sacred places and beliefs of another tribe, or one religion destroying the sacred places of another religion. Rather than trying to cite them all, I’ll just mention one particular example, which is the one I know the most about.

In the history of my own faith heritage, for instance, I find:

~Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar desecrated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem

~Seleucid conquerer Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated that same temple

~Titus the Roman general/emperor destroyed that temple

~Muslims later occupied the sacred mountain in Jerusalem where the temple had stood

~Christians  took that site from the Muslims

~Muslims took it back

~In 1967, the Jewish people regained possession of their sacred temple mount in Jerusalem. But being sensitive to potential destructive forces of politics and religion, they wisely decided to maintain the Muslim ascendancy that had fallen upon that holy place, leaving their own people, the Jews, to pray at the sacred wall beneath.

~Here’s my spiritual attachment to that sacred site in Jerusalem. It started with a man named Paul in the first century AD. He was Jewish, but had a new vision, based on the work of Jesus the Christ. Paul was the primary expositor of the Christian faith (which I later accepted as my own). He traveled all around present-day Lebanon, Turkey, Macedonia, Greece and Rome preaching that the truly sacred place of the most High God is found not in the temples erected by  men, but in the souls of men and women who believe in Jesus the Christ.

Sacred is not found in a place or thing, but in the hearts of men and women who believe, and act in accordance with their faith.

So from my Christian perspective, or perhaps any other person whose values were influenced by being raised in the post-Christian Western culture, who cares about whether a place is sacred or not?

Well, there is a very important attribute of human relationships that I have come to admire when I see it in people: Respect.

Respect for others, and for their traditions. Respect others as you would want to be respected.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaiians of ancient heritage strive without success to prevent the high-tech wizards of our modern age from desecrating their sacred place. Who is going to win out here?

I think you know who will prevail in this Mauna Kea situation. It seems it has always been this way. The strong throw their weight around like bulls in a china shop and destroy all that is holy and sacred of what remains among the indigenous and weakened peoples.

Has it always been this way?

Yes. This is the history of the world as we know it.

Will it always be this way?

Who knows? Not me. But a wise Teacher wrote long ago:

“I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.”

We shall see about that.

And the greatest Teacher of all said: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

But who is a peacemaker anyway? Is it a person who lives peacefully. . . or a person who shuts down troublemakers by imposing peace on their violent schemes?

Whatever your answer to that question is, please consider this: Take it upon yourself as a sacred duty to do the best you can to respect others, and to obtain respect for those who are unable to retain it.

Glass half-Full

What Mr. Nawaz says about Islamism

March 22, 2015

Among the people of my Christian tribe, a big question these days is:

Does Jihadi extremism represent, in any appropriate way, real Islam?

This is, as you know, a timely question. And I am curious about the answer, so I thought I would get a Muslim’s written perspective on the matter.

The book I chose is Maajid Nawaz’ autobiographical testimonial, Radical.

http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Journey-Out-Islamist-Extremism/dp/0762791365

Now, having read it, I am inclined to give the “moderate” Muslims of our world the benefit of the doubt. So yes, to answer my own question, I am of the opinion that there is such a thing as a legitimately moderate Muslim, in spite of the Islamofascists who are striving terribly to drag all the Muslims of the world into their gruesome quest for khilafah domination.

My rationale is based mostly in Christ’s sermon on the mount, recorded in Matthew 5, which says this:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

My inclination is to make peace with Muslims in any way I can. There is nothing wrong with this.

Some of my Christian friends say, however, that it is dangerous to make peace with the Mohammedans. While that may be true in some cases, I believe Christ calls us, based on the beatitude stated above, to take a chance on peace with other religionists whenever possible.

Love your enemies.

For me to cast a blanket judgement on all Muslims, based of the atrocities of ISIS, al Nusra, Muslim Brotherhood and their ilk, would be like casting judgement on all my fellow Christians because of what has been done in times past by the IRA, or Bosnian Serbs, or pedophile priests, or Spanish Inquisitors, or medieval Crusaders.

That’s not to say there are no fundamental, prejudicial problems with the primary Islamic scripture, the Quran; it contains passages that assign second-class citizenship to non-believers, and displays blatant antisemitism in other commandments. This is nothing new, and we should, accordingly, keep an eye, and a legal reign if necessary, on their oppressive Islamic tendencies in places where Muslims are in charge.

And it’s not like we have no problematical passages in our own Bible Scriptures. As a realistic Christian, I can admit that, but I still believe our book is a very long account of our Creator’s deallings with a fallen, sinful mankind, starting with the Jews, then us Christians, and eventually the whole damned world.

So get ready for God’s judgement on all of us. I have an advocate in Jesus. Who will defend you in the final courtroom? Will you have a leg to stand on?

I have read the Bible, and I believe it.

I have not read the Quran, but that is no requirement for citizenship in this world. And I suppose that as long as there is no caliphate governing American lands, there will be no such requirement. And of course there is no obligation in my country, USA, for anyone to necessarily read the Bible, or Torah, or any other sacred book.

Let’s keep it that way.

I am a citizen of this world, and when I hear or read that the third Abrahamic religion contains scriptural judgements about Christians, Jews, and other kaffir types who do not subscribe to Muhammed’s legacy, I am paying attention, because I want to do whatever is necessary to protect me and mine.

At the present time, I am in no danger of harsh punishments from so-called Muslims who are mad as hell. There are, however, Christian brethren of mine who are, as we speak, enduring terrorism in other lands, such as Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and God only knows where else in this unstable world.

So recently, when I was seeking answers about all this, I did turn to Maajid Nawaz’ book, Radical, and I read it.

There’s a lot I could say about his testimony; I recommend the book. But I will wrap this up simply with a quote, which explains in a cogent, concise way, the essential relationship between Islam and “Islamism.” Maajid Nawaz writes:

“Important to grasp is how Islamism differs from Islam. Islam is a religion, and its Shari’ah can be compared to Talmudic or Canon law. As a religion, Islam contains all the usual creedal, methodological, juristic and devotional schisms of any other faith. In creedal maters, there exist ancient disputes, from which we have the two major denominations of Sunni and Shia, each giving rise to numerous sects within their ranks. From methodological disputes, legal theorists and traditionalists debated whether scripture was best approached through systemised reasoning or oral tradition. From juristic differences, major schools of law emerged. And from a devotional angle, lapsed, traditional, fundamentalist and extremist Muslims have always existed. Superseding all these religious disagreements, and influencing many of them politically, is the ideology of Islamism. Simply defined, Islamism is the desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam over society as law.”

And a little further down  page 80:

“. . .one can see that, ‘though religious extremism and fundamentalism may pose social challenges, it is Islamism that seeks real power. Like Mussolini’s fascists, who were also socially progressive, it is the toatalitarian aspect of Islamism that gives rise to major concern.”

Yes, Maajid, I am concerned about that, as are many other kaffirs. And that sounds like a “moderate” analysis if I ever read one.

Therefore, in order to, as posited at the start of this, give Muslims the benefit of the doubt, I must say: I  finished reading Radical thinking that if there were more Muslims like Maajid, this world would be a better place.

The book was, as we say in evangelical circles, “edifying,” which means: I learned something from it. Thank you, Mr. Nawaz. Help us keep a rein on those totalitarian-leaning ones among your tribe.

Smoke

The Problem with Women

March 13, 2015

The problem with women is that men desire them so much.

Excuse me–that’s not “the” problem. It’s just one of many.

And of course there are many problems with men too. Maybe I should restate the problem:

The problem with men is that they desire women so much.

The reason I bring this up is this: the sexual desire problem is bigger than it used to be. Back in the day, when religions were a formative influence on public morality, the various religions distributed specific, benevolently voluntary restraints on men’s desires for women. This made for a fairly well-disciplined society.

But nowadays, with religious disciplines waning, the benefits of God-inspired morality–which is to say marriage, fidelity, vigilant raising of children, etc–these benefits are diminishing among Western populations.

For my generation, the Baby Boomers, the whole situation took a turn for the worse back in the ’50s, when the Hefner doctrine came into fashion.

This ideology, promulgated in Hefner’s playboy magazine, says a man can do anything he wants with his private parts, and insert them anywhere he wants. This ribald world-view, later popularized through LIFE magazine’s promotion of mini-skirts, bunnies, drug experiences etc, exacerbated–or should I say masturbated–the problem.

By the mid ’60s, men were walking around in libidinous disorientation so severe that it led to terrible societal problems, such as: ubiquitously irresponsible sex, which implanted a new plethora of children without fathers, and provoked frequently rampant hookups among rootless humans, and sometimes porno-dependent behavioral patterns fixated on mammary obsessions, and even rape, with occasionally millions of jilted lovers hardening their hearts to true love, simultaneously with a pandemic of drunken sex, ultimately accompanied by STDs, and in certain locales a plague of AIDs-ridden bath houses.

It was a wild time for sex. For true love and familial development–not so much.

But now religion is trying to make a comeback.

It’s not the old religion you knew about back in the day. It’s not that old worn-out hypocritical ritualistic type of religious practice that went hand-in-hand for millennia with Catholic catechism, or Protestant doctrine, or Judaic Torah. It’s not even the fundamentalist bible-thumpers’ holy-rollin’ sanctification, nor the new-agers’ spacy universalism,  nor the scientology celebritive hoohah.  No, none of these are facilitating the big Religion comeback.

It’s the new kid on the block, Sharia.

The Sharia-promulgators have an effective solution for our sexual problem.

Keep ’em covered! Keep those women veiled, dammit!

It’s the opposite of the Hefner doctrine, which required women to be more and more uncovered while in public places. The Hefner doctrine has, you see, run its playful, toss-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater course. The deleterious effects of the 1960’s sexual revolution will soon be neutralized! Maybe even neuterized, if the transies have their way.

And so the new religious Sharia movement, soon to go viral as a revolution, may take control. This development is enabled  because of the continuing historical operation of the Hegelian dialectic. The Great Struggle between Thesis ( Western Judeo-Christian tradition) being opposed by the Antithesis (Enlightened godless secularism),  will be resolved through the  new Synthesis: Sharia Law. It’s the Hegelian dialectic, as applied  to public morality instead of old fuddy-duddy academic ideologies.

Sharia-think will strive to obliterate the contemporary hot raving dominatrix godless hookup obsessive decadence of the West, which has, in its advanced stages, lately degenerated into a gov.campaign to make men desire men instead of women, and vice-versa. But that won’t  work in the human race writ large.

So the Sharia-propagators are sure they can take over in a big way, and rest assured of this: the women will be covered.

This is revolutionary! Are you ready for it? Men, all your sexual frustration will be over! Plus, the women will be yours for the taking with your right hand. And the women will be doing all the work by covering themselves discreetly so that you’ll be  spared  the crisis of unbridled desire.

The impending Sharia prescription, however, does come with a warning label:

Warning: Repeated use could provoke adverse side effects such as dogmatic repression and fascist behavior.

This could negatively impact your freedom and everybody else’s too.

So I propose a simpler, safer solution to our problem. Let’s just go back to the sixth commandment given to Moses. We’ll all be more satisfied, and it will be good for the kids.

 

Glass half-Full

Ritual and Renewal in Christendom

February 14, 2015

I was raised in the Catholic Church, and my wife was too. That was a long time ago.

During the 35 years of our marriage, we’ve been intimately connected to a group of Protestant Christian believers. Our group spends a lot of time reading the Bible and discussing the revelation, poetry, prophecy and history that is documented therein.

Our literate emphasis on the Bible, the printed Word of God, has not always been the main thrust of the Christian religion. Widespread reading of the Scriptures only came to the forefront in Christian life during the Protestant Reformation, which was led in the 1500’s by Martin Luther, John Calvin and many other outspoken reformers.

There’s a historical reason why the Reformation, and the Renaissance before it, happened when it did.

About a hundred years before Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention and development of the printing press had begun forging new paths of communication. This new printing technology would greatly proliferate literacy, and the use of the printed word, for centuries to come. The expanded use of printed Scriptures fundamentally changed the Christian religion; it was similar, in a way, to the way digital media has profoundly altered communication during our times.

But before that 16th-century revolution in literate religion came (enabling Christians to sit around discussing the Bible), there was the centuries-old Practice of Religion, and a major part of that religion was Ritual.

Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is plainly told, for all to see and read, in the four Gospels of the printed Word. We take this for granted in the 21st century, as we did in the last century when I was growing up.

My Catholic childhood practice of religion was absolutely defined by the Mass, which is a ritual that had originated in the events of Christ’s sacrifice, but was later morphed during 1900 years of time into a prescribed, elaborate ceremony. The original purpose of the Mass was to tell the story of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, in Jerusalem. But as that Mass came down through the ages, the cognitive element (understanding what actually happened at Calvary) was draped (rather mysteriously in my young consciousness) in ceremonial robes, and spoken in a language–Latin–that I did not understand. And so the Mass became, for me and for millions of others, something else. It became a Ritual.

In my young soul, this produced reverence, and a kind of faith–not a faith of understanding, but of. . .ritual, and yes, belief.

I’m not rejecting ritual altogether. I believe it is a profound component of human community, and can be a pathway toward faithful worship. But my turning, in early adulthood, to (what is called Protestantism) the Scriptures, instead of the Catholic (or HighChurch) ceremonial practice, has been quite productive, and beneficial in how I have lived life.

When Pat and I visited Greece and Italy a few of weeks ago, I was enlightened about all this. It was a kind of epiphany.

In Athens, we saw:

OrthxBrite

I snapped the image in a Greek Orthodox church.

A week later in Rome, we saw:

GoldAltar

This image is from a Roman Catholic church.

These two pix cannot portray the meaning, nor the reverential profundity, of worship as it regularly is offered in Orthodox and Catholic churches of the Old World, and still today through the whole world. But they are a visual indicator of the cultural legacy, and the experiential intensity, that accompanies ceremonies in both major strains of Christendom. (Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic parted ways during the 11th century A.D.)

I will cast no judgement about the formal traditions of my Christian brothers and sisters whose faith is framed in the Old way of worship. I suppose what they are doing may reflect more perfectly what we will all be doing in heaven someday.

These reverential musings, which were recently initiated for me in Athens and Rome, have marvelously, perhaps Providentially, landed on this screen just now, for you to see. Now I will bring this ceremonial sojourn to a visual cadence with . . . one more picture I snapped; it expresses my feeling about our colorful Christian faith, which is visible to those who watch attentively, in the midst of a tragic, and dreary, world.

PiazNovnaColr

Glass half-Full

Surely, He has born our griefs

December 13, 2014

Every now and then in world news, it is reported that Muslims have taken offense because the Prophet Mohammed was insulted by some disrespectful kaffir journalist, speaker, or movie. In such cases, followers of Islam have been known to demonstrate their ire publicly.

This does not generally happen–it should not–among Christians, because our Savior has already suffered just about every insult, torture, or disgrace known to man– when he was nailed to a cross. There is nothing a person can say or do to humiliate Jesus that hasn’t already been spoken or done.

People who do not believe in Christ sometimes say that ours is a weak religion–even pathetic–because we put all our hope and faith in a Messiah who was judged to be a criminal and blasphemer and then publicly humiliated by torture and death on a cross.

The Muslim religion, by contrast, is founded on belief in the spoken word and action of a different person, Mohammed, who was a very successful man. Although he was opposed by many religious people of his day–as Christ also was–Mohammed surmounted the opposition of his enemies. In spite of his contentions against the stubborn Arab old-religionists of Mecca, he became, during his lifetime, a highly respected religious leader, revelator, military leader, judge, and founder of a world religion. Along the way he who took multiple wives, fathered many children and grandchildren, and died a natural death.

Jesus Christ, however, died on a cross after being publicly humiliated and tortured.

People who criticize Christians for following a suffering, crucified Savior think we have been misled or duped to put our faith in such a loser.

Whatever. It doesn’t matter what they think. Whatever abuse, verbal or physical, was heaped upon Jesus, is to be expected in the Christian life, and we must bear that humiliation with the same dignity that Christ bore his.

And that is a major point of Christianity–learning to bear the humiliation and suffering that this life generates, even as he did.

The real frustrations and failings of our life, after all, usually center around our defeats, not our victories.

So, by going to the cross, which facilitated his later resurrection on the third day afterward, Jesus showed us how to accomplish the greatest–the most necessary–victory in life. This overcoming is obtained through facing, bearing, and overcoming whatever-the-hell trouble life throws at us, including the worst adversity of all–death itself.

The Jewish prophet Isaiah foreshadowed this exemplary, salvatory role of Messiah when Isaiah presciently spoke:

“Surely, He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows!”

Several millenia later, the composer Georg Friedrich Handel included these prophetic words from Isaiah in his great musical oratorio, Messiah:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OT8tR1azaIw

This motivates us to proclaim, as Paul did:

“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation–giving no cause for offense in anything. . .”

Life is sad, and difficult, but our God has shown us how to get through it victoriously; this does not require taking offense at every little errant word or insult. He was our example in this forebearance. Furthermore, we have better things to do.

Glass half-Full

What Muhammad did

October 25, 2014

I have been reading about Muhammad in Karen Armstrong’s biography, and I have concluded that he was a genius.

That prophet’s spiritual presence was so compelling to his first followers that they accepted without question hundreds of utterings  spoken through his mouth. They later assembled these verses as the suras of the Qu’ran.

This was no small feat. The lyrical content of Islam’s holy scriptures is composed entirely of one man’s revelatory pronouncements. (If I am wrong about this, you Muslims please correct me. I understand that the hadiths, written later by others, followed, but are not  considered holy revelatory scripture.)

Compare this Mohammadan revelation to, say, the Bible, which was assembled as sixty-six books that were spoken or authored by a multiplicity of authors over thousands of years. What a legacy the Jewish people have given us. Muhammed benefited directly from the Judaic legacy, and considered himself a part of it–a most definitive and corrective part of it.

What Mohammed had to say about al-Lah to his fellow Arabs during the early seventh century c.e. was quite urgent and compelling. The essence of it is that al-Lah is one God, not some pagan collection of many gods and goddesses. This may sound like religious quibbling to modern secularists, but the monotheistic insistence was downright revolutionary to 7th-century Arabs, especially those of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca. Muhammad’s impact upon the Arabic tribal life and religion was  similar to Paul’s upending message about Jesus Messiah to his fellow-Jews, which had happened about five hundred years earlier.

Muhammad’s message of monotheism, consistent in some ways with the ancient Abrahamic covenant, has spread across the world for fourteen centuries now. It is quite amazing, even as Muhammed himself must have been a quite amazing man.

Not as amazing, however, as being resurrected.

In her biography of Muhammed, Karen Armstrong reports that in the year 621 c.e. Mohammed instructed the Muslims to pray facing Jerusalem. Because the prophet had been taken up in a night vision by an angel, Gabriel, and transported mystically to Jerusalem for certain revelations, the holy city of the Jews was shown to be “central to the Muslim faith too.”

For more than two years, the Muslims adopted Jerusalem as their qibla, or direction of prayer. But in January of 624 c.e., about eighteen months after Muhammed’s hijra (the prophet’s history-shaking, exilic journey to Medina after being rejected by the powerful Quaraysh tribe of Mecca), something happened to re-orient forever the Muslim quibla. On page 162 of her book Karen Armstrong wrote: 

“. . . Mohammed was leading prayers in a mosque . . . Suddenly, inspired by a special revelation, Muhammad made the whole congregation turn round and pray facing Mecca instead of Jerusalem. God had given the Muslims a new focus and a new direction (qibla) for their prayer.”

At that turning point in time, the Muslims redirected their salat devotions back toward Mecca, the place of their origin. I wish that they had, at that point, just left Jerusalem to the Jews. Our present-day situation in that city might have been less contentious.

Now the Jewish caretakers of the holy city would have to deal only with, instead of Ishmaelic Muslims, God and everybody else who claims to know Him.

According to the account of God’s work among homo sapiens that I subscribe to, God’s verdict on the matter is:

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”

Mark 11:17

Here’s a song about it

and another song about it

Smoke