Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I Am Who Am

When President Obama spoke in Egypt at the University of Cairo, he quoted from

the Quran that the killing of an innocent life kills all human life and the saving of an innocent

life saves all human life. (I apologize for the paraphrasing and anyone who knows the verse

is welcome to post the exact quote.) In getting reaction from the Muslim world, a number

of news outlets reported that Muslims watching or listening to the speech seemed very

pleased that the President read and quoted their holy book. It got me thinking about holy

books and about the three great Western religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. For

Christians, there are the Christian scriptures (at one time we would have referred to them

as the New and Old Testaments, but no more) and for Muslims it is the Quran. The purpose

of a holy book is to guide, inspire, evoke, and comfort those who read it. All these groups

believe that their book was inspired or dictated by God especially for them. God or Yahweh

or Allah wished to communicate with us and these books are collections of the divine mind

in action. As such, followers seek to discover what these messages from God mean for them

and their lives. Then why is it that so few seem to take the message seriously? How can it

be that God is said to have directly communicated with us and yet, on the whole, the

message is ignored, diluted, or dismissed?

I will not insult any Muslim with any attempt at an in-depth analysis of the Quran.

I have read some translations, but not enough to do much more than get me in trouble.

However, I have spoken with many Muslims and Muslim scholars, and I trust them. I

trust them when they tell me that the Quran is a book of peace. I accept their characterization

of it's precepts as highly ethical and morally demanding. They tell me that the Quran values

life. It cannot be used to justify indiscriminate killing (as the President tried to show in the

quote he used). Devout Muslims can quote innumerable passages that speak of love and

concern for ones neighbor, moral obligations of hospitality, kindness, and an exhortation

to live a good life. Allah so cared about us that he sent us Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed

(His blessed prophets) to tell us His thoughts and wishes; with the promise that if we lived

according to the principles revealed by His prophets, we could be with Allah in paradise.

In the Hebrew scriptures, the message could not be clearer. God, Yahweh, Adonai,

El Shiddai, El Eloyhim, etc. is knowable. He is not only knowable, but so intimate with

us, so deeply invested in our creation, that He even entered into a covenant(agreement)

with the Hebrew people that "...I will be your God and you will be my people." It is a

relationship that Yahweh wishes with us; and in the course of this relationship we learn

how the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wishes us to act towards each other. Among

other things, we are told to love our families, honor each other, do not kill, don't lie, and

accept the gift of life that we have been given without being jealous or desirous of anyone

or anything else. Prophets like Amos have told us how God wishes us to care for each

other and live ethical lives. The Hebrew scriptures value life and call on us to live in

accordance with a God who we can know and love.

In the Christian scriptures, the message is even more intense and radical. God

is not only knowable, but loves us so much He sent His only son to redeem the world.

The message could not be clearer. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. You are

to turn the other cheek and love your enemies. You are to forgive not seven times, nor

seventy times, but infinitely. Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters,

you do for God. We are called to be meek and peacemakers.

The President quotes the Quran about protecting life. The Hebrew scriptures

call on us to lead ethical and moral lives in which all life is valued; and the Christian

scriptures mandate that we love each other even if we are enemies. Billions of people

say they read or listen or think of the words every day. So what happened? When did

this train leave the tracks? God has tried to communicate with us through Abraham,

Jesus, and Mohammed; and yet the killing and the hatred and the immorality and the

inhumanity continues. How is that possible?

Of course, many people will talk of sin. Whether it's the apple in the garden or

the crucifixion of God's Son, humans have committed sin and ignored God or Yahweh or

Allah along the way, and I won't disagree with that contention; but in most of the world's

history, fundamentalism has been the greatest vehicle for spreading that sin and continues

to be today.

Fundamentalism, the belief that there is only one true way of reading any of these

Holy Books, one true message, one true set of rules, has been the accelerant that speeds sin

an inhumanity in every corner of the world. In fundamentalism, someone is always right

and everyone else is wrong. If your fundamentalists are in power, no unspeakable act is

too heinous to be committed against you. History is replete with example after example.

Whether it be spreading religion by use of the sword, going to war over who will control

the city of Jerusalem, torturing or jailing scientists who threaten the fundamentalist world

view, or enslaving other humans who are "inferior" in God's eyes, some of the worst abuses

of the messages in these Holy Books are perpetrated by those who say they believe them

the most.

Fundamentalism is anti-democratic, anti-pluralism, and anti-American.

Fundamentalism is anti-intellectual and intolerant. Fundamentalism, by it's very

definition, must be right and everyone else is wrong. Fundamentalist Jews, Muslims,

or Christians are no different. The fundamentalist checks his or her brain at the church,

synagogue, or mosque door and picks up their crayons to go inside. Fundamentalists

deny their Holy Books are for anyone but them. Their God is exclusive. Their God is a

vengeful God who punishes anyone who disagrees or professes different beliefs. Their

books may say do not kill, but their God is quite willing to sanction the murder of anyone

they disagree with. Fundamentalists blow up restaurants or churches. Fundamentalists

shoot doctors in their churches on Sunday. Fundamentalists assassinate prime ministers

who try to make peace. To fundamentalists, democracy is anathema. Equal rights for all

is heresy to fundamentalists. Peaceful coexistence would be unthinkable to a fundamentalist.

In Cairo, President Obama was speaking to moderates and hoping they will win

the day in the Muslim world. He was also speaking to moderates in Israel, and opposing

the fundamentalists that make up Prime Minister Netanyahu's coalition government. In

his speech, he was also confronting the fundamentalists in this country who long for the

day that America is supreme in a Christian dominated world. Fundamentalists didn't want

Obama to speak at Notre Dame. Fundamentalists didn't want him to speak in Cairo.

Fundamentalists don't want him to speak to the Palestinians and others who don't want

him supporting Israel.

The specter of fear and terrorism in this country, in Israel, and throughout the

world will only be eliminated when those who support tolerance, diversity of belief, and

intellectual curiosity rise up and reject fundamentalism. The message of the Quran and

Hebrew and Christian scriptures is a message of hope, love, forgiveness, and humanity.

Through Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed, God has attempted to reveal to us how to have

life and live life to it's fullest. One thing is clear, God was not talking to the fundamentalists.

What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

1 comment:

  1. In all likelihood, the only place any god exists is the minds of theists. History clearly shows that religionists of a given type view their mental god as being incompatible with the gods that exist in the minds of other types of religionists. These silly ideas about imaginary gods have produced endless problems. The simplest way to solve these problems is to grow up and learn how to live without imaginary friends.