Archive for category Civil Rights
When a supposedly moderate Islamic government like Pakistan’s has a law on their books making blasphemy a crime, well, they don’t make it any easier for those of us who are friends of Islam. And when a person is sentenced to death for speaking their mind then it is time for Muslims around the world to speak out against Pakistan and sharia law. There is no way that any reasonable person, of any religious persuasion, can justify persecution.
I don’t care if the women is Christian. That is irrelevant. It certainly is a big deal to a lot Christians, but this would be just as insanely horrible if the accused was Hindu or Wiccan or Muslim. Yet, this incident is providing Christian Islamophic factions (as well as some impassioned atheists) some heavy ammo in their battle against Islam. And frankly, this particular Muslim fundamentalist position is pretty well indefensible.
I used to think of Pakistan as a civilized place. The country has produced some extraordinary people who achieved extraordinary things in science and the arts. Cosmopolitan cities. Ranked in the top 15% of the world’s economies, according to GDP. Heck, they even have the atom bomb.
A theocratic country with a medieval mindset that has the atom bomb. Actually, dozens or maybe hundreds of them. Gives one pause, doesn’t it?
Now, in Pakistan, there are some loud and courageous dissenting voices, in the media and in government as well. One politician has introduced an amendment to the anti-blasphemy laws that would eliminate capital punishment for the offense. Now that’s a good thing but it is not good enough. No country should have any laws on their books having anything to do with blasphemy or any law protecting any religion from spoken or written criticism. No country should ever have an overt alliance with any religion, Muslim, Christian or Jewish (sorry Israel and Texas).
I’d like to ask what a lot of people have asked before: where is the American Muslim outcry against Islamist tyranny? I just spent a lot of time searching for something like this on the web and, well, I can’t find anything of the sort. Why doesn’t CAIR have anything to say about this? I mean, how can they see a major threat to American Muslims with Juan Williams’ relatively harmless off-the-cuff remarks and not see the danger in keeping silent on the tyranny of Pakistani sharia? This is like upbraiding a smoker for polluting the air while sitting behind the wheel of an idling SUV.
I have friends and neighbors who are Muslim. We tend to keep the conversation outside of religion and away from international politics. But tonight I might risk propriety and ask for their take on this. Do they think my question is a valid one? I’ve also met some interesting Muslims on this blog and would like to ask for their thoughts as well.
Because I’m not likely to come. Oh, I might fake it a bit, if in a public setting like church. But when all heads are bowed and eyes closed, if you bothered to look up you probably would see me, eyes wide open and looking right back at you.
I don’t get it. Never really did, especially growing up Roman Catholic and having to endure the endless monotonous intoning of the priest’s scripted calls for intercession followed by the obligatory chorus of “Lord hear our prayer”. Later, as an Evangelical, I actually did pray a lot, often alone on my knees but at other times holding hands in a circle, listening to my friends drone on about concerns as broad as world hunger and as pathetically specific as a set of lost car keys, all the while sweating over what I was going to say and how I could say it in a proper, godly fashion. Problem was, even though my life was filled with ‘prayer’, I was rarely at peace.
Today I belong to a much more progressive church – well, no, I actually don’t ‘belong’ to the church – I haven’t joined for a number of reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I love the community, it’s very spiritual and intellectually stimulating. It’s unencumbered with a lot of the religious bullshit baggage that many other churches are full of. But members must commit to a number of spiritual practices, one of which is prayer. And I really don’t know what that means, being “committed to a life of prayer”.
What is prayer anyway? It’s a loaded topic that’s for sure. Right now, down in Bibleland, there is a big brew-ha-ha bubbling up out of Hamilton County, Tennessee and onto the wire services, Facebook and the blogoshpere ( I mean serious big time blogs, not my little hobby). The local public high school is in the custom of kicking off every game with a prayer to Jesus over the PA system, which is clearly in violation of a couple of laws. The superintendent ordered the school to cease and desist (amazing it took this long) and now all (but really, it’s not all) of the people are peeved. But why? It’s a no-brainer. Keep the Christian prayers where they belong, in Christian venues (like one of the gazillion local churches). Keep your Muslim prayers in the mosques, your Jewish prayers in the synagogues and your Native American chants on the side lines during the game.
But is this really prayer we are talking about? Some principal or coach picks up a squealing mike and everyone bows their heads and we thank God for our new band uniforms and our pick-up trucks? Shouldn’t we be led to prayer by our hearts and not a solemn prompting sandwiched between rah-rah team fanaticism? How heartfelt can this be? I reckon no more so than the grace-before-meals my family used to toss off in 2.758236 seconds before chowing down. Or the endless repetitious chants from the church of my childhood. Is God really ‘listening’ to this?
I do believe in prayer, somehow, in some crazy way. For a while now I haven’t been able to explain it, even to myself. I can tell you what I don’t believe: I don’t believe that God answers our prayers so that we get raises or promotions or sell our houses or win football games or wars. I don’t believe that God keeps the machinery from failing when it pulls miners out of the ground or prevents a cap from bursting on a submarine oil well. I don’t believe that we can pray away hurricanes, tornadoes or rainy days. I don’t think God is a genie.
But…I do think that there is something to it. Maybe (and most importantly?) if the prayer is thoughtful, sincere and in the truly “good”spirit of God, then it can help us work out ways to make things better, for ourselves and for others. And making things better is not about changing the situation but dealing with the situation through the softening of our hearts, the clearing of our minds and seeing the world through the eyes of God, which means through the eyes of others. I don’t imagine much of this is happening right before game time. I could be wrong, but…
Hamilton County Board of Education member Rhonda Thurman, who represents Soddy-Daisy, said the prayers were part of the school’s tradition, and that anyone who didn’t want to hear could “put their fingers in their ears.”
And maybe there is something more, something a bit mystical about prayer. I started to understand this so a little last week in church. On this particular Sunday I was praying like a Carmelite nun, fervently and spiritedly. I was suffering the next-day intestinal side-effects of too many jalapenos in last night’s queso dip. My belly sounded like the timbers of an old frigate in high seas and I am sure that those sitting around me were nearly as alarmed as I was. And, of course, that day’s service ran about 30 minutes longer than usual.
It suddenly stuck me: what was I doing? I didn’t believe in this type of intercessory prayer. Or did I? There are no atheists in foxholes and when I found myself in a foxhole (even one I dug myself) prayer suddenly was a viable option. And, it seemed that it was working, because my stomach was able to quiet down enough for me to make it home safely. Of course, this could simply be a matter of my mind being able to exert stronger and more efficient control over my body, but maybe this was only possible for me through prayer.
Mystics throughout the world and throughout history have been able to do (much more) amazing things with their bodies – impossible things – from walking on coals, sleeping on nails, levitating and performing miraculous healings. If God is spirit, analogous to energy, then perhaps through prayer we can tap into that energy (whatever that means). Perhaps this spiritual energy is available to anyone – it just takes a certain knack to access it. Perhaps this is why some say that when “two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name” they can do wondrous things, maybe even, hopefully, heal people (though I find it hard to square this with the superstitious antics of Benny Hinn and the TBN crowd). And I really don’t think this describes what happens when a crowd of people are saying Jesus’ name out loud at a civic event, especially if some members of that community are not Christian. That is not something that Jesus would do, or put his name on.
Everybody is offended by something,” she (Ms.Thurman) said. “I’m offended by a lot of those little girls running around with their thong panties showing, but I can’t make that go away.”
Maybe communal, public prayer works for some people. Maybe prostrating yourself a number of times a day gives you strength, comfort or peace. Maybe chanting works for some and the rosary for others. Lectio divina, contemplative, meditative or in tongues….no thanks. Been there, done that, tried it and found it wanting. Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough, who knows? But it seems to me that if you have to really work at it, if it really takes that much concentration, then maybe you’re paddling up the wrong stream of consciousness.
Anyway, as one Christian to another, do me a favor and keep the praying down a bit. Maybe even consider praying in private or just among your close friends. After all, there is some biblical precedent for this. Jesus is to have once said something like this:
And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. – Matthew 6 (The Message)
“What is our purpose in life? It is to restore the fallen culture to the glory of God. It’s to take command and dominion over every aspect of life, whether it’s music, science, law, politics, communities, families, to bring Christianity to bear in every single area of life” – Charles Colson
“As soon as Jesus sits on his throne he’s gonna rule the world with a rod of iron. That means he’s gonna make the ACLU do what he wants them to. That means you’re not gonna have to ask if you can pray in public school. We will live by the law of God and no other law.”— John Hagee
“Lord, give us righteous judges who will not try to legislate and dominate this society. Take control, Lord! We ask for additional vacancies on the court.” –Pat Robertson
“We’re not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.” -Franklin Graham
“Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.” – Sarah Palin
“There are some who would accuse us of trying to Christianize America. Am I trying to Christianize America? You bet your boots I am!” – D. James Kennedy
“The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be ‘What the hell you mean we’re out of missiles?”-Glenn Beck
There is a memorable behind–the-scenes moment in one of Frank Peretti’s books where a little demon perched on the shoulder of an addict is swirling his hand around inside the man’s skull. (For those of you who don’t know of him, Frank Peretti writes “Christian” horror tales. This book, if I remember correctly, was “Piercing the Darkness”. It may just as well have been called “Piercing my Eyeball” for all the pleasure I got from reading it.)
Anyway, this supernatural premise is one that many conservative Christians (Fundamentalists, Neo-Evangelicals, Moral Majoritarians, reactionary Catholics –you get the picture) do not take lightly. There is no doubt in their minds that the minds of others, especially those who suffer from mental and emotional disorders, are in demonic clutches. Many of these Christians consider psychologists and psychiatrists to be quacks, or even worse, in the employ of Satan (though perhaps unconsciously). People with chronic depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, OCD – these people don’t need medical attention, and they certainly don’t need any drugs. All they need is to turn to Jesus. Or maybe endure a good exorcism. (In their contempt for the psychiatric profession they have a lot in common with Scientologists).
The funny (and sad) thing is that most of these people are not complete idiots. I know, because I was once one of them, and I am no idiot. (depending on who you ask) Now, I didn’t completely right-off the mental health profession. But I didn’t put much stock in mental health practitioners, unless he or she was an overt Christian. Because if therapists didn’t believe that Satan could mess with people’s minds, then it was tantamount to them working for Satan. There was really no hope for healing. I guess a Jewish doctor who believed in Satan would be OK except that he would not recognize the healing power of Jesus. So, no, it would have to be a Christian and a neo-Evangelical, God fearing, born-again Christian to boot. And this is a wide spread conviction among Christian fundamentalists.
Nowadays a belief in Satan would immediately disqualify that professional from my consideration. I couldn’t care less if my mechanic or my post-man or my butcher believed in Satan or Santa. But when it comes to helping people deal with issues that challenge their sanity, well, I just don’t think the supernatural is something worth pursuing. At least not at $150 an hour.
What I am trying to get at here is that there are quite a lot of Americans (some estimates say around 100 million) who believe that Old Scratch is a legitimate threat to our personal, local and national security. Heck, our last president thought this way. Right now there is a lot of angry talk going around about how Muslim people actually belong to a satanic religion and that the Prophet was under satanic influence. Which, when you think about it, is pretty scary. Not the idea that Islam is satanic – that’s not scary, it’s just plain ignorant. No, what’s scary is that maybe over 100 million Americans have their heads in the Dark Ages. Quite a few readily say that most non-Christians are doing Satan’s work and all are destined for hell. That the world’s problems won’t be solved until America’s problems are solved which won’t happen until America is a Christian nation run by Christians. My God, what if they ever organized?
Which is what they have been, for the last 40 years or so. Though you won’t hear them say it officially, the Christian Right has dominionism on their minds. Dominionism according to Wikipedia, is:
the tendency among some conservative politically-active Christians, especially in the United States, to seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action. The goal is either a nation governed by Christians, or a nation governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.
I don’t think the leaders of the Christian Right would disagree too much with that assessment. And I guess that if you are a conservative Christian you probably don’t have much of a problem with it. But, as a fairly moderate man who struggles with keeping the teachings of Jesus close to heart ( I am hesitant to call myself a “Christian” these days) I am, frankly, fairly frightened. I can’t imagine what a Hindu or a Buddhist or (particularly at this time) a Muslim, thinks of this. (Though I have spoken with some Muslims and they don’t appear to be too worried) Apparently a lot of Jews are willing to overlook the rhetoric of the Christian Right as long as they continue to fervently support Israel. I guess they, like so many others, don’t take them too seriously. And that’s a mistake.
Considering their stated goals and their political successes (they helped elect a lot of governors and a lot of people to Congress and the last administration was very much under their influence) I think they need to be taken very seriously. Though they only crow about it to the choir inside churches and those listening to their radio and TV programs, their ultimate agenda is for all elected officials be fundamentalist Christians, all government policies be based upon Biblical law and that eventually all citizens convert to Christianity. Which would mean only Christians would be capable of effective leadership, or even citizenship. Now, what is that starting to sound like?
Before you think I’m crazy remember that not too long ago I used to be in their camp. And if that’s not enough, go check out their websites: the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, Coral Ridge Ministries, Answers In Genesis, Center for Moral Clarity, Christian Broadcasting Network, John Hagee Ministeries etc. And follow the links on these sites; you might be surprised what you find there. Of course most of what you find will sound relatively harmless, maybe even noble. I mean, what’s wrong with family values? Patriotism is a good thing, usually. And it’s kind of hard to object to the Gospel of Jesus. .
So there’s nothing to worry about, right? This is America, after all. Couldn’t happen here. Well, the Tea Party is growing stronger and some influential people are actually talking about a possible Beck/Palin presidential bid (in recent Gallup polls Beck was the fourth most admired man alive, right below Nelson Mandela and just above the Pope, while Palin was the number one Republican presidential contender) So interesting things could happen. We might be surprised. Perhaps unpleasantly.
An old Baptist preacher once warned me about ‘false teachings’: “Remember, rat poison is 95% sugar. It’s the other 5% that’ll kill ya.”