Tuesday, July 31, 2007

[religions] defined or defiled by devotees

Warning: This is not only long but it's all on the front page - it doesn't continue onto another page. It attacks and defends aspects of all three monotheistic religions and is intended for moderates to read, not for fanatics. The fanatics will find cold comfort here.

How the train of thought began

My friendship with various Muslims, mainly women, teaches me that the most strident criticisms we read and hear in the west do not encompass the whole Muslim world, nor do they adequately address the way people go about their lives.

People in the west, ostensibly Christian, are concerned with job, money, house, car, travel, the football, home furnishings, nightclubbing, the opposite sex and so on and that's no different for the Muslims I know.

Foibles, yes, stubbornness, yes, misplaced ideas about everything we also have misplaced ideas about - there are the devout and the not so devout. I once asked a lady if she was religious; it was like a foreign element had been introduced:

"Well, yes, I'm Muslim. It's the religion of my family. What do you want? I love my country and wouldn't want to leave for any great length of time."

So, from this, I'm no closer to understanding why all the troubles around the world.

Fanaticism versus moderation

A Jewish Tale

In 1993 I was in a cottage in the north of England and knew the local school had been booked for a summer camp by a Jewish group. I saw a group of young people go by my window and they were in desultory conversation about this and that, nothing substantial, lots of laughter.

Then, from up the road, I heard shouting and the kids stopped and up to them came a man of about 30 in Chassidic gear and he started chanting and clapping his hands in the middle of the English countryside.

The kids started one or two at a time to join in and then in unison to shout songs in a sort of chant as they all went down the steep hill, the man passionately clapping, urging and whipping them into a frenzy, as I imagine the Druids might have done. He was walking first in front of them, then to the side, then to the other side, not unlike a dark sheepdog.

Judaic friends won't like me writing of this that but it happened and it was not isolated and it brought back memories of years earlier when I'd taught in an orthodox Jewish school. And therein lies the real issue, I think - Orthodoxy.

Fanatical Orthodoxy - unquestioning, unreasoning and I'm going to use another word here - rabid.

So where does that leave me? I am also Orthodox. I "know" that there is a trinity and that accepting the Word leads to undoubted happiness. I "know" this because I live it every day. I know there is a Comforter who comes in time of need. That makes me a very strange person, no?

But somehow I'm not into the happy clapping, the chanted verses and the mindless devotion and neither was JC himself. He warned people not to get into "vain repetitions" as they do at the temple nor to parade their religion. Just to quietly go about doing good [the good Samaritan] and thus the Christian ministry is well known by its fruits, good and bad.

It's the evangelical aspect which I'm most uncomfortable with. The whole notion of preaching it, as distinct from just simply presenting it, is anathema to me. It seems to me that it's far better to just go about your business doing what good you can and being tolerant of your neighbour and if the question arises, you can say what religion you are.

A Christian Tale

When I was a head teacher there were constant complaints coming to me about one particular new teacher and the substance was that she was preaching Christianity to the children. As a Christian myself, in Britain, an officially Christian country, I couldn't see what the problem was.

That was, until I paid a spot visit to her and was horrified. They were too young to be "converted" but she was having them sing hymns in the classroom in an arithmetic lesson and the thing which struck me was how vehement she was.


When we had a talk in my room later, she was intractable and chagrined that I, who considered myself a Christian, was not implementing Christian Sharia in the school. She left in high dudgeon, convinced I was working for the other side, the devil incarnate.

With such people, imposition, teaching, force, compulsion, total conviction which brooks no questioning voice, this is the daily bread and butter of their evangelism.

I want no part of it.

And so back to Islam

Clearly the secular Muslims, and they're the ones I know and like, are no different to you and me, except for certain observances during the year and we do that too. Big deal.

So where's the problem? The first problem is when a religion, first promulgated many centuries ago, is imposed by law in the current day and all the observances and outdated claptrap is also imposed by force.

Nothing wrong with the ideals themselves. Have you really, really read the Sermon on the Mount? The hardest words I can find there are:

"Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery in his heart".
Hmmm. Think I'm damned then, like Jimmy Carter or:

"Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for fornication, causeth her to commit adultery".

Or if you buy anything on a Sunday, you're causing those shopgirls, indirectly, to break the Sabbath. That's why I buy nothing on a Sunday.

These are hard sayings and what about:

"And if thine right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee."

Pretty violent, huh? So, do you see Christians walking up to people, offering them a dagger and saying: "OK, you know what to do."

The second problem is where a substantial, i.e. threatening minority, of one religion comes into a country where another religion and culture is the norm and attempts to spread, rather than just observing their faith in their own way. I include both Muslim and Christian here but strangely, not the Jews.

My Headmistress at the Jewish school I once taught asked me why I refused to wear the kippar in the synagogue. She asked if I thought she was trying to convert me and smiled:

"We have enough Jews to deal with at the moment, James. We don't need any more just now."
What could I say? I wore the kippar into the synagogue, just as I now take off my shoes and wear a cap in the mosque.

Some selections from scripture

In the ancient monotheistic religions, there are verses urging peace and mutual understanding and then there are … well, there are the others. It is these others which are seized on by the fanatics.

In the following, Red = Muslim, Green = Jewish and Purple = Christian:

"And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they first fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them." [Surah 2:190-193]

"The gentiles are outside the protection of the law and God has exposed their money to Israel." [Baba Kamma 37b]

"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." [John 13:34]

"No two religions are to exist on the Arab peninsula." [Ibn Kathir d. 1372]

If a Jew is tempted to do evil he should go to a city where he is not known and do the evil there. [Moed Kattan 17a]

"This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." [John 15:12]

"Kill the disbelievers wherever we find them." [Surah 2:191]

"If a heathen (gentile) hits a Jew, the gentile must be killed." [Sanhedrin 58b]

"Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." [1 Peter 1:22]

"Not to make friendship with Jews and Christians" [Surah 5:51]

"Gentile girls are in a state of niddah from birth." [Abodah Zarah 36b]

"And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another." [2 John 1:5]

"I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: you smite them above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them." [Surah, 8:12]

"All gentile children are animals." [Yebamoth 98a]

"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." [Matthew 6: 7, 8]

"Fight and slay the Pagans, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem" [Surah 9:5]

"Kill [even] the good among the gentiles." [R. Shimon ben Yochai]

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. [Ephesians 6: 12, 13]

"O Prophet! Make war against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be merciless against them. Their home is hell, an evil refuge indeed." [Surah, 9:73]

"She who was the descendant of princes and governors played the harlot with carpenters." [Sanhedrin 106a] Referring to Mary.

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. [Matthew 28: 18-20 - this one is disliked by the Jews and Muslims.]

"When we decide to destroy a population, we send a definite order to them who have the good things in life and yet sin. So that Allah's word is proven true against them, then we destroy them utterly." [Surah, 17:16-17]

Scriptural interpretations, esp. today

And in which way do the other two religions consider the third errs today?

Accusation against Israel

Ha'aretz, December 21, 1997; translated by Shabatai Zvi, by Gideon Levy:

Injustice leads to injustice and a sin leads to another. First, Israel murdered 1,346 Palestinians among whom were 276 children. Some of them were mere innocent passersby. And now, she is repudiating herself from the responsibility. The Intifada Law which is aimed at stifling the right of the Palestinians, victims of the Intifada, to receive some compensation from the state is going at an intense speed. Yitzhak Rabin started the initiative; Shimon Peres pushed it forward; and now Minister of Justice, Tsahi HaNagbi, delivered for its ethical basis when he said that law has an absolute ethical power.

Accusation against Christians

Dr. Trasta Breganka Kunha, a Catholic citizen of Goa writes, "In spite of all the mutilations and concealment of history, it remains an undoubted fact that religious conversion of Goans is due to methods of force adopted by the Portuguese to establish their rule. As a result of this violence the character of our people was destroyed. The propagation of Christian sect in Goa came about not by religious preaching but through the methods of violence and pressure. If any evidence is needed for this fact, we can obtain it through law books, orders and reports of the local rulers of that time and also from the most dependable documents of the Christian sect itself. [www. indpride. com/ portuguese %20 invasion.html]

Accusations against Muslims


Slaying unbelievers

Chopping off of hands

Honour killings

Infibulation - western view

Infibulation - Sudanese view

Janjaweed text and pictures

Algerian militias

Terrorism and Jihad - western view

Terrorism and Jihad - Muslim view

More moderate pleas for peace and reconciliation

Of course not everyone is a fanatic. Just a small minority who whip the others into a frenzy. I am currently corresponding with a Sudanese Muslim girl. The voice of reason can be heard in each of the religions. Here are some examples:


"Our philosophy asserts that every human being is created in the image of the Lord and the primacy of integrity and honesty in all dealings without exception. I strongly repudiate any assertions in the name of Judaism that do not represent and reflect this philosophy." [Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, Dean of Lakewood Yeshiva, Dec. 16, 2003]


"Of the five fingers that Almighty G-d has given most of us on each hand, if we point one at Israel and another at America, what are the three remaining fingers pointed at? Will we point at least one of them at ourselves? Can we dare to have that happen? And if not, why not? Usher in an era of reformation through introspection. Being a refusenik doesn't mean I refuse to be a Muslim; it simply means I refuse to join an army of automatons in the name of Allah." [Irshad Manji, Random House, Toronto]


"First, to address the apparently irreconcilable difference between how Christians have seen Muhammad's life - as a sinner's guide - and how Muslims see his life, as a noble example, Christians should read such biographies as Martin Lings' Muhammad, or Karen Armstrong's." [Clinton Bennett www. geocities. com/clintonbennett/ Lectures/Muhammad.htm]


I can only speak as a Christian but in the criticism of Christian missionaries by Dr. Trasta Breganka Kunha [above], I also see the woman I fired for her manner of evangelizing children in our school.

I can only conclude that when the more distasteful references in each of the scriptures are seized as justifications by people who are not completely calm and rational in their own general demeanour, for the purpose of either evangelism, exclusivity, killing or revenge, then that is contrary to the overall spirit of those scriptures.

In the Jewish school I worked in, my best friend was Rabbi Steven Levy and where could you hope to find a more rational, reasonable man? Here one of my best friends is a Muslim lady who is of a similar outlook. I've known some fine Christians and Humanists.

The world should be in the hands of such moderates, the calm and the open-minded but not the degenerate - people of recognized integrity, decency and moderation in their field.


Look, it can all be explained by Krikkit. And what exactly is Krikkit, for those born in another galaxy who don't know?

After ten billion years, sentient life evolved on Krikkit, blissfully unaware of the concept of 'others'. Slowly nurtured by Hactar, the Krikkiters eventually discovered a universe beyond their sun, and since it conflicted with their concept of life, the universe and everything, they decided to get rid of it - the rest of the universe, that is.
In another part of Life, the Universe and Everything, Ford Prefect is holding forth:
Ford continued, picking up his early fierce momentum as best he could.

"The point is," he said, "that people like you and me, Slartibartfast, and Arthur - particularly and especially Arthur - are just dilletantes, eccentrics, layabouts, fartarounds if you like."

Slartibartfast frowned, partly in puzzlement and partly in umbrage. He started to speak.

"- ..." is as far as he got.

"We're not obsessed by anything, you see," insisted Ford.


"And that's the deciding factor. We can't win against obsession. They care, we don't. They win."

"I care about lots of things," said Slartibartfast, his voice trembling partly with annoyance, but partly also with uncertainty.

"Such as?"

"Well," said the old man, "life, the Universe. Everything, really. Fjords."

"Would you die for them?"

"Fjords?" blinked Slartibartfast in surprise. "No."

"Well then."

"Wouldn't see the point, to be honest."

"And I still can't see the connection," said Arthur, "with whelks."

Ford could feel the conversation slipping out of his control, and refused to be sidetracked by anything at this point.

"The point is," he hissed, "that we are not obsessive people, and we don't stand a chance against ..."

"Except for your sudden obsession with whelks," pursued Arthur, "which I still haven't understood."

"Will you please leave whelks out of it?"

"I will if you will," said Arthur. "You brought the subject up."

"It was an error," said Ford, "forget them. The point is this."

He leant forward and rested his forehead on the tips of his fingers.

"What was I talking about?" he said wearily.

"Let's just go down to the party," said Slartibartfast, "for whatever reason." He stood up, shaking his head.

"I think that's what I was trying to say," said Ford.

By the way, that's a Christian Church being built in Doha here to the right.


Crushed by Ingsoc said...

I think secularists overemphasise these sorts of passages to exploit division.
Most people, for example are unaware that Muslims respect Xmas, acknowledge the virgin birth and almost all of the Bible.

My own experience of British Muslims bears little ressemblance to the myth (I have met few who didn't drink, for example).

Islamophobia is exploited by politicians to serve their own ends by joining a number of unrelated dots that happen to have islam in common.

But on the other hand, we have to have some understanding of the motivation of the extremists.
I don't condone the Inquisition for example, but I can see why those who led it meant well.
By the same token, I can understand that in some twisted way, suicide bombers do what they do out of a kind of love.

I think it's about mutual understanding (which destroys fanaticism.
Understand truly other creeds, and you see the closeness.
Fanaticism is often ignorance.

Daimyo Higham-Baka-Ohta said...

...I think it's about mutual understanding (which destroys fanaticism.
Understand truly other creeds, and you see the closeness.
Fanaticism is often ignorance...

Wise words, Crushed. You actually read all that stuff I wrote?!!!

Wow!! I didn't expect anyone would.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

It interests me, because I have scoured the Koran cover to cover, partly to find the mythical passages we are always being quoted (mostly interpretations by later scholars), but also to take the book in context.

In fact, the OT is far bloodier.

A look at the medieval caliphate of Cordoba shows how the three faiths could live in harmony under MUSLIM rule, under a climate of remarkable tolerance. It amazes me where these Morisco travellers of the eleventh century went to and the academic/scientific melting pot that was created.

Slavery, Burning witches, persecution of gay people, have all been justified by using scripture, but religions that only propagate such teachings disappear- they do not benefit society, and therefore fail.
I think Islamophobia has deep roots, like anti-semitism, but we are not wise to it yet. The Holocaust made us wise to anti-semitism, but we are being whipped up the same way here by our leaders.

An interesting point about religous extremists invading others, is that most of Ireland's woes stem from the dicord caused by a Fundamentalist minority which cannot abide to live under the majority.

Lord Nazh© said...

Long piece so I'll look at it more later, just wanted to comment on one part.

It doesn't matter if you buy anything on Sunday or not, they are still at work, working. Selling to you is not what causes them to break the Sabbath, being paid to be at work does.

Daimyo Higham-Baka-Ohta said...

Good point, Lord Nazh. We'll have to debate it. :)

Crushed. I'll reply tomorrow morning. Too tired now. Night night.

Wolfie said...

Great article James, thanks.

Crushed, like you I took the time to study all the major religions. On balance I agree with you that the OT and the Talmud represent the least inclusive of them, but then the question really is about to what extent are the laws and guidance of each religion is woven into the lives of the followers?

Many people these days seem to argue that religion dictates culture however in my travels and studies I have found the opposite to be true, that culture moulds religion into its image and the forces which mould that culture are complex, diverse and ever-changing.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

What a post! Obviously a lot of work, thought and research went into this. First of all I agree with you that it is best to go about quietly doing as much good as we can, the only trouble being that some people think "good" is cutting off the heads of people who do not share their faith. But then, to me, it is not a faith in this case - it is the faith being used for political ends. I'm not so sure there are "secular Muslims" - not any more. I taught many Muslims, as you know, and regarded some as friends. But none would condemn any of the terrible acts committed in the name of their faith and nice, intelligent women who had degrees from their own countries told me quite cooly that most Chriatians are going to die in the great war that there is going to be between us. With regard to imposing your own religion on another culture, you say "Surprisingly, not the Jews": this is surely because,as I read somewhere - I think in the "Telegraph" but I can't refind it - there is something in the Jewish religious service about obeying the law of the country they are in [unless that law required them to do something completely outside Jewish law, such as to eat pork]. Like you, James, I often wonder what we are all fighting about when we purport to worship the same god. The problem is, of course, as you point out, whether the religion can adapt to the times. I suppose Christainity has been successful in this because the NT message of love is basically so simple. I once taught a class of male Muslim military and we were doing one of those quizzes about what is most important to you. I said "love" - by which I mean being as kind as you can and not knowingly hurting people - but they all said "religion" and it transpired that they would blindly obey that religion whatever they were told to do in its name. Then there is the position of women - their rights being witheld in order to prop up odious regimes. Nothing to do with religion at all. Your Krikkit analogy is a good one and says it all.

Wolfie said...

Hmmm, interesting comment Welshcakes.

Daimyo Higham-Baka-Ohta said...

Which comment? Wekshcake's last one? I thought it was the way things are too.

thepoetryman said...

Homer wrote of Odysseus and the cyclops long before the biblical story of David and Goliath was written.

Biblical pre-history finds a great number of stories of a virgin birth by a woman with a name similar to Mary.

I offer these two examples, as there are thousands of others, that in some cases, flys in the face of many biblical stories.

I am not sure what I was trying to say now (I need to go to sleep), but something tells me to leave the comment as is and bid you good night.

Lord Trafalgar Rock Pigeon said...

...flys in the face of many biblical stories...

Poetryman - how exactly does this "fly in the face of"? It merely complements it.

Crushed - OT far bloodier than chop off the fingers? That Jewish OT must be bloody. Good thing the Christian Bible isn't, eh? :)