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The unbridled tongue

One of the readings from this morning’s service had particular resonance for me: James I 17-27.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

In a broad sense it can be seen as a companion to Mark VII 1-23, where Jesus warns the Pharisees that adherence to human tradition is no substitute for a repentant heart and teachable attitude.  In specifics though, there’s two things James mentions which apply to me in particular.  The first is the verse about being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.  In the abstract I think we’d all like to be seen as the sort of person who can take a slap to the face and, instead of letting anger dictate our actions, examine it coolly and come up with the most optimal situation-changing response.

I can tell you right now though, that’s not me.  And I’ll be honest, I haven’t tried all that hard to alter this nature; didn’t really see a need to do so.  I can react to emergency situations without losing my head, but when I get angry there is no question that I let that anger govern my course, and frequently say hurtful things I ought not to.  In my callow youth I would even take a perverse sort of pride in how quickly I could reduce an opponent to tears.  Winning the argument was really only accomplished when you’d broken their spirit.  As an adult,  however, one comes to understand that being the last man standing is not much of a win when it sacrifices a friendship or relationship.

As the verse tells us, man’s anger rarely results in the kind of righteous action that God desires.  Or to be blunt, acting in your anger is probably going to make a hash of things and relationships, so it’s better to try and rein that in, so that you’re not reacting rashly out of raw emotion, but instead out of a cool, realistic appraisal.  Ideally, that’s the kind of person I’d like to be.  I understand we’re all going to get angry; even God experiences anger, as the Bible notes on several occasions.  So logically speaking, getting ticked off is not—in and of itself—a sin.  Where it becomes problematic is how we decide to react to that anger; does it overwhelm us and cause us to descend into evil thoughts and deeds?  Or does it motivate us to take righteous constructive action?

The second-last verse in that reading is also, I think, particularly appropriate for bloggers.  As one grows accustomed to running his/her mouth (or keyboard), and receiving accolades for doing so, it can reinforce pride and a certain sense of rhetorical or logical infallibility.  And whether or not one is a blogger, I am sure every human being on the planet can identify with this particular caution.  Sometimes the things we say (whether gossip or harsh words) can undo all of the good works and good examples we have set so far.  Sometimes it is far too easy to hurt feelings and draw rhetorical blood in the heat of the moment; but the wise will recognise that God is not calling us to win every argument.  What we are called to instead is to live our lives as if our religion mattered; to hear the Word and to act.

I would like to be a man that is quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.

Today’s hymn selected from the service is “From all that dwell below the skies”, written in 1719 by the prolific English hymnwriter Isaac Watts, set to the tune of “Lasst uns erfreuen”.

Islam and Women

lil-kim-burqa

Lil' Kim, wearing the traditional garb of the hip-hop provocateur

As I have mentioned before in this space, a great many of Islam’s problems with modernity are self-inflicted, and most are structural—if not foundational.  A prime example would be its attitude toward women, which begets aesthetic nightmares like the burqa, and jurisprudential nightmares like punishing a rape victim for having the temerity to get raped.  It can be difficult for those of us who were born and raised in Western secular democracies to really grasp that large chunks of the world live under these beliefs.  They are so very alien from the rhetoric and pop culture we are saturated with from an early age.  But understanding how Islam views its women is to understand how it will always and forever be at war with human nature itself.

A woman’s subordinate status is well-defined in Islamic texts.  Men are superior to women because they have are appointed so by Allah, and have greater economic clout; and if a Muslim husband suspects rebellion from his wives, he should admonish them, refuse sex, and finally administer corporal punishment [Quran 4:34].  Islamic men enjoy greater rights than women [Quran 2:228], women are worth only half of men [Quran 2:282] and they will inherit only half of that given to men (i.e. brother, husband) [Quran 4:11 and 4:176].  Even the timing and frequency of sex is left at a husband’s discretion [Quran 2:223].

Perhaps most illuminating is Mohammed’s warnings about women in extra-Koranic writings (the Hadith, still considered to be divinely inspired).  Take this passage [Sahih Muslim 8.3240]:

Jabir reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) saw a woman, and so he came to his wife, Zainab, as she was tanning a leather and had sexual intercourse with her. He then went to his Companions and told them: The woman advances and retires in the shape of a devil, so when one of you sees a woman, he should come to his wife, for that will repel what he feels in his heart.

It is the woman’s fault, in other words, that the desires of man are inflamed.  The idea that Mohammed ought to have turned his mind to other, less sensual thoughts, or have tried to proceed with the day’s business, are not considered.  He must rush home and have sex once the thought has been planted in his mind.  His wife Zainab, meanwhile, was tanning leather—the ancient practice involved urine and animal feces, among other delightful ingredients—and had to drop her odoriferous business to get it on.  Sounds like a nice, romantic setting for a quickie.

This is without considering the slaves/concubines that Mohammed took; such as Rayhana, pretty survivor of the exterminated Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza.  And 17-year-old Safiyah, whose father and brothers were among the dead Banu Qurayza, and whose husband Mohammed tortured and executed after taking Khaybar.  Lest the monstrosity of these situations escape you, ask your wife or girlfriend if she would be ready to bed your murderer two or three hours after you died howling in agony.  Let us not be deceived that there was anything even remotely consensual about these pairings.

Taken in the aggregate, we can see that Mohammed was a man of enormous sexual appetites, and these appetites are factored into the very fibre of Islamic law.  Wife Zaynab bint Jahsh, mentioned above, was previously Mohammed’s daughter-in-law.  Pre-Islamic Arab customs deemed it improper for a father-in-law to marry his daughter-in-law upon the death of his son; it would have been considered akin to incest.  Mohammed explicitly went out of his way to change this in Islamic law, claiming divine blessing for that change.  Similarly while Mohammed promulgated an edict for his followers, limiting them to just four wives, he himself had nine (and many concubines beside).  Later Islamic theologians justified such polygyny this way:

It is preferable for a person with temperament so overcome by desire that one woman cannot curb it to have more than one woman, up to four. For God will grant him love and mercy, and will appease his heart by them [women]; if not, replacing them is recommended. Seven nights after the death of Fatimah, ‘Ali got married. It is said that al-Hasan, the son of ‘Ali, was a great lover having married more than two hundred women. Perhaps he would marry four at a time, and perhaps he would divorce four at a time replacing them with others. The Prophet said to al-Hasan, “You resemble me in appearance and in char­acter.”  He also said, “Hasan takes after me and Husayn takes after Ali.”  It was said that his indulgence in marriage is one of the characteristics in which he resembled the Messenger of God as well as al-Mughirah Ibn Shu’bah who married eighty women.”  Among the companions were those who had three and four [wives] while those who had two cannot be counted.

No matter how well known the inducement, the cure should be in proportion to the ailment; for the aim is tranquilizing one’s self, and therefore this must be taken into consideration in de­ciding how many wives one should have.

— al-Ghazali, Imam Abu Hamid.  “Advantages and Disadvantages of Marriage.”  Book XII: On the Etiquette of Marriage. Ihya Ulum al-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences).  c. 1050-1100 A.D.  Translated by Madelain Farah. [Emphasis mine]

As we see, one of the justifications of Islamic marriage and polygyny is to satiate or tranquilise the male sex drive.  Satiating the female sex drive is somewhat of a lower priority.  Furthermore, while formless, baggy female garb (abaya and burqa) are portrayed here in the West as a safeguard against inflaming male passion, it is more properly understood to be a safeguard against unleashing the base sexual desires of the female:

As a royal princess in an Islamic country (Malaysia), and originally hailing from Australia, I was required, after my marriage, to undertake four years of Islamic study under the tutelage of the Royal Household’s Iman and religious teacher.  We used text books primarily sourced from Pakistan and Egypt which had been specially printed in English for converts to Islam, as well as long tracts of the Koran and my tutor’s own knowledge and interpretations as he was a respected scholar nationally.

These twice weekly classes over four years, were never undertaken between myself and my teacher without the presence of my servants, or another royal lady who acted as chaperones – not for my chastity or purity, but, as the Iman explained to me, for his!  He truly believed that I, or any woman, could not be trusted in the lone company of a male without the baser instincts of the female gender coming to the fore.

…I was taught scores of things by the Royal Iman, the beauty of many tracts of the Koran, the cadence of the Arabic language; but much of the teachings, as opposed to the Koran itself, were strictly cultural and archaic, rather than the pure religious teachings of the Koran.  I learnt that the primary reason women are required by Islamic societies (the majority of which are patriarchal) to swathe themselves in fabrics and cover their collar bones, necks, arms, legs, ankles, calves, chests, elbows, shoulders, throats, thighs, ears, napes of necks, hair and in some cases, faces, is that women are culturally condemned to the roll (sic) of seductress and are considered untrustworthy, immoral humans, driven to tempt men and bring down the bastions of male self-control. The fine shape of an ankle, or a tendril of hair – a glimpse of which can send a mere male into a sexual frenzy, are the tools of seduction.  In essence and to outline it crudely – the veil, much lauded by so called Islamic teachings, is a protection for men against we voracious vixens of the mortal world. Not, as so many pundits state, a protection for women against men.

— Pascarl, Jacqueline.  “The truth behind the burqa.The Punch, 25 June 2009. [Emphasis mine]

I would offer that Ms. Pascarl’s observations seem to be borne out by Islamic tracts, especially al-Ghazali’s Revival of the Religious Sciences.  The upshot is that Islamic thought deems human beings of both sexes incapable of sexual self-control.  The unshrouded woman will inevitably fall into come-hither movements of her neck, arms, legs, ankles, et cetera.  Women, in Islamic cosmology, are always “asking for it”.  Men, in contrast, are minding their own business and going about Allah’s work until they see the telltales of female desire—exposed face and extremities—and are cast into the throes of sexual passion.

Qatadah said, in interpreting the words of the Almighty, “Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear”: that is, lust. It is said that ‘Akramah and Mujahid interpreted the Almighty’s words “for man was created weak” [Qur’an  4:28] by saying, “He cannot refrain from women.” Fay­yad b. Najih said that “When the male experiences an erection, he loses two-thirds of his mind”; others say “He loses a third of his religion.”  One of the rare interpretations rendered by Ibn ‘Abbas of the verse “From the evil of the darkness when it is intense” [Qur’an 113:3] is to the male erection, which is an over­powering catastrophe should it rage, as no mind or religion can resist it; for, although it can become an impetus for the two lives as was mentioned earlier, it is the devil’s strongest instrument against the sons of Adam.  To this he referred in these words: “Among those who are deficient in intelligence and religion, I have never seen any who are more successful than you [women] in prevailing over those [men] of intelligence.”  And that is because of the rage of desire.  The Prophet said in his invocation, “O God! I seek refuge in Thee from the evils of my hearing, my seeing, my heart, and the evils of my semen.” He also said, “I ask you to purify my heart and safeguard my genitals”; so how can there be laxity for others wherefrom the Messenger of God seeks refuge.

— al-Ghazali, Imam Abu Hamid.  “Advantages and Disadvantages of Marriage.”  Book XII: On the Etiquette of Marriage. Ihya Ulum al-Din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences).  c. 1050-1100 A.D.  Translated by Madelain Farah.

Now a sane person can recognise that all women are not constantly, unconsciously beckoning for sex.  And likewise all men will not be seized with sexual desire when sighting the nape of a woman’s neck.  But this is the heart of Islam’s off-kilter gender relations; a construct which is not only at odds with modernity, but at odds with human nature itself.  Logic says that the devout Muslim women ought to be considered the ones capable of wandering around without a body-shroud, as they are presumably less likely to fall into sexual sin.  But in many Islamic nations women are required to don formless sacks when venturing out in public.  Not to prevent men from molesting them, but to prevent them from seducing a male to molestation.  A small but crucial difference.  One may justifiably ask what is the point of Islamic devotion if even the devout are perceived to be a hair-trigger away from having unbridled, unauthorised sex with each other?

This warped view of gender roles is foundational—it is built into the example of Mohammed himself.  To excise it will cast doubt on the entire enterprise of Islam, because Mohammed is its penultimate prophet and literal “perfect man”.  To chip away at his deeds begs the question of why, and if Mohammed was in error, then he cannot very well have been a perfect man after all.  This defining feature of its founder is why Islam is uniquely resistant to the importation of gentler humanist thought.  Having already defined perfection in a hideously imperfect exemplar, it will never be able to evolve beyond it.

SEMI-RELATED: Attorney Rafia Zakaria, writing in the Daily Times (Pakistan), laments the laughable state of public morality in many Muslim nations, leading authorities to punish women for the heinous crimes of wearing pants in public, and drinking beer.  Somewhat less comprehensible is the apprehension that, given the proclivities of Mohammed himself, Islam can ever fully divest itself of its misogyny.  One gets the impression that, like many other faith communities, an awful lot of Muslims don’t actually know the life of their founder terribly well.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I am trying to regularly attend church services again.  One of the reasons I alluded to is that—whatever one might think of “church people”, or the vagaries of a particular denomination—I had a personal revelation which would preclude me from giving up on the entire enterprise.

In this morning’s service there was a quote from John VI 56-69, which deals with the Eucharist (i.e. communion, taking bread and wine) specifically, but contains a statement from the Apostle Peter that I can identify with:

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

On May 31st, 1988, my mother became a Christian.  She had prayed to God, received forgiveness, and described the experience as like “a weight being lifted off your shoulders”.  I must admit this is a description which struck me as odd, if not nonsensical.  How can you not know you are carrying this weight?  How many pounds would you estimate this unknown weight to be?  How was the weight distributed; like a rucksack’s shoulder straps and waist belt, or something else?  Mom had no answers to my prosecutorial examination; she didn’t think in such analytical terms.

While I was generally on board with Christian morals, I was not a big fan of church.  There was nothing particularly wrong with the church that we went to, except that to my 15-year-old mind it went on far… too… long.   When the service got out, the lobby and various other areas would be jammed with the thousand-strong congregation.  And it would stay crowded as everyone hung around to chat with each other; after-service socialising was like a sport to those people (including, unfortunately, my mother).  This is all fine and good when one is an adult, a Christian, and has many church friends to chat with about the sermon and topics of the day.  But I was a teenager, looked upon “church people” as akin to lepers or the mentally deficient, and every moment spent there was a moment not spent playing D&D, or running through the ravine with my buddies (decked out in accurate Canadian Forces Mk 82 camo, helmet and webbing, radios crackling away).  Spending up to an hour at church after all official worship ended was virtually intolerable.

I did make some friends at church, mostly guys who also attended my high school.  Naturally I gravitated toward gents my age also interested in aviation or military matters, but we tended to exist at the fringes of the high-school-age youth group.  Paradoxically me and most of my church youth group pals had not dedicated our lives to Christ; indeed we had no intentions of doing so.  Most of the youth group could not comprehend our interests, and we found theirs to be several shades of boring.  I saw no point in it.

Some church families did make an impact though, especially one pastor and his family who lived on our street.  They were the sort of folk who, if you happened to mention a need, would go out of their way to fulfill it.  They didn’t merely talk the talk, they walked the walk as well.  So while I was not enamoured of the way this family related the minutiae of everyday life through the prism of God, they did earn my respect through striving to meet the spiritual and temporal needs of the neighbourhood.  And when Mom had to travel out of town for a week in October of 1989, I was entrusted to their care.

Since their elder daughter and younger son both attended the church youth group, I was more or less obligated to attend while living under their roof.  The youth group met on Wednesdays, and on this one particular night they viewed and discussed a video pertaining to the Book of Revelation.  Now this is not an easy book to digest at the best of times, containing much apocalyptic symbolism, and so I came back to the pastor’s house full of questions.  When trying to determine if something is worthy or rubbish, I like to gather as much data as I can, and not having had much prior exposure to Revelation there was a lot of ground to cover.  I knew from prior conversations that the pastor’s wife had a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible, so I her asked to explain Revelation to me, and the symbolism of the various events and personalities.  That simple query became a four hour examination encompassing hundreds of questions, and when I finally ascended the stairs to the guest room, I thought I had a clear picture of Revelation and my eventual place (as a non-believer) within it.

This prompted a thought, not unlike Pascal’s Wager.  If I were to reach the end of my life and discover belatedly that God does exist, then I will have missed a pivotal aspect of the human experience based on nothing more than an erroneous assumption.  I decided then and there to find out; it’s either true or it isn’t.  Now I do not recall the exact words and thoughts that I had, but I know I sat on the edge of the bed and thought something like this:  “God, I want to know if you are out there.  I do not want to reach the end of my life and find out too late that I have missed the most important thing.  If all of this is true, I do not want to perish in meaninglessness.”

And to my amazement, God answered.   Not an audible answer, but a sensation unlike any I have felt before or since.  It was—just as Mom had described it—like a weight being lifted off my shoulders.  (Incidentally, my answers to my own questions would be 1) I do not know why I wasn’t previously aware of this weight; 2) I would estimate the weight at 50-70 pounds; 3) the weight was not like a rucksack with three main areas of pressure, more like a heavy cloak which settles comfortably over everything without putting stress on any particular point.)

On October 26th, 1989, I had transmitted a message in the blind, and God had answered it.  I was elated; if it hadn’t been three or four in the morning, I would have whooped for joy and woken the whole house.

Now sadly this experience cannot be validated with instrumentation.  There were no witnesses, other than God and myself.  Even if there were witnesses, they could not truthfully describe inner thoughts of a mind other than their own, and they could not describe a sensation occurring in a body other than their own.  And you as a reader are free to accept or reject this account; I can’t provide any more documentation than I have here.  It simply is what it is.  But it is why—despite all of life’s triumphs and tragedies, despite its apparent unfairness, despite vile things men and women may claim to do in faith—I cannot turn my back on church or Christianity.  I have that memory of first discovery, where God demonstrated His existence to me.  Who else could I follow?

And if it all seems highly improbable, my advice is, don’t take my word for it—find out for yourself.

(To follow last week’s tradition, here is a song from this morning’s service—”Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise”, written by Scottish poet and minister Walter Chalmers Smith, set to the tune of “St. Denio” by John Roberts.)

Long road to Jerusalem

Although I have been a Christian for some twenty years, I have not always been a churchgoer at the same time.  I’m not quite sure how that happened, exactly.  I guess I just tried to find a denomination/church whose doctrine matched my own understanding and, not having found any, eventually gave up altogether.

Which is not to say that I gave up on God.  When one has a personal sort of revelation you can’t very well deny that which is engraved in your memory.  But having attended various Protestant denominations over two decades, I did despair of finding a community of believers whose doctrine I could agree with in minute, microscopic detail.

I had a conversation with mom a month ago, though, that put it all in a different light.  She quite rightly pointed out that I am never going to find perfect agreement and alignment with the doctrine of any human church, and that the life of solitary believer who rarely interacts with his brethren rather misses the point.  A member of the body of Christ, separated from that body and having no communication with the other parts, can neither exercise its God-given gifts nor be blessed through others using theirs.

So I’m struggling back into regular church attendance.

Here is one of the tunes from today’s service, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”, written by Scottish pastor and author Horatius Bonar, set to the tune Kingsfold by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

How do you solve a problem like Mohammed?

mohammed

In late December, the ever-insightful Belmont Club published a summary of the current Bishop of Rome’s approach to dealing with Islam.  Among the salient points:

  1. Benedict doesn’t see much scope for a ‘theological’ debate between Christianity and Islam, which is of interest to only a specialist few. Instead, the Pope sees the real debate taking place at a cultural/civilizational level in which the subject of sharia will be a key item.
  2. The debate is inevitable, because Islam at its roots is profoundly different from Christianity. Those who wish to bury the differences under relativism and a glib multiculturalism will fail.
  3. Islam’s desire for supremacy is not directed primarily at Christianity, rather it is directed at any competitor.

— Richard Fernandez.  “Boots of the Fisherman“, Belmont Club, December 20th, 2008.

I find myself in agreement with these three points; the remainder, not so much.  Christianity and Islam are, fundamentally, different creatures with wildly divergent underpinnings.  Particularly when it comes to the lives and examples of their founders, Jesus and Mohammed.  A Belmont Club commenter, wildiris, makes the point with great clarity; I shall reproduce the comment in full here:

I posted this comment once before here at Belmont Club. But given the context of the current post, I think it is worth repeating again.

(Observation 1) Every society has its share of violent, misogynistic, hurtful and etc. people, a number of who will always try and bend their religion to serve as a cover, excuse or justification for their behavior. As a result, all religions have had their fringe cults and sects that have acted out in violent and/or other anti-social ways; that’s just a sad fact of human nature. But Islam, of all of the world’s major religions, seems to be the one most troubled by this problem, while at the same time; the more peaceful (moderate) element in the religion of Islam is seemingly powerless to stop this co-opting from happening.

(Observation 2) It doesn’t matter what verses of the Bible or Koran one chooses to emphasize, or how one may try to interpret them. The ultimate arbiter of what is or what is not a proper Christian or Muslim response is the lives and works of Jesus or Mohammed themselves. Jesus was above all, a man of peace, while Mohammed was anything but a man of peace.

A Christian may try to use scripture to justify or incite others to violence, but because Jesus himself would not have acted in that way, their words will never attract more than a handful of listeners.

But it is the converse that is true for Islam. While there may be many within the Muslim religion that want to live peacefully with their neighbors, Mohammed himself did not live that way. As a result, the voices of the “moderates” carry no weight with the community of Islam as a whole. After all, how can one Muslim, with any authority, tell another not to do what Mohammed himself did do? It’s not that the moderates can’t or won’t speak out against the radical element, it’s that the prophet Mohammed, by the example of his own life, left them with no voice to speak out with.

(Conclusion) That’s why Islam is not, never was or can ever be trusted to be a “religion of peace”. Because Mohammed himself was not a peaceful man and by the example of his own life, he has left the door wide open for the more violent element in any community or society, in which Islam is the dominant religion, to turn Islam into a tool to justify their violent actions against others.

In other words, Islam, as a religion, can’t be any more “peaceful” than, as a man, Mohammed was himself.

It is hard to fault the logic, and indeed I see no reason to do so.  The most violent example we have from the life of Christ is the scourging of the Temple, where He drove out cattle vendors and money changers.  This is an event mentioned in all four canonical Gospels (Matthew XXI 12-13, Mark XI:15-18, Luke XIX 45-46, John II 13-22).  Contrary to surface appearances, this is not an invitation to drag a bullwhip to church on the off chance you might express ass-whooping righteous anger at some dodgy doctrine.  Nor do I think it is a blanket condemnation of capitalist commerce.

In Roman Judea, the currency of Rome was, naturally, used for commercial transactions of all kinds.  And Roman coins naturally carried the image of Roman emperors, who were also self-styled living deities.  The use of Romain coin (and the image of its idolatrous, blasphemous god-emperor) would have been deemed entirely inappropriate for Jews to use when paying the Temple tax, ergo they had to exchange their Roman currency for a non-idolatrous Hebrew currency.  Therefore money changers and lenders set up shop in the Temple, some charging outrageous usuries of up to 300% per annum.  Merchants also took the opportunity to set up stalls to sell various animals for the requisite burnt and blood offerings.

Of course, for many temple merchants, their activities had nothing to do with the repentance and sacrifice called for by the Law of Moses.  It was simply raking in the maximum amount of profit possible on each transaction, while ignoring the intent and spirit of the sacrifice which enabled these transactions in the first place.  Seeking increasing profit from a mandatory religious activity does seem parasitic and corrupt, and I believe this rapacious avarice is what animated Jesus in this instance.

Otherwise the account of Christ’s ministry on this planet is characterised by the confounding of human expectations and behaviours.  The Biblical Jesus constantly acts in ways that both his friends and enemies do not expect, and this is part of its genius.  The Jesus of the Bible loves but does not copulate; seeks no earthly riches; does not demand vengeance when rejected and assailed; goes out of His way to be merciful to sinners, the afflicted, and those of lesser social station.  When confronted with extraordinary trial or temptation, He does not buckle—as ordinary, fallible humans do.  The sheer otherworldliness of His example is what sets it apart from all others, and inspires Christians to do likewise.

Mohammed, on the other hand, is all too recognisably human.  When their livelihoods were disrupted by Meccan seizure, Mohammed’s contemporaries turned to banditry, raiding caravans.  Mohammed acts as a typical Semitic tribesman of the period, avenging a slight to group honour by calling upon his followers to kill Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf.  Owing to these early tussles with descendants of Israelites, he develops a lifelong enmity towards Jews.  Harassed by increasing enemy activity, Mohammed goes on the offensive, commanding armies in the field at the siege of Medina, and later attacking and capturing Mecca.  He marries thirteen times, although the Qur’an states that Muslim polygyny has a maximum concurrent limit of four wives.  Mohammed is a man in which we can see earthly desires, attitudes and appetites quite clearly on display.

Like the Belmont Club commenter, it is difficult to see how any Muslim—even the earnest Irshad Manji—could offer up a compelling platform of broad-based reform for Islam, given the proclivities and examples of its founder.  A watered-down, “New Learning” of Mohammed, disavowing the bloodshed, deception and—let’s be honest—utter disregard for the rights and aspirations of women, is not going to be an easy sell to the ummah.  If Mohammed is the penultimate Muslim, what possible justification could be offered (and accepted) for substantially altering the character of this foundational figure?  More than likely such a proselytiser will end up branded a heretic at best, and slain at worst.  Because the founder himself has engaged in a wide array of human behaviour—not all of it admirable or good—the followers do not have very firm ground by which to disavow such negative examples.

This is why, ultimately, I have a great deal of skepticism about Western efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.  I have no doubt that the West possesses the military might to crush Islamic radicalism wherever and whenever it arises.  What it lacks is the philosophical wherewithal to point out that Mohammed’s example is one very few men should want to emulate, and that Islam—as embodied in the life of its founder—is not a way to overcome human appetites and frailties, but rather a way to be ensnared by them.  Building better Islamic societies is, like building better Communism or Fascism, simply building better machines for human misery.

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Let earth receive her King

st_annes_manger

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them,

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Luke II 1-20, KJV

Image: Dome detail, St. Anne’s Anglican Church, 270 Gladstone Avenue.

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The Good Earth

apollo8_earthrise

Forty years ago today, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were half-way through a dangerous and epic journey, over 230,000 miles from home. TIME magazine recounts some of the story:

But on Christmas Eve the crew got busy. Settling Apollo 8 into orbit around the moon was a high-wire maneuver that involved turning the ship backward and firing its powerful service propulsion engine for precisely four and a half minutes — an eternity in a business in which barely a breath from a thruster is enough to set a ship spinning off course. The engine burn was designed to slow the spacecraft down just enough to ease it into a lunar orbit without losing so much altitude that it crashed into the moon instead. Orbital mechanics also demanded that the maneuver occur on the dark side of the moon, entirely out of radio contact with Earth. At 68 hours and 58 minutes into their journey, the crew buckled in and vanished around the moon’s far side.

— Jeffrey Kluger.  “Remembering Apollo 8, Man’s First Trip to the Moon“, TIME, December 24th, 2008.

This is their iconic television broadcast on December 24th, 1968; a reading of Genesis I 1-10, NKJV.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

Conservative media site Libertas has a typically unfavourable review of Pixar’s new movie, WALL•E.  Its crime: the director’s Christian faith is apparently undetectable in the movie, or is detectable but is out-shouted by pandering to trendy green socialism.  Or something.

There is a danger, I think, I trying to understand the world through the prism of a particular political worldview.  The best example comes from the comments to the post, particularly this one by reader K:

From the “Christianity Today” interview:
The reason I made them look like big babies was because a NASA guy told me that they haven’t yet simulated gravity perfectly for long-term residency in space.

This is a very disingenuous explanation. The story is supposed to be 800 years in the future, farther in time than the Star Trek universe. Virtually all SciFi stories, and particularly movie SciFi stories posit some form of artificial gravity. So he had to ignor virtually all SF conventions to make a story decision which just happened to also, as he put it “. . . make some sort of mean-spirited comment on consumerism or today’s society.”

To paraphras P.J. O’Rourke, Liberals are always alternately denying God’s existence or hiding behind his appron strings. The Christianity Today interview is a textbook example of the latter.

I hardly know where to begin.

Anti-grav capability is, apparently, a staple of science fiction stories (put aside things like The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 and 2001: A Space Odyssey for the moment).  If I understand this commenter correctly, one sci-fi story positing a lower level of technological development over a greater period of time than another, more famous sci-fi story constitutes some kind of creeping backdoor socialism.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I am pretty sure that the level and type of technological sophistication is at the discretion of the author, for the purposes of advancing the storyline.  Whether or not one fictional universe has greater or lesser technological sophistication has nothing to do with genre conventions, and everything to do with whether it moves your story along at the pace and tempo you desire.

To then go one further and evaluate the strength or commitment of the author’s faith in God on the basis of a single work seems a little presumptuous, to say the least.

England expects every man to do his duty

An open letter to Elizabeth II, Dei Gratia Britanniarum Regnorumque Suorum Ceterorum Regina Consortionis Populorum Princeps Fidei Defensor.

Your Majesty,

In light of recent statements, it is apparent that Rowan Cantuar has no more fight left in him.  He is prepared to sanction the integration of Islamic law into the legal framework of Britannia major—which already has an established Church, founded some 473 years ago.  Protestantism is still at the heart of Britain’s governmental and legal infrastructure today, and I am certain that even sharia‘s contemporary treatment of women and non-Muslims is very much at odds with Enlightenment principles of equality that are entwined in the fabric of British common law.

Dr. Williams, however, appears to have intellectually abandoned the necessity of preserving and defending the common law.  As Supreme Governor of the Church of England, responsible for the spiritual and moral health of your Church and State, surely you can see that it would be unwise for the doctor to continue his tenure.

I would be much obliged if Your Majesty’s Government would introduce an Act of Attainder to strip Rowan Cantuar of his public offices, and give all persons the Freedom of the Empire to kick said doctor in the ass—once per diem—whenever and wherever he may appear in Publick.

Your Obedient Servant,

C. Taylor

RELATED:  Palmerston at The Monarchist is also mightily displeased.   The New Criterion links to many dissenting Anglican bishops quoted in This Is London.