Friday, September 30, 2011

Brief Remark on Law in Islam and Christianity

Pope Benedict XVI

As the heading above indicates, I'm posting a brief remark on "Law" in Islam and Christianity. In yesterday's blog entry, I noted the tolerant views of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb. Let us recall his remark on "Law," which he calls Shari'a:
"The fact that all the divine revelations are [revelations] of a single religion should not lead us to believe that they all share the same religious law [shari'a]. 'Religion' is the constant core essence of each revelation. It is one and does not vary, because it is anchored in universal, constant truths that do not change. Conversely, religious law does vary from one divine revelation to the other. By 'religion' we mean the divine message that goes to the common universal principles shared by all revelations, such as the fundamental tenets of faith, morals, and worship. But 'religious law' is the divine law that regulates the life and social behavior of the believers, which changes from time to time and from place to place. While religion, according to the philosophy of Islam, is one, religious law is not. It varies among people, and in accordance with the environment, time, place and circumstances. Therefore, the Koran emphasizes the variety of religious law among the believers: 'To each among you have we prescribed a law and a course. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single nation [5:48].'"
This sounds rather unlike what one usually hears from Islam, which often insists upon the primacy of Shari'a over all other systems of law because it is grounded in revelation. Al-Tayeb doesn't elaborate upon the grounding of law, but his Qur'anic citation suggests that Allah has "prescribed a law" to each religiously defined nation, presumably through revelation, though this revelation leaves room for alterations dependent upon time and place. On the one hand, this is tolerant on the part of Al-Tayeb, for it allows for difference. On the other hand, this is problematic, in that it leaves open the question of the law that a Muslim should follow when living in a non-Muslim state. Does Al-Tayeb think that Muslims have the right to follow their own Shari'a even in a secular state, such as those that make up the EU? There also seems to be no rational ground for distinguishing good laws from bad laws since Allah apparently prescribed different laws for different groups. But I'm speculating without sufficient evidence.

At any rate, Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent address in Berlin, reminded his audience of the mainstream Christian view of Law:
How do we recognize what is right? In history, systems of law have almost always been based on religion: decisions regarding what was to be lawful among men were taken with reference to the divinity. Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law -- and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God. Christian theologians thereby aligned themselves with a philosophical and juridical movement that began to take shape in the second century B.C. In the first half of that century, the social natural law developed by the Stoic philosophers came into contact with leading teachers of Roman Law. Through this encounter, the juridical culture of the West was born, which was and is of key significance for the juridical culture of mankind. This pre-Christian marriage between law and philosophy opened up the path that led via the Christian Middle Ages and the juridical developments of the Age of Enlightenment all the way to the Declaration of Human Rights and to our German Basic Law of 1949, with which our nation committed itself to "inviolable and inalienable human rights as the foundation of every human community, and of peace and justice in the world".
The Pope was speaking to the Germans, and he begins by noting -- in a manner similar to Al-Tayeb -- that Law has often been based on religion, differing according to the religion of a people. But unlike Al-Tayeb, he ends up in a different legal place. Christianity does not propose a law grounded in a particular revelation. Rather, it grounds Law in universal Natural Law discovered through reason. There is, then, ultimately one Law for all humanity.

On the surface, Al-Tayeb's view sounds more tolerant, but it allows for arbitrary laws, including those that most civilized people find repugnant, such as the cutting off of hands for thievery. Conversely. the Pope's view sounds less tolerant, but it insists upon the rationality of Law and thus offers a standard for rejecting laws repugnant to civilized people.

Or so things seem to me . . .

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb Calls for a Moderate Islam

Ahmed Al-Tayeb

Not all news from the Islamic world is bad, though my many posts on Islamism might leave that impression. MEMRI reports on "The Sheikh of Al-Azhar in an Exceptionally Tolerant Article" (MEMRI, Inquiry and Analysis Series Report No. 741, September 27, 2011):
In the article, Al-Tayeb distinguishes between the fundamentals of the faith on the one hand and religious laws (shari'a) on the other. He states that the three Abrahamic religions -- Islam, Judaism, and Christianity -- share the fundamentals of faith, ritual, and morality, and differ only in their specific shari'a laws. He adds that since shari'a depends on circumstances of time and place, the existence of different shari'as is only natural. In saying this, he not only legitimizes Judaism and Christianity, but also implicitly sanctions the differences in shari'a between the Sunna and Shi'a, and among the various Sunni religious schools.
MEMRI notes that these open views are not merely recent pronouncements:
In an Al-Ahram article published January 2007, Al-Tayeb stated that Islam's ties with the religions that preceded it are not political, cultural, or social in nature; rather, they are ties of brotherhood, for Islam is a sister to the religions of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. He stressed that Islam must open up, shed its self-imposed isolation, and stop treating the followers of other religions as enemies who must either be eliminated or drawn into the fold of Islam.
MEMRI quotes from a June 2011 article by Al-Tayeb:
"The fact that all the divine revelations are [revelations] of a single religion should not lead us to believe that they all share the same religious law [shari'a]. 'Religion' is the constant core essence of each revelation. It is one and does not vary, because it is anchored in universal, constant truths that do not change. Conversely, religious law does vary from one divine revelation to the other. By 'religion' we mean the divine message that goes to the common universal principles shared by all revelations, such as the fundamental tenets of faith, morals, and worship. But 'religious law' is the divine law that regulates the life and social behavior of the believers, which changes from time to time and from place to place. While religion, according to the philosophy of Islam, is one, religious law is not. It varies among people, and in accordance with the environment, time, place and circumstances. Therefore, the Koran emphasizes the variety of religious law among the believers: 'To each among you have we prescribed a law and a course. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single nation [5:48].'"
This is certainly a very different message than we constantly hear from the Islamists of the Muslim world. On the other hand, Al-Tayeb isn't perfect:
On two occasions, Al-Tayeb responded sharply to statements by Pope Benedict XVI, which he perceived as offensive to Islam or as interference in Muslim affairs. The first occasion was after the Pope's September 2006 lecture, which enraged Muslims worldwide, and prompted Al-Tayeb to demand an official apology. The second occasion was following the Pope's call, in January 2011, to protect Christians in Egypt (after the New Year's Eve attack on the Church in Alexandria) -- a call Al-Tayeb perceived as interference in Egypt's affairs.
I wonder if Al-Tayeb ever attempted to find out exactly what the Pope said in that 2006 lecture. I went directly to the German speech on video at the time of the controversy and found that the Pope's actual words were significantly different than reported in English, and I assume that the same holds for the reports of the Pope's talk in Arabic, which were likely translated from English rather than German. In the original German, the Pope's own words showed him distancing himself from the words of the Byzantine emperor whom he quoted as criticizing the violence practiced by Islam. As for the Pope's call for the protection of Christians in Egypt, that's perfectly legitimate and scarcely interference in Egypt's affairs -- or would Al-Tayeb say that Muslim religious leaders have no right to criticize persecution of Muslims in lands where they constitute a minority?

But even with these caveats, I'm pleased to hear a mainstream figure in such a position of authority as the Sheikh of Al-Azhar speak out for tolerance and better understanding among religions and call for Muslims to seek peaceful relations with non-Muslims.

I just hope that Al-Tayeb will be shown to have spoken consistently on these matters . . .

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Georges de Feure - Le fruit défendu: péché as pêche

Le fruit défendu (1895)
Georges de Feure

My reading in Ben Hale's novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, has turned my thoughts again toward forbidden fruit and its rare depiction as a peach, which Ben picks up on and works into his story. After reading John Milton's description of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in terms better fitting a peach than an apple, as pointed out to me by Robert Appelbaum (who has written on this topic), I wondered about the possibility of a pun in French on pêche (peach) and péché (sin). I haven't confirmed that such a pun has been explicitly made, not in so many (or so few?) words, but the painting above by the French Symboliste painter Georges de Feure (real name: Georges Joseph van Sluÿters, 1868-1943) looks like a visual pun on Eve's biting of a peach as the original sin. Here's what the catelogue notes at Sotheby's Auction says about this painting:
Among the rare works created by de Feure during his sojourns in Bruges, this work is one of the most unusual for its symbolism and modernism. In the foreground, partially obscured by a floral border, a nude woman, Eve-like, holds the gaze of the spectator and proffers a peach she has already bitten. This fruit and its rich juice evoke the biblical temptation in Paradise, and mankind's ensuing fall from grace.

In the background, in the town streets moves a procession of nude women, dancing, applauding and caressing each other. Some wear black stockings while others brandish smoking amphoras above their heads. In front of them, a group of civil and religious dignitaries wave flags and an incense burner. An old bearded man and two naked boys with linked arms form the vanguard of the extraordinary march.

In creating this provocative work, De Feure was possibly inspired by two historical events associated with Bruges: the procession of Saint-Sang that occurs on the day of the Ascension in commemoration of the relic brought back in 1149 from the Second Crusade by Thierry d'Alsace, Count of Flanders; and a group of Anabaptists brutally persecuted in the sixteenth century. The Anabaptists believed that at the apocalypse, God would baptise them in fire (represented by the smoking amphoras in the composition), and consumed by religious fervor, they ran naked through the city streets. Whatever the veracity of these potential sources, De Feure accentuates the sexual and sensual, using the duality of the concept of blood and the underlying theme of Original Sin and redemption. (Lot 41, George de Feure, Le fruit défendu, Sotheby's 19th Century European Paintings (L09663), November 24, 2009, pages 74-75)
For its own source, Sotheby's cites Ian Millman work on George de Feure, Mâitre du Symbolisme et de l'Art Nouveau (Paris, 1992, p. 89, catalogued and discussed; p. 88, illustrated), which can be found among Google Books here (see Section 4 of the text) . As Sotheby notes, the illustration appears on page 88. Pages 89 and 90 are not shown in the preview, but page 92 (not 89!) is actually the page from which Sotheby gets its catalogue notes, having translated the French. The French original refers to the "pêche" (peach) and "Péché originel" (Original Sin), but does not explicitly note any pun.

Any knowledgeable individuals who might add to this query are welcome to post comments.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bruno Littlemore on the Evil Gnome Chompy

Noam Chomsky
Gnome Chompy?

I am still reading Benjamin Hale's novel and laughing out loud at the deeply intellectual humor that reminds me a bit of Thomas Pynchon's humorous style in Gravity's Rainbow. For instance, the scene in which Bruno the chimp overhears the name of a dangerous creature seemingly out to get him:
I remember intuiting that they were, ultimately, though perhaps indirectly, talking about me. I remember that they often uttered a word, or series of words, that sounded to me like, "Gnome Chompy." Of course I understood what a gnome was, because a gnome happened to be the protagonist of my second-favorite TV show, Francis the Gnome. Francis was portrayed as a small, benevolent force in a big, wicked world. So I assumed that they were speaking of a gnome named Chompy. However, I could ascertain from the wrathful tones in which the two women spoke of the Gnome Chompy that they considered him to be a harmful and vituperative creature, much unlike the magnanimous-hearted Francis. I imagined Chompy -- as his surname connotes -- as a predatory gnome with a great gnashing jawful of evilly gleaming teeth, with which he dismembers the innocent creatures of the forest and devours their bloody entrails. I remember how they hated the Gnome Chompy. I remember hearing them say -- or thought I heard them say -- that they would have to protect me, Bruno, from the Gnome Chompy. I remember that they mentioned -- and when they did their tone took on almost conspiratorial tones -- they even mentioned Norm Plumlee's name once or twice in connection with the Gnome Chompy, as if they believed that Norm and Chompy may have been in some kind of collusion. (Benjamin Hale, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, New York: Twelve, 2011, pages 159-160)
This a wonderful, creative misunderstanding on Bruno's part of the name of the linguist Noam Chomsky, who holds that only humans, and no animals, have a Language Acquisition Device (LAD), an innate sort of neural network for language located in the brain. Being a mere chimp, Bruno would necessarily lack one of those.

Chomsky wouldn't really be in collusion with Norm Plumlee, the Behaviorist director of research on Bruno, for Chomsky is actually a critic of the Behaviorist model of the mind as a "black box" and of the stimulus-response (S-R) model of language learning, for as he has pointed out, the S-R model can't account for the child's ability to construct sentences it has never heard, let alone been rewarded for producing.

Behaviorism's critique of "anthropomorphism," however, would similarly relegate Bruno to the animal world, forbidden to become human through language and acculturation. To be fair, though, Behaviorism also even forbade anthropomorphizing human beings!

Anyway, Bruno doesn't much fear Norm Plumlee, whom he knows too well, but he does have nightmares about Gnome Chompy, beginning the very night that he learned of the terrible gnome, when he dreams of Chompy stalking his parents in the jungles of Zaire. Bruno tries to call out to warn them of the great danger, but he finds that the Gnome Chompy "had robbed me of the power of speech"!

A clever little inside joke . . .

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Bruno Littlemore Critiques Skinnerian Behaviorism

B.F. Skinner

In The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, Benjamin Hale has his main character Bruno -- the chimp with a mind of his own and a chip on his shoulder -- offer a critique of Skinnerian Behaviorism ostensibly directed at the character Norman Plumlee, the novel's strict behaviorist who wants to teach Bruno human language using rewards and punishments. At first, food is used, and Bruno retrospectively explains its limitation:
[T]his system was . . . pretty much in place at the lab, where the immediately gratifiable desires of my stomach apparently ruled, because they were all that could be methodologically counted on. If I did not always want a sticky delicious little piece of candy to put inside me, then Norm's whole silly Skinnerian system of positive reinforcement for desired behavior would fall apart. Which it often did! The problem with Norm's dogmatic insistance on his methodology of rewarding my behavior with food was that sometimes I didn't really want the reward. I just wasn't hungry. (page 133)
To his credit, Norm realizes that he needs a reward that transcends the moment, so he introduces Bruno to "some notion of, basically, money" (page 134) by giving him money to buy things with. Not real money, just play money. Play money that worked exactly like real money. Play money as colored chips in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 100. No fifty-cent piece, apparently, but otherwise just like American money:
When Norm was reasonably sure I understood the chips' value relationships, my rewards in the lab were no longer doled out in the form of raw goods, but in liquid holdings, with these idiotic colorful chips that I could later use to purchase food items from the company store, when I wanted something to eat. (page 134)
This works, more or less, but I have a question. How did Norm use a "Skinnerian system of positive reinforcement" to teach Bruno the 'notion' of money? Aside from the problematic point that a Behaviorist shouldn't attribute a 'notion' to a mere animal (remember the "black box" theory of mind?) -- and also the even greater inconsistency of a Behaviorist, who would in principle forbid "anthropomorphizing" animals, being intent upon turning a chimp into a human being -- what, exactly, did Norm use as reward for Bruno in teaching him to understand the concept of money? The lab was turning to money because food didn't work consistently enough as positive reinforcement, so what reinforcement was used to reward Bruno's progress toward the proper use of those hard-frozen chips of liquid currency? Perhaps Norm was inconsistent and had to violate Behaviorist principles for a few weeks but neglected to report that in the research results? Bruno, however, ought to let us in on the secret!

That point aside, if you like Ben Hale's satirical deconstruction of Skinnerian Behaviorism, you might also enjoy his comic account of "Gnome Chompy" . . .

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Homebrew Korea

Beer Blog

My friend Sperwer the Pirate fired off an email to me yesterday that curtly stated "You need this link." I clicked and was transported to a blog I ought to have known about already because it's been around since 2008: "Homebrew Korea."

The blog name is only slightly misleading, for the site's not only about homebrewing but also about getting good beer in Korea, so it also reviews various beers as they come on the market here in this country. The site's founder -- name of "Rob" -- reviewed Craftworks Taphouse long before I did (mine here):
The Craftworks team are big beer lovers which you can definitely feel when talking to them about their vision of the bar. I think this is a place to keep your eye on if you appreciate a good pint of beer. The 'rule book' on beers here in korea (basically everyone brewing lagers) needs to change and this just might be the place to do it.
This is just one paragraph from a brief review posted November 26, 2010, but the site has follow-up posts on the Taphouse -- as you can see for yourself if you click on over to Homebrew Korea and do a search.

But go to Homebrew anyway, and check it out for all sorts of reasons. It's going onto my blogroll . . .

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fallenness as the Human Condition?


A couple of days ago in a comment on the common Muslim dismissal of Christian "inconsistency" -- namely, the charge that Christians are inconsistent in granting legitimacy to a secular sphere when they ought to realize that God is ruler over all -- I wrote the following in response to a point that I recalled in the writings of Seyyed Hossein Nasr:
Yes, I recall his criticism of Christian 'dualism' -- as I think he called it -- echoing the typically Muslim critique of Christianity's 'inconsistency' in distinguishing between the sacred and the secular as two legitimate spheres.

In my opinion, the Muslim critique radically underestimates what Christians call human fallenness. Integralist visions always do underestimate our human capacity for evil and attempt to construct an ideal society subsumed under one big idea. The result is always Hell on Earth.
I suppose there's much more that should be said about this, but I will simply cite a bit from other thinkers who take 'fallenness' seriously, though they use the expression "original sin." Edward T. Oakes, in a November 1998 article for First Things, "Original Sin: A Disputation," accepts that the critics of original sin have a point in their criticism of the negative consequences that at times result from a belief in original sin, but then argues that this very harm is evidence of original sin's validity and that worse harm results from a commitment to what is called "progressivism":
It might sound intolerably paradoxical to say this, but it is precisely the very harm that sometimes comes from the doctrine of original sin that proves its validity. This is a point made time and again by Leszek Kolakowski, the Polish emigré intellectual now at the University of Chicago, author of a three-volume history of Marxist thought and a man who therefore knows something of the harm visited upon the human community by doctrines of progressivism. In his recent book of essays, Modernity on Endless Trial, he shrewdly notes how this third objection to original sin can be turned into a supporting argument . . . .
The "harm" referred that results from belief in original sin varies from a morbid obsession with one's individual guilt to a fatalistic acceptance of injustice in society, and Oakes goes on to cite Kolakowski's concession on this point, along with his observation that the denial of fallenness has even worse results:
The possible disastrous effects of the concept of original sin on our psychological condition and on our cultural life are undeniable [because of its use to keep people “in their place” and not alter unjust social structures]; and so are the disastrous effects of the opposing doctrine, with its implication that our perfectibility is limitless, and that our predictions of ultimate synthesis or total reconciliation can be realized. However, the fact that both affirmation and rejection of the concept of original sin have emerged as powerful destructive forces in our history is one of many that testify in favor of the reality of original sin. In other words, we face a peculiar situation in which the disastrous consequences of assenting to either of two incompatible theories confirm one of them and testify against its rival.
I take it that Kolakowski means that if a belief in fallenness has such consequences as a morbid obsession with personal guilt or a fatalistic acceptance of social injustice, such improper reactions are only to be expected of fallen creatures, but that the consequences of affirming human perfectability are even worse because such an affirmation raises the standard of expectations -- both individual and social -- far beyond what human beings are capable of and results in such utopian monstrosities as the Communist totalitarianism of the Soviet Union, which tried to scale the heights of heaven upon a mountain of corpses. In my opinion, Islamist integralism leads to the same result.

I'm indebted to my friend Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, for the link to the First Things article. Bill has been discussing several of the logical conundrums confronting those who take original sin seriously, and he would be well worth reading on the subject, though I've had too little time lately to do so myself, being immersed in teaching and editing.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Bruno Eats a Little More Peach

Bruno Takes the Peach
(Image from Amazon)

I finally found time to order and begin reading Benjamin Hale's novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. Benjamin, as some readers might recall, is the first son of Pete Hale, one of my Ozark friends from the old days. I've not gotten very far into the book yet, but I like it so far and am enjoying the reminiscences of Bruno, the loquacious ape, who speaks for himself, more or less, though I suppose Ben is the puppetmaster pulling the strings. Intriguingly, though Pete (or Ben) will have to clear this up, the temptation scene that initates Bruno's loss of innocence leaves me wondering if my blog might have contributed to Ben's ideas:
The scientist who had conducted me into the room was not the woman whom I would later come to know as Lydia (was that you watching from behind the mirror, Lydia?), but some droll old fat bearded sot who held no special interest for me. There was a transparent plastic box on the floor. The scientist pro­duced from the pocket of his white coat -- with the excessively the­atrical flourish of an amateur magician -- a peach.

A peach, Gwen -- he was my serpent and I was his Eve. There we were, me in my prelapsarian nudity and he in his demonic white coat, tempting me with fruit coveted but prohibited. The only dif­ference was environmental: we'd swapped sexy Edenic lushness for the sterile whitewashed walls of Science. Also, that particular fruit is semiotically associated with the female pudenda, isn't it? Isn't that why Cézanne painted them? -- Still Life with Peaches? -- why, that's just a quivering bowlful of vulvae sweating on the breakfast table, waiting for you to eat them up!

But the peach in question: so he takes, this scientist does, he takes a juicy piggish bite out of it and starts making yummy-yum-yum noises, mmmmmm, rubbing his belly, trying to goad my jealousy, you see. And as I recall, it worked. I was a simpler creature then. I remember wanting the peach at that moment more than anything. Hell, I would have sold my soul for a peach. (And in a way I did.) I remember hating, no, loathing that old smug fat imperious blob for the way he lorded the fruit over me so. So he took his bite, break­ing the skin, releasing into the room the ambrosial aroma of that sticky wet fleshy treat, and then he, bastard, pushed me away when I reached for it. Then, turning to the box -- transparent plastic box on the floor, remember? -- he operated some sort of device which made the lid spring open, placed the peach inside and shut the lid. I was watching his actions with curiosity and a motley of deadly sins: greed, envy, gluttony, lust. Then, the demonstration: the box-opening mechanism consisted of a button and a lever; he pressed the button; then he rapped on the lid of the box three times with his knuckles, like this -- knock, knock, knock; then he flipped the lever and the lid of the box popped open. He reached in and -- again, moving his arms in such a grossly histrionic manner it was as if he wanted the people in the nosebleed seats to see what he was doing and making a face like Look, Bruno, what do we have here? -- extracted the peach.

Again I reached for it. Again he pushed me away. Then he put the peach back in the box, promptly left the room and pulled the door shut behind him. Bruno was alone.

Alone with the box, with the peach clearly visible but locked away inside, forbidden to Bruno. I looked at it a moment. I pressed the button, knocked thrice on the lid, flipped the lever, opened the box and removed the peach. Did I dare to eat a peach? Indeed I did.

In this way I fell from my state of innocence. (Benjamin Hale, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, New York: Twelve, 2011, pages 12-13)
Regular readers will recall my various lapsarian posts on John Milton's description of the fruit of knowledge with imagery that better fit a peach than an apple, an idea not my own but that of the scholar Robert Appelbaum. Perhaps Ben had been reading that scholar? Or reading Gypsy Scholar on Appelbaum's thesis? Or did Ben, like the artist Matthew Skenandore, arrive at the same conclusion separately? Pete? Ben? Which speculation comes closest?

Ben has at least been reading Milton, or seems to have been if I can take the descriptive clause "releasing into the room the ambrosial aroma" as an echo of Milton's "ambrosial smell diffus'd" (Paradise Lost 9.852).

The scene, however, is more ironic than Milton's -- or, rather, the irony is more distant, given the different sort of narrator -- but it's quite a clever reworking of the primeval temptation story. Science, that is to say, knowledge, offers Bruno a puzzle that he must work through to obtain the peach. He has to know how to work the mechanisms to open the box. He first has to learn by observing and then to experience by aping what the scientist does. But there turns out to be a trick, for the Maxwellian demon of science doesn't let all of Schrödinger's cat out of the bag. The three taps are unnecessary, a ritualized distraction from the functional procedure, but the scientist had included them to distinguish between humans and apes. Distinguish, this did, but the result was to surprise the scientists themselves, for young chimps quickly learned to drop the three taps as a waste of time and energy, whereas young children always made sure to tap three times. What distingushed humans from apes was therefore the former's more faithful aping of other humans' actions.

Alone among the apes, Bruno proves himself more human, for he never forgets to perform the tapping ritual -- as we discover by reading on -- and he is thus truly fallen . . .

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Puzzling Remarks on America's Foreign Policy

Anastasia Karklina
(Image from One Young World)

I read some rather puzzling remarks yesterday in Souad Mekhennet's column for the New York Times, "In Search of Common Ground Over Muslim Dress Codes" (September 20, 2011). Ms. Mekhennet was reporting on a forum held recently in Zurich by One Young World, an organization founded by David Jones and Kate Robertson. This is a nongovernmental organization with the following mantra: "For the first time in history, the young are seeing history made before it is censored by their elders." I guess this means that the young get to censor it first. Anyway, this forum reportedly "brought together about 1,600 people, mostly under 25, from 190 nations" to discuss common ground among people of all kinds and creeds. Apparently, everyone was happily agreeing on how we can all get along, when the discussion shifted a bit:
[A more conflictual] discussion was initiated by a resident of Latvia who is now studying politics at Duke University in North Carolina. Anastasia Karklina, 19, has most likely passed through enough social upheaval and heard enough pretty words in her life. So this non-Muslim went straight to her point: It was understandable, she said, that participants only wanted to discuss tolerance, and not reality. "In many Western countries," she opined, "the hatred against Islam is being used for justifying the foreign policy, especially in the U.S."

It is no use, she added, to debate war in the name of religion or to urge tolerance, without discussing the double standards in politics.

"How do we want to create an interfaith dialogue if they ban the burqa, discuss the headscarves, don't allow Muslims to build mosques and then even have a preacher who wanted to burn the Koran?" Ms. Karklina asked.
There followed an argument between two Muslims over the niqab -- one in favor of the freedom to wear it, the other in favor of banning it, giving as reason that "It is nowhere mentioned in Islam and does make our religion look bad."

That remark alone is an interesting point that deserves closer attention in light of various other things that make Islam "look bad" and could likewise be banned, but I would prefer to focus on Ms. Karklina's remarks -- which have puzzled me -- and merely pose a few questions:
What examples might be presented as evidence that US foreign policy is being justified by hatred against Islam? The Bosnian intervention that saved Muslims? The Kosovo intervention that saved Muslims? The war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda? The war against Saddam Hussein? The support for the Libyan rebels against Muammar Gaddafi?

What "double standard" in politics does she mean? Assisting the 'revolutionaries' in their overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt vs. maintaining distance from the protesters seeking to overthrow Assad in Syria? Should we have the same standard for both cases?

Who is this "they" who want to ban burqas, discuss headscarves, forbid mosques, and have a preacher burn the Koran? Europeans? Americans? The West? That's a rather broad brush with which to paint "they"!
But I don't know, really, whom to blame for my puzzlement, Ms. Karklina for offering a 'censored' history by not being specific enough or Ms. Mekhennet for not reporting more fully due to careless journalism, but perhaps the latter is culpable, for in relating what Ms. Karklina 'opined,' she first identified the nineteen-year-old woman as Lithuanian, before correcting to Latvian through re-editing.

Incidentally, I'm guessing that Ms. Karklina is Latvian Russian based on the name "Anastasia," her Russian language skills, and the fact of Latvia's large Russian minority of 27.4 percent. That could also explain Ms. Karklina's vaguely anti-American remarks since Latvians are otherwise generally pro-American. But I'm merely speculating on this point, and there is, in fact, evidence of rising though diffuse anti-Americanism in Latvia in recent years.

And the source of her anti-Americanism doesn't matter anyway, just the fact of whether she is right or wrong in her views . . .

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why North Koreans Don't Revolt . . .

Economist Logo
(Image from Economist)

A recent, unsigned article in the Economist, "Food and stability in North Korea: Deprive and rule" (September 17, 2011), asks a common question, "Why does North Korea's dictatorship remain so entrenched despite causing such hunger and misery?" But it gives an uncommon answer as to why the North Koreans do not revolt:
One intriguing explanation comes from Go Myong-hyun, a statistician at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, which has just held a conference in Seoul on the viability of the North Korean regime. On the basis of satellite imagery of crop areas, vegetation and human settlement, Mr Go believes that both North Korea's crops and the population that tends them are more geographically scattered than outsiders have hitherto thought. He contests UN estimates that over three-fifths of the country is urbanised. That would require every farmer to sustain nearly two city dwellers, which a shortage of fertiliser, farm machinery and fuel precludes. Mr Go reckons that urbanisation could be as low as 25%, based on data from the Global Rural Urban Mapping Project, a global population map. That would imply three farmers for each city dweller. It suggests that, even though much of the country is cut off from the food-distribution system, rural dwellers survive precariously through subsistence farming.
Moreover, communication and transportation in North Korea are so bad that an uprising is hardly conceivable, let alone likely to succeed. North Korea is thus utterly unlike the Arab states of North Africa and the Middle East that have recently risen up in revolt. Those Arab states are highly urbanized, and their populations are interconnected via social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, thereby enabling large groups to maintain connections and organize resistance.

North Korea, however, is a largely rural society with as much as 75 percent of its population involved in agriculture, and it has no such social networking services. Its most urbanized part is centered on Pyongyang, "where the elites live, enjoying perks and protected by an overwhelming security apparatus." There will thus be no revolt unless the North's economic decline were to grow severe enough for the privileged in Pyongyang to see their perks slipping away or for the military and security apparatus to see their own status threatened. I think that what one can hope for, instead, as markets develop, is for corruption to undermine loyalty to the regime and the legitimacy of the state as authorities begin to obtain more money and power through bribes than through official patronage networks.

The article, by the way, also has an eye-opening slideshow of nine photos from Panos Pictures showing scenes of the North's backward agricultural society.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Fall Had Its Price . . .

Apple Juice
(Image from Bar Code Revolution)

I stumbled across this form of artistic license just this morning by way of LinkedIn, which indirectly linked me to an article from two years ago by Cliff Kuang for Fast Company titled "In Japan, Even the Barcodes Are Well Designed" (November 9, 2009), which in turn linked to a gallery of aesthetically rendered barcode images, from which I've borrowed the 'apple' above.

As we see, Eve ought to have checked the price before she plucked that cherry-red, virginal 'apple', for as Milton shows in a subtle bait-and-switch, the price is too high for an ambiguous fruit becoming a fuzzy peach that "downy smiled" -- or, as I re-imagine, turning to the more acrid juice of Apfesinensaft through that original apple's sin-sap.

Although . . . we might recall a poem that I wrote nearly three years ago in which that bite into the apple results mostly in a sour wine:
Paradise Gainsaid
There is a garden in thy grace
Where trees of lively knowledge grow,
An earthy paradise to face
The harvest fruits of all our woe.
Here apples ferment, by and by,
Till tears of Apfelwein we cry,

If cry we must, when eyes disclose
That occidental sun aglow
Decline toward that which never shows
Its face though faced with that flambeaux.
Yet face it must we, by the bye,
Till tears of Apfelwein we cry.

Yet in this earthy garden still,
How statue-like I see thee stand
To counter time that comes to kill
All thou attempt with eye or hand,
From sacred apples' last good-bye
Till tears of Apfelwein we cry.
You thus see how things never turn out quite as they seem, for "Þe forme to þe fynisment foldez ful selden -- or as I once punned in a similar vein, "Wir bringen alles zusammen . . . um," which sounds initially as though it would mean "We bring everything together" but ends up meaning "We kill everything together."

Thus we find bitter truth in the reminder that "The beginning and the end accord hardly ever . . ."

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Monday, September 19, 2011

"Total Depravity" and Romans 1:20

Adolfo García de la Sienra
(Image from Metanexus Institute)

I have had a LinkedIn site for about a year now because an old Baylor friend wanted to link to me, but I did little with it until recently, when I began filling in my page with a few details, including my publications.

I decided to fill it in with more details only after I received a link request from Adolfo García de la Sienra, professor of philosophy and economic theory at Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico. I'm not sure why he wanted a link . . . though I might have had contact with him several years ago when I was doing some research concerning John Milton's views on divine grace and human free will, for his name is somehow familiar to me.

Anyway, I had a bit of time to spare when I received his link request, so I took a look at his paper on "Christian Faith as Trust" (Balkan Journal of Philosophy, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2010) and noticed that in one of his quotes from the Greek New Testament, he'd left off a verb. I therefore sent him a note on that and asked a few questions:
I read your article "Christian Faith as Trust" a few moments ago. Interesting, if a bit over my head. I happened to notice that your quote of Romans 1:19 on page 15B was missing the Greek verb "ἐφανέρωσεν" (showed [aorist]). This verb, by the way, is aorist.

The translation is not greatly affected, though I would use past (made it plain) rather than present perfect (has made it plain). Here are verses 19-20:
1:19 διότι τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς ὁ γὰρ θεὸς αὐτοῖς ἐφανέρωσεν

1:20 τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου τοῖς ποιήμασιν νοούμενα καθορᾶται ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἀναπολογήτους.
I have a question, however. The translation of "καθορᾶται" in verse 20 is given as "have been clearly seen" in your paper, but this is a present tense and should read "are clearly seen." Does this affect your argument, which seems to depend upon God's eternal power and divine nature to have been "originally visible, manifest and evident to all men" (emphasis mine)? The verb "καθορᾶται" would seem to imply that God's eternal power and divine nature are currently "visible, manifest and evident to all men."

I hope that this email is of some use.
I received an answer fairly quickly:
Your translation makes sense to me and I will certainly take it into account in my Spanish translation of the paper. The point is that God's eternal power and divine nature "are there" to be seen by men. The problem is that men can't see it due to a corruption of their spirit caused by sin. This is what Reformed theology calls "total depravity" (an inappropriate term for a clear concept). Spiritual regeneration removes this incapacity.
I understand his point. However, I don't see that this passage in Romans provides strong evidence for the Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) view. Look again at Romans chapter 1, verse 20, quoting this time from the Morphological Greek New Testament (though it looks to be identical this time to the Textus Receptus):
τὰ γὰρ ἀόρατα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμου τοῖς ποιήμασιν νοούμενα καθορᾶται ἥ τε ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἀναπολογήτους.
I'll just borrow a translation from the New King James Version:
For since the creation of the world His invisible [attributes] are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
As I noted above, the translation of "καθορᾶται" in verse 20 reads "are clearly seen." The Greek verb comes from καθοράω and means "to see thoroughly, perceive clearly, understand." The sense of this verb seems to run counter to the Reformed view of "total depravity" since it appears to insist that human beings can infer the invisible attributes of God from the visible creation, and this human capacity for natural theology is precisely what leaves human beings "without excuse."

Whether or not Paul is right about this human capacity, his argument seems to assume that humans have the ability even in their sinful state, and that doesn't appear to be consistent with Reformed views on "total depravity."

But I'm no expert, and Professor Adolfo García de la Sienra may very well have an answer.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

"an auto-bile fatal accident that paralyzed you . . ."

International Standard Bank
"Our Staff is Just Panting to Serve You!"
(Image from Kafunta)

I am once again the beneficiary of someone's timely decease, as announced in the subject heading of an email from the International Standard Bank that was unaccountably directed to my spam folder:
I can't imagine why an important email like this one ended up in the spam folder. I'll have to complain to Yahoo. I could have missed out on my inheritance of US$4,250.000.00!
We apologize for the delay of your payment and all the inconveniences and hiccups that we might have caused you.
I did have hiccups during dinner yesterday evening. I'd thought it due to the spicy pepper that I had bitten into, but I now see that my hiccups were from a different irritant. Nice of the International Standard Bank to clear that up. Their staff is apparently eager to please me . . . though I might first have to suffer a few more hiccups:
However, we were having some minor problems with our payment system, which is inexplicable, and have held us stranded and indolent, not having the prerequisite to devote our 100% endowment in accrediting foreign payments.
That "inexplicable" part sounds like a mystery. Too bad it can never be explained. Good thing it was minor -- I wouldn't want that eager staff to be indolent for a long time, not when they intend to give me so much money:
We now wish to notify you that your over due inheritance/contract funds has finally been gazette to be released to you without any more hitches as previously encountered. we apologize once again as the square peg is now in square holes and can be accelerated so that your payment can be processed and released to you as soon as you respond to this letter. Also note that from the record in our file, your approved outstanding payment is valued (US$4,250.000.00 M) Four Million Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand United States Dollars.
I'd never realized that "gazette" is the past participle of "gazette" . . . but why would they publish news of my inheritance in a newspaper or journal? I don't want everyone to know! At any rate, I'm pleased to hear that the square peg has been inserted into several square holes -- successively, I presume -- and is ready for its acceleration. This peg-and-hole contraption sounds like a rather crude mechanical device to be in use by such a modern financial institution as the International Standard Bank, but least it means that my payment can now be processed and released to me. Unfortunately, things aren't quite so simple, as I am also deceased:
Meanwhile, during the rectification of our payment system we discovered that one Mr. Peter Woo has forwarded his banking information to our bank stating that you instructed him to claim this fund on your behalf that, you are involved in an auto-bile fatal accident that paralyzed you. Please find below his banking information for your-re-confirmation . . .
I'd missed the news that I was "involved in an auto-bile fatal accident that paralyzed" me. I've never heard of this sort of "accident" . . . but it must be some kind of auto-immune, fatal poisoning occasioned by a malfunction of my bile system. Whatever sort of condition this is that I'm reported to be suffering from can only be very serious indeed if it has not merely killed me but has also left me paralyzed! Clearly, I'm unable to claim my inheritance in my condition, so I'm fortunate to have the faithful assistance of a good friend like Mr. Peter Woo, whoever he is. I can't seem to recall, but a faulty memory might be one symptom of death. Unfortunately, my decease might cause some delay, for I can't easily fulfill the following conditions:
You are required to confirm if in deed you authorized Mr. Peter Woo to claim your funds on your behalf to avoid making payment into any wrong accounts because your name was found in the original list of beneficiary whose fund is over due for payment. We want to state categorically that we shall not be liable for any miss-direction of transfer due to your failure to give us proper directive/reconfirmation of your details; else we shall commence transfer modality with Mr. Peter Woo on your behalf.
That paragraph's a bit obscure . . . but the International Standard Bank seems to be telling me that if I don't inform the staff there that I've authorized Mr. Peter Woo to claim the fund on my behalf, then they will release my fund to Mr. Peter Woo. In that case, I need not act at all. Good thing, too, since I'm currently too profoundly mortified by my incapacitating condition to do anything.

I'm hoping that my obscure friend, Mr. Peter Woo, will be able to use my inheritance to find the medical treatment to cure me of my accidentally fatal paralysis so that I can get on with my life offline rather than remaining confined like a brain in a vat to the virtual reality of this online existence.

Your prayers and well-wishes would be greatly appreciated . . .


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Huntington's Clash of Civilizations in Microcosm?

Ethiopian Evangelicals
(Image from Christianity Today)

I see from Wikipedia that Ethiopia is about 33.9 percent Muslim and about 62.8 percent Christian, the latter divided into 43.5 percent Orthodox and 19.3 percent other denominations, mostly Protestant, I suppose. The place is thus one in which to take a glance through a Huntingtonian lens, though of no statistical validity admittedly. Huntington argues that Western Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Islam form the basis of different civilizations and that the clashes among civilizations reflect the clashes among religions. He might have therefore expected three-way clashes in Ethiopia, perhaps similar to those in Bosnia.

Let's look at what Matthew D. LaPlante says of the three religious groups in his article "Growing in the Word" for Christianity Today (September 16, 2011):
In 2002, a mob of Orthodox priests and adherents carrying axes and machetes attacked Protestants in the town of Merawi, injuring many and killing Pastor Damtew Demelash of the Full Gospel Believers Church. Just a few years earlier . . . a stone-throwing mob of Orthodox Christians attacked Protestants attending a conference, wounding 51.

But at St. Gabriel's Orthodox Church, priest Aba Mezmur Hawaz tells his parishioners not to quarrel with fellow Christians. If someone is better able to see God through a Protestant lens, he said, so be it. "The whole world of Christians -- we are all going to go up one way together."

He gave a different assessment of the Muslims in his community. "They will go a different way," he said. "And if they want to fight with us, we will fight with them."

This is not a matter of simple religious prejudice. In recent years, both Orthodox and Protestant Christians have been the victims of attacks by Islamic extremists, which killed several people and destroyed scores of Christian homes and churches. Although they are still relatively rare, such attacks have brought Christian leaders together for support, protection, and prayer.
This Ethiopian microcosm of the clash among these three religious groups might appear to illustrate Huntington's views, but not quite to the letter, for attacks by Islamic extremists would seem to be motivating the Orthodox and the Protestants toward religious unity. On a civilizational scale -- if I might be allowed to speculate in a statistically meaningless way -- this could imply that the rise of Islamism in the Muslim world and corresponding attacks upon Christians of all denominations would also give rise to increasing unity between Western Civilization and Orthodox Civilization.

But this, of course, is mere speculation that depends upon Huntington being both right and wrong . . .

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Robert Spencer Implying a Treasonous Obama?

President Obama
9/11 Memorial Service in NYC

I learn a lot about radical Islam from reading Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch, but I'm careful to remain my own man and keep my own counsel. I therefore read the posts on his site with a critical eye, especially when I come across a blog entry such as this recent one (September 12, 2011) by Mr. Spencer:
Obama reads Biblical passage at 9/11 ceremonies implying that 9/11 was an act of God

Obama reads Psalm 46, including verse 8: "Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has wrought desolations in the earth."

The only people who think that 9/11 was an act of the Supreme Being wreaking desolations on the earth are . . . Islamic jihadists.

So why did Barack Obama pick this psalm out of 150 psalms, and out of innumerable appropriate Biblical passages, to read at the 9/11 ceremonies? 9/11, after all, was a day when there were indeed wrought desolations on the earth. Did Obama really mean to say that God did it, that it was an act of divine judgment, rather than a monstrous and unmitigated evil?

Or is this just another one of those funny coincidences, of which there are so very, very many when it comes to Barack Obama and his remarkable, unqualified and obvious affinity for Islam? 
In taking verse 8 of Psalm 46 as a reference to the destruction of September 11, 2001, Mr. Spencer has allowed his distaste for President Obama to cloud his better judgment. Here is what the President actually said in quoting the entirety of the scriptural passage:
Remarks by the President at the September 11th 10th Anniversary Commemoration

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear,
even though the earth be removed,
and though the mountains be carried
into the midst of the sea.
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
though the mountains shake
with its swelling,
there's a river
whose streams shall make glad
the City of God,
the holy place of the Tabernacle
of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her.
She shall not be moved.
God shall help her
just at the break of dawn.
The nations raged,
the kingdoms were moved.
He uttered his voice.
The earth melted.
The Lord of Hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come behold the works of the Lord
who has made desolations in the Earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the Earth.
He breaks the bough
and cuts the spear in two.
He burns the chariot in fire.
Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations.
I will be exalted in the Earths.
The Lord of Hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our refuge. 
If we read the above passage carefully, we see that the only lines that might refer to the destruction of 9/11 are the following ones, and these clearly present God as a place of safety in troubled times when the earth is unstable and even the heights are brought down to the level of the seas:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear,
even though the earth be removed,
and though the mountains be carried
into the midst of the sea. 
This upheaval described above can be read as destruction by enemies, and therefore as a parallel to the 9/11 attacks, but the terrible destruction is countered in the verses that follow below by gladdening streams of water, a metaphor for God's blessing upon his people in a time of trouble, which can be applied to mean blessings upon America by drawing upon long-held traditions about America as a shining city on a hill, a new Jerusalem:
[T]here's a river
whose streams shall make glad
the City of God,
the holy place of the Tabernacle
of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her.
She shall not be moved.
God shall help her
just at the break of dawn.
In the verse that Mr. Spencer objects to, which follows in the verses below, President Obama is much more likely referring to God's assistance on America's side in defeating Al-Qaeda, for the term "nations" is used scripturally to refer to enemies, such as Al-Qaeda, which is indeed a multinational terrorist group:
The nations raged,
the kingdoms were moved.
He uttered his voice.
The earth melted.
The Lord of Hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come behold the works of the Lord
who has made desolations in the Earth. 
In the context of this psalm, the Lord's desolation would far more likely be wrought upon America's enemies than upon America herself, for the God of Jacob could hardly be a refuge for Americans if He is attacking the United States. President Obama could more plausibly be accused of jingoism than treason in quoting this psalm, but I'll give him a pass on both. He's simply drawing upon scripture to offer comfort by reaching to metaphors of divine blessing upon those who have suffered from the 9/11 attacks. Here's the video of the entire ceremony (27:24), which includes Obama's recitation of scripture (starting at about 9 minutes).

The problem raised for Mr. Spencer is that his unlikely scriptural reading here in this psalm calls into question his general ability to provide sound hermeneutics of scripture, whether the Bible or the Qur'an. I don't think him incapable of a proper interpretation, for he's an intelligent and well-educated man, but I do think that his 'distastes' can cloud his judgment, so I advise a degree of caution in accepting his views.

In short, learn from him, but think for yourself, which is good advice in general.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fatherhood: More is Less!

Testosterone Molecule
Less of this Ballsy Little Stuff?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Men, the news is bad. According to Pam Belluck, writing for the New York Times, "In Study, Fatherhood Leads to Drop in Testosterone" (September 12, 2011), procreation is not only bad for the male among bees, spiders, and mantises, it also proves harmful for human males:
Testosterone, that most male of hormones, takes a dive after a man becomes a parent. And the more he gets involved in caring for his children -- changing diapers, jiggling the boy or girl on his knee, reading "Goodnight Moon" for the umpteenth time -- the lower his testosterone drops. 
And all this time, I'd considered my two children as empirical evidence for my virility! Instead, their presence announces that I'm less manly than ever. They literally deplete a man's masculinity! Who knew kids were so dangerous for men? I wish I could cry out "Bollocks" at this report, but only a "Truther" could deny the experimental evidence.

By the way, Ms Belluck's surname only incidentally recalls "bollocks," and I mention this point merely to dismiss any connection that you might be making, for any implied link could only be ironic, and Gypsy Scholar doesn't do irony, so I should go on to report about the positive side that scientists find to the fatherhood drop in vital testosterone, but I just can't bring myself to care anymore, now that I see the truth about Mother Nature's insidious ways . . .

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Heather Mercer on Personalizing Relations with Muslims

Heather Mercer with Kurdish Woman
(Image from Christianity Today)

Ten years ago, Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry were Christian social workers assisting Afghans through Shelter Now, a housing outreach organization, and had been arrested by the Taliban, ostensibly for proselytizing among Muslims. The charges were probably accurate, in a general sense -- though the two did not explicitly attempt to convert Muslims -- for they believed that living for Christ would draw Muslims to Jesus. Both Heather and Dayna were threatened with capital punishment, but I had the impression from the news reports that the Taliban weren't sure what to do with them. Eventually, they were rescued by anti-Taliban forces as Nato's intervention overthrew the Islamist government in the aftermath to 9/11.

According to Timothy C. Morgan, "How Heather Mercer's Hostage Stint Turned into Global Hope," Christianity Today (September 12, 2011), Heather relocated to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2003 and has continued relief work among Muslims. Her experiences seem to indicate that despite the clash of civilizations, cordial relations can be forged across cultural fault lines. Individual Muslims seem to respond well to personalized religious overtures, as we see from the following interview conducted by Morgan:
What can American Christians do to better understand Muslims?

Muslims are people just like us. They have the same desires, the same ambitions. They want to raise their family to be healthy, happy, and whole. The first point is bringing a human face to Muslims. Many Muslims are god-fearing people. They believe in a monotheistic God. They want to experience the promise of eternal life. But they have been handed a religious system and tradition that does not allow them to know the God we know.

Muslims come to know Christ through an authentic relationship with a follower of Jesus, through reading the Scripture in their language, and through having a personal encounter with Christ -- through a dream, or a vision, or through supernatural healing.

Evangelicals in this country can take their experience with Christ and share that with their Muslim neighbors. For the most part, Muslims are very open to that. They love relationship; everything rides on the spirit of hospitality. They love prayer. Engage them on those levels.

Do you believe that relations between Christians and Muslims are improving?

I don't think we're as far as we need to be. There are 1 billion Muslims around the world and 88 percent of them have never met a follower of Jesus. The church needs to rise up with love and humility, and have a willingness to lay its life down for the Muslim world.

Where should a Christian leader start?

It can feel very intimidating. Start a conversation with a Muslim. Find out what they believe. Talk to them. Understand their life. Ask questions. Try to understand their worldview. Get training. In this country, helping to train the American church to reach Muslim neighbors is an organization called Crescent Project.

Another step is pray like crazy. Start a prayer ministry at the church praying for the Islamic world. Visit the local imam and ask him for dialogue. I've never once had a Muslim deny prayer in the name of Jesus. I always ask them, "May I pray for you in Jesus' name?" I want them to know who it is I worship. It's not an easy assignment. But it's a worthy one. If God can use a 20-year-old, blonde, blue eyed, single American girl then he can use anybody.
Heather is no longer just 20, of course. A decade has passed, and she has undoubtedly learned a great deal since 2001. What I find interesting about her remarks is the statement that Muslims "love relationship; everything rides on the spirit of hospitality." That suggests to me that everything is personalized for Muslims. They take nearly everything personally, which might also explain their tendency to easily take offense at perceived slights. Or at real insults.

This tendency toward offense, the personalized coin's other side, doesn't work well in the West, where many Muslims are migrating these days -- that old clash of civilizations again -- for the West is largely based not on personal relations but on rational-legal ones. Evangelicals, however, offer friendship and helpful assistance based on relationships patterned after the personal relationship that they believe themselves to have with Jesus, and they offer Muslims the possibility of enjoying this same divine relationship. Muslims often find that combination irresistable.

I, too, have found Muslims to be very friendly on a personal level, though I've also learned that I have to be careful in what I say, for their honor compels them to an affronted defense of Islam, especially among Arab Muslims.

Heather's emphasis upon friendship with Muslims is a significant insight, but the West expects more of individuals than personalized relations, and a rational-legal system can't work without ignoring personal connections, so the larger problem remains.

Heather and Dayna, by the way, are Baylor alumni, which partly explains my interest in their story.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

En-Uk's Volcano

En-Uk Sequoya Hwang
(Image from En-Uk's Art Blog)

This image was En-Uk's art post for the first day of Chuseok, Korea's Thanksgiving Harvest Festival. To explain his choice of image, En-Uk wrote:
This drawing is called "Volcano." I made this drawing because I like volcanos. Bye.
And that is En-Uk's full, total, and complete explanation as to why he chose the image of a volcano for Chuseok. I don't usually associate Korea with volcanos . . . but my son might be on to something. I can think of three important volcanos associated with Korea:
Mt. Baekdu: a mountain on the border between North Korea and China that rises to 9,003 feet (2,744 meters) and is considered by Koreans as the sacred mountain of their ancestral origins.

Mt. Halla: a mountain on Jeju Island, South Korea's nearly southernmost territory at 75 miles from the mainland (Mara Island being 5 miles further south), that rises to 6,398 feet (1,950 meters), thereby dominating the island, beloved by Koreans as a honeymoon spot.

Ulleung Island: a volcanic island 75 miles east of the Korean mainland and the easternmost territory of Korea aside from Dok Island (54 miles further east), its highest point being Seonginbong Peak, at 3,228 feet (984 meters), dominating a rugged landscape that I loved far more than Jeju Island. 
Those are three impressive volcanos associated with Korea, though there may be more that I'm unaware of. I've visited Jeju Island and Ulleung Island, but I've not yet been to Mt. Baekdu. En-Uk, being only 12, has visited just Ulleung Island. I don't know that any of these three volcanos were on En-Uk's mind as he drew and colored his volcanic image. Perhaps he simply possesses a volcanic imagination.

Speaking of high points, the four of us (my wife, our two children, and me) are going to hike one of the mountains that ring Seoul today in honor of Chuseok . . . but not a volcanic one, so far as I know.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Disenchantment with Islam under Islamists?

Muslim Missions
(Image from Christianity Today)

Christianity Today has an interesting article by J. Dudley Woodberry, dean emeritus and senior professor of Islamic studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. Titled "Muslim Missions: Then and Now" (September 8, 2011), it compares Christian missionary work among Muslims before and after 9/11, but also draws some general inferences about the consequences of Islamism for Christianity -- and allows, I suggest, for even more general inferences of a secular bent, as we shall see:
[M]ore rigid or militant forms of Islam often increase receptivity to the gospel. This happened during the Khomeini Shiite revolution in Iran in 1979 (22 years before 9/11) and the Sunni Taliban takeover in Afghanistan that facilitated 9/11. In fact, Iran and Afghanistan reveal a broader pattern: Whenever Muslim governments have adopted a militant type of Islam or have tried to impose a form of Shari'ah law -- and where there has been a local example of an alternate, friendly Christian presence -- Muslims are attracted to the gospel. But persecution [by Islamists] often follows.

The receptivity has also been particularly noticeable when Muslim factions are at odds [and fighting each other] -- such as the Mujahideen militias after they had driven the Soviets out of Afghanistan in 1989, the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, and the herdsmen and villagers in Darfur [in Sudan]. Such hostilities and their resultant migrations, natural disasters in Bangladesh and Aceh [where Christians provided more aid than Muslims did], and ethnic resurgence among the Kabyle Berbers [in reaction to Arabizing Islamists] in North Africa have all led to an increased receptivity to the gospel.
I think that we could draw an even more general inference. Wherever Islamist governments are set up, those Muslims who have to live under the repressive shariah that regulates every detail of life become disenchanted with Islam and more open to democracy and human rights. An Iranian student of mine confirmed this about Iran under the mullahs and their rigid Shi'ite Islamism. Millions of nominal Muslims in Iran have no interest in Islam and would reject it instantly if given a choice. Attendance at mosque is very low, despite governmental pressure upon the population to conform to Islamic values. The government is widely seen as corrupt, and rightly so, for it is corrupt.

In the long run, Islamists will prove the demise of Islam itself . . .

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sara Elizabeth Low: Flight Attendant on American Airlines Flight 11

Sara Elizabeth Low
(Image from Guardian Unlimited)

Five years ago, as I was remembering 9/11 on this blog, my brother Tim posted an unexpected comment:
It's hard to believe it has been five years since 9/11. Thinking about Sara, a flight attendant I knew from Batesville, who died on Flight 11.
Astonished to learn of this so late, I responded:

Tim, I had no idea that you knew someone who died in the 9/11 attacks.

I'm sorry to hear this. Was she a close friend?
Tim replied:
I know Sara's father well and knew Sara when she was in her teens and early 20s. She was an intelligent and beautiful person who deserved better than her tragic end.
Five years had passed since 9/11, and only then did I learn that one of my own brothers knew someone from Batesville, Arkansas, a place not far from our hometown of Salem, who was killed on September 11, 2001. Sara died when she was only 28 and deserves far better tributes than those I have annually given, for I didn't know her personally, but I try to remember her memory.

As Tim mentioned, Sara was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, and that plane was only fifteen minutes into its flight when Mohamed Atta, an Al-Qaeda member who had trained as a pilot, took over the plane with the assistance of three other hijackers and flew it off course toward New York City for about thirty minutes until reaching the World Trade Center and crashing it directly into the North Tower between the 93rd and 99th floors at 8:46 a.m. in the first terrorist strike of what quickly became that day of tragic horror.

In those thirty minutes between the hijacking and the crash, though the hijackers were surely unaware, the flight attendants did not passively wait for events to develop, but immediately took action to deal with the emergency and thereby resist the hijackers. Sara Low gave her father's calling card to another flight attendant, Madeline Sweeney, who used it to make a call on an Airfone and contact Logan Airport to convey crucial information about the hijacking. Through that card, we have Sweeney's report down to the final instant of impact. Without Sara's help, that report wouldn't exist.

There's no real closure to the story of 9/11, not even with the killing of Osama bin Laden, for the memory of that terrible day will continue to come up every year on this date. The best that we can do is to carry on the struggle against Islamism and never forget those who died on that day, one of those being a young woman from Batesville, Arkansas named Sara Elizabeth Low.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Saudi Sheikh Wajdi Al-Ghazawi Recalls 9/11 Celebrations

Wajdi Al-Ghazawi
(Image from MEMRI)

Courtesy of MEMRI's Special Dispatch No. 4116 (September 7, 2011), Saudi Sheikh Wajdi Al-Ghazawi, owner of Al-Fajr TV, recalls the popularity of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden after 9/11 and the radicalism of Saudis only a few years ago in a video posted to YouTube on August 4, 2011, the transcript of which can be read in English here:
"When Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were at the height of their might, they were extremely popular in Saudi Arabia. From mosque pulpits across Saudi Arabia, preachers would pray for their success. Moreover, from the pulpits of the most important mosques -- the Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca and the Nabawi Mosque in Al-Madina -- direct prayers for the success of Al-Qaeda were made, during the days of the bombing of Tora Bora: 'Oh Allah, help our brothers in Afghanistan.' These supplications were made during evening prayers, as well as Friday prayers. The preachers would pray for them, in violation of the ministry's instructions."
Al-Ghazawi implies that the Saudi government was embarrassed by the popular support for an enemy of Saudi Arabia's main ally, the United States. The destruction of the WTC occasioned heartfelt celebrations:
"When the twin towers in New York were attacked, they handed out sweets on the streets of Mecca. By Allah, they did. I witnessed this myself. The young people bowed in prayer and hugged one another out of joy. People were in heaven because of these young men, who 'destroyed America and bombed this idol.' Am I right or not? Was it like that or not?"
Speaking of idols:
"Back then, when the Taliban broke off a piece of the nose of the Buddha statue, which was hewn in the mountain, an entire sermon was dedicated to it in the mosque in Mecca, and the preacher was later reprimanded for this sermon. The entire Saudi people supported and loved Al-Qaeda."
Only a nose? The entire statue is gone. The Saudi government again looked embarrassed, but only when Al-Qaeda turned on the Saudi kingdom itself did the Saudi people begin to change their minds about Al-Qaeda:
"This went on until our brothers in Al-Qaeda -- and I don't know what was going through their minds -- began to carry out operations inside Saudi Arabia. That's when we all raised our hands, and said: 'You've gone too far. We won't support you in this.'"
Sheikh Al-Ghazawi can find out "what was going through their minds" if he reads up on salafi literature and the concept of takfir. That should clarify the relevant issues. But I think that the sheikh already knows "what was going through their minds" and is simply expressing irony at Al-Qaeda's stupid brutality. At any rate, he opposes Islamist radicalism. Saudi Arabia, by the way, wasn't the only Muslim society that revealed positive support for the 9/11 attackers. I recall Egyptians and Palestinians cheering at the news and also handing out sweets. These facts have often been denied, or explained as soccer celebrations, but they happened.

The days that followed 9/11 were a glorious time for anti-Americanism among even non-Muslims. I was a professor at Hanshin University then, and in a master's class that I was teaching to high school instructors, one student told of her leftist husband smiling as he watched the Twin Towers come crashing down. I find that so hard to imagine, smiling broadly while watching hundreds of innocent civilians crushed in the rubble -- and that smile coming even after watching scores of individuals leap from the flaming upper floors to escape being burned alive, only to hurtle hundreds of feet to certain death on the streets and sidewalks below. I'll never forget the report of one witness in the WTC who was on a level just below impact. He was thrown to the floor, but as he stood up and looked through the window to see what had happened, he glimpsed a woman fall past, her face expressing terrified bewilderment as she clutched at the empty air for anything to hold on to. That horrifying image has remained with me these past ten years.

After such knowledge, who can smile at the WTC Towers' collapse except to express a profoundly pathological, heartfelt hatred?

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