Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Mosque Mess

I've been very frustrated with my fellow Americans about the not-Mosque at not-Ground Zero. I even got into a Facebook argument with an old high school acquaintance, which was probably a mistake. Facebook is better for announcing that you just had a great meal than for pointing out how un-American people are.

Anyway, my responses ended up being a half-written article, so I went ahead and did a full Smile Politely column about it.  It's called  The Burlington Coat Factory Mosque, and is available here.

It's hard to say much that hasn't already been said.  As usual, Jon Stewart has been the most poignant and the most funny.  Monday's show was no exception, as he pointed out how Fox News is trying to smear the not-Mosque by associating it with an Islamic group run by...Fox News' very own top shareholder. It's long, but well worth viewing.

And, in even more depressing news, Pew came out with a new poll about Americans views of Islam. Unsurprisingly (by now, anyway), 51% oppose the not-Mosque. What shocked me was this:

62% say that Muslims should have the same rights as other religious groups to build houses of worship in their local communities.
Lots of opposition to the Mosque has been wrapped in language of "we believe in freedom of religion, we just think the location of this [not] Mosque is insensitive." But the numbers above are a lot more sobering. Read it and weep. About 38% of Americans apparently do not believe in freedom of religion.


Frugal Life UK said...

There are differing opinions on the founding fathers and those took their faith to the new world, one view is to practise what they believed without obstruction and one is that if they went to the new world they could have a monopoly and then impose their views on others. I am a Christian, however, if I was born in Tibet, for sure I would be buddhist, if I were born in Saudi Arabia for sure I would be a muslim. We look different, we speak different languages, we have different cultures. We call God by a different name and yet the tenents of islaam, judaism and christianity are fundamentally the same - that God is love, is loving and his glory shines through our acts on earth. Extemists, whether zionists, jihaadi or 'americans' (not generalising here) who wave banners in the face of everything the land of the free stands for and not living out God's love. After the London bombings, those of us with isaamic neighbours, threw a protective wall of love around them. Visited homes where we'de never spoken to neighbours before, Mothers got together and walked with islaamic mothers to school so no one could bully their children. We made sure that they knew we loved them and showed them that we knew they were not terrorists, just people who looked different, who spoke Urdu or gururati at home but were our British neighbours and we knew we had to live out God's love by loving them xxxxxxxxxxx I hope my views do not offend but in the wods of Martin Luther King 'all God's children'

Robert Sievers said...

I have read the Qur'an multiple times, and missed the verse where Allah is defined as love. Could you please refer that verse to me?

Perhaps it was in the Hadith, I will take a reference from either Sahih Bukhari or Sahih Muslim saying this in place of a Qur'an reference.

Finally, Dan, do you believe religions that advocate sedition have the right to worship? (Let's not discuss any in particular yet, this is just a general question of what right trumps what)

Dan S said...

Bob, do you believe that political parties that advocate sedition have the right to organize?

Dan S said...

I don't know much about Islam, but the Wikipedia entry on it says that the most common name of the 99 names they use for God is "All-Compassionate" followed by "All-Merciful."

Other names include "the forgiving," "the gentle," "the "nourisher," "the loving." Sounds like love, and aspects of love, to me.

Of course, there are lots of other names that map onto the Old Testament God - "the destroyer," "the avenger," etc. I suppose you can find what you are looking for, much like in the Bible.

Patrick Gabridge said...

That's weird, Dan--I got into a strange dust up with an old high school friend on Facebook about this very same topic, just last week. I was reluctant to get into with him, but I just couldn't let his comment pass (I'm guessing it originated with Glenn Beck). And of course he had friends who were pretty fringe and started quoting all kinds of vile random things (you can find them in just about any historical religious text, by the way, the Christian Bible included, as you point out). The links the posted would lead to anonymous pages of supposed Koran quotes, with big red and blue lettering, and referring to Jews as the "Joooooozzzzz." Hm.

The point I was trying to make to him and his friends is that not all people who are Muslim believe the same thing, and certainly not all of them are fundamentalist. So saying that something is in the Koran doesn't mean they have to believe it. Just like Quakers and fundamentalist Southern Baptists can both be Christian, in the broad sense, but have very different views on war and peace and lots of other things besides, and of the Bible. And the Puritans spent time hanging Quakers, and the Catholics burnt quite a few Lutherans (and vice versa), often about exactly how the Bible should be worded or interpreted. (My newest play is about just this very thing.)

Fingtree said...

Watching this "Mosque Mess" unfold has been a most comically absurd and predictable political carnival. A Republican 'Mosquerade', I would call it. This is all contrived to create more division and hate.
When Christians like Robert (which kind of Christian are you boB, Lutheran, Catholic, Protestant?), say they have read the English version of the Qur'an or Koran and are now self-proclaimed experts in Muslim beliefs, hilarious. There are sheep and followers in all religions, case in point; boB. People read what they want to read. that's how they end up missing what is important. It's common sense. Common sense has been left out of this issue on purpose from organization's like Fox News and the so called 'right'. On the cover of the Bible it should read; "Do What Works For You".

Fingtree said...

Timothy McVeigh was trained by our military and was a Christian terrorist. I wonder if there is or would be allowed a Christian place of worship within two blocks of the Oklahoma City bombing? How about a Catholic church within two blocks of an all boys school?

Robert Sievers said...

It's nice to know that now that Dan has looked up Al-Waddud in wikipedia that everyone concludes Allah and Jehovah are the same being.

and fingtree, your desire to push my buttons is really getting old. You're so cute! I am happy to let you contnue your belief that I am untrained and uneducated on these matters. However, when your worldview comes crashing down around you, look me up; I would be honored to help you get pointed back toward God.

Alisa said...

Hey Dan,

It's been ages! I found your blog recently & have been enjoying "catching up" with you. Just shared your Burlington Coat Factory Mosque article on Facebook - you are so articulate & knowledgeable. Thank you for saying it so well!

Please tell Jill I said hi!


Dan S said...

Hey Alisa! It *has* been ages. Time to look you up on Facebook...

Dan S said...

Bob, all I was doing was refuting your comment that Allah is not defined as love.

Again, I don't know much about Islam. But if you can't admit something as basic as Allah's identity including compassion and mercy, then why should I listen to anything else you have to say about Islam?

Sam said...

Obviously, FOX News does not provide news, and those who watch it are deluding themselves. Moving on,
one of the things I wrestle with in terms of Islam is the fact that its practitioners right now, in world history, really are causing a lot of trouble that other traditions are not. I'm not saying that the Koran is bad and the Bible is good (That is, I'm not getting into that argument right now), or that you can't create a viable interpretation of Islam that is congruent with global liberal goals-gender equality, freedom of religion and speech, UN Declaration of Human rights stuff. The Cordoba Center seems to be example of pretty tolerant Islam, since they support women in ministry, and proclaim a desire for religious dialogue. Both of these are more closely aligned with God's vision of reality than some Christian communities I could name.
Rather, its that there seems to be a collection of ethical choices around violence, gender relations, and personal freedom that many Muslim people are getting wrong in our world today. Now, there are all sorts of qualifications I want to put on this-particularities of history and the development of religion, not putting all Muslims into one basket, the unique dynamics of the conflict raging in the Middle East, the problem of westerners supporting evil dictators rather than popular democratic movements, the fact that Christians in Africa and Serbia have done some pretty heinous things recently, so glass houses and stones, etc., but I confess it still seems for example, like there is no depiction of the Christian God you could create that could get you killed. The same cannot be said for Mohamed.

Dan S said...

As usual, Sam, rightly spoken.

My own shallow reading of modern Islam is that its biggest problem is that so many strands of it intertwine church and state. It took a millenia for Christianity to get kicked out of political state power in the west, and the result has been good for both states and churches.

The problem, as usual, is a literalist reading of ancient text. We don't stone homosexuals anymore, like the Bible says we should, and that is a good thing. But like many strands of Christianity, there are many strands of Islam that read every line of the Koran literally, and also require church and state to be the same (sharia law, for instance), and that leads to abuses that are much like the Eurpoean abuses during Christendom.

But modern, moderate interpretations of the Koran do exist, and allow for separation of church and state, equality for women, and all the other things that are so objectionable in fundamentalist Islam.

And the irony of all this is, the Cordoba center really is being built by Islamic moderates of the Sufi tradition. It is exactly the kind of moderating influence that we should be supporting in Islam, to counteract the very real excesses in other parts of Islam.

brownie said...

As long as I can still get a day old wiener with kraut and mustard somewhere on lower Manhattan, I'll be happy. And go to Ray's for pizza.

MJ said...

You know I went to a Sufi wedding ceremony a few years back and at the beginning of the service the female minister lit about 20 candles and when lighting each one said "this light is to honor our brothers and sisters of the (Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan etc etc) tradition". One candle for each faith and then a catch all candle at the end.

It was very cool and what a wonderful world it would be if all religions could be as respectful of other faiths.

Fingtree said...

"It was very cool and what a wonderful world it would be if all religions could be as respectful of other faiths".

Nicely said MJ!

boB; Thanx for the compliment, cute will do. I desire only for a 'Heart of Gold'. Your EZ button would only break the most simple of Ohm's circuits.
I could acquire in 30 seconds, your amateur world view, while observing a Japanese beetle in heat. And only you boB, get the honor of pointing the way to YOUR very own pretentious and convoluted God. May 'She' have mercy on your afflicted soul.

Robert Sievers said...

Well, if God will judge by His creature's majority opinion of Him, everyone here is in great shape.

Sam said...

Its silly to accuse anyone here of trying to do theology by majority rules. Just because the Bible has some bad advice and bad theology doesn't mean I'm a moral relativist. I think the Bible demonstrates sexism, racism, and the parochial interests of one culture in the Middle East, but that doesn't mean that I make theological decisions based on majority vote. Rather, I think that the gospel values of love of neighbor, care for the weak and powerless, and self sacrifice trump the other Biblical stream of being parochial and patriarchal.

brownie said...

All accounts I have heard through national news sources say there WILL be a mosque at the site. So why does Dan call it a Not Mosque?

Dan S said...

I don't know which term encompasses which, butmy understanding is that a mosque is a stand-alone entity. It is like calling a YMCA a church because it had space devoted to worship servies there.

Robert Sievers said...


I have spent a couple days thinking about your response. Unlike fingtree, who is so wise that he can understand my worldview in 30 seconds, I don't have the mental capacity to understand yours quite so easily, so help me out.

You view some biblical passages as trumping others. While it is true the Bible stresses some items more then others, I gather from your response that some items you don't consider less important, but rather "trumped", or even as you put it "bad advice". Help me understand this.

Is it your view that God did not accurately share his wisdom and commands with humanity effectively? Was He even able to in your view? Some people take the view that humanity is incapable of fully understanding God, which, since we are finite being, must be true. However, that begs the question, was God not able to create humanity with enough understanding to follow His guidance sufficiently? Or do you view humanity as so morally depraved that by our very nature we cannot understand God, and so must pick and choose what works for us? To summarize, how do you reconcile an all powerful God with a God who sent ,in your view, a tainted message?

Sam said...

Thanks for engaging honestly, I enjoy learning more with you. Fair warning, this is way too long-2 parts!
I want to give you an honest response, so I’ve been thinking through this-there are a couple of things that I’d highlight.
First, my understanding of what the Bible is. I don’t really think of the Bible as the ‘word of God’ in the sense of an inerrant, from God’s lips to the page kind of way. I think that people are indeed fallen, and are incapable of fully understanding God, and that includes the people who wrote down the stories in the Bible. I had a Bible teacher once who mentioned (I’m paraphrasing here) that one of the things she liked about being Christian is that “in Islam, the Koran is the word of God-nothing in the book is wrong. In Christianity, Jesus is the word of God, and if Jesus says ‘you have heard it said, but I say…’ then we ought to listen.” We don’t believe the Biblical text is God’s last word. Rather, I think that it is in human relationships, and the interplay of the holy spirit in community that we most fully understand God’s will, and that when the teachings of the Bible fail to bring about the values that in my understanding, Christ taught, then it is most likely that the Bible is leading us astray, because the people who wrote it were humans.
Now, you talk about God’s ability to communicate with humanity-it is my belief that if God had wanted to have a more full revelation, I’m sure God would be capable of that, but all evidence suggests that God is not interested in easy ethical answers to human conundrums, that can be read unthinkingly out of a book. The story of God’s interactions with people in the Bible is the story of pieces and glimpses of the truth, often given, often distorted, often forgotten. It is a story of ongoing revelation, and learning and growing in relationship, as God’s people come closer to God, and fall away and are called back again. To think that this growing, changing, dynamic ethical system would be fixed a few centuries after Jesus because everything God was going to say got written down seems to me to be against the spirit of the text.

Sam said...

Further, even if the Bible were the precise word of God, designed to accurately share God’s wisdom and commands with humanity, its still a horrible way to achieve this end (speaking in terms of efficiency) after all, each human still has to decided that they believe that the Bible is the word of God, choosing that book over any others, like the Koran, or the Bahavita-Gita, or the sacred texts of other traditions. They all, after all, testify to being God’s word, and to the miracles that God has done. Further, of course, the Bible is a disputed text-Catholics use a different Bible than protestants, and from the first Christians, there have been disputes over which books were really ‘God breathed.’ Even within the Bible, as you mention, there are tensions-those passages that suggest that God is focused on Jerusalam and the people of Israel, vs. those passages suggesting God will bring salvation to all people, those passages suggesting that God is most concerned with good works of justice and mercy, vs. those passages suggesting that faith is the core spiritual discipline. If God wanted clear communication with human beings, there are a LOT easier ways to do it than one book, written over 500 or so years, given to one out of the way group of people.
Secondly, its not that I think that humans are so morally deprived that we cannot understand God-its that I think that humans are morally enlightened enough to work with a values based, rather than rules based foundation, and that throughout the Biblical text there is a continued emphasis on understanding the why’s behind the commandments-loving God and neighbor, caring for the poor, paying attention to the powers and principalities of the world, and that when a particular rule (e.g., women shouldn’t talk in church) comes in conflict with a core value (in Christ there is no male or female, love your neighbor as yourself, pay attention to who is powerless) then human beings, guided by the light of the Holy Spirit, have the authority and the wisdom to change the rules, just as Jesus changed rules about eating with tax collectors and sinners, and Paul changed rules about joining in community with Gentiles, so too are we called to change rules about human sexuality and gender inequality that do not speak to God’s vision for reality.
I believe that God is in relationship with humanity, and that over time, as we grow ethically and spiritually as a species, as we evolve as human beings, we are better able to engage with and participate in what God is doing in the world.

Dan S said...

Nicely expressed, Sam

Robert Sievers said...

I think we all recognize the value based system of ethics over a strict rule based system. Galatians speak to this when it says that the law is our tutor in order to bring us to Christ.

What I don't understand is how you can say that the Holy Spirit is capable of guiding us today, but not capable of guiding the Biblical writers. How does the Holy Spirit work in us now, but yet somehow not work in those who were recognizing which books of the Bible were authentic and which were fabrications?