FREEDOM IS A HEADY WINE

When I made the conversation starting comment that "Islam is a bad idea" on Tuesday (THE EASILY OFFENDED ARE EASILY THE MOST OFFENSIVE) it was based on my observation of Islam in the world, both today and in the past. The constructive comments I received have led me to conclude that the reason why Islam is a destructive religion is because it is overwhelming concerned with submission. Submission to Allah, submission to rulers, female submission to men and submission to the pan-Islamic community. It is not surprising that submission figures so strongly in Islam as one of Muhammad's major concerns throughout his adult life was to bring together the squabbling Arabic tribes. During the later part of his life Muhammad became a military ruler and, quite ruthlessly, turned his hope for a united people into a reality, bringing the pagan tribes together through conversion to his nascent religion and removing the Jewish and Christian communities from the region by genocide and enslavement. In the following years the Qur'an, in itself a legalistic tome, was added to by a large amount of legislation and regulation.

Of course, Islam was not the first Abrahamic religion to use law, supposedly decreed by God, to control people and to define what made them "chosen" and apart from the "alien." Judaism, itself, went through periods where legalism dominated. This was particularly the case during Israel's exile in Babylon when most of "the law" was written down by the priestly caste. As in the case of primitive Islam this would have served to keep the tribes together, giving them a "chosen" identity so that they did not get subsumed into the Babylonian population. But Judaism has always had, and still has, a stream of rebellion running through it. Even when "The Law" was being formulated there were "prophets" insisting that adherence to The Law was not the thing that God really wanted from God's chosen  people and that the alien was to be treated with respect and not as subhuman. This prophetic stream of Judaism can still be found in the religion's reformed denomination whilst adherence to The Law is emphasised by those denominations within Judaism that are vehemently committed to separatism and racial purity.

Jesus was very much from the prophetic tradition. You can quote the line about not coming to change The Law as much as you like, Jesus, in his words and actions, made it absolutely clear that sticking obsessively to a long list of rules and regulations was not the way to have a real and life-changing relationship with The Father. Jesus sought to remove the tribal element from the worship of God, replacing it with a call for a personal relationship between each individual and God based on mutual respect, love and a common human-divine purpose. Knowing the mind of God became the way to live morally rather than strictly following the letter of The Law. Saint Paul understood this even though, like all Christians ever since, he had problems working out how to live a life free from law that was still morally good.

Throughout the history of the Christian faith there has been an internal battle raging between those commending the law and those commending freedom from the law. The legalists have always been dominant when there has been a perceived need for exclusivism. When the Christian churches became tribal the rulers of each tribe (denomination) assumed more authority for themselves and started demanding submission to God, their church and themselves. The primacy of the bishop of Rome was invented so that the Roman tribe could claim supremacy over and demand submission from the Christian tribes of the Middle East and beyond. Submissive forms of Christianity, such as those promoted by the monastic tradition, have always been strongest during those times when the Church has been strongly hierarchical and under the headship of an absolute ruler. During times of rebellion against absolute power, the people of the Church were, at least in part, disdainful of legislation and more charismatic. This usually led to change and renewal in the Church as well as growth in numbers.

Today the battle between the legalistic and the charismatic dominates the politics of the Church. On the one hand we have the papalists and evangelicals insisting that adherence to law, whether church law or scriptural law, is the way to live the Christian life and, on the other hand, we have those Christians who seek to lead their lives subject only to the words of Jesus Christ and, like Saint Paul, completely free from the legalism that constantly scuppers Christ's command to free the captive.

This second strand of Christianity is, at this moment in time, strongest within the Episcopal branch of Anglicanism. Those of us who strive for an inclusive church free from the constraints of covenants and authoritarian hierarchies do not demand, for example, the right for same sex couples to marry, because we are determined to make our churches subject to modern secular idealism but because we want to make our churches subject to the two thousand year old teachings of Jesus Christ and bring back the zeitgeist of the early church. We are far from being revisionist and progressive. We are, in fact, the most primitive and orthodox part of the Church at this time. As such, I believe we are most in tune to the will of God and the only people capable of taking the real, freedom proclaiming, good news of Jesus Christ out into the secular world and to those imprisoned by the legalism of their faith, whatever their religion.

But, we have a problem. We are a nice people. Many of us have that liberal tendency to give more worth to a "bad idea" than it deserves. We are so bloody apologetic at times. In fact we are apologetic most of the time. We don't want to belittle other people by belittling their beliefs. So, here we are, with the greatest news ever but completely incapable of selling it like it should be sold. We may be free from the law but we are completely bound and rendered impotent by the chains of our impeccable, good manners.

In the USA today people are hammering on the doors of their oppressors demanding their freedom from those who demand their submission to an evil and corrupt idealism. Christians who desire freedom should take a leaf out of their book and start hammering loudly and, above all unapologetically, on the doors of those who demand unthinking submission from us (which may well include hammering on the gates of heaven as well). This is not the time for diplomatic language it is the time for calling a spade a spade. letting our yes be yes and our no be no, to be scorching hot rather than luke warm and getting out into the whole world, not to convert people to just another life-denying, crippling, tribalistic, law-bound religion, but to give them freedom with no strings attached.

Comments

FREEDOM IS A HEADY WINE — 65 Comments

  1. This post os one of the most profound statements on Christianity (with its 38,000 denominations) that I have ever read. For years and years I have been one of those who try to take the :inspired word” of the Bible and consign the rest of it to the outer darkness where it belongs.

    Perhaps if there were more priests with this depth of knowledge who wrote and practiced this type of theological understanding I would not be a “Church Alumni.”

    Years ago I went to the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon about the life of St. Francis. The scene that resonated most to me was when he was summoned before the Pope and Princes of the Church and began preaching the words of Christ. One of the bejeweled stated “Blasphemy!” The one sitting next to him said “Be Quiet, he will bring the poor to us.” That probably began my dissatisfaction with Christianity the way most people practice it.

    Thank you for this excellent writing. You always give me much to think about.

  2. Since my experience with Muslims and feminist Muslim readings is so different from this — I still think you are full of glittering generalities. Christianity with its crusades and pogroms and inquisitions is so similar. Judaism as shown in the OT and the current state of Israel — same. Sorry I don’t buy Islam as the bad guy. There have been periods of high culture and freedom under Islam just as in Judaism and Christianity – but unfortunately all contain people who want power more than faith. Take a look at Zimbabwe today.

  3. A brilliant essay that should be read, and read again. Understanding the tension between the prophetic tradition and the legalistic is utterly key to understanding where the faith has been and should be going.

    Over on HoB/D, the deputies are engaged in a surprising (to me at least) civil debate that pits those who believe that the church should be about law, scaring sinners straight (you should pardon the word,) on the one hand and those who want to toss the doors open and invite the ruffians in to the banquet, seek the kingdom’s fulfillment and the transformation of lives, on the other.

    I suspect this argument is timeless. Do we seek to live as free and loving people transforming the world, or do we seek to be good enough by obeying the law.

    Jesus was, I think, clearly on the transformation side. I think Paul was too, albeit he had to deal with the problem of where his converts began the journey, and at least one ill-informed ghost writer.

    I also have been saying that the “progressives” are the most nearly primitive Christians. Not a lot of people willing to hear that. You have nailed it.

    As to Islam, it will either learn to be about the freedom of God’s people and the transformation of persons or it will eventually collapse into itself. That is the natural law. “Fundamentalist Christians” (an oxymoron) are beginning to experience that reality.

    FWIW
    jimB

  4. The Crusades were a defensive reaction against an Islam that had already destroyed the Christian church in most of North Africa, had subjugated the Church in the Middle East and had just invaded the Holy Land and was fully intent on conquering the Byzantine Empire (which it eventually did). We feel guilty about the massacre of the Muslims in Jerusalem but the massacres committed by Muslims before and after the First Crusade involved the deaths of a hundred times more people or more. When Muslims recaptured cities from the Crusaders they did so far more viciously than the Crusaders and killed far more people doing so.

    The high culture of Islam, as I said before, was inexorably linked to their subjugation of the preexisting Christian centres of learning, especially in Syria. They destroyed more ancient texts than medieval church ever did. And anyway you can be cultured while being bloodthirsty and oppressive as the Roman Empire proved.

    For a long time we have been sold a lie about the easy going nature of Islam. But modern research shows it to be hogwash.

    As for feminist Islam, you’re lucky you can read it and discuss it. If you were Islamic you wouldn’t be able to, at least not publicly.

    And finally, and once again, I am not talking about Muslim but about Islam.

  5. The problem is, Jim, that it is so much easier living your life being told what to do than to live your life having to take responsibility for your own moral decisions. Even the atheists know that as experiments in atheistic states prove.

    Greatest quote of all time: “Men are born free and everywhere they are in chains.”

    Translation for Ann: “People are born free and everywhere they are in chains.”

  6. I know what you are talking about and it is just prejudice disguised as scholarship. I have heard it all before – nature of women, nature of people of color. I just don’t agree with you.

  7. I am not sexist because I condemn men and women. You are sexist because you condemn men but not women. I am not racist because I condemn my own culture and I condemn all other cultures. You are racist because you condemn your own culture but refuse to condemn others.

    You are also reluctant to admit that the learning that allows you to keep telling everybody you went to Harvard has changed. I’m younger than you and didn’t start studying until I was 35 years old. I’m still learning and not frightened of modern scholarship.

  8. And what’s more, this post is not about generalities it is about the specifics of submission and legalism. Based on those specifics I come to the mathematical conclusion that Islam, evangelicalism and papalism are so oppressive and law enforcing that they are overall a bad idea.

    But you won’t have worked that out for yourself because you never read what I actually write. You just skim read till you find one of your buzz words and then go off on your hobby horse, not arguing with my logic but simply insulting me and trying to shame me into agreeing with you. My goodness, Ann, you are just so much like a man at times. A Muslim man at that.

  9. Ann, like it or not, the history of Islam is what it is. Christians did not write it in blood, Islam did that itself. And while yes, in nice safe (Christian/secular) countries, it is possible to say, “Feminist Islam” and live, I suggest you not try it in an Islamic country! To do so is rough on life expectancy.

    Consider Afghanistan, where there are now no Christian or Jewish places of worship left. Islam at its finest.

    Again, it does not matter. Islam is going to self-destruct unless it learns. Where it not for the West’s thirst for oil, it would already be a written book.

    I am not anti-Islam. I am simply objectively looking at the record. Fundamentalists always fail, and deservedly so. Islam needs to find a new place or it will fail. The Moabites in Morocco understand that, but they stand pretty much alone at the moment.

    FWIW
    jimB

  10. An exceptionally insightful and thought-provoking article. Thank you for sharing.

    Regarding your statements about muslims, they differ significantly from what I have experienced first-hand in both the US and in the Middle East. These experiences have led me to understand that, not unlike our own Christan faith, there are competing factions of ‘letter of the law’ and ‘spirit of the law’ with the proportions of fundamentalists to interpretists being a significant difference between the Christian and Islamist faiths. OCICBW and YMMV.

    Regarding the main thrust of your monograph, though, I believe you have hit the nail on the head. Whether it is the retrenchment of the post-VII Roman Church or the rise of fundamentalism in the US, we are seeing that the ‘war on the Church’ is an argument over the role of legalism vs. experience and of ecclesiology vs. theology.

    Again…I could be wrong and your milage may vary.

  11. I agree, Tim. However, although I accept that there are many ‘spirit of the law’ Muslims, especially on your side of the Atlantic (not so much here unfortunately), I cannot find justification for such an attitude within Islamic scripture and teaching. I may be wrong about some of my interpretation of Christ’s teaching but I don’t have to twist or ignore it to justify my view.

  12. I have commented sparingly here as I don’t feel I have a good enough grasp of Islam to comment intelligently. However, when one reads the gospels – it is clear that Jesus of Nazareth was about peace for the most part. If I am understanding what is being said about Islam, Muhammed took up the sword as part of his “ministry” as it were…

    So you gave God of Peace and Prophet of Action…

    However, what was done following each is very different. It did not take Christians very long to take up the sword and find liturgical ways to justify said action – and it was against each other as much as the infidel and the Jew…

    It also did not take long for various sects of Islam to begin battling with each other.

    As for my own limited reading of history, MP, what I have found is that the Islamic Imperial powers that swept through were more tolerant of other faiths than the Christians were…in fact, crusading Christians were as likely to butcher other Middle Eastern Christians based soley on their physical appearance and manner of dress…talk about “oops.”

    Given your own experiences with church hierarchy and authority I am not surprised that you would react to totally submitting to God or Allah in the negative manner in which you have commented. It would seem to me though, that submitting to God and submitting to church authority can be two different things… OCICBW…

  13. Actually (and this another example of how liberal Christian guilt has informed us so incorrectly) the Church condemned all warfare very vehemently for a thousand years. The first crusade was the first instance of church led warfare. I expect it was not all sweetness and light before the crusades but as I keep saying – Know your history! You will find that it is overall not as nasty as you may think.

  14. Well, let’s see…the first 300 years or so the church was persecuted. Then it became the religion of the Empire…talk about having the right guy backing you. The Crusades were as much about getting the Europeans to stop fighting each other and go fight someone else as it was about solidifying the role of the Pope.

    Yes, MP, know your history, the Byzentines and the Latins and the Coptics and what was that other sect of Christians – they all were only to happy to bash each others heads in over the true nature of Christ and who was right and who was wrong.

    Further, the Crusaders sweeping through the “Holy Lands” were butchers so were the Assyrians, so were the Babylonians, so were the Muslims…

    Is it just me or do you tend to get on these rants every time you pull yourself out of one of your dark spells? Is this part of your therapy?

  15. Perhaps I know more about European history than my American friends who know more about American history than I do.

    I am right about the Church and war and I am right about the terror Islamic invasion held for Europeans at the time of the crusades. You have to remember that Muslims had already conquered most of Spain and obliterated the Christian faith in North Africa.

    And you simply cannot pretend that the invasion of the Holy Land by Islam did not happen. No Christian country had, at that time, invaded any part of the Islamic world. And you cannot pretend that they didn’t invade Constantinople (the theft of our greatest cathedral proving it was a religious campaign). And you cannot deny the Armenian genocide last century.

    Anyway, check it out for yourself. I didn’t invent this stuff, you know.

  16. MP – it is like you are just chomping for a fight…

    Your rhetoric gets so darn inflammatory when you get your dander up…

    If you choose to divide up the battles for power and territory and only look at them when clustered into religious divisions then you view history as you do…

    However, if the faith of the battling powers is moved into a secondary role and we do not divide up the battles for power and territory by faith, you might see that there was continuous fighting between various Christian kings and dukes and counts struggling for control of territory throughout Europe as well as when one “empire” threatened total control.

    Yes, we in America know about the fear that the Ottoman Empire would take over the world…

    Weren’t there similar fears regarding the Mongol Hordes?

    Before Europeans stopped living in caves…there were the Persian Empire, the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire…

    All those folks were trying to take over the world and dragging their religion with them.

    It is but the accident of history that now centuries later the descendents of only the early Christians, Muslims, and Hebrews are present in today’s world and these other empires and their religions are long gone.

    I wish you would tone down your snarky rhetoric and continue to put forth your arguments with out the “I’m right and your wrong – and you’re just a typical liberal” crap…that just shuts things down.

  17. I may be wrong about some of my interpretation of Christ’s teaching but I don’t have to twist or ignore it to justify my view.

    That’s because you’re an interpretist, my dear Mad Priest, not a fundamentalist.

    As to interpretist muslims, I found many in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East (in addition to here in Yankee-land).

  18. I’m chomping for a fight with liberals who are too scared to condemn evil in case it makes them appear illiberal. That’s what this post was about. In fact it was more to do with legalism within Christianity and Judaism than within Islam. I think the fact that a couple of people just saw the word Islam at the beginning and went straight into attacking me for something i said on Tuesday just proves my point about liberal guilt getting in the way of preaching the good news of freedom and allowing other Christian groups carte blanche to preach their gospel of law and punishment.

  19. Perhaps I know more about European history than my American friends who know more about American history than I do.

    Perhaps.

    And you simply cannot pretend that the invasion of the Holy Land by Islam did not happen.

    Very true. In 638, the Islamic Caliphate took control of Jerusalem and allowed all three people of the Book access to the holy city.

    And you cannot pretend that they didn’t invade Constantinople (the theft of our greatest cathedral proving it was a religious campaign).

    True, the latin Christians of the first crusade sacked Orthodox Constantinople, but I’m not sure how that bolsters your argument. Oh, you’re referring to the Ottoman conquest in 1453. If it was a war of religous might, they did a mighty poor job of it, letting the Orthodox stay and practice their faith openly.

    Just sayin.

  20. Tim, a serious question. How do the interpretist Muslims you have met (I have never met one which is not unusual in the UK) square their method with the Islamic scriptures? My willingness to reject most of the Bible as not being the word of God is not a sin as far as the Bible is concerned and is only a sin according to some post-reformation factions in the church. But, surely the Qur’an claims complete literal obedience.

  21. Tim, I have never once said that Christians didn’t kill other Christians. I have not once referred to Muslims killing other Muslims.

    I am talking about the religion of Islam being a bad idea.

    What really saddens me is the loss of Eastern Christianity whose mission stretched into China and beyond. And I am even more saddened that so many Western Christians have no knowledge of what was, for a thousand years, the bastion of Christianity. It pisses me off that Western Christians have such a high regard for a religion that destroyed our most authentic contact with the early church. We insult our Eastern brothers and sisters when we go on about Islamic culture as if the Eastern Church were barbarians. The truth is when we were in the middle of the Dark Ages, the Syrian Church was alive with scholastic endeavour on a parr with Ancient Greece and Renaissance Europe and in conversation with the scholars of China when most Europeans didn’t even know China existed.

  22. Your experience (as does mine) provides the lenses through which you see — did I bring up Harvard? No – you just have a bias against me for going there (and it was not so long ago as you think). There is as much diversity in Islam as in Christianity and they cover the spectrum from fundies to progressives. You just don’t know any or read about them. Countries use religion for power (see Zimbabwe) and the current crop of Republican candidates for President.

    Your idea of a discussion is to bash any who dare to disagree with you – you are never wrong in your head regardless of the title of blog.

  23. MP,

    I have spoken with a few who I would consider interpretist muslims about their faith, and beyond the very basics (the X pillars of Islam), what I gather is that it is they are utilizing the historical-critical method to derive what the Prophet was driving at.

    This sort of interpretation has been given a huge boost by the discovery/analysis of the Sana’a Qur’an, which is arguably the oldest extant copy of the Prophet’s words and is, in some places, different from the ‘standard’ Koran.

  24. Thanks, Tim.

    Ann, go back and read your first comment. It is just insult and has the academic credibility of Sunderland fan talking about a Newcastle United striker.

    Perhaps if you weren’t so abusive all the while and used some of your scholarly intelligence I wouldn’t kick back in kind all the while.

    And I know for a fact that I am not the only person round these parts who has to excuse your knee-jerk belligerence. “That’s just how she is” they tell me. Except nobody else is allowed to be just how they are in your view.

  25. MP,

    Where I sit in this discussion is that each of us (individually and collectively) have had the Truth of the Divine revealed in a way which is culturally relevant. Some folk have been kind enough to put those Truths, as they understand them, to paper.

    How we interpret that Truth and express it and the fact that different people in different times and places are going to interpret those Truths in radically different ways are another matter entirely.

    That is on us, not God, and the people of the Book (all of us) have a rather spotty record.

  26. MP – well done! I won’t wade into the Muslim arguments since I simply don’t know much about it. But I do agree completely with the ‘law vs. love’ argument. I can never figure out if Christians, who claim Jesus is God made flesh, can ignore his life and teachings, especially his sharp put-down of the legalist Pharisees. I’m nearly antinomian, but to me there is only one law: love on another. Thanks for this piece.

  27. I don’t believe that, Tim. The thought of God revealing to the Jews that they massacre all the Canaanites, or revealing to Muslims that they should sell children into sexual slavery or revealing to some Christian pope that that the the knights of Europe should pop down to Jerusalem and kill 40000 people seems a bit ridiculous to me whether culturally relevant or not. I am a Christian and I find absolutely nothing problematical or oblique in the words of Jesus Christ as reported in the synoptic gospels and when I read the old testament or the Koran I find the words perfectly understandable as well. But I ignore the words of the O.T. and the Koran because so many of them are plain wrong and obviously not inspired by a God worth worshiping whatever the culture of the time.

  28. love on another

    Oh yes, that’s how I like it too, Fr. Craig. But I’m not fussy which way up. Variety is the spice of life as they say.

  29. Thanks, Fr. Craig. You would think by the amount of venom I received that I just dissed Islam in my post. But I actually attacked all forms of legalistic religion where submission is emphasised. I am completely indiscriminate in who I attack. Unfortunately some of my friends are not indiscriminate in who they defend. Bloody liberals, you spend three hours writing a piece on how they are the true bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ and all they do is attack you for saying that a rival religion is a bad idea. What do these people do at football matches – cheer both sides and tell the other spectators not to be prejudice against the opposing team? I despair of them sometimes but then I remember that they laugh at my jokes and they are worth putting up with just for that.

  30. I thought we had knocked this polygamy obsession of yours into touch, Larry. I may have to send round an intervention team to snap you out of it.

  31. We do have a problem. We are all nice people. We don’t want to offend anyone. Isn’t that what diversity is about? Isn’t that what it means to love one another?

    Well, no, probably not. The nice legalists are winning, MP. They control the money, big business, unions (another big business), most government, and supervise our schools. Play nice or don’t be here.

    Love is accepting other people where they are and leading everyone to a more loving place. That doesn’t mean you have to like them or agree with them or emulate them. That means that you feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the dying, give shelter, clothe the naked…and Preach the Good News of Christ Jesus.

    Prophesy and charisma are dangerous gifts in these times. Most of us who have one or both of these have been silenced so much that we just shut up – like Jonah.

    But, damn it, my little shade tree is dying.

  32. By the way, the Jewish “law” in particular the purification codes were “written down” at the time of the Babylonian exile as a direct result of that exile. The temple had been destroyed – up till then the priests alone had to follow the code…how that the physical temple was gone, the people had to recreate the temple in their personal spaces and the codes (with which you take such offense) was a manner in keeping the faith alive while in exile… I for one find this kind of “submission” inspiring.

  33. That’s an “if” statement…and if my grandmother had balls she’d be my grandfather, so what’s your point?

    That Ancient Hebrews would have stoned me? That up until very recently Christians would have burned me at the stake? What?

  34. Perhaps I know more about European history than my American friends…

    Well, if you count Joe as a friend (and both of us hope you do; he certainly has a lot of very real, steadfast respect for you), then I think you have competition in the European history arena. The man IS a walking textbook.

    As to the rest…this is an astounding essay. My first response is to salute you. Since I’m at work right now, I’ll have to wait til I get home and really have more time to concentrate on it before I make a substantial response.

    And yes….

    SQUIRREL!!!

    Tracie

  35. I’d like to add an observation, regarding the whole “submission” thing…

    Joe’s ex girlfriend Susan is Armenian. She speaks four languages: French, English, Arabic, and Turkish. She has told us that when it comes to the word “islam,” the English translation word “submission” is actually putting it rather MILDLY. “Enslavement” is actually the better word to us, with complete and utter sacrifice of one’s will to God on levels that most Americans just can’t even begin to wrap their minds around.

    She has a remarkable family story…

    Tracie

  36. The story of the Armenian Church is one of the most tragic stories there has ever been. The greatest tragedy is that we choose to forget about what was done to them less than a hundred years ago for the sake of political expediency.

  37. I think Susan’s response to your comment, Jonathan, would be a very simple but very deeply heartfelt “thank you.” Because she’d probably think “finally, FINALLY….someone GETS IT.”

    Although she herself tends towards paths more like Santeria and Voudou. But her parents were Armenian Orthodox.

    Her mother fled the genocide in Armenia, went to Iraq, met Hamdi (Susan’s father) who was Muslim (and a Ba’ath party supporter for a long time) but who converted to the Orthodox church upon his marriage, and they eventually came to the US, to Minneapolis, where Susan herself was born.

    Sue has nothing but pure venom when it comes to the Turks. And because she saw her dad get shafted by a Jewish businessman, she has no patience with Jews either. None. At all.

    Like I said before – sometimes I think the best idea is to completely give up on the Abrahamic religions. Sometimes I think the most squabbling in the world didn’t occur until HE came on the scene and messed it up for all the tribalists who were, at least on a religious level, able to live with each other in relative harmony.

    Think about how Rome reacted when Christians refused to offer a pinch of incense to the spirit of the Emperor. I ask myself, “Is that really all that different from the ‘submission to God’ thing of the Muslims?” As we all know, not offering that pinch was not just a religious refutation, but treason to the state, and this creates all kinds of issues…

    Gaaah. Too many thoughts….

    Tracie

  38. Just for the record…

    …life-denying, crippling, tribalistic, law-bound religion…

    Geez, these are the words the pagans I know would use to describe Christianity. Seriously. They really believe this, because many of them have been so beaten up by and with everything that has anything to do with Christianity.

  39. True paganism demands more submission from its adherents than any modern religion even to the point of offering yourself for sacrifice. These people aren’t pagans. The blood drenched, earthy, visceral reality of real paganism would have them running screaming out of the woods. Christ nailed to the cross is paganism. What modern pagans practice is as sanitised and safe as Johnson’s Baby Powder.

  40. That depends. There are some Asatruar, particularly up in NY, (the New Normans) who do routinely engage in animal sacrifice.

    And Joe himself committed to Odin in blood; the tattoo on his chest was his sacrifice to the Allfather. I do not have any tattoos on my body, but as I understand it, they bleed as they are applied. He’s also allowed Odin to “ride” him, as many Santerians have allowed the loa to “ride” them in ceremony. He also believes that the auto accident that resulted in half his face being crushed and then him receiving facial reconstruction on the right side of his head was Odin getting his attention. As we all know, Odin is a one-eyed God, and Joe almost lost his right eye in that accident.

    What modern *Wiccans* practice is very sanitised, yes. But not all pagans are “Wikkenz.”

    Besides, once again, as we all know, “sacrifice” means “to set aside.” When Joe made his dedication to Odin, he “sacrificed” his life to him. He set it aside. He was stating, in this act, that he would have no other Gods besides those of his people, the northern Europeans he is descended from. That is a sacrifice. Paganism and heathenry can involve the carnal, but it can also involve the heart and mind too. It doesn’t stop at the carnal, but it does embrace it. Quite well, actually. :wink wink nudge nudge: Christians don’t have love Goddesses like Freyja! WOOT!

    I think you’re thinking of shamanism, and naturally not every pagan is going to be a shaman. It wasn’t that way centuries ago, and there isn’t a need for it to be that way now. Those people who are able to engage in shamanic exercises and practices, great. But some aren’t able to. Doesn’t make them “less pagan.” 🙂

  41. I thought you was referring to namby pamby new agers. I was certainly not including Odinists in my reply. And I don’t think there was ever any purely cerebral forms of paganism. It was all about life versus death, even the “civilised” Greek paganism was based on secretive death cults.

  42. Actually I’m glad you pointed out the very strongly sacrificial nature of paganism. That is important. Many Wiccans are terrified of the very word “sacrifice” and don’t use it. Reconstructionist pagans, like the Asatru and Celtic recons and others, have a very different view and are more willing to embrace sacrifice as an inherent part of their spiritual way than the “Wikkenz.” 🙂

  43. The only way to fully understand the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is to see it through pagan eyes. The crucifixion is the ultimate sacrifice because it is the sacrifice of a god, making all further sacrifices redundant. The descent into Hell and resurrection are given meaning if you you understand the secrets of the mystery cults where the initiate (theatrically) dies, confronts the demons of the afterlife and then is reborn.

  44. Renz is spot on here, MadPriest. If you had begun this post in the 3rd paragraph, or even the 2nd paragraph, no one would have been drawn into a discussion on Islam. You say so much that is good, but you linked to the earlier post and then added more about bad Islam. Then you get upset when your own words are referenced, because you say your post was not about Islam. Didn’t you foresee that including the part about Islam might be a distraction and take the focus away from the rest of what you say about Jesus and the prophetic tradition and the battle between the law and freedom from the law?

    And I may not know a whole lot about Islam or Islamic history, but I do know a bit about the history of Christianity, and, as I see it, again agreeing with Renz, you let us off far too easily.

  45. PS: if I have misunderstood your posts, please forgive me. I s’pose it’s to be expected from a dingbat redhead, right? LOL!

    If I might add an observation on this statement:

    I am not sexist because I condemn men and women. You are sexist because you condemn men but not women. I am not racist because I condemn my own culture and I condemn all other cultures. You are racist because you condemn your own culture but refuse to condemn others.

    Push me over with a feather. I’ve been trying to say the same thing to pagans and UUs and feminists for over 20 years now. It’s like reverse sexism and reverse racism has taken over – it’s ok to bash western Europeans and their descendants, but don’t bash anyone else. It’s ok to bash men, but women are perfect angels who never do anything wrong. It’s ok to bash Western culture but don’t bash any other culture – and in fact, try to move in on that culture and take over their customs and spiritual practices, etc etc etc. GAAAHHH!!!

    I keep saying it’s PC gone horribly, horribly awry and no one has noticed this.

  46. Okay, I don’t have time to read all the comments (Off to the hospital where Mom awaits discharge to a skilled nursing facility. Apparently, we’re leaving assisted living behind, which makes me sad.), so maybe I’m missing some points, or hijacking the thread. Don’t know. I care – just don’t know.

    But the thought of the evil of submission, irrespective of what faith or race, intrigues me. I believe the same applies to economic systems. Clearly, this evil is present in capitalism, but to believe it is not present in socialism would assume no human involvement.

    IMHO, forced submission in economic affairs becomes unnecessary only when hearts are changed. Subsequently, I could see myself being part of a community in which all things are owned in common (à la Acts), but placing my trust in government bureaucrats with the authority to make sure that all submit to a set of laws hoisted upon others by a majority fills me with…er… concern. Clearly we do that with any given law, but at what point have we overstepped matters of human dignity to make the affairs of others our own? Not in terms of caring for others, but in directing others how to do so. I guess the “gold standard” might be if we are willing to live privately as we would wish to see others live nationally. If we are, then the matter becomes moot. To expect government to sweep in as hero seems to me as off-target as the follower’s of Jesus expecting a military champion. There are Kingdoms, and there are kingdoms. Both are a lot of work, but only one is the stuff of eternity.

    Okay, bring on the critiques, but be gentle and kind. This is not my best day.

  47. Well Islam is nothing the way you write as. Islam meaning have been changed by those people who pretend infront of others that they are muslim. they never dressed like muslims they never practie the worship or any rules in Islam. but only they are doing is spreading negative message about Islam to whole world. shame to them. and at the end they should be ready for punishment for pretending and lying

  48. Hi Jonathan,

    I’m an Anglican who has made an academic study of the early history of Islam for a number of years (I’m writing my PhD on the subject at present). This inevitably colours my perspective, without necessarily allowing me to claim any particular insight. However, the nagging suspicion that I’ve become aware of as I’ve progressed in my studies is that it is never really possible to understand another religious tradition from the outside. No matter how big a window you make, you’re always peering in from another place. If you will forgive me for saying so, I think this fact influences your post, which is really not about Islam at all, but about Christianity. I can’t help but feel you’re using Islam as a kind of puppet for a trend in Christianity you deplore. To an extent I suppose this is unavoidable – I’ve spent most of my academic life thinking about Islam through a Christian lens. I still don’t know if there’s any way to think my way out of it (or even if it would be desirable to do so if I could), but unless and until I do, I’m forced to admit that I’m not really writing about Islam as Muslims experience it at all.

    I could pick apart some of your facts: there were always large Christian communities under Muslim rule, and Christians and Jews were usually not persecuted for the very reason that the Qur’an commands that they should be protected (unlike monotheists and sometimes Zoroastrians). The very gradual decline of the Eastern Church – which still exists throughout parts of the Middle East, of course – was probably driven by social and economic pressure to convert rather than fire and the sword (a few incidents apart – the persecutions of al-Mutawakkil and the Almohads, for example). Nevertheless, I agree its loss was a tragedy, and we should remember the surviving Syriac churches in our prayers. Recent years have not been good to them.

    But I’m more interested in the way you view ‘submission’. I find it hard to believe that many Muslims would view ‘submission’ in the way you do, and I don’t think I do either. Perhaps I’ve been tormented by my own disordered will more than most, but I increasingly find myself thinking how wonderful it must be to lay one’s own confused and self-destructive desires completely before God. Submission should be liberating and it should be loving – or at least, I assume it should (not being nearly saintly enough to attain this state myself). Where do we hear this more clearly than in the great Sufi mystical strain which runs through the whole mainstream of the Islamic tradition (despite the efforts of revivalists and modern fundamentalists to suppress it)? Sufism is not antinomian, as some claim, but it challenges the image of Islam as purely legalistic or positivist. (And re: your lewd pun on love and submission, medieval Sufis were not averse to using homoerotic imagery to present shocking images of divine love, to the embarrassment of some of their contemporary brethren.) Nor does submission to God imply submission to rulers or to patriarchs, though certainly some Muslims have interpreted the tradition this way. I think this is probably a legitimate criticism of mainline Sunni Islam – its history of political quietism and patriarchy is only partly a product of its religious beliefs, but the faith is not innocent of responsibility. Personally, I think that it is much more legitimate to accuse Sunni Islam of promoting quietism than militarism, though the doctrine of jihad has of course been intermittently used or abused by political leaders for imperialistic purposes. But then, of course, Islam is scarcely unique in this respect, and other religions too can easily become pretexts for claiming that men who speak about God should be obeyed as gods.

  49. …cntd

    Finally, however, I have to admit that I approach Islam as an outsider, and however much I feel sympathy with some aspects of it, or alienation from others, I can’t make any bold claim to understand Islam as Muslims do. This attitude of scepticism exasperates some people, and perhaps rightly, but I increasingly think it’s the only honest stance. I take it not an injunction to silence, but as a word of caution: speak softly and speak carefully, my soul, lest you make a tit of yourself. Sadly the internet is not a good place for soft and careful speech, though at times the Anglican Church still can be.

    I disagree, Jonathan, with your attempt to separate Christianity and Judaism into legalistic and antinomian strands. I don’t think this argument really stacks up (especially in the case of Judaism, which – like Islam – tends to view the law as a sign of God’s Grace rather than in opposition to Grace). But if we’re going to argue about this then let us do so, rather than presenting 1400 years of Muslim theology as a straw-man for everything that’s wrong with the Church.

    Apologies for the ultra-long posting. And since this is my first time, may I say how much I enjoy your blog. And how pleased I am that for once your target is not the Welsh! 🙂 -A.

  50. Thanks, Alban. However, it’s not an attack on other streams of Christianity from my own (I do that elsewhere and a lot more often than I have a go at other faiths).

    I have studied the history of the eastern church and the church in North Africa and Spain under Muslim rule from academics who took your view of Islam. However, the figures involved in the persecution of Christians, the financial and social pressures laid upon Christians even in the most peaceful times, the military expansionism towards Europe before any European state even thought of attacking a Muslim state, and the fact that the worst persecutions, the greatest acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing, have been perpetrated on Christians by Muslims in the name of Islam in the last 100 years, led me to an independent conclusion from that of my tutors.

    I can only guess, as you say, at the motivation behind the violence obviously inherent in Islam. But the figures cannot be ignored unless one is determined to let one’s politics make you blind to the facts.

    Of course, if you are Jewish you would accuse Christian states of extreme cruelty. But we don’t persecute any other faith anymore. We have learned our lesson and now concentrate on persecuting each other. I think that we can claim to be a lot more enlightened in this respect than mainstream Islam and that we are within our rights to demand that Islam catch up with us (or, at least, stop burning down our churches and threatening to execute Christians all over the place).