"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rethinking Idols

I started reading a new book today and from the very first chapter the author challenged my views on idols. I'd always pictured them a bit like this:


Or in more modern visuals: television viewing, a child or spouse, a prize-winning flower garden or any other thing or person - no matter how noble (e.g. a ministry "for the Lord!") - that took the place of God as number one in my life.


Yet after declaring that idols are not simply rocks or wooden carvings, author Debbie Blue states, "Idols are understandings we cling to that end up taking the place of God." (pg. 17) In many churches idols aren't statues, but "concepts and images and ideas and dogmas about God that [are] hard and fast and in no way open to negotiation." (pg. 16)

She also claims, "Reducing the unfathomably gracious, infinitely loving, sweet sublime to something we can grasp is the move of idolatry" (pg. 16), and "we can hardly speak about God without spitting out an idol every other second...Idols help us to order and categorize and calculate" (pg. 24).

The author claims that idols "make so much sense" in their abilities to "aid us, console us, and give us direction," that it's surprising the Bible is adamantly against idolatry!

Yet "Scripture devotes an enormous amount of time and space trying to derail it." Rather than it being "narrow-minded," "rigid," or "pagan-hating disapproval of certain rituals," she says, "I think it's an astounding revelation that however much idolatry seems to secure life, it actually diminishes it. It doesn't make life, it takes it. It may provide stability and orientation, but it is giving our lives to what is not alive. Idolatry is death." (pg. 21)





By contrast, "faith is not ordering our lives according to principles we can firmly grasp, it's being transformed in ways we probably don't even have any idea we need to be, by a living Other who is always outside our grasp - a God who is profoundly, wildly, radically, maybe practically unbearably alive. And we are created, sustained, and redeemed by our relationship with the living God, not by our valiant and sometimes beautiful and sometimes violent and horrible attempts to make order or meaning or to control or comprehend. We are redeemed by the love of God."





"It's not the things (systems, ideologies, ideas) we are attached to that will give us life, save us, redeem us, but the love of the living God." (pg.23)

Thoughts? Do you agree with the author's idea that our religious dogmas, ideas and such can be idols? Why or why not?

--------------------------------------------------

And although this is not exactly related to this particular post, I found this picture while looking for photos and immediately thought of someone I know -- my "Jesus hugger" friend! See, I dedicated a picture to you! :-)



You have to see the comments on this post to understand.

Quotes by Debbie Blue in From Stone to Living Word

39 comments:

Lat said...

Beautiful pic of 'Jesus hugger'! :) Loved it!

Will comment more later.

Susanne said...

Isn't it cute? :D I'm glad you liked it!

Suroor said...

Aww, OK, I forgive you :P

Love the picture. That is exactly how it will be, God willing!!! *gushing*

Wafa' said...

"concepts and images and ideas and dogmas about God that [are] hard and fast and in no way open to negotiation."
i agree completely with the writer.
here we can not even discuss things about Islam because to many people they are too sacred.Nothing is allowed to be discussed.
They are our idols. Idols and not only the statues or wooden ones that are taking humanity back but our idols of ideas and beliefs, and many more things.

"It's not the things (systems, ideologies, ideas) we are attached to that will give us life, save us, redeem us, but the love of the living God."
well-said.

I guess i will enjoy reading this book, i will add it to my list.

And oh what a beautiful picture.Is not Jesus great :)

Suroor said...

Susanne, I totally agree with the author. It is amazing because just last night I was reading about Buddha and he had the exact same views about life and idols and how they actually diminish our understanding of the world.

"concepts and images and ideas and dogmas about God that [are] hard and fast and in no way open to negotiation."

That is why a popular writer once called Islam "idolatry Islam" because there is such great focus on Muhammad and HOW God wants us to behave and WHAT he wants from us right down to men must sit and pee.

I think this:

When you believe in a Force that is unseen and unknown, you WILL try and make effort and succeed in this life because it's all psychological - you can't *see* the force spurring you. You are attached to that Force but it is not *felt*.

When you are attached to idols, it is more selfish. You either want those idols to intervene for you (wooden or stone dolls), or you are intervening for them (spouse/child/prized garden/job). In the case of the latter you put those idols ahead of the Force and forget that those idols have come from that Force. In the case of statues, we become somewhat lazy and relaxed when we can see them and touch them and so when we pray to them for intervention we begin to believe that their intervention would be as real as their physical existence. I can recall the incident when Mecca was conquered by Muhammad and Abu Sufyan reluctantly accepted Islam and claimed when all his idols ditched him, Allah must be the greatest.

Interesting!

BTW, one thing Muslims have always blamed Christians for is that they claim Christians idolize Jesus and in that way have moved away from worshiping the one God. What you think about that claim?

Do you think that like the Hindus who believe in God's several incarnations and creating idols for each incarnation so they can pray to the idols, that Christians too have done that albeit with only one incarnation?

sarah said...

Susanne, I agree with what the author has written. In Islam also the same concept exists - anything which takes you away from worshipping one God is an idol. Even culture, tradition, etc.

I think people who believe that Muslims 'worship' Muhammad have misunderstood the purpose of following his example. It clearly states in the Quran that Muhammad is a man like us and not a diety or even a part of diety. Following his example is seen as a good deed but faith in him alone without good action is not sufficient for salvation.

I think culturally for many Muslims it is difficult for them to see people praying to saints or to see statues in Church because it is beyond the realms of their experience of practice. They see a statue - they think it is an idol.

As for Suroor's point that Muslims believe that Christians have gone away from worshipping one God to worshipping Jesus - I would argue that this is not just the case of Christianity. There are mnay religions where the founder or the founding ideas have evolved to be where that concept/person themselves becomes worshipped. This is the nature of religious evolution perhaps?

Out of interest, would a Bhuddist be said to worshi[ Bhudda? Is he believed to be a diety?

Suroor said...

Sarah, Some Buddhists do worship Buddha. Buddhists don't have dogma about God; there is no compulsion to believe in a God. Instead what is encouraged is reflection and contemplation. If two Buddhists contemplate and one of them reaches the conclusion that there is a God, and another concludes that there is no God, both will remain Buddhists and will be welcomed by the Faith. Some Buddhists have concluded that Buddha was God incarnated which is also accepted. Buddhist dogma is only love, compassion and tolerance towards each other and the universe around us. The only time a Buddhist will think another is not Buddhist is when the latter harms another human being, an animal or nature.

I also think many religions begin to idolise humans and even nature. But I was referring specifically to the Muslim claim about Christians because that is mush discussed in the Quran and even by contemporary Muslims. Muslims are not much bothered by Hindus or Buddhists and the like; they are no threat; not even an issue. It is the People of the Book who are time and again taught that they are not superior to Muslims. Every Jewish convert to Islam vehemently denies the Quranic claim that Jews ever worshiped Ezra; yet there are ample ahadith on it too. Somehow there is an emphasis that every religion of the world, even if overtly monotheistic, is not as pure as Islam. But like even Wafa said, Muslims have their own idols.

I read a quote once "When you knock, ask to see God - none of the servants." Yet, we have saints and masters and mureeds, and intercessor and even dua asking the Prophet to intercede for us.

Sarah said...

Everything is idols. We have 5 senses and we build mental pictures about what reality is like based on what those senses tell us. Those senses are our only window through which to perceive reality. The only thing we can know for sure is that we exist. Everything else is inferred from the information that comes through our senses. Inferred means that we are not seeing it directly, therefore it is an idol - a constructed concept. How could it be any different?

sarah said...

Suroor, thanks for that useful information.I do agree with the points you made at the end. I know that Muslims do 'worship' at shrines and pray to saints. And yes the main point is to worship God, not the prophets.

As for Islam claiming to be 'better'. From my personal undertsanding I think that the Quran preaches that there is truth in the 'Book' and that people following that can lead towards God. Islam is not the only way to reach God. BUT as for the actual text, the text of the Quran has not been changed. (I don't believe in abrogation) whereas the text of other religions has not been preserved in the same manner.

However, even if someone were to accept this as true, even that does not mean that by reading the Quran they will be superior in knowledge of God to people of other faiths. Neither has this preservation of the text prevented people from holding false ideas or interpretations.

As for the issue of Ezzra, someone once said to me that this was not a particular view of all Jews but that it was specific to the Medina area. An evidence given for support of this was that there is no report of a Jew at the time complaining that this claim was false which they must have done if it were wrong.

Why does the Quran mention Jesus so much? Perhaps because his teachings have so many good qualities and his example is so beneficial for mankind, with the exception (from a Muslim perspective) that he became worshipped as a deity.

Amber said...

"concepts and images and ideas and dogmas about God that [are] hard and fast and in no way open to negotiation."

Anything can be an idol if it is placed as more important in your life than God. But, what makes me uncomfortable with this author, so far, is this quote. If we start rejecting dogmas and theology about God because it's an 'idol', what are we left with? Warm fuzzy feelings towards a creative force? We would be left with no revelation. No commandments. No anything. Because once you start, where do you stop?

Communion? Idol. Baptism? Idol. Christ? Idol. Resurrection? Idol. Crucifixion? Idol. Incarnation? Idol. The image of God as our Father? Idol. A 'personal relationship'? Out of the question with a force that we cannot imagine or think about for fear that our images will become idols! If we allow ourselves no concepts, images, ideas, or dogmas about God, we might as well not even bother to think about God at all. Humanity only understands abstracts through comparing them to concrete things. We cannot contemplate God *without* resorting to imagery and metaphor. *pft*

Suroor said...

Sarah, I too don’t believe in abrogation. That was interesting to hear from you. However, when I mentioned that to my tutor she insisted that abrogation was an established fact in early Islam. She gave several examples some of which seemed really dodgy (like stoning – goat having eaten the new verse regarding stoning for adultery); but the one example that intrigued me was that the Prophet was prohibited from marrying again in 5 AH (some insist it was 7 AH like M. Asad who too didn’t believe in abrogation) but he continued to marry until his death (his last marriage was not consummated). My tutor believes that the later verse actually abrogates the former verse on prohibition! If there is no abrogation then it seems there are contradictions which is worse.

I too have heard that only a small group worshipped Ezra and Quran’s use of the general term “Jews” gives the impression that it was widespread. However, much as I would hate to admit, I think Islamic history is extremely biased. Even if Jews had complained against this claim, I doubt if it would have ever been recorded :)

“Why does the Quran mention Jesus so much?” – IMHO Jesus’ deity also created political tensions. Many major states that were powerful at that time had Christianity overpowering every other belief. The heathens were particularly accepting Christianity and so were the Jews who were becoming Nazarenes. Quran reflects the beliefs of the Nazarenes most closely. However, these were being overpowered by Trinitarians who were gaining power and wealth. From Palestine to Africa, Christianity was the force, while Yemen, India, and Oman were controlled by heathen tribes which were far easier to control and overpower.

sarah said...

Suroor, interesting comments. My main issue with abroagtion is how people know which verses are abrogated. Do they ust come across an apparent contradiction and then explain it by abrogation? Did the prophet specify which verses were now obsolete? Do all people agreee universally on which verses are abrogated? I think the only contradictions occur when people misunderstand or interpret the context/meaning.

I didn't know the point about the wives. I thought the prophet did not marry after the verses in surah 33 which were about 9A.H. Can the commentators be exact about the dating of the injunction? I thought many of the dating was either Mecca or Medina but that it was harder to be exact after that.

I also see your point about political tensions but I don't think that is the reason why jesus is mentioned so often. It may also have been because Jesus was the previous prophet in that line (according to the Quran) and Muhammad is viewed as the continuation of the prophethood.
Political tensions have existed at the advent of many prophets and often the appearence of a prophet brings further tensions. This was the fear of the clerics of the Sanhedran - that Jesus by making his claim in the Temple would prompt a war with the Romans and bring bloodshed. When a new alligiance with a prophet is formed it always calls into question the current chain of authority.

Susanne said...

Suroor, thanks for your forgiveness. :-D



Wafa', Christians often discuss things, but still some of us cling to our dogmas/concepts/ideas and maybe they have taken the place of God. I found what the author said interesting and a great possibility. I like running these things by my readers to see what perspectives and feedback they have on things I am reading. I'm so glad you shared yours!

I take it you are not one of those who believes Islam should never be discussed. Thanks much for your comment! I'm glad you liked the picture. :)

Susanne said...

Suroor, how neat that you were reading similar things about Buddha. Oh, your "idolatry Islam" example seems very relevant. I have a couple more posts from this author...her first two chapters had a lot of good stuff. Not saying that I agree with everything, but it was wild enough that I wanted to copy her words here to see what you all think. It's often good to challenge our minds and ideas in case we are in ruts. At the same time, I am cautious of throwing out everything so ... I like to see others' thoughts. Glad you shared yours as always.

"you can't *see* the force spurring you. You are attached to that Force but it is not *felt*."

Hmmm, you need to read the last post about "love is almost like reverse idolatry." Tell me what you think of it. :)

I enjoyed your examples of idols ahead of the Force and also the idols intervening...interesting stuff!

"BTW, one thing Muslims have always blamed Christians for is that they claim Christians idolize Jesus and in that way have moved away from worshiping the one God. What you think about that claim?"

Good question! I think Jesus IS the One true God so why not follow and worship Him? If I didn't believe He were God, I would not worship a mere man. I don't worship Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist or my own father. Jesus is Emmanuel which means "God with us." But I can see why they/you would say what you said about the Hindus, sort of. I didn't realize they thought the One true God incarnated Himself in many ways...hmmmm.

Thanks for your thought-provoking comment!

Susanne said...

Sarah, I always enjoy your comments!

" Following his example is seen as a good deed but faith in him alone without good action is not sufficient for salvation."

Do you think Muslims have wrongly - not worshiped - but idolized Muhammad? Almost making HIM bigger than life and perhaps put following HIM over worship of God? Or do you honestly not see that? You are Muslim and around them so I respect your thoughts on that.

"I think culturally for many Muslims it is difficult for them to see people praying to saints or to see statues in Church because it is beyond the realms of their experience of practice. They see a statue - they think it is an idol."

Honestly I can get that, too. I'm not Catholic or Orthodox so we don't pray to saints nor do we have statues in churches. I've come to a better understanding of these practices thanks to Amber and another devout Catholic friend in Ottawa, and it makes more sense to me now. However, without those ladies helping me understand, I would also find it a bit "difficult" since it's not part of my own experiences.

Thanks again for your comments! Always great to read your feedback. :)

Susanne said...

Suroor, thanks for answering the Buddha question! I learned from it. :)

"Every Jewish convert to Islam vehemently denies the Quranic claim that Jews ever worshiped Ezra; yet there are ample ahadith on it too. "

So do the Jewish converts think the Quran is wrong on this? Surely not.

Susanne said...

Original Sarah, thanks for your scientific answer on idols!! :-) Really glad to see you. Be sure to read the post where I mentioned you as we discussed on FB recently! ;)

"The only thing we can know for sure is that we exist."

I have a Muslim friend who is currently in London. I remember one time we were chatting via IM and he made me laugh when he said maybe we were all part of some cosmic video game and this life isn't for real. Your sentence there made me remember Louai's thoughts and want to ask you, "Are you SURE?" ;)


I appreciate your thoughts - thank you!

Susanne said...

Sarah, while in Damascus, I went to three different mosques - one Sunni, one Shiite, one Sufi and all three had shrines in them. I found that odd since I didn't realize Muslims were big on praying near dead people's graves. Some were even crying nearby.

"Why does the Quran mention Jesus so much? "

I honestly was disappointed that the Quran didn't say more about Jesus and his teachings. It was all so superficial stuff and as one who has grown up with the Gospels, I felt like I was having to eat table scraps rather than a nice, juicy steak. There was just mentioning of Jesus, but none of his teachings. He was only defensive, it seems, about not being co-equal with God. I found the Quran lacking much in this area if I am honest. It spoke much more about Moses and of course Muhammad not being a madman/poet/sorcerer.

Susanne said...

Amber, I am so glad you chimed in on this topic! I have to tell you, I don't know what this lady has ended up, but she started out in a fundamentalist Baptist church in Indiana. (I know, I know...I hear your groan and thoughts of "no wonder...she's scarred for life.") Her husband is "Buddhist-leaning" and her sister "Eastern Orthodox" so they are all over the place. She seemingly rejects the dogmas, creeds, ideas, concepts of her upbringing so, yeah, I didn't really know how to take her, but I was wanting to hear other points of view so I kept on reading....annnnnnd posted these notes for everyone's critique.

"If we start rejecting dogmas and theology about God because it's an 'idol', what are we left with? Warm fuzzy feelings towards a creative force? We would be left with no revelation. No commandments. No anything. Because once you start, where do you stop?"

I'm nearly finished the book now and -- please read the post on "love" -- and I see she really is a lot about those "warm fuzzy feelings towards a creative force" and while I like many things she is saying, I also have a very difficult time with some of it. So, trust me, I feel your pain. :-D Or should I say your "Pft." ;) I have a current post with her thoughts on love and relationship. Give it a read and let me know your thoughts. Also I will post maybe 2 more things with her thoughts on inspiration and also the rabbis' interpretations. I just found some of it interesting enough to share with someone! Thanks for being one of those someones! :) I always value your input.

Susanne said...

Suroor, I'm pretty sure I read a Quranic verse that did support abrogation. *thinking*


Wow, I've enjoyed all these great comments! Thank you all very very much! Lots of good stuff to consider! :)

I'd love for all of you to read the current post if you are interested. It's more from the same author who is now trying to explain the "reverse" of idolatry. So ...

sarah said...

Susanne, interesting replies.

As per Jesus in the Quran, I think it does not give the detailed aspects of his ministry because essentially a Muslim would say that his preeching and experience (being rejected by many of his peers) follows the universal pattern of prophethood which is described.

My father is a convert to Islam but has spent much time studying religion esp. Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I think because of his knowledge of these three he has ideas that there are many mentions of Jesus in the Quran but many are allegorical and unless you understand the symbolism you will miss the point.

As for Muslims worshipping Muhammad, when we pray we never pray to Muhammad (or should not). We pray that God blesses Muhammad and his people. Anyone who prays directly to Muhammad (there may well be some) are comitting idolatry. Muhammad was only the messanger - not the originator of the message.

Perhaps it is human nature to deify prophets and that is why the declaration of belief is that 'There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His servent and messenger'. This is not only to glorify Muhammad but also to stop people confusing him as a deity.

I think that any Muslim that thinks they will go to heaven just because they believe in Muhammad as a prophet has not understood their religion correctly! If they believe this they hsave crossed the line from admiration into adulation.

Suroor said...

Sarah, a couple of years ago I came to the conclusion that all religions are great and essentially teach the same things. Now I also don’t think that God writes books. I believed otherwise for much of my life. However, I think He inspires people in the sense that He is omnipotent and omnipresent so anything we do is known to Him and comes from Him and in that sense we are all inspired by God all the time. Some of us are better at explaining what is right and what is wrong and we do a good job at teaching and understanding God’s inspired goodness. Such people become ‘prophets.’
I believe prophets came with a religious message but they worked in societies and some of them were influenced by their socio-political situations more than the others but that they all influenced politics, economy and sociology of their communities. So I totally agree with your point that religions are attached to politics. I am currently writings something on the politics of Christ so even he had a political message. I think out of all the prophets the most involved in politics was Muhammad which is not a bad thing at all; just an observation.

Susanne, do you remember I sent a link to you once of a blog where people were comparing Christianity with Hinduism? That is where the idea came from that I asked. Since I have studied both religions a little bit, I am aware of major differences between the two. Both do believe in incarnations of God but there are differences between that concept.

Yes, there is a verse in the Quran that says that when Allah wants He can make a verse forgotten or replaced by a better verse. Abrogation is there.

Amber said...

Susanne,

'she started out in a fundamentalist Baptist church in Indiana. (I know, I know...I hear your groan and thoughts of "no wonder...she's scarred for life.")'

*snort* You know me too well. But to be honest, it's more the 'fundamentalist' than the 'Baptist' that makes me think that thought. :)

Susanne said...

Amber, *laughing*

:-D

Hey, wait to you see the post I am writing now! ARGH!!!!!!!!!!! A former Southern Baptist....his book is huge headdesk moments..over and over and over and over.

But, I didn't turn out so bad, did I? *bats eyelashes with pure innocence*

sarah said...

Suroor,
I have to say that I agree with all that you have said - with the exception about God writing the Quran. But what you said about the truth of all religions I definately agree with. Abrogation is mentioned in the Quran but not about the Quran itself but it is speaking about the pettern of revelation in general. Whatever is forgotten will be revived.

About the message of Christ and perhaps Susanne will have a more informed opinion, I don't think that his message was political in its nature. As far as I understand he was preaching principles of good worship but it had political ramifications because it challenged the status quo of the Jews and threatened the position of their heiracrhy. Also, traditionally the messiah was expected to be someone whose coming would bring war (with the Romans?) and also challenge the secular authority as the followers of Christ's message would have had an allegiance to him first, not to the state in power at the time.

Would that be an accurate assumption?

Suroor said...

Sarah,

The ramification of turn the other cheek and love your enemy can be political even if the message is not, but I feel the message was beyond just religious to begin with. I think it is the greatest, most beautiful, most sublime political message that ever existed. If only more people had realised the political message in it we wouldn't have had so many crusades to deal with which were clearly anti the message of Jesus. I also think that his *arrest* and persecution is enough evidence that he had begun to step on political toes like you also mention.

But other than that Matthew 22:15-22 and Luke 23:1-2 are quite openly political. However, I do think Jesus main concern was not an earthly kingdom but the Kingdom of God which is why I think he is superlative.

Lat said...

"I think it's an astounding revelation that however much idolatry seems to secure life, it actually diminishes it. It doesn't make life, it takes it. It may provide stability and orientation, but it is giving our lives to what is not alive. Idolatry is death." (pg. 21)

Liked this quote.It's the illusion the idoli gives and the Ultimate Reality ,when it comes,takes it away.And then you're left with what?

A very big question that some of us are trying to find.Very interesting book.

Susanne said...

Sarah, thanks for your follow-up reply.

" I think because of his knowledge of these three he has ideas that there are many mentions of Jesus in the Quran but many are allegorical and unless you understand the symbolism you will miss the point."

Oh, I didn't say Jesus wasn't MENTIONED just that none of his teachings were. Moses, Abraham, Lot and Jesus were *mentioned* several times in symbolic and out-and-out ways, but not very many of their teachings or life lessons are provided. That's sad to me since so few Muslims seem to study the Bible to see what lessons are there.

"We pray that God blesses Muhammad and his people"

I don't understand why it's necessary to pray for God to bless a dead person. Aren't we judged on what we did in our lives? How can your prayers make a difference if God is just (meaning we rise and fall on our own deeds during our lifetimes)? I don't get that contradiction.

"Perhaps it is human nature to deify prophets and that is why the declaration of belief is that 'There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His servent and messenger'. This is not only to glorify Muhammad but also to stop people confusing him as a deity."

Oh, now that's a good thought....hmmm. Yes, maybe it was more to show that Muhammad was ONLY a man/servant/messenger moreso than always having to tag his name along with God. The glorifying Muhammad is annoying, but reminding me he is only human makes some sense.

"I think that any Muslim that thinks they will go to heaven just because they believe in Muhammad as a prophet has not understood their religion correctly! If they believe this they hsave crossed the line from admiration into adulation."

Yes, I agree. That's a good point. Thanks much for your great comment!

Susanne said...

Suroor,

"I am currently writings something on the politics of Christ so even he had a political message."

Ooooo, I'm eager to read your thoughts on that.

"Yes, there is a verse in the Quran that says that when Allah wants He can make a verse forgotten or replaced by a better verse. Abrogation is there."

I thought I'd read one, but questioned that when Sarah said she didn't believe in abrogation. Thanks for letting me know it was there, in fact.


Oh and now I read Sarah's thoughts on that mentioning of abrogation in the Quran....hmmmmmmm.

Susanne said...

Sarah, hopefully we can discuss Christ's political message when Suroor writes her post. I'm eager to read her thoughts on that. What you said about the Messiah's arrival sounds like what I've always heard. The Jews expected a deliverer (a Saladin type perhaps -- that's how I put it into Middle Eastern terms for my Syrian friend) to rescue them from the oppressive Romans yet here came Jesus with this crazy message of loving your enemies, going the extra mile and turning the other cheek! How do you overcome oppressive occupiers with a message like that?!

So, yeah, a lot of them didn't like this weird message nor the weirder "prophet" who brought it yet they couldn't help but see the followers of Jesus. They wanted to get rid of him so tried to set it up as if he were wanting to be "king" and therefore a threat to Rome. Even Pilate didn't find fault with Jesus, but gave in to the Jewish demands figuring there must be SOME reason these people wanted to crucify this so-called "king of the Jews." I find it all rather intriguing.

If you read the Gospels and realize Jesus DID come to save the Jews, however, it was a salvation from themselves - their own sins (the sick need a Physician not the whole), you realize Jesus indeed was a Savior-Messiah because God knew first we needed spiritual salvation. Eternal salvation is more important than political salvation. This is why Chinese Christians can be persecuted in prisons for their faith, yet still say with conviction that they are FREE. They know true freedom doesn't depend on whether you live in a communist society or a libertarian, democratic, dictatorship, monarchy...whatever. True freedom comes from within, actually from GOD. Many people in our "free" societies are not free at all. They are bound in the bondage of sin - drug, alcohol, sex addictions, brokenness, split families. They may have freedom of speech and two million dollars in the bank, but they aren't truly free. Jesus says the ones the Son sets free are free indeed. This is why the truly free are those who have been set free of sin's bondage and can walk in freedom to do what God enables them to do.

Seems this topic excites me enough to keep me talking...oops! :-)

Susanne said...

Lat, thank you! I'm glad you found that quote thought-provoking. I did as well!

sarah said...

Susanne,
I think what you wrote about the mission of Christ is more or less what I was trying to express but perhaps not very well. Christ was more concerned with 'winning' souls than with any political gains. Perhaps this is what I meant to say. Also there is a great contrast in that Christ did not fight any wars and prophet Muhammad did. It seems that these same wars (which I would see as defensive) continue to be a bone of contention for Muslims and non Muslims even today. It raised the question for me of should a prophet fight a wordly war when his mission is to appeal to people's souls?

I agree that the Quran has far fewer accounts of the actual content of Christ's teachings but the main points (for me) are there and the events of his life. Essentially I would say that he was preaching the same core fundamentals of all faiths, worship God and be good to humanity. But if anything the lack of detail should prompt Muslims to take an interest in the Bible but sadly too few (including myself!) study it in any depth.

As for praying for a dead person. Muslims believe that you can graduate through levels of heaven after death and where you start from is not the finishing point. It is believed that even Hell will be empty one day so there must be some upward movement. This comes from the perspective that hell is not eternal and that knowledge of God can be gained in the afterlife. That's essentially why we pray for people who have passed away.

Suroor said...

Susanne, do you think Jesus tried to shape some politics as well?

I think he was remarkable. The Mennonites (Sufis of Christianity! Haha!) are evidence that Jesus stance on non-violent politics is possible. I seriously doubt that if Jesus had ever decided to retaliate that he would not have found support from his followers. It would have meant defeat, but I'm certain if he had decided to defend himself (he knew he'd be killed) there would have been people who would have supported his self-defense efforts. But he didn't and in that way he becomes the greatest for me.

Sarah (sorry for poking my nose in your comment to Susanne) you said, "It raised the question for me of should a prophet fight a wordly war when his mission is to appeal to people's souls?"

My thoughts exactly! :)

sarah said...

Suroor,
After thinking it over I think that I have come to the conclusion that this mixing of spiritual and earthly kingdoms in the case of prophet Muhammad was in order to establish the religion as it was a new religion with a previous following of nil.

Jesus was in the position of preeching to a people about the scriptures already with them and he was highlighting their errors but not bringing something entirely new. Similarly Moses brought the covenant to an already existing group of people, he did not need to attract followers from every fold.

But prophet Muhammad was brining a message for all mankind and open for everyone. From the very first days of his preaching there was massive and violent opposition and had he not established some foundation in the community then it may have disappeared altogether after his death. Also it was a sign of his being truthful that despite all their efforts the opponents were not able to stop his religion being founded.

I do as you say very much admire Christ for the beauty of his teachings and the many good values they encourage us to inculcate in our behaviour.

Susanne said...

Sarah, great follow-up thoughts again....thank you!

"Essentially I would say that he was preaching the same core fundamentals of all faiths, worship God and be good to humanity."

Yes, but I think Jesus took it a step further. The Law said "love your neighbor" but Jesus expounded upon the word "neighbor" to include even your enemies! Which was kind of radical for the Jews, I think. (And, sadly, I do NOT see the same in the Quran at all.) So that's why I think his teachings need to be studied. It's not just a vague give to charity, be nice to your parents although those things are fine and well and good and discussed to some degree.

"As for praying for a dead person. Muslims believe that you can graduate through levels of heaven after death and where you start from is not the finishing point. It is believed that even Hell will be empty one day so there must be some upward movement. This comes from the perspective that hell is not eternal and that knowledge of God can be gained in the afterlife. That's essentially why we pray for people who have passed away."

Wow, I did not know that! How interesting indeed! I'd actually like something like this to be true (hell emptying as you said.) So Muslims can pray for people to what? find the truth in the afterlife? Thank you for sharing that - intriguing!

Susanne said...

Suroor, hmmmm, I've never thought of whether Jesus tried to SHAPE politics, but I do think he demonstrated how one could be free and joyful and at peace/content even under an oppressive regime. :) Again, he knew if one was spiritually free, he was truly free. People can be free politically and be all tied up/in bondage/chained otherwise.

"It would have meant defeat, but I'm certain if he had decided to defend himself (he knew he'd be killed) there would have been people who would have supported his self-defense efforts."

Well, when Jesus was betrayed by Judas, Peter did try to defend Jesus and cut the ear off one of the soldiers. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and healed the man's ear. So, yeah, he wasn't out to defend himself. If you read the account of Jesus' trial and compare it to Isaiah 53

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

see whole chapter here -- http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isa%2053%20&version=NIV

you can see why we think this chapter speaks of Jesus. He was innocent of any wrongdoing yet didn't defend himself.

I always loved this passage from I Peter 2

19For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22"He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth." 23When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.


Enjoyed your thoughts - thanks. Mennonite Sufis! ;)

Susanne said...

Sarah, interesting thoughts...

"From the very first days of his preaching there was massive and violent opposition and had he not established some foundation in the community then it may have disappeared altogether after his death. Also it was a sign of his being truthful that despite all their efforts the opponents were not able to stop his religion being founded."

I actually prefer a religion that comes in peace and allows people to choose -- without threat of "convert or else" -- than ones that spread by violence. Violence seems so human when we don't get our ways, but a religion that comes with goodness and peace and a message of love even to those who oppose is radical. ANYONE can spread something by force-- helloooooo American wars to spread "democracy in the Middle East." But wouldn't it be so much better if we spread our American ideals by goodness and love and peace? How much more should something from God be spread this way? That's how I think of it. Anyone can spread things by force -- look at America as we continue to try our hand at this.

Suroor said...

Yesterday I was reading something I wrote three years ago about Abraham sacrificing his son and how I had justified it back then. I think now that the human mind is extremely good at justification. If we truly believe in something we can justify it somehow; the basis has to belief, though, and belief is not always objective.

I don’t mind wars, personally. All heads of states have done it at some level. Biblical prophets who were kings also waged wars. I mind the raids which I have not been able to justify to myself. I know people justify those too but I haven’t found the argument historically appealing or even correct. I also think that Biblical prophets who waged wars were already kings and were not *made* kings.

Secondly, I think it is possible to bring a new message without bloodshed – examples are Abraham and even Moses. Moses may have come to the people with a covenant but his message came to an errant people who while being in the covenant had moved away from the Path much like the Arabs believed the heathens of pre-Islamic Arabia had done by forgetting the message of Abraham. I do think though that these prophets were not out there to start a new faction or religion whereas in the case of Islam there was always this idea from the beginning that there would be a separate group/faction/religious movement – early Muslims experimented with a couple of names for themselves and their movement before settling for *Islam* and *Muslim*. Moses didn’t start Judaism. Jesus didn’t begin Christianity. Religious men who came with a new message but were not starting a new *system* or faction were always peaceful – Jesus, Buddha, Guru Nanak, Confucius, Bahaullah, Zoroaster, and even Mirza Ahmed were not men who divided people into factions and started movements. They were philosophers, thinkers and preachers. I think that is a major difference.

Plus, not everyone was uniformly heathen in Arabia. There were hanifs, and Jews, and Christians, but the treatment from Muslims towards all who objected to the message was the same. So I can understand war against polytheists but I can’t understand killing of monotheists.

I grew up learning that all Muslim wars were in self-defense; most of my early twenties were spent justifying early wars. Then when I grew up and read Islamic history by *Muslim scholars* I learned the bitter truth that it was not the case. The first war was fought because Meccans were tired of being raided and their goods looted and hence they sent out troops to defend their caravans. Reza Aslan, as a Muslim, was even able to justify the raids saying that it was to provoke Meccans to finally fight and conquer Mecca!

Historically, it is also quite evident that Muslims actually didn’t face “massive and violent opposition” from the beginning; early historians like Tabari and Ibn Ishaq, as well as contemporary writers like Aslan and Armstrong and even Watts write that the Meccans only grew violent when Muhammad began disparaging their gods and they decided to kill him only when he yelled at them near the Kaaba that he had brought nothing but death for them.

I wanted to say something that Susanne already said before me. I think war is comparatively easier. It needs resources and planning and it may bring death but meeting aggression with love is mentally draining :) I agree with Susanne that human beings are programmed to turn around and yell back.

Susanne said...

Suroor, I'd like to read how you justified Abraham's near sacrifice three years ago. I'm assuming you've changed your mind since then. :)

Yes, I know there is justification for some wars. We couldn't let Hitler keep on taking over the world and exterminating people he disliked. My friend justified the raids by saying the Muslims were only taking back what had been stolen from them. Is that an argument you've heard too?

" Moses may have come to the people with a covenant but his message came to an errant people who while being in the covenant had moved away from the Path much like the Arabs believed the heathens of pre-Islamic Arabia had done by forgetting the message of Abraham."

Yes, that's a good point about Moses. Interesting thoughts about people who started a new religion vs. those who did not.

" I think war is comparatively easier. It needs resources and planning and it may bring death but meeting aggression with love is mentally draining :) I agree with Susanne that human beings are programmed to turn around and yell back. "

Ha, ha! I'm laughing at "mentally draining." My pastor said the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, etc) shouldn't be a struggle. He said when we walk closely with God, HE enables us (powers us so to speak) to live this way. So it's not that we are biting our tongues or making great effort to rein in our natural reactions, rather that God lives through us so His ways automatically come out. My pastor likens it to a fruit tree. It is rooted and naturally produces peaches or oranges or bananas or apples. When we are "rooted" in God, the Power Source, we naturally produce these traits. Maybe then it wouldn't be so mentally draining. ;)

For sure I agree that we are programed to fight back! For sure!

Thanks for your comment again!