Where will you be my darling? Where will you be when the dark is rising?
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
So lately, I've been reading a lot of books (as usual). But I'm reading a lot more than I usually do, for some reason. I'm even taking a few minutes during work to read some e-books. Shhh. Lol.
And they're not storybooks. I realize I haven't read a full storybook in a really long time! It's been Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Satanic or atheistic material nearly all the time. And news articles, columns and humour websites. Anyhoo, it seems that all my reading is for learning, and while that is very nice, I'd also like to read some fictional books regularly too, because I feel like I'm missing out on a lot of storylines and material that'd be very interesting too. But yeah =/.
So, my most recent books I've read in this past month are Misquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted, The Case for the Real Jesus, My Jesus Year and Islam Unveiled. Yes, I realize that's a lot of "Jesus" typed there in the titles. The first three books deal with Jesus and His words, and the manuscripts of the Bible. Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Interrupted are both by New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman. Apparently he's highly respected in the field of New Testament studies. Reading his book, I can understand why. He brings up a lot of cases where the text of the Bible supposedly isn't accurate, full of contradictions and mistakes on part of the authors of the gospels. It was a very interesting read. He used to be a Christian until he entered seminary and answered a question with much reasoning and thought. The examiner simply wrote on his paper "Maybe Mark just made a mistake?" and this led him to take the Bible as full of errors, although an important part of scholarship and literature. At the time he wrote the book he was no longer a Christian. His second book expands more from his previous book, and explicitly states that it was never the fact that the Bible was riddled with errors which caused him to stop being a Christian. It was the world so full of suffering that he couldn't handle, and gave up believing there was a God. He mentions several times that he knows Christians who are much smarter and better educated than him who have no problems believing the Bible is full of errors, but are still devout Christians in their churches, and that he used to be one of them, until the fact of suffering was too obvious for him. Reading his book brought quite a shock to me, as he brought up many cases that were legitimate, and I could not answer well, despite reading so much. Also, the guy has credentials and is a leading scholar in his field. He knows his stuff.
Which is why I laughed when I read The Case for the Real Jesus, written by Lee Strobel. It deals mainly with the matters of defending the traditional view of Jesus, in light of all the New Age and spiritual stuff that people have done to Jesus. I didn't know when I began reading it, that two sections of the book deal heavily with matters that Bart Ehrman wrote. And one particular chapter deals almost entirely with his book, explaining away Bart Ehrman's cases and using various evidences and sources to argue against Ehrman's arguments and critiques. Also interesting to find out was Bart D. Ehrman's father-mentor was actually Bruce M. Metzger. Funny thing is Bruce Metzger was interviewed by Lee Strobel for an earlier book, where Metzger defends the accuracy of the gospels! Metzger talks about the wealth of New Testament manuscripts available, and how they've been accurately passed down over time and the defence of the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as the traditional view of Jesus. I found it extremely ironic that Ehrman, who's book talks about the errors and corruptions in the Bible, had Metzger as his mentor, who defended biblical accuracy and veracity. Either way, it was a very good read, and it helped deal with a lot of the arguments Ehrman brought up, which initially caught me off guard.
My Jesus Year is a funny book by a Jew, Benyamin Cohen, who has been feeling dissatisfaction of attending synagogue services which feel empty to him. He notices that churches all around have so many, devout, happy members, some numbering in the tens of thousands, and he wonders what are the Jews missing that the Christians have? Believing that somehow going to church will make him a better Jew, he goes church hopping, to Pentecostal churches, megachurches, Episcopal churches and the like, and even an army base service. He meets various people, several who are like him, who find a closer connection to Judaism through Christianity. One of the most interesting ones that surprised me was the co-founder of the Gospel Music Channel is actually a Jew. He's a devout Jew who asked his rabbi whether it was right for a Jew to work in a job that actively spread Christianity and his message. And his rabbi said there was no problem. Not to mention he found that he was doing a very fulfilling job that helps a lot of spiritual seekers and Christians, teaching good values regardless of religious belief. And that was something that Cohen could easily resonate with.
Perhaps the most controversial book I've read this month has been Islam Unveiled. It's written by Robert Spencer, a prominent critic of Islam. Hence, naturally, the book won't talk favourably of Islam. I haven't been really familiar with Spencer's work, but after reading his book, I think I'm quite a fan. He brings up a lot of very sensitive topics in his book, such as the role of women in Islam, whether Jihad is only an inner spiritual struggle, and questioning the Qur'an. I discovered a lot of disturbing facts, like a group of students threw their lecturer out of their school window because their lecturer talked of the Qur'an coming down to us through a process, instead of having an outright divine origin. Also disturbing was that when the USA had the 9/11 attacks, Muslims all over the world rejoiced, most notably in Palestine. Many of the imams that George Bush invited to a ceremony regarding the 9/11 attacks were also prominent in their criticisms of what would happen to the US. Irony. It also speaks of Jihad and admits that while the inner struggle of jihad is doctrine, and is a greater jihad, there is no verse that forbids the violent jihad to non-believers. From the Qur'an and hadiths themselves, Muslims are told to be the best people to their brethren, but to kill infidels and apostates. People who convert to other religions from Islam are to be put to death. It's all part of the religion. Another section that surprised me was how to report rape. Reliance of the Traveller, which is a highly regarded text (all over the Islamic world) on how to live an Islamic life and over jurisprudence, states that rape requires four male witnesses, or else the rapist cannot be charged. Seriously? And also from the Qur'an itself “Call in two male witnesses from among you, but if two men cannot be found, then one man and two women whom you judge fit to act as witnesses; so that if either of them commit an error, the other will remember” (Sura 2:282). Women's testimony are only worth half as much as men. So, what... you need 8 women to report a rape? And of those four good men who report a rape... what are they doing watching it and not helping?
Other stuff I've been reading that I don't quite agree with are strange parts such as Sura 9:30 "The Jews say, "Ezra is the son of Allah"; and the Christians say, "The Messiah is the son of Allah." That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before [them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded?" Jews never, ever claimed God had a son, especially Ezra of all people, a minor prophet. They considered God having a son blasphemous. Another case I read was about this Jew who verbally harassed the prophet Muhammad, and a follower of his asked whether he would like him to kill him for the prophet. The prophet said "yes" and he proceeded to kill him. I've also read up on the Uthman redactions of the Qur'an, of Mary in the Trinity and finally reading the whole story of Muhammad marrying that child. And it's not one-sided. I've delved into Muslim apologetics to see their defences for these issues, and so far, I'm really not impressed in the slightest, with exception to the passing down of the Qur'an, which I see defended excellently. Here's an excerpt describing the child-bride incident.
Narrated Aisha: My marriage (wedding) contract with the Prophet was written when I was a girl of six (years). [Apparently three years then elapsed.] . . . My mother, Umm Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became normal, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari [recent Muslim converts] women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Messenger came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age. At this point, according to the best Muslim sources, the Prophet was a little over fifty. This marriage at least could have been politically motivated, as Nasr maintains. Muhammad may have married Aisha to cement the loyalty of her father, who was his principal disciple and who had earlier agreed to give Aisha’s hand in marriage to a pagan. Even if that were his only reason to take his child bride, However, surely he could have waited until Aisha was older to consummate the marriage. But Bukhari reports: “Narrated Urwa: ‘The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).’” Of course, this was not unusual by the prevailing standards. Muslims in Muhammad’s day thought nothing of marrying girls who had just begun menstruating—and even girls who had not yet reached that point. Indeed, this practice was common enough that, after the Qur’an instructs that a man must wait three months before divorcing a wife who has ceased menstruating (in order to make sure she isn’t pregnant), there is this additional command: “The same shall apply to those who have not yet menstruated” (Sura 65:4). Those who have not yet menstruated! One may imagine that the prospects of a prepubescent divorcee would have been rather dim. Problems arise when behavior like this is abstracted from its historical context and proposed as a paradigm for human behavior in all times and places.
That last sentence sums what I think.
I'm not trying to piss off Muslims here. A lot of my close friends are Muslims. And I know that most of my Muslim friends are ordinary people who have no thought of killing others or being pedophiles. However, if I see someone believe in Nazism, or Mormonism, I'll be concerned for him (not myself), even if he's a nice guy. Same thing here, with what I've learned. It's the theology, not the people. It's just that these are legitimate cases that I've brought up from what I learned in the book. I've had the same with difficult Christian doctrines and troubling verses before, and even then there aren't satisfactory answers for every single objection to Christianity. Robert Spencer concludes in his book that the early Muslims were a people very willing to learn from other people (like mosque domes were actually inspired by church domes) and were experts at science and philosophy until the fanatics won over. And until they can find a way for them to theologically explain these difficult verses in a way that allows for peace, he says they are something that need to be watched.