The Quran and critical thinking

Irshad Manji: “I’m not a moderate Muslim. I’m a reformer.”

God, I admire this woman. Or, should I say, “Allah, I admire this woman”! So brave, so right-on.

The Quran contains three times as many verses calling on Muslims to engage in critical thinking rather than blind submission. And, in that sense, reformist Muslims are at least as authentic as the so-called moderates, and, quite frankly, usually more conservative.


anti-gay biblical interpretation is a choice, too

Good morning. Oh how nice it is to get a full night’s sleep. I feel so much better and even kind of looking forward to the day’s work — grading the first 23 or 24 of my students’ research papers.

But first my mind’s been spinning a bit about homosexuality and Christianity. My friend Chanel asked me to help her out with a paper she’s thinking of writing, more specifically with help arguing that Christianity is simply wrong when it condemns homosexual relationships. (Side note: her request was also kind of cool because her ideas for her paper actually coincide with some inchoate new ideas for my Charlotte Gilman paper. (I was writing on Gilman’s Herland. Now I’m probably going to move over to The Crux.)

Anyway! I made a list of the best books by biblical scholars and theologians supporting full inclusion and equality for gay Christians (I have only two books from a Jewish point of view and none yet from a Moslem view) to give to her.  I’ll probably post it later. It’s long.

I also looked for videos that could give Chanel a quick overview of the issues and the “clobber passages.”  Came across this one from a West Wing episode. I remember this.

I can’t help but love that. It’s a powerful scene. But I also can’t help but sigh and think… “Well, that’s good, but it ain’t gonna convince many anti-gay Christians.” It’s rather a straw-man argument. It just focuses on Leviticus. By leaving off the other “clobber” passages — in Genesis, Romans, Corinthians, Timothy, etc — at the most it would only put a dent in one-seventh or so of the argument that the bible condemns homosexual relationships.  It’s really Paul’s epistle to the Romans that’s the harder one to deal with. I think all of the other passages — they can be pretty easily interpreted as talking about non-consensual relationships or about something other than same-sex relations altogether. But Paul is a little harder to deal with.

I actually think that, in Romans 1 and 2, Paul is trying to get his (mainly Jewish) readers to realize their own arrogance and sin when they condemn “those pagans” and their horrible practices. (Here is theologian James Alison’s version of this argument.) But Paul’s thinking is just in general harder to deal with — if you are someone who values Paul’s views, of course. (If not, like the creator of this excellent video called “Homosexuality and Christianity,” you can just say “Paul is wrong,” and that solves the problem.)

Anyway! Where was I? Oh, just that I love this West Wing clip, but it’s kind of a straw-man argument. Or, it only address one facet of anti-gay biblical interpretation.

And finally, since I really gotta get to my day’s worth of grading, I just wanted to post this one quick thought, and make myself wait until tonight to say anymore.

It just occurred to me that we could see biblical interpretation the same way many religionists see homosexuality.

The anti-gay interpretation of scripture is the default interpretation, really. It’s the non-thinking interpretation. It is what has become the automatic assumption of centuries (though many passages that are used now to condemn homosexuality, for centuries were used to condemn other practice).  In other words, relatively few people come to the conclusion, after studying a pericope or book of scripture that homosexual relationships are abominations. Instead they start out with that assumption. Not that anti-gay or even semi-objective interpreters (though who really is objective?) don’t study the scripture and still come to the same conclusion. They do. NT Wright is a theologian whom I greatly admire,and who has studied the New Testament in the kind of depth that few on the planet over the centuries ever has or ever will, but who still thinks we are called to be at least highly skeptical of homosexual relationships. Wright is a notable exception to my rule. But the default interpretation of the “clobber” passages is that “homosexuality is a sin.”

So, it occurred to me to say to those who still interpret the scriptures the default way need to be reminded — maybe even preached to? — that interpretation is a choice.

The anti-gay religionists’ logic is this: “Homosexuality is a choice. Just because it’s automatic for you doesn’t mean it’s not a sin, and doesn’t mean you didn’t sin by choosing it.” Assumption / warrant: homosexuality is a sin.

But the same logic could be applied to back to those anti-gay religionists: “Anti-gay interpretation of the Bible is a choice. Just because it’s automatic for you doesn’t mean it’s not a sin, and doesn’t mean you didn’t sin by choosing it.” Assumption / warrant: homophobia is a sin.

Heheh, I like that. It works. It’s kind of an example of “reverse rhetoric.”

And now,  to grading…

70% of African-Americans voted to “eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry” (Prop 8)

After the elation of Tuesday night, the depression of this statistic I read last night:

As reported by the LA Times, exit polls find that seventy percent of African-American voters in California voted to “eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry.”

A lot of Obama/Yes-on-8 voters? The Associated Press exit polls show that African Americans and Latinos backed Proposition 8 in good numbers. Details here from AP:

California’s black and Latino voters, who turned out in droves for Barack Obama, also provided key support in favor of the state’s same-sex marriage ban. Seven in 10 black voters backed a successful ballot measure to overturn the California Supreme Court’s May decision allowing same-sex marriage, according to exit polls for The Associated Press.

More than half of Latino voters supported Proposition 8, while whites were split. Religious groups led the tightly organized campaign for the measure, and religious voters were decisive in getting it passed. Of the seven in 10 voters who described themselves as Christian, two-thirds backed the initiative. Married voters and voters with children strongly supported Proposition 8. Unmarried voters were heavily opposed.

— Shelby Grad

One commenter to the LA Times story said:

As a Canadian I am blown away that your neighbour can decide your human rights for you. That just would not fly here at all. An inclusive and human-rights based society is the only one that will survive. How oppressive is your nation!! I am so sad for you.

Yes, we’re sad for ourselves, too. But, of course, for anti-gay voters, Jax’s statement would simply beg the question as to whether marriage is a human right (for anyone and everyone, in other words).

But, yes… very sad. So when I read this post by Thomas on Feministe, entitled “No, We Can’t,” I had to say I felt the same pessimism:

We always know it’s wrong, and we always do it again. From the Trail of Tears to Korematsu to Gitmo, from the sellout of Reconstruction to the about-face on marriage equality, we so often do the wrong thing. We’re always sorry … after the fact. But so often when we’re at the point of doing the right thing, we turn our backs and do the wrong thing.

I keep writing “we.” I have to tell my children that we fail, that we do the wrong thing. This is a representative government; a whole polity. We is not the United States of Blue States. We rejected secession, and buried 660,000 people to make all of us live under the same Constitution. We are Massachusetts, but We are Mississippi. We are Washington, but We are Missouri. And today We are all California. And We failed.

No We can’t.

But, again, I’m that pessimistic not so so much because Prop 8 passed. I think I’m KIND OF used to the back and forth of these decisions / propositions related to gay issues, over the last ten years. But I’m pessimistic because a majority of African-American and Latino voters voted to “eliminate” some other group’s rights.  That is deeply depressing.

But then it all just reminds me how much persuasion on this issue will have to be based on ethical and/or religious grounds, not on civic or democratic grounds. Too many people simply do not respond to the “civil rights” argument. For them homosexuality, as one commenter to this LA Times story said, “is just not right.”  And another commentor said that analogies to the civil rights movement were “disingenuous.”

So obviously any attempt to sway voters will have to argue on the level of morality and religion. Swaying judges and legislators, I would hope, I would think, is another matter. But for voters, American voters — gotta argue that homosexuality “is right,” not “it is a right.”  Sounds a harder argument, but it’ll work much better in the end.

Religion is not inherently homophobic. Religion is a rich mix of conservative and liberal tendencies, of institutional and prophetic voices. Right now really only the former of those sides is mobilized and vocal. There is another side. Another voice. And it’s just as spiritually and theologically powerful. More so, I’d say.

passionately uninterested

So one of the last students I conferenced with today, Blake – as he was packing up to go, asked me what topics other students were doing (for their second paper, an argumentative research paper). When I mentioned that Ken is doing something on Islam, he said that he’d like to have researched something on religion because, as he said, “I grew up in the church, and I’m curious about a lot of it.” I remember half thinking, “Oh, that’s refreshing: someone who grew up in the church but whose reaction is one of interest, not dogmatism or atheism.”

Then, as I was walking home, I was thinking about some members of my family who are pretty rabidly political, passionate about a few issues and/or candidates but who are not interested in politics per se.

Now, of course, that combination (passionate about an issue, not about politics) is not surprising, I know, since politics is a means to an end, and only some people are interesting in the means (politics) itself. They want to use politics for other ends and that is really exactly what “politics” means – a means to an end.

But still… it occurred to me how there are people who are opinionated – about religion or about politics — but are not much interested in or curious about it. They don’t soften their surety with curiosity, the kind of curiosity that could lend some intellectual humility to the surety (I guess is what I mean).

But again, especially with politics, how can I expect differently? Most people who are passionate about political and social issues are not going to take up the study of political science [though don’t get me on that topic – cuz I think that field should be called “political art,” as there is no science to politics – it’s just that academics want to be scientists – gives ‘em more perceived credibility].

Anyway! I think I’m still saying that there is this difference: in one case, the passion is the controlling factor; in the other, the interest is the controlling (or at least the temperizing?) factor. And I find this little line of thinking interesting.

The opinionated person shows a lot of passion about and energy toward the topic, the issue (by dint of her strong opinions). And passion is usually a good thing, a thing that, one would think, ought to translate to curiosity. But it doesn’t always seem to. But one would think it would. I mean, how can one care so much about something and not be also interested in it? And if one is interested in something, how can one also not be at least slightly humble about it?

I mean, think about it: Love of something would doubtlessly lead to curiosity about it, right? And curiosity about something would doubtlessly lead to some humility about it (because one’s curiosity continually checks one’s surety, one’s conclusions – one is always wondering if maybe the conclusion isn’t the full story, for example). But this opinionated passion comes without accompanying curiosity sometimes for some reason. Well, sometimes people care, though, more about controlling a thing rather than being interested in it. Obviously.

Maybe that phenomenon is a kind of breakdown of our whole selves. I mean, we are emotional and intellectual [and spiritual] beings, and when those two temper (and inspire) each other, aren’t we more healthy? Isn’t society, isn’t community more healthy? And when one runs wild without the other, aren’t we weakened and less human?

Oooh, that’s a insightful-sounding way to conclude! ;) But seriously, I think it’s true.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m noticing just how morally healthy is intellectual curiosity. Or maybe! Maybe, like my response to arguments like “gays shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children,” [see my previous post] I’m just being subversive and hiding under intellectuality, when really I need to just be more passionate about things.

Or not. But one thing’s for sure. Sometimes I think too much. ;)

Happy Birthday, Rich Mullins (1955-1997)

Happy Birthday, Rich Mullins (1955-1997)! He would’ve been 53 today.  It seems facile to say he was/is “my favorite Christian musician,” but that’s what he was/is, by far. I thank him for many years of helping me focus on what’s important, leave the rest to drop off, and for inspiring me toward that work.

I’d have to pick “Calling Out Your Name” as my favorite song, though it’s hard to choose. I wish he’d done a professional video of it (like the one for The Color Green or My Brother’s Keeper or Here in America), but this one’s okaaaay…

Well the moon moved past Nebraska
And spilled laughter on them cold Dakota Hills
And angels danced on Jacob’s stairs
Yeah they danced on Jacob’s stairs
There is this silence in the Badlands
And over Kansas the whole universe was stilled
By the whisper of a prayer, the whisper of a prayer
And the single hawk bursts into flight
And in the east the whole horizon is in flames

Chorus: I feel thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And I hear the prairies calling out Your name

I can feel the earth tremble
Beneath the rumbling of the buffalo hooves
And the fury in the pheasant’s wings
And there’s fury in a pheasant’s wings
It tells me the Lord is in his temple
And there is still a faith that can make the mountains move
And a love that can make the heavens ring
And I’ve seen love make heaven ring
Where the sacred rivers meet
Beneath the shadow of the Keeper of the plains

From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever ’til you see
What time may never know, what time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope, to run wild with the hope
The hope that this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song not sung in vain

And I know this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song not sung in vain
I feel thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And with the prairies I am calling out Your name

This is quintessential Rich, at a concert:

Proof-texting is very very dangerous. I think if we were given the scriptures, it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the scriptures, it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us is just guessing.

And I love that part about Karl Barth saying he believed in God because of the Jews. And when asked what he meant, he said, “Well, find me a Hittite in New York City!” (6:10)

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Rich.  I miss your music — or the privilege of getting new music from you.

good news for Prossy Kakooza

Yay! Just got news that Prossy Kakooza has been granted asylum in the UK (see my previous post about her here). Here’s the message from the pastor of MCC Manchester:

Dear Friend,

You signed an online petition asking the UK Government to grant asylum to Ms Prossy Kakooza, a Ugandan Lesbian who had fled to the UK after enduring horrific treatement from the authorities and her family.

Prossy’s court case was heard on 5th September and we have been waiting for the result.  On Friday she was told three things: the judge ruled in her favour, the UK Home Office were not going to appeal against the judge’s decision and that Prossy had, therefore, been granted asylum in the UK!  She is allowed to live her on the same basis as any UK citizen for the next five years.  After that she can apply for indefinite leave to remain and take out British citizenship if she so wishes.  Full information is on our website.

Thank you the part you have played in this campaign – you have helped to change Prossy’s life forever.

With much love

Andy Braunston
Metropolitan Community Church of Manchester

And thanks to everyone else who did something to help (prayers, petition-signing, etc).

The Green Bible

I discovered this at Borders tonight — The Green Bible. And it’s a “green-letter” edition, aimed at marking not the words of Jesus in red, but all references to nature, to the earth, to the environment in green.  What a great idea.

At first, I thought, Oh, it’s sad that we even need a bible like this, that the biblical emphasis on the care of the land as well as its worth and sanctity has been lost sight of.  In the Old Testament, the land is spoken of as oppressed by the people’s sins and healed by their justice. Sabbaths and jubilees assign periods of rest for the land. In the New Testament, our hope is for a new heavens and a new earth, not a destroyed heavens and a destroyed earth. And the newness is not an ontological change. It’s a new universe where righteousness (justice) dwells. In other words, nature finally gets the perfect treatment it deserves.

Anyway, I am impressed with the quality of this bible — the paper, the print, the articles, the green-lettering, the indexes in the back. I’m going to order a copy myself. It’s kind of exciting, actually.

Hmmm, with a book as large and as complex as the Bible (really a collection of books), it’s not surprising there are so many “specialty” bibles which aim either to highlight a certain theme or aim at a certain audience. It’s a complex book begging to be made more graspable.  There are teen bibles, children’s bibles, men’s bibles, women’s bibles, Catholic Bibles, Reformation Bibles, life application bibles, counselors’ bibles. There is even a Rainbow Study Bible which uses several colors to highlight, say, the six or seven major themes of the bible (love, sin, growth, that kind of thing). Not to mention the multitude of English translations. And there are even sites like which allow users to custom-design their bible-reading schedule — e.g., all history, all wisdom, a mix of prophets and poetry, alternating gospel and torah, one day torah, next day history, next day prophets, etc etc. Plus, of course, the ability to custom-design the time to be taken — e.g, the gospels in a month, the psalms in a week, the whole bible in a year.

I don’t know where I’m going with these observations, but it’s an interesting textual phenomenon. One thing — I know I was never interested in other specialty bibles. Always seemed not necessary. But this one I’m excited about.