Comparative Religion for the Modern Era

Comparative Religion for the Modern Era

What’s happening out there?  I’ve been slacking on my news intake lately.  It seems to go in waves – sometimes thirsting for it, other times exhausted by it.  I’ve been further annoyed that some of my favorite NPR programs keep talking about football.  If I wanted football, I’d listen to sports talk radio.  But, I digress.

I’ve been thinking about religion a lot lately, mostly since the San Bernadino shooting.  I happened to be in southern California when that shooting happened, spending a lot of time in a hotel room by myself, so I totally overdosed on the news surrounding that event.  I saw the early reports of three shooters, I saw the horrific scene of the black SUV that was shot up all to hell, and I saw what turned out to be two radicalized Muslims who, so we were told, were the masterminds behind the deaths of 14 people at a social services center.  I have seen reports recently that suggest that it was a setup, that the two Muslims we all now recognize were patsies, but I don’t want to get into that here.  I have so little knowledge of the ability for anyone to pull off something like that, I don’t even want to speculate.  I would like to avoid becoming a member of the Tin Hat Society for now.

Since that particular shooting, the anti-Muslim rhetoric in the US has reached ever-increasing heights thanks mostly to certain famous GOP presidential candidates.  In the wake of all this rhetoric, it occurred to me that I know basically nothing about Islam.  I don’t know anything about what Muslims believe.  So, what better time than now, what better place than here, to explore the subject, learn a little something about it, and share it with you guys.

Before I continue, I want to preface this by saying that I am not here to say anything about what we as a nation should or shouldn’t be doing with Muslims, or Syrian refugees, or whatever.  I am here to educate myself first, you guys next, and hopefully we can all come to our own conclusions, and hopefully more educated conclusions.  Maybe I’ll explore that a bit later, but for now I would like to stay as objective as possible.

In my research on Islam, the first thing that I noticed is that I got really bored.  I’m not gonna lie, I got totally bored.  But, I persevered, for my sake and yours.  The second thing I noticed is that there are a lot of similarities between Islam and Christianity; a LOT of them. Allow me to mention a few of those similarities.

Islam and Christianity both believe that –

  • There is one God, and only one. Islam, which began about 600 years after Christianity, believes that both are originated from the same God, but is itself something of an update.
  • The purpose of man is to worship God.
  • Their primary book (Quran or Bible) is the literal, divine word of God as revealed to His prophets. The Quran acknowledges the Bible as the literal, divine word of God also, though the Quran would override any conflicting passages in the Bible.
  • Angels are a real thing and subservient to God.
  • The world as we know it ends in a day of revelation and judgment, whereby “good” people go to “heaven” and “bad” people go to “hell.” A primary tenet of both religions is that non-belief in God is an immediate disqualification for being a “good” person.
  • Both allow for immediate forgiveness of any and all sins upon repentance.
  • A personal expression of belief in the One True God is the key to converting to both religions, as well as instant qualification as a “good” person worthy of “heaven”.
  • Prayer is direct and personal communication with God.
  • Eternal life is a thing. Except with Allah, he has the ability to end you at his discretion.  By extension of being omnipresent and omniscient, God probably does too, but to my knowledge the Bible does not expressly grant him this ability.
  • Disapprobation, or the willingness to condemn others on moral grounds. Some people of both religions take this idea further than others.
  • There are more variations than I can count. (Catholics, protestants, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, you get the idea.  Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Twelver Shias, Ahmaddiya, the Sevenrrs, Nizaris, Ismailis, and so on.)

Lots of similarities, right?  I was raised a Christian, so many of these features of Islam are familiar to me.  However, one prominent feature of Islam that is in direct contrast with Christianity is that Islamic law does not differentiate between church and government.  Jesus was quoted as saying, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; an unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).  Christians in America, for the most part, are willing to let their church be their church, and the government be their government, ne’er the twain shall meet.

The most obvious and difficult difference is the concept of Jihad.  This is certainly not a pillar of the Christian faith, though Christians throughout history have been involved in their share of wars and conquests.  Most modern Christians at least have rejected violence as a necessary part of their religious experience.

The literal definition of Jihad in Arabic is “to strive, to apply oneself, to struggle, to perservere.” [1]  The Quran refers to it in the context of struggling for God, or on His behalf.  In practice, for Muslims, the word has two meanings.  One is the “inner struggle,” the struggle to be more like God, and one is the “outer struggle,” the conquest of infidels.  There is a consensus among Islamic scholars that the outer struggle has always held a connotation of warfare against the enemy, the enemy being anyone who does not practice Islam.

This is where my research has ended for the time being.  I would like to leave you with someone else’s blog.  Sam Harris has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and is a vocal critic of Islamic extremists.  He believes, and I concur, that it is time we start calling a spade a spade and understand that beliefs drive behavior, and that some behaviors are not acceptable.

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/sleepwalking-toward-armageddon

I can’t say it any better than he already did.

And now, since I can’t help myself, a brief opinion or two:

There is a lot of “Us vs. Them” going on in America right now.  Republicans vs. Democrats, Christians vs. Muslims, Donald Trump vs. Rational Thought, and so on.  This could possibly be the most dangerous domestic threat we face.  It’s about time we stopped looking at our differences, and started focusing on our similarities, namely that we all live here, and for better or worse we’re all in this life together.  We need to start acting in ALL of our best interests, not just our own best interests.

I was wondering to myself the other day why one doesn’t hear more about Muslims denouncing their religion.  The truth is, there are those who have left and are leaving the Muslim religion, it’s just that we don’t hear about it because the Quran commands their death!  For leaving Christianity, I might get threatened with eternal hell fire, but at least not with murder.  I selfishly would like to see more Muslims denounce their religion for the intellectually stifling barbarity that it represents, as I have done with Christianity, but a vocal opposition is very unlikely considering the potential consequences.  However, some internet research has uncovered quite a few websites relating to life after Islam, so by that I am encouraged.

I hope you are all well.  See you next time.

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“They say there are strangers who threaten us
Our immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness too dangerous
In our theaters and bookstore shelves
Those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves

Quick to judge, quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice and fear
Walk hand in hand”

Rush – Witch Hunt (lyrics by Neil Peart)