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Mixed gender prayer today, hellfire tomorrow
March 19, 2005 9:53 PM   Subscribe

Amina Wadud has stirred up controversy before. But this time, some think she's gone too far when she led the (Muslim) Friday prayer at a church in NY (mosques wouldn't take them, and an art gallery backed off after a bomb threat). Traditionalists are foaming, while progressives are cheering here on.
posted by sour cream (54 comments total)

 
Hey, cool! I never realized the Muslim church was going through the same spasms about women clerics as the mainstream "Christian" churches. Indeed, didn't the RC church undergo a bit of a schism a decade or two ago on this very issue?

Over in Vancouver, BC, the Sikh community had shitfits when the progressives brought in chairs. The traditionalists were insisting that it was a blasphemy. The two sides actually came to physical blows over it.

Religion. It's the great untier!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:49 PM on March 19, 2005


From the "controversy" link:

Breaking the ultimate taboo in the Muslim narrative, she stated that despite the fact the Qur’an explicitly asks for cutting off the hands of thieves, she did not agree with the Qur’an...

...she declared that she could not intellectually or spiritually accept some things in the Qur'an, for example some of the hudud punishments like the cutting of hands or the permission to beat one's wife. She made it clear that she was denying neither the religion nor the revelation. "It is the Qur'an," she said, "that gives me the means to say no to the Qur'an."


What an idiot.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:59 PM on March 19, 2005


What's idiotic? The idea that a text could encourage its own questioning? That some might find the hudud punishments mentioned unacceptable?

Seem like pretty reasonable ideas to me.
posted by freebird at 11:38 PM on March 19, 2005


No matter how blasphemous she was, it bothers me that
there was a bomb threat at a venue. Angry phone calls or
packed protesters are sufficient.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:41 PM on March 19, 2005


Hey, cool! I never realized the Muslim church was going through the same spasms about women clerics as the mainstream "Christian" churches.

fff, yes, that's what I thought.
There's one big difference, though: Since there's no separation of church (or mosque) and state in Islamic countries (save Turkey), an attack on the (perceived) order of Islam equals (in the eyes of the believers at least) an attack on the very foundations of society. That's why women preachers in the West barely make the local news whereas cases like this easily make the national news in the Arab world.
posted by sour cream at 11:59 PM on March 19, 2005


Indeed, didn't the RC church undergo a bit of a schism a decade or two ago on this very issue?
By RC, I assume you mean Roman Catholic? And if so, only things I can think of is a) Pope JPII saying woman becoming Priests is dogmatic and not even the choice of the Pope, ie God already made it and b) Both females and males can now act as altar servers (up until ~10 years ago, only males could). And neither of these caused a particularly interesting schism (I personally think the next great Roman Catholic schism will be over gay Priests, but that's a whole different topic).
posted by jmd82 at 12:03 AM on March 20, 2005


What's idiotic?

She joins a "club" based on an ancient set of rules. Then she says she doesn't like some of the rules. Here’s a tip: start your own freakin' club, then!!!

But she won't do that, will she? Coz if she does that then her giant sized ego will suffer coz she won't get as much attention when she tries to stir the pot.

100% unadulterated idiot.

Same goes for any religion that has rules where people want to be members but don't want to live by the rules. All of them hypocrites or idiots.

It's one of the main reasons why I'm not a member of a religious group: stupid rules.

(What made it XXtra idiotic and pathetic was that she said the rule book gave her permission to disobey the rule book!!! I reckon that bit must be somewhere towards the back of the rule book. )
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:04 AM on March 20, 2005


Hey, cool! I never realized the Muslim church was going through the same spasms about women clerics as the mainstream "Christian" churches.

There was also mention of some Muslims disliking "nigger Muslims" in the first link of the main post. Not that I think that that's cool or anything. Just interesting.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:07 AM on March 20, 2005


UH: It's not a "club," it's a culture which rules large swaths of the Earth, and demands all inhabitants obey its rules. The only hope of change is either from within or through war. This makes her not an idiot, but incredibly brave. Bravo. And hers is a voice which finds many ears; many, many Muslims find the conservative teachings increasingly unpalatable.

In terms of religious history, it is not unheard of to simply reject tenets of a religion as unreasonable and demand change. Jesus did it, and we don't call him an idiot. (well, maybe trolls do.)
posted by mek at 12:10 AM on March 20, 2005


And Jesus started his own club, yes?

Touche.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:15 AM on March 20, 2005


And Jesus started his own club, yes?

Touche.


I'd point out how much you reveal of your deep ignorance in what Jesus was trying to accomplish, as opposed to what his later followers made of his teachings, but you're far too busy shouting your hip disaffected attitude at the top of your lungs. Bravo I say, now go take your cool points elsewhere and let the grownups have a conversation.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:47 AM on March 20, 2005


Then she says she doesn't like some of the rules

Every religion on earth has had splinter groups that broke off because someone didn't like some of the "ancient rules," as well as internal debates that resulted in significant changes to those rules. How is Amina Wadud an "idiot" for engaging in a process that's probably characterized every long-lasting human organization in history?

What possible purpose is served, uncanny hengeman, by insulting an extremely brave and thoughtful woman who's part of a movement that might work to reduce inter-religious conflict in our lifetimes?
posted by mediareport at 12:48 AM on March 20, 2005


And Jesus started his own club, yes?

By actively undermining the old one. Which is what you condemn as "idiotic." So which is it? The Bible is the holy text of many different "clubs," and teaching it in a different way, as Jesus did, does not make one an "idiot," apparently - though maybe it does make one Christian a fool in the eyes of all the other sects. But this is not a judgement of rationality at any rate. Christians do to the Old Testament what Amina Wadud dares to do to the Qur'an, and we don't call them idiots for it.

So is Amina trying to be in the same "club" while changing the rules? Let's see: she's in a seperate building, in a faraway country, with a unique congregation. The text is the same, but as we've seen, that means nothing, as each of these holy books is parent to many religions, each with very different beliefs and moralities.

I'm voting your analogy off the island. You seem to believe that "Islam" is a single unified religion. Which is tragically ignorant. What's happening here is akin to Catholics issuing bomb threats to United Church members for defying Catholic doctrine. Actually, it's quite the historical parralel to the old dominance of the Catholic Church... but now, we generally accept freedom of religion to be a good thing. Generally, as here the debate is clearly still raging.

At any rate, thanks for playing devil's advocate so we can get the crap out of the way and move on to a discussion.
posted by mek at 12:50 AM on March 20, 2005


There was also mention of some Muslims disliking "nigger Muslims" in the first link of the main post. Not that I think that that's cool or anything. Just interesting.

What you didn't think there could be racism inside Muslim society? Remember most black muslims were initially forced converts under slavery. If there's racism in Christian society with a slavery past (ie USA) you can bet a whole lot there's racism in Muslim society's with a slavery past (and in some countries like Niger and I've heard rumours of slavery in Saudi Arabia, a present).
posted by PenDevil at 12:57 AM on March 20, 2005


Oh crap, I said "at any rate" twice. I'm having myself dragged out and shot now.
posted by mek at 1:06 AM on March 20, 2005


I especially like Muslims explaining why Muslim nations are the worst idea ever, then CNN changes the text on their page to remove the quote from "Nussrah" about how (I'm paraphrasing here) "in a Muslim nation she would be ripped into pieces".

On the one hand I think its great when my enemies give me ammunition to use against them. As a liberal I find that Islamic fanatics are much more my enemies than US conservatives or Christian fanatics; if only because they have the power that Christian fanatics wish they had. On the other hand its damn scarey when people say shit like that.

Also, what's up with CNN dropping the meat from Nussrah's quote? All they have left from him now is the beginning of his rant "She is tarnishing the whole Islamic faith," but they dropped off all the bits about how in a proper Islamic nation she'd be killed in nasty ways.
posted by sotonohito at 4:55 AM on March 20, 2005


I really shouldn't comment on these threads… but sometimes I just can't help myself.

mediareport: What possible purpose is served, uncanny hengeman, by insulting an extremely brave and thoughtful woman who's part of a movement that might work to reduce inter-religious conflict in our lifetimes?

Is that how you see it?! Ha. I see it as a case of her going "Look at me everyone, I'm rocking the boat!. Pay attention to meeee!"

This is what I believe her true motivation to be and I'd ask that you be tolerant of my beliefs.


mek: By actively undermining the old one. Which is what you condemn as "idiotic." So which is it?

Neither. What I said above. It's all about her ego.


mek: Christians do to the Old Testament what Amina Wadud dares to do to the Qur'an, and we don't call them idiots for it.

Shit, I do. See that bit in italics in my post where I said any religion? Obviously not. I also note that you've tellingly (and strangely) sprung to the tired old "Christians do it toooo" defence. Goodwinesque in my book.


OK grownups. I've had my say. You can continue your discussion about Amina Wadud and how she wants some goofy rules changed in a goofy set of beliefs called a religion. You can also get into the nitty gritty and laff at me and discuss how Islam isn't a single religion. Go for your lives.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:11 AM on March 20, 2005


Actually, Islam has a pretty long history of racial and religious tolerance in many parts of the world, allowing small communities of diverse peoples to thrive under Islam.
Black Muslims weren't converted to Islam during slavery; they mostly converted in the mid-20th Century.
What's wrong now is the very lack of separation between "church and state" mentioned above, and the sense that, since Mohammad was the final prophet, there is no room for change or reform. There's no way to make changes or go off to the side and practice the faith in an individual way because the person doing so will be accused of heresy and be answerable to the community and the state.
posted by etaoin at 5:50 AM on March 20, 2005


For anyone wanting a more scholarly look at Amina's actions, altmuslim — an absolutely amazing site in and of itself — has a wonderful critique of the argument for woman-led Friday prayers, that features some interesting insight into how the issue is playing out in the Muslim community.
posted by silusGROK at 6:23 AM on March 20, 2005


Islam has a pretty long history of racial and religious tolerance in many parts of the world

Too bad so many have worked to reverse it in the last fifty years.
posted by dhoyt at 6:29 AM on March 20, 2005


Black Muslims weren't converted to Islam during slavery; they mostly converted in the mid-20th Century.

You're misunderstanding PenDevil. He's talking about African Muslims, not African American Muslims.

What's wrong now is the very lack of separation between "church and state" mentioned above, and the sense that, since Mohammad was the final prophet, there is no room for change or reform.

Which can be chalked up largely to Wahhabism, the rise of which is chiefly a phenomenon of the Twentieth Century. There are other currents in Islam, such as Sufism, which is much more latitudinarian. We ought to be paying more attention to the Sufis.

BTW, etaoin, I love your user name
posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:33 AM on March 20, 2005



She joins a "club" based on an ancient set of rules. Then she says she doesn't like some of the rules. Here’s a tip: start your own freakin' club, then!!!


club? what an idiot!
posted by quonsar at 6:39 AM on March 20, 2005


Look at me everyone, I'm rocking the boat!. Pay attention to meeee!"

we see things not as they are, but as we are.
posted by quonsar at 6:42 AM on March 20, 2005


Ah yes. Nutty religious people running themselves in circles around their nutty rules. Always worth reminding ourselves just how widespread the problem is. I wonder if I can get that Sam Harris book at Barnes and Noble today?
posted by Decani at 6:43 AM on March 20, 2005


An excellent read is her 1999 book, Qu'ran and Woman:

"Qu'ran and Woman contributes a gender inclusive reading to one of the most fundamental disciplines in Islamic thought, Qu'ranic exegesis. Wadud breaks down specific texts and key words which have been used to limit women's public and private role, even to justify violence toward Muslim women, revealing that their original meaning and context defy such interpretations. What her analysis clarifies is the lack of gender bias, precedence, or prejudice in the essential language of the Qur'an."
posted by izizi at 6:47 AM on March 20, 2005


quonsar : " we see things not as they are, but as we are."

So someone who says "Hitler was a wonderful person" is a wonderful person?
posted by Bugbread at 6:55 AM on March 20, 2005


quonsar has it right.

bugbread: a twisted sick fuck is wonderful- I aspire to twisted sick fuckness.
posted by pointilist at 8:13 AM on March 20, 2005


This is interesting. I like her, but this strikes me entirely as the wrong way to go about this.

First: why was this held in an Episcopal church? Did the Episcopals get tired of driving normal Christians to the African Mission churches through other means, and decide it might be profitable to open up a side-line holding Muslim prayers, too? Wasn't there a stadium, or a conference center, or a hotel, or even a house available where this could be done? As someone who loves and respects Islam and Christianity, I can't but feel as though this thing was aimed from the start at angering as many people as possible at one time through disrespect. Yes, it was horrible that the previous site-- an art gallery-- recieved a bomb threat, but moving it to a church, to me, was a wrong and unnecessary move. I'll bet the Episcopals, being almost a new branch of the Unitarian church, jumped at the chance to offer their services, but this woman should have turned them down.

Second, this is entirely the wrong way to do what this woman wants to accomplish. The reciter of prayers in a Muslim prayer service doesn't have any political, social, or other power, and he shouldn't; it's not a position of power. It's merely pragmatic; he serves a function. This is somewhat like demanding that little girls be allowed to be altar boys in Catholic churches; she'd get a lot further if she spent her time helping Muslim women learn about philosophy and literature and giving them a more public role in society; which, handily enough, can be done within orthodox channels, and without rejecting any of the Quran.

Third, it should be considered that maybe the scholars quoted at the end of the CNN article, and especially Sheik Sayed Tantawi, are right. The separation of men and women in Islamic services, as at Jewish services, is not a separation based on power, but on practical reality. The argument which the Talmud (along with Sayed Tantawi) seems to make is that it is due to an inherent weakness on the part of men with regard to the bodies of women that their central presence in worship is forbidden. Worship should never turn into the simple ogling of another person; this is what they fear. Are they right to fear? Maybe.

Women need to be given broader roles in Islam, now more than ever before. They ought to have more public say in the direction of the community, and they ought to be given access to more education. But this controvery-seeking stuff, while it has good intentions, will not help. Men will have to learn to have to sacrifice some of their selfish pride for their own good and the good of the women by whose lives they live; it will be difficult to prise this selfishness from their clenched fists, and pissing them off first will not help to do the job.
posted by koeselitz at 9:11 AM on March 20, 2005 [1 favorite]


Oh, and on preview, Slithy_Tove writes, "We ought to be paying more attention to the Sufis."

I agree. But note this as well: Shi'ism in general has always contained a lot of the better impulses of Sufism: an emphasis on the spirit and on love, for example. It has also, historically, been party to some of the more egalitarian societies of the last thousand years, societies where Jews, Muslims, and Christians were allowed to live and work side by side. I think there's room for a lot of hopefulness about the future of Islam; Wahhabism is a trend that began to die with Khomeini.
posted by koeselitz at 9:21 AM on March 20, 2005


Here’s a tip: start your own freakin' club, then!!!

Tell that to all those women living in theocratic Islamic nations. It sure sounds like it's a simple matter of choice for them.

I wonder who the real idiot is here.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:42 AM on March 20, 2005


Look at me everyone, I'm rocking the boat!. Pay attention to meeee!

Yes, you've rocked the boat and received the attention you so desperately seek. Enough, now.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:54 AM on March 20, 2005


uncanny hengeman : "Here’s a tip: start your own freakin' club, then!!!"

Krrrlson : "Tell that to all those women living in theocratic Islamic nations. It sure sounds like it's a simple matter of choice for them."

Huh? I can't figure out what you mean...Are you saying that this person leading Muslim prayers within an existing sect is more beneficial than starting a new sect because women in theocratic Islamic nations can't start their own sects? What's the connection?

I don't know if I agree or disagree with you, because I can't really understand what you're saying.
posted by Bugbread at 10:03 AM on March 20, 2005


Islam has a pretty long history of racial and religious tolerance in many parts of the world

Too bad so many have worked to reverse it in the last fifty years.
posted by dhoyt at 9:29 AM EST


Yes! Damn that CIA! :-)
------------------------
Seems fundies will be fundies whatever the belief structure they work under. Ask Falwell what he thinks of women in the pulpit.
posted by nofundy at 10:14 AM on March 20, 2005


nofundy I absolutely love the way you can bring everything back to your username. I was waiting for you to jump in on this.

Islam has a pretty long history of racial and religious tolerance in many parts of the world


As for the whole, "Black africans were muslim slaves" thing - I thought that Islam was successful in Africa because it was accommodating and helped facilitate trade between African tribal states? Not because Muslims were down there scoopin' up slaves. Please, someone with a greater understanding of African history sound off on this.

On topic:I say kudos to her. This is the sort of thing that breaks the ice. Now we can get down to the healing.

TungstenChef: Right on.

Uncanny Hengemen: I'm disturbed and slightly put off by your comments. Religion is not a "club." The NRA is a club. My grandma's wednesday bridge group is a club.
Religion is powerful societal force that reveals God's presence in all that we do.
It is so powerful, so encompassing, it seeks to destroy just as it seeks to build. And you cannot escape religion by opting-out of a "club." Take our good friend (in honest respect) nofundy. He (or she, but somehow I get the impression that it's a he) speaks out regularly against fundamentalism. If this were a religious message board I would think it was because he was a UCC advocate who had secretly infiltrated the ranks. But no, perhaps it is because he has knowledge that fundamentalism is dangerously wrong, and that it will lead to bad things. He has faith that his predictions of the dangers of fundamentalism are valid.
"That's different, he's seen fundies do their worst."
Certainly! And I've seen God provide me with a house, a happy family, and healthy parents! I base my predictions of the future on my faith.
So, I hope you can believe me when I tell you that religion is much more than a "club". There are several books written on this topic, I would recommend anything by Spong.

*readies his flame-retardent battle suit*
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:33 AM on March 20, 2005


Religion is powerful societal force that reveals God's presence in all that we do. It is so powerful, so encompassing, it seeks to destroy just as it seeks to build. And you cannot escape religion by opting-out of a "club."

Yeah, every day I have to deal with Hindus on the street yelling at me for eating a hamburger at McDonald's, listen to political pundits and politicians (funded by millions upon millions of tax-exempt dollars) quoting the Wiccan Rede on national TV, watch my kid's football team being forced perform a tribal dance to the Wolf Spirit before their school games, and read the tenets of Confucianism that have been posted on the walls of the courtroom when I go in to pay off a stupid parking ticket. "Religion" is truly everywhere and an all-encompassing societal force.
posted by DaShiv at 12:39 PM on March 20, 2005


Baby_Balrog : " Religion is powerful societal force"

Ok, with you so far (though it really depends on the society).

"that reveals God's presence in all that we do."

Disagree.

"It is so powerful"

Depends where you live.

"so encompassing"

From my experience, that seems fairly true.

"it seeks to destroy just as it seeks to build"

Where does this anthropomorphizing come from, all of a sudden? It doesn't "seek" to do anything, any more than my chair "seeks" to be sat on.

"And you cannot escape religion by opting-out of a 'club.'"

Nope. You can move. And have nonreligious friends. That takes care of the majority of it.
posted by Bugbread at 12:45 PM on March 20, 2005


Bugbread: I apologize for the anthropomorphizing. I suppose I was waxing poetic for a moment there. Rather, I should say, religiously motivated individuals seek to destroy / rebuild, etc.

However, your assertion that you can escape religion by opting-out is misplaced.

Oh, wait. Maybe you can move. Of course. That's what you meant. You weren't trying to tell the majority of the people on this planet to move to Europe and hang out with atheists.

DaShiv: wtf? Good for you. At least you aren't a woman impacted by religious lobbyists seeking to take away your reproductive rights, or a young black muslim man in Detroit, detained by the FBI because his Xtian tennis coach heard him speaking "Muslim." Whatever. Keep you head in the sand. Those religious folk over there can't do anything to mess up your civil rights.

Forget about it. Let's just go on ignoring the impact religion has on social policy and the way people treat each other and hopefully, some day, it'll all just go away.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:55 PM on March 20, 2005


Cheers to Wadud, but a lady like Ayaan Hirsi Ali took it one step further: rejecting fundamental Islam altogether and declaring herself agnostic. She's also done plenty to speak out against honor killings, though her comments about Mohammed have offended plenty.

->The theme of injustice toward women in Islamic countries has become common in the West, but it has gained fresh currency through Ms. Hirsi Ali's European perspective, her study of Dutch immigrants and her own life. Born in Mogadishu, she grew up a typical Muslim girl in Somalia. When she was 5, she underwent the "cruel ritual," as she called it, of genital cutting. When her father, a Somali opposition politician, had to flee the country's political troubles, the family went to Saudi Arabia, where, she said, she was kept veiled and, much of the time, indoors.

At 22, her father forced her to marry a distant cousin, a man she had never seen. But a friend helped her to escape and she finally obtained political asylum in the Netherlands.

She was shocked when, as a university student, she held a job as an interpreter for Dutch immigration and social workers and discovered hidden "suffering on a terrible scale" among Muslim women even in the Netherlands. She entered safe houses for women and girls, most of them Turkish and Moroccan immigrants, who had run away from domestic violence or forced marriages. Many had secret abortions.



Many Muslims don't like what she has to say:
Then Ms. Hirsi Ali, 32, began receiving hate mail, anonymous messages calling her a traitor to Islam and a slut. On several Web sites, other Muslims said she deserved to be knifed and shot. Explicit death threats by telephone soon followed. The police told her to change homes and the mayor of Amsterdam sent bodyguards. She tried living in hiding. Finally, last month, she became a refugee again, fleeing the Netherlands.

"I had to speak up," she said, in a telephone interview from her hiding place, "because most spokesmen for Muslims are men and they deny or belittle the enormous problems of Muslim women locked up in their Dutch homes."

Then Ms. Hirsi Ali, 32, began receiving hate mail, anonymous messages calling her a traitor to Islam and a slut. On several Web sites, other Muslims said she deserved to be knifed and shot. Explicit death threats by telephone soon followed. The police told her to change homes and the mayor of Amsterdam sent bodyguards. She tried living in hiding. Finally, last month, she became a refugee again, fleeing the Netherlands.


See the movie she almost completed with Theo Van Gogh.

Like Salman Rushdie, Ali now lives in hiding for her efforts.
posted by dhoyt at 2:11 PM on March 20, 2005


Baby_Balrog : "Rather, I should say, religiously motivated individuals seek to destroy / rebuild, etc."

Agreed.

Baby_Balrog: "However, your assertion that you can escape religion by opting-out is misplaced.

"Oh, wait. Maybe you can move. Of course. That's what you meant."

Right. I took your post to mean "noone can escape religion", and I was just saying "religion can be escaped". If you meant "not everyone can escape religion", then I fully agree.
posted by Bugbread at 2:27 PM on March 20, 2005


I don't think I was advocating for ignoring the impact of "religion" -- or to be more consistent with your usage of the term, Christanity. I think I was pretty clear in illustrating its encroachment upon the public sphere in the United States. Issues like school prayer and the displaying the Ten Commandments in the courtroom are patenty ridiculous when applied to other religions, aren't they? Wouldn't it be nice if there actually was a separation of church and state in the U.S. so we don't continue to encourage these "social policy" flareups, and instead strived to keep people's personal religious convictions, well, personal instead of public?

"Religion is powerful societal force that reveals God's presence in all that we do." is a statement about your own Christian beliefs, a statement that doesn't characterize religion at all for the many Americans who don't worship the Abrahamic God -- polytheists (predominant among immigrants from certain countries), meditationalists (various New Age faiths popular among urbanites), ancestor worshippers (very strong in Asian-American communities), Native American religions, and so on. The problem for these other religious people is precisely attitudes like yours. It's easy for Christians to escape from other religions in this country, but statements like yours show that the problem isn't that people can't "escape" from religion -- they're perfectly happy with their own -- but rather that many have a hard time escaping from yours when you presume to speak about what religion is and what role it should have in our society, all conveniently defined according your own Christian terms.

The surest way to be fair to religions -- all religions -- is to reinforce the longstanding separation between church and state. (And before you get too literal, 'church' is a metonymy for religions in general.) Because yes, people should have the choice to "opt-out" to protect their own religions, at the very least.
posted by DaShiv at 3:03 PM on March 20, 2005


DaShiv : "ancestor worshippers (very strong in Asian-American communities)"

I'm curious about this: within my limited sphere of knowledge (Japan and Korea), ancestor "worship" is really too strong a term (it would be the equivalent of saying Christians practiced "angel worship"). Are there Asian countries that really practice "ancestor worship", in the sense of worshipping ancestors?
posted by Bugbread at 3:06 PM on March 20, 2005


I put "club" in inverted commas for a reason. I am a little bemused by the number of people that went on a rant about the literal meaning of the word.

I picked it up from a religious leader by the name of Bob Santamaria. He was a little bit before my time, but he was a reasonably powerful man in Oz politics - a household name, no less.

In an interview just before his death, he was expressing his annoyance at how the younger generation wanted to change some of the rules of the church to suit their lifestyle.

"You're either in the club, or you're not in the club" was one of the things he said.

So thanks for the all the semantics, people. Thanks for letting me know the use of the word disturbed you. But I feel pretty safe in quoting such a respected religious leader, and then putting the word in inverted commas just to be safe. I mean… really.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 3:28 PM on March 20, 2005


DaShiv:
"Religion is powerful societal force that reveals God's presence in all that we do." is a statement about your own Christian beliefs

all conveniently defined according your own Christian terms.

The problem for these other religious people is precisely attitudes like yours

I'm puzzled:
What in the world led you to believe that I'm a Christian? Admittedly, Spong writes about Christians, however his works reach beyond theological boundaries. I'm sorry, but I think you've got me confused with someone else.
How are my terms "Christian?" Honestly, I was writing with Carl Jung in my heart.
My statement that "Religion reveals God's presence in all that we do," is a theological one. I apologize if any reference to the potentiality of God/s existence or nonexistence is too inflammatory to be deemed acceptable by your standards. And frankly, your asinine assumption that I am somehow forwarding the goals of mainstream Christians in America is just that, asinine.

when you presume to speak about what religion is and what role it should have in our society

With all due respect, I'll presume to speak about whatever the hell I damn well please, whether or not it offends your particular mores. And, for clarity's sake, I wasn't speaking about what role I felt religion should have in our society. Far from it. Maybe you should reread my earlier statement, instead of pigeon-holing me and assuming I'm a Christian. Your knee has to be sore from all that jerking.

If anything, your far-from-exhaustive listing of the varieties of religious beliefs present in the U.S. should only help to demonstrate the pervasive nature of religious behavior in this country.

For the record, if anything, I'm this. And we've been persecuted since the Early Church first organized.

I'm not talking about opting-out of Christianity. I'm not talking about opting-out of any particular religion. I'm talking about opting-out of the effect religious thought and behavior has on one's life.

And yes, as bugbread aptly demonstrated, if you are part of the blessed minority of humans with the resources to relocate to a secular democracy and surround yourself at home and at work with atheists, you may, in fact, opt out. But for the other 99% of us, religion will have an impact on our lives, and the more tolerant religious advocates become the better. The more tolerant anti-religious advocates become the better, too.

Sheesh.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:54 PM on March 20, 2005


Are there Asian countries that really practice "ancestor worship", in the sense of worshipping ancestors?

Oh yes -- in the States, any city with a concentration of first-generation immigrants and you'll see ancestor shrines (with incense holders, fruits, etc) in storefronts all over. Christianity is strong among many Asian youth cultures (particular among Koreans it seems) but traditional religions are still prominent among the older generations. I've been spending quite a bit of time in the nearby Chinatown and Japantown lately, and it's been an enlightening experience for me from a cultural perspective. It's humbling to watch old men and women very earnestly chanting and kowtowing all the way down to the ground in front of their shrines -- that's the religion they've lived with their whole lives.

Of course, the difference between "paying respect to" and "worshipping" is in the eye of the beholder. Many non-Catholics view Catholics as "worshipping" the Virgin Mary, for instance. I'm not sure that there's a definitive place to draw that line.

As for in the originating country themselves, the same urban/rural religious divide as in the United States applies there as well. My parents are involved in sponsoring missionary work in the "old country", and from the information I've seen, penetration of Christianity was sporatic at best and heavily urban-weighted (just like Western influences in general).
posted by DaShiv at 3:58 PM on March 20, 2005


DaShiv : " Oh yes -- in the States, any city with a concentration of first-generation immigrants and you'll see ancestor shrines (with incense holders, fruits, etc) in storefronts all over."

Ok, I guess we're just using different functional definitions of "ancestor worship" (and I think yours is more correct). I was thinking of worship being the veneration of a god, while ancestors are not regarded as gods. But, on reflection (and, as you mentioned), Catholics can be seen to worship Mary, but don't hold her as a god, so I think you were right in using the expression "ancestor worship". I would, however, say that in the future "Buddhism" would be a better example, because most, if not all, of the folks you think of as worshipping ancestors hold Buddha/Buddhas to be "God/Gods", and ancestors a bit lower down on the ladder.

Think, if you will, if people talked about the religions of Europe: "There have been many theological systems in Europe. Vikings worshipped the gods of Valhalla. The Romans worshipped Zeus and the pantheon of Mt. Olympus. And the later Italians worshipped St. Anthony." It would sound kinda goofy (though, I stress, not "wrong", per se) to skip the biggie (YHVH/Jesus) and pick one of the lower objects of worship.

Speaking of which, thinking about it that way: if we think of ancestors as gods, we would logically have to think of Jesus and Satan as gods, meaning that Christianity would by at least tritheistic (the three gods of YHVH, Jesus, and Satan) and often quite polytheistic (YHVH, Jesus, Satan, Mary, the Holy Ghost, the multitudes of angels, the saints, etc.)

Which, on either further reflection, would be kind of interesting. If those categories of supernatural and powerful beings get "god" status, are there any monotheistic religions in the world?

However, I digress. Sorry.
posted by Bugbread at 4:19 PM on March 20, 2005


Baby_Balrog: I'm not familiar with the writings of Sprong, but your list to his works featured a list of Christian titles. Of course one could argue whether Gnostics are Christians or not -- I've heard it both ways (and I had a Gnostic classmate in my philosophy class who asserted the affirmative but he was, eh, rather perculiar) -- but without falling down that tangent, my critique still stands.

My statement that "Religion reveals God's presence in all that we do," is a theological one. I apologize if any reference to the potentiality of God/s existence or nonexistence is too inflammatory to be deemed acceptable by your standards. And frankly, your asinine assumption that I am somehow forwarding the goals of mainstream Christians in America is just that, asinine.

God-centricism in the Abrahamic tradition is a common Western bias that causes "religious impact" (in the form of friction) and assumptions of this as normalcy contributes to intolerance. You can see it in your own words -- if you were speaking in theological terms, you could have indicated so by prefacing it with either "I believe" or have said instead "God's presence in all that I do." Whatever your intentions were, it seems that your words didn't come out that way, but I'm happy to chalk things down to a difference in communication if you hadn't meant anything by using the inclusive 'we'.

If anything, your far-from-exhaustive listing of the varieties of religious beliefs present in the U.S. should only help to demonstrate the pervasive nature of religious behavior in this country.

Well, I thought my use of the words "and so on" was an act of mercy. :)

I'm not talking about opting-out of Christianity. I'm not talking about opting-out of any particular religion. I'm talking about opting-out of the effect religious thought and behavior has on one's life.

On a trivial level, everything that happens in the universe has an effect on one's life, so it's quite impossible to literally and completely "opt out" of anything (butterfly flapping wings, etc). I doubt this was what you were getting at. If you mean that one's own religious beliefs will necessarily play a significant role in one's life, then once again I'd disagree for a litany of reasons (for example, what those beliefs actually are will greatly affect this). But if, as I'm guessing, you mean that the religious convictions of others can affect one's life, then I would agree but limit my agreement to that it only has any dramatic (i.e. non-trivial) impact to a small proportion of the population who are truly struggling with large-scale conflicts of faith, rather than culture. Especially (but not exclusively) for those living in fairly homogenous conditions, one's religion is tightly knit to one's culture anyway, and thus religious affects upon one's life can be just as easily (and probably more accurately) written off as cultural (or historical) ones, rather than as predominantly spiritual concerns. In those instances, for most people religion's main effect will be as a tool to used to enforce and justify the continuation of social mores.

So ultimately, no, I don't think religion in the spiritual sense will, nor necessarily should, have a large "impact on our lives." (It won't nearly as much as, say, socioeconomics or even race.) But religious people often don't agree with that view of religion.

bugbread: In Shintoism, ancestors are lower on the religious ladder, but in Confucianism they take on more revered, prominent, and god-like roles. It really depends on the particular faith in question. To the best of my knowledge, "ancestor worship" is a pretty common and well-accepted term in the West for these Asian religious practices, and the Chinese word for "worship" used in the Confucian ancestor-worship context is the same word used used in the Christian Sunday-school context, except the prefix "weekly" is appended to it for the latter. In fact, despite being a "Christianized" family, my relatives back in the old country still maintained and used their ancestor shrines on my last visit a few years ago. Since the two religious doctrines are mutually exclusive, it's clear that this has become a cultural issue as much as, if not more than, a religious one.
posted by DaShiv at 5:02 PM on March 20, 2005


DaShiv:
But if, as I'm guessing, you mean that the religious convictions of others can affect one's life, then I would agree but limit my agreement to that it only has any dramatic (i.e. non-trivial) impact to a small proportion of the population who are truly struggling with large-scale conflicts of faith, rather than culture.

You don't have to guess. That's precisely what I said. Struggling with conflicts of faith?! How about struggling with oppressive religious regimes? How about struggling with the constant fear of extremist religious terrorism or military assault? In some parts of the world, religious behavior can prevent people from doing things as simple as taking a bag of rice off a U.N. truck. Or acquiring birth control. Or going outside the home. I wonder if the 13 year old, imprisoned wife of a male in (insert oppressive fundamentalist dogma here) religious group's primary concern is a conflict of faith! Doubtful.
I wish I lived in whatever utopian kingdom you've discovered, forever safe in the knowledge that religious systems will never affect my way of life.

if you were speaking in theological terms, you could have indicated so by prefacing it with either "I believe"

I'm not going to water down my sentiments by throwing myself an out! Gravity pulls us toward the center of the Earth. All life evolved from a single source. Western Michigan University is the best school in Michigan. God is everywhere.
Everything we say communicates a belief. Just because a claim has theological overtones does not mean that it should be prefaced with "I believe." Besides, it's sloppy writing. If I didn't believe it, I wouldn't have written it.

So ultimately, no, I don't think religion ... will have a large "impact on our lives."

I'm sorry, I just can't understand how this is true.
Tell that to these people.

Once again, ignoring the effects of religious zealotry will not make them go away. If you think that your life, or your family history has not been impacted in some way by religion you are probably wrong.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:56 PM on March 20, 2005


DaShiv : "To the best of my knowledge, 'ancestor worship' is a pretty common and well-accepted term in the West for these Asian religious practices"

Agreed. I was interpreting the phrase poorly when it was first mentioned.

"In fact, despite being a 'Christianized' family, my relatives back in the old country still maintained and used their ancestor shrines on my last visit a few years ago. Since the two religious doctrines are mutually exclusive, it's clear that this has become a cultural issue as much as, if not more than, a religious one."

Agreed again.

Baby_Balrog: I agree with what you're saying about the effect of religion, especially with the clarification that you're including its effects on politics.

Regarding the word "believe", I think general polite usage (largely missing from the net) is to skip it for something which is believed by the vast majority of people, but to use it when speaking with people who are not a vast minority, and with which you disagree, to avoid seeming like an ass.

And, to clarify, I'm not just saying that people who believe in a god should say "I believe God is everywhere". I'm also saying that people who don't believe there is a god should say "I don't believe there is a god" instead of just saying "There is no god". I'm an atheist myself, but it bugs the hell out of me when other atheists here state their opinions as facts when in contention.

As I say, the caveat is "vast majority". You don't have to say "I believe" for everything that is being disagreed with. If someone says "Ralph Nader is the president of the United States", you don't need to respond "I believe George Bush is", you can just say "George Bush is", because the number of people who think Nader is president is low enough that skipping "I believe" does not make one sound cocky. But if someone says "George Bush won the election fair and square", and you disagree, saying "I believe that he exerted illegal influence on voting results" sounds a lot less cocky than "He exerted illegal influence on voting results".

Again, that's just my opinion, and not a rule, but using the phrase "I believe" judiciously can result in a lot less sidetracking (like this) and a lot more staying-on-topic.
posted by Bugbread at 6:47 PM on March 20, 2005


I believe that if I believe something I'm just going to say it, and people can get over themselves. I don't expect people to preface everything they say with some sort of disclaimer. Have some conviction! Cockiness be damned, the most important thing is to be able to defend the things you say. If you say, George W. Bush eats babies, you damn well better be able to back it up. I don't expect my nefarious Nemesises (nemesises?) to pussy-foot around to prevent themselves from sounding "cocky."
If you believe there is no God, and you are ready to come out of the closet about it, you should say, "There is no God!" Otherwise, stfu.
I'm going to say something dangerous now, and I'm saying it because I'm fairly certain that the three of us are the only ones banging about on this post anymore:
I'm a very PC person. But I'm afraid that political correctness has led to a generalized noncritical approach to the English language. People are much more likely to get a snarky, "Well, that's just your opinion," than a more traditional, "You are wrong." This has led to the universal, "I believe...".
When I submit a paper for publication, I don't write, "I believe that religious partisanship in developed democracies hinder social welfare projects concerning women and children." I state that it does, and then I present data to back up my claim. Consequentially it does not, in fact, and I'm s.o.l. for a new topic this semester.
If you disagree with the "vast majority" of people, you should not be ashamed of your views and tack and "I believe" onto the beginning of your sentences. You should recognize that you are a potential innovator, come out into the open, and declare that, God damn it, what you think is right and most everybody else is wrong.
I don't support "majority rules" when it comes to convictions.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:05 PM on March 20, 2005


Baby_Balrog : "Cockiness be damned, the most important thing is to be able to defend the things you say."

Yes, but they're not mutually exclusive. You can say "I believe X. The evidence is A, B, and C. I don't believe Y, and here's what's wrong with it: D, E, and F".

Having tact and being persuasive / logical / wellfounded are not mutually exclusive.

Reading the PC bit, I think you've taken me the wrong way. When I say that it is tactful to say "I believe X", I am in no way implying the PC corollary of "You believe in Y. We have different beliefs, but they are just beliefs, and who is to say who is right and who is wrong." I hate that. I am saying "I believe X, and I think your belief in Y is wrong because of A, B, C". You can oppose someone without sounding like a jerk.

Baby_Balrog : "If you disagree with the 'vast majority' of people, you should not be ashamed of your views and tack and 'I believe' onto the beginning of your sentences."

I think this is one of the problems with modern discourse: the idea that adding "I think" or "I believe" to a sentence indicates shame or weakness. It doesn't (at least to me). It can indicate those, but often it indicates civility and tact.

Phrased another way: I've seen people who use tact persuade others. I've seldom, if ever, seen someone who states their contradictory beliefs as fact persuade anyone. Stating something you disagree about that forcefully inevitably puts the other party on the defensive, and turns a possibly persuasive speech into a challenge or affront. Just look at...well, pretty much any political discussion anywhere on the internet.

Once again, I'm not saying "majority rules", or "all beliefs are equal", or anything like that. I just mean "if the verdict isn't out, pretending that it is will just turn a discussion into an argument, and all you'll manage to do is persuade yourself of how right you are and how wrong others are, and maybe score some points among the people who already agreed with you from the start".
posted by Bugbread at 7:38 PM on March 20, 2005


Oy! You two.

Pay attention to meeee!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:44 PM on March 20, 2005


I'm not going to water down my sentiments by throwing myself an out!... If I didn't believe it, I wouldn't have written it.

You may not feel it necessary to couch theological statements with appropriate indicators, but if I had said "You deserve to die" or "All of your bad feelings are solely your own fault" to someone, chance are good that tempers would flare if I didn't qualified that I was referring to original sin in Christianity or desire as the root of all suffering in Buddhism. Likewise, you may not feel that mentioning "God" and "we" sounds like pushing your religion on the listener if you don't qualify those beliefs as personal ones (rather than, for example, as an indictment against the listener -- and mind you that the Christian God comes attached with the threat of Hell to most listeners whether your denomination ascribes to the notion or not), but then you cannot blame others or accuse them of overreacting if they feel put upon by your failure to clarify your intentions. Did you think the people singing "What can wash away our sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus" at gay marriages, outside of Schiavo's hospital, next to abortion clinics, etc. were making these declaratives as anything other than a metaphysical threat?

For better or worse, declaring one's metaphysical views is performed as one of several possible speech acts. Prefacing a statement like yours with "I believe" is not redundant, since "I believe" in that context would be an assurance of "I believe this for myself and am not invoking God to convert/intimidate/etc you." If you make no effort to resolve the ambiguity, then you cannot fault others for interpreting your intentions as they will.

Once again, ignoring the effects of religious zealotry will not make them go away. If you think that your life, or your family history has not been impacted in some way by religion you are probably wrong.

Now you're just willfully ignoring what I've said about "religious effects upon one's life can be just as easily (and probably more accurately) written off as cultural (or historical) ones, rather than as predominantly spiritual concerns." In fact, to use your own example:

I wonder if the 13 year old, imprisoned wife of a male in (insert oppressive fundamentalist dogma here) religious group's primary concern is a conflict of faith! Doubtful.

So do you think this is caused because of which specific god(s) that particular group is praying to, or because that group has regressive gender norms as part of its culture and thus religion is merely being used to "justify" why? Do we blame science's explanations of natural disasters for causing them? Since you cited 9/11 as well, do you think the attacks were because we were the most Christian, or most aetheistic, or most Rastafarian nation on the Earth, or because of the United States' long and complex historical, political, and economic involvement in that region? Did the Jews kill Jesus because he claimed to be the Son of God, or because his teachings undermined and threatened the established political power and authority of the religious leaders? Did Henry VIII establish the Anglican Church over a spiritual debacle, or as a convenient justification to allow him to divorce? Does the antipathy in Isreal stem primarily from the fact that the two sides worship the Abrahamic God under different covenants, or because of Westerners creating a country by external fiat while displacing and disenfrancising a large population with a different claim on the same land? (And if the former, how is it that Jews and Muslims have lived in peace elsewhere -- say, in Almohad Spain and secular Western countries -- but not there?)

It's true that faith in religion gives people the courage to strap bombs to their bodies, just like faith in aerodynamics theory gives people the courage to strap parachutes to their bodies and jump out of planes. But to assert that religion is the fundamental cause of what "impacts our lives" is hopelessly reductionist. Many things are done in the name of religion, but few are done because of it, and those that are truly done entirely (or even primarily) for religion are dwarved by those that are done due to other causes. Most people are far more likely to be affected by cultural norms and schisms, by socioeconomic disparities and population distributions, by racial prejudices, by national and international politics, by historical influences, by their upbringing, by interpersonal and romantic conflicts, by their genetic predispositions, by climate, disease, and catastrophe, and by a host of other things before they could truthfully cite religion and spirituality as what has the most direct impact in their lives.
posted by DaShiv at 8:00 PM on March 20, 2005


Baby_Balrog : "I wonder if the 13 year old, imprisoned wife of a male in (insert oppressive fundamentalist dogma here) religious group's primary concern is a conflict of faith! Doubtful."

DaShiv :"So do you think this is caused because of which specific god(s) that particular group is praying to, or because that group has regressive gender norms as part of its culture and thus religion is merely being used to 'justify' why?"

Unfortunately, both.
posted by Bugbread at 2:10 AM on March 21, 2005


DaShiv: I think (there, I said it), perhaps, bugbread is closest to the truth. I will certainly agree that individuals sometimes couch their sociopolitically motivated actions in religious dogma, however, I cannot rationally detach religious dogma from all actions. Sometimes, people really do things because their scriptures tell them to. If you fundamentally disagree with this statement, then perhaps we are at a formal loggerhead. And I respect that. Though I feel that discrediting religion as a motivator is dangerous.

bugbread: And as for the whole "I believe" issue, I'm merely citing good writing technique. Granted, it may be difficult to communicate inflection - if this is, in fact, a discourse, which I believe it is - but this should not supercede proper writing etiquette. Of course, if you disagree with directly stating one's beliefs absent of a softening preface like "I feel," or "I believe," in Metafilter, then perhaps we are, in fact, speaking to one another. This implies an entirely novel set of writing axioms...*goes off to publish new book of style sheets...*
posted by Baby_Balrog at 4:07 PM on March 21, 2005


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