definition: par•a•digm (pār'ə-dīm', -dĭm')

3. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this blog is four-fold:
to recognize that every person functions within a basic paradigm, which affects how all information is processed;
(2) to understand the paradigms of others;
(3) to discuss, in particular, paradigms which are related to science, religion, and philosophy.

(4) to reveal the paradigm shifts in my own life, a process that has completely changed the direction and purpose of my existence.

The purpose of this blog is NOT to convince anyone that their paradigms or beliefs are correct or incorrect. I am hoping for an honest dialog, but the discussions must remain respectful of others, even if there is profound disagreement. If any comments are not respectful, they will be removed.
(Revised 1/13/09)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Islam and Islamists--What is the Difference?

If you are like me, raised in a typical American household in the 1950's and 1960's, Muslims weren't talked about much. I remember hearing a little about the Black Muslims and vaguely wondered what that was all about and why they were called Militants. Most of the political arguments were over the Vietnam war in Southeast Asia, or racial tensions in the U.S. Islam, to me, was just something out of a history book. In the 1980's, though, that changed.

Here are excerpts from an article the explains the history of the deadly Beirut bombing of October, 1983. (

"In 1982 many Marines — indeed, many Americans — did not know exactly where Beirut was, let alone what strategic importance it might have held for the United States. In August of that year, Marines of the 32nd MAU stepped ashore to become embroiled in a mission that was new and vaguely defined: peacekeeping....

"The five ships of Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group (MARG) 2-82 arrived off the coast near Rota, Spain, on June 6, 1982. On board were 1,800 Marines comprising the 32nd MAU.... BLT 2/8 was embarked as the landing force. [The BLT was the nickname for the four-story building that housed nearly 400 members of the Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, and attached Marines, sailors and soldiers.]... There were also air, artillery and logistics support units aboard.

"On the same day, Israel invaded southern Lebanon in an attempt to dislodge Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) so that, as Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin declared, 'they would never again be able to attack settlements in northern Israel.' ...

"Two weeks later, about 800 Marines of the 32nd helped evacuate nearly 600 civilians from two dozen countries out of Jounieh, a port city about 10 miles north of Beirut....

"In mid-June, Israel had ordered massive air and artillery strikes on West Beirut in an attempt to destroy the main body of the PLO. Hundreds of Lebanese and others were killed or wounded; apartment houses, shopping centers and other structures were destroyed. Still, the PLO remained hunkered down and would not budge....

"In July Israel instituted a military blockade of Beirut, leading to intense diplomatic efforts to avert an all-out battle for the capital. The siege of West Beirut continued, and by late August it was clear to PLO leaders that they could not remain there.

"Finally they agreed to a withdrawal plan drafted by President Ronald Reagan’s special envoy, Philip Habib, and endorsed by Syria and Israel.

"At 5 a.m. on August 25, the first landing craft dropped its ramp and Marines... went ashore, ... part of the multinational force, or MNF, consisting of American, French and Italian military personnel, that would evacuate thousands of armed PLO and Syrian fighters....

"Marines took over the duty, and by September 1 about 15,000 armed PLO and Syrian personnel had been safely evacuated. By September 10, all multinational forces had been withdrawn and the 32nd was headed back to Naples.

"...On September 14, Lebanon’s newly elected President Bashir Gemayel was assassinated by a bomb in East Beirut. The Lebanese Parliament elected Amin Gemayel, his older brother, president. Almost immediately Israeli troops took control of West Beirut and the Palestinian refugee camps on the southern outskirts of the city. On September 16, Phalangist Christian militia entered the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps, where they ruthlessly murdered hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children.

"Amin Gemayel requested that the MNF be called back in to help stabilize the situation until the beleaguered Lebanese Armed Forces could defend the capital. Within 48 hours, the MNF was re-formed and the 32nd was steaming back. In West Beirut the Marines were assigned the International Airport area, the Italians took the middle area, which included Sabra and Chatila, and the French controlled the port and downtown. The multinational forces were positioned between several national armies and factional militia groups, all heavily armed. The rules of engagement (ROE) severely restricted the use of force, not allowing Marines to carry loaded weapons, allowing them to shoot only if they could verify that their lives were in danger and only if they could clearly identify a specific target....

"From the beginning, the Marines were supposed to be a neutral force, providing a buffer between warring sides. And there were many sides: At that time, Lebanon contained 17 officially recognized religious sects, two foreign armies of occupation, four national contingents of a multinational force (Britain joined the MNF later), seven national contributors to a United Nations peacekeeping force and some two dozen extralegal militias.

“ 'Marines are an assault force, trained to bring the fight to the enemy,' said [retired Colonel Tim Geraghty, who served as the commanding officer of the 24th MAU]. 'We hadn’t heard of this sort of mission. The mission was palatable at the time the decision was made for us to go in, but the situation changed, and the mission wasn’t allowed to change with it.'

"One of the first duties Marines undertook was to conduct individual and small unit training for the LAF. That, plus the fact that Marines began manning joint outposts with the LAF, gave the impression that the United States was favoring the established Lebanese government. This did not sit well with many of the warring parties, including Israel.

"In January 1983, the Israelis began testing American lines, and there were at least five attempts in following weeks to penetrate Marine positions.... The 24th MAU, with BLT 1/8 as the landing force, relieved the 22nd on May 30, 1983. For the MAU and many of the Marines in it, this would be the second tour in Beirut, but the situation had changed considerably since their first time around.

"Minor incidents had been occurring since early in 1983, and on March 16 several Marines received minor injuries from a grenade attack on their routine patrol. But on April 18 things got very real when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed, killing 17 American citizens, including a Marine security guard, and about 40 others....

"Marines returned fire for the first time on August 28 after intense inter-factional fighting became direct fire on Marines, beginning a spiraling departure from neutrality. On the 29th Marines took their first casualties as a result of direct fire....

"Through September the fighting remained intense. Marines who were decorated Vietnam vets declared that they had never been through such intense mortar, artillery and rocket barrages. Marines were forced more and more into escalating weapons duels....

"Then, on the morning of Sunday, October 23, 1983, a Marine sentry tried in vain to flip the magazine into his M-16 and chamber a round so he could fire at a yellow Mercedes truck barreling down on his position. He managed to get a couple rounds off, but too late. His post was just outside what the Marines called the “Beirut Hilton,” the barracks that housed more than 400 sleeping Marines. Seconds later, 241 servicemen, mostly Marines, were dead and hundreds of others injured. It was a day that, for those who were there, would go down in infamy."

[This article was written by Randy Gaddo and originally published in the March 2007 issue of Military History magazine. Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine chief warrant officer who served in Beirut in 1983 and is the president of the Beirut Veterans of America.]

~ ~ ~

The American toll from the October, 1983 attack came to 241 dead. Shiite Muslims, inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini, claimed credit in the name of Islamic Jihad.

So, what is going on? How is it that a religion that is purported to be so peace-loving, has become associated with such violent extremism?

~ ~ ~

"Islam is no more inclined to terrorism than any other monotheistic faith. Like its sisters, Christianity and Judaism, it can be both merciful and stern in practice; like them, it also teaches the love of God and the humanity of all mankind, believers and unbelievers alike.

"In times past, Islam has served as the bedrock of flourishing, tolerant, and peaceful orders.But sociologists will say that a religion, at any point in time, is whatever its adherents understand it to be. If that is so, then Islam, as understood by too many Muslims, is in danger of deteriorating into a manifesto for terror. The reason: Too many Muslims have been silent in the face of horrific deeds committed by an extremist minority.

" 'Islamic terrorism' first entered the lexicon on [that] Beirut morning in 1983, when two suicide bombers destroyed the barracks of American and French peacekeepers. The American toll came to 241 dead; the planners, Shiites inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini, claimed credit in the name of Islamic Jihad. For decades, modernizing Muslim thinkers had worked to demilitarize the concept of jihad — struggle waged 'in the path of God.' Secular revolutionaries had mothballed the term, employing the vocabulary of 'resistance' and 'liberation.' But it was an act of jihad that drove America from Lebanon, with electrifying effect.

"A new era had begun — an era in which Muslim extremists interpreted their faith as a license to kill foreign "enemies of God." Radical Muslim clerics scoured Islam's sacred texts for justifications of violence, and found them. In the years to come, the clerics and the terrorists widened their license. At first, it included only "intruders" in Muslim lands: foreign forces, embassies, and civilians. Later it was extended to include "enemy" installations in third countries, and finally, civilians in the "lands of unbelief." No moral red line could stop the escalation.

Hijacking Islam
A religion in danger of deteriorating into a manifesto for terror.
by Martin Kramer
National Review
September 19, 2001]

~ ~ ~

"In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 tragedy, one commentator noted that the attacks climaxed almost two decades of terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam--a bloody, violent era that began with the suicide bombings against American and French peacekeeping forces in Beirut in 1983. The commentator Martin Kramer, noted: 'Islam is no more inclined to terrorism than any other monotheistic faith. Like its sisters, Christianity and Judaism, it can be both merciful and stern in practice; like them, it also teaches the love of God and the humanity of all mankind, believers and unbelievers alike. In times past, Islam has served as the bedrock of flourishing, tolerant, and peaceful orders.' Having said that, Kramer went on to say: 'But sociologists will say that a religion, at any point in time, is whatever its adherents understand it to be. If that is so, then Islam, as understood by too many Muslims, is in danger of deteriorating into a manifesto for terror. The reason: Too many Muslims have been silent in the face of horrific deeds committed by an extremist minority.' [For the complete article, go to]

[continuing...] "The real "War on Terror," says Middle Eastern expert Jonathan Schanzer *, is the "War on Militant Islam"--the latter "a minority outgrowth of the faith" bitterly antagonistic to such Western concepts as capitalism, individualism, and consumerism. Spurning the West and much it offers--save for weapons, medicines, and additional "useful technologies"--militant Islam's goal is "to implement a strict interpretation of the Koran (Islam's holy book) and shari'a (Islamic law)." The major hindrance to the realization of this objective, in the radical Muslims' view, is the United States.

*[See: At War With Whom? A short history of radical Islam, by Jonathan Schanzer, Doublethink,Spring 2002:]

[Continuing...] "Given all this, what is the difference between Islam and Islamism? Fundamentally, it comes down to a pair of concepts: faith (Islam) and ideology (Islamism)....

"Muslims believe their faith is far superior to Judaism and Christianity; the latter two, to their minds, are merely "defective variants" of God's best religion--Islam. This supreme confidence is bolstered by Islam's glorious early history. Then, Islamic culture was the world's most advanced. Muslims had the best of everything: good health, long life spans, high literacy, scientific and technical achievements After fleeing Mecca as a refugee in A.D. 622, Muhammed returned there a mere eight years later as its ruler. As early as the year 715, Muslim conquerors had erected a vast empire, whose borders reached from Span in the west to India in the east. Naturally, Muslims concluded that all this meant they were God's chosen people, spiritually and materially.

"Yet Islam's "golden age" wouldn't last forever. As early as the 13th century, Islam's weakness and the Christian world's successes were already becoming apparent. Nonetheless, for some five hundred years to come, Muslims were mainly unaware of what was happening in the Christian world.... Such an attitude blinded Muslims to changing circumstances. In July 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte landed in the center of the Muslim world, Egypt, easily subduing it. This was merely the beginning of other assaults that ultimately left the majority of Muslims under European domination, and Muslims wondering why God had apparently forsaken them.

"In response to modern setbacks, some Muslims empbraced a radical ideology known as Islamism. Islamism, according to critics, is akin to fascism and Marxism-Leninism. Like those systems, Islamism opposes capitalism and liberalism and seeks their overthrow.

"Islamists are hostile to numerous countries. They feel that local Muslim rulers in such states as Algeria, Turkey, Egypt, and Malaysia are doing the West's bidding in crushing their movement. In Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Sudan, they see the West "actively suppressing noble Islamist efforts to create a just society." Islamists feel themselves encircled and frustrated by the West. High on their enemies list is the United States, which, Islamists believe, intends to steal Muslims' resources, take advantage of their labor, and subvert their religion. It is widely held that Washington and Hollywood have united to install the 'new world order.'

"Daniel Pipe * noted in 1998 ... that traditional Islam's goal is to show humans how to live in harmony with God's will, whereas Islamism aims to create a new order. Moreover, where traditionalists study Islam at great length, Islamist leaders know more about the sciences than Islam and use the latter as it suits their purposes. In the same way, Islamists embrace the modern world to achieve their goals whereas traditionalists are repelled by the modern world. Traditionalists look with apprehension at the West. Islamists want to challenge it, and take it over. More moderate Islamists intend to convert the non-Islamic countries they live in through non-violence to their cause....

* [For Daniel Pipes' web site, go to]

[Continuing...] "The term Islamism was coined to differentiate Islam as modern ideology from Islam as a faith. It became necessary to make this distinction after the Iranian revolution of 1979, which gave rise to the popular use of the term: 'Islamic fundamentalism.' ... Ironically the more the media embraced Islamic fundamentalism as a term, the more scholars of Islam looked askance at it. Some felt that fundamentalism didn't capture the methodology and style of Iran's revolution and similar Muslim movements. Others, especially those sympathetic to the new Muslin movements, felt the term fundamentalist was unfair to progressive Muslims. Still, there were those academics who defended the use of the term fundamentalism....

" 'Debate over terminology has always surrounded the West's relations with Islam,' Kramer notes, 'and its outcome has been as much a barometer of the West's needs as a description of the actual state of Islam. . . . At various times, Westerners have needed Muslims to be infidels or believers, threatening or peaceable, foreign or familiar. It is impossible to predict which terms will prevail in the West's own struggle to come to terms with change in contemporary Islam.' "

~ ~ ~

When I started writing the Soul-and-Substance blog, I was quite ignorant of anything deeper than the news headlines about Islamic fundamentalism, so I made the naive assumption that "fundamentalism" in the Muslim faith meant the same as a literal, "fundamental" translation of the Qur'an. Therefore, I assumed that Islamic fundamentalism represented the core Muslim beliefs. I apologize to true Muslims for my ignorance. In my quest to educate myself, and to bring others along with me, my next post will continue in this theme, discussing the difference between Shiites and Sunnis.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Paradigms and Politics

I have noticed an interesting thing, while observing people during this pre-presidential-election period. People who support the democrats think that democrats are more interested than republicans in helping poor and middle class people. Because of this, everything that republicans say about policies who will the help poor and middle class is met with extreme skepticism, if not accusations of lying, by the democrats. People who support the republicans think that republicans will keep the economy prosperous by promoting business and minimizing governmental controls. Therefore, everything that democrats say about economic prosperity is met with skepticism, since republicans think the economy will be bogged down with government programs which require heavy taxation. As I understand it, republicans think that business drives the economy, whereas democrats think consumers drive the economy. For this reason republicans think that policies that support business will, in the long run, support the poor and middle class by improving the companies that hire them. In contrast, democrats think that it is up to government to ensure the welfare of poor and middle class consumers and that supporting business will unfairly promote the prosperity of people who are already prosperous enough. The way this relates to paradigms is this: Staunch republicans, because of their paradigm about what drives the economy and how democrats think, find it hard to find merit in what democrats say about political issues. Conversely, staunch democrats, because of their paradigm about what drives the economy and how republicans think, find it hard to find merit in what republicans say about political issues. So....... it is mostly democrats who listen to "the democratic position" on things, and it is mostly republicans who listen to "the republican position" on things. If anyone is to learn anything about another point of view, it helps to listen to the other side.“It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.” (Epictetus)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Biblical Interpretation--Who is correct?

The issue of literal vs. figurative interpretation of the bible has been the subject of heated debate for centuries, but perhaps never more so than in this current age. Science and the Bible appear to contradict each other so often that many scientists believe that it is simply not possible to take the Bible literally and still be taken seriously by the scientific community. There is more than one way to approach this debate.

The first is to see what the Bible says about itself. Here are some key passages.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV]

For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly [1 Corinthians 13:12a, Amp]

Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. [1 Corinthians 8:2-3, NLT]

knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. [2 Peter 1:20-21, NKJV]

Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. [1 Corinthians 2:11b-14, NKJV]

3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
4 If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD,
And find the knowledge of God. [Proverbs 2:3-5, NKJV]

Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval. [Romans 14:3-4, NLT]

A second approach is to read the opinions of theologians. These three articles all discuss the importance of understanding scripture in context, and indicate that there are clearly parts that are intended to be taken figuratively. It is the question of which parts should be taken literally that inspires the most passionate disagreement.

In a Newsweek interview, the internationally acclaimed evangelist Billy Graham indicated "that the Bible is open to interpretation, and fair-minded Christians may disagree or come to different conclusions about specific points. Like Saint Paul, he believes human beings on this side of paradise can grasp only so much. 'Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,' Paul wrote, 'then we shall see face to face.' Then believers shall see: not now, but then."

The organization Religious Tolerance . org, whose mission is to promote understanding and tolerance among different religions and religious sub-sets, when explaining the word "hermeneutics," defined it as refering "to the art of science of interpretation of written texts.... Within Christianity, the term generally refers to methods of interpreting the Bible.
Christians have reached a near consensus on what the Bible says. However, Christian denominations as well as individual Christians -- theologians, clergy and laity -- hold a wide range of assumptions about the nature of the Bible. Different assumptions lead to different methods of interpreting the text. As a result, they reach very diverse conclusions about what a given passage actually means.... This lack of consensus is so extreme that sincerely and devoutly held beliefs by very liberal Christians may well be considered blasphemy by very conservative Christians, and vice-versa. One result is that some Christians view Christianity as a collection of religions, not as a single religion." (

What is clear is that there are many opinions, even among devote Christians, about how the Bible should be interpreted. It is also clear that human beings can never fully understand the things of God, but that we can look to the Holy Spirit for guidance. In the Bible, as Jesus was nearing the end of His ministry on earth, He explained this to His disciples: "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth." [John 16:13a, NKJV] It is comforting to realize that certain things will always be a mystery.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Some Discussions are Bigger than I had Imagined--The Bible and the Qur'an--Part 1

Some days ago, I started a project that I thought would be interesting: a comparison of the main messages of the Bible and the Qur'an. It is interesting. The only problem was, when I looked up what scholars said about the Qur'an, and hence Islam, it was not at all what I had expected, considering all that we hear on the news about radical Islam. It was clearly going to be no simple task to compare the Bible and the Qur'an. At least, with the Bible, I can show pretty clearly what it actually says, even if different denominations have varying interpretations. However, I could not do that with the Qur'an, because I am not familiar with its content, as I am with the Bible. My solution was to go to several web sites about Islam, to see what Islamic scholars said about its key doctrines. This is where I ran into trouble. Scholar after scholar explained that the Qur'an teaches that "The Qur’an’s main message is to call people to turn to the Source of all being and the Giver of life, and to serve Him with a pure heart, free of idolatry or superstition." (From: In addition, they explained that the Qur'an teaches that "Muslims were allowed to wage war only because they were oppressed and subjected to violence. To put it in another way, God granted permission for war only for defensive purposes. In other verses, Muslims are warned against use of unnecessary provocation or unnecessary violence." ( It was clear, then, that this project was going to be harder than I thought. I have therefore decided to open this post up for contributions from other scholars of Islam.

Friday, July 4, 2008

"How Can You Say Jesus Is the Only Way to God?"

Because this topic is such a "hot button" in discussions about religious tolerance, I wanted to share an article that gives another view, albeit a view that is "politically incorrect."
~ ~ ~

"How Can You Say Jesus Is the Only Way to God?"

People who challenge Christians with "How can you say Jesus is the only way to God?" are good at verbal camouflage, what sounds like concern for tolerance but which is actually belief that Jesus is not qualified to declare the way to God. Their problem is not with tolerance, but with Jesus' authority.

Promoters of religious pluralism say it is applicable in all situations, including religion. However, they don't really believe it. They are willing to accept one way if they believe it is appropriate, and to listen to authority when it is in their best interests or they have confidence in the authority. They don't promote pluralism regarding to breathe or not to breathe (only one way keeps someone living). They follow their employers' way of doing things to keep their jobs. They follow detour signs held by orange-jacketed construction workers. When it comes to religion, however, suddenly pluralism is an absolute and anyone, such as Jesus, who is so narrow minded as to say his religion is the only way to God, is convicted of intolerance.
How does a Christian respond? First, show the skeptic that he is, himself, intolerant of at least one religious view -- Christianity....

Click on this link for the rest of the essay. =>

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"My Way is Right"--A Paradigm of Deception

For most people, strong religious beliefs are formed in one of two ways--either by growing up with them or by using rational thought to change an existing opinion that has already become unstable. But how can an individual person know what is the real truth? Existential skeptics might say that there is no way to find out the truth, so don't bother. I tend to disagree. I think that each person has a place, deep inside, that recognizes real truth. I am not a psychologist. Nor am I a theologian. I only know that when I put aside all the masks, and strip away obsessions, compulsions, and that little voice of false conscience that is really just an influential person in your past--that I sometimes have a powerful feeling, deep inside, when I recognize something that is absolute truth. I believe that, whether the source of that feeling is spiritual (e.g., God-driven) or whether it is something that is built into the human psyche, each person has this capacity. I don't think that it is rational or emotional, but I think it is very real. Therefore, in spite of our interest in debating the merits of different religions, opinions are never changed by debate. Real change is very personal and occurs deep inside, where intellectual thoughts never go. When you recognize the truth, your know-that-you-know-that-you-know that it is truth...................

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Jesus for Non-Christians

Just because they're not Christians
doesn't mean Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus
have nothing to say about Jesus.

What do other faiths believe about Jesus?
Take a look at Christianity's founder through the eyes of:


Jesus and Buddha as Brothers
Understanding compassion in each faith.
By Thicht Nhat Hahn

The Parallel Sayings
Comparing gospel passages with Buddhist wisdom.

Where Buddha and Jesus Meet
Reviews of recent books on Buddhist-Christian dialogue.


Jesus as Yogi
Hindu views on Jesus and reincarnation.
By Arthur Magida

Did Jesus Spend His Lost Years in India?
Beliefnet members debate the evidence.

Gandhi's Imitation of Christ
The world's most famous Hindu became the greatest exemplar of the Sermon on the Mount.
By Harris Wofford

The "Tomb of Jesus" in Kashmir
Researcher seeks permission to exhume a body in northern India.


Why Jews Don't Accept Jesus
Jews see Jesus as one of the great teachers of humanity, but neither a messiah nor a god.
By Rabbi David Wolpe

Embracing the Jewishness of Jesus
Judaism shaped and formed Jesus of Nazareth.
Christian leaders should focus on this as they try to heal old wounds.
By Bishop John Shelby Spong


Prophet of Mercy
In the Muslim view, Jesus' actions and words illustrate the merciful side of God's nature.

Checklist: Muslim and Christian Beliefs About Jesus Compared
Both faiths believe Jesus was born to a virgin, but the New Testament and the Qur'an diverge on his later years.

Unitarian Universalists

Five UU Perspectives on Jesus
First and foremost, Unitarians emphasize Jesus' human nature.


Can You Be Both Wiccan and Christian?
A third party weighs the possibility.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Spirit, Soul, and Substance--One Theologian's Perspective

Although the Chinese, Christian theologian who is discussed in the following excerpt held many controversial opinions, his distinctions among spirit, soul, and body may resonate with many eastern philosophies, as well as mainstream biblical scholarship.
by Huelon Mountfort

Watchman Nee is considered one of the most important indigenous church leaders and thinkers in the history of Chinese Christianity. There are few leaders in the history of Chinese Christianity whose influence is as prevalent as Watchman Nee's....

Watchman Nee was born into a family with a Christian heritage. His grandfather, U Cheng Nee, was the one of the first ordained Chinese ministers of the Congregational missions in the Fukien Province of China. Nee was the third child of nine, but the first male child. Since Chinese tradition favors sons, relatives despised families with no male children. When Nee's mother was expecting the third child she prayed to God earnestly asking for a son and dedicated this third child to God similar to Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:1-20. God heard her prayer. On November 4, 1903, Nee Shu-Tsu (later known as Watchman Nee) was born. Nee later changed his name to "Duo Sheng" ("Watchman" in English) meaning, "sound of the gong," or a watchman to raise the people of God for service.

Throughout his youth, Nee attended schools founded by the Church Missionary Society in Fuzhow, China. And in all areas he showed extraordinary intellectual promise. When he was 18 years of age, Nee dedicated his life to Christ through the preaching of Miss Dora Yu, an ex-medical student, who forfeited a lucrative occupation and dedicated her life to the preaching of the word of Christ....

Nee and other students who had a common zeal for the spreading of the gospel among the young people in their town and local schools and colleges gathered in prayer and Bible study. They set up their own meetings and engaged in vigorous street evangelism. Between the years 1923-1928, Nee published the magazines Revival and Christian, as well as the book The Spiritual Man. Nee was instrumental in the spiritual revival among students at that time....

In 1928, Nee changed his name to Watchman and settled in Shanghai. During that time, he had a good measure of disdain for denominational churches of that day. In the magazine, Revival, he expressed that he believed the church was hindering the purpose of God. According to Nee, many ministries done "for the Lord," "in the name of God," "for the kingdom of God," "for the Church of Christ" were being done in the flesh. People are not seeking for God's will but the will of their own.... He saw that churches in China should be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating.... It was at this time Nee set up the first independent assembly at Hardoon Road in Shanghai. He was the main speaker at the first Shanghai conference of this new movement, which was later known as the "Little Flock." ...

On October 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was established. Despite others' entreaties, Nee and his wife returned again to Shanghai from overseas. Nee wanted to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ. For the first two years of the Communist rule, Nee was still able to do ministry, bringing 3- 4,000 people every Sunday, in the Shanghai church. But on April 10, 1952, Nee was arrested. He was accused of espionage, counter-revolutionary activities, financial and even moral irregularities. The indictment running 2,296 pages against Nee was made public in January 1956. Many Little Flock believers were arrested and churches throughout the country were closed by force. The Shanghai assembly was eventually closed and made into a factory.

Nee was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment, however, he was not released in 1967, when his sentence was complete. It was common for prisoners who were considered 'unreformed' to be given an additional five to seven years of sentencing and on June 1, 1972, soon after he was moved from the Shanghai prison to a rural work camp, Watchman Nee died at age 69....

Nee was aware of ways in which the Christian missionary movement was compromised by its entanglement with Western imperialism and denominational controversies. He was also keenly aware of the inability of the church in general to satisfy the spiritual need of the people. Against such a background, Nee developed a wholly independent Chinese Christian movement by returning to a more simple, New Testament model of Christianity. Therefore, the movement was the combination of old biblical principles and the new ardent nationalism....

According to J.A. Lee[1], an expert in theological structure of Watchman Nee, Nee's theology is systematic, with all aspects, even his unique ecclesiology, centering on his anthropology.... Nee is a trichotomist. Throughout his writings, he has categorized man into three parts: body, soul and spirit. To Nee's understanding, the spirit has the highest value, the physical body has the lowest, while the soul is intermediary. From the aspect of redemption, Nee explains that these three parts (body, soul and spirit) have "functional relationships". Namely, the spirit controls the soul and the soul controls the body. Not only is there a functional relationship among the three, there is also a hierarchical relationship. The spirit is higher than the soul, the soul is higher than the body. From these relationships, Nee determines his doctrines of the Fall, regeneration and sanctification. According to Nee, God's original intention is for the spirit to control the body, through the soul. However, after the fall of Adam and Eve, this order is reversed. The Fall results in the body controlling man's soul, which in turn controls the spirit. Regeneration for Nee involves the spirit only, not the soul or the body, because "flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (John 3:6)....

According to Lee, Nee holds to ethicoreligious dualism. Nee polarized the kingdom of God and the world (cosmos). The world and God are in opposition, with the world controlled by Satan. Satan uses all activities, i.e., culture, business, and economy to lure Christians into his world system to be his slaves.... Thus, in Nee's teachings, Christians should separate from the world, cut off relations with the world. Even though the Christian is the light of the world, this only pertains to sharing the gospel and Christ to the world.... In his critique of Nee's cosmology, Lee asserts that Nee's position lacks the awareness of the Christian's cultural mandate to this world.... We need to remain in contact with our culture and at the same time use the truth of the Bible to enlighten, challenge, and transcend our culture. Lee points out that Nee’s "spiritual man" is not one who is only concerned with the growth of his spirit but also his body; the concern for the whole person. Whether one divides a man into a trichotomy or dichotomy, a man is not complete if he lacks any part of his mind, emotions and thoughts....

Nee's influence on the Chinese Churches is not limited to Asia. His theological influences are alive and well to this day. No doubt that Nee was truly a dedicated Christian leader who "wanted nothing for himself and everything for his Lord, who sought throughout all his life to be a spiritual man even unto death". Yet, just like any Christian leader, he was not perfect. We should be deeply inspired by his love and devotion for Christ, and at the same time be keenly aware of the aspects of his teachings that are extreme to the point of being erroneous.

As Nee’s nephew wrote:
Many spiritual leaders have failed and were weak. However, the Bible was always truthful without covering over the failures of these people whom God used. The failures of Abraham, Moses and Gideon were recorded in the Bible. God did not put these events for us to see how great and successful and worthy of our worship these people were, but to allow us to see His marvelous works manifested through a bunch of useless vessels to accomplish His good will. Likewise, my uncle had failures. Yet those things will not deny the truth of how God has used him mightily. He is among the lowly, he is incomplete, yet he was truly used by God mightily and he was a vessel filled with precious treasure[2].

[1] Jian An Lee, Theological Critique of the Contemporary Chinese Church-A Study of Watchman Nee's Theology (Reformed Institute, Washington D.C., 1998)
[2] Stephen C.T. Chan, My Uncle, Watchman Nee. Chinese edition. (HongKong: Golden Lampstand Publishing Society Ltd., 1999)

IIIM Magazine Online,Volume 4, Number 19, May 13 to May 20, 2002

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Answers to Prayer

One of the cornerstones of the Christian faith is the strong belief that God answers prayer. Although there is abundant evidence in the Bible that God has always answered prayers of the faithful, modern Christians also believe in the efficacy of prayer.

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16 [NKJV]

What many fail to realize is that an anwer to prayer can be "No," or "Not now," in addition to "Yes." The absence of quick results can make it easy to get discouraged.

Why do I bring this up now, in this forum?--Because I am curious to hear how those in non-Christian religions view prayer. I would like to hear about the experiences of others.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Comparison of 11 Different Religions - Part 2


Beginnings of Daoism
Ancient roots

Daoism can be traced back to Shamanism, which spread into Mongolia and China at least ten thousand years ago. Two mythological figures from those early days are the divine brother and sister Fu Hsi and Nu Kua. Together they created human progeny and created all aspects of civilization, such as writing, agriculture, medicine and astrology. They were the first two of the Three August Ones of Chinese mythology. Later came the Yellow Emperor, bringer of order and the first recorded ruler. Legend puts his rule around 2500 BC. He is revered as the one who introduced divine knowledge into human society, especially the arts of medicine.

Formal beginnings

The influence of the Shamans in ancient China waned from the beginning of the first millennium BCE. During this period the great Lao Zi is supposed to have lived, and written the Dao De Jing (Tao Te-Ching), the most important book of Daoist wisdom. Daoism was formally established as a religion under the East Han dynasty, about 2,000 years ago. Since then Daoism has been one of the main components of Chinese culture, and has exerted great influence on the Chinese way of thinking, working and acting.

The five religions of China

Daoism is one of the five recognised religions of China – the other four are Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism and Islam. Now the influence of Daoism has spread beyond the Chinese-speaking world to attract international interest.


Beginnings of Hinduism

The religion of India
Hinduism is the indigenous religion of India. It grew over thousands of years into a body of teaching and culture which we now call Hinduism, named after the Western word for India, formerly called Hind, the land on the other side of the Indus River. India’s own name for its religion is Sanatan Dharma which means the eternal occupation of the soul. Religion in India has always been a natural part of daily life: for the body the natural thing is to breathe and to eat, and for the soul the natural occupation is religion.

Early sources

Hinduism has no single founder. It evolved out of the rich culture of ancient India. Between 3000 and 1500 BC the Aryans migrated into India from present-day Iran. In Northern India they met a culture already well-established, with cities such as Mohenjo Daro in present-day Pakistan. In Southern India the Deccan culture flourished for 1500 years up to about 1000 BC. Early Hinduism developed out of these three cultures.

The Vedic hymns
The source of Hindu teaching is the Vedic hymns, poems passed down from ancient times by word of mouth, and written in the Sanskrit language in their earliest form around 1500 BC. Hindus believe the Vedas are the inspired word of God, delivered at the dawn of the universe to Brahma, the first created being. The central theme of these poems, expanded in other sacred writings, is the soul’s search for liberation from suffering, and ultimately for release from the cycle of birth and death.


Beginnings of Islam

The Prophet Muhammad was born in Makkah, in present-day Saudi Arabia, in 570 and grew up as a trader. At the age of 40 he had a visitation from the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel), who gave him messages from God. He told these messages to the people of Makkah, and some believed him and began to follow the teachings of God as revealed to Muhammad. He and his followers were forced to leave Makkah and travel to Medina, where they founded the first Muslim community in the year 622. The Muslim calendar dates from this journey, known as the Hijrah. After a few years Muhammad returned to Makkah with an army of supporters and re-entered the city. He died in 632.

The Qur’an
Muhammad continued receiving messages from God throughout the later part of his life. He memorised these messages and passed them on to his followers. After his death they were collected and written down in the Qur’an (Koran). The sayings and deeds of Muhammad were recorded in the Hadith. These two books are the source of guidance for all Muslims.

The Spread of Islam

Within the Prophet’s lifetime Islam covered most of the Arabian peninsular. In the following 100 years, Muslims conquered the Persian Empire and much of the Byzantine Empire to rule from North Africa and Spain to the borders of China. Many of the conquered peoples converted to Islam, although in some cases this took several centuries.Now there are more than 50 independent Muslim countries and there is a worldwide population of around 1,300 million Muslims.

Beginnings of Jainism

The founders of the ancient Jain religion were the 24 Tirthankaras most of whom lived before recorded history. Their name means ford-makers, who cross over the river of birth and death. These sages were also called jina, meaning spiritual victors, and their followers, who revere them and remember their examples, are called Jains.


The last of the 24 Tirthankaras was Mahavira, born around 540 BC. At the age of 30 he left home to wander as an ascetic and practice penance. After 12 years he found enlightenment and started teaching. He gathered hundreds of thousands of followers and divided them into four groups: monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. By the 5th century BC the Jain religion was an influential force in Northern India.

Tattvartha Sutra

The most important Jain scripture is the Tattvartha Sutra, written in Sanskrit in the 2nd century AD. It summarises the entire Jain doctrine and remains the basis for Jain education to this day.

Jainism today

By the 12th century was in decline in India, making way for Hindus and Muslims, but it has remained strong mainly in Gujarat, Maharastra and Rajasthan, in the North-West of India, where more than 7 million Jains live today. Small communities live in Britain and America.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Comparison of 11 Different Religions - Part 1

There is an organization called the "Alliance of Religions and Conservation" (or ARC), which describes itself as "a secular body that helps the major religions of the world to develop their own environmental programmes, based on their own core teachings, beliefs and practices."
Their goal is to "help the religions link with key environmental organisations – creating powerful alliances between faith communities and conservation groups. ARC was founded in 1995 by HRH Prince Philip. [They]... work with 11 major faiths through the key traditions within each faith."

Because this organization is secular, without a bias for or against any particular faiths, I thought it was a good source of information for this blog. I will summarize what they say about the 11 major religions of the world: Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shintoism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. The following paragraphs are from the ARC web site. The page link for each religion is below the description.



Beginnings of the Baha’i faith

The Baha’i faith is the youngest of the world's independent religions. Its founder, Baha’u’llah (1817-1892), is regarded by Baha’is as the most recent in the line of Messengers of God that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad.The central theme of Baha’u’llah’s message is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society. God, Baha’u’llah said, has set in motion historical forces that are breaking down traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation and that will, in time, give birth to a universal civilization. The principal challenge facing the peoples of the earth is to accept the fact of their oneness and to assist the processes of unification.

The Spread of Baha’i

The Baha’i Faith grew out of Islam, but is entirely independent of its parent religion. It first appeared in Persia, then spread to neighbouring Muslim lands in the Ottoman and Russian Empires and to northern India. Though some early followers were of Jewish, Christian, or Zoroastrian background, the vast majority had been followers of Islam. The forerunner of the Baha’i faith was an Iranian named Siyyid Kazim-i-Rashti, known as the ‘Bab’. The title Bab means ‘gate’ and originated among early Shi’a Muslims as a name for the spokesmen of the 12th Imam following the Prophet Muhammed. In 1844 the Bab taught that he was the gate through which a Promised One would soon appear as messenger from God. To Islamic clergy the Bab and his followers were heretics, because they believed in the coming of further prophets. They were persecuted, and the Bab was executed in 1850. His follower Baha’u’llah was exiled to Baghdad, where he proclaimed himself as the expected messenger of God in 1863. From there he was removed eventually to Acre, in present-day Israel, arriving as a prisoner in 1868. He remained here under house arrest until his death in in 1892. His teachings had already spread beyond the Middle East, and his shrine in Bahja is today the focal point of the Baha’i world community.


Beginnings of Buddhism

Buddhism was founded around 550 BC by Siddhartha Gautama, born in North India as a Hindu prince. When he was still a young man he abandoned his palace and went alone to the forest in search of an end to suffering. For six years he practiced penance and meditation, before achieving enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. The Buddha, or Enlightened One, as he came to be known, dedicated the remainder of his life – he lived to be 80 – to travelling the Ganges plains teaching the path to enlightenment to whomever would listen. By the time he left this world he had gathered a large following of monks, nuns and householders, organised into communities called Sanghas.

The Dhammapada

His teachings were memorised by his disciples and passed down orally. In 80 BC they were written down in the collection of texts now known as the Pali cannon. The best known record of his teachings is a short collection of his sayings called the Dhammapada.

The Spread of Buddhism

Buddhism spread far beyond India to countries throughout Asia, particularly Sri Lanka, Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma. Altogether there are about 500 million Buddhists today.



Beginnings of Christianity


Christianity takes its name from the Greek word ‘Christ’, meaning Anointed One, whom Christians believe was Jesus, the son of God. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, near Jerusalem and grew up as a Jewish boy. At about the age of 30 he began three years of travelling and teaching. He taught a new way of drawing upon the Jewish tradition. He called this way the Kingdom of God. He gathered followers and aroused the opposition of the Roman authorities who suspected him of planning a rebellion and had him executed.

The spread of Christianity

After his crucifixion Jesus appeared to his disciples and told them to go out into the world and preach that we are all loved by God and are called to love those around us in response. [See below for an editorial note by Soul-and-Substance] By around 60 AD Christianity had spread west and north to many parts of the Roman Empire. In 300 AD Armenia became the first officially Christian country. At the same time Christianity also spread east through the Persian Empire as far as China. Since the 16th century European missionaries established Christianity in every continent.

Diverse traditions

Today there are about 2 billion Christians in the world divided mainly among three main traditions: the Orthodox churches in Russia and Eastern Europe, the Protestant churches mainly in Europe and North America, and the Roman Catholic church which is spread everywhere. Besides these are many independent traditions in different parts of the world.

Editorial note by Soul-and-Substance: There are two doctrines omitted here, that are central to all mainstream Christian denominations. (1) the belief in a triune God (the Trinity), wherein Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father are three and one, simultaneously--a single God; (2) the belief that the primary reason that Jesus (as God) came to earth was to die as a substitution for the death penalty that would be assessed on each individual, because of sin.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Muhammad the Prophet, by Prof. K. S. Ramakrishna Rao

By Prof. K. S. Ramakrishna Rao, Head of the Department of Philosophy,Government College for Women University of Mysore, Mandya-571401 (Karnatika).
Re-printed from "Islam and Modern age", Hydrabad, March 1978.
[Note: What follows is a condensed version of the article. The complete article can be found at the above web site.]
In the desert of Arabia was Mohammad born, according to Muslim historians, on April 20, 571. The name means highly praised....

When he appeared Arabia was a desert -- a nothing. Out of nothing a new world was fashioned by the mighty spirit of Mohammad -- a new life, a new culture, a new civilization, a new kingdom which extended from Morocco to Indies and influenced the thought and life of three continents -- Asia, Africa and Europe....

...The principle of Islam that there is no compulsion in religion is well known. Gibbon, a historian of world repute says, "A pernicious tenet has been imputed to Mohammadans, the duty of extirpating all the religions by sword." This charge based on ignorance and bigotry, says the eminent historian, is refuted by Quran, by history of Musalman conquerors and by their public and legal toleration of Christian worship. The great success of Mohammad's life had been effected by sheer moral force, without a stroke of sword.

But in pure self-defense, after repeated efforts of conciliation had utterly failed, circumstances dragged him into the battlefield. But the prophet of Islam changed the whole strategy of the battlefield. The total number of casualties in all the wars that took place during his lifetime when the whole Arabian Peninsula came under his banner, does not exceed a few hundreds in all. But even on the battlefield he taught the Arab barbarians to pray, to pray not individually, but in congregation to God the Almighty. During the dust and storm of warfare whenever the time for prayer came, and it comes five times a every day, the congregation prayer had not to be postponed even on the battlefield. A party had to be engaged in bowing their heads before God while other was engaged with the enemy. After finishing the prayers, the two parties had to exchange their positions. To the Arabs, who would fight for forty years on the slight provocation that a camel belonging to the guest of one tribe had strayed into the grazing land belonging to other tribe and both sides had fought till they lost 70,000 lives in all; threatening the extinction of both the tribes to such furious Arabs, the Prophet of Islam taught self-control and discipline to the extent of praying even on the battlefield....His own treatment with his bitterest enemies is the noblest example for his followers. At the conquest of Mecca, he stood at the zenith of his power. The city which had refused to listen to his mission, which had tortured him and his followers, which had driven him and his people into exile and which had unrelentingly persecuted and boycotted him even when he had taken refuge in a place more than 200 miles away, that city now lay at his feet. By the laws of war he could have justly avenged all the cruelties inflicted on him and his people. But what treatment did he accord to them? Mohammad's heart flowed with affection and he declared, "This day, there is no REPROOF against you and you are all free." "This day" he proclaimed, "I trample under my feet all distinctions between man and man, all hatred between man and man." ...

The principles of universal brotherhood and doctrine of the equality of mankind which he proclaimed represents one very great contribution of Mohammad to the social uplift of humanity. All great religions have preached the same doctrine but the prophet of Islam had put this theory into actual practice and its value will be fully recognized, perhaps centuries hence, when international consciousness being awakened, racial prejudices may disappear and greater brotherhood of humanity come into existence.

Miss. Sarojini Naidu speaking about this aspect of Islam says, "It was the first religion that preached and practiced democracy; for in the mosque, when the minaret is sounded and the worshipers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and the king kneel side by side and proclaim, God alone is great." ...

Every year, during the Haj, the world witnesses the wonderful spectacle of this international Exhibition of Islam in leveling all distinctions of race, color and rank. Not only the Europeans, the African, the Arabian, the Persian, the Indians, the Chinese all meet together in Medina as members of one divine family, but they are clad in one dress every person in two simple pieces of white seamless cloth, one piece round the loin the other piece over the shoulders, bare head without pomp or ceremony, repeating "Here am I O God; at thy command; thou art one and alone; Here am I." Thus there remains nothing to differentiate the high from the low and every pilgrim carries home the impression of the international significance of Islam....

It is this same democratic spirit of Islam that emancipated women from the bondage of man. Sir Charles Edward Archibald Hamilton says "Islam teaches the inherent sinlessness of man. It teaches that man and woman and woman have come from the same essence, posses the same soul and have been equipped with equal capabilities for intellectual, spiritual and moral attainments."

The Arabs had a very strong tradition that one who can smite with the spear and can wield the sword would inherit. But Islam came as the defender of the weaker sex and entitled women to share the inheritance of their parents. It gave women, centuries ago right of owning property, yet it was only 12 centuries later , in 1881, that England, supposed to be the cradle of democracy adopted this institution of Islam and the act was called "the married woman act", but centuries earlier, the Prophet of Islam had proclaimed that "Woman are twin halves of men. The rights of women are sacred. See that women maintained rights granted to them."

Islam is not directly concerned with political and economic systems, but indirectly and in so far as political and economic affairs influence man's conduct, it does lay down some very important principles to govern economic life. According to Prof. Massignon, it maintains the balance between exaggerated opposites and has always in view the building of character which is the basis of civilization. This is secured by its law of inheritance, by an organized system of charity known as Zakat, and by regarding as illegal all anti-social practices in the economic field like monopoly, usury, securing of predetermined unearned income and increments, cornering markets, creating monopolies, creating an artificial scarcity of any commodity in order to force the prices to rise....

The Encyclopedia Brittanica says that "Mohammad is the most successful of all Prophets and religious personalities"....There is Mohammad the Prophet, there is Mohammad the General; Mohammad the King; Mohammad the Warrior; Mohammad the Businessman; Mohammad the Preacher; Mohammad the Philosopher; Mohammad the Statesman; Mohammad the Orator; Mohammad the reformer; Mohammad the Refuge of orphans; Mohammad the Protector of slaves; Mohammad the Emancipator of women; Mohammad the Law-giver; Mohammad the Judge; Mohammad the Saint.

And in all these magnificent roles, in all these departments of human activities, he is like, a hero..
From an orphan boy to a persecuted refugee and then to an overlord, spiritual as well as temporal, of a whole nation and Arbiter of its destinies, with all its trials and temptations, with all its vicissitudes and changes, its lights and shades, its up and downs, its terror and splendor, he has stood the fire of the world and came out unscathed to serve as a model in every face of life. His achievements are not limited to one aspect of life, but cover the whole field of human conditions.

If for instance, greatness consist in the purification of a nation, steeped in barbarism and immersed in absolute moral darkness, that dynamic personality who has transformed, refined and uplifted an entire nation, sunk low as the Arabs were, and made them the torch-bearer of civilization and learning, has every claim to greatness. If greatness lies in unifying the discordant elements of society by ties of brotherhood and charity, the prophet of the desert has got every title to this distinction. If greatness consists in reforming those warped in degrading and blind superstition and pernicious practices of every kind, the prophet of Islam has wiped out superstitions and irrational fear from the hearts of millions. If it lies in displaying high morals, Mohammad has been admitted by friend and foe as Al Amin, or the faithful. If a conqueror is a great man, here is a person who rose from helpless orphan and an humble creature to be the ruler of Arabia, the equal to Chosroes and Caesars, one who founded great empire that has survived all these 14 centuries. If the devotion that a leader commands is the criterion of greatness, the prophet's name even today exerts a magic charm over millions of souls, spread all over the world.

He had not studied philosophy in the school of Athens of Rome, Persia, India, or China. Yet, He could proclaim the highest truths of eternal value to mankind. Illiterate himself, he could yet speak with an eloquence and fervor which moved men to tears, to tears of ecstasy. Born an orphan blessed with no worldly goods, he was loved by all. He had studied at no military academy; yet he could organize his forces against tremendous odds and gained victories through the moral forces which he marshaled. Gifted men with genius for preaching are rare. Descartes included the perfect preacher among the rarest kind in the world....
After the fall of Mecca, more than one million square miles of land lay at his feet, Lord of Arabia, he mended his own shoes and coarse woolen garments, milked the goats, swept the hearth, kindled the fire and attended the other menial offices of the family. The entire town of Medina where he lived grew wealthy in the later days of his life. Everywhere there was gold and silver in plenty and yet in those days of prosperity many weeks would elapse without a fire being kindled in the hearth of the king of Arabia, His food being dates and water. His family would go hungry many nights successively because they could not get anything to eat in the evening. He slept on no soften bed but on a palm mat, after a long busy day to spend most of his night in prayer, often bursting with tears before his creator to grant him strength to discharge his duties....

Circumstances changed, but the prophet of God did not. In victory or in defeat, in power or in adversity, in affluence or in indigence, he is the same man, disclosed the same character. Like all the ways and laws of God, Prophets of God are unchangeable.

An honest man, as the saying goes, is the noblest work of God, Mohammad was more than honest. He was human to the marrow of his bones. Human sympathy, human love was the music of his soul. To serve man, to elevate man, to purify man, to educate man, in a word to humanize man-this was the object of his mission, the be-all and end all of his life. In thought, in word, in action he had the good of humanity as his sole inspiration, his sole guiding principle.
He was most unostentatious and selfless to the core. What were the titles he assumed? Only true servant of God and His Messenger. Servant first, and then a messenger. A Messenger and prophet like many other prophets in every part of the world, some known to you, many not known you. If one does not believe in any of these truths one ceases to be a Muslim. It is an article of faith.

"Looking at the circumstances of the time and unbounded reverence of his followers" says a western writer "the most miraculous thing about Mohammad is, that he never claimed the power of working miracles." Miracles were performed but not to propagate his faith and were attributed entirely to God and his inscrutable ways. He would plainly say that he was a man like others. He had no treasures of earth or heaven. Nor did he claim to know the secrets of that lie in womb of future. All this was in an age when miracles were supposed to be ordinary occurrences, at the back and call of the commonest saint, when the whole atmosphere was surcharged with supernaturalism in Arabia and outside Arabia.

He turned the attention of his followers towards the study of nature and its laws, to understand them and appreciate the Glory of God. The Quran says,
"God did not create the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in play. He did not create them all but with the truth. But most men do not know."

The world is not illusion, nor without purpose. It has been created with the truth. The number of verses inviting close observation of nature are several times more than those that relate to prayer, fasting, pilgrimage etc. all put together. The Muslim under its influence began to observe nature closely and this give birth to the scientific spirit of the observation and experiment which was unknown to the Greeks.... Robert Priffault concludes in his well known book The making of humanity, "The debt of our science to the Arabs does not consist in starting discovers or revolutionary theories. Science owes a great more to Arabs culture; it owes is existence." The same writer says "The Greeks systematized, generalized and theorized but patient ways of investigation, the accumulation of positive knowledge, the minute methods of science, detailed and prolonged observation, experimental inquiry, were altogether alien to Greek temperament. What we call science arose in Europe as result of new methods of investigation, of the method of experiment, observation, measurement, of the development of Mathematics in form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and these methods, concludes the same author, were introduced into the European world by Arabs."

It is the same practical character of the teaching of Prophet Mohammad that gave birth to the scientific spirit, that has also sanctified the daily labors and the so called mundane affairs. The Quran says that God has created man to worship him but the word worship has a connotation of its own. Gods worship is not confined to prayer alone, but every act that is done with the purpose of winning approval of God and is for the benefit of the humanity comes under its purview. Islam sanctifies life and all its pursuits provided they are performed with honesty, justice and pure intents. It obliterates the age-long distinction between the sacred and profane. The Quran says if you eat clean things and thank God for it, it is an act of worship....

This new conception of religion that it should also devote itself to the betterment of this life rather than concern itself exclusively with super mundane affairs, has led to a new orientation of moral values. Its abiding influence on the common relations of mankind in the affairs of every day life, its deep power over the masses, its regulation of their conception of rights and duty, its suitability and adaptability to the ignorant savage and the wise philosopher are characteristic features of the teaching of the Prophet of Islam.

But it should be most carefully born in mind this stress on good actions is not the sacrifice correctness of faith. While there are various school of thought, one praising faith at the expense of deeds, another exhausting various acts to the detriment of correct belief, Islam is based on correct faith and righteous actions. Means are important as the end and ends are as important as the means. It is an organic Unity. Together they live and thrive. Separate them and both decay and die. In Islam faith can not be divorced from the action. Right knowledge should be transferred into right action to produce the right results. How often the words came in Quran -- Those who believe and do good thing, they alone shall enter paradise. Again and again, not less than fifty times these words are repeated as if too much stress can not be laid on them. Contemplation is encouraged but mere contemplation is not the goal. Those who believe and do nothing can not exist in Islam. These who believe and do wrong are inconceivable. Divine law is the law of effort and not of ideals. It chalks out for the men the path of eternal progress from knowledge to action and from action to satisfaction.

But what is the correct faith from which right action spontaneously proceeds resulting in complete satisfaction. Here the central doctrine of Islam is the Unity of God. There is no God but God is the pivot from which hangs the whole teaching and practice of Islam. He is unique not only as regards his divine being but also as regards his divine attributes.

As regards the attributes of God, Islam adopts here as in other things too, the law of golden mean. It avoids on the one hand, the view of God which divests the divine being of every attribute and rejects, on the other, the view which likens him to things material. The Quran says, On the one hand, there is nothing which is like him, on the other , it affirms that he is Seeing, Hearing, Knowing. He is the King who is without a stain of fault or deficiency, the mighty ship of His power floats upon the ocean of justice and equity. He is the Beneficent, the Merciful. He is the Guardian over all. Islam does not stop with this positive statement. It adds further which is its most special characteristic, the negative aspects of problem. There is also no one else who is guardian over everything. He is the meander of every breakage, and no one else is the meander of any breakage. He is the restorer of every loss and no one else is the restorer of any loss what-so-over. There is no God but one God, above any need, the maker of bodies, creator of souls, the Lord of the day of judgment, and in short, in the words of Quran, to him belong all excellent qualities.

Regarding the position of man in relation to the Universe, the Quran says:
"God has made subservient to you whatever is on the earth or in universe. You are destined to rule over the Universe."

But in relation to God, the Quran says:
"O man God has bestowed on you excellent faculties and has created life and death to put you to test in order to see whose actions are good and who has deviated from the right path."
In spite of free will which he enjoys, to some extent, every man is born under certain circumstances and continues to live under certain circumstances beyond his control. With regard to this God says, according to Islam, it is my will to create any man under condition that seem best to me. cosmic plans finite mortals can not fully comprehend. But I will certainly test you in prosperity as well in adversity, in health as well as in sickness, in heights as well as in depths. My ways of testing differ from man to man, from hour to hour. In adversity do not despair and do resort to unlawful means. It is but a passing phase. In prosperity do not forget God. God-gifts are given only as trusts. You are always on trial, every moment on test. In this sphere of life there is not to reason why, there is but to do and die. If you live in accordance with God; and if you die, die in the path of God. You may call it fatalism. but this type of fatalism is a condition of vigorous increasing effort, keeping you ever on the alert. Do not consider this temporal life on earth as the end of human existence. There is a life after death and it is eternal. Life after death is only a connection link, a door that opens up hidden reality of life. Every action in life however insignificant, produces a lasting effect. It is correctly recorded somehow. Some of the ways of God are known to you, but many of his ways are hidden from you. What is hidden in you and from you in this world will be unrolled and laid open before you in the next. the virtuous will enjoy the blessing of God which the eye has not seen, nor has the ear heard, nor has it entered into the hearts of men to conceive of they will march onward reaching higher and higher stages of evolution. Those who have wasted opportunity in this life shall under the inevitable law, which makes every man taste of what he has done, be subjugated to a course of treatment of the spiritual diseases which they have brought about with their own hands. Beware, it is terrible ordeal. Bodily pain is torture, you can bear somehow. Spiritual pain is hell, you will find it almost unbearable. Fight in this life itself the tendencies of the spirit prone to evil, tempting to lead you into iniquities ways. Reach the next stage when the self-accusing sprit in your conscience is awakened and the soul is anxious to attain moral excellence and revolt against disobedience. This will lead you to the final stage of the soul at rest, contented with God, finding its happiness and delight in him alone. The soul no more stumbles. The stage of struggle passes away. Truth is victorious and falsehood lays down its arms. All complexes will then be resolved. Your house will not be divided against itself. Your personality will get integrated round the central core of submission to the will of God and complete surrender to his divine purpose. All hidden energies will then be released. The soul then will have peace. God will then address you:
"O thou soul that art at rest, and restest fully contented with thy Lord return to thy Lord. He pleased with thee and thou pleased with him; So enter among my servants and enter into my paradise."

This is the final goal for man; to become, on the, one hand, the master of the universe and on the other, to see that his soul finds rest in his Lord, that not only his Lord will be pleased with him but that he is also pleased with his Lord. Contentment, complete contentment, satisfaction, complete satisfaction, peace, complete peace. The love of God is his food at this stage and he drinks deep at the fountain of life. Sorrow and defeat do not overwhelm him and success does not find him in vain and exulting....

Azmat N. Khan

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Attributes of the God You Serve

Every religion has certain character traits that they attribute to the deity or deities they worship. Even the gods of Greek mythology had distinct character traits. Recognizing these and being able to communicate them is crucial to our understanding of the beliefs of others and even of ourselves. As part of this section, I will be going to Bloggers of various faiths to ask them to describe what they believe are the core character attributes of their God (or gods), along with the name or denomination of their religion. Again, the purpose is to understand, not to convert one another, so we need to be as respectful as possible, even if we disagree.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Effective Communication Requires Understanding Another's Paradigm:

If you have ever watched the Beverly Hillbillies, during its original run or recently on TV Land, you know that the main reason it is funny is that the "hillbilly" Clampetts continue to live in a different culture (paradigm) from the modern world of Beverly Hills. Something similar happens when a person of one culture, religion, or political pursuasion tries to discuss strongly held beliefs with a person who believes differently. Each is immersed in a paradigm so strong than even simple words mean one thing in one paradigm and something entirely different in another. Take a simple, non-religious example: Two people are discussing the fact that a friend's dog has just been diagnosed with cancer. Finances are not a hardship, so we can remove monetary concerns from the equation. One person considers a dog to be a dear member of the family. The other views a dog as a likable, but replaceable possession. Their friend has been assured that the cancer can be completely cured with surgery, but that the surgery will cost $3,000. The person who view dogs as members of the family thinks that the friend should go ahead with the surgery, as long as post-operative pain can be adequately controlled. The other friend thinks that it is ridiculous to spend that kind of money on something that can be replaced for a fraction of the cost of surgery. The friend that you think is right will depend, in large part, on how you yourself think of dogs. No amount of argument, using points consistent with the paradigm in which the person is living, will do anything to convince the person on the other side, whose paradigm of beliefs is very different. Unless one intellectually and emotionally steps into the paradigm of the other person, it will be almost impossible to communicate meaningfully about the issues involved.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Are All Opposites Part of a Unified Whole?

This discussion began on the Post & Comments under "An Open Question to Atheists and Agnostics). Amarendra ( had started a discussion about his opinion that all things that appear opposite or contradictory are, in fact, part of a unified whole. He said this, in that section: "God is the fundamental essence of all things! (That makes omnipresence and omniscience possible. Once you have omniscience, then is omnipotency far behind?). Also, just like a finger is part of the whole, all opposites (like light and darkness) make the whole supreme being."

In one sense, those statements are a lot like a particular passage in the Bible, where the apostle Paul uses the human body as an analogy for the "body" of Christian believers all over the world.
14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? 18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. [1 Corinthians 12:14-26 (NLT)]

There appears to be a significant difference, however, between saying that apparent opposites are part of a unified whole, and saying that God is included in (but never outside) that "whole." If one isn't careful to make a distinction (and perhaps Amarendra doesn't intend to make one), it sounds as if all of humanity is IN God and is EQUAL TO God. Even if there is disagreement on how literally one should interpret the Bible, all Judeo-Christian denominations agree that, although God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, He is also far superior to even the most "perfect" human being. The Bible indicates that God can exist without humanity--in fact, He did exist without humanity for eons. Humanity, however, could not have come into existence without God. (Let's leave out, for the present, whether anyone agrees or disagrees with the Bible itself. It is still The Book upon which all Judeo-Christian religions are based: Judaism being based on the Old Testament, and Christianity on both Old and New Testaments.) Here is a scripture passages (from the Bible) that illustrates my point.
(1) 1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:1-5 (NLT)]--Note that the author is using the "Word" to mean Jesus in his pre-incarnation state (i.e., before Jesus came to earth as the Messiah).

What this seems to bring us to is the deeper question of who (or what) is God? Is God a force or power? Is God essentially the human soul in a perfect form? Or is God a spiritual being who is separate and distinct from the human race, but can influence the human spirit and the universe itself in profound ways?

Friday, February 29, 2008

An Open Question to Atheists and Agnostics

If it were theoretically possible for you to change your mind and be convinced that there is a God who created the universe, what would it take for that to happen? I know how I personally used to feel--that I couldn't see any physical evidence and it couldn't be proved scientifically. I also know what it took to convince me. I do know, however, that there are lots of people who are definitely not convinced and I'm curious to know what it would take to change.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What about the Bible?

There is a lot of talk about the Bible, but basically there are three primary opinions:

(1) Opinion #1 is that the Bible was inspired by God, so that the human authors wrote exactly what God wanted to be written and the humans who decided on the chapters included exactly what God wanted them to include. Because the Bible was inspired by God, it is therefore inerrant (i.e., without errors) and should be interpreted in light of eternity and not just in light of the culture of the day.

(2) Opinion #2 is that the Bible was written by humans, to the best of their imperfect ability. They may have been inspired by God, but their interpretation of that inspiration could have been inaccurate. In our day, therefore, we must depend upon our own leading by the Holy Spirit to determine the correct meaning of what we read in the Bible.

(3) Opinion #3 is basically the non-Christian view, whether Jewish , atheist, or agnostic. This view looks at the Bible (New Testament, in the case of the Jewish faith), as an interesting piece of literature, with some historical accuracy, but that most of it's content is equivalent to mythology, such as other ancient peoples created to explain unexplainable events.

Comments, anyone?