On ISIS, Sex Slavery, Rape Culture, and Religious Fundamentalism

I recently read a disgusting story involving ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State/Da’esh and the plight of female sex slaves traded between its members. I relayed the following story to my class and asked them for their initial thoughts on slavery, but specifically on sex slavery and the exchange of female sexual slaves between men.


The story stated that a wealthy ISIS operative owned a female slave. (This is apparently not uncommon in this culture.) This ISIS operative then sold two of his daughters in marriage to another ISIS operative to be wives for him. (Again, remember that polygamy, or having two or more wives at once, is not unlawful in this culture. There is some question about having two sisters as wives at the same time.)

To one of the daughters he sold in marriage he also gave his female slave as a gift to the daughter to be her slave. However, when that daughter could not bear children for her new husband, she gave her husband that same female slave to have sex with him and bear children for him. The female slave bore him two children, but his wife claimed both boys as her own children.

Later on, one of her husband’s sons by the wife’s sister (his other wife) also had sex with the female slave.


This was the plight of one woman–a sex slave–as told in the story.

I placed the above story on a powerpoint as I read it to my class. I then asked my class for their reactions to this story.

“Barbaric!” said one student.

“Horrible!” said another.

“Who would do that?” asked yet another.

One exasperated student chimed in, “How is this legal? How is this not banned by Islam?”

“Well, this is the problem with Islam!”, replied another male student. “They have slavery and they don’t respect women.”

Most students were disgusted. One student was near tears. “How could they treat women like this?” she muttered. “Those poor women. They never had a chance.”

Another determined student bellowed from the back of the room: “This is why we need to defeat them. ISIS. We can’t let this happen!

And before I could respond, he continued: “And this is why we have to keep them from coming here to the United States. Any religion that allows THIS in its so-called “holy book” should not be allowed in this country!”

And there it was. I stood silently, looking down at the ground.

After a deliberate, silent pause, I looked up, looked around the class, and then said, “Note that I didn’t include any names in this story. Let me replace the words ‘ISIS operative’ and ‘female slave’ with some actual names and I want to ask you the same question.”

I clicked on my laptop and the following story appeared in place of the earlier one.


The story stated that a wealthy MAN NAMED LABAN owned a female slave NAMED BILHAH (Gen. 29:29).(This is apparently not uncommon in this culture.) LABAN then sold two of his daughters (LEAH AND RACHEL) in marriage to another MAN NAMED JACOB to be wives for him. (Again, remember that polygamy, or having two or more wives at once, is not unlawful in this culture. There is some question about having two sisters as wives at the same time.)

To RACHEL he also gave his female slave, BILHAH, as a gift to RACHEL to be her slave (Gen. 30:3). However, when RACHEL could not bear children for JACOB, she gave JACOB BILHAH to have sex with him and bear children for him (Gen. 30:4). BILHAH bore him two children, DAN AND NAPHTALI, but RACHEL claimed both boys as her own children.

Later on, one of JACOB‘s sons, REUBEN, by RACHEL‘s sister (LEAH) also had sex with BILHAH (Gen. 35:22).


“Now how do you feel about this account of sexual slavery?” I asked the class.

The students stared at the screen, some with wide eyes and open jaws.

Our boisterous student protested from the back of the classroom: “That’s not the same! That’s a long time ago. That’s a completely different context.”

“Actually,” I replied calmly, “It’s the exact same story, just with the names changed.”

“Yeah, but…” one student chimed in, “…this is different. This is from the Bible. This is different.”

“You’re right!”, I responded, “This is the birth of ancient Israel.”

I continued, “Isn’t it fascinating that the twelve tribes of Israel are the result of a polygamous marriage–a man married to two women at once, in fact, two sisters, which is explicitly banned in Lev. 18:18: (“And you shall not take a woman as a rival to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.”)–and two sex slaves, Bilhah and Zilpah.”

I reiterated: “The twelve tribes of Israel are the product of one man, two wives, and two sex slaves.”

“OK,” one student interrupted, “…but this was God’s plan. God was OK with this. God didn’t punish this. This was part of his plan.”

I retorted, “First of all, you’re right. Gen. 25:6 says that Abraham had sex slaves (concubines).”

I continued: “In Exod. 21:10, God says you can have multiple wives: “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.” So does Deut. 21:15-16: “If a man has two wives, one of them loved and the other disliked, and if both the loved and the disliked have borne him sons, the firstborn being the son of the one who is disliked, then on the day when he wills his possessions to his sons, he is not permitted to treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the firstborn.”

“In Deut. 22:28-29, God says that if you rape a woman, you are not put in prison, but God says you must pay a fine to her father, and you must marry her and never divorce her: “If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.”

“In Num 31:17-18, God says you can slaughter a city in battle, but spare the virgin women and force them to be your wife: Num. 31:17: “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

“In fact, this one was so popular, the Bible talks about it a second time in Deut. 21:11-14: “Suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.” But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.”

“So yes,” I continued, “The Bible says that God commanded and/or allowed all these various forms of marriage.”

“Second,” I continued, “That’s exactly what ISIS would say. ‘This is God-ordained. God is OK with this’.”

Some students smiled, recognizing the crux of the lesson I was giving that day. Others sat silently, slowly absorbing the logical paradox and the cognitive dissonance they never before recognized. They saw that what they condemn today in Islam as practiced by ISIS is the very same practice that produced ancient Israel, at least according to the Bible.

Some students refused to see it. Others saw it, but couldn’t believe it. Others understood completely.

And this was the first lesson for the day: that what many condemn as atrocious in other religions, they embrace blindly in their own religion. Sexually abhorrent behavior is condemned when other religions practice it, but is often accepted as normal when it takes place in one’s own religion. We condemn the text of the other religion’s holy Scripture, until of course we realize that the passage is actually from our holy book.


I illustrated a second problem: Fundamentalists of one faith tend to assume that all adherents to other faiths are also literal fundamentalists, and because their Scripture says it, they all practice it to the letter today. This is not the case.

We know this is not the case because very few Christians and Jews are strict literal fundamentalists today. To be sure, there are many Christians and a few Jews who follow a strict, literal fundamentalist view of Scripture (or at least believe themselves to be doing so). But most Christians today do not. Most Christians understand that many biblical commands–many from God’s own mouth like endorsements of slavery and commands of genocide–are simply relics of the past–commands and acts done by a less civilized society thousands of years ago that are simply dismissed by today’s Christians.

Most Jews–specifically Reform Judaism–do not adhere to a strict literalist interpretation of Scripture. They are the first to say, “We know what the Bible says, and we understand that Jews in the past may have practice this, but we have matured as a society and we simply do not do that any more.” And Reform Judaism has a long, beautiful tradition of updating the biblical rules and establishing new moral regulations as society had progressed and become more civilized that do away with much of the abhorrent behavior described (and often commanded by God) in the Bible.

And yet some conservative Christians are strict literalists. They interpret the Bible literally, and believe that every word of both the Old and New Testaments to be the inerrant, infallible, unchanging Word of God. And it is most often these Christians that project their hermeneutic–their way of reading Scripture–onto Muslims, and falsely assume that all Muslims interpret the Qur’an in the same way. They believe that since all Christians should read that Bible fundamentally, all Muslims do read the Qur’an fundamentally.

This is simply not the case.

The fact is most Muslims do not interpret the Qur’an in a strict literalist manner. A majority of Muslims around the world have also updated and adapted their Islamic moral teachings to do away with the most horrific and problematic teachings of the Qur’an–in the very same way that most Jews and Christians have done with their Scriptures.

And yet, there are certain sects of Islam–in our present case, Wahhabi Islamic Militant Jihadists, who comprise the core of ISIS–who want to see the world interpret the Qur’an in the same strict literalist manner that they do. And they want their fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture to be the civil law of the land, governing all peoples, whether they are Muslim or not.

Ironically in America, this is the same desire of strict literalist Christians, who want to legislate their fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible over all Americans, whether they are Christian or not, and turn civil law into the Christian equivalent of Shari’a law.

Christian fundamentalists see all Muslims as Islamic fundamentalists because they don’t know any other way of reading Scripture. And as a nation we cannot allow fundamentalists of any religion to govern our country and turn the United States into ground zero of a religious war.


There was one additional point from the above sex slave exercise that I shared with the class: the reason that sexual misconduct against women is largely dismissed, excused, and tolerated today in this country is that it is interwoven into our predominant religious beliefs. Sexual slavery is part of the Bible. Bigamy. Polygamy. Rape. The taking of prisoners of war (the pleasing virgin ones) as wives. This is part of the Bible. Not only that, this is part of the Bible often commanded and authorized by God.

The rape culture that exists today in the U.S. that terrifies women, and which many men fail to recognize, is the result of a problematic theology that has either accepted, openly or tacitly, or has largely dismissed the problem of the sexual mistreatment of women because of the very unwillingness of many Christians to critique these same practices in the very Scripture that they claim to be their moral authority.

Or put another way, because Christian fundamentalists in America are unwilling to acknowledge that there are horrific, amoral teachings and practices against women in the Bible, they resist addressing, or often even acknowledging, the culture of misogyny that exists in America today. For if they acknowledged the poor treatment of women in America today, they would at some point in the discussion have to question the teachings and practices involving women in the Bible, and fundamentalists are simply never going to do that.

So we get what we get: the belief that if the Bible is OK with the very rape culture it details in verse after verse, and the misogyny, and the suppression of women’s voices, and their authority, and their freedom of expression–and if God inspired his Holy Word–then it can’t be all that bad today. Right?

And this is the problem.

 

Do we need religion to have a moral code?

Do we need religion to have a moral code?

George Herbert Mead collegiate professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, Dr. Webb Keane, and Dr. Robert Cargill, assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, discussed the issue with Charity Nebbe, November 1, 2016 on Iowa Public Radio.

Listen now.

So much for the separation of church and state in Iowa

HOW IN THE NAME OF IOWA could Governor Branstad sign this? How is the even a part of the Governor’s duties?

The governor of our great state of Iowa recently signed a proclamation calling on the people of the state of Iowa to pray and fast and repent according to the text of the Bible.

Again, we’re not talking about the Governor of Kansas or Kentucky, but of Iowa.

Here’s the video.

Hemant Mehta has offered his thoughts on the matter, but allow me to offer a few of my own.

Proclamation signed and issued by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, inviting Iowans to pray, fast, repent, and 'come together

Proclamation signed and issued by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, inviting Iowans to pray, fast, repent, and unite (lit. “come together”) under the teachings of the deity YHWH so that the deity will “heal our land”.

The Christian equivalent of Sharia law is alive and festering in fundamentalist circles, and those who support the idea of baptizing of our civic administration are scheming increasingly creative ways to sneak religious language and practices into our supposedly secular government.

Read the text of the proclamation here. And note the last paragraph:

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terry E Branstad, as Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby invite all Iowans who choose to join in the thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14 in favor of our state and nation to come together on July 14, 2014.”

Now I know that some will come to the governor’s defense and point out that this is a non-binding “proclamation” and not a law, and that the text of the proclamation merely “invites” Iowans to pray instead of “requiring” them to do so. But this is still the Governor of a state calling on residents to pray and repent “according to II Chronicles 7:14”.

And it is the second part of the above line – “according to II Chronicles 7:14” – that should give us an even greater pause. To be sure, it is a problem for the governor of a state to call on his residents (many of whom are not Jewish or Christian) to participate in acts of devotion and worship to the god YHWH. But when we examine the actual context of the verse invoked in this proclamation, it is all the more troublesome.

The Governor of Iowa issued an executive proclamation specifically employing the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to call Iowans to a day of prayer to the Hebrew god YHWH. But please also note that he called on Iowans to participate in “humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14.”

And to what precisely are Iowans repenting? “Repentance” implies the leaving behind of our present ways and the turning or returning to the teachings of the god YHWH. Thus, Governor Branstad just signed a proclamation calling on Iowans to return to the specific teachings of a specific god, so that he will bless our land.

What is troubling is that the context of the verse invoked in his proclamation – that of  2 Chronicles 7:12-18 – specifically states that the reason we should we pray to this deity and do what the deity has commanded, is so the deity will “forgive our sin and heal our land.”

Read it for yourself:

2 Chr. 7:12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.
2 Chr. 7:13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,
2 Chr. 7:14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chr. 7:15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
2 Chr. 7:16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.
2 Chr. 7:17 As for you, if you walk before me, as your father David walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances,
2 Chr. 7:18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I made covenant with your father David saying, ‘You shall never lack a successor to rule over Israel.’

Does the Governor of Iowa believe that prayer, fasting, and repentance to the teaching of YHWH will “heal the land” of Iowa? Perhaps he does. Should the Governor of Iowa be calling on the residents of Iowa to participate with him in this act of sympathetic magic? Absolutely not!

What is all the more troubling is what specifically the verse invoked in the proclamation is calling upon King Solomon to do. Again, context is key in reading the Bible!

Did the Governor realize that the context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the building of the temple to YHWH in Jerusalem?

Again, let us look at the verses that appear on either side of 2 Chronicles 7:14:

2 Chr. 7:11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the LORD and the king’s house; all that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the LORD and in his own house he successfully accomplished.
2Chr. 7:12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.
2Chr. 7:13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,
2Chr. 7:14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2Chr. 7:15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
2Chr. 7:16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem now stands where the Temple in Jerusalem once stood.

Did Governor Branstad realize that this Temple to YHWH in Jerusalem no longer stands, that the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE, and that the Islamic Dome of the Rock stands where the Jewish Temple once stood?

Does the Governor of Iowa realize that invoking the text of 2 Chronicles 7 in an executive proclamation may be seen my some many as a call to re-establish the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which would necessarily involve the destruction of the third holiest shrine in Islam, the Dome of the Rock?

Because this is precisely what many fundamentalist Christian and Jewish organizations want to do: rebuild the Third Temple! And this becomes a much bigger problem when Governor Branstad employs a verse that is regularly employed by religious zealots to call for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and the re-establishment of the Temple to YHWH in Jerusalem.

Yet, this is precisely the context of the passage referred to in the proclamation! Is Governor Branstad calling on Iowans to “pray” to YHWH, and to “repent” to his teachings so that the Temple that YHWH has “chosen and consecrated” will stand forever?? That’s what the verse implies. That is the verse’s context.


This is a clear violation of the principle of separation of church and state, which was first introduced by Thomas Jefferson and made abundantly clear in our US Treaty of Tripoli, which spells out explicitly that:

The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion“.

I discuss this further in posts responding to claims that the United States was “founded as a Christian nation.”

Let me say this once more clearly:

We were NOT founded as a Christian nation. We we founded as a secular nation by many Christians, but we were NOT founded as a “Christian nation”.

And our Founders had the foresight to see the problems that would arise should the civic government ever engage in favoring one religion over another. This is because the same First Amendment that allows the freedom of religion for Christians also allows the worship of other gods – a clear violation of the very teachings not to worship other gods referred to in 2 Chronicles 7:14! (Cf. Deut. 13:12-16; Exod. 20:3-5; Matt. 4:10; Matt. 22:36-38; 1 Cor. 10:14) The hypocrisy is palpable.

Invoking the First Amendment of the US Constitution to defend the signing of an executive proclamation citing 2 Chronicles 7:14 is like invoking the Second Amendment in issuing a proclamation calling for the confiscation of all firearms. It is the epitome of irony.

Allow me to offer a parallel example from a different religion to demonstrate my point that this is not only a violation of the principle of separation of church and state, but why so many Iowans may have such a strong reaction to the Governor’s involvement with this particular religious decree.

What if a Fundamentalist Islamic group, let’s say, the Islamic Family Leader, invoked the same First Amendment of the US Constitution to ask the Governor of Iowa to issue a non-binding proclamation that called Iowans to repentance to God and cited Qur’an Sura 9:3:

So if you repent, that is best for you; but if you turn away – then know that you will not cause failure to God. And give tidings to those who disbelieve of a painful punishment.

or Qur’an Sura 9:5(b):

But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah (alms), let them [go] on their way. Indeed, God is Forgiving and Merciful.”

Simple enough, right? Same basic message of 2 Chron. 7:14: beautiful holy verses calling on Iowans to “repent” so as not to incur the wrath of God.

So what if Governor Branstad issued a similar non-binding proclamation that invoked these Qur’anic verses? My guess is that this would anger some in the Christian community, who might begin asking questions about the separation of church and state.

And of course, those objecting might actually go and read the larger context of the Qur’anic verses cited in the Governor’s proclamation, and would find that the proclamation deliberately neglected the context of the words coming just before the verse cited in the proclamation, Sura 9:5a:

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists (which likely includes Christians who believe in a triune God, which the Qur’an repeatedly derides as polytheism. Cf. Qur’an Sura 4:171) wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush.”

Do you think some people might object to this?? Might Christians object to a Qur’anic verse calling on Muslims to ambush and kill non-believers at least as much as many Muslims might object to Governor Branstad invoking averse that celebrates the establishment of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock now stands? Do you understand how this might make some Iowans unhappy?

This must be the litmus test for invoking religion in state matters. If Christians would object to the Governor of Iowa invoking a Qur’anic verse in an official proclamation, why would they expect others not to object to his invoking a verse from the Bible?

When the elected leader of a secular state calls on citizens of his state to engage in acts of devotion and worship (e.g., prayer, fasting, repentance, etc.) to one god and not to another, the elected leader engages in favoring one religious tradition over another. And while the elected leader may not be “establishing” one religion as the official state religion, by favoring one religion over another, and by calling on citizens to participate in one religion and not another, and by invoking a verse from one sacred book of scripture over another, the elected leader violates the principle of separation of church and state.

Besides, Jesus called on his followers to AVOID large public prayer performances, and instead said,

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt. 6:6)

By signing this proclamation, Governor Branstad gains absolutely nothing except a scandal over issues of church and state (and perhaps a sizable campaign contribution or political reconciliation).


In closing, I’d still like to offer Governor Branstad the benefit of the doubt, and believe that he (or at least his advisers) failed to read the “history and purpose” section of the still “under construction” Prayer 7-14-14 website, which is written in the first person by an anonymous author who claims God was speaking to him in visions and dreams.

ScreenCap of the

ScreenCap of the “History and Purpose” page on the prayer7-14-14.com website as of May 30, 2014.

Here’s a section from the “History and Purpose” page of the Prayer 7-14-14 website (see screen cap image at right):

“Since 2011 God has been speaking to me through dreams, visions and His word about our NationBelow I have referenced one dream and given two references, in scripture, that show God speaks through dreams and visions and tells us we need to be able to discern the times.. [sic]

Acts 2:17-21
AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS IN THE LAST DAYS, SAYS GOD,  THAT I WILL POUR OUT MY SPIRIT ON ALL FLESH;  YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS…I WILL SHOW WONDERS IN HEAVEN ABOVE AND SIGNS IN THE EARTH BENEATH; …THE SUN SHALL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS, AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE COMING OF THE GREAT AND AWESOME DAY OF THE LORD. AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS THAT WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED!

MATTHEW  16:1-4
WHEN IT IS EVENING YOU SAY, ‘IT WILL BE FOUL WEATHER TODAY, FOR THE SKY IS RED AND THREATENING.’   HYPOCRITES!  YOU KNOW HOW TO DISCERN THE FACE OF THE SKY, BUT YOU CANNOT DISCERN THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES….

ON 4-20-13 God spoke to me through a dream and His word…

In the dream I was writing on a red, white and blue shirt, “Something will start to churn in you today.”  I wanted to change the word to move, but I heard a voice say “NO, it is churn.” I happened to be reading through Hosea again for the third, fourth or fifth time, and I was starting at Chapter 11 that day.  When I got to verse 8, you can see below, it said His heart CHURNS  (just like in the dream)within Him and His sympathy is stirred.

I knew God was is pursuing America to turn back….” (red highlights mine)

Did the Office of the Governor of the State of Iowa really issue a proclamation sponsored by this group??

Sigh.


It is my hope that in the future, elected state officials will refrain from issuing calls for Americans to engage in acts of worship to any god. And if they do persist in this practice, that elected officials would refrain from invoking highly problematic verses from holy books that members of other religious groups might find wholly offensive and alienating.

When the Founders of our nation did mention a deity, they did so in narrowly defined contexts, referring to it, for example, as the “Creator” or as “Nature’s God,” and deliberately refrained from mentioning any specific religion, or from invoking or citing holy scriptures specific to any particular religious tradition.

There is no mention of Jesus or Christianity in the Declaration of Independence. There is no mention of Jesus or Christianity in the Constitution. We were not founded as a Christian nation. God did not write the Constitution. And when a deity was referenced (other than the standard “Year of Our Lord” dating convention), it was in a theistic or Deistic fashion, and not a specifically Christian one. This should serve as a template for those elected leaders who insist on referring to a deity as part of their civic duties.

Calling on citizens to engage in acts of worship to a specific deity and invoking the religious tradition affiliated with that deity only creates problems for the elected official and paints him or her as a tool of fundamentalist religious zealots, who hope to infiltrate our secular government and introduce religious law that our Founders sought to avoid at all costs.


To learn more about the presence of Christianity in our founding documents, take this quiz.

Summaries and expanded discussions of Bible Secrets Revealed Episodes 1-4 available at Bible History Daily

Bible History Daily
I have provided episode summaries of History‘s documentary series “Bible Secrets Revealed” episodes 1-4 at the Bible History Daily website. I’ve also included expanded discussions of many specific issues, as well as answers to many questions posed by Biblical Archaeology Society readers.

The discussions range from the origin of Jesus’ title “Son of Man”, to the origin of the virgin conception of Jesus, to how translators of the Bible fixed the problem of who really killed Goliath.

"Bible Secrets Revealed" Title Image (Courtesy Prometheus Entertainment)

The summaries are here:

Episode 1: Lost in Translation

Episode 2: The Promised Land

Episode 3: Forbidden Scriptures

Episode 4: The Real Jesus

I shall be providing a summary for Episode 5: Mysterious Prophecies soon, and will do the same for Episode 6: Sex and the Scriptures once it airs.

I may also pull some excerpts from those discussions and repost them here on occasion in order to highlight certain points and promote discussion.

Enjoy!

The Muslim “Last Supper” (and a word on the color of Jesus)

I love this HuffPo Religion story by Yasmine Hafiz.

Any time we can bridge cross-cultural gaps using food, holidays, and classical works of art, it’s always a win.

Ali told The Huffington Post, “For this year’s photo, we wanted to do something that, in its own humble way, aimed to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western cultural and religious norms. We looked up the painting, assigned each person a character, and meticulously tried to mimic the image, while also making it our own.”

And by the way, Megyn Kelley, if you wanted to see something a little closer to what Jesus probably looked like, it’s likely a whole lot closer to this photo (with the darker faces and features) than what is commonly depicted in the “alabaster faces that are strewn across Da Vinci’s original work.”

Salman Rushdie on Religious Extremists (and the terms they use to silence opponents)

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, recently gave an interview to BBC News. In it he made a profound point about the use of charges of “blasphemy”, “heresy”, “insult”, and “offense” as an excuse to attack those who think differently, especially about issues of religion.

“If you look at the way in which free expression is being attacked by religious extremism, it’s happening in all these countries, and the things of which these people are being accused is always the same: it’s always blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, insult, offense – this kind of medieval vocabulary being used at the turn of the second millennium [is happening now].”
– Salman Rushdie

I also enjoyed Rushdie’s response to the interviewer when he was asked, “What’s the solution”?

Rushdie responded, “Be braver”.

Those of us who enjoy freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and engage in the academic discipline of critical inquiry cannot and should not be intimidated into silencing our examination, research, and yes, our critique of religion simply because many vocal (and a few violent) religious fundamentalists don’t like it, regardless of the religion under examination and regardless of the nationality of the protestor.

Whether it takes place in the streets of Cairo, the airwaves of talk radio, or on the stage of the Republican National Convention, scholars should never back down from critiquing the virtues and vices of any ideology, be it politics, economics, or religion.

On Faith, Freedom of Expression, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Statement in Response to the Protests in Egypt and Libya

Yesterday, Egypt’s ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood, released a stern condemnation of a low-budget, poorly produced attempt at religious satire uploaded to YouTube by a coward hiding behind an alias. The Muslim Brotherhood also expressed disapproval of the vicious retaliatory protests that have led to the murder of four American diplomats in Libya, including the U.S. Ambassador, encouraging somewhat ambiguously:

“All Muslims to uphold and apply Quranic principles and emulate the Messenger of Allah.”

I understand the Egyptian government’s frustration. Unfortunately, the Muslim Brotherhood’s proposed solution only exacerbates the underlying problem that is quickly coming to the forefront in Egypt and around the world:

“We denounce abuse of all Messengers of God, Prophets and Apostles, and condemn this heinous crime. We further call for criminalization of assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions.”

The solution proposed by the Muslim Brotherhood is the prohibition of criticism (which they define as “assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions”) of all religions. However, categorizing criticism of any religion as “abuse” and as “heinous crimes” is not a viable solution in a free society. In fact, it would only serve to resurrect the totalitarian suppression of freedom of thought and expression that they experienced under Hosni Mubarak.

All individuals – both those who express faith in various deities and those choosing to adhere to no religion – should have the freedom to debate, criticize, and yes, joke and satirize all forms of ideology, including economic, political, and yes, religious.

The United States of America is founded upon this fundamental principle – the freedom of expression – as well as the freedom to worship or not worship any god we so choose. Freedom of expression lies at the heart of any free society. To exempt religion from this free expression, and to demand that no religious figure ever be criticized, rejected, satirized, or even questioned is little more than an attempt to exploit this horrific tragedy – the murder of American diplomats by Islamic protestors resulting from their anger over an insulting film on YouTube – to elevate Islam to a state that stands above criticism.

As a scholar and a professor of religious studies, I reject any attempt to quell the critical inquiry of any religion, including Christianity and Islam. While the parody of a religious figure may be considered an insult to some and a foolish act in poor taste to others, the solution is never, ever violence coupled with a call for the criminalization of the critique of religion.

Simply put, truly free citizens of any state should have the freedom to practice and profess the religion of their choice, but should not have the power to criminalize those who do not profess their religious faith.

The statement released by the Islamic Brotherhood further stated:

“Certainly, such attacks against sanctities do not fall under the freedom of opinion or thought. They are crimes and assaults against Muslim sanctities, and must not be tolerated by the countries where they are produced or launched, since they are also detrimental to the interests of those countries in dealings with the peoples of the Muslim world.”

The new definition of "religious persecution".

The new definition of “religious persecution”.

Evidently, the Muslim Brotherhood differentiates between freedom of thought and opinion regarding politics, economics, and perhaps where to eat dinner, and the freedom to critique, satirize, and even denounce certain religious beliefs and practices. This assumed privileged status of religion in Islamic countries is similar to the misguided assumption made by Christians in the United States. We must remember that there is a distinct difference between “religious persecution” and the challenging of the privileged status a particular religion enjoys in a given country, be it Christianity in the U.S. or Islam in Egypt.

The critique, ridicule, or rejection of a religious belief or ideology is no different than the critique, ridicule, or rejection of an economic or political belief or ideology: all involve the freedom to accept or reject in thought, word, or practice any position held within them. Religion cannot possess a privileged status above other forms of expression simply because someone else might find it offensive. Likewise, one religion should not enjoy exemption from critique over another religion in any country.

"Religious offense" is apparently a relative designation.

“Religious offense” is apparently a relative designation.

Freedom of expression must be preserved regardless of the subject matter, and regardless of the (over)sensitivity of those who might disagree with the expressed speech. This is especially true in nations that engage in vilifying other religious groups. It is patently hypocritical for the leaders of a government to insist that their religion be respected at all times, while arguing that the consistent denigration of another government with different religious beliefs (let’s say Israel for example) is perfectly legitimate. Perhaps this rational disconnect explains the puzzling, yet carefully worded portion of the Muslim Brotherhood’s statement that read:

The West has passed and imposed laws that punish those who deny or express dissident views on the Holocaust or question the number of Jews killed by Hitler, a topic which is purely historical, not a sacred doctrine.

One either believes in the freedom of thought, speech, and expression of political and religious beliefs, or one does not. One cannot argue that Islam (or Christianity or Judaism for that matter) are somehow uniquely exempt from another individual’s freedom to express thoughts and speech against them. Despite the fact that the creator of this low budget, miserable attempt at religious parody was cowardly enough to hide behind a pseudonym, his right to express his speech on YouTube – however foolish – must be protected. (However, if he forged, criminally impersonated, or stole the identity of another individual, or engaged in internet activity after being convicted of a crime and ordered not to do so, then obviously this is a criminal act. However, none of this has been alleged against the man hiding behind the alias ‘Sam Bacile’.)

The Muslim Brotherhood tepidly implied that Muslims should restrain their outrage at sleights against Islam to “peaceful and legal” means:

“The peoples and governments of the Muslim world have every right to condemn, with all peaceful and legal means, this new violation and heinous attack, and to take appropriate action to deter repeats of such acts of barbaric aggression.”

Any believer in the freedom of speech must understand the misguided nature of this statement, as it characterizes the production of a low budget film as a “heinous attack” and equates it with “acts of barbaric aggression”. The murder of diplomats is a “heinous attack” and an “act of barbaric aggression”. On the contrary, the production of a film is the exercise of one’s freedom to create an admittedly dreadful attempt at a Mel Brooks style, comically offensive parody and call it art. No one was killed in the production of this sloppily-made internet movie. The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, as the representative leaders of Egypt, are even paying attention to this film as the impetus for anything other than the desperate need for acting lessons and courses in video and sound production demonstrates their inability to grasp the fundamental aspects of freedom of expression.

The Muslim Brotherhood concluded their statement with the following:

“While we reject and condemn the bloodshed and violent response to that abuse and the incredible tolerance certain countries show towards it, we cannot ignore the fact that these countries never made a move regarding the abuse until after the strong reaction seen across the Muslim world.”

They continue:

“Those who insult the sanctities wish to poison budding relations between the peoples, to disrupt the efforts to build bridges between civilizations, and to sow discord between the peoples.”

Again, if the Muslim Brotherhood continues to equate the verbal or acted criticism via parody of a deeply held belief as an “act of aggression”, then we should not hold out much hope for a truly democratic, truly free Egypt under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. If insulting the tenets of a religious faith can somehow be construed as a legitimate reason for bloodshed – whether officially endorsed by the government or not – then we cannot consider any person, group, or government adhering to such an unbalanced system of justice in any way “free”.

Perhaps the most telling (and certainly most discouraging) comment came at the heart of the statement, as the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to, in a sense, excuse, or at least defend the response of the riotous Egyptian crowds:

“Thus hurting the feelings of one and a half billion Muslims cannot be tolerated…”

The fact is, they must. Hurt feelings must be tolerated if the ideal of the freedom of expression in a free, democratically elected state is going to survive. All peoples – including Christians in the United States and Muslims in Arab nations – must learn that insults are one of the unfortunate byproducts of the freedom of expression. Those who have chosen to live in free nations simply cannot afford to be overly sensitive to perceived sleights – especially to their religion – as others have the right to freely express their disapproval of beliefs held by others.

Unfortunately, in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, there are often those who seek out occasions to respond aggressively to simple words spoken against their religion. They seek out opportunities to take offense at religious criticism with the hopes of gaining a political advantage over those with whom they happen to disagree. And while no one wants to live in a world full of insults and negativity, we cannot discard our fundamental freedom of expression simply to preserve the overly-sensitive, politically opportunistic few who seek to elevate their religious beliefs above others’ freedom to express disapproval.

The newly elected leadership in Egypt has a profound decision to make. Does it retreat to the fascist, totalitarian dictates of the Mubarak regime, which suppressed the voices of millions who simply wanted their protests to be heard without fear of reprisal, or does it embrace the democratic freedoms that allowed Egypt to elect its first democratically elected president, even though it may mean having to tolerate dissenting opinions, critiques, parodies, and yes, even insults in the process of preserving the freedom of ideological, economic, and religious expression that are the hallmarks of great societies?

We must watch how the Muslim Brotherhood responds to criticism – both of their authority and of Islam. Should they choose to ignore petty insults made by anonymous cowards on the internet and focus upon leading a great nation with dignity and honor and fairness toward all peoples, then they will be lauded now and throughout history as evidence that democratically elected Islamic political parties can successfully lead a modern, secular state. But, should they continue to incite violence and condemn any and all who would critique their rule, their economic policies, or their religion, then they will simply be remembered as one more failed Islamic regime that was more concerned with defending the honor of their religion than they were with conducting the official business of the state and overseeing the benevolent government of its people.

The choice is theirs. And the American government’s response should depend upon this choice. Should the Muslim Brotherhood choose to defend the freedom of expression, then Egypt should continue to enjoy the privilege of strong U.S. support as true allies, and the financial support that comes with it. But should the Muslim Brotherhood choose Islamic fundamentalism and to defend a religion against petty insults at the expense of freedom of expression and fundamental rules of diplomacy, then the U.S. must consider treating Egypt as any other totalitarian religious regime and withdraw its political, military, and financial support.


Dr. Robert R. Cargill is Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. He earned his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA. He presently teaches a course on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and also teaches courses on the History of Jerusalem and Mythology of Otherworldly Journeys.

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