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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Scholar's Role in settling the conflicts of the Middle East

I have a book called "Interpreting Difficult Texts" by Clark M. Williamson, written by a theological scholar which is actually about how to interpret anti-semitic Christian Texts. The book makes a great parallel text to my other Book "Verus Israel" by Marcel Simon which talks about the genesis of Christian anti-semitism in the Early Church in the estrangement between Jews and what was originally a Jewish Messianic Sect. I've done a lot of reading on exegesis and religious interpretation and found that every religion has it's texts with problematic passages.

I bring this up because there are "problematic passages" in Muslim teachings too, and there is a duty for religious scholars and ministers (in broad sense including Rabbis, Imams, Priests, or anyone who preaches and teaches religion for a living) to understand that texts are preached in a context, that contexts change, that many of them are themselves interpretations of other texts. And that divine word passes through human beings. So when a person says "this is what God said" it doesn't mean that G-d is instructing folks to do the same thing now. That is a problematic thing, hence the author referring to it as "interpreting difficult texts." If the Five Books of Moses admonish Israel to "Blot out the Name of Amalek", whether or not anyone or any group can be considered "Amalek" in our own day another matter. Joseph Smith labeled settlers on their way to California as "Amalek" and his General took him seriously and infamously massacred a caravan. All religions have problematic passages. All religious sages, except those who've been thoroughly mythologized, are imperfect human beings at some level.

Mohammed preached some things that modern angry fools are taking into a destructive, revanchist absurd implementation. He preached some things that were moderate or advanced in his own time, but act to repress women and are injust in our time. Times change, and our understanding of both justice and the divine evolve with times. If any text is infallible, it is infallible in it's original context. Jews once insisted that the Torah was infallible. With time they've interpreted the difficult passages to be more just in execution. Christians once attacked the Torah as fallible and their "New Testament" as infallible. They tend to ignore their own teachings but still cling to that claim.

Muslims, likewise, need to recognize that holding women down in the name of the prophet is wrong. That cutting off heads is repugnant. That cutting off hands is injustice. And that we don't need to return to the 7th century. If a preacher issues a religious holding, that doesn't mean it's infallible. It's his opinion! Mohammed's Mecca teachings should apply in this day. His Medina teachings and his efforts to conquer the world didn't produce that much good for his people in the long run. In fact religious chauvinism and conflict has brought only suffering. The Caliph of Baghdad was conquered by the Mongols because he was greedy and corrupt[and didn't do a good job defending his kingdom], not because he was either irreligious (thought that might have played a part) or God's representative on Earth. Catholic dogmatism led to good people being burned at the stake. The protestant reformation led to darkness for millions. We've all been rebuked. None of us owns G-d. Some even believe there is no G-d or that he's turned his face from us. This is just the message that the ineffable seems to be sending us in this day. I hope my muslim brothers and sisters will start to listen. A spiritual struggle is a political struggle, but it is first a spiritual struggle. To hear truth and light, not darkness and hate.

I've come to admire the Sufi, the culture of Islam, and the history of the Muslim States. At its best religion exalts us and uplifts us. I am a human being who loves all religions, but I don't want to become a Muslim and I'd never even consider going deeper into my research until I'm sure they truly are a "religion of peace" and have shed hatred and can respect non-Muslims. I both admire and Critique all the Fearless leaders. The Caliphs, the Sheikhs, the Kings, the Emperors, Tsars, Pashas, Kings of Kings, Caudillos, Dictators. My own feelings are based on exegesis of the story of the Golden Man in the Book of Daniel and throughout subsequent Jewish and Christian Literature, to Ozymandias. What kind of monuments, eroding in the sand, do we want if none remain to admire them?

Clark M. Williamson bio:
Verus Israel:

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