It is Biblically orthodox to spread love, not fear

Michael Youssef, founder and pastor of the Church of The Apostles, recently said: “I fear Islamic jihadists less than I fear the Christian church departing from Biblical orthodoxy. The reason I say this is because historically, Islamic expansions have taken place every time the church of Jesus Christ departed from living under the authority of the Scriptures.” I agree, but I doubt that Dr. Youssef and I have the same understanding of ‘Biblical orthodoxy’.

Christians are indeed departing from the ‘authority of the Scriptures’. Instead of radiating the love of our Lord and Savior, Christian groups are engaged in publicizing the evils of Islam.  For example, billionbibles.org claims that Muslims are engaged in a five-step program to institute Sharia law. Not ‘some Muslims’ or even ‘many Muslims’ – this site, as do so many of the same ilk, speaks of  ‘Muslims’ as if all are the same, with the same intentions. , and by doing so they demonize all Muslim people. While the Brotherhood is indeed active in many countries, including the United States, but it certainly does not represent ‘Muslims’.  Just one example: the governments of Bahrain Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates consider it to be a terrorist organization, just as the US does.

This focus on ‘what is to fear from Islam’ is endangering Christianity. The great and wonderful thing about Christianity is that it is a religion for which ‘orthodoxy’ is love, the love of one’s neighbor whoever he or she may be. By demonizing, we turn away from the ‘orthodoxy’ of love.

Some claim ‘Of course, we love Muslims – it’s just their religion/ISIS/Sharia/Al Qaida/whatever that we are exposing as evil’. If we ‘love Muslims’, then we will take care not to demonize them. And where does Jesus tell us to put our energy into creating websites and programs that focus on the wrongs that we think others are doing?

Where there are forces that can create hatred in our hearts, the Church must be on the side of love. Instead of fanning the fires of fear with ‘evidence’ that Muslims are evil, the Church is called on to use its energy to argue for love.

Truth is the foundation of love. Some Muslims, like the Muslim Brotherhood, intend to take over America, and the state must fight against this, just as it fights against any force with this intention. Some Muslims have joined ISIS, and we must fight with all our strength against this entity. But we must filter our words through love when speaking about any publically demonized groups, including Islam and Muslims. Most of all, we must focus on spreading love, not increasing fear.

With thanks to https://www.flickr.com/photos/elycefeliz/
With thanks to https://www.flickr.com/photos/elycefeliz/

Fight the horror of the Un-Islamic State

Two days ago, President Barack Obama said ISIL (IS, ISIS- take your pick) is un-Islamic. This is the position taken by many Muslims and Christians, including Sen. Rand Paul, potential 2016 presidential candidate for the Republican Party.
Almost simultaneously, the Atlantic published an article that argued the opposite. What ISIS Really Wants, by Graeme Wood, argues that the Islamic State is not a perversion but is indeed VERY Islamic, because it is following Islamic precepts as they were first intended.
Bernard Haykel, an eminent scholar of Islam, has labeled Muslims and Christians who believe that Islam is a religion of peace as plain ignorant. As one support for his arguments, Haykel says that the burning alive of a Libyan pilot is permitted by the Islamic legal code.
On the other hand, Ali ibn al-Athir (Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, Vol.3, p.227) claims that burning combatants alive is expressly prohibited.
I don’t know about you, but I have never read all of the Koran and the other holy texts of Islam, not can I see myself ever doing so. It is clear, however, that you can find violence in the Koran and Hadith, but you can also find passages that support non-violence. For example, Muslims may retaliate eye for eye, tooth for tooth, but the Koran also says that ‘it is meritorious to forgo revenge in a spirit of charity’.
The more I hear about Islamic scripture, the more it sounds like the Christian Old Testament in its contradictions and depictions of horrendous savagery. We do not, however, repudiate Judaism as a religion of violence. The very notion sounds ridiculous because for millennia no Jew has gone to war and used the Torah to justify themselves. We do not judge Judaism by the contents of Jewish scripture, but by the actions of Jews.
I disagree with Haykel – you don’t have to be ignorant to believe that ISIL (and other terrorist groups) are perverting Islam. ON the contrary, you need to educate yourself in two ways. Firstly, if you have the opportunity, is to get to know Muslims as friends. Secondly, do not rely on the mass media for information about how the majority of the Muslim world regards hatred and violence. Instead, start with my post What do Muslims have to do to prove they are not terrorists, and then conduct a simple Google search for ‘Muslim reactions to ISIS’.
Muslims have scripture that can be interpreted in evil ways, but Christians are fortunate because we have the gift of Jesus Christ and the Gospels that negated violence with love. Let’s meet Muslims with love – and fight the horror of the Un-Islamic State.

What do Muslims have to do to prove that they are not a terrorists?

What do Muslims have to do to prove that they are not terrorists? Commentators and media outlets seem to ignore words and actions against extremists if they come from Muslim organizations and nations.

One complaint among non-Muslims is that Muslim religious authorities do not condemn terrorist attacks, but indeed they do. Charles Kurzman’s University of North Carolina webpage is just one source of the hundreds (possibly thousands) of statements and fatwas against terrorism are listed. Kurzman collected 67 statements against terrorism by Muslim groups from September 2001 to October 2010, and cites ten other collections of similar statements.

A fatwa (religious ruling) from the Fiqh Council of North America (an Islamic juristic body) is representative of many:  ‘Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives.  There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism.’

Muslims are not only speaking out against extremism, but taking action. Last September, the United States and 10 Arab states signed up for a military campaign against IS. The communique stated that ‘nations would contribute as appropriate’, and that phrase caused many to believe that the Arab states would not in renege on military action when the crunch came. The agreement, however, was not a collection of empty words. Within a few days, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates joined the U.S. airstrikes against IS targets in Syria.

Skeptics may argue that, by taking military action, these nations are just protecting their own Islamic culture and peoples. Recent actions by Egypt, however, challenge this assumption. In the last few days, Egypt has bombed IS targets in Libya because IS beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians. Not Muslim citizens – Christian citizens. In addition, Egypt declared seven days of national mourning for these Christian citizens. When President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi commented on the strikes he said that ‘Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals’.

There are other actions that are very rarely noted, for example small groups of Syrians are hunting down IS fighters in eastern Syria in a guerrilla campaign, and  Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan are militarily engaged against IS.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world are against terrorism. The brother of Ahmed Marabet, the Muslim policeman who was killed protecting the staff of Charli Hebdo, called the IS attackers ‘false Muslims’.

He also said: ‘I am addressing myself to all racists – the Islamophobes and the anti-Semites: You must not mix up extremism with Muslims. The madmen have no color nor religion. Stop … having wars or burning mosques or burning synagogues because you are attacking people’.

Thanks to Monaxle https://www.flickr.com/photos/monaxle/
Thanks to Monaxle https://www.flickr.com/photos/monaxle/

I am learning to be a lumberjack – could you show me my log?

Jesus asks us ‘How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye” while the log is in your own eye?’

I would love to be able to destroy my ‘log’, but the trick is to find it. No matter how hard I try to remove my own prejudices, I am mostly blind to them. Moving to rural Maryland has provided me with some new ‘woodworking tools’, however.

I guess my political views are slightly left of center, and in Australia I worked and worshiped with people who shared many of my views. Those views seemed both natural and right because I hardly interacted with people who would disagree with me.  I prided myself on being open to all opinions, but rarely heard any but those I agreed with, let alone paid attention to them.

In contrast, many of my friends and neighbors here have right wing views, and I am becoming used to people casually dropping all sorts of comments that startle, or even shock me. On reflection, I am also sure that if conservatives had been party to many conversations I have had they would have been equally taken aback.

I recently attended a Robert Burns dinner. I loved it. Like most occasions here, it was done with flair and Southern hospitality – for example, my daughter and I were escorted from our car into the venue on the arms of members of the local Scottish Rite who wore the full regalia- kilts, sporrans, and dirks in socks. (My son-in-law was left to find his own way in, of course!) Despite the small population of our town, around 200 guests participated. People here support their community, especially fund-raisers for charity, as this was. Towards the end of the meal, however, something happened that shocked me.

There were toasts to the Queen and to the Parliament, as befits a Burns dinner. Both toasts were proposed with traditional dignity. Then came the toast to the president. This ‘toast’ lasted five times longer that the toasts offered before it- and lampooned and insulted President Obama. I was shocked. I have never heard a ‘toast’ like this one except in low-grade comedy routines. Not only did the proposer insult the President of the United States of America, but I believe that in doing so he insulted the nation.

In this county, people are proudly patriotic. I am sure that no-one at the dinner, including the toastmaster, would want to disrespect the nation. This is also a very religious area. There are almost as many churches here as there are voting placards in front gardens in election season. It is odds on, therefore, that the toastmaster is Christian and that a large majority of the guests went to church the morning after the dinner. As I understand the Bible, we Christians are exhorted not to speak ill of other people and to honor the leaders of our nations. I am sure that the toastmaster did not intend to do either.

What happened was, I believe, a result of ‘logs’ that had become cemented in place by in the same way as my selection of friends and workmates helped to increase my own blindness.

Not only do I now live with people who unknowingly confront my opinions, I am fortunate that, through this blog, my own blindness is challenged in the comments. Cal Thomas recently wrote a column in which he said that people who believe that climate change is a fact are ‘cult members’. Up to that point, I had been interested in what he had to say, but that name-calling raised a red flag. As a result, I investigated the sources he used for his article and found them ‘iffy’ enough to produce a post about it.  One of the resources I used to research Thomas’ claims was Sourcewatch. Long-term commenter on this blog, ‘Bob S’, also looked up my sources and pointed out that Sourcewatch had called people who disagreed with climate change ‘deniers’. Bob asked, ‘isn’t that a red flag there?’

Yes, Bob, that was a red flag. And no, I didn’t notice it. I guess I need more immersion in Southern culture, more commenters who call me out, and more prayers for the planks to be taken from my own eyes.

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I do not worship at the throne of government, Ben Carson, but I do dispute your facts

The U.S. is a wonderful place to live, and its democratic system has been an example to other nations. I say, “has been” because elected members of the federal government are becoming at best irrelevant to everyday Americans and at worst a laughingstock. Politicians seem bent on saying, “no” to anything proposed by the other side, whether it would benefit America or not. Because of this, they often resort to twisting facts or simply ignoring them.

Political commentators do this too. Ben Carson (who, incidentally, is said to be considering running for President in 2016) surprised me recently.  I often disagree with what he writes, but in a column published earlier this year he noted that political power in America has fallen into the hands of a few individuals who, because of their enormous wealth, have undue influence on politicians. I agree that it is an important issue: in the 2014 Congressional elections, 84 percent of individual contributions to candidates came from a few donors who gave very large sums. As Carson says, “This was clearly not the model the founders of this nation were trying to create. In fact, our Constitution was designed to prevent this from occurring.”

Members of Congress have always been dependent on donors, but these days donations no longer represent ‘the People’ of the Constitution. When James Madison spoke about the representation of ‘the great body of the people of the United States, he emphasized that this representation should not be for ‘the rich more than the poor’.

Carson also spoke about the shrinking of the middle class, which is another concerning issue. The American middle class has decreased by more than 27 percent over the last twenty years.

So far, so good. But then Carson followed up with a claim that the ‘dependent class’ is ‘rapidly expanding’.

I am not sure which people Carson had in mind when he referred to the ‘dependent class’ — people on the lowest rung of the income ladder or people dependent on welfare. Nevertheless, however we define it, the facts don’t support the ‘rapid expansion’ claim.

The number of people on the lowest incomes has expanded, but only by four percent over the same period that the middle class reduced by more than a quarter. If Carson means to refer to welfare recipients, the percentage of ‘welfare dependent’ has remained at around five percent since the mid 1990s. Whatever the nature of Carson’s ‘dependent class’, these statistics show very little growth and certainly not a ‘rapid expansion’.

I also was pleased to read that Carson sees many opportunities for business, industry, churches, community organizations, and private families to invest in low-income families. Private philanthropy is often better than government funding because private individuals and groups are better able to target real-time needs in actual communities.

Americans are very generous people and donate a great deal of money but, unfortunately, most does not go to programs for the poor. Low-income employed Americans usually donate to programs that help people out of poverty. Nevertheless, the largest proportion of money donated goes to universities, arts organizations, and museums because the biggest donors prefer these to programs that offer a hand up out of welfare dependency.

Not content to point out that private individuals could do more assist people out of poverty, Carson went on to imply that government does nothing to assist people out of dependency. That is incorrect. Government-funded programs provide opportunities for welfare recipients and others on low incomes to become independent through programs such as Head Start, Boys and Girls Clubs, and financial aid for college students, besides providing direct relief such as food stamps. In addition, there will always be a need for government programs because private giving dries up just when needs are greatest, as in the Great Depression and during the recent financial collapse.

In composing this post I have given some facts about government and welfare that dispute Carson’s claims, but it does not mean that I ‘worship at the throne of the government’ nor am I a ‘purveyor of hatred and division’, as Carson call those who disagree with his views.  I just believe in getting the facts straight.

Carson seems ideologically driven to mash biased polemic in with some useful commentary.

(This post is based on a commentary I had published  in the Cumberland Times-News.)

With thanks to Toban Black https://www.flickr.com/photos/tobanblack/
With thanks to Toban Black https://www.flickr.com/photos/tobanblack/

A pity there is no vaccine against lies

A Sufi saying goes: before you speak, let your words pass through three gates. At the first gate, ask yourself, ‘Is it true?’ At the second gate ask, ‘Is it necessary?’ At the third gate ask, ‘Is it kind?’ Christianity and Islam also hold these principles dear.

Nevertheless, the easiest way to get media attention is to say something outrageous about an issue that people care deeply about. No matter the lie, no matter the harm that is likely to ensue. Indeed, personal wealth is often built on these pronouncements. I am thinking, for example, of the anti-vaccine lobby, which has most likely been a source for the recent outbreak of measles in the US.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield had a paper published in the prestigious journal the Lancet that linked the MMR vaccine with autism and bowel disease in children. The paper was fully retracted in 2010, and the editor of the Lancet said that the journal had been deceived and that the data was fraudulent.  It appears that Wakefield was paid more than $665,000 by lawyers whose goal was to prove that the vaccine was unsafe. For his deceptions, Wakefield was subsequently deregistered as a medical practitioner.

But the anti-vaccine movement has continued and, from the evidence of recent measles outbreaks, its influence appears to be growing. Lyn Redwood, whose son Will is autistic, believed Wakefield’s ‘research’, and co-founded the Safe Minds organization which promulgates stories of mercury leading to autism. Redwood blames mercury emitted by Georgia Power company and thimerosal in vaccinations for her son’s disorder. Having a child with autism is a burden and tragedy, and parents rightly want to find the cause. To counter evidence against autism risks of the vaccine, Redwood says that her son is ‘particularly sensitive’ to mercury, even in amounts that are much smaller than those in many fish, and smaller in effect than prenatal consumption of fish on the unborn child.

I can’t find any evidence that Redwood is profiting from her crusade (although it is fair to assume that she draws a salary from her role as vice president of Safe Minds), and I do not blame her for her zeal. Without Wakefield’s lies, however, it is unlikely that the anti-vaccine movement would have started, or that it would have become so influential that lives are now at risk because children are not being vaccinated.

What Wakefield published was untrue and unkind.

With thanks to Suw Charman-Anderson https://www.flickr.com/photos/suw/
With thanks to Suw Charman-Anderson
https://www.flickr.com/photos/suw/

I am not a climate ‘cult member’, Cal Thomas, but I do disagree with you

One day after I published a post about the news that 2014 was the hottest year on record, the Cumberland Times-News published a piece disputing that claim. I read it carefully because I felt bound to publish a correction if my information had been wrong. I didn’t realize, however, that I would be spending so many hours on it.

The source of the counterclaim to the ‘2014 hottest year’ headlines was written by Cal Thomas, a syndicated columnist who regularly appears in the Times-News. He began to persuade me that I had been misguided, but he raised a red flag when he referred to people who disagreed with his position as ‘cult members’. Abuse like this is often the first sign that the ‘facts’ listed around it could well be iffy.  I started my hunt.

Thomas appealed to experts to substantiate his position. He quoted support from Climatedepot.com, ‘an excellent resource for authoritative science and reporting’. I checked the website and discovered that it publishes only items that support its position and is run by CFACT, a group directly funded by Exxon Mobil and indirectly by Gulf Oil (through Scaife foundations). It is a safe assumption that oil interests would not fund an organization that would threaten their business interests.

He quotes someone called ‘Luboš’ Motl, a ‘former Harvard physicist’. After an hour or so of research, I found that Motl is not a climate scientist and is not a respected member of the scientific community. Indeed, he resigned his position at Harvard after three years and, although we cannot check the Harvard official records, professors say that he was asked to resign because of the time he spent defaming other scientists.  This is an example of Motl‘s ‘work’: “these are methods of Gestapo informers and you can’t be surprised that I view Smolin, Woit, and a few others as symbols of moral deterioration and totalitarian tendencies in the Academia. Having some experience from (sic) communism, I couldn’t ever work in an environment that allows this disgusting immoral crap to flourish”. I kept going. After a brief search for Roy Spencer, the climatologist Thomas mentioned, I found that according to him, scientists who argue that climate change is happening are all “global warming Nazis”.

OK, so Thomas’ ‘experts’ are at best slanderers and at worst funded by companies that have a very strong interest in preserving the historic levels of oil use, but could he be right, despite all of that?

Here’s where the truly brain-breaking research kicked in. A closer reading of the ‘2014 hottest year’ release from NASA and NOAA actually shows that 2014 was the most likely candidate for the hottest year, not that it was without doubt the hottest year. The full report was based on complex statistics which most people would not be bothered to spend a couple of hours on. As well, getting attention is the media’s lifeblood, and a headline that ‘2014 was probably the hottest year on record’ is not as attention-getting as ‘2014 was the hottest year’.  It was shorthand for a long report, and as Thomas noted, the Associated Press later published a clarification acknowledging that their reports had overstated the case. Despite Thomas’ claim that NASA and NOAA ‘had to concede’ this, they did not, because their original reports had included all of this information.

What Thomas was doing was taking a fine point about the statistics and claiming it as proof that the report was bogus and the fruit of some conspiracy. He refers to NASA and NOAA and presumably anyone else who doubts his story ‘cult members’.

Perhaps some people would consider me crazy to spend so much time on this article and assure me that Thomas is ‘just a crank’. The issue here is bigger than climate alone, however. When we call ‘crank’ we are creating a wall behind which we can hide from the fullness of truth and over which we can lob missiles built on demonizing.

Let’s not add another brick to that wall. Instead, provide some light that can illuminate issues without badmouthing.

cult