Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 177-182 Creates Two Ways of Keeping Wills Honest

The First Half

What a wonderful opening verse! At a basic level it seems to speak of what piety is. Is piety related to which direction you face (presumably for prayer), which is to say a religious matter? No. Piety is about those few fundamentally important beliefs (God, Last Day, etc.) and in being a charitable person who helps others. Piety and social responsibility, then, are rather related – a wonderful message. Interestingly, though, this discussion turns into one about wills, inheritance and retribution.

What is meant by “recompense (for blood) paid with a grace?” This seems related to the retribution for the murdered, but I’m wondering if we’re talking about the same dead person. Is it saying that God gives grace (i.e. brings to Heaven) whosoever is murdered? Obviously it couldn’t be anyone who gets that privilege, but some who may have made amends, surely. Perhaps that’s why it is seen as a concession by God, because the idea is that the murdered man may not have been worthy of Heaven at that moment but could have become so given time. I feel like I’m stretching to make this verse work when I simply don’t understand what it’s saying.

The Second Half

At first I was very confused about verses 180-182, but by the end I think I got it. I kept asking myself, Why does one need to give away his stuff at the end of his life rather than after his death, but 182 makes it quite clear why: because people have been known to change wills. What’s interesting is how the Quran recognizes this societal problem (there would not be laws about it if it were not a problem) and takes a two-pronged approach to solving it.

On the one hand, there is a practical, on the ground approach, and on the other, a celestial approach. First, the solution is that people nearing death will bequeath their goods before they die, thereby ensuring that the people who are supposed to have them do indeed have them. Thus, there can be no mistaking that the will was not altered. Second, the Quran makes this more than a mundane matter and tells us that anyone who does mess with wills will be divinely punished, and it even encourages those who suspect will-tamperers to come forward by ensuring that such people will not be punished, either by God or, I assume, other people (at least the Godly injunction would seem to prevent such thing).

I must say that I find this to be very clever. It is by no means a unique way of doing things. The Torah is all over this dual method of ensuring that problems are solved with a heavenly and an earthly solution, as well as other societies in which religion and penal codes are one and the same, but this is very well done. Identify a problem: will-tampering. Propose a solution: give away stuff before death. Reinforce divinely: God punishes those who break this law. Bravo!

Do you have anything to add to my assessment or would you like to point out anything that I’ve missed? What do you think of these verses?

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The Cow 177 – 182

177. Piety does not lie in turning your face to East or West: Piety lies in believing in God, the Last Day and the angels, the Scriptures and the prophets, and disbursing your wealth out of love for God among your kin and the orphans, the wayfarers and mendicants, freeing the slaves, observing your devotional obligations, and in paying the zakat and fulfilling a pledge you have given, and being patient in hardship, adversity, and times of peril. These are the men who affirm the truth, and they are those who follow the straight path. 178. O believers, ordained for you is retribution for the murdered, (whether) a free man, or a slave of a slave, or a woman of a woman. But he who is pardoned some of it by his brother should be dealt with equity, and recompense (for blood) paid with a grace. This is a concession from your Lord and a kindness. He who trangresses in spite of it shall suffer painful punishment. 179. In retribution there is life (and preservation). O men of sense, you may haply take heed for yourselves. 180. It is ordained that when any one of you nears death, and he owns good and chattels, he should bequeath them equitably to his parents and next of kin. This is binding on those who are upright and fear God. 181. And any one who changes the will, having heard it, shall be guilty and accountable; for God hears all and knows everything. 182. He who suspects wrong or partiality on the part of the testator and brings about a settlement, does not incur any guilt, for God is verily forgiving and merciful.

Kenny Saves Heaven from Satan During a Right to Life Debate in South Park Episode 904, “Best Friends Forever”

With the release of the new PSP and the accompanying game, Heaven vs. Hell, Kenny is found to be the greatest player on earth. Thus, God strikes him with a truck so that he can come to Heaven and defend it against the minions of Hell. That’s right: God designed the game to find Heaven’s very own Keanu Reeves (think, Constantine).

But in the past Satan has actually been a rather pleasant – if misunderstood – fellow, so why is he now attacking Heaven? Well, his minion/adviser/boyfriend, Kevin, has persuaded him to do so, and so in Lord of the Rings fashion (this episode hits just about everything) orcs are created to do battle against Heaven.

Unfortunately for Heaven’s retention of Kenny and his excellent ability to defend it against Hell, doctors on earth have hooked Kenny up to life support, thereby trapping his soul in his vegetative body. Think Terry Schiavo. I told you: this episode hits everything. Since Kenny left his PSP to Cartman in his will, Cartman wants him to remain dead, but sensing Cartman’s evil machinations, Kyle and Stan try to keep Kenny alive. As it turns into a national debate with Republican involvement on the pro-life, and in this case, Satanic side.

In the end more of Kenny’s will is discovered; he requested that he never be shown on tv in a vegetative state. Realizing that they were wrong but for the right reasons, Kyle and Stan allow Kenny to die. He goes to Heaven and defends it successfully in a battle that is amazing but which we are never allowed to see.

This great episode tackles so many elements of pop culture while making a mockery of America’s handling of the Terry Schiavo situation. A true testimony to Matt and Trey’s skills.

What did you think? What was your favorite part?

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Hilarious Motivational Posters about Education, Common Sense and Baboons

Pretty funny stuff, huh?

Which was your favorite?

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Fun with the Bible: A New Year’s Exhortation from the Book of Proverbs

In a few days it will be the New Year, and I’d like to wish each and every one of my readers a very happy new year. I hope that it’s your happiest, healthiest and most successful new year to date! On that note, let’s take a look at a few lines from the book of Proverbs, specifically 2:20.

“Walk in the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the just.”

Simple and straightforward, just the way I like my exhortations.

“Happy are those who find wisdom.” – and don’t forget it.

Seek yourself out some wisdom in this new year. Not that you don’t have plenty, but more never hurt a body. Well, that’s not necessarily true, but hey, what I’m trying to say is that we should all be good, practice justice and seek wisdom. These things will lead to better, happier lives with more success and good health.

Happy New Year!

What do you think about these verses?

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Zen Talk: Misery Ends Where Friendliness Begins

“Let one be friendly and well mannered; then one will have much happiness and put an end to misery.”

Could you imagine if we were all – and I mean every person on earth – friendly and well mannered? Buddha says that would bring an end to misery. What do you think? It’s certainly worth a shot, and I’d like to start right now. Good manners and friendliness are the names of the game.

Can you do it?

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Brad Pitt Gives a Great Performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” was about as close as the author ever came to writing anything science fiction-like. To be fair, however, there was no attempt at a scientific explanation, as fictitious as it all may have been.

Science fiction or not, the first time I saw the trailer for this film I was compelled by the idea – that someone would have been born very old and as the years passed he, at least in physical appearance and bodily abilities, became younger and younger. Conceptually, I find that idea tantalizing, primarily to see how it is that one executes on that initial concept.

Personally, I found myself very satisfied by David Fincher’s execution. Yes, the movie was a bit long, but it was also very engaging to watch this character learn of old age before youth and value life in an entirely different way. There are lots of cliche questions or phrases that people toss about, including ‘youth is wasted on the young’ and others, and this movie did a nice job tackling such notions without telling you that it was doing so. It’s very subtlety made it as enjoyable as it was.

At the same time, the love story between Benjamin and Daisy (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) was very touching and, understandably, distressing. Two elements of symbolism (humming bird and clock) were perhaps a little strained to have the effect they were meant to (though I could see why they were there) but other than that it was a very good movie.

7.5 Chocolate Salty Balls.

Have you seen it? What did you think?

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Around the World Pic: Texas Honkey Tonk Cantina in Tallin, Estonia

honky-tonk-cantina_2

Oh, the memories of the Honkey Tonk Texas Cantina in Tallin, Estonia. Tallin, by the way, is a magnificent little capital on the Baltic. We ended up spending three days there, which was most unexpected considering the speed with which we had been moving.

One day, as we were walking around Tallin, we stumbled upon this little gem. Tallin, Estonia – Honkey Tonk Texas Cantina. What!?! we cried, before shoving our way inside and demanding a table.

We enjoyed wings, quesadillas, and a variety of other hilarious tex-mex food that was entirely out of place in Estonia. We decided, too, that we would speak like hicks the entire time we were there, figuring that these random people on the Baltic wouldn’t understand our English, much less our ridiculous accents.

As it happens, Estonians, because their language is so obscure and useless worldwide, all speak relatively perfect English with little or no accents, and when we spoke like jackasses – a charade that we insisted on maintaining through the duration of our meal – they knew exactly what was going on. Yeah, we were idiots.

Have you ever been to Tallin, Estonia? Are you aware of this hilarious restaurant?

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Quran Read-A-Long: We Learn about the first Halal Laws in the Cow 168-176

Making the Dietary Laws as Serious as Possible

I think that the opening line here begs a question: how do we know what things of the earth are lawful and good to be eaten? That is, what’s Halal? As we read on and see that verses 168b-171 all relate to not following Satan and only obeying God, and that they are sandwiched in by lines 168a and 172, both about eating the good food given by God. We come to think (at least I did) that the food being spoken of is not your typical french fries and hambuger (or humus and falafel if you prefer – yum!), but rather, the spiritual nourishment and guidance provided by God, particularly through the right words of the Quran.

But then suddenly, we’re right back into the food again. So my question becomes, are these interim lines an intentional blurring of concepts here so that we come to equate eating what is right and following God’s law with being a good person and following God spiritually? It would certainly serve to make the commands weightier, and this seems to be further echoed by the verses that proceed the list of taboo foods as well.

The Specific Foods

The actual list of forbidden foods is fascinating, I think, because each is paralleled in the Torah, which is to say the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut (that’s why many in Israel who are not fanatical about what they eat but just don’t want to eat anything really wrong will eat at both kosher and halal restaurants since it’s effectively the same).

No blood, which is forbidden in the Torah because it was considered the lifeforce of the animal and that part was reserved explicitly for God. Somehow I think that Islam’s commandment was based on something less religiously primitive. No carrion birds for Jews or Muslims either, and of course nothing that was sacrificed in the name of any other God.

No pig, which is interesting, and many theories have been derived for why. After noticing that it was forbidden in both religions, one scholar concluded that the pig is a terrible animal to raise in the desert climate of the Middle East because it needs to be kept cool, and without adequate water will resort to filthy means of doing so (rolling in its own feces). Thus, that law insured that people would not waste time keeping and tending to pigs. Just a theory though. There are numerous theories for laws that don’t seem to have a scientific basis – all interesting – but all just that: theories. We don’t really know why it is that such things were forbidden, though the consistency in God’s commandments in the Torah and Quran is noteworthy.

Please feel free to comment on and add anything that I missed or said. What are your thoughts upon reading these verses? Do you keep halal (is that the phrase – it’s keep kosher)? What do you think the correlation between the texts and religions is here?

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The Cow 168-176

168. O men, eat only the things of the earth that are lawful and good. Do not walk in the footsteps of Satan, your acknowledged enemy. 169. He will ask you to indulge in evil, indecency, and to speak lies of God you cannot even conceive. 170. When it is said to them: “Follow what God has revealed,” they reply: “No, we shall follow only what our fathers had practiced,” – even though their fathers had no wisdom or guidance! 171. The semblance of the infidels is that of a man who shouts to one that cannot hear more than a call and a cry. They are deaf, dumb and blund, and they fail to understand. 172. O believers, eat what is good of the food We have given you, and be grateful to God if indeed you are obedient to Him. 173. Forbidden to you are carrion and blood, and the flesh of the swine, and that which has been consecrated (or killed) in the name of any other than God. If one is obliged by necessity to eat it without intending to transgress, or reverting to it, he is not guilty of sin; for God is forgiving and kind. 174. Those who conceal any part of the Scriptures that God has revealed, and thus make a little profit thereby, take nothing but fire as food; and God will not turn to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor nourish them for growth; and their doom will be painful. 175. They are those who bartered away good guidance for error, and pardon for punishment: How great is their striving for the Fire! 176. That is because God has revealed the Book containing the truth; but those who are at variance about it have gone astray in their contrariness.

Mr. Hankey Saves Kyle and Christmas in the First South Park Christmas Episode, 110, “Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo”

It’s the first South Park Christmas episode ever. And you know what that means! It’s time to meet Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, the latest and greatest Holiday Season icon who’s there for everyone, no matter what s/he celebrates. As long as you have a high fiber diet then Mr. Hankey will be coming to your town.

Of course, as South Park’s Christmas falls apart do to an overemphasis on the separation between church and state and a misguided attempt not to offend anyone with any kind of decoration or festivity, the Broflovskis are not amused at Kyle’s suggestion to the mayor that Mr. Hankey become the new Christmas icon.

In fact, Kyle finds himself in increasing levels of trouble (and then the nut house) when Mr. Hankey comes around and makes a mess in the bathroom and later launches himself at Cartman after he sings about what a bitch Kyle’s mom is. Dubbed a fecopheliac, Kyle is locked away by his friends. Backstage at the disastrous elementary school play, however, Chef asks about Kyle’s whereabouts and upon learning what happened, tells the children that Mr. Hankey is real.

That’s when Mr. Hankey can finally be seen by everyone else and he saves the day on Christmas by telling the town:

“You people focus so hard on the things wrong with Christmas that you’ve forgotten what’s so right about it. Don’t you see? This is the one time of year we’re s’posed to forget all the bad stuff, to stop worrying and being sad about the state of the world, and for just one day say, ‘Aw, the heck with it! Let’s sing and dance and bake cookies.’”

Then the whole town goes out to the nut house and rescues Kyle; they all sing Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo’s special song. And miraculously enough, Kenny doesn’t die!

What do you think of this episode? What was your favorite part?

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Ike Broflovski is Taken to Saddam Hussein’s Canada in South Park Episode 715, “Christmas in Canada”

When Ike Broflovski’s birth-parents interrupt quiet, family Hanukah prayers and insist on taking Ike back to Canada by decree of the new Canadian Prime Minister, Sheila and Gerald Broflovski are devastated. Cartman tells Kyle that this is what he gets for being Jewish at Christmas time: some Jesus revenge. In a show of unprecedented good faith, the South Park townsfolk offer to forgo Christmas gift-giving and donate all of their money to the Broflovskis for legal fees to take their case to Canada.

Rather than lose Christmas, the boys decide to help Kyle go to Canada and confront the Canadian Prime Minister about taking Ike. The whole time they want to hurry back to South Park, though, so that they are sure not to miss out on any Christmas adventures. Funny, since they are traversing Canada by foot after their plane crashed and confronting all sorts of weird and wacky characters Wizard of Oz style (with Scott, the dickhead Canadian as the Wicked Witch).

As their plane is crashing (it’s piloted by the same guy who owns City Wok and is called City [Shitty] Airlines), the pilot tells them: “As you can see it appears that we are going down. Now would be a good time to reflect on your life and pray to whatever deity you believe in.”

At the end of the episode, Kyle speaks about the importance of family and who we love and explains to the Canadian Prime Minister – who turns out to be the escaped Saddam Hussein! – that, “Family isn’t about whose blood you have in you. Family’s about the people who cared about you and took care of you. We’re not the same blood, but I love my little brother. We’ve taken care of him because he needed us to, and that makes us more family than anything.”

Very touching and a lovely Christmas episode.

What do you think? What was your favorite part?

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