Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 102-109 Address Muslim Faith, Past, and Reward

How is it that verse 102 is being directed at those “who have attained to faith” but is warning them not to die until “you have surrendered yourselves unto Him?” That is, what’s the difference between one who’s attained faith and one who’s surrendered himself to God? I would have imagined those to be the same thing and if not, at least in the same ballpark. That being the case, is it just a subtle shade of distinction: as in, you may believe in God but totally surrendering yourself to Him is a step that comes after belief?

It seems to follow nicely from the discussion about the Jews and Christians and their lack of acceptance of Mohammed that the Quran would then proceed to address Muslims in this fashion, particularly as it pertains to the idea of “when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together.” Asad says that this is a reference to the “one-time mutual enmity” of “man’s lot on earth,” and though that may be true in a spiritual sense, to me it has a far more practical and immediate application in the time of Mohammed (though understandably to retain the verses’ relevance for all generations they would need to refer to something in our collective past). I think that this reference to being enemies refers to the pre-Mohammed tribalism of Arabia. Many early Muslims were the product of centuries’ old tribal conflict, and Mohammed’s revelation had unified them and removed that element from their midst, allowing them to be part of a single umma and ultimately do away with this system that had governed Arabia for so long. Especially considering the fact that we have just come from a series of verses discussing how Jews and Christians refused to relinquish their differences and join the umma, it seems particularly appropriate to me that this would be the case here.

I can’t say that I’m particularly thrilled by the content of verse 106, but I understand that many religious texts have these parts in them – the other people getting damned parts. The Bible is littered with them, and that’s just what you have to pay to play, I guess. They’re interesting for the way they reflect on the attitudes of the text and the context, but I try to take all religions and their texts very seriously and with reverence for all that’s being said, but I have a tough time accepting things related to others going to Hell or suffering for eternity. I truly find it illogical. That’s not to convey any lack of respect for the way the Quran handles these issues or to say that I don’t understand what the concepts are doing here. Just, for me, on a very personal and non-academic level, I don’t get it.

By contrast, the concluding verses of this section are quite lovely and appealing. Granted, they’re in contrast to what came before – and from a literary standpoint I have to appreciate the dichotomy – but they also convey something very important about God that I believe: that He wills no wrong to his creations. That very fact being the case is why I struggle so much with the idea of eternal suffering or punishment. I can’t get on board with the suffering considering the nature of God offered in verses 108-109. But that’s just me, and I understand the need for the world to work in this seemingly logical and punitive way that involves a Heaven and Hell where each person goes according to the “correctness” of his actions. Needless to say, it’s complicated.

What can you tell us about these verses? Please add anything I missed or discuss anything I addressed?

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Al-‘Imran 102-109

102. O you who have attained to faith! Be conscious of God with all the consciousness that is due to Him, and do not allow death to overtake you ere you have surrendered yourselves unto Him. 103. And hold fast, all together, unto the bond with God, and do not draw apart from one another. And remember the blessings which God has bestowed upon you: how, when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together, so that through His blessing you became brethren; and [how, when] you were on the brink of a fiery abyss. He saved you from it. In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might find guidance, 104. and that there might grow out of you a community [of people] who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong: and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state! 105. And be not like those who have drawn apart from one another and have taken to conflicting views after all evidence of the truth has come unto them: for these it is for whom tremendous suffering is in store 106. on the Day [of Judgment] when some faces will shine [with happiness] and some faces will be dark [with grief]. And as for those with faces darkened, [they shall be told:] “Did you deny the truth after having attained to faith? Taste, then, this suffering for having denied the truth!” 107. But as for those with faces shining, they shall be within God’s grace, therein to abide. 108. These are God’s messages: We convey them unto thee, setting forth the truth, since God wills no wrong to His creation. 109. And unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and all things go back to God [as their source].

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Imaginationland Trilogy Ends with Episode 1112

To read about the Imaginationland trilogy, click HERE.

Some good advice from the previous Imaginationland episode:

“If you believe in yourself, everything will turn out all right.”

– Aslan, 1111

For more South Park quotes about belief, click HERE.

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Quran Day: The Cow 47-59 Recounts Exodus and God’s Relationship with the Israelites

Though there are an endless number of things to say about these verses, I’m going to go with two in particular: the first is the events recounted in Exodus and recalled here and the second is this notion of remembering.

What Comes from Exodus

Verse 49 begins a list of things that happened to the Israelites in the second book of the Bible, Exodus, the one that begins with the Israelites’ enslavement. God recounts how He saved the children of Israel from Egypt, parted the sea to aid their escape, communed with Moses, and how the Israelites made a calf, how God gave Moses the Book and Discernment (which I believe means the Bible and Prophecy, though instead of prophecy perhaps wisdom and [juris]prudence), how God sent manna and quails, etc.

Another hot topic in these sections is the Israelites’ disobedience (and they were so unruly between Egypt and Canaan that it’s a wonder they got anything – worse than bratty children in the backseat of a car!), and God’s continual mercy as he forgave them and still allowed them to go forward.

The Actual Bible in the Bible…and Then in the Quran

I would like to point out three things though. First, how it says that God gave Moses the Book. As I take this to mean the Bible, I must say that according to the Five Books of Moses, this didn’t happen. God didn’t give Moses a book (to read about Moses’ biblical authorship and the specifics of Deuteronomy’s mention of this, click HERE). Now, of course, this isn’t too important because the inherited tradition is that God did give Moses the Bible (or at least the beginning of it) so we’ll move on.

My Trouble with Verse 58

The second thing is verse 58, the one part of the events recounted (which admittedly seem to extend outside of Exodus), that I don’t understand or at least can’t match up to anything in the Bible. I don’t remember God ever saying that or anything like it to the Israelites, but perhaps it’s the Quran’s way of saying that God gave the Israelites every chance to go to Heaven (this great city?) and that they just had to do it a certain way and as the following verses showed, they just kept sinning and perverting God’s word.

It is fascinating that God tells the Israelites to repent in these verses because repentance and forgiveness by God were concepts entirely absent from ancient Israelite religion (that is, the religion reflected in Genesis, Exodus-Deuteronomy). I believe that forgiveness and repentance are very important concepts in Islam and so it’s interesting that in recounting ancient Israelite history, the Quran has God emphasizing the importance of repentance to the Israelites, though the concept was never there and doesn’t exist in that part of the Bible, beyond basic apologizing after the Golden Calf incident, but certainly not as a theological emphasis or doctrinal necessity.

Finally, though a quick summary, I would like to say that for the most part this section captures the gist of the Old Testament. God did the Israelites a lot of favors from Egypt forward, the Israelites treated God poorly and were totally ungrateful, and then throughout the Prophets the Israelites are accused, like verse 59 here, of perverting the word of God and being sinners. Thus, retribution was sent, ultimately for the Jews in the form of the Babylonian Exile.

Remembrance

The last thing I want to mention is the way many of these verses start, emphasizing “Remember.” This makes me think of the Passover holiday celebrated by Jews that is designed to make Jews remember the many things that God did for them. Jews recount the events so that they never forget what they owe God. That feeling, though obviously in brief, seems echoed here based on the interweaving of God’s great actions, mercy and forgiveness.

What do these verses make you think about? What can you add to our understanding of these verses? Is there any part of the summary of ancient Israelite history that you have trouble placing as a biblically recounted event?

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The Cow 47-59

47. Remember, O Children of Israel, the favors I bestowed on you, and made you exalted among the nations of the world. 48. Take heed of the day when no man will be useful to man in the least, when no intercession matter nor ransom avail, nor help reach them. 49. Remember, We saved you from the Pharaoh’s people who wronged and oppressed you and slew your sons but spared your women: In this was a great favor from your Lord. 50. Remember, We parted the sea and saved you, and drowned the men of Pharaoh before your very eyes. 51. Yet, remember, as We communed with Moses for forty nights you took the calf in his absence (and worshiped it), and you did wrong. 52. Even so, We pardoned you that you may be grateful. 53. Remember, We gave Moses the Book and Discernment of falsehood and truth, that you may be guided. 54. Remember, Moses said: “My people, by taking this calf you have done yourselves harm, so now turn to your Creator in repentance, and kill your pride, which is better with your Lord.” And (the Lord) softened towards you, for He is all-forgiving and merciful. 55. Remember, when you said to Moses: “We shall not believe in you until we see God face to face,” lightening struck you as you looked. 56. Even then We revived you after you had become senseless that you might give thanks; 57. And made the cloud spread shade over you, and sent for you manna and quails that you may eat of the good things We have made for you. No harm was done to Us, they only harmed themselves. 58. And remember, We said to you: “Enter this city, eat wherever you like, as much as you please, but pass through the gates in humility and say: ‘May our sins be forgiven.'” We shall forgive your trespasses and give those who do good abundance. 59. But the wicked changed and perverted the word We had spoken to a word distorted, and We sent from heaven retribution on the wicked, for they disobeyed.

Religion in the News: Where God Comes into the Republican Presidential Ticket

It should be noted up front that this is not an endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama or his vice-presidential running mate, Joe Biden. It is merely a few thoughts I have about the religious elements of the Republican nominee, John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, prompted by my recent viewing of the Republican National Convention.

First, I’d like to mention something that McCain said about a month ago when he was at a gathering of religious folk and required to talk about his religious beliefs. He said that he knew that no matter what he did in this life, he would be forgiven by God and accepted into Heaven.

Holy crap! I cried. That is not the kind of attitude I want my president to have. That attitude does not go well with leadership. No leader should have the luxury of believing that no matter what he does, simple repentance will result in forgiveness and a trip through the pearly gates. Such a belief leads to the possibility for cavalier missteps, especially by someone who self-promotes the whole maverick idea, wide open. I want a president who fears for his soul with every action he takes so that he calculates each and every move with unparalleled precision and forethought. Or one who isn’t concerned at all with the afterlife…

Then there’s Palin. Palin doesn’t believe in evolution. I happen to think what she’s done in Alaska is great and I like her governing style. But wait: she doesn’t believe in evolution. Seriously? You don’t believe in evolution, Mrs. Palin. Oh boy….

And those are some brief thoughts about the Republican ticket and religion.

What do you know about any of the candidates religious proclivities that you’d like to share? Anything worry you or set your mind at ease? Do you think faith should have a place in politics?

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“Cherokee Hair Tampons” and Miss Information Teach about Western Fetishization of the East

I absolutely love this episode. At first, I wasn’t entirely keen on it, but after realizing the extent to which it was illuminating western misconceptions about eastern culture and religion, I couldn’t help but love it.

Note that the stupid, hippie, holistic moron named Miss Information is actually “misinformation.” It seems obvious but it’s amazing how many times you can watch the episode before getting that….

Is this whole episode to say that there is no value in holistic medicine? No, but it is to say that many westerners don’t really get what they’re talking about when they refer to it and they conflate ideas like “spiritual” and “natural” with “eastern” and in this case, Native Americans!

We greatly oversimplify these traditions and assume that Indians (corn Indians, not rice Indians) have some magical powers that the rest of us don’t and that they’re in touch with things spiritual and natural and the earth and blah blah blah. We assume that their religions are all nature and so simplistic, but they are, like other religions with which we are familiar, quite complex. They include rituals, beliefs and traditions far more complicated than we give them credit for because we like to fetishize them and make them into something that we can idolize for what we consider ourselves and our religions not to be.

This misguided and unhealthy approach leads to misconceptions about Native American and eastern religions and slights them rather than honoring them, as we assume. Miss Information encapsulates that element of American society and reminds us that we shouldn’t be self-righteous hippie douches when it comes to other cultures that we just don’t understand. There are many ways to learn more, but hers is not one of them.

What did you think of this episode? What do you think of holistic medicine? What do you think of eastern religions and western fetishization of them?

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Interview with Psychologist and Author, Marlene Winell, about Recovering from Religion

Today we’re going to speak with Marlene Winell, psychologist, author and educator. Marlene has spent her life trying to help people recover from lives that have been torn asunder by religion and religious indoctrination. She has made it her mission to help people feel better about themselves, and their choices and to begin living their lives again.

Marlene runs retreats, one of which is actually happening this weekend. You can read about her and her work on her website by clicking HERE. If you or anyone you know could benefit from speaking with her, please don’t hesitate to contact her. For now, please enjoy this interview with her about her book, work and experiences helping people recover from religion.

What got you interested in the work you do?

I find people fascinating and it is very rewarding to be of help. I come from a missionary background so it is natural to be in a helping profession, but this is very different because I assist people in developing their own resources from within, not an external source.

Please tell me about your book, Leaving the Fold.

My book is Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. It’s the only self-help book for recovering from harmful, restrictive religion. My own story is one chapter. The first half names and describes the important issues in recovery, along with many examples from my interviewees and clients. The second half is about concrete steps for recovery with exercises to do.

How about a word about your retreats?

“Release and Reclaim” retreats are small group experiences where we spend a weekend together telling our stories, getting support, and doing healing activities together. It’s a powerful experience because you are with real people who understand. Past participants have described it as a big turning point in their recovery.

Who are they designed for?

People who have decided to leave their religion and need some help and support.

How often do you have them?

For the last 3 years, it’s been twice a year, but I’d like to do more, particularly in other areas of the country.   I could use some help organizing them.

What do you hope to accomplish at the retreats?

“Release and Reclaim” refers to letting go of old, toxic beliefs and systems and then reclaiming one’s life and one’s self. The biggest area of healing is overcoming the fear that has been conditioned at a deep level.  People then learn to trust themselves again and reconstruct their lives based on their own inner wisdom instead of external authority.

What kinds of techniques do you use to accomplish these goals?

We use discussion, writing, guided imagery, art, movement, and group exercises such as psychodrama. It’s a combination of both intellectual and emotional methods.

What kinds of religions are people when they come to you?

Mostly Bible-based groups – Christian fundamentalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-Day-Adventists. . . but also Eastern religious cults. The key is an authoritarian mindset.

What are their largest issues with their religions?

They have grown to realize that their religion has it wrong – intellectually, emotionally, morally, socially – and that it is possible to give it up and move on, despite the fear. Many have been hurt in some way.

Are they generally still embedded in their religions when they come to you or have they already left their religion and are now lost and in need of guidance?

They have already left but they haven’t worked through all the issues and some are afraid of letting go entirely. The phobia indoctrination is very powerful, which is why the group dynamic is also so helpful. I have a beginning retreat and more advanced retreats. At the first one, people are often pretty terrified; they need to tell their story and get support for their new insights about what was wrong. Later on, the groups are helpful for people reconstructing their lives with confidence and self-love. We also have participants who have been out of their religion for quite a while but have deep-seated “left-overs” they want to address.

What are your personal thoughts about religion?

I think people do need to have a framework of values and beliefs to use in approaching life, but it does not have to be a religion.  An organized religion with rigid dogma is not good because it robs the individual of the responsibility (and the privilege) of critical thinking and forming one’s own conclusions.

Despite the difficulties you see that people experience with religion, do you believe that religion has certain benefits or a certain value? If so, what are those/is that?

A group which provides community and a place for shared values that serve human needs in a tolerant, inclusive manner can be a good thing. Churches that emphasize the more humanitarian teachings of Jesus rather than his death on the cross provide better guidelines for how to actually live. But belonging to any group should always be done responsibly, i.e., never give away your right to think and feel for yourself.

What do you do for people after the weekend retreat is over to help them maintain what they’ve learned?

We have a confidential online support group with monthly conference calls. People also make friends at the retreats and stay in touch on their own.

Do people ever lapse back into old religious patterns or is this generally a turning point in their lives?

We have never had anyone return to their same religion. Some have retained a personal spirituality or belief in God but on their own terms, which I encourage. I have an article about this.

The retreat is most definitely a turning point for many people. I have followed up with past participants, many of whom have told me this. One man who traveled here from New York had been isolating himself in his apartment, overwhelmed with guilt and fear, never venturing out except to go to work. He was terrified when he arrived at the retreat and very quiet at first, afraid to tell his story. Then with the warmth and acceptance of the group, he shared and participated. On the last day, he gave everybody big hugs, and left smiling. About two months later, I spoke with him and he said the burden of his abusive religious past had lifted thanks to the retreat. He had new friends, was going out, and was also back into playing music he loved. Returning to his religion was simply not an option and he felt free for the first time.

A woman who came to the retreat was leading an outwardly successful life with career and family but had secret fears about the “Rapture” that would shake her up despite being irrational. The retreat helped her let go and even laugh about the idea for the first time. Two years later, we talked and she said the retreat was a turning point for her – she had had no more anxiety attacks.

What do you think is most important about the work you do?

I provide a safe, therapeutic place where it is okay to question religion first of all. In terms of healing and growth, my approach is to empower people, and I think I have found good ways of doing that!

What advice would you give to people who are struggling with their religions but who are unable to attend your retreats or work with you?

Don’t be afraid. Read everything you can. Trust yourself for a change and don’t believe the self-serving lines you have heard from your religious group about how sinful and dangerous it is to question. Get support of some kind. On-line forums can be good – stay away from the ones where religious people try to shame you. Take baby steps into the larger world and find out what’s going on and how other people are approaching life. Try new things in small ways and learn to enjoy life here and now. Congratulate yourself often for your courage.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Working with me may not be as hard as it seems. I talk with people on the phone a lot, and it works well.  We can make the cost affordable. The retreats also have affordable options, so don’t rule it out. The investment is worth it considering the time, effort, and money it can take to get therapy, or the loss of living fully if you don’t get better. I’m open to traveling if someone wants to organize a retreat in their area too.

That was wonderful, Marlene! Thank you.

If you’d like to read past interviews with ex-cult members, please click HERE and HERE. If you have any questions for Marlene, please feel free to ask them in the comments or contact her directly with more personal matters.