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.

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Hilarious Motivational Posters about Invisible Sandwiches, Emergency Exits, Driving and Curiosity

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An Evil Stan is Engineered in South Park Episode 105, “An Elephant Makes Love to a Pig”

Oh, early season one of South Park: how folksy and classic.

In this episode all the boys must complete science fair projects and Kyle and Dr. Mephisto’s son get into a cloning war, with the latter insisting that he can clone an entire human being and Kyle believing that he can breed an elephant and a pot-bellied pig to make small pot-bellied elephants.

When the boys go to Dr. Mephisto, the local genetic engineer, to ask how they might do what they intend to, they are introduced to a variety of four-assed animals genetically engineered by the doctor. Secretly, he stabs Stan and takes a sample of his blood, which happens to be the blood used for the human clone. In the meantime, Chef advises the boys to have the elephant make love to the pig and Elton John comes in for a magical and sexy duet that, post drunk, gets every enjoying some coitus.

The Stan-clone grows huge and monstrous and eventually escapes from the genetic engineer only to terrify and destroy the town of South Park. And guess who’s getting blamed!? That’s right, Stan.

Fortunately for him and the trouble he’s going to get in, Shelley, who had been mean to Stan throughout the whole episode, claims that Stan had been with her the whole time and therefore not wreaking havoc about town. What a good sister.

Stan tells Shelley:

“Shelley, you saved my life. And yet, you’ve done so much more than that. Today you’ve taught me the meaning of family. Sure, families don’t always get along, but when the forces of evil descend upon us, we conquer them by sticking together.”

Curiously, this episode touches close to home right now because I’m in the middle of one of Michael Crichton’s books about genetic engineering called Next. It’s not as good as State of Fear or some of his classics but I’m entertained. I only got it because it was a few dollars for the hardback at Borders a few months back. And then we learned this week that Crichton died. He was a great author and a great addition to public debate about important issues. Thanks for everything, Michael.

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Does God Want Cancer Ridden Nelson to Die in South Park Episode 1014, “Stanley’s Cup”?

This is a question that the five-year-old, hockey playing, child, Nelson, asks Stan as he is trapped in the hospital with leukemia. Apparently, he stakes his entire life and future on whether or not Stan can coach his peewee hockey team to victory.

And why, you ask, is Stan coaching a peewee hockey team? Well, his bike was towed because he had a bunch of parking tickets and in order to get his bike out of impound, he had to do this.

The episode is pretty silly and until the final hockey game, which is definitely worth watching, really not my favorite. I hope you enjoyed it.

What did you think?

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Old People Are Murdering and Father Maxi Speaks of God in South Park Episode 710, “Grey Dawn”

This episode is about how old people shouldn’t drive because they’re practically incapable of doing so anymore. I agree entirely. Old people should have to take driving tests every two years after the age of say, 70 or something. It’s for everyone else’s safety.

My late grandfather, a wonderful man but terrifying driver, used to make left turns across multiple lanes of traffic without looking. “They see me,” he used to insist. Yes, they see you splattered across a windsheild if you keep driving like that. My mother and her brothers tried to get him a driver but he refused. This episode is about this problem.

It begins with a funeral over which Father Maxi presides. He says:

“It is sometimes hard, in times like these, to understand God’s way. Why would he allow nine innocent people to be run down in the prime of their lives by a senior citizen who, perhaps, shouldn’t be driving? It is then that we must understand, God’s sense of humor is very different from our own. He does not laugh at the simple ‘man walks into a bar’ joke. No, God needs complex irony and subtle farcical twists that seem macabre to you and me. All that we can hope for is that God got his good laugh and a tragedy such as this will never happen again.”

That is an hilarious and amazing description and understanding of God, all the more fitting coming from the mouth of a Catholic Priest.

Did you like this episode? What do you think about this understanding of God?

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Fun with the Bible: Abraham’s Trip to See Sigmund Freud

The Situation

Everybody knows about Father Abraham right? That patriarch of all monotheistic people who everyone likes to trace his or her roots to? You remember: God spoke to him, gave him descendants and Canaan and all that jazz?

Do you remember the story where he goes to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test from God (Genesis 22) but before he can do it God stops him? It’s a great story. Rather popular, and boy is there a lot to say about it. But do you know the story of Abraham and his other son, Ishmael?

Well, in Genesis 21, (yes, the chapter immediately before he tries to off Isaac), Abraham sends his other son (and his mother) out into the wilderness to, presumably, die. Why? Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is getting testy about Ishmael, the son of a slave woman, playing with her son. Jealousy? Maybe. But no matter the reason, we have two back to back stories of Abraham doing things that will kill his sons.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear things like this, I start thinking of everyone’s favorite mother fucker, Sigmund Freud. Now, there’s no real indication that Isaac or Ishmael was trying to sleep with either of their mothers or subsequently tried to murder their father, Abraham. But perhaps this was a preemptive strike on Abraham’s part while his sons were still young.

The Approach

There’s little that annoys me as much in scholarship as a reductionist approach. That is, the attempt to understand and explain information all through a particular lens without taking account of the entire situation. For instance, like attempting to interpret everything through a Freudian, Oedipal Complex, eye. (By the way, interpreting the entire Old Testament like it’s forecasting Jesus is also reductionist.)

However, with two back to back stories about killing sons, I can’t help but wonder if we’re not getting glimpses of some very long standing emotions about familial relations. We know that the ancient Greeks thought about these things – why not Ancient Near Eastern people as well?

The Questions

One big question internal to the story is, how can Abraham get everything that God has promised him (descendants and land for them), if he is killing his sons (while claiming that God is telling him to kill them – sounds delusional, no?)? So, if these Freudian drives are correct, is this in part a story about Abraham overcoming his internal drives (son-murder) in order to acquire his long-term goals: Id v. Superego? Should he smoke a cigar?

If you like this family murder stuff, Genesis is filled with some great fratricide and attempted fratricide stories too (e.g. Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers).

Have you read Genesis 21 and 22? What do you think about this Freudian interpretation on the whole thing? What are your thoughts on Abraham’s psyche? Are there other places you can think of in the Bible that lend themselves to Freudian interpretation? God does let his only son get murdered, right?

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Isaac Hayes, Who Voiced the South Park Character, Chef, Dies at Age 65

In 1997, Isaac Hayes become the voice of Chef, the large, sexed-up, black cafeteria chef at South Park Elementary, who was the only adult that Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman could consistently trust. He was wonderful, lovable, and in classic Isaac Hayes fashion, broke into song all the time. No South Park viewer could but love Chef, and appreciate Hayes’ wonderful contribution to this timeless and fantastic show about American culture.

Unfortunately, Chef was not a part of South Park to the end of his life, as his character was killed in the first episode of the tenth season, titled “The Return of Chef” (1001). It was, to be sure, a controversial move, but nothing other than controversy surrounded his departure from the show.

At the end of the 9th season South Park did an episode about Scientology, lambasting the religion thoroughly and making it and some of its celebrity members, namely Tom Cruise, look rather stupid. Isaac Hayes took issues with Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s portrayal of his religion – yes, Hayes was a Scientologist – insisting that they just didn’t understand. Moreover, he told them that it wasn’t right to make fun of his religion that way, though they noted that he had no trouble making fun of nearly everyone else’s religions in other episodes.

Hayes left during the season break and later, Parker and Stone received a letter that he was resigning permanently. Mystery surrounds this letter because it is unclear who wrote it. It is believed that Hayes was in a coma when the letter was sent, suggesting that he had no hand in it at all. Others contend that he was coerced into writing the letter, and of course there is always the possibility that he wrote it himself. If this last option, it is unlikely that he was not goaded by fellow Scientologists to do so.

This situation soured me towards Isaac Hayes because I found his character on the show to be incredibly important – and also quite funny. Nonetheless, what happened happened and in a spectacular episode about Chef’s leaving South Park for a fruity little club (a metaphor for Scientology), the character was killed off and Isaac Hayes never returned to South Park again.

Now, he’s dead for real. I hope that the final 2 years of his life were fulfilling and enjoyable. I’m sorry that he departed from South Park on such an unfortunate note. Perhaps, considering my thoughts, I should try to bear Kyle’s eulogy in mind from Chef’s funeral at the end of the episode:

“We’re all here today because Chef has been such an important part of our lives. A lot of us don’t agree with the choices Chef has made in the past few days. Some of us feel hurt and confused that he seemed to turn his back on us. But we can’t let the events of the last week take away the memories of how much Chef made us smile. I’m gonna remember Chef as the jolly old guy who always broke into song. I’m gonna remember Chef as the guy who gave us advice to live by. So you see, we shouldn’t be mad at Chef for leaving us. We should be mad at that little fruity club for scrambling his brains. And in the end, I know that somewhere out there, there’s the good part of Chef that’s still alive in us all.”

Here’s to you Isaac Hayes.

On a similarly unfortunate note, Bernie Mac has also died at the age of 50.

What was your favorite Chef moment? What will you remember Isaac Hayes for?

To read about the group Anonymous and their global protest against Scientology, click HERE.

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