Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 42-54 Talks All About Jesus, Pre-Birth to Adulthood

In verse 44, Asad is saying that the Quran is saying of itself that it is revelation: “We [now] reveal unto thee.” Even though Christians regard their understanding of Mary’s life as true (virgin birth, mother of God, etc.) the Quran is making clear that this is the true version of the story.

It’s clear that the respect afforded Jesus and the honor done him are not to be disregarded by the Quran. The Quran and Islam believe in the prophetic quality of Jesus and in his greatness as a human being and one beloved by God. However, in Islam, as in Judaism, there is no Son of God in a literal sense. There is no virgin birth. Jesus was a human being with a wonderful message that fell in line with the messages of the other prophets.

Okay, as of verse 47 I’m confused. Verse 47 implies that there is a virgin birth going on here, as no man has ever touched Mary (according to her). I thought, however, that Islam didn’t believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. How is this interpreted otherwise? I understand the purpose of the next part of the line (I think) about God creating what He wills. It actually recalls the creation story in chapter 1 of the book of Genesis, which, considering Christian theology, is a fascinating thing to relate in these Quranic verses. But despite God being able to create what He will however He wants – and we know that to be the case – why would the Quran make a point of saying such a thing here when Muslims don’t believe in the virgin birth? Either I’m wrong about that belief or there’s another way to understand this verse.

The next few verses are things that we consider Jesus to have said in his lifetime. It’s unclear whether or not this is a foretelling of what’s to come in Jesus’ life or another statement of these things. Based on Asad’s note, it’s interesting that verse 49’s reference to the ‘destiny being shaped’ is the word used for bird, considering the fact that in Christianity, the bird is a representation of the Spirit, or God’s third essence. In verse 50, what still remains of the Torah would seem to be those things that the Israelites are still practicing rightly. I’m not sure what Jesus made okay that was forbidden to people beforehand. Jesus, according to the Gospel, said that he intended to change nothing at all about the Law (i.e. the Torah) and he actually seems to make (again, in the Gospels at least) things a little bit stricter (e.g. thinking naughty thoughts is adultary). Only Paul wanted the Torah’s laws to be abolished.

Verse 52 takes quite a little jump there in time. That seems strange to do and inconsistent.

The final verse here talks about God preventing scheming against Jesus from coming to fruition but when I think of the crucifixion, though it’s spun as something that had to happen, it would certainly seem as though the scheming came to something.

I had a lot of disjointed thoughts in here and a variety of questions that were poorly phrased as questions. If you can add anything or clarify anything, I’d be much obliged. Thanks for reading!

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Al-’Imran 42-54

42. AND LO! The angels said: “O Mary! Behold, God has elected thee and made thee pure, and raised thee above all the women of the world. 43. O Mary! Remain thou truly devout unto thy Sustainer, and prostrate thyself in worship, and bow down with those who bow down [before Him].” 44. This account of something that was beyond the reach of thy perception We [now] reveal unto thee: for thou wert not with them when they drew lots as to which of them should be Mary’s guardian, and thou wert not with them when they contended [about it] with one another. 45. Lo! The angels said: “O Mary! Behold, God sends thee the glad tiding, through a word from Him, [of a son] who shall become known as the Christ Jesus, son of Mary, of great honor in this world and in the life to come, and [shall be] of those who are drawn near unto God. 46. And he shall speak unto men in his cradle, and as a grown man, and shall be of the righteous.” 47. Said she: “O my Sustainer! How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me?” [The angel] answered: “Thus it is: God creates what He wills: when He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, ‘Be’ – and it is. 48. And he will impart unto thy son revelation, and wisdom, and the Torah, and the Gospel, 49. and [will make him] an apostle unto the children of Israel.” “I HAVE COME unto you with a message from your Sustainer. I shall create for you out of clay, as it were, the shape of [your] destiny, and then breathe into it, so that it might become [your] destiny by God’s leave; and I shall heal the blind and the leper, and bring the dead back to life by God’s leave; and I shall let you know what you may eat and what you should store up in your houses. Behold, in all this there is indeed a message for you, if you are [truly] believers. 50. “And [I have come] to confirm the truth of whatever there still remains of the Torah, and to make lawful unto you some of the things which [aforetime] were forbidden to you. And I have come unto you with a message from your Sustainer; remain, then, conscious of God, and pay heed unto me. 51. “Verily, God is my Sustainer as well as your Sustainer; so worship Him [alone]: this is a straight way.” 52. And when Jesus became aware of their refusal to acknowledge the truth, he asked: “Who will be my helpers in God’s cause?” The white-garbed ones replied: “We shall be [thy] helpers [in the cause] of God! We believe in God: and bear thou witness that we have surrendered ourselves unto Him! 53. O our Sustainer! We believe in what Thou hast bestowed from on high, and we follow this Apostle; make us one, then, with all who bear witness [to the truth]!” 54. And the unbelievers schemed [against Jesus]; but God brought their scheming to nought: for God is above all schemers.

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Funny Definitions to New and Old Words

Thought you might enjoy these as a nice change of pace. In keeping with the spirit of this blog, I’ve bolded the religious ones. Hope you enjoy – make sure to comment about which one is your favorite and let me know if you have anymore.

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

12. Karmageddon: It’s when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, and then the Earth explodes, and it’s a serious bummer.

13. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you

14. Glibido: All talk and no action.

15. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

16. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

17. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

18. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

1. coffee, n. the person upon whom one coughs.

2. flabbergasted, adj. appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. abdicate, v. to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. esplanade, v. to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. willy-nilly, adj. impotent.

6. negligent, adj. absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. lymph, v. to walk with a lisp.

8. gargoyle, n. olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. flatulence, n. emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. balderdash, n. a rapidly receding hairline.

11. testicle, n. a humorous question on an exam.

12. rectitude, n. the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. pokemon, n. a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. oyster, n. a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. the belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. circumvent, n. an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

Got any others? Which was your favorite?

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A Military Helicopter as Santa’s Sleigh – Do You Think They Saw South Park’s “Red Sleigh Down?”

I just saw the following picture:

Military Copter as Santa's Sleigh

Military Copter as Santa's Sleigh

Do you know what it made me think of? Nothing other than South Park, and in particular, episode 618, “Red Sleigh Down.” Why?

That episode is one of the most amazing ever. Santa goes to Iraq in order to spread the Christmas spirit to a part of the world sorely in need of some holiday cheer, and Iraqis shoot his sleigh down and then torture him.

The boys, in an attempt to rescue Santa, find Jesus who then busts into the Iraqi compound and saves old Saint Nick. However, on the way out of the compound, Jesus is shot and killed, making Christmas a day to remember how Jesus saved us and then died for us. Truly, it’s a sensational episode.

Rather than flee Iraq, though, Santa turns around and starts shooting missiles at Baghdad, not actually destroying anything, but missiles that explode holiday decorations, presents and cheer all over the city. I was looking at a bunch of “funny” photos from the Iraq War (and yes, yes, I know there’s nothing funny about war but you can check them out yourself by clicking HERE) and since this one reminded me so much of South Park I just had to share. However, I doubt this helicopter was shooting missiles filled with holiday cheer, though maybe it wasn’t dropping presents and aid and not just some sick, twisted joke.

Do you agree with the connection I’ve made between this picture and the episode? Do you like that episode?

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Batman – Nolan’s Dark Knight, with Bale, Ledger and Caine, is Nothing Short of Sensational

I don’t applaud at the end of movies, and I never will. But if any movie ever made me want to it was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Truly, it was incredible.

Heath Ledger and the Joker

Let me start with Heath Ledger as that seems to be all anyone can talk about. That’s why I’ll make it brief and get onto other things since you all already know how good he is. His performance is unrivaled. Simply unrivaled. What’s more, I’m certainly not the first person to say that he deserves an Oscar. I could drone on, but it’s really that simple when it comes to Ledger so I’m not going to dwell.

I will say that I love the way the concept of Joker was written, which really had very little to do with Ledger, I’d imagine. That is, Nolan’s Joker truly embodied the chaos and anarchy that the character was meant to. Unlike Nicholson’s Joker whose history we are given, this Joker knows no history and the twisted words out of his mouth about himself make that all the more apparent. This Joker, in spirit, is the ultimate opposite of what Batman is and by very virtue of that fact the character itself may render all future Batman villains in this series somewhat disappointing. How could any be as twisted, maniacal or disturbing. That, with Ledger conveying these elements: unbeatable.

The Cast

No actor fell short in this film. Christian Bale’s character wasn’t nearly as tormented as in Batman Begins and so in a certain sense we get less out of him than before. Nonetheless, his performance was nothing to scoff at. He still made a great Bruce Wayne and an excellent Batman – though sometimes the deep pitch of his voice while playing the Dark Knight made understanding him a little hard.

Maggie Gyllenhaal was, I dare say, better than Katie Holmes, who, already having taken the crazy-plunge by the start of Batman Begins, wasn’t the wonderful girl I fantasized about during Dawson’s Creek. This Rachel wasn’t as hell-bent on saving Gotham, but she did have a spark – a life – that made her a great addition to the movie.

My feelings about Aaron Eckhart are mixed (potential spoiler alert – this paragraph only). I think he’s a great actor and entertaining fella to watch on screen. As Harvey Dent trying to be Gotham’s new hero D.A. he was compelling and believable – like the good guy many of us imagined him to be in Thank You For Smoking. I will say that by the end of the film, something about his performance was not adding up for me. Disappointing since as many people know by the previews, the third installment of this Batman series will most likely have Aaron Eckhart playing our villain (or at least one of them).

As a Film

The movie itself, actors aside – script, plot, themes, action – was sensational. Yes, the actors made it what it was, but Christopher Nolan deserves a hat off for this one. In true Batman spirit it was dark as could reasonably be done. Moreover, as absolutely twisted as it was and as much as we were visually privy to, Nolan never made us watch the few things that would have been unnecessary to show and only good for shock value (well, not only, but close). The discretion he exercised as a writer/director should be lauded. Finally, I was shocked by at least two facts that I didn’t see coming at all, and was so caught up that the plot twists were surprises to me as well – I love that when I’m watching a movie.

And yet with all this the movie was not simply great acting amidst exciting action sequences. It was food for thought. Mostly thanks to the dialogue written for Joker, the film intimately explored ideas as simple as right and wrong while also probing our hearts about human nature. We are made to practically plead with the film to reaffirm or restore our sense of human decency and it reminds us, without making us feel as though it’s trying to, that we are allowed to hope for better, brighter things. Concepts like the rule of law, anarchy, justice and more are also woven throughout the movie. Not once, though, are we made to sit through a director’s attempt at jamming anything down our throats. All of this is skillfully and seamlessly interlaced through dialogue, action, and plot, leaving you at the end to digest a whole lot more than what you thought you were getting for the price of admission (in some sense the opposite of the feeling you had when The Happening ended).

The Audience

I have never in my life seen a crowd like this. Applause before previews, when it began, periodically throughout and of course at the end. There was a huge line waiting to get in before the movie, but thanks to my sick girlfriend, we were able to bypass the whole thing and be the first ones in the theater. This, naturally, resulted in a threat on my life by the man first in line who had probably been there two hours ahead of time (we arrived thirty minutes before the start of the movie), and though I understand his disposition, I have a tough time believing that, as the second person in the theater, I picked the precise seat before him that he had so desperately waited to get.

There was not an empty seat in the house – and this at a theater that had midnight, three a.m. and six a.m. showings, and then all day right until ours. Fortunately I had my favorite seat in the house – dead center in the middle of the theater, both up and down, left and right. It really couldn’t have worked out better … for me.

Words to Leave You With

To conclude succinctly, this movie exceeded my expectations, and considering that they were so high, this was nearly impossible to do. When I expect great things from a movie, I rarely get them, a sad fact which resulted in my movie philosophy of no expectations but a hope for entertainment. This film, however, shattered the highest expectations I may ever have had for a movie. I thought it was over twice – and would have been wholly satisfied had it been – and was twice given another slew of great action, dialogue and entertainment. And so much more.

For a truly spectacular film, I award my first full 10 Chocolate Salty Balls. Someone tell Nolan – he’ll be thrilled.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this film in a comment below. Get your copy of The Dark Knight. You won’t regret it.

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Featured Guest, Kush Tavakoli, Talks about The Zen of South Park

Today’s guest blogger is Kush Tavakoli, a friend of mine from college. After we graduated his job happened to be in my home town of Atlanta so whenever I came home, it was great to always have him there. What’s more is that he’s become an integral part of the writing process for The Zen of South Park. He’s going to talk here about his thoughts regarding the book and his experiences working on it. Feel free to leave comments and questions for him or send him an email at kush@thezenofsouthpark.com. Without further ado, here he is:

It is difficult for a work of non-fiction to have an emotional pinball machine effect on the reader.  Religion is an old subject; Christianity, in particular, pervades every aspect of Western Civilization, and even texts that are pointedly anti-religious seem to necessitate religion as a foil to create their own meaning.  The complexity of the issue of religion is such that many, upon reading the book, will have their own preconceived notions on the subject.

In a sense, every person is a potential reader for a book on religion, because every person has beliefs that shape the way that he or she perceives and interacts with the world.  I was a potential reader.  As I read and edited the text, I felt the jerking about of my own proclivities (as Solomon calls them) in response to the messages he elucidates and expounds upon.  Given the fact that we have such preconceived notions, why do we have this pinball feeling upon reading a book that we might think can have little effect on an outlook on life, whatever outlook that is for us, that we have spent so much time considering, testing and revising, and ultimately believing in?

Part of this reaction is Solomon’s use of South Park as the medium for this discussion.  In our long conversations on the subject matter, his use of South Park as the driving force for the book was not just because of its outrageous use of religious subjects, imagery, and topics; it was because South Park actually deals with religion in a much more subtle, sensitive manner than we might discern on our own, because he had a genuine appreciation for their viewpoints, and because it provided a manner for him to explore and convey his own opinions through the underlying points made throughout the book.

South Park is outrageous.  The use of the word “sensitive” in the paragraph above did not refer to pillow talk sensitivity, but to the type of sensitivity one might have performing an autopsy.  What may look like violent mutilation of subjects as serious as pedophilia, crucifixion, global warming, homosexuality, and family, upon reading of The Zen of South Park, looks like careful removal and examination of critical organs of a living entity.  For a child to know that a heart is not shaped like a heart requires the picture of a heart; for an adult to sketch the heart requires the curiosity and discipline to extract and examine a heart for the first time.  For the viewer, witnessing  these gross surgical operations performed by a seemingly unsqueamish doctor results in knee-jerk reactions to the subject matter that more theological or purely rational examinations might not inspire.

It isn’t just that South Park is outrageous that results in these types of reactions.  The complexity of the operations performed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone are such that it is difficult, given the assumed attention span of the reader and the associated publisher’s requirements for the length of the book, to break them down, expose them technically, and convey their meaning – briefly.  Solomon is able to do this, but the speed with which the points are addressed is such that in a few sentences, the reader might react with vehemence to one point, only to find him or herself in staunch agreement later in the paragraph.

Even reading other nonfiction with the speed to point and outrageousness of subject provided by Solomon’s analysis of South Park, the reader might still not experience the feeling of being bandied about quite so forcefully if not for the gravity of the subject.  As mentioned before, every reader has thoughts and opinions on religion.  However consciously  pursued and actively coalesced, and with what degree of conviction, may vary from person to person, but we all have notions, ideologies, beliefs, religion; some framework for understanding the world around us, that this book will, to some degree, challenge.  This challenge provides that force.

When Solomon asked me to comment on his book in the context of my own thoughts on this subject, my first thought was on the specific experiences that have shaped my views on religion, but what I have realized is that the uniqueness of my experience is not as relevant as the fact that I have had an experience, and coming to this conclusion, I can only expect that we all have an experience.  South Park is a challenge, and in many ways, reading this book is an acceptance of a greater challenge: to explore these issues in such technical detail that we are fully exposed to our own spiritual anatomy.  Whether this challenge results in the rethinking of our beliefs, exposing notions hidden buried in consciousness, or a rough confirmation, the challenge is worth accepting.