Zen Talk: The Path to Salvation Must Begin and End with the Self

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

This, to be honest, reminds me of Christianity. Of course, the Buddha knew nothing of Christianity and Buddhism is not a prophetic religion, so obviously he wasn’t talking about Jesus or Christianity, but nonetheless, the mention of being saved makes me think of Christianity. Mentally, the concept of salvation is monopolized in my head by Christianity.

But as we can see, this quote is not saying what Christianity says. This quote says that only we can save ourselves – NOT someone else (which is to say, Jesus). Now, I’m not saying that Jesus doesn’t save or passing any kind of theological judgment. I’m merely discussing the significance of this concept, which I believe can be applied to anyone, whether Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Shintoist or other.

Why? Because it puts the emphasis on the self for guiding one towards Enlightenment. Liberation from suffering and these worldly concerns only comes with our own willpower, determination and effort. I’ll avoid the theological discussion that I’m tempted to have about the concept of a savior, and just conclude by saying that I really like what this verse is saying because I do believe that each of us is responsible for his or her own fate.

What do you think of this quote?

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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.

“Damien,” episode 108 of South Park is Rife with Theological Jokes and a Battle between Satan and Jesus

When Satan’s son, Damien, comes to South Park to wreak havoc and challenge Jesus to a boxing match with Satan – the ultimate showdown between Good and Evil – you know there’s fun to be had.

I won’t go into all the details here, but I will tell you to watch this episode if you enjoy South Park’s portrayal of religion (and we all know I do). Make sure to keep an eye out for jokes about Jesus and forgiveness, what Jesus actually said in the Bible, what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God, the Catholic priest’s familiarity with Jesus and so much more.

What did you think of this episode? Which theological jokes did you catch?

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Religion in the News: The Dead Sea Scrolls, One of the Greatest Finds of All Time, Are Coming to the Internet

I know, it’s exciting, but we’ve all go to keep our pants on.

Okay, okay. This may not be as exciting to some of you as it is to me, but this is a really big deal.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 in caves above the Dead Sea by a Bedoin, are perhaps one of the most amazing discoveries of all time. Not only are they the oldest Hebrew copies available of the books of the Bible (except the book of Esther) but they contain numerous other writings that tell us all about a fascinating, ascetic, Jewish sect from the first century of the Common Era (the time of Jesus, in case you were wondering).

This find and the information derived from it have had a profound impact on scholarship since its discovery, seriously affecting our understanding of Judaism in this period, arguably shedding light on earliest Christian theology, general history, biblical studies and so much more.

However, there’s always been a debate about who should have access to the scrolls, both because of scholarly dibs but also because of the difficulty of preserving the scrolls and keeping them intact. Finally, that problem is solved.

Now all scholars will be able to look at the Dead Sea Scrolls in their original form on the internet, opening up the world of scholarship to all who may wish to partake. This project, in my eyes, is similar to others that seek to put very old materials on the internet that are otherwise only available in particular archives (EEBO, SSB, etc.) so that everyone who wants to browse the originals can do so.

The decentralization and dissemination of knowledge is awesome and I, for one, frickin’ love it. The more people who have access to more information, the better our world becomes. I say, great call putting the Dead Sea Scrolls online.

What are your thoughts on the dissemination of knowledge? Have you ever read parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls or are you familiar with the Qumran sect? Do you think this will matter?

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Around the World Pic of the Day: Sacrificial Temple We Built at the Beach

Our Very Own Sacrificial Alter!

Our Very Own Sacrificial Altar!

I love building sand-castles – always have. When I was a little boy, my dad taught me the art of the drip castle. Later, I moved onto other things, like building my very own sacrificial altars out of sand. Hooray!

This sacrificial alter was constructed on the Jersey Shore, near a town called Tom’s River. Though I’m not in the picture (I’m taking it) my friends and I did build this great temple together, replete with wall, mote, and sacrificial altar in the center. On it, we put little sand crabs (though we didn’t kill them or eat their hearts believing that they would give us strength – or abilities to burrow into the sand with great success).

To be fair, unlike many of the other Around the World pics of me at religious sites, this one is not frequented by pilgrims and I daresay it may no longer be standing, destroyed by the conquering armies of generations (read: tides for the last three years). However, it’s glory will always be preserved by this photo.

On an interesting side note, I did spend that entire evening debating the fine points of a man’s theology since he insisted on screaming it to everyone on the boardwalk.

Have you ever been to the Jersey Shore? What’d you think? Get stuck by any needles while you were there?

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Cartman Takes to the Pulpit in “Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?”

I’m not sure if Comedy Central is just trying to delight me and my senses these days or if it’s just a coincidence that great religious episode after great religious episode seems to be on. Actually, it reminds me of how many episodes in which South Park focuses on religion. And tonight’s episode is 410, “Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?”

The show begins with Father Maxi preaching fiery brimstone and damnation to his congregation after catching the boys behaving poorly in church. By scaring them into going to Sunday School where they can prepare for their first communion by taking their first confession, Father Maxi ends up filling the boys with all sorts of theological diatribe that they can’t seem to shake.

Concerned by what they’ve heard, Cartman, Stan, Kenny and the other boys try to save their friends who might otherwise be destined for Hell – Timmy, for instance, who can’t say more than his own name, much less confess. Oh, and obviously Kyle. Father Maxi’s ill intentions are best demonstrated when he quotes the Bible to tell Kyle he’s going to Hell but actually quotes from a passage that doesn’t mention anything about the Jews. It is also clear that all he cares about is greater church attendance.

Realizing that it is the Bible from which both the priest and the church’s sister, Sister Anne, draw their authority when making their bold assertions about going to Hell, the boys begin to fear the power of this book. That is, until Father Maxi is caught having sex in the confessional booths and ousted by the children, only to have Cartman take up the pulpit in his place, determined to save the souls of all of South Park’s children. You can’t miss the conclusion of this two-part episode, “Probably,” tomorrow night.

The reason I love this episode is multi-fold, but two issues in particular are its treatment of theology and the Bible. The Bible is used as a source of authority – almost the source of authority – and it’s only by getting a hold of it that Cartman’s power can actually take shape. We see him mimic the terrible lessons he’s learned from his Church: how to wield undeserved and unjust authority through threats and coercion.

Second is the use of theology. When the boys are taught theology as children, they are simply confused. Communion is illogical to them because the notion that crackers and wine really become Jesus’ body suggests that Jesus was made of crackers and wine. They approach these issues like children: skeptical and curious. Why? Why? Why? they ask. In typical dogmatic fashion, they are told, because the Bible says so, because that’s the way it is, and stop bothering me or you’re going to Hell.

And then there’s so much more.

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Jesus Returns in “Fantastic Easter Special” and the True Secrets Behind the Papacy and Vatican are Revealed

Guess who frickin’ loves this episode? When I first watched this episode, my jaw hung open the entire time.

Talk about bringing theological concepts full circle. That’s one of the things I love most about South Park and religion: the show’s ability to employ the theological concepts that we take for granted and craft them in such a way as to make us think about why we call them what we do and think about them as we do.

In this episode, Jesus’ resurrection, the relationship between Jews and Jesus, the meaning of Easter and so much more are explored in a fascinating way. Plus, the juxtaposition of the religio-historical Jesus’ life and that of the South Park Jesus’ life is hilarious.

The eleventh season hardly ever missed a beat, and episode 1105, “Fantastic Easter Special,” not only lives up to its name but bulldozes right on through the season. Oddly enough, I had just been sorting out my Christianity material around the time this episode was aired and couldn’t help but think to myself why there had not been anything ever done on Easter aside from an off-handed joke. And then here came this episode – an awesome response to my mental query.

Have you seen it? What did you think? Favorite line?

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