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Post Baha'i Perspective on Jihadist Events
Created by John Eipper on 01/12/15 2:15 PM

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Baha'i Perspective on Jihadist Events (Luciano Dondero, Italy, 01/12/15 2:15 pm)

I have the greatest respect for Vincent Littrell, from whom I have learned a lot, and I sincerely admire his passion and love for his chosen religion. However, I am in absolute disagreement with his ideas. He is of course entitled to explain them at length, but that doesn't place them above criticism.

If in Europe and America we don't have to face fundamentalist Christians (at least most of the time: terrorist acts against abortion clinics tell us a different story), it is because religious ideas have been deemed for centuries a legitimate target of rational criticism--not to mention the fact that the practical advancement of science has expelled "the god of the gaps" from very many "gaps" in our knowledge, precisely.
In particular, Vincent's description of Islam is faulty.  Islam's "holy book," the Quran, is filled with hatred and with explicit calls to exterminate the non-Muslim, as well as heretics and apostates. And the treatment of women is pretty bad--on par with the treatment of animals, which is also bad in and of itself.

Now the Bible (Torah) and the New Testament are not exactly "better," for instance Leviticus is explicit in granting gays a bad ending. And women are supposed to obey "their" men.

But, and this is no small but, there is no real equivalent of the "sharia" in Western countries. Sure, the Catholic church has his "catechism," and in Israel you can only contract a religious marriage; however, if you are secular or gay or an adulteress, you don't get stoned to death in Rome or Jerusalem. You do in Mecca or Teheran or in the ISIS Caliphate, and you did in the Taliban's Afghanistan.

In particular the Muslim population in Europe can't be allowed to implement the most backward and barbaric aspects of their religious beliefs, and certainly nothing that infringes on the civil and democratic rights of "their" women.  Anybody living here, either as a full citizen or as a "guest," must respect our basic laws, whether or not that is "appropriate" with respect to their own religious (or ideological) beliefs.

And nobody should be punished for "insulting" any religion with blasfemous (and occasionally witty) cartoons.

If in France and Germany there are laws prohibiting any negationist talk regarding the Shoah ("Holocaust").  This is actually wrong in my opinion. I think US legislation in this respect is preferable. People should be entitled to say (and publish) whatever they want--I put beyond the pale only screaming "fire" in a crowded cinema--and then be held accountable for any action that they try to implement as a result of their beliefs. For instance, you can be against Israel as much as you want in the abstract--there are even Arab Members of the Knesset who advocate the end of their own country, the country where they live and work and enjoy plenty of freedoms--but if you take a step in the direction of providing intelligence to the country's enemies, well, you should obviously end up in big trouble.

JE comments:  The freedom to curtail the rights of "their" women--this argument strikes my ears as similar to the "property rights" favored by slaveholders.  When confronted with radical Islam, secular progressives are faced with a paradox:  how can you be tolerant of the intolerant?


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  • Baha'i Perspectives on Jihadist Events: Some Questions Answered (Vincent Littrell, USA 01/20/15 3:30 AM)
    This is a combined response to John Eipper, Luciano Dondero and David Duggan.

    When commenting on my post of 12 January, John Eipper asked the following question: "If the Baha'is consider Islam (Judaism and Christianity, too, I presume) as religions of a past era, upon which the 'sun has set,' wouldn't they have to welcome the current religious strife as signs that their prophecy is taking place?"


    My answer is no. Baha'is absolutely don't welcome the current religious strife. Baha'is view humankind as God's most noble creation. Mankind is indeed made in the image of God, and therefore we believe that God wants only greatness for humankind. It is in the Baha'i view unseemly for God's most noble creation to engage in warfare and strife (though allowance is made for war in some circumstances, when it involves defense against aggression). In the Baha'i view, mankind is destined for an unfathomably bright future once it has matured and that maturing process, in the Baha'i view, is occurring. In a 1985 letter to the peoples of the world titled "The Promise of World Peace," the supreme governing institution of the Baha'i Faith, The Universal House of Justice, wrote:


    "We hold firmly the conviction that all human beings have been created 'to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization'; that 'to act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man'; that the virtues that befit human dignity are trustworthiness, forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving kindness towards all peoples. We reaffirm the belief that the 'potentialities inherent in the station of man, the full measure of his destiny on earth, the innate excellence of his reality, must all be manifested in this promised Day of God [Baha'is believe the advent of Baha'u'llah is the beginning of the 'promised Day of God' of past prophecy--VL]. These are the motivations for our unshakeable faith that unity and peace are the attainable goal towards which humanity is striving.


    "At this writing, the expectant voices of Bahá'ís can be heard despite the persecution they still endure in the land in which their faith was born. By their example of steadfast hope, they bear witness to the belief that the imminent realization of this age-old dream of peace is now, by virtue of the transforming effects of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation, invested with the force of divine authority. Thus we convey to you not only a vision in words: we summon the power of deeds of faith and sacrifice; we convey the anxious plea of our co-religionists everywhere for peace and unity. We join with all who are the victims of aggression, all who yearn for an end to conflict and contention, all whose devotion to principles of peace and world order promotes the ennobling purposes for which humanity was called into being by an all-loving Creator.


    "In the earnestness of our desire to impart to you the fervour of our hope and the depth of our confidence, we cite the emphatic promise of Bahá'u'lláh: 'These fruitless strifes, theseruinous wars shall pass away, and the "Most Great Peace" shall come.'" ("The Promise of World Peace," p. 15; http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/uhj/PWP/ )


    John also made the following comment:


    "One thing is clear: Muslims would understandably view this aspect of Baha'i doctrine as a threat to their own beliefs, institutions, and...dare I say culture?"


    Indeed, since the Baha'i Faith emerged in the 19th century, many Christian and Muslim leaders have attacked and excoriated it and Muslims have directly persecuted Baha'is. This is in some part at least because the Baha'i Faith does pose a challenge to religious hierarchies of religions of the past. Baha'u'llah (whom Baha'is believe has revealed the Word of God for today's day and age) has abolished the institutions of clergy. From the Baha'i perspective, everyone is required to independently investigate spiritual reality and the truth for themselves, and thus in a sense everyone in this new religious age is ministering to the needs of family, community and civilization.


    Luciano Dondero respectfully found issue with my position on Islam. He described my view as "faulty." Luciano is of course entitled to his opinion. As a Baha'i, I view the revelation of the Prophet Muhammad as a legitimate and real revelation from God, and that not a scintilla of "hatefulness" can be found in the Qur'an. I have written on the peaceful and tolerant nature of the Qur'an and have already discussed the "sword verses" at length in this Forum, so I see no need to re-write my past arguments. For some of my past commentary on the subject on WAIS, see the links at the end of this post (one of the below links discusses the Nahj al-Balagha, which is held by some to be the most significant treatise outside the Qur'an on Islamic ethics related to governance. The text was very possibly written by the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and his legitimate successor in Shia and Baha'i eyes, Ali ibn Abi Talib).


    I'll make one other point. In a recent post David Duggan referred to Islam as "anti-Christ." Though as a Baha'i I don't agree with that assessment, one Baha'i interpretation of the Bible's Book of the Revelation of John points to what I've heard referred to by Baha'is as "anti-Christ," with the rise of the Umayyad dynasty of Islamic history. Baha'i leader Abdu'l-Baha, whom Baha'is believe was divinely inspired, in his commentary on the Revelation of John, states:


    "'And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth.' These signs are an allusion to the dynasty of the Umayyads, who dominated the Muḥammadan religion. Seven heads and seven crowns mean seven countries and dominions over which the Umayyads had power: they were the Roman dominion around Damascus; and the Persian, Arabian and Egyptian dominions, together with the dominion of Africa--that is to say, Tunis, Morocco and Algeria; the dominion of Andalusia, which is now Spain; and the dominion of the Turks of Transoxania. The Umayyads had power over these countries. The ten horns mean the names of the Umayyad rulers--that is, without repetition, there were ten names of rulers, meaning ten names of commanders and chiefs--the first is Abú Súfyán and the last Marván--but several of them bear the same name. So there are two Muáviyá, three Yazíd, two Valíd, and two Marván; but if the names were counted without repetition there would be ten. The Umayyads, of whom the first was Abú Súfyán, Amír of Mecca and chief of the dynasty of the Umayyads, and the last was Marván, destroyed the third part of the holy and saintly people of the lineage of Muḥammad who were like the stars of heaven." (Some Answered Questions, pgs 69, 70 http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SAQ/saq-13.html )


    My point in posting the above quote is this:


    The Baha'is believe that the events surrounding the succession to the Prophet Muhammad caused a shift in direction for Islam, turning much of it on a path towards "anti-Christ." The events of today, the turbulence, violence, hatred, bloodshed and ignorance to be found in the Muslim world are a direct result of this turn towards "anti-Christ," with the rise of the Umayyads and even earlier. The rise of the Umayyads is a direct result of the events surrounding Muhammad's succession. Some serious scholars point to the controversial "Episode of the Pen and Paper" as a key event that led to great schism in the religion of God and attendant situation of "anti-Christ" (meaning a time of great evil, chaos, ignorance, a turning of mankind away from the intent of the Prophet of God, etc.)


    The Episode of the Pen and Paper is described as thus:


    "When the Prophet's illness became serious, he said, 'Bring me writing materials that I may write for you something, after which you will not be led into error.' Umar said: 'The illness has overwhelmed the Prophet. We have the Book of God and that is enough for us.' Then the people differed about this and spoke many words. And he [the Prophet] said 'Leave me! There ought not be quarreling in my presence.' And Ibn Abbas went out saying: 'The greatest of all calamities is what intervened between the Apostle [Muhammad--VL] and his writing." (Momen, An Introduction to Shi'i Islam, pgs, 15-16)


    From my understanding of the Episode of the Pen and Paper, if it indeed occurred, is one of the most terrible events in the history of the world, because it led to centuries bloodshed and hate in the Muslim world and provides the foundations to the terrible violent sectarianism and extremism we see today.


    To sum up:


    My view is that the current terrible events and continuing problems of the world today, though prophesized in the Baha'i writings and seen by Baha'is as the rolling up of the old world order concurrent with the emergence of the new, these strifes are certainly not welcomed. We Baha'is are not surprised by them, however. I do view Islam as a religion of peace in its original intent; however it certainly is racked with violence now. This because of the terrible events surrounding the succession to Muhammad and the drift towards anti-Christ to be found in much Islamic political and social history.


    Some of my past postings on Islamic tolerance to include the Nahj al-Balagha:


    http://www.waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=60351&objectTypeId=54601&topicId=60




    http://www.waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&o=10173


    http://www.waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=10174&objectTypeId=4424&topicId=1


    JE comments: I hope everyone has read as far as Vincent's summary, which presents tenets of Baha'i belief unknown by most outsiders. I am especially intrigued by the significance Baha'is give to Muhammad's problematic succession. I always recognized it as a theologically important event, akin to the Christian schisms over the years, but not relevant to the strife we see today. I would base my belief on the relative peace enjoyed by Sunnis and Shiites until--when?--35 years ago?

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    • Do the Abrahamic Religions all Worship the Same God? (David Duggan, USA 01/21/15 2:11 AM)
      A few days ago John Eipper inquired, that since the three "Abrahamic" "religions of the book" have a common ancestor (Abraham), whether or not they all worship the same God.

      I hazard to jump in on this topic for at least three reasons: 1) I am not a theologian, nor a student of comparative religions; 2) as a Christian, I have an axe to grind; 3) as a citizen of the United States which has been in a state of hostilities with certain forces of global Islam for the better part of four decades (at least since the 1978 "student" take-over of our Tehran embassy), I have a patriot's stake in being perceived as in the right. Still, so far as I can tell, no one on WAIS has answered this question, and at the risk of far exceeding my area of competence, I will say emphatically that the answer is no: the three religions do not worship the same God.


      As an original matter, of course, if you posit that God--some force, being, intelligence, competence outside of our ability to comprehend--exists, then no matter what we say we will never be able to understand God or explain Him to others who do not believe. There are too many slippage points, too many ways in which our abilities fail and our perceptions deceive us that any discerning and determined opponent of my belief will have a ready rebuttal. Dying children, airplane disasters, a near-perpetual state of war among the ranks of believers all strongly counsel against there being any Divine who is anything but a figment of our imaginations. Yet the desire to believe, the yearning for some force that can explain what happens, has happened and will happen seems universal: it appears to have arisen on all continents and since the dawn of consciousness. A rational observer from outside our planet could reasonably inquire therefore, what is it with roughly a third of these earthlings who believe in an unseen God and not a pantheon of deities? If majority rules, then why haven't the two-thirds of the non-believers in the God of Abraham not imposed their views on this minority?


      These questions, however, do not drive at the different conceptions of the Divine among adherents of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The first point of differentiation has to be in the name ascribed to the Divine. Early in the Pentateuch, in the second chapter of Genesis, the authors draw a distinction between the Creator God, and the Lord God. At once, we see two aspects of the Divine: an impersonal force and a personal overseer. (Mortimer Adler described these as the God of ontological perfection and the God of moral perfection.) "Lord" implies some sort of owed obedience, some sort of accountability, but it is a mutual accountability, as is evident when in exchange for Abraham's righteous belief, the Lord united Himself to Abraham's descendants by taking the form of a burning lamp and passing between the halves of animals cleaved to seal a bargain described in Genesis 15. Later, when God calls Moses to deliver His message of redemption from Pharaoh, He gives Himself the tetragrammaton, YHWH (sometimes Jehovah), Exodus 6, a name by which "was I not known to" Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Many translators say that this means "I am who I am," but it conveys a degree of self-referential authority beyond that of exalted God (Adonai) or Lord (Elohim).


      The Christian God: The Gospels introduce at least two new concepts of the unseen God: 1) God as "Word" (John 1:1), and as Father (Matt. 6:9). The Word, by which God had made himself known to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and the Prophets, is analogous to the breath by which God gave life to Adam (Genesis 2:7). What is Word other than breath wrapped around teeth and tongue, uttered through lips? The Father God may be a demotion from Lord, but like Word, it conveys a sense of immanence, that God, formerly dwelling in light inaccessible, is close to us. The Christian sees this closeness in the person of Jesus Christ, fully God of God, Light of Light, who took our human nature and was the Word Incarnate. He spoke with the authority of the Father, coming not to change the Law (one of the iterations of the Word) but to fulfill it. He did miracles in His Father's name, He bestowed His Father's authority on His disciples, and then He was crucified, died, buried and rose again. Think of it this way: how difficult is it for us Americans, 225 years after the Constitution's adoption, to believe in its promise of a "more perfect Union" envisioned by ancestors who owned slaves, had commercial interests favoring free trade, and probably engaged in all sorts of negative behavior (Gouverneur Morris's mistresses come to mind)? But, if some Divine source of our law came down from Heaven, then was killed for espousing it and rose again from the dead, maybe we'd pay attention.


      Or maybe not. One of Judaism's many criticisms of Christianity and its worship of the co-equal Son is that, well, if the Christian message is true, then why is the world still so screwed up, why hasn't the promised land been entered, why are even Christians killing themselves in the name of Christ (World Wars I and II), not to mention other less-enlightened people (colonialism, indigenous peoples)? We'll stick with what we know, at least secure that St. Paul did not reject our ancestry and affirms our salvation through Jacob (Romans 11). Good argument. But it does not refute my contention that Jews and Christians have a different understanding of God's purpose, plan and demands placed on His adherents. Is this a different God, or a different understanding of the one true God? Or did God change? Theologians can debate those questions, but I do not believe it to be a blaspheme of the God of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to say that God in Christ, together with the Holy Spirit, present a God who bears distinct even different concepts or elements than the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3).


      Allah. I'll admit that I'm weaker here, but the name Allah derives from the Hebrew Eloah, the singular of Elohim. In a curious twist, though Elohim takes a singular verb, the Arabic Allah dispels any idea of a plurality of deities, and yet Qur'an 50:16 is translated "It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than [his] jugular vein." The Qur'an gives 99 names or descriptors to Allah, some familiar (Compassionate, Merciful), some consistent with Judeo-Christian principles (Ever Forgiving, Eternal). By themselves, these formulations are not inconsistent with the God who called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, nor even with the God who sent His Son. Where the difference lies is in what Allah asks of his followers. In this respect, the Qur'an has no "incorporation clause," by which the antecedent scriptures are considered canonical with the Word revealed to Muhammad. Further, and regardless of the truth of the glib pronouncement that in Christianity God sends His Son to die for man, in Islam Allah tells man to send his son to die for Allah, or whether Qur'an 2:191 gives Muslims the right to kill Jews, can it be seriously denied that in its present iteration, Islam is much less forgiving, much less merciful to the six-sevenths of humanity that rejects Allah than Christianity and Judaism are toward their non-adherents? "Bloodthirsty" is not one of the 99 names given Allah, and yet that seems to be the practice of Islamic worship. Insha'Allah.


      Finally, Vincent Littrell equates the Beast of Revelation 13 et seq. with the Antichrist of two of John's epistles. Scholars differ on whether the epistoler is the same author as the one who received the Revelation, but whether the imagery of an animate force that destroys is also the false prophet foretold by Jesus (Matt. 24:24) is at best a construct. False prophets abound in all religions and Christ urged His believers to be wary regardless of their source.


      JE comments:  David Duggan approaches his controversial thesis with honesty, erudition, and a great deal of introspection.  I'm of the "one God, different interpretations" school when it comes to viewing the Abrahamic religions, but I hope all WAISers will give David's comment a careful read.


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      • Do the Abrahamic Religions all Worship the Same God? (Anthony J Candil, USA 01/21/15 4:14 PM)
        I find fascinating the whole thesis presented by David Duggan (21 January), no doubt one of WAISdom's finest, and I subscribe to it entirely.

        Still, I am also one of "the one God, different interpretations" when coming to viewing the Abrahamic religions. I do, however, think that Islam's God is not the same that the other two. Judaism and Christianity are not so far apart in the end, half of the Book is the same anyway, but Islam is really apart, and an entire different faith.


        So different is Islam that in my understanding it is neither forgiving nor merciful to others but evil and aggressive. Islam certainly divides the world in two: "believers" and "unbelievers," and considers right to kill or annihilate those who don't convert and join Islam.


        Certainly I agree with David and emphatically see that Islam doesn't worship the same God as Christianity and Judaism do.


        My patriot's stake though doesn't allow me to view "the God in which we trust" as the same God on whose name young boys and girls are called to martyrdom, killing not only themselves but many other innocents as well.


        On the other hand, as time goes by I dedicate more time to thinking on the key question of "What's next?" Once I'm 65 already, it becomes more difficult for me to understand God as a force beyond my ability to comprehend and not just as a matter of blind faith or imagination.


        God as we Christians understand Him, should be just mercy, eternal love, forgiveness and compassion. Then why the world is the way it is?


        It comes to my mind Frankie Valli's song, "It is just too good to be true." Certainly as David mentions, there are too many slippage points, too many mistakes or failures not to shake our faith.


        However, can society go on without religion? Can humans go on without a reason to believe? John Lennon said it is easy if we try, but I don't think it will be so easy in the end.


        Mankind needs to believe there is some kind of "afterlife," otherwise chaos will reign and certainly it could be much worse than actually it is.


        A key issue to discuss anyway.


        JE comments: Great reference to John Lennon. A question: Why is an afterlife needed to keep this life free of chaos? (Assuming, for the time being, that there isn't already chaos in this life.)


        For WAISers who are tiring of these lofty theological debates, remember that comparative religion is one of the "three pillars" of WAISdly inquiry--together with history and economics.  The history of God and mammon?



        I would like to stress that I do not view Islam as evil, although evil has been committed in its name.  I'm with Vince LIttrell on this one. 


        In any case, greetings to Anthony Candil.  I thought of Anthony over the weekend, when we saw the film Boyhood, which is getting a great deal of Oscar buzz.  Part of it is set in Austin, Texas, where Anthony lives.  The premise of watching a boy grow up over twelve years is fascinating.  The execution in my view was much less successful:  overly long, a meandering plot, and a brooding central character who is way too philosophical for his years.  But most critics do not agree with my appraisal.

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        • More on the Abrahamic Religions (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/23/15 3:38 PM)
          It seems as if the logical support for the position regarding "the one god, different interpretations for the Abrahamic religions" is crumbling. This is what I expected.

          First, we have John Eipper commenting on my 22 January post, admitting that his position that "within the theologies of the different Abrahamic religions there is only one God shared by all" has to be moderated by the fact that "looking at religious practice from the outside certainly gives one the opposite opinion." To me talking, theorizing, and philosophizing is relatively "cheap," and what really matters is behavior. That is particularly important, since there is an awful lot of "saying one thing and doing another" among devout religions people of any persuasion.


          Second, my position is also supported by other religious WAISers like Anthony Candil (22 January). While Anthony wrote, "I am also one of 'the one God, different interpretations' when coming to viewing the Abrahamic religions," he immediately contradicted himself by excluding one of the major Abrahamic religions. Anthony wrote, "Islam's God is not the same that the other two."


          Anthony goes on by negatively comparing, unjustifiably in my opinion, Islam to the Judeo/Christian religions. He then asks, "can society go on without religion? Can humans go on without a reason to believe?" I can't or don't want to, but I know many atheists and agnostics who are wonderful people and certainly compare favorably against many religious people of any religious denominations. Last, Anthony writes, "mankind needs to believe there is some kind of afterlife, otherwise chaos will reign and certainly it could be much worse than actually it is." To me there seems to be no evidence of an afterlife and making that up seems only beneficial to those trying to manipulate the gullible.


          JE comments:  The battle lines are drawn, and I don't see how they'll budge.  Shall we now take up an easier topic (!), such as whether or not there's an afterlife?

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          • Monotheism and Polytheism in History (Luciano Dondero, Italy 01/24/15 4:40 AM)
            Based on recent WAIS postings, let me ask a couple of questions: is God white or black, or some other colour? is God a He or a She, or something else entirely?

            These are real issues, insofar as contemporary theologians are concerned, and some of them do debate these topics.


            From my atheistic viewpoint, however, they are simply another expression of a rather obvious fact: man creates god in his own image--and therefore He (it's always a He) is made to speak Hebrew, Latin, Arabic or English, and always has one particular "chosen people" to further His aims.


            At least that's how it goes for monotheistic religions.  But most religions in the world, historically speaking, have been polyhteistic (or animist) ones.


            Most notably, for the influence they had (still have?) on the West, one has to take into account the Greek, Roman and Scandinavian systems of deities. The Egyptian system, while polytheistic, worked differently.


            Insofar as religious tolerance goes, but more in general if we want to identify an ability to show tolerance toward the beliefs of other people, it's self-evident that whatever secularism stands for, it takes a leaf from the book of our polytheistic ancestors.


            The Romans, in particular, started getting a lot worse only when the Empire set in, and with it the notion that the Emperor himself was a divine figure (a bit like a Pharaoh). Therefore this introduced religious persecutions for those, like the Jews and the Christians, who worshiped their own God, and were not prepared to treat the Emperor as a God. But it also paved the way for the future insertion of Christianity into the Imperial system, making it into a state-enforced religion, with all that followed (Crusades, Inquisitions, and so on and so forth).


            This virulent and violent Christianity probably also played a role in crystalizing Islam, as the johnny-come-lately of monotheisms, as a particularly bloodthirsty religion. Most accounts of pre-Crusade Middle East (or of El Andaluz in Spain) paint in actual fact a rather tolerant practice by Muslim rulers, most notably in the treatment of the Jews. To the point where there is an entire branch of them, the Sephardic Jews, who used to live in Northern Africa and in the Middle East, after being expelled from Spain in 1492. They were expelled from Arab countries in the late 1940s and 1950s, after the birth of the state of Israel.


            The Islamic world did even play a crucially positive role, all its "blood and sword" rhetoric notwithstanding, in passing on to the modern world some of the knowledge of the ancients--as many Greek and Latin authors only reached Western Europe by way of Arabic translations. The Humanistic revolution that put an end to the obscurantism of the Middle Ages was nurtured with all that. The big problem is that not very much moved in the opposite direction later on: and thus, no Enlightenment in the Muslim world, or its equivalent thereof (and no "bourgeois democratic revolution," in Marxist parlance).


            It would be interesting to discuss why that was.


            JE comments:  Could we say that polytheism by nature permits greater tolerance?  At least it tolerates greater ambiguity--the possibility of conflicting truths.


            Why was there not "enlightenment" or "bourgeois democratic revolution" in the Muslim world?  This question has come up before on WAIS, but it might be time to revisit it.  Our first question should be whether we are applying too strict a definition of "Enlightenment."  In the West, it equates with modernity and prosperity.  And both of these things (modernity and prosperity) exist in Muslim societies, too.  The third pillar of Enlightenment is a separation of the divine and the secular.  This separation is precisely what Sharia law attempts to eliminate.

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            • Monotheism and Polytheism in History; on a "Chosen People" (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/24/15 3:11 PM)
              I am a fan of Luciano Dondero, whose thinking and writing always intrigued me, especially since we start from a markedly different worldview.  For instance, I am a believer and Luciano is an atheist. He is also a wonderful person, which contradicts the idea that only religion can make people better.

              His WAIS post of 24 January is fascinating, especially where he states that we may have inherited religious tolerance from the polytheistic religions of the Greeks and Romans.


              However, I would like to add some personal perspectives. I strongly believe that God cannot have a "chosen people," because this fact is inconceivable with a God Father of all Humanity.


              When history has seen a "chosen people," such as ancient (and present-day?) Israel or, for some, the US now, it is only nationalist propaganda from preachers and politicians.


              About the Crusades, I have an almost Marxist (!) point of view. They were a religious movement only on the surface. In the larger sense, the Crusades were the normal expansion of an expanding mercantile society which needed to control the markets of the Eastern Mediterranean through which expensive merchandise from the Far East was arriving. It was the attempt to recover and dominate territories that were once part of the Eastern Roman Empire which had fallen under the dominance of the Arabs, who themselves were motivated by a thirst of dominance and not out of a desire to peacefully spread the Word of God.


              Luciano stated: "For sure a virulent and violent Christianity probably also played a role in crystalizing Islam." I fully agree, but I will add that even worse were the colonial and the silly wars "to bring democracy."



              Frankly I would not stress too much the Islamic contribution to preserving and transmitting classical works to the Europeans. The monks of Saint Benedict of Nursia (and others) as far back as 543 were saving and copying the manuscripts of the classical Greeks and Romans. By the way, in 883 the Abbey of Montecassino with all its cultural treasures was sacked and burned by the Muslim Saracens. Were they motivated by a thirst for loot or by the word of God?


              Of course, there were also many episodes of killing of Christians because they did not want to change their religion, but this can be also considered a way to insure loyalty to the the ruler.


              For instance, on 14 July 1480, during the conquest of Otranto (Italy) by the conqueror of Constantinople, Mehmed II, 800 men were decapitated because they refused to become Muslim. Here the ruler wanted to create a loyal town as part of his unrealized goal of conquering Italy.


              In the end we need an ecumenical agreement of all religions, by which anyone should be free to worship God as he or she wishes, but always respecting all other believers and their way of worshiping. Let God be the final judge.


              By the way if God exists, I may have the chance to meet Luciano and tell him I was right, but if He does not exist, how can Luciano tell me that he was right?


              JE comments: Eugenio's final paragraph sums up millennia of religious debate. Of course, the WAISly ideal is to admit to the other person that s/he is right.

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      • Do the Abrahamic Religions all Worship the Same God? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/22/15 3:13 AM)
        For someone who dismisses himself as not being a theologian, I thought David Duggan's post of 21 January was quite savvy. Once again I feel compelled to point out that to me it is logically impossible to be worshiping the "same god" with such basically different religions, regardless of whether they have a common origin or not. Why would the same god for these religions demand that followers from the others convert to it before salvation? Why would the same god for these religions consider only the followers of one of them to be the chosen people? Do these facts suggest a common god to these religions in any way? Clearly not.

        John Eipper commented that he is of "the 'one God, different interpretations' school when it comes to viewing the Abrahamic religions." I suppose it boils down to semantics and how flexible the interpretations are allowed to be. Conceptually it would be quite a stretch. To me by definition, different religions must be worshiping different gods. From a practical perspective, most of the time people from the "Abrahamic religions" have conflicting beliefs and they do not seem to have much respect for each others preachings.


        JE comments: These comments seem to be missing my point, which is within the theologies of the different Abrahamic religions, there is only one God "shared" by all.  Granted, looking at religious practice from the outside certainly gives one the opposite opinion.

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        • More on the Abrahamic Religions (Enrique Torner, USA 01/23/15 2:39 PM)
          There has been a great deal of discussion on WAIS regarding whether Jews, Muslims, and Christians worship the same god. Nobody so far has defended that there is only one God, and that it is the same god in the three religions. I do.

          I believe there is only one god, as do Jews, and Muslims, and it's the same one. The key word in my statement is one that is absent: "worship." Each believer thinks he/she is worshiping God, the only one. The problem is that the three religions have different interpretations of their god; therefore, each religion believes that only they are worshiping God correctly. However, they are mutually exclusive, so only one can be doing it correctly. So, Christians believe that Muslims and Jews are really not worshiping God, because they are not doing it according to the whole Bible; Muslims believe the same of Jews and Christians because of the Quran; Jews believe only in the Old Testament, so they disagree with Christians about the nature of Jesus, and with Muslims in other areas. The three religions are monotheistic, but Christianity is actually a trinitarian monotheistic religion (God is represented by three persons), while Islam and Judaism are unitarian monotheists (God has only one person).


          My belief has been shared by several popes: Francis, John Paul II, and Gregory VII, to mention a few. The first two invited leaders of the other two religions to go to the Vatican for a shared prayer. President George W. Bush, though not a theologian, also stated that he believes there is only one god, and it's the same of Jews and Muslims. Check these websites for support:


          http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/09/01/do-christians-muslims-and-jews-worship-the-same-god/


          http://www.apologeticsindex.org/670-islam-christians-same-god


          If you think about it logically, if we say that two or more religions do not worship the same god, you are actually stating the existence of several gods, and, therefore, you are declaring yourself polytheistic. However, you can find theologians of the three religions defending that they don't worship the same god, without realizing the logical implication of the statement. An example would be a leader of a Southern Baptist church, who defended it some years ago. However, another Christian theologian disputed it. Read it for yourself:


          http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/muslimschristianssamegod.html


          JE comments: I was trying to make the same point as Enrique Torner, when I stressed that within their respective theologies, the three Abrahamic faiths worship the same God.  Now I find out I'm in the company of President Bush!  One observation:  those who subscribe to the "different God" thesis probably believe their counterparts in a rival Abrahamic faith worship a false god.  That at least would save them from accusations of polytheism.

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        • Weighty Theological Questions (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/25/15 6:13 AM)
          As an extremely religious person, what I find most amazing about organized religions as a discussion topic are the incredible inconsistencies in logic and argumentation. After all the hand waiving that is going on, I need someone to explain to me a few facts. For example, in the Old Testament we have a people chosen by their god (which excludes all other people), so special that their god even allowed/promoted genocide. The New Testament is the antithesis of such a nasty god. It says god wants you to love thy neighbor and turn the other cheek. How can these possibly, under any circumstances be the same god?

          Much further into this logical impossibility is that the people following the New Testament think that their god wants the Old Testament people to be converted to the New Testament or suffer damnation. Obviously, one of these two gods is very wrong and completely contradictory. Which one is it? A third group of people says "there is but one god" and it is theirs; all other gods must be wrong because there is only one possible imagination of god leading to heaven. The various imaginations or interpretations of god are contradictory, therefore, aren't there different gods inspiring these different interpretations. No?


          Another issue that is totally unacceptable to me is humans saying that god created man in his own image, when by the erudite explanations and discussion we are having, no one ever saw god (except for a burning bush, but we don't look like that) and knows nothing about what (s)he looks like. Clearly man must have created gods in their own images or for their own interests and circumstances; thus the multitude of gods and the countless interpretations of what god is.


          Last, John Eipper is correct in contradicting Enrique's Torner statement that "If you think about it logically, if we say that two or more religions do not worship the same god, you are actually stating the existence of several gods, and, therefore, you are declaring yourself polytheistic." Indeed, as John noted, "those who subscribe to the "different God" thesis probably believe their counterparts in a rival Abrahamic faith worship a false god. That at least would save them from accusations of polytheism."


          As far as I am concerned, the only more "scientific religion" is the one where God is the Universe, created itself and tour mission is to use the scientific method to learn about the real God. There should be no room for inventing gods in people's own images, unsubstantiated outlandish superstitions, etc. I rest my case.


          JE comments: Nobody ever said these discussions of faith are logical. To come to Enrique Torner's defense, that is the whole point of faith: to believe in something unseen and unmeasurable, which means it defies logic.  Is Enrique correct?  Tor, with his deist view?  Luciano Dondero's atheism?  Or how about our friend from the Baha'i tradition, Vincent Littrell?  My answer will be "yes."  All of these correspondents, and others, have rested their cases.


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      • More Praise for Duggan (Robert Whealey, USA 01/22/15 3:32 AM)

        I saved David Duggan's posting (21 January) for my own archive.  David is too modest in his introduction when he said that he is no
        religions scholar. I agree with 100% of his four or five definitions of God as YHWH, Elohim, Adonai, Word, and Allah. John called God "Word" and also "Love," which became the theme of C. S. Lewis's book The Four Loves.


        I took a graduate course in "History of History" at the U of Michigan in 1957. I wrote the best essay in a class of four. When I
        die, my daughter may send WAIS a copy for your archive. The essay is still sound, but the footnotes are all out of date,
        because there is much new historical and archeological research on the topic in recent years.


        JE comments: But Robert, you will certainly enjoy many more years of health! Why not share your essay now? We could publish it on the WAIS website.


        I wonder if I ever wrote the best essay during my years at the U of Michigan.  Usually I was middle of the pack, as there were a lot of smart folks there.


        Who wants more David Duggan?  Click here:


        http://waisworld.org/en/wais/publications/books/purchase


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      • Do the Abrahamic Religions all Worship the Same God? (A. J. Cave, USA 01/24/15 4:26 AM)
        Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God?

        In one word: Yes.


        It is a common question that reflects the contentious relationship between these monotheistic religions.


        I don't presume to speak for Muslims, but I think at least those who are a little familiar with the (Noble) Qur'an know of Sura 29:46, translated into English as: "we believe in that which has been sent to us and sent to you. And our God and your God is one," interpreted as Muslims believe in the books (scripture) of the People of the Book (Arabic: ahl_e Kitab or Ketab)--the followers of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament--and have the same God. The ruling Muslim Arabs grudgingly added the Persian Zoroastrians in the "People of the Book" category later, even though they continued to humiliate and persecute them.


        I won't bring up history. But for those who are genuinely interested in understanding the relationship between these religions, a rudimentary knowledge of the bloody historical events that unfolded between the warring Persian and Roman Empires of the 7th century CE is a must.



        Since my interest is historical, I leave the fuller philosophical and theological discussion of Abrahamic religions to others. I recommend Alain de Benoist's paper on "What is Religion" that was circulated a few years back, which discusses the more fundamental topic of religion.


        JE comments:  I'll second A. J. Cave's view and add that my interpretation here, like hers, is historical.  Alain de Benoist's 2009 essay "What is Religion?" can be accessed here.  The embedded link has gone dormant, but the entire text is contained within the post:


        http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=33065&objectTypeId=27315&topicId=1


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        • Monotheism and Polytheism (John Heelan, UK 01/24/15 3:48 PM)
          I opened A. J. Cave's comment of 24 January with a great deal of hope for historical clarification from a scholar of the ancient Middle East of the original Semitic term "El' for God or any god and the grammatical confusion of "elohim" that can render it as God, god or gods (e.g. YaHWe and the pantheon of Canaanite gods). The distinction seems important in a discussion that examines the existence of one overall God, multiple gods as in Hinduism or "One God with different interpretations."

          Perhaps it will follow later.


          Then in the One God/multiple gods discussion, one needs to examine the origin of the mythology of the multiple Greek gods who often seem to be in conflict with each other. Did this mythology not stem from some eight centuries BCE? Does not the myth say that Zeus became the "Father of the Gods" after slaying the Titans (and his father Cronus)? If he had been all-powerful, there would not have been a need for battle.


          The subject is all very confusing and tends to reflect irrational belief rather than reality. I recommend Karen Armstrong's The History of God (1993) for those interested in the God(s?) of the Abrahamic religions.


          JE comments:  Allow me to put in an enthusiastic plug for Ed Jajko's post of this morning.  I believe John Heelan will find some answers.  Ed addresses the "El/Elohim" matter, and reaches the conclusion that even when grammatically expressed in the plural, it's a singular "royal we."


          http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=90810&objectTypeId=76633&topicId=152


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      • Do the Abrahamic Religions all Worship the Same God? A Response to David Duggan (Edward Jajko, 01/24/15 5:07 AM)
        I have been reluctant to enter into the current discussion on religion, however much the topic interests me, but I feel I must comment on a few textual concerns in the January 21 posting by David Duggan.

        As a Roman Catholic, a student of my own Christian faith as well as of Judaism and of Islam, I find it undeniable that all three faiths worship the same God. That they express or understand God and interpret him differently is also undeniable. But He is the same to all three faiths. Judaism and Islam are sister religions, each based on similar systems--a revealed book, a set of codified oral interpretations of that book and of oral law, and extraordinary libraries of written interpretation of the revealed word and the legal texts. Both are religions based on revelation and law and its interpretation. Christianity has taken a different path, sometimes adhering to revealed word and to law, sometimes to tradition that is given equal or almost equal weight. But this is all in the service of worship of the one and same God.

        Now to David Duggan (DD)'s posting:


        DD: [Discussing] the different conceptions of the Divine among adherents of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The first point of differentiation has to be in the name ascribed to the Divine. Early in the Pentateuch, in the second chapter of Genesis, the authors draw a distinction between the Creator God, and the Lord God. At once, we see two aspects of the Divine: an impersonal force and a personal overseer. (Mortimer Adler described these as the God of ontological perfection and the God of moral perfection.) "Lord" implies some sort of owed obedience, some sort of accountability, but it is a mutual accountability, as is evident when in exchange for Abraham's righteous belief, the Lord united Himself to Abraham's descendants by taking the form of a burning lamp and passing between the halves of animals cleaved to seal a bargain described in Genesis 15. Later, when God calls Moses to deliver His message of redemption from Pharaoh, He gives Himself the tetragrammaton, YHWH (sometimes Jehovah), Exodus 6, a name by which "was I not known to" Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Many translators say that this means "I am who I am," but it conveys a degree of self-referential authority beyond that of exalted God (Adonai) or Lord (Elohim).


        Ed Jajko (EAJ): The second chapter of Genesis draws no distinction between a "Creator God" and a "Lord God." The title "Lord" is not in the Hebrew Bible in this context. "Lord" found in our English translations, usually expressed in small capital letters, is a translation of the Hebrew "Adonai" (or other forms of the word appropriate to their contexts), a word pronounced, spoken, or thought, but not written in the text, and itself a substitute for the "Ineffable Tetragrammaton," the Four Letters Not to be Spoken, YHWH, the personal name of God. This name, YHWH, is written in the Hebrew text but in order to avoid breaking the commandment found in Exodus 20:3 not to misuse that name, since ancient times Jews have substituted the word "Adonai" (or other appropriate form) instead. "Adon" means "Lord, Master." "Adonai" adds the first person singular possessive -i to the plural of majesty. In printed texts, the letters YHWH are given the vowel signs of "Adonai."


        In the first chapter of Genesis, God is "Elohim," i.e., "God," because that chapter derives from E, the Elohist source, the ancient Biblical source text in which God is called "Elohim." Chapter two of Genesis derives from J, the Jahwist or Yahwist source, in which God is called "YHWH," "YHWH Elohim" {the form that is translated as "The LORD God"}, and similar names that include the four letters YHWH. This difference in usage does not mean that there is a different understanding of God, or a drawing "of a distinction between a Creator God and a Lord God." For one thing, the title "Lord" does not occur in the Hebrew Biblical text. For another, the God of Genesis 1 is just as much a creator-God as the one found in Genesis 2 (granted, however, some writers find an impersonality in this Elohim). For yet another, it's just a matter of the compilers of the Bible using two good creation stories from two of the at least four source codes of the Pentateuch, one after the other, the more poetic one first (and even another later on). This apposition of accounts of events is common in Semitic writings and may be found in the later Muslim Qur'an commentators and historians. The latter especially present one account of a historical event, after which come the words "wa-qila," "and it is [also] said," following which one might read a complementary or even entirely different account of the events. The writers or compilers present all the accounts they have and leave it up to the readers to make up their own minds.


        DD: Later, when God calls Moses to deliver His message of redemption from Pharaoh, He gives Himself the tetragrammaton, YHWH (sometimes Jehovah), Exodus 6, a name by which "was I not known to" Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Many translators say that this means "I am who I am," but it conveys a degree of self-referential authority beyond that of exalted God (Adonai) or Lord (Elohim).


        EAJ: "Adonai" I have explained. "Exalted God" might be "El 'Elyon," the title of God used at Shalem/Salem where Melchisedek was high priest. "God of the Heights" might be a good translation. The form found in the Nicene Creed is "Altissimus," "Most High." "Lord" is of course not a translation of "Elohim," which is "God." "Elohim" can be ambiguous; as a plural it can refer to the many gods of the pagans. Context is all.


        As for the Ineffable Tetragrammaton, it is significant that this personal name, YHWH, which shows up in our translations as "Lord," thanks to the "Kyrios" of the Septuagint and "Dominus" of the Vulgate, first appears in the Hebrew Bible text not in Exodus but... in Genesis chapter 2, as discussed above. The name is used before God tells it to Moses. This goes to prove the Documentary Hypothesis.


        In any event, in Exodus 3, when Moses has seen the Burning Bush and gone to investigate it, entering into the presence of God and having a dialogue with him, when directed by God to go and issue commands to his people Moses says that they will demand to know who the god is who speaks to them. Here are portions of two verses, romanized: "3:14 Vayomer Elohim el-Mosheh EHYEH ASHER EHYEH vayomer Koh tomar EHYEH sh'lahani aleikhem. 15. Vayomer 'od Elohim el-Mosheh Koh tomar li-V'ne-Yisra'el YHWH Elohei avoteikhem ..." In translation, 14. "God said, I AM WHO/THAT/WHAT I AM and he said Say to them thus, I AM has sent me to you. 15. God also said to Moses, Say to the Sons of Israel thus, YHWH the God of your fathers..."


        The name EHYEH ASHER AHYEH and its shorter form EHYEH, while sacred, are fully vocalized in the text and may be read and pronounced. They somehow do not have the sacral character of YHWH.


        The vocalization, hence pronunciation and even meaning of YHWH is a matter of speculation. The name cannot mean "I am who I am." That is what the three words "EHYEH ASHER EHYEH" in Exodus 3:14 mean. The rules of Hebrew do not allow the meaning to be applied to YHWH. Indeed, the "W" is problematic, if one is considering the word as a third person singular incomplete action verb somehow expressive of "being," since it's the wrong letter. Perhaps something freely translated along the lines of "he who makes things come into being" might work.


        My learned professor of many years, the late S. D. Goitein, who knew the Bible, Qur'an, and even the Talmud by heart and was an authority in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic--the language I studied under him--and other matters, speculated in an article published in, I believe, the late 1960s, that YHWH was not originally a name but rather an interjection, something shouted as a prayer or a rallying cry by early pilgrims to Zion, on the order of "YA HU!" "Ya" is still required usage in Arabic as "O" when addressing or calling someone, and "Hu" is "He" in Hebrew.


        The form "Jehovah" is made up of the four letters YHWH expressed in an earlier European spelling with the vowels of the word "Adonai." Given that the real pronunciation has vanished or is a well-kept secret, this is as good a version of the name as any other, in my opinion.


        DD: Allah. I'll admit that I'm weaker here, but the name Allah derives from the Hebrew Eloah, the singular of Elohim. In a curious twist, though Elohim takes a singular verb, the Arabic Allah dispels any idea of a plurality of deities, and yet Qur'an 50:16 is translated "It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than [his] jugular vein."


        EAJ: "Allah" is cognate with and does not "derive" from Hebrew "Eloah." First, the Hebrew word is "Eloh," plural "Elohim," dual "Elohayim." The Arabic cognate is "ilah" (as in "La ilaha illa Allah": There is no god except Allah/God). Hence the words of the psalm that Jesus cries out from the cross, "Elohi, Elohi, lamah 'azavtani"--My God, My God, why have you abandoned me? Some scholars say that the Arabic name derives strictly from "al-Lah," the-God (and in pre-Islamic times there was a feminine partner, al-Lat, the Goddess). Other scholars say that "Allah" is a contraction of "al-Ilah," the cognate of Hebrew "Eloh." Six of one...


        That "Elohim" is a plural form and that it takes a singular verb does not matter in this context (if the Bible were speaking about, say, the many gods of the Egyptians, it might). "Elohim" used of God is a plural of majesty, a form common in Biblical Hebrew. The language is fairly blunt, without the gradations available in, say, Japanese, and the only way to express an honorofic is to put something in the plural. This is common now in Arabic. While ordinarily Arabic is a language that tends to the egalitarian, there are times when one wants to tug the linguistic forelock, when addressing the boss, honored guests, or Gulfi shaykhs, and then one addresses them with verbs and pronouns in the plural. We have been doing this in English for the past couple hundred years, having by and large abandoned the familiar "thou" and the second person singular verb, instead using the plural "you" even within our families.


        Further, with regard to the use of the singular verb with the plural form "Elohim," there is in Hebrew and Semitic languages generally a rule of economy of grammar. In Arabic, for example, many plurals, even of masculine nouns, are grammatically feminine and take a feminine singular, rather than plural, verb. The economy of language extends even beyond this: In Arabic, the adjective for "pregnant" is in the masculine. Why bother adding the one syllable that would make it a feminine form? Everyone understands the reference.


        Qur'an Surat 50:16's use of the plural verb by a very singular God is in no way problematic or indicative of a possible plurality; it is the plural of majesty. One might consider the present-day royals' use of "We."


        An unrelated story that I'll end with: I was a member of the Philomathean Society at the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate and am now a senior member. My brother had been a member before me and interested me in the group. One applied for membership, was interviewed by a couple of committees, and then one's application, along with those of others, was discussed and voted on at a closed meeting of the members. At that meeting, the Society's First Censor, ex officio head of the membership committee, presented its report on the new candidates. I believe it was at the meeting in which my membership came up that this occurred, hence I have this at second hand only. The First Censor, later a good friend of mine, in presenting his report, kept saying, "I think," "I suggest," "I recommend for membership," "I recommend that we blackball," and the like. Finally, I was told, one of the members rose and challenged him, saying that this was supposed to be a report of a committee; why did the First Censor keep saying "I"? The very quick-witted response was, "You've heard of the Royal We? This is the "Plural I."


        JE comments: An erudite tour de force from Edward Jajko.  I am reminded of a similar close reading of Genesis that Ed delivered as the lead-off lecture of WAIS 2009.  Ed, ahem:  WAIS '15 is in your backyard (Stanford), and is coming up in just nine months (10-12 October).  I'll be pestering you over the coming weeks to participate, but I'll discreetly contact you off-Forum.


        As for the content of Ed's post, anything I might add here would expose my ignorance.  What I will probably remember from this essay is Ed's belief that the "sister religions" Judaism and Islam have more in common than either does with Christianity.  Might we distill this to the Christian concept of the Trinity?

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        • Ancient Peru and Religion (John Heelan, UK 01/25/15 6:27 AM)
          Perhaps Ed Jajko (24 January) would also comment on the Chief God of the pre-Incas--Kon-Tiki Viracocha--who apparently also created the universe, sun, moon and stars, time and civilisation? Viracocha (sometime called Pachacamac, regarded as a lesser rival) was supported by a host of lesser gods.

          Is this an argument for "One God, many interpretations" or not?


          JE comments: Another good question.  Ed Jajko will probably plead the Fifth here, but I'll give it a try.  When considering the religious belief of the Incas, one has to be careful about the "contamination" of the sources by Christian thought.  In particular, the 16th-century mestizo chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega went to great lengths to reconcile Peru's pre-Christian beliefs with Catholicism.  Hence, his attempts to construct a proto-Trinity "three gods in one" concept, his allusion to the Incas' use of the cross symbol, the existence of a celibate caste of priests and nuns, etc.  Garcilaso's main thesis was to portray Cuzco as the "Rome of the New World."  For a humanist of his time, this meant that Cuzco was perfect in every way except for its Paganism.

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          • Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and the Religion(s) of Ancient Peru (John Heelan, UK 01/26/15 11:24 AM)
            When commenting on my post of 25 January, JE wrote: "[The] 16th-century mestizo chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega went to great lengths to reconcile Peru's pre-Christian beliefs with Catholicism." Yet in my copy of Garcilaso, one can read of the meeting between Fray Vicente de Valverde and the Inca Atuahalpa, in which Fray Vicente argued the Christian case. Atahualpa interpreted Fray Vicente's argument as the Spanish being either agents of the king (Charles V) threatening the Incas with death and destruction or "ministers of God, whom we call Pachacámac, who has chosen you to punish and destroy us" (p. 103).

            Atuhualpa then forensically strips the logic of Fray Vicente's argument about the relative duties owed to God the creator (or Pachacámac in Inca theology), God the Father, Jesus Christ, Charles V and the Pope, whom Atahualpa also interpreted as "gods."


            This does not suggest that Garcilaso was trying to reconcile Peru's pre-Christian beliefs with Christianity. Perhaps it just demonstrates that people interpret the nature of God from their own prejudices and cultures.


            JE comments: Inca Garcilaso did spend his entire adult life in Spain, from age 22 until his death 55 years later.  His thinking was definitely marked by divided loyalties.  In today's pop psychology, we might note incidents of "passive aggression":  small moments where he takes a dig at the Spanish Conquistadores.  My favorite is when Francisco Pizarro hands the Inca Atahualpa a Bible, telling him it contains the word of God.  Atahualpa then asks Pizarro to read.  Oops:  Pizarro was illiterate.  One senses that this episode is apocryphal, but it shows what Inca Garcilaso, a highly educated Humanist, thought of the Spanish rabble who conquered Peru.


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        • "Dialogues of the Heart"; a Response to Ed Jajko (Vincent Littrell, USA 01/26/15 2:05 PM)
          I found Edward Jajko's post of 24 January to be outstanding, and I wish to extend to him my thanks for writing it.

          I have long enjoyed Christian scholars of comparative religion who recognize the sacred of other religions and respect their belief in God, even though the outward reflections of that belief may differ from their own. Great Christian scholars of religion like William Cantwell Smith, Hans Kung, and John Hick, to name just a very few, are wonderful exponents of the Christian religion while concurrently recognizing the beauty and spirituality of other faith traditions like Islam. Hans Kung's wonderful trilogy consisting of the books Judaism, Christianity, and Islam remain in my view the most outstanding single-volume treatises on those three religions. They are elegant works reflecting the spiritual beauty of these great religions and their mutual worship of God. These books fully acknowledge the spiritual linkages between these great religions as well. Of interest to me is that as a Catholic theologian, Hans Kung acknowledges the spiritual necessity of the Prophet Muhammad in teaching the Pagans of Arabia about God, even though Muhammad reflected an understanding of God in a way different than Christians understand it (especially Trinitarian Christians). In Kung's Christian view, it was better that Muhammad taught Pagans about God even in a way different than Christians would have taught it.


          Yesterday I was reading my most recent edition of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (JES) and a number of essays dovetailed nicely with some of the subjects being discussed on WAIS. The editor, Temple University's Leonard Swidler, discusses in his Introduction the commonality of the mystics of the great religions in dialogues "of the heart." Regarding spiritualized interfaith dialogue, Swidler states, "Once we together individually enter into our own interiors, into our own hearts, we find them beating in sympathetic vibration with other interior souls. Although all mystical experience and expression is religiously/culturally shaped--whether Jewish (Merkabah, Kabbalah), Christian (John the Evangelist, Augustine, John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila), Greek (Neo-Platonism), Muslim (Sufism), Hindu (Vivekananda)--there is at bottom a meeting together in the One, concerning whom all descriptions and images stutter." (JES, Fall 2014, p. 535)


          Of course I relate to Swidler's comment at a deeply personal level. The many years I've spent reading Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and Baha'i spiritual literature leaves no doubt in my mind that the high spiritualists and luminaries of these great religions and ethical thought systems either worship the same God, are drawn to the same "one," or spiritual enlightenment, even if outward terms and forms show different approaches to this vastly complex subject. They are all drawn to the same great spirit and the creative Word of the divine.


          I gave a talk la couple of nights ago to interested listeners (a mixed audience of Bahai's, Christians, and non-denominationalists) on the Baha'i view of revelation and the creative Word of God. During my talk, I spoke about the tradition of Muhammad declaring "I am all the Prophets," and how this declarative statement from a Messenger of God reflected even in Islam the unity of religion and the overarching universalism of the great prophets of God. How even in Islam, religion comes from the same source.


          I concluded my talk with a reading and commentary on a quote, a small part of which is excerpted below, from Baha'i leader Shoghi Effendi. Shoghi Effendi comments on the Baha'i Faith's prophet founder Baha'u'llah's revelatory assertion of "the continuity of Divine Revelation," and the affirmation of "the unity of the Prophets, the universality of their Message, the identity of their fundamental teachings, and the sanctity of their scriptures" (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By).


          Baha'u'llah's assertion, along with many of his other writings in this regard from the Baha'i perspective, establishes in unequivocal terms the overarching unity of religion and its essential oneness.


          I'll also quickly mention that many scholars point to the similarities between Islam's and Judaism's conceptions of God's nature (even my most recent JES has some excellent discussion of this), while also pointing to the Christian view of the Trinity as a difference in these otherwise linked religions. My opinion is that this blip in continuity regarding views to prophets, "Christology" and God's relation to the prophets and God's nature, stems from a conflict that occurred in early Christianity between Peter and Paul. I've discussed this issue in a past WAIS post. I do believe the Petrine/Pauline split in Christianity altered this great religion from the path originally intended by Christ in regards to understanding even his own nature. This in no way is a denigration of centuries of spiritual excellences and the vast civilizational advancements caused by Christianity and the revelation of Jesus Christ, nor is it not acknowledging the real spiritual genius of Paul, who I nonetheless believe was responsible to a large degree for the early misdirection of Christian theology.  It does, however, account for the tremendous differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam regarding the Trinity and Christology, which later prophets of God have corrected and will continue to correct.


          JE comments:  In medieval Spain, the Jewish and Muslim traditions seemed to "connect" naturally against the Christians.  I always viewed this historical alliance as more political than theological, but Vincent Littrell and Ed Jajko see Christianity as the outlier of the three monotheistic religions, even today.


          To be sure, today's rift between Judaism and Islam is going to take another few centuries to resolve.


          Vince:  can you send the link to your WAIS post on the Peter-Paul theological split?  I cannot locate it in our archives.


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          • Petrine-Pauline Split in Christianity (Vincent Littrell, USA 02/01/15 4:06 AM)
            This is a summary of two of my 2009 WAIS posts, in which I presented my thoughts on the Peter-Paul (or Petrine/Pauline) split in early Christianity. The two posts are linked at the bottom of this comment--unfortunately due to formatting problems they are difficult to read.

            Did Islam begin as a reform movement of Christianity? Or was it an independent revelation of God? Or something in between? I think we can approach answers to these questions through analysis of the Petrine/Pauline split in early Christianity.


            As a Baha'i, I accept Muhammad as a prophet of God and view the revelation of Muhammad and the Qu'ran as the Word of God. However, some do believe Islam is a derivative of Christianity. Some scholars argue that Ebionite Christianity provided Muhammad a foundation for the development and writing of the Qur'an. It is sometimes asserted that Ebionite Christianity is Petrine-derived Christianity (i.e. Christianity of the Apostle Peter), and was, Christologically (i.e. nature of Jesus Christ) speaking, and in terms of adherence to "the law of God," the more correct interpretation of Christ's revelation. It is further asserted that Ebionite Christianity is closer to both Judaism and Islam than Pauline Christianity (the Christianity of Paul). It does appear that there was a split in very early Christianity after the ascension of Jesus Christ between the Apostle Peter, together with James (Jesus's brother) on one side, and Paul on the other. Peter and Paul might be said to have led the "Jewish Christians" and the "Gentile Christians" respectively.



            The subject of the split of Peter and Paul in early Christianity has relevance to follow-on discussion and scholarship on the future Islamic focus on law or "Shari'a." More importantly, it shines light on the lack of continuity in the chain of prophetic religion between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Furthermore, in my opinion, this has parallels with the Sunni-Shi'a split in Islam, where the legitimate successor of the founder of religion is set aside, and thus much of the original intent of the founder of that religion is lost. In the case of Christianity, Peter was intended to be Christ's successor, but the reality of this was overshadowed by the dominance of Paul. This altered Christianity and the chain of prophetic theology we see glimpses of with the Mosaic revelation.


            I think the dominance of Pauline Christian interpretation throughout most of Christian history has caused the bump in continuity between Judaism and Islam, concerning the broad later understanding of "the law of God." This ties also into later Baha'i theological concepts or understandings of "The Covenant of Baha'u'llah," "the law of God," and the doctrine of progressive revelation. I have discussed these concepts in previous WAIS postings.


            Christian theologian Hans Kung in his outstanding work Islam: Past, Present and Future discusses Ebionite Christianity and its relationship to Islam in some depth. Kung believes the Ebionites influenced Muhammad's thinking. The works of Jewish and Nazarene scholars Hans Joachim Schoeps and Hugh Schonfield in their books (respectively) Jewish Christianity: Factional Disputes in the Early Church and Those Incredible Christians provide some very interesting and controversial analyses of the Petrine/Pauline split and Ebionitism.


            As I've stated, the Petrine/Pauline split and the subsequent rise of Pauline thought to dominance throughout most of Christian history is an issue worth close study. The concept of the Trinity in Christianity gained its dominance in Christian thought from this split. The rise of Pauline thought thus has direct input into the historical context surrounding the original presentations of the Qur'anic Surahs directed towards Christians. The Qur'an does repudiate the concept of the Trinity (Surah 4:171).


            Regarding the development of Ebionite (or Petrine) Christianity, one of the best books in English I've found is Matt Jackson-McCabe's Jewish Christianity Reconsidered: Rethinking Ancient Groups and Texts. This book is a collection of essays that present several different viewpoints regarding the state of Christianity immediately following Christ's ascension. I think what is clear from reading this book and others is that scholars don't agree on many aspects of the history of the Petrine/Pauline conflict and don't agree on the later development of Ebionite Christianity beyond a few generalities. For example, did Ebionites believe Christ was born of the Virgin Mary? There seems to be dispute here and interestingly, Muslims do accept the virgin birth of Jesus. If Muhammad didn't receive revelation directly from God and his thought was influenced through contact with a branch or some branches of the Ebionites (and it seems that the weight of scholarship does point to the Ebionites not accepting the virgin birth of Christ), then why did Muhammad himself accept the idea of the virgin birth? Other discrepancies of this nature can be found when looking at the idea of Islam being rooted in Ebionite (or a form thereof) Christianity, as compared to being derived from actual revelation through Muhammad.


            Schoeps supports the notion of Muhammad being influenced by Ebionite Christianity. He states, "the Arabian Christianity which Mohammed found at the beginning of his public activity was not the state religion of Byzantium but a schismatic Christianity characterized by Ebionite and Monophysite views. From this religion many beliefs flowed in an unbroken stream of tradition into the proclamation of Mohammed." (Jewish Christianity, pp. 136-137). Of course, as a Baha'i I don't agree with this, but many do.


            I nonetheless do agree that Islam has roots in Christianity and Judaism. When we talk about the roots of Islam, what do we really mean? For those who believe in divine revelation and are open to the notion that there was higher inspiration in the foundation of Islam, the revelation of Muhammad (and there are arguments even by Christian theologians that the hand of God wasn't necessarily absent from the Qur'an) might be seen as a building on or progression from past Christian/Judaic revelation. Thus Muhammad's inspiration can be seen as a response to interpretations of the Gospel and the Pentateuch (past revelations seen as legitimate by Muhammad), and also rooted in these Books of God in the sense that the same divine inspiration that drove past revelation is also brought forth with the Qur'an.


            Here is another way of looking at the issue of Islam's roots in Ebionite Christianity. Some might argue that Pauline Christianity actually veered from Christ's intent in important respects regarding the process of the abrogation of Jewish Law. This begs the question: Is there a process that is to occur when abrogation of the laws of a preceding revelation are being considered? I think this is an important question that few scholars have contemplated. In this line of thought, an argument might be that Paul's severance of the Gentiles from the Jewish Law might have been overly expeditious and harsh in light of the division it appears to have caused. Thus it was harmful to the unity of current and later Christendom.


            If Peter was accorded by Jesus Christ primacy in succession, it would appear Paul ignored this or didn't understand the meaning of it. From the Baha'i perspective, it is my understanding that Baha'u'llah (whom Baha'is believe is the return of Christ) confirms the primacy of Peter. As I've pointed out, Peter's interpretation "lost out" to later Pauline Christianity. It might be argued, and some certainly do, that Christ's message regarding the process of the fulfillment of the revelation of Moses and abrogation of the Jewish Law was more correctly understood by Peter and James, who might not have wanted to see Christianity divided between the what came to be known as the Jewish (Jerusalem) and Gentile (Antioch) branches of Christianity.


            Some argue that Peter's and James's interpretation of the Gospel of Christ was the more correct understanding of the place of juristic law in the new Christian religion, and therefore Petrine Christianity in later evolutions actually was more in concert with the later revelations of Muhammad, the Bab and Baha'u'llah. These figures don't accept the idea of the Trinitarian God or Incarnation of Christ. Thus Petrine/Ebionite Christianity has parallels to the Qur'an in terms of Christology and God's nature. Thus from the perspective of the idea of revelation as being foundational to the Qur'an, Islam's rejection of the Trinity may not be because Muhammad developed these ideas through historical contact with Ebionites, but because the Petrine Christological interpretation was correct and in line with Jesus's intent and was therefore being re-enforced and reaffirmed by God's revelation through Muhammad.


            The controversial and self-labeled Nazarene Bible scholar Hugh Schonfield really criticizes Paul. Though his work seems overly polemical in my view, he does make interesting arguments about Paul's Hellenizing of Christianity, which caused Christendom to stray too quickly from its juristic foundations.** I don't agree with all of Schonfield's arguments, but they are compelling.


            Schoeps deeply analyzes the Petrine/Pauline conflict. Regarding the Jerusalem branch labeled as Jewish Christians, Schoeps states, "the real basis for the opposition to Paul on the part of the Jewish Christians was undoubtedly the fact that, since Christianity seemed to them to be essentially 'the Mosaic law restored through Jesus the Prophet,' they abhorred Paul as the enemy of the law."


            I'm not convinced Peter viewed Christianity as being a restoration of the Mosaic Law, because if he was Christ's legitimate successor, I think (based on my understanding of the Baha'i doctrine of progressive revelation), he would have advanced a message that would have gently eased Christianity from the Mosaic law to some new evolution derived from the Gospel of Christ. This evolution of law was never allowed to develop to fullness because of the dominance of Pauline thought. Furthermore, I'm not convinced Peter and James themselves were in complete agreement, and Peter's primacy also might have been undermined by James. Again, what does the notion of the primacy of Peter mean? If an interpretation of Matthew verses 16:13-16:19 that Peter does have primacy is correct, scholars point to Paul grudgingly paying lip service to the primacy of James and Peter, though still disagreeing with them and undermining them. I think this issue is rarely looked at closely, and is critical to understanding the direction Christianity has gone over the years.


            **After a reading of Harold Berman's Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, I'm further convinced that criticisms of Paul on this score are correct. Berman presents the notion that the foundations of canon law were rooted in Hellenistic, Roman, and various Germanic/European tribal/traditional philosophies and law. Where was Peter's input to juristic development in Christendom beyond his titular recognition as the first Pope? And, did the Petrine/Pauline conflict assist with the dissipation of juristic religiosity and the rise of mystical orientation, as seen in early Christendom and culminating in extreme form with the Marcionites? This veering from possible Petrine views might be seen as leading to problems regarding the establishment of canon law and attendant terrific problematics that some might associate with the subsequent schism and abuses in the name of Christ.


            Here are the original 2009 WAIS posts (it's very hard to read them)





            http://www.waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=32129&objectTypeId=26379&topicId=1




            http://www.waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=32595&objectTypeId=26845&topicId=1



            JE comments:  As a student of more recent history, I can't help but see a parallel between the Petrine-Pauline split and that of Trotsky and Stalin after Lenin's death.  In both cases the anointed successor was brushed aside, and a less "pure" form of the doctrine came to power.  (Luciano Dondero, please comment.)  Vincent Littrell provides a fascinating summary of the P-P rift in theological terms, but what about the political aspect?  What do we know about Paul's maneuvering?  Did Paul win out mainly because he was a prolific writer?


            I'm aware of the formatting problems we have in some of our old posts.  The biggest offenders are from the 2006-2010 time frame, just prior to our switch to the current web platform (September 2010).  Several years ago I hired a student to tidy up the archives, but he ran out of steam after about 500 posts.  There are still 10-15K to go.  I'll look into finding another student, but in the meantime, anyone willing to volunteer?  The work is exacting, tedious, and unremunerated--but intellectually enlightening!

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