Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What If Fred Phelps Ran the United States?

Bild hämtad från http://www.godhatesfags.com P...Image via WikipediaLately, I've been defending Islam so much I think maybe some of my friends are starting to wonder if I'm considering converting. It probably seem sto some that I am a huge fan of Islam. Add that to my criticism of Christianity and church and... well, if you put two and two together, they add up to four. Right? Well, you can be assured that nothing could be further from my mind than converting to Islam. I don't defend Islam because I personally like Islam. I defend it against what I perceive to be unfair attacks and generalizations. I defend it because there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, most of whom are good peace loving people. I defend it because it's the American thing to do, defend freedom of religion. I defend it because Islam is not so very different from Christianity or Judaism both of which were unfairly treated in the past.

To set the record straight, I'm not a huge fan of Islam-personally. If I had to choose a religion to convert to, Islam would be way down on the list. There are some great things about Islam. Lots of spiritual discipline (praying five times a day, fasting). I like the idea of zakat (giving to charity) that is one of the five pillars. In fact of the five pillars- praying, charity, fasting, there is only one G-d and hajj (a trip to Mecca) I think four of the five are pretty cool. I do have some problems I have with Islam. First, it seems to me like very much like an "earn your favor" with G-d religion. The rituals could easily become dry and rote. I mean praying five times a day, mandatory, on the dot, at certain times? Eating hallal (kind of like eating kosher in Judaism)? Fasting every day for a month? No, not for me. Secondly, I haven't read a lot of the Qur'an. But, I have had occasions to read bits of it. The Qur'an, to me, reads too much like the Old Testament. I have to agree with the Muslim haters out there that, misinterpreted, it could be a very dangerous text. However, I don't see it as any more or less dangerous than the Old Testament. Have you ever really read the book of Leviticus? C'mon. What could be scarier? Lastly, the thing about Muhammad being Allah's last (and I guess that means best) prophet isn't something I could not accept. In my opinion, the Qur'an (which was reportedly dictated by an angel to Muhammad) and Muhammad himself get too high of a status in Islam- similar to the way Christians give the Bible too high a status in Christianity. And similar to the way some Christians equate Yeshua/Isa/Jesus with G-d. Whenever you give a book or even a man too high a status, you're approaching idolatry-putting the written word or the words of a man on par with us individually and continually hearing from G-d. I've run away from it in Christianity, I certainly couldn't embrace it in Islam. I think G-d is still speaking and is always speaking. Declaring a particular prophet to be the best or the last or saying a book (any book) is "THE WORD of GOD" limits G-d and cuts off seeking further revelation which we always need, IMO.

So, as you can see, I don't defend Islam because I think it's the greatest religion in the world. My personal feelings about Islam have nothing to do with my defense of Islam or the rights of Muslims to practice it without having people protest every single mosque they try to build. My friends keep pointing out to me human rights abuses in Muslim run countries. I don't deny that nor do I shy away from it. Women are treated atrociously in many Muslim countries. Gays are stoned. Non-Muslims are not allowed to worship or to even have places of worship. It's really not good in many ways. However, I have a couple of things to say about that. I don't think we can blame that on Islam, exclusively. Christianity has its own history of abuse of women, blacks, gays, non-Christians, etc., etc. We have burned people as witches. Children are still killed for being witches in Africa. I think the problems we see with Islam around the world are more a product of the abuses that happen when yo have theocracies than they are problems particular to Islam. When Christianity got mixed in with state power, we saw some very ugly things. Imagine if America was run by Fred Phelps or Reverend Terry Jones? Can you imagine those guys waving the book of Leviticus around and writing the 10 Commandments as the law of the land? Some Arab countries are run by some pretty nutty guys who are trying to run things based on a book that they see as the WORD of G-d. What do you think Fred Phelps would do if he had the kind of power some of the Arab Imams have? No wonder we see stonings (also commanded by the Bible), amputations and beheadings. It's what happens when you try to take literally a book written in a completely different era. We are fortunate our Founding Fathers saw this possibility and nipped it in the bud.

That covers Islam in Islam run countries. Now, let's talk about Muslim Americans- who are bearing the brunt of this wave of Islamaphobia. Muslim Americans have contributed and continue to contribute to our society as much as anyone else has. They died with us on 9/11. They fight along side us everyday in Afghanistan. Their spiritual disciplines and their belief in the commandments of the Qur'an makes them excellent law abiding citizens. It's tragic that we associate them with the few nuts in Al Qaeda, allowing a population of probably maybe a few thousand to destroy the reputation and the faith of a population of over 1.5 billion. There are more than five times the number of Muslims in the world as there are Americans; and we judge them on the basis of the extreme beliefs and actions of not enough people to even fill a football stadium or a basketball arena. No one really knows how big Al Qaeda is. But, I've seen an estimate of around 10,000. Sounds like a lot until you divide 10,000 by 1,500,000,000 and realize that maybe around one out of 150,000 Muslims is an Al Qaeda member. Based on the actions of 19 men, on a day 9 years ago, many of us are willing to trash the entire faith of 1.5 billion people. There are only 30 people at the Dove Worldwide Outreach Center (the pastor who wants to burn the Qur'an). How would we feel if the Muslim world judge all of us based on their actions? I'm not equating burning a book with actually killing people. But, what if they even went as far as to go killing Muslim? Would we think it reasonable to judge out entire country based on those actions?
Enhanced by Zemanta


kc bob said...

Enjoyed this post Brian. Good balance in it. I think that I pretty much share your perspective on Islam.

As far as prophets go I think that Jesus had a unique worldwide message of love and compassion. I think that He also taught us to disdain sanctimonious and hypocritical religious leaders. Even folks like Gandhi were influenced by his teachings.

I know that you live by Jesus' teachings and also by some of the Buddha. So I am wondering, which prophet/teacher do you feel has had the largest influence on your life?

Don said...

Very well put, Brian. This whole affair is a prime example of the "Us vs. Them" mentality of not only Americans, but humanity as a whole. How dreadfully sad it is.

Brian said...


Without a doubt, Jesus has had the most impact on my life. Jesus has been a friend of mine from the time I was old enough to understand language. Even when I feared G-d, I loved Jesus. I still find Jesus' fascinating, frustrating and inspiring.

I find Buddhism's teachings to be very practical and easy to apply to everyday life. Jesus' teachings are more difficult and give me more to wrestle with. Both set very high ideals to live up to.

I know Christians claim that Jesus' teachings are "unique" and some are. But, His overall message of love and compassion is not unique. C. S. Lewis responded to the criticism that Jesus' teachings weren't unique by saying that great moral teachers don't teach us anything new. There are no new morals to be learned. The Tao (as C.S. Lewis called it) is eternal. Great moral teachers only remind us of what has always been. Thus, we should expect Jesus' teachings, the Buddha's teachings and any great moral leader's teachings to be very similar.

oneperson said...

Well stated Brian and apropos comparisons with Fred Phelps and Terry Jones.


Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

I too am not about to be converting to Islam yet I find myself defending it. I seem to find myself defending several groups attacked with generalizations, none of which I consider myself a member.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Brian and all. My ministry for over the last decade is to give support to any who are seeking to get out of any religion they find to be oppressive; more and more Muslims are speaking out against the oppression and terror that have hijacked Islam.

As I see you recognize, Brian, speaking about the abuses there isn't to speak against Islam at all, or all Muslims. I've found that many people think that to speak against the obvious oppression that is there is to speak against all Muslims; and its not. It doesn't help conscienscious Muslims if we don't stand with them in speaking out on what's wrong. I think the more people see that, the more eyes will be opened in other religions to see that its not Islam, but certain factions (just as certain denominations in Christianity) are still living in the Dark Ages and want to force that on others.

I just read a poll that was taken from Muslims; 58% disagree with the Mosque being built near Ground Zero and called it folly. The majority polled also said they didn't view America as intolerant or Islamophobic. How many people know that?

I also read a very heartwarming article in the Wall Street Journal--you know that town in California, Bell? The big scandal there where those (ahem! Democrat) town officials had given themselves those huge salaries and the town protested in outrage? The town has been meeting in the local mosque/community center to
organize their protests and its been also a place where Muslims and others are getting to know each other and coming to understanding; developing friendships. I'll see if I can find that and post the link here; I think you'll really enjoy it as I did.

Good words, Bri--thumbs up! :) --rhonda

Anonymous said...

Here's the link to the article:


:) --rhonda

Brian said...

Cool, Rhonda. I always love it when we can find common ground.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're covering these topics, Brian. I think they need to be discussed, everything needs to be out on the table; its important.

I was just reading about the lovely young woman Aisha in Afghanistan, who was on the cover of Time magazine; her nose chopped off by the Taliban because she tried to escape her abusive inlaws.

One of the headlines on the cover was: "What will happen if we leave Afghanistan?" I'm so glad to see that more and more news orgs and people are having the courage to come out and speak for women in Islam. Its high time!

A video of a stoning has also been leaked out--allegedly by a member of the Taliban who attended--on his cell phone. His cell phone! The age of technology alongside the age of OT times, as you said, Brian. If there were ever a cause to get behind, could there be anything any better than to help to free Muslim women from this hell on earth? --rhonda

Brian said...

Rhonda, the radical element of Islam is indeed very scary and dangerous. Not only for (Muslim) women, but for gay people and for non-Christians. I saw a video of a beheading (actually two people being beheaded). It was shocking as the crowd shouted Allah Akhbar.

We agree that fundamentalist, radical religion (Islam, Chiristianity, Judaism or any other form) is dangerous and must be fought. If Americans could come together on this point and rally behind moderate and progressive Muslims, I think we could help them fight the fundamentalist element among them. Christianity has been pretty successful at marginalizing this element within our faith.

BTW, great article about the Islamic community center in California. I suspect that one day, the same sense of community will exist in the Islamic Center (Park 51) near Ground Zero. The developer is a Muslim whose father was Egyptian, his mother Polish-Catholic. He was born in NYC. His wife is Christians. He was a member of the Jewish community center in NY which is where he got the inspiration for the center he is proposing now.


Anonymous said...

I think the more conscienscious Muslims speak out, the more others will stand with them, Brian. I see it happening more and more.

There's a question you asked in your post about Imam Rauf that's been echoing in my mind since I first read it; I'm paraphrasing: "Since when does someone refusing to condemn something (Hamas, etc) mean they support it?" As I participate on various forums, I've seen myself put into a corner over and over again-- for me to condemn the Pastor in Gainesville who it is said, "burned the Koran". I'm asked to condemn the evils of Christianity at every turn in practically ever discussion like this I have. Of course I don't support the evils in Christendom--but why is it so important for others to hear me speak out about it? And why personally, do I want to hear Muslims and others speak out regarding the evils in Islam?

I'm coming to the conclusion that its important for others to hear, not because avoiding or refusing to condemn means one supports those things, but because it sounds totally one-sided, biased and unfair not to; and others are left hanging where one stands when it comes to the other side. It doesn't mean one supports these things, but it doesn't mean one doesn't support these things either. I think this is why you wrote this present blog-post, Brian, because people began to think you were only for Islam; they needed to hear you speak out in regard to Islam too. :)

As for the Park 51 Mosque/Community Center; I could be wrong, but I very much doubt it will be built, even tho the right to build it isn't in question. Its offensive to the majority of Americans; even to many Muslims. I think of the apostle Paul's words here: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are advantageous." Its not advantageous to go through with this particular project and imo, will only hurt efforts of peace and understanding for Muslims. --rhonda

Brian said...


The Imam has spoken out against terrorism again and again. He did so again on 60 Minutes last night. A couple of weeks ago he said (this isn't a direct quote but it's as close as I can recall) "I condemn anyone who commits terrorist acts and Hamas has committed acts of terror."

The Imam is in a position where he has made himself a bridge between the Western world (the United States) and the Arab Muslim world. Hamas is the duly elected government (like it or not) of the Palestinians. The Imam cannot afford to be too hostile toward the people he has been charged to reach out to. However, this was his strongest statement regarding Hamas to date and I think is sufficient.

I hope the center does go up. The Imam has offered to have the US government screen the sources of funding. As soon as I can find out how to contribute to it, I plan to send in a donation.

Sammy said...

I've actually used this example before in conversations with my family, telling them that imagining all Muslims are like bin Laden is like other people thinking you are like Phelps because you are a Christin.

A couple years ago, his group picked my high school. Despite living in a very conservative area, I was amazed at the size of those who came out to protest him. It made me very proud of my town.