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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Transformation of Trends in Transition of Christianity

With CNN covering this book, it has apparently become more than just a study referenced on and off by Christians in the news. I actually thought this book had been released earlier, but evidently, it’s only been out on Amazon for about 2 months. The author’s intent has some merit to it, but like one reviewer points out, there is a problem in assuming that your own standard of what Christianity must be has to apply to everyone else; that is, saying what it must be as opposed to what you observe in your faith. Here we have yet another example of the dichotomy that has existed in theology and religious studies since the beginning of the disciplines. The gist of this distinction is whether a faith emphasizes the importance of correct beliefs/teachings (orthodoxy) or correct actions/practice (orthopraxy). There are groups that balance this and it isn’t impossible to find some margin of equanimity, though there tends to be a divide in Eastern and Western religions (or more specifically far East and far West) on this emphasis on either side of the spectrum.

Kenda Creasy Dean’s publication (based on a survey she assisted with, the National Study of Youth and Religion) concentrates on a trend she observes in teenagers today. I would assume she means teenagers since the millennial generation (that would be when I was a teenager) and continuing onto the recent entrants into college for the class of ’14. Her overall assessment is that more and more teenagers are embracing what she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism”. Each word could be analyzed in more detail, but a concise summary of the main points of contention comes from the CNN article above; “a watered-down faith that portrays God as a ‘divine therapist’ whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem,” I don’t see innate problems with believers at least partially seeing God theologically and personally as a therapist, comforting them in their times of mourning and suffering and also boosting one’s self esteem, since particular beliefs about God can do the reverse for one’s confidence. But on the other hand, I can agree in principle that 1) becoming too dependent on others for self esteem and 2) regarding others as outlets for your neediness to be comforted are both unhealthy aspects of a worldview. Agreements on whether God is the best way to begin searching for mindfulness and truth aside, this is the best starting point for any discussion of this text’s claims and evaluating their accuracy.

Dean alleges that if you aren’t a passionate religious teenager, you are more likely to engage in high risk behavior, such as drugs, premarital sex or alcohol. I can already counter this with at least my own personal experience. I was never very religious or passionate about God or Christianity, but I didn’t do drugs, engage in premarital sex or drink alcohol; not that any of these things are innately bad if done responsibly and reinforced with good parental examples. But I also had discipline in the form of martial arts classes that I took from about 8th or 9th grade up until my second year of college, so one could connect my practice of karate and having rules of respect enforced in the dojo with my not engaging in such dangerous activities as my peers may have been engaged in. There was a Fellowship of Christian Athletes with active membership in junior high and Young Life in high school, which may very well have prevented classmates from becoming overly involved in the high risk activities mentioned. But it’s not as if one can correlate holding Christian beliefs with being abstinent from sex, drugs and alcohol any more than you can connect not holding Christian beliefs with being abusive of sex, drugs and alcohol if my own life is even a small example. Albeit I was at least raised in a Christian household, so Dean would probably point out that I was at least privileged to be inculcated with Christian beliefs, even if I didn’t follow through with them in later life. But even considering that, she shouldn’t place so much emphasis on environment as opposed to considering a natural tendency of rebellious behavior in many teenagers. To say that Christian teens should suppress or deny their youth and vigor instead of channeling it into different activities like I did in martial arts is hopefully not what Dean is suggesting.

There’s no reason to shelter a child from forging their own path of faith, whatever it may become. My own future children may become the virtual opposite of me in many regards, but if they are stable as well as physically and mentally healthy, then I would see no reason to intervene in any way that would suppress that dynamic state that we are all in. Perhaps I will change in the future to a more practicing Buddhist, perhaps get into the monastic aspect? I cannot say, but this traditionalist squabbling and prattling over how children aren’t exactly the same as one’s own generation is just pushing the new generations further and further away from those churches that are losing more and more young people, as my own childhood churches seem to be in my own area in Tennessee. To draw people in, inclusiveness and tolerance are key virtues, along with maintaining integrity of the faith tradition you are rooted in, Christian or otherwise. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cordoba Center Conclusion: Five Pillars of the Debate

This post will be shorter, or at least my last on this particular hot button topic, since like Pontius Pilate I am washing my hands of this fad and letting things go as they will. If some maniac bombs the place, then the terrorists win, not if the Cordoba House/Park51/Etc is built about 5 blocks from the center of “Ground Zero”.

I find there are five points, much like the five pillars of Islam (Pilgrimage, Prayers, Charity, Fasting and Monotheistic Belief (?)) which are integral to this debate. But on the other hand, these foundational talking points should be systematically broken down and destroyed, since they are ruining what is otherwise the equivalent of a Muslim YMCA.

1-The center isn’t at Ground Zero, since I imagine there are already plans in mind as to what is to be done at Ground Zero for appropriate memorials or otherwise. To be exact, from the center of Ground Zero, the center is around 5 blocks, over 1000 feet from the collapsed foundations of the WTC. Not to mention Ground Zero and the area surrounding it are pretty dead in terms of new businesses appearing, so anything appearing in the general vicinity, especially with the intent of building bridges of understanding between Americans of different faiths and ethnicities, should be viewed positively, not with distrust.

2-Cordoba Center is not a mosque and it wouldn’t matter even if it were, since there are multiple mosques in New York area already. A prayer center for Muslims isn’t even the focal point of what is primarily a center for people to come together. Out of 13 stories, the top 2 will be a prayer space, so overall, the “mosque” aspect is barely a sixth of the building’s areas, including a basketball court and a culinary school, among other sections for cultural education and leisure. No different than saying a hospital is a church because it has a chapel inside, you have no logical grounds to call the Cordoba House a mosque just because it has a prayer center for Muslims planned.

The building already has Muslims praying in it since they purchased it, so does that make it a mosque? Again, no, since like a church, it doesn’t matter whether it’s called it or not, it’s about the activity performed. So the building is more like a mosque now then when it will be primarily a cultural community center, like the YMCA. So why not welcome what is a change for the better instead of opposing it because of people pulling your heartstrings like a marionette?

3-Arguing that people have the constitutional right to build the center on private property and then arguing against it because it offends your sensitivities is groundless since 1) the law doesn’t bend to the whims and caprices of people who can’t get over a grudge they hold towards Islam and 2) you can’t say people have a right to build whatever they decide to build on private property and then say the government should suppress that right because it offends you. That’d be no different than censoring Neo Nazis and the KKK just because some minorities can’t stand their message. I don’t agree with Islam or Christianity, but do I object to churches and mosques existing in America? No.

And saying the mosque is an insult to the victims of 9/11 doesn’t hold water either because the people building the center are making it open to everyone and as noted before, it won’t be a big flashing neon sign saying, “Ha, you lost loved ones in a Muslim terrorist attack, suck it!”, it will be an expansion to a pre existing Muslim community in New York and an attempt to show that American Muslims do not condone the 9/11 attacks, and in fact, wish to make amends by creating a peaceful Muslim presence near the site of an event they find reprehensible.

4-Accusing the imam of being a radical Muslim to try to discredit the center is an ad hominem tactic that hardly even holds a candle to real evidenced claims. The guy was a consultant for the army after 9/11 to educate about Islam, because he’s a Sufi, probably the most moderate Muslim subgroup you can imagine. If you think a Sufi Muslim, whose most dangerous activity is spinning in circles to go into a religious trance, is trying to infiltrate America and train suicide bombers, you’re not just paranoid, you’re stupid.

Not to mention people are on President Obama’s back about alleged backsliding on the issue. He was right to focus on legality and not whether it was a “wise decision” to choose the spot near Ground Zero to build the center. Like the judge who granted the Westboro Baptist Church some modicum of free speech protection for their protests at funerals, however cold hearted and myopic their message is, legally they are granted protection under the Constitution. Like the KKK example, you don’t have to agree or even pay attention to them, but by any stretch of interpretation of the 1st Amendment, tolerance of viewpoints you don’tagree with is integral to a civil society’s continued existence. Free speech doesn’t stop at someone being offended, it stops at people’s genuine rights to privacy being violated, which the “Ground Zero Mosque” and WBC’s protests don’t do.

5-Claiming that if the center goes up, the terrorists win, makes no sense. First off, Muslims by nature are not opposed to being Americans and living here, and building a mosque doesn’t glorify terrorist attacks. Islam is not our enemy, as former President Bush Jr. said, it is terrorism.

And more importantly, if we bend to a majority’s argument with no substance in it just because it offends them, then the terrorists would win, since we’d be surrendering a basic liberty of private ownership as well as freedom of worship and religion to satisfy the masses that are offended in some way. Which is no different than suppressing and censoring free speech in the majority of the Middle East because it offends theocratic and theonomic sensitivities of a Muslim majority stuck in the Crusade period when every non Muslim was a potential enemy and even fellow Muslims who didn’t adhere to strict legalistic standards were enemies, not unlike how Shia and Sunni Muslims have treated Sufis in their own countries.

In conclusion, any offense you take at this is understandable, but it does not mean you should call for the cancellation of what is a peaceful project meant to heal wounds, not reopen them. There are people on both sides of the 9/11 tragedy, some opposing and some supporting the project. Who is right, since both of them have lost loved ones in that attack almost 10 years ago? What about the Muslims that perished? Do their families oppose this building, a veritable stand against the terrorists, not a support of their ideology? Why should the pain and suffering of some trump the rights of others to construct something that in this case has no ill will behind it? It shouldn’t, because the law does not favor feelings or sensitivities, it is impartial for that very reason. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cordoba Community Center Censorship

The persistent issue in New York for the past few weeks has been the misleadingly named “ground zero mosque,” It’s a misnomer because 1) it’s not at ground zero and 2) it’s not a mosque. Technically, it has been a prayer center/mosque already since it had been purchased and the plan is not for simply a mosque to be built where a Burlington Coat Factory used to be. The community center would have many other areas to make it a place for both Christians and Muslims (among other faiths) to spend time together and understand each other as well, such as an auditorium and a fitness center among other facilities reminiscent of the YMCA. The opposition to the construction falls on two objections, though the first is overshadowed by the second. With the landmark status of the area where the center is to be built denied, the argument that the Cordoba House would be demolishing a historical building representing Italian Renaissance palazzo style is pretty well shot.

The second argument holds a stronger grip on not only New Yorker’s hearts, but those of anyone who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. With the building only two blocks away, people like Sarah Palin and even the Anti-Defamation League for a short time argued that the construction of a Muslim cultural center is insulting and insensitive to the feelings of people who were deeply affected by the attacks almost ten years ago. And others suggest that the mosque is just a political move to try to solidify Islam’s presence in America even more. Newt Gingrich compared the issue of building a mosque near Ground Zero in New York to that of a church or synagogue in Saudi Arabia. The comparison is troubling on a few levels, the first being that Saudi Arabia is decidedly stricter on the building of non Muslim places of worship because of the strong presence of Islamic theonomy (that is, law based on religious tenets such as the Quran). America doesn’t have such stringent standards as to where one can build a mosque, a church, a synagogue or any other place of worship. Not to mention that the argument against the mosque being near Ground Zero reduces itself to a childish form of censorship. The gist of this argument seems to be “Having anything Muslim near Ground Zero hurts certain people’s feelings and makes them feel like the terrorists have won, so no mosque, even one associated with moderate Islamic sects such as Sufi or Ahmaddiya, should ever be built near Ground Zero, because we might hurt some people’s feelings or cause them to misinterpret the intentions of the Muslims behind the Cordoba House.”

This doesn’t work for the same reason that the lawsuit against the local commission that denied landmark status to the building. Trying to use landmark status to protect something that would become what you think represents Islam trying to dominate the West is more underhanded than spouting prejudiced thought against all Muslims, even if they’re trying to build bridges of understanding. The lawsuit is trying to reverse the decision because they think denying landmark status to the building is showing favoritism to Islam, not to mention a concern that the funding for the center is coming from sharia law countries in the East. This isn’t only paranoid thinking, some victims perpetuating the idea that every Muslim is out to get them, but it’s reinforced by dangerous prejudice towards Muslims that just fans the flames by suggestions that Islam is just a political movement or a cult. It’s not surprising that with misinformation spreading quicker than any accurate kind people are more commonly speaking against Islam as if they have had first-hand experience with Muslims when more than likely they are just parroting what fear-mongering pundits in the GOP or Tea Party are telling them.

No one is forcing the family or friends of victims of 9/11 to go to the mosque or even agree with Islam. Like television shows you don’t want your kids to watch or that you just don’t want to watch yourself, you can change the channel or turn off the TV. In this case, all one should ask is that one tolerates the existence of a Muslim community center near Ground Zero. You don’t have to go there, you don’t have to fund it, you just have to let it exist, especially if its goal is to educate people about Islam and allow Muslims to not be misunderstood. I’m reminded of Jesus saying something to the effect of “forgive those who hurt you and pray for those who slander you,” and with many of the protestors no doubt being Christians, I wonder how much they’re taking Jesus’ teachings seriously if they continue to try to push away any attempts at reconciliation or interfaith dialogue. I guess they think Jesus didn’t want to really discuss anything, especially when they take his saying of “brushing the dust off your feet and leaving” when you can’t convert people to your faith.

Things like this happen when you take a charismatic figure’s words so seriously that you start cherry picking what you want to hear and toss out the rest. Jesus indeed spoke wisdom, but he certainly never claimed he was the end authority of all things in Christianity, since he tended more often than not to shift responsibility to God in such things as the end of the world and the most important commandments. And one of those commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself. How much must you hate yourself when you start saying that Ground Zero is sacred and can’t even have mosques 2 blocks away from it? Paranoia and fear don’t create love, to reference the bible’s idea that “perfect love casts out fear”. The first step to any kind of reconciliation is allowing your so called enemy some form of acceptance. Although ironically, mosques have existed in New York for at least half a century before the terrorist attacks, so any resistance towards a mosque in New York in general is as regrettably ignorant as the persistent delusion that “In God we Trust” has always been our national motto. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha.