Thursday, October 28, 2010

"And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed"

During the last week of September, Cathy and I were shopping in the Lowes in Dickson where we saw that the store was already putting up Christmas displays. (Thankfully, as a society we have apparently have moved beyond calling them, “holiday displays.)

I don’t think I have ever seen Christmas displays go up so early. But as we all know, the Christmas season is the major revenue season for almost every business. With the economy as it is, I suppose that businesses want the shopping season the begin as early as possible.

Have you ever wanted to get a “jump” on Christmas? Do you remember being a child and thinking that Christmas Day would just never get here?

Christmas Day was not celebrated by the early church. Easter was (and remains) the foremost Christian holy day, and two millennia ago, no one really knew what time of year Jesus was born. Almost certainly it was not in December since shepherds would not have been in the fields with their flocks in that month. The Eastern Church and the Coptics celebrate Christmas on different days than we do.

The most important thing about Christmas is not when it is, but what it is and what it means.

Christmas means “Immanuel,” God With Us. This is a name ascribed to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. When we affirm our faith that the baby born in Bethlehem’s manger was God in the flesh, then we easily see why Jesus is truly God With Us. This is Good News, indeed!

And yet we should not rush too quickly, like the shepherds, to the manger. For while the Gospel is Good News, it is good only because of the bad news that preceded it.

Jesus came to deliver us from our bondage to sin and death. That’s Good News! But the bad news is that we needed saving to begin with. Unless we confront the gravity of the human condition into which we are born we do not grasp the life ring God casts to us in the person and work of Christ.

That is why, in the passages for Advent, getting ready for Christmas is not the point. The point of the season is to prepare for the coming of Christ, not of Christmas. The passages of Advent present the imminent presence of God in the flesh as both awful (that is, “awe-full,” not bad) and wonderful.

"For the glory of the Lord shall be revealed," promised the Scriptures, and the glory of God can hardly be beheld impassively. One either runs to embrace the Lord or runs from him. Neutrality is not even possible.

So the passages for Advent typically include reminders that, absent God’s gracing presence, we mortals are lost in our sins. We are reminded that, “Christ has come, Christ will come again.” And his next advent will not be so innocently or unthreateningly accomplished.

Yet Advent also shows that by being born the baby in the manger God was not going on the offensive against us. He joins us an our ally. In fact, God’s kingly, overwhelming power is found there literally to be defenseless, so much so that Joseph and Mary had to flee the town to save Jesus’ life.

Is there power in such weakness? No, not in weakness per se. Jesus’ Godly power, or our own, is found neither in human in weakness nor in strength, but in faithfulness. It is God who is strong, not we mortals. Compared to the God’s strength, human weakness is inevitable but it is also inconsequential. God knows this, so he did not shrink from being born of woman, just as we are, nor from enduring the travails of human life in all its triumphs and disappointments, its joys and frustrations.

And at the end, death on a cross. But death could not hold Jesus because God is stronger than death.

Manger scenes became a popular artistic motif during the Renaissance. In almost all such paintings, the artists included the cross somewhere in the scenery. Sometimes it was on the horizon outside the manger. One artist, Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556), painted a cross on a shelf on the manger’s wall, such as many homes would have had (left, click image for larger view).

Let us take a cue from those theologically-trained artists. They knew the connection between the manger and Calvary. So did Jesus. As his last trip to Jerusalem loomed, knowing what it portended, Jesus told the disciples, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (Jn 12:27).

What is the meaning of Christmas? The meaning of Christmas is the cross.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Top Muslim Jurist to speak in Nashville

Anyone who wants to learn about Islam from a highly-accomplished and respected Muslim scholar should make a point of attending a presentation by Mr. Sam Solomon on Oct. 19, 7-9 p.m., at the Gordon Jewish Center's Pargh Auditorium. The address is 801 Percy Warner Blvd, Nashville.

Here is an image of the flyer sent me:

The text reads,
Sam Solomon is an expert in Shari'ah Law - that's Islamic jurisprudence. He spent 15 years studying Shari'ah Law to become an Islamic jurist, and after reading the New Testament converted to Christianity. He is the author of The Trojan Horse (about the threat of Islamic immigration), The Mosque Exposed, The Common Word (about Islamic undermining of the church), and Al-Yahood: Eternal Islamic Enmity and The Jews. One of the leading experts on Islam and Shariah law in the western world, Mr. Solomon has testifed before congress, is a consultant to the British parliament, and has been called to brief world leaders in several nations on matters regarding
See bottom of this post for a Google map to Gordon JCC with directions from the church.

Here is an interview (audio only) with Dr. Solomon at another venue.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Related as to topic, see my post, "Why jihad is central to Muslim faith."

Here is a Google map to the presentation. Click on the link at bottom for detailed directions.

View Larger Map

Why jihad is central to Muslim faith

If this is your idea of what jihad is, you're not alone. This is "lesser jihad," and should be of lesser concern to us than "greater jihad," which, though nonviolent, is far more pernicious

What exactly is jihad and where does it fit into Muslim theology?

The root of "jihad" is judh, Arabic for striving. Jihad in Muslim theology is striving to defend or advance Islam or increase one's faithfulness to Islam. Jihad is not peripheral to Islam. It stands at its very center. Jihad is central to Muslim soteriology, its theology of salvation. Jihad is theologically joined at the hip to sharia, Islamic law, for it is sharia that both commands jihad and justifies jihad.

Muslim scholars and jurists distinguish between "greater jihad" and "lesser jihad," a distinction going back to Muhammad himself. Jihad, says, has been conceptually corrupted in modern years both by Western usage to mean only holy war and by numerous Islamic groups, contending for power and influence, who have also overemphasized its military component.

According to Farida Khanam, the Arabic word jihad, by itself,
... does not connote the sense of reward or worship in the religious sense of the word. But when the word jihad became a part of Islamic terminology, the sense of reward or worship came to be associated with it, that is to say, if struggle is struggle in the simple sense of word, jihad means a struggle which is an act of worship, the engagement of which earns reward to the person concerned. As the Quran says: "Strive for the cause of God as you ought to strive" (22:78).
Jihad certainly can mean warfare waged to defend or advance Islam. But not just any war Muslims wage is jihad. Unless a war has been declared jihad by recognized clerical authority, it's just warfare, not jihad.

However, in historic Muslim theology, jihad more generally means striving toward equilibrium of Islamic character both within individuals and among the Muslim umma (the people of a Muslim society). Says al-Islam,
Muslims as both individuals and members of Islamic society must carry out jihad, that is they must exert themselves at all moments of life to fight a battle both inward and outward against those forces that if not combatted will destroy that equilibrium which is the necessary condition for the spiritual life of the person and the functioning of human society. This fact is especially true if society is seen as a collectivity which bears the imprint of the Divine Norm rather than an antheap of contending and opposing units and forces.
So how did jihad come to be associated with Islamic warfare?
[F]or Muslims to wield weapons in a war in which Islam itself is defended - as the [Saudi 1979] anti-Soviet fatwa declared - is literally an act of worship. The Muslim jihadi has the right to expect reward proportionate to his sacrificial worship. In military jihad, the ultimate sacrifice is to die, which deserves the ultimate reward, immediate entry by the slain jihadi's soul into Paradise. This doctrine springs from the words of Mohammed himself, who during the battle of Badr told his soldiers, "I swear by the One in whose hand Mohammad's soul is, any man who fights them today and is killed while he is patient in the ordeal and seeks the pleasure of Allah, going forward and not backing off, Allah will enter him into Paradise." (The Battle of Badr," by Tajuddin B. Shu`aib,
Jihad, then is actual worship in Islam. As we shall see below, it is not simply part of worship. Jihad forms the very core of Muslim worship. But military jihad is traditionally called "lesser jihad" in distinction to nonviolent "greater jihad." Why this distinction? explains,
In its most outward sense jihad came to mean the defence of dar al-islam, that is, the Islamic world, from invasion and intrusion by non-Islamic forces. The earliest wars of Islamic history which threatened the very existence of the young community came to be known as jihad par excellence in this outward sense of 'holy war'. But it was upon returning from one of these early wars, which was of paramount importance in the survival of the newly established religious community and therefore of cosmic significance, that the Prophet nevertheless said to his companions that they had returned from the lesser holy war to the greater holy war, the greater jihad being the inner battle against all the forces which would prevent man from living according to the theomorphic norm which is his primordial and God given nature.
Greater jihad is explained by the Quran along this line of thought:
[H]umans have been created with a sound nature and provided by God with a true religion that enables them to have fullness of life through close communion with God in this world and the next. Each human is a religiously grounded person, created and endowed with a fitra, a ‘sound constitution’ that acts as a kind of internal guidance system and way to God.
But this "close communion with God" can take place only within the Muslim community, the umma. From inception, Islam's commandments have been held to be so difficult that "loners" can't keep them. Islam is "not a personal faith," according to Muslim jurist Sam Solomon. It is a communal faith only. Muslims require the support and encouragement of a broader Islamic community living together just to be Muslim at all. That is exactly the basis on which my Muslim friend at Fort Sill, Okla., Egyptian Lt. Col. Solomon, justified his nightclubbing, drinking and womanizing. "This is not a Muslim country," he told me, and only later I learned his was a serious answer, not a dodge.

What is it that orders the life of the umma? It is sharia, Islamic law dictated by Allah. The keeping of Islam's commandments and preservation of the social order concretized in the Quran and the Hadith (traditions about Muhammad) are made official, legal and coercive by Islamic law.

Sharia is not just religious law, not just social law (what we would call domestic law) and not just political law. It is all of the above and more. Islam formally declares that no aspect of human affairs is excluded from Allah's concern and commandments. So there is not, and never has been, "separation of mosque and state" in Islam (though over the centuries, rulers exercising offices more political than religious have often shed their religious yokes to some degree).

The reason is,
Islam is a din-religion. Din means a complete system of life consisting of beliefs and laws. To know the Islamic attitude of the Muslims towards the laws of the shari'ah, we have to study the Qur'an and hadith. In the Qur'an and hadith we find two different attitudes towards two different aspects of din. These two aspects of din are: a) the fundamental beliefs known as usu-lu'd-din - the roots of religion; b) the laws of the shari'ah known in general as furu'd-din - the branches of religion. ...

In Islamic beliefs, a Muslim is expected to believe only after reflection; and in Islamic laws, he is expected to follow them without any reservations [italics added].
Sharia is therefore inarguable, not subject to intellectual reflection by the ordinary Muslim. Prof. Mark Gould explains,
Certain customs in ritual and law were established as sacred; derivative from the Koran and from the Sunna, they constitute the shari’ah that regulates virtually all aspects of a Muslim’s life. In the words of Islamist Sayyid Qutb, “The basis of the Islamic message is that one should accept the shari’ah without any question and reject all other laws, whatever their shape or form. This is Islam. There is no other meaning of Islam.”

This point of view is also articulated by the moderate, Khaled Abou El Fadl: “I must confess that I adopt the intellectual presumption that Islamic jurisprudence (Shariah) is core to the Islamic experience throughout all ages and places. To me, Shariah and Islam are inseparable, and one cannot be without the other. I also confess that my primary loyalty, after God, is to the Shariah, and not to any particular organization.”
This is an absolutely key point for those seeking to understand the Muslim push against the institutions and democracies of the West: Greater jihad cannot be accomplished in the slightest apart from the dictates of sharia. It is only through the structure of sharia that "close communion" with Allah can be achieved. Absent sharia, striving within oneself to overcome sin and to keep Islam's commandments is not possible.

Only through jihad can a Muslim work his or her way to salvation because it is only through jihad that unnatural tendencies to sin can be suppressed and the natural-born (but sinfully corrupted) innate Islamic character of the human being flower. And jihad can be done only under the rule of sharia. Whether this jihad is greater jihad (non-warring) or lesser jihad (violence against Islam's enemies) is irrelevant to the salvation of Muslim believers; either one will suffice. But salvation through jihad is the basic soteriology of Islam and sharia is its means.

Unlike Christianity, Islam has no concept of original sin - a stain of sin innate to human beings, present in each person even at birth. That means that salvation can be attained only by the believer's deeds in submission to Allah through Islam and Islamic law. If a Muslim believer carries out Islam's commandments, then judgment day will be lightly born. If not, disaster.

A Muslim professor of Islamic studies at The George Washington University explained it to me this way 17 years ago. On the day of judgment, each person will have to cross a bridge from earth to paradise. The bridge spans a chasm so deep its bottom cannot be seen. To fall into the chasm is to fall into Hell forever. If one has faithfully kept Islam's commandments and done well, then one's individual bridge will be so wide it will stretch from horizon to horizon. But if one has stayed in sin, the bridge will be only as wide as a human hair.

While millions of Muslims in the world are mostly secular in outlook, those who take Islam's teaching seriously know that their eternal destiny is always in doubt at every moment. This may seem quaint to North Americans, who are so confidently (and unjustifiably) self-assured of their salvation (if they even believe it conceptually at all) that we hardly ever think about it. But for devout Muslims, earning salvation and avoiding Hell's very real torments is the actual purpose of living this life. It is what gives life focus and meaning.

However, one's eternal destiny is always in doubt. Even considering the bridge to heaven as an allegory, a Muslim can never know how wide his bridge is on any given day. But he does know that waging jihad is the most meritorious act a Muslim can do, and if one's greater jihad expands or further establishes Islam in the world then all the better.

All of this is why Muslims who immigrate to Western countries either self-segregate into Muslim neighborhoods (in old Europe, we would call them Muslim ghettos; modern France has many) or attempt to expand the reach of sharia law into society at large. Salvation is not possible without being surrounded by the umma, living together under the governance and guidance of sharia. More than that, sharia simply is Allah's inarguable command for the ordering of human society. A Muslim, truly to be Muslim, has no choice but to submit to its dictates. After all, "submission" is what "Islam" actually means. To activist jihadis, it matters not whether one has uttered the shahada and become Muslim or has remained infidel. One must either submit to Allah within Islam or submit to Islam itself if a non-Muslim.

And that is why Western Muslims are so intent on making sharia law normative in the West.

Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary is the spokesman for the British group Islam4UK. He told ABC’s “This Week” host Christiane Amanpour on Oct. 3 that it is certain that one day the flag of Islam will fly over the White House and that sharia law will be the law of the land.

Choudary's goal is the same as millions of "moderate" Muslims in the West, whom we term moderate for apparently no reason except they don't set off truck bombs or fly planes into buildings. But this is not a moderate position. It is imperialistic and triumphalist. And it is in fact mainstream among Western Muslims.

As the old liberal bumper sticker used to say, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cohabitation is bad for you

Dr. Helen cites the Daily Mail:
The Pew Research Center has found that, since 1990, the percentage of new mothers over the age of 35 has risen by five per cent, while the percentage of unmarried mothers has jumped 11 per cent to a record 41 per cent in less than a decade.
But a large number of these women, while not married, are living with the father of the child. Sometimes people say that the couple has a common-law marriage, but this misunderstands what such a marriage is. Common-law marriages are legally recognized in only nine states plus D.C.. In the states that do recognize them, there must be "a positive mutual agreement, permanent and exclusive of all others, to enter into a marriage relationship, cohabitation sufficient to warrant a fulfillment of necessary relationship of man and wife, and an assumption of marital duties and obligations," according to Black's Law Dictionary 277 (6th ed. 1990), cited at the link. Also, statutory law of those nine states plus D.C. are clear that the mere claim of the couple that they are married is insufficient. They must further validate the claim "through their conduct, such as the woman's assumption of the man's surname, filing a joint federal income tax return, etc. ... mere cohabitation cannot, by itself, rise to the level of constituting a marriage." Also, it may be helpful for these men and women to know that,
There is no such thing as common-law divorce. Once parties are married, regardless of the manner in which their marriage is contracted, they are married and can only be divorced by appropriate means in the place where the divorce is granted. That means, in all 50 states, only by a court order. [Emphases in the original]
Today, fewer and fewer weddings are taking place in a church. Relatively, more couples are being wed in civil ceremonies, conducted by secular officials. But, reports USA Today,
While an unmarried mom and dad living together might look like the married couple down the block, unions lacking formal long-term commitments have been found more likely to create problems for kids. Sociologists cite evidence that children raised by live-in parents have a greater likelihood of emotional troubles and poor school performance. A major reason is that unmarried couples are more likely to break up.
Nationwide, the marriage rate has plunged 43 percent since 1960, but cohabitation has increased tenfold in the same period. The pattern of cohabitation is dangerous. Most women agree to cohabit thinking it will lead to marriage, but most men agree to live with a woman so he won't have to marry her. Forty of every hundred cohabiting couples never marry one another. Of the sixty cohabiting couples who do marry one another, forty-five divorce within ten years. And the woman the man marries is, on average, the third woman he has lived with; it is the woman's second man.

Simply put as a general rule, women agree to cohabit and give a man sex in the hope that marriage will result. Men who cohabit do so to get sex and domestic benefits without the commitment of marriage. Isn't there something wrong with this picture?
The negative effects of cohabitation documented by numerous studies include:

  • Single parents. Three out of four children born to unmarried couples see them split up before age 16, according to the National Marriage Project, a research group based at Rutgers University. The impact of growing up with a single parent is well documented by research: Children are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, become sexually active [early] and exhibit anxiety.

  • Dysfunctional behavior. Live-in households tend to be less stable. A cohabiting partner is three times as likely to suffer depression as a married person and twice as likely to exhibit aggressive behavior.
  • Here is an excerpt from 2000 Time Magazine piece, reprinted in July 2007, "Who needs a husband?"
    Danielle Crittenden, author of What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us, argues that women have set themselves up for disappointment, many putting off marriage until their 30s only to find themselves unskilled in the art of compatibility and surrounded by male peers looking over their Chardonnays at women in their 20s. "Modern people approach marriage like it's a Bosnia-Serbia negotiation. Marriage is no longer as attractive to men," she says. "No one's telling college girls it's easier to have kids in your 20s than in your 30s." ...

    Michael Broder, a Philadelphia psychotherapist and author of The Art of Living Single, decries what he calls the "perfect-person problem," in which women refuse to engage unless they're immediately taken with a man, failing to give a relationship a chance to develop. "Few women can't tell you about someone they turned down, and I'm not talking about some grotesque monster," he says. "But there's the idea that there has to be this great degree of passion to get involved, which isn't always functional. So you have people saying things like, 'If I can't have my soul mate, I'd rather be alone.' And after that, I say, 'Well, you got your second choice."