Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Fresh Look at the Bible and the Quran

My trio of Charlie's Angels - that is, my greatest heroes - are Dr. Laura Schlissinger, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Wafa Sultan.

Propaganda plug: Until the end of the year, Dr. Laura can still be heard on Sirius XM radio, channel 155 from 4-6 pm EST if she is not on your local talk radio station. Ayaan's most recent book is Nomad, and Wafa has written A God Who Hates.

For most of my life, I would have had a problem with my trilogy of heroes. The problem would not have been that they are regularly skewered, diced, roasted, and hung out to dry by media favorites such as Jon Stewart and the New York Magazine. It was a more serious problem than that. My problem was that according to the theology in which I was born and raised, they were all going straight to hell forever because they have not "accepted Jesus Christ as their Personal Lord and Savior". Dr. Laura is Jewish by conversion, Ayaan is atheist by choice, and Wafa simply says she follows no organized religion. I'm not sure any of them have asked Jesus to forgive all their sins, which according to the way I was brought up is the only way to escape the flames.

To this day evangelical leaders step around the question of hell. I've never once heard Larry King interview any of them - whether it was Oral Roberts, Tammy Faye, Billy Graham, or Joel Osteen - without repeating the same question, "Do you believe that I and everyone else who do not personally accept Jesus as Savior are going to hell?" And I've never heard any of them simply reply, "Yes, that is what the Bible says and I believe it." They always take the escape clause of, "Well...God is the final judge and we will leave that question up to him."

I think it's time to take a step further and admit, "Yes, that is what the New Testament clearly teaches. But we don't take that literally, nor do we believe it is true."

After all, that is what we are asking Muslims to do with the Quran. The descriptions of hell in the Quran are just as vivid and even more so than those in the Bible. The overwhelming message of the Quran is that all those who do not follow Muhammad as a Prophet of Allah will be punished in hell. Just as some Christians try to wiggle around hell by arguing that some good non-Christians (especially if they are observant Jews) might make it through the Pearly Gates, so some Sufi Muslims find vague references in the Quran and the Hadith to justify their belief that a few good non-Muslims might also reach Paradise. I think in both cases they are trying to step around what their Holy Books really say.

We're challenging Muslims to leave that all behind. We're encouraging them to move away from, and not towards, Muhammad. We're asking them to consider the possibility that the Quran is just a text written and compiled by human authors in the generations before the first text that still exists. In response I suggest we as Christians must also be willing to admit that not everything the Bible says really makes sense.

There is, of course, one fly in the ointment, one major weakness in my argument. The believing Muslim will reply, "But my book is 100 percent from Allah, every single Arabic letter and dot, and yours is corrupted." And the Christian could respond, "No, every jot and tittle of my book is the perfect Word of God, and your book is wrong."

Describing her atheism, Ayaan Hirsi Ali simply says, "When I die I'll rot." If she's correct, any discussion at all of the afterlife is simply a waste of time, a moot point. If she isn't, I guess we'll all have to just wait and see.


Emma said...

Very true!

I am curious what qualities of Dr. Laura's put her in your list of heroes. My mom listened to her radio show when I was growing up and it made me rage, although I haven't heard it in years and might feel differently now.

Quotable Quotes: said...

I can understand how a teenager being forced to listen to Dr. Laura could rage (although you didn't say you were forced to listen). I'm about her age, so perhaps that helps me see life as she does (although, to be honest, if she knew everything I've ever done I'm sure I would not be one of her favorite people!). I see her as speaking with compassion and wisdom and getting straight to the point. Maybe you should give her another chance!

observant observer said...

I myself had asked the same questions a lot, and mostly because it's also written in the bible that God created each of us for a purpose, and it only leads to another biq question why people are born in different religion. No body asked to be born in a muslim family, nor Buddhist or Hindu, it was not their choice and it's also difficult that we expect them to voluntarily learn other religion or question their own religion. Do you think that God created and still creats them for the purpose to be just the background setting of the chosen people and destined to be burn in hell forever for something that they had no role or take part whatsoever ?

My own thought of Christianity makes me think that it's not any certain structural religion that was the aim of Christ to save men, but the relationship with God trough His Son. I see (personally) that Christ offers his guarantee of the place after this life by following Him, the other way is still possible but not guarantee as mentioned by Paul that they will be judged by their own consciousness and conscience. I also believe it the way Christ put it: be it according to what you believe. So if we believe that God has guaranteed us heaven for accepting His Son and His sacrifice for the atonement, we believe that God will not and never will abandon His promise. But for those who believe that his effort on earth should be the consideration for the place hereafter, then they will always have questions whether they're good enough for the place. Perhaps for those who believe in reincaranation, that will happen to them temporarily so (???? i confuse my self too), and for those who believe to rot after life, that's something unaccepted ;-), why? because they have nothing to be responsible for in this life nor be accounted for anything after.

On another note Jesus had taught us to pray that the Kingdom of God also come to the world, and that makes us obliged to spread the Word of God and abide by it. I can only see that the Kingdom of God can only be achieved through the universally accepted law of the Golden Rule and to love God with all heart, mind and soul with all means that has been taught by Jesus.

Well, that's just my two cents.

Susanne said...

"If she's correct, any discussion at all of the afterlife is simply a waste of time, a moot point. If she isn't, I guess we'll all have to just wait and see."

Yes, but waiting to see seems to be too little, too late, doesn't it? Wouldn't it be better to "waste time" learning about God and discussing these things NOW rather than waiting until it may be too late? That's my perspective anyway and why I enjoy discussing spiritual things even if they are difficult and seemingly intolerant to some.

I can tell people what the New Testament teaches without threatening to kill them or being hateful. What's so awful about sharing "good news" in this age where bad news is found in every newscast and newspaper?

Traeh said...

I gather that most keepers of Christian doctrine no longer believe what they used to believe about hell. Is it true that the Catholic Church now says that hell is purgatory, and that no one is there forever?

C.S. Lewis, whose fiction has probably given me more enjoyment than any other writer's, has some brilliant ideas about hell. In his novel The Pilgrim's Regress, one of the characters, as I recall, says that God did not create hell; He merely set bounds to it so it would not spread everywhere.

Lewis' short novel The Great Divorce assumes that no one is compelled to stay in hell. Hell is not fire and brimstone and torture in that book. It's dreary, empty, spectral, and becoming more and more so as time goes by. A bus regularly takes people who wish to go to heaven. But most of the people from hell don't want to take the bus, and those who decide to take it mostly reject heaven when they get there.

Lewis' narrator in the book tells us that at first heaven is a painful place to be. The visitors from hell are all rather spectral and ghostly, whereas in heaven, everything is even more solid, more intensely real and colorful, than on earth. When a person from hell walks on the grass in heaven, the grass pierces his spectral feet, and it hurts. But if the specter persists anyway and stays in heaven, over time he becomes solid himself, relearns everything, and eventually wants to stay.

In any event, I think our understanding of religious texts is best informed by religious experience and a broadly scientific and rational attitude to that experience. Faith has its place, but knowledge, experience, and reason can lead us into the spirit, into direct consciousness of the spiritual world. One writer suggests that to do that safely, one should take three steps of moral development for every step toward spiritual experience and knowledge. The same writer says that to safeguard sanity in such an adventure, one should also adopt disciplines to progressively strengthen the will, focus thought, enhance the equability of feeling, intensify open-mindedness, and live increasingly in a mood of realistic positivity.