Monday, June 29, 2009

What Makes a Religion Good?

The Stoning of Soraya M: Part I

I went and saw a movie Saturday night. It made me think...

The Movie

A lot of people are going to watch The Stoning of Soraya M and write the film off as insensitive or stereotypical in its treatment of Islam. I disagree.

All the film's characters are Muslim. Some do terrible things and some do good things, but the film isn't about religion. In a nutshell, it sets misogyny in an Iranian village—Islam just forms part of the cultural fabric.

Nevertheless, the film is based on a true story and therefore begs the question: What does Islam have to do with it? Does the religion lend itself to violent injustice?

Never fear to ask the question

Islam confuses westerners. The European response has been largely aggressive and has focused on Islam's fundamentalist elements. Yet while the months following 9/11 witnessed an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, such attitudes have been largely overwhelmed by the call for tolerance and understanding (reflecting a focus on civil rights).

Still, few people seem eager to discuss the issue, but not for lack of motivation. Violent protests following the publication of cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, hundreds of terrorist cells worldwide, genocide in Sudan, the fallout after Iran's recent elections, rejection of the historicity of the Holocaust... Injustice across the globe can be linked to varied strains of Islam.

(Please, I beg you, don't regurgitate the same worn-out line that Islam isn't the only religion connected these types of things. In modern times, no other religion can be linked to travesties of such gravity.)

Of those willing to consider the situation, a plurality seems to conclude that the links between Islam and such injustice are no mere coincidence. They suggest that practicing Muslims perceive Allah as distant and cold. Such a relationship, they conclude, contributes to the development of radical fundamentalism.

I'm skeptical, and certainly not knowledgeable enough to comment. I'll leave that to the theologians and offer this instead.

Basic Islam

At its most basic level, Islam offers human beings another avenue to express their belief in a God or gods. A reflection of a near-universal human experience, only since the Enlightenment have significant numbers of people begun to exclude the notion of the divine from their lives. Nevertheless, even such atheism or agnosticism cannot ignore fundamental questions about life, its meaning, humanity, its direction, and so forth. Islam offers one answer.

Moreover, my limited knowledge of the Qur'an informs me that the Muslim holy book includes passages concerning charity, kindness, justice, and peace. The review of these elements of that faith doubtlessly uplifts humanity. The same can be said for the positive impact of Islam's moral code.

The Lovely Zahra

Only one character in the film has a religious experience worth mentioning. To her, religion transcends the cultural. She longs for God.

As Soraya approaches death, Zahra stands by her side and demands the dignity due her. Just before her execution, she tells her "Pray, pray with all your might. God and paradise are waiting for you." And in response to Soraya's fear of dying, she offers: "You are innocent. God knows it. He will take care of you. He will give you courage."

Zahra's religious faith approaches the furthest reach of human optimism. She stands with those who steadfastly hope in a God of love and mercy; those to whom God cannot be sterile, cold, or apathetic. And it is this faith that carries her when human strength fails—this faith that allows her to stand by Soraya.

Good Religion

Even skeptics of religion ought to agree that any faith which inspires human beings to acts of heroic love has real value. In fact from the secular perspective, a religion is only valuable inasmuch as it helps its followers to uplift humanity.

The recognition of the 'Golden Rule' does not make a religion special. An examination of one's own heart reveals the truth therein. No, a religion is special when it supports the limits of human optimism. A religion has value when it sustains our most desperate hope that love will triumph.

I doubt Islam is the problem, but unless its doctrine consistently inspires true self-giving it is hardly the solution.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Detroit Tourism Video

This is actually not funny... Even though I'm laughing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Lost Lenore

I really wanted to write a post on Gran Torino but I didn't have time to watch it again last night so I'll have to delay.

I was going to hold up Carrie Prejean as an example of people/topics that will never be covered by this blog, but there is one detail that bears mentioning.

Okay, in a nut shell, Miss Prejean supposedly lost the Miss USA title because, when questioned about her stance on gay marriage during the Miss USA Pageant, she replied as follows:

You know what, in my country, in my family, I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman.

Needless to say, the quote has caused quite a stir. The whole controversy has now been seemingly laid to rest with Miss Prejean being 'fired' from her post as Miss California USA yesterday for allegedly 'breaching contract'.

(That's the stuff I don't get into. Honestly, I don't care what Donald Trump said or who did what. Carrie didn't know anything about it, but her lawyer says she did? What!?! Seriously...? For information of this nature I advise

Moving on. I need some feedback on this next bit here. This is not the time for my own views on gay marriage, but I do need to air a frustration of mine.

It really disappoints me that so many people have come down on Miss Prejean for her remarks. I can't stand it when people of opinion (left/right, up/down, I don't care), get up in another person's face for having an opinion on something.

The logical flaw looks something like this:

  • A: I believe in tolerance and free speech. I think people should be able to say whatever they think.

  • B: I think this about topic X.

  • A: OH… MY… GOSH!! Did you HEAR... what B said? What a bigot/commie/ignoramus. That idiot should keep his mouth shut before that kind of crap escapes again.

I can't stand that. This is especially true when the person making the comment has no intention of being inflammatory or of offending another person. Miss Prejean spoke her mind. She knew that what she said would not be popular but said it because she held it to be true. That is to be commended.

But quoth the raven: "Nevermore..."

Monday, June 1, 2009

How Pro-Lifers Ruined My Weekend...

Stupid, stupid, stupid

I never wanted to write about this subject again. Those of you who read the Obama's Cake post have already been briefed on my thoughts on the pro-life movement.

...But then some jackass killed an abortion provider this weekend so I'll have to expand on previous thoughts.

I would like to think that all those reading this recognize the evil and stupidity behind the shooting of George Tiller yesterday: Evil because Mr. Tiller is a human being; Stupid because the murder of Mr. Tiller fills the mouths of pro-choice advocates hungry for rhetoric to spit in the eyes of the pro-life movement.

That sums that up. Except there is something far more significant in play...

The Guillotine

Pro-life leadership stinks.

Look, I have been to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. two years in a row. It's cool. 300,000+ people (mostly youth) gather to protest abortion. The event is full of energy and life.

But somebody, somewhere doesn't know a thing about event planning. It's a damn good thing that the March centers around an issue as controversial as abortion because otherwise nobody would show up.

Politics has the whole thing by the throat.

Everyone gathers around 12 for the rally. Ok cool, a rally... No, not cool, a rally... The 'rally' has been emceed since the beginning of time by Nellie Gray, the founder of the March. Don't get me wrong, Ms. Gray's dedication to the pro-life movement is second to none. However, given the average age of the event participants, a new emcee is in order.

But good-willed old people are fine; boring, but fine. The real problem is that for two and half hours, senator after senator, and representative after representative, fill the air with the same monotone, brow-beaten speech that they've given since they took up politics. Do some them care? Yes. But I'm sure if we could see some of their day-books, the schedule would look something like this.

  • 9 o'clock: Morning Briefing

  • 10 o'clock: Meeting with Senator X to discuss Y

  • 11 o'clock: Respond to emails

  • 12 o'clock: Appease the pro-life voting bloc

  • Et cetera

The evidence is in the passion the pour (or don't pour) into their speeches.

The "rally" should run something like this.

  1. Introductory remarks by hip, energetic Emcee

  2. Keynote address

  3. Update on Pro-life successes/battles/legislation

  4. Impassioned speeches by no more than two politicians/leaders

  5. March

If those involved with the pro-life movement find the courage to let go of their personal agendas and look at the goal, the event will take on the professional, attractive glean that has the potential to push this cause deep into the hearts and minds of this nation.

Where's my head?

The murder of George Tiller has epic consequences because no one who has the potential to unify the pro-life movement has risen to the task. As long as people like Randall Terry are featured in leading news stories about events like the Tiller murder, pro-life causes will suffer. The same dearth of leadership (or at least lack of self-awareness) allows bill board-sized pictures of aborted babies to litter the sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue along the March's route. Someone, maybe a politician, but someone worthy of representing this cause needs to step up and take control.

It's obvious and it should be easy. Young people respond to attractive messages and young people have the necessary energy to drive this movement forward. Only when pro-lifers learn to cater to their greatest hope can change be effected.

The Blue Anchor Vol I: 2