A Book of Truths

Following up on a conversation I had with a friend at the last science fiction & fantasy convention I went to, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between truth and fact.

Bible Study
(“Bible Study,” by .:[ Melissa ]:., on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Specifically, that truth and fact are not the same thing.

A fact is a provable assertion, something verifiable by applying an operational definition. A factual assertion will be true, or it cannot be considered factual. Truth, however, especially what we might call “capital-T truth,” is bigger, broader — higher and wider and deeper — than fact. It may be based on fact, but it may also be based on logic or intuition or revelation because truth goes beyond fact.

The conversation we had specifically dealt with Scripture, and the difficulty some people have with it. Within the Christian church, for instance, many believers seem unwilling or unable to face up to metaphors, translation issues, and other problems with the Biblical text. Their faith at times seems to be in the Bible itself — in what they believe is an infallible text — rather than in God.

On the other side of the divide are my atheist friends, some of whom are lightning-quick to mention errors or points of disagreement with the Biblical text. Indeed, some appear to use such things to justify their decision to deny even the possibility of God’s existence, action, and love for humanity.

In each case, the formula seems to be “If any part of the Bible is inaccurate or problematic, then the whole of the Bible cannot be trusted.” Some Christians go so far as to treat Jesus’s parables, his teaching stories, as if they described historical events because they cannot abide the thought of Jesus telling a story that might not be “factual” even though it illustrates a “truth.” On the other side, I understand that some atheists go so far as to claim that Jesus was not a real historical person, though I have not personally encountered anyone who voiced that opinion.

I wonder at the deeper motivations involved. Do my Christian brethren ignore problems because at heart they want to believe and any textual difficulties will shake their beliefs? In a similar way, do my atheist friends point out problems because at heart they do not want to believe and the textual difficulties provide them a ready excuse?

Regardless of the underlying reasons, many believers and atheists alike seem to want or expect or demand that the Bible be a book of facts that has some truth in it. That seems to me a shallow outlook; in my estimation, it’s more accurate to say the Bible is a book of truth that has some facts in it.

And to me that makes a world (if not a universe) of difference.

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Where Are the Muslims Who Disavow Violence and Terror?

Last year, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, I noted that I was supposed to be in the Pentagon that day, but was delayed.

(Heritage Print of the 119th Fighter Wing’s mission over the Pentagon on 9/11. North Dakota National Guard image.)

Today I will finally ask a question that has bothered me ever since we found out the attacks were carried out by Islamists: where are the peace-loving adherents of the “religion of peace” who publicly distance themselves from their own lunatic fringe?

I believe that most Christians have no problem rejecting the off-the-wall pronouncements of our own extremists who clothe their prejudice, hate, and pseudo-righteous indignation in obscure verses or who twist what the Scriptures say. I, for one, state categorically that none of them speak for me, my faith, or the God in whom I believe.*

Where, then, are the Muslims willing to do the same with respect to their faith’s extremists? What Muslims stand up against the Wahhabists or Salafists — two names for the same ultra-conservative faction from Saudi Arabia — and reject the hate-filled fatwas, or tell the sharia-loving imams and priests and mullahs that they’re full of it? I don’t know of any. Why is that?

One reason is probably fear. The Wahhabists and their ilk — who also call themselves Muwahhidun, i.e., “Unitarians” or “unifiers of Islamic practice” — are known to take their own twisted law into their own bloody hands. They scream and scheme for the blood of artists over books and cartoons, of women over failure to clothe themselves in deathlike shrouds, and of anyone who dares to proclaim that Mohammed is not their prophet.

As noted at www.globalsecurity.org, the “reformer” Abd Al-Wahhab’s

instructions in the matter of extending his religious teaching by force were strict. All unbelievers (i.e. Moslems who did not accept his teaching, as well as Christians, &c.) were to be put to death.

So, some Muslims who disagree with the Wahhabist interpretations of the Koran, etc., likely do not speak out because of fear — in much the same way that Catholics who disagreed with the Inquisition did not speak out because of fear. One key difference, of course, is that the Catholic Church at the time was the voice of authority in Western Christendom by virtue of its roots in historic Christianity; Wahhabism, in contrast, is a minority, upstart sect despite being favored by the Saud royal family.

I ask again, Where are the Muslims who repudiate the hard-line interpretations and reject the call to violent jihad?

Lest my own position be unclear, let me try again: I hereby reject and repudiate any bit of Christian writ that enjoins me or anyone else to kill an unbeliever or someone who believes in a different faith than I do. I further reject and repudiate any bit of Christian-derived writ — any commentary, any apocryphal work, any pronouncement from a church or lay official — that enjoins me to or anyone else to kill someone on the basis of their faith or their lack thereof.

My question for truly peace-loving Muslims is this: Do you reject and repudiate every passage in the Koran and the hadith that calls for the deaths of unbelievers and the spread of Islam by the sword? If so, I will count you as my friend. If not, then I must conclude that you count yourself as my enemy.

*I even wrote a song that talks about it.

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Why I'm Not Fighting in the 'Christmas War'

On this Christmas Eve, let me start by saying HAPPY HOLIDAYS, whether you celebrate Hannukah, or Kwanzaa, or Divali, or the passing of the solstice, or whatever winter festival fits your traditions and beliefs. Personally, I will try to make a Merry Christmas for my family and friends, but even if that is not your practice I wish you all happiness at this, the turning of the year.

(happy holidays! by mel5545, on Flickr.)

Likewise, if you are family, or friend, or casual acquaintance … if you were my teacher or my student, my boss or subordinate, my co-worker or colleague, or even my enemy or a complete stranger to me, I wish you the happiest of holidays.

  • If you hear “Happy Holidays” as a threat — as an encroachment on what you perceive to be your rights or a debasement of something you hold dear, rather than as a simple well-wishing — I would rather you wouldn’t, and while I wish you a Merry Christmas I hope you will not take offense when I wish you Happy Holidays as well.
  • If you say “Happy Holidays” as a jibe — as a quasi-political statement intended to elicit some vehement response, rather than a sincere attempt to spread good cheer — I wish you wouldn’t, but nonetheless I hope you can find something during the holidays about which you can be happy.

I will not fight in these battles any more.

We have reached a sad point in Christendom when those of us who call ourselves Christians begin demanding any sort of rights from society at large. Do we not follow the Son of Man, who said to expect tribulation more often than triumph? Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers; not the arrogant, the judgmental, the disruptive.

How did Matthew record it?

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
— Matthew 5:11-2 (NASB)

Too often we think of the time Jesus drove the moneychangers from the Temple, and think we should act likewise; and if we have people conducting inappropriate business in our churches, then perhaps we should. But the marketplace — the mall, the shopping center, the superstore — is not the Temple. Inasmuch as we sometimes treat it as such, that is a different problem (and one that lies within us).

So, by all means and in whatever way seems appropriate to you, have a happy holiday. If you wish me well, I wish you well. If you wish me ill, I hope that we might come to some better understanding by which I might change your opinion … and meanwhile, I wish you well.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good life.

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Giving Christianity a Bad Name

I was as dismayed as anyone, I think, when I heard about Pat Robertson’s ill-conceived and heartless pronouncement following the Haitian earthquake. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, just how insensitive his comments were.

This morning I posted a brief comment on one of the writing forums I frequent:

As a Christian, I feel quite safe in saying that many Christians give Christianity a bad name. I’m sure I have, and do, and will, as much as I may try not to. Fortunately or un-, I don’t have a televised platform from which to broadcast my stupidity and bigotry. (Oh, but if I did ….)

For the record, Pat Robertson does not speak for me. “God so loved the world,” for me, must also be cast in the present tense.

I am profoundly grateful to God that He loved me before I knew Him, that He loves me now in spite of all my shortcomings, and that “His love endures forever.” And if my gratitude — my thankfulness for and reliance on what He did instead of anything I’ve done, on who He is instead of who I think I am — ever comes across as arrogance, I apologize and beg your forgiveness.

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