succumbing to peer pressure

Friday, May 20, 2005

We have become continue to be the enemy. From Baghdad Burning, a blog written by a 20-something female living in Iraq:

Now Newsweek have retracted the story- obviously under pressure from the White House. Is it true? Probably? We've seen enough blatant disregard and disrespect for Islam in Iraq the last two years to make this story sound very plausible. On a daily basis, mosques are raided, clerics are dragged away with bags over their heads? Several months ago the world witnessed the execution of an unarmed Iraqi prisoner inside a mosque. Is this latest so very surprising?

Detainees coming back after weeks or months in prison talk of being forced to eat pork, not being allowed to pray, being exposed to dogs, having Islam insulted and generally being treated like animals trapped in a small cage. At the end of the day, it's not about words or holy books or pork or dogs or any of that. It's about what these things symbolize on a personal level. It is infuriating to see objects that we hold sacred degraded and debased by foreigners who felt the need to travel thousands of kilometers to do this. That's not to say that all troops disrespect Islam- some of them seem to genuinely want to understand our beliefs. It does seem like the people in charge have decided to make degradation and humiliation a policy.

By doing such things, this war is taken to another level- it is no longer a war against terror or terrorists- it is, quite simply, a war against Islam and even secular Muslims are being forced to take sides.

(emphasis mine)

At this point it hardly matters what our intentions were, whether, overall, this debacle was 'worthwhile' (whatever that means) as long as Saddam is no longer in power, insert any other justification you choose here. We have reached the point where our actual behavior hardly matters, since our past behavior has made nearly anything believable. I don't know what it will take to convince Iraqis, Muslims, the rest of the world that we are the 'good guys' and that we have the international community's best interests at heart. But actually considering the interests of others may be a good place to start.

And speaking of religious tolernace, this book has been added to my wishlist. Longer excerpt available here.
I merely make this distinction: Conservative Christianity understands a Christian to be someone who subscribes to a specific set of theological propositions about God and the afterlife, and who professes to believe that by subscribing to those propositions, accepting Jesus Christ as savior, and (except in the case of the most extreme separatist fundamentalists) evangelizing, he or she evades God's wrath and wins salvation (for Roman Catholics, good works also count); liberal Christianity, meanwhile, tends to identify Christianity with the experience of God's abundant love and with the commandment to love God and one's neighbor. If, for conservative Christians, outreach generally means zealous proselytizing of the "unsaved," for liberal Christians it tends to mean social programs directed at those in need.

(the longer excerpt features an interesting list comparing different interpretations of the same passages and events in the Bible by the two categories)
Carrie has written far more eloquently and knowledgeably on this subject, but let me just add this - at the risk of sounding incredibly judgemental, it seems that those who belong to the former category (those Bawer refers to as "legalists") follow a lazier, simpler version of religion. If one ascribes to a set of beliefs because they lay out an authoritarian law, with a clear set of rules to follow in order to be a 'good' person, no matter how hard those things may be to follow, it's still easier than struggling through your own moral dilemmas. As Jack Hitt writes:
Curious. Jesus updated the Ten Commandments in his most famous speech, the Sermon on the Mount. In it, one finds the Eight Beatitudes. Why don't we ever hear about nailing those somewhere? Here's why: It's not simply the law in the Ten Commandments that attracts fundamentalists. Rather, it's the syntax. The authoritarianism of so many "Thou Shalt Nots."

The syntax of Jesus' Eight Beatitudes is not so easy (Blessed are the poor in spirit…. Blessed are the peacemakers). These words invite the kind of hard questions that Jesus loved to tweak his followers with. How are they blessed? And why? It's just like Jesus to leave us with questions instead of answers.


Taken as a whole, it's not a parable with a clear and right answer. None of them are, and that is the point. You have to sort of toss it around in your head, think about people you've dealt with who've said one thing and done another, and then try to come to some answer. Chances are that few will agree in their interpretations, an outcome that is rhetorically so sly. Jesus makes you work through your own doubt and hesitation to arrive at an answer that becomes the very foundation of your own certainty.

This guy's good, isn't he?

Wow. Thinking. How revolutionary. Of course, my favorite Beatitudes reference comes from a movie. "I recall a blessing; blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." "I wonder how meek they'll be when they do, sir."

And to end on a lighter note, one of the reasons I love Bob Harris is that, in addition to his excellent writing, he's just a big dork. Exhibit A:
This was as intimidating and fun as it sounds. I mean, those people have actual educations and stuff. True story: on one of the questions, the referee got as far as saying, and I quote:

"Eight-point-eight-five-four-two times ten to the minus-twelfth Farads per meter..."

before one of the kids across the table from us hit his buzzer and chimed in:

"Permittivity of free space!"

which was, of course, correct, leaving me to mutter under my breath:

"Holy f@#$ing sh*t."

Still and all, we managed to hold our own against these feisty young ones, and even managed to push them down and take their bicycles a few times.

And for those feeling a bit of wanderlust, his travel journals are superb.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Beautitudes are always what I throw in the face of intolerant christians. Well, the sermon on the mount in general... especially the story of the good samaritan.

I'd like to add the following, though:

The Prayer of st. Francis

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen"

1:03 PM  

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