Friday, October 5, 2007

World Religions 101

I went from writing nearly every post on this blog, to writing nearly nothing in the last month. But with all the link-posting we've been doing here lately, I think it's time for a bit of original thought.

If only I *had* any actual original thoughts. Drat!

Since we were talking about different denominations and worship-styles -- like those crazy Pentecostals -- I thought I'd go even farther and talk about some different religions.

As many of you know, I've been rather fascinated with Judaism over the past couple of years. Jewish history (cue the NT Wright theme song) is vastly under taught in our churches, and because of that, we often don't grasp the historical context of Jesus' life and teachings.

But there is one other major world religion -- many say it's the fastest growing religion in the world, in fact -- that has a number of similarities to Christianity and Judaism.

Islam.

The majority of Americans see Islam as a religion of Middle Easterners, and a religion of terrorists and radicals. People holding AK-47s over their heads or strapping bombs to their chests.

But... We also talk about not judging a religion strictly on the actions of a few followers. After all, people do that with Christianity, and they get turned off right away. So what do Muslims actually believe?

Islam gets lumped in with Judaism and Christianity because in a way, the three religions all believe in the same "God." At least to the point in that they are monotheistic belief-structures that teach submission to that higher power. Islam actually holds the belief that we believe in the same God, but Judaism and Christianity, over time, distorted the messages of the prophets like Moses and Abraham and Jesus.

Since an in-depth discussion of Islam would take years, and more pages of text than I care to write, I'm just going to look at the Five Pillars of Islam:
  • The shahadah, the basic tenet of Islam: "I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God." To my ears, that's eerily similar to the "statement of faith" that many Christian churches ask new members to recite: "I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God." It's straightforward, it's simple, it's the religion wrapped up in a nice little package.
  • Salah, or ritual prayer. It's to be performed five times per day. Now this is dedication! In the comments to the last post, the discussion turned to whether some of our worship is "fake," and whether some of it is just performed out of discipline. Being required to do a ritual prayer five times a day? That's discipline.
  • Zakat, or alms-giving. This would be the Muslim equivalent of the tithe. It's obligatory for all Muslims who can afford it. Besides being used to assist the spread of Islam, a fixed portion is spent to help the poor and needy. I wonder how much membership would dwindle in our (Christian) churches if tithing were an obligation, rather than voluntary?
  • Sawm, which is fasting during the month of Ramadan. This is the practice of not eating or drinking (or doing a number of other things) from dawn to dusk during this month. It's to encourage a feeling of nearness to God. How many of our churches are talking about fasting? It seems to be a nearly forgotten practice. I know that I don't do it -- I'm too much of a fan of food. In my own church, it was mentioned in a booklet as a part of a recent stewardship campaign, but I never heard it mentioned anywhere else. I only know one person that made an effort to give up a number of certain foods, and people didn't even understand why she was doing it. (Although yes, technically, if fasting is being done correctly, no one else should really know about it anyway.)
  • The Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during his or her lifetime. There is really no Christian equivalent to the pilgrimage. I don't see a lot of people using their life savings to get to Jerusalem or Nazareth.
From just looking at these five pillars of Islam, on the surface it appears that the major difference between Islam and Christianity is how disciplined and devoted the followers are expected to be. What is truly expected of Christians? They are supposed to get baptized and follow the teachings of Jesus. Love people. Help the poor. Forgive. But overall, we have fairly low standards for each other. We have churches FULL of people that invest about one hour per week in Christianity.

One could argue that the difference is that we have grace. And maybe that's true, I don't know the Islamic teachings on grace.

We do have grace, but over time, we, as Christians, have just become a people of very low expectations of each other. We ask much, but require very little.

I don't know the answer, but I do know that we've become lukewarm as a result.


*Credit to Wikipedia, where I got most of this info. So who knows how much of it is completely accurate.

**I'm also wondering how many people will read this post and think that I've embraced Islam as my new religion. Insha'Allah!

19 comments:

void77 said...

First post!!! Mwhahahahahah!!!

I love my Berry!

hahahah...me! me! me! me!

...

Okay, now I'll actually read the post...

McSpaniard said...

I live in a country where there are 30 times more Muslims than Christians, according to "statistics." However, talking to fellow Christians, they all vehemently deny that Islam is that strong in Spain, nor that it is on the rise in Europe as claimed in the news.

Joe B said...

Gosh, if you lop the Catholics off the vine in a Catholic country, those Christian stats get really low.

Don't you guys have any Africans or Asian or Mexicans over there to run up the numbers a little??

Joe B said...

There are a zillion nominal muslims for every million parcticing ones. People are cut from the same cloth whether christians Jews or Muslims. And there is only one God. So there are many things I would not expect to be different.

Did you fellas know that Arabic speaking Christians, Jews, and others have called God Allah centuries before Muhammed was born? When Muhammed called hium Allah, it is because that is who he was talking about. God. The creator, the savior, and the judge. They just say and do different things about him.

Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all require confession, morality, sacrifice, and faith. So what's the difference? Jesus is.

Now if Jesus is no more than our team mascot, and if he is right just because he's on OUR side, then there really is no difference at all.

But in the end, Jesus has to stand on his own two feet. He isn't carried on the shoulders of Christians, not unless he is just a graven image in the pantheon of humanity.

I say that his way is THE way. Jesus has advanced The Way throughout the Earth by his spirit and his word and his church. The world is filling with his glory. That is a difference.

And if he is in fact the King from Heaven, then we'd do well to believe and obey, and to make disciples of all nations.

Macca said...

I admire the discipline of the Muslim. It is amazing that they are so devoted to the Five Tenets that you have shared with us.

The difference is, like Judaism, such "forced discipline" leads to legalism. Christianity is a revolution of the heart, freeing us, rather than binding us. I´m not saying that we ditch discipline. Absolutely not. I´ve just been in enough guilt-ridden legalistic Christian circles to know what drives your heart to Christ, and what makes you flee from Christ-followers.

scott said...

I had a nice, lengthy, thoughtful comment written, and blogger ate it. Humbug.

The 'forced discipline' is the issue here. When does it become legalism? We are, after all, called to be a people of grace and forgiveness, yet people still look at Christianity/Catholicism as a religion of rules. And yet our churches are full of 'nominal' Christians!

Such an odd dichotomy.

And why are Christians stereotyped so often in our culture as the hypocrites? Where is the outcry against hypocritical Jews or Muslims? The problem is that there are hypocrites in EVERY belief system.

Now I'm wondering if there is an Emergent Muslim movement... Excuse me, I mean "conversation."

Joe B said...

Odd dichotomy indeed.

I think Christians are stereotyped here because we are seen as "The Man." Christianity, if not Christians per se, holds everyone else accountable about moral things. People don't want to be held accountable, so they love to catch us violating our own rules. It lets them off the hook.

Muslims are generally seen as being exotic, far away, quaint -- and insignificant. Who cares what "little brown people" do? But in a different way they are stereotyped. You know, as mad bombers and wife-murderers. Not too kind, in my book.

Americans are all over Christians', Muslims' and Jews' backs for the same things: violating love-commands. Jews for oppressing Palestinians. Muslims for oppressing women. Christians for being greedy or mean or hating. People who wave the name of God around are held t a higher standard.

There is nothing wrong with prescriptive religious practices like showing up to pray en masse. Or giving. Or fasting. Or abstaining. Jesus observed the feasts, after all. It is when the practices become empty, devoid of faith that "the line" is crossed.

Ritual is not synonymous with legalism. Ritual is just collective expression. Like the Lord's Table, or Baptism, or even membership rituals. These things are good UNLESS they take the place of faith, hope, and love.

Joe B said...

Yes, there are "emergent", progressive movements in Islam. They are in the USA, because they are too scary in Pakistan or Algeria.

Joe B said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Islam

Interesting. But predictable. All movements and organizations have similar dynamics.

Macca said...

Joe B said:
There is nothing wrong with prescriptive religious practices like showing up to pray en masse. It is when the practices become empty, devoid of faith that "the line" is crossed.

I am in complete agreement with you on that account. Spiritual disciplines are to be exercised with thoughtfulness, meaning, and an engaged heart.

Ritual is not synonymous with legalism. Ritual is just collective expression.

I have no problem with ritual, so long as it doesn't cross into legalism. You and I have both been members of congregations that have engaged in tacit legalism (i.e., "if you don't do such and such, God won't bless you"). That sort of religion bleeds you dry- unless you're passive/aggressive like me. ;)

Macca said...

Joe B said:
There is nothing wrong with prescriptive religious practices like showing up to pray en masse. It is when the practices become empty, devoid of faith that "the line" is crossed.

I am in complete agreement with you on that account. Spiritual disciplines are to be exercised with thoughtfulness, meaning, and an engaged heart.

Ritual is not synonymous with legalism. Ritual is just collective expression.

I have no problem with ritual, so long as it doesn't cross into legalism. You and I have both been members of congregations that have engaged in tacit legalism (i.e., "if you don't do such and such, God won't bless you"). That sort of religion bleeds you dry- unless you're passive/aggressive like me. ;)

Macca said...

I would submit this interesting article that probes the "legalism" of Islam, focusing on this statement>

We live in the era of Islamic banking—shariah-compliant transactions—and halal hamburgers; we ponder over the legality of eating marshmallows, and deliberate the propriety of women shaking hands with men. Serious legal matters, for example, state-military relations and international transactions, meanwhile, receive very little input from Muslim jurists so that in these matters the Muslim world conveniently follows the Western/international laws and conventions. Islamic legalism is confined primarily to personal matters.

This peculiar legalism, which has colonised Islam and the Muslim conscience, is a product of the vulnerabilities of the Muslim man trying to cope with his insecurities in a world dominated by other men. Muslim men today are not sovereign beings. Other men dominate their world.

The only area where they exercise absolute sovereignty is the tiny domain called Islamic law. Here, they realise their manhood. They glorify themselves, grant themselves exotic privileges and assure themselves of their power by exercising it over their women. This exercise of power completely excludes women from participating in the process of deriving rulings from original sources or interpreting them.



To misquote the erudite Forrest Gump, I may not be a smart man, but I know what legalism is.

http://www.brookings.edu/views/op-ed/fellows/khan20050420.htm

Joe B said...

Fascinating parallel to a book I'm reading (Against Christianity, Leithart) that decries that Christianity has let itself be defined as a personal, internal thing. We've taken "my Kingdom is not of this world" to mean that the realm of faith includes everything...as long as it's make-believe.

Modernism has taken its toll all around, huh?

Macca said...

"IT´S ALL ABOUT ME!!!!" the Christian insisted.

Robotface Shumway (Big Doofus) said...

I'm leading a group of guys through a book called, The Call by Os Guinness. I'd like to quote him a few times as it pertains to what we're talking about.

All of this is from Chapter 19 - LOCKED OUT AND STAYING THERE.

Calling equalizes even the distinctions between clergy and laypeople. It is a matter of "everyone, everywhere and in everything" living life in response to God's summons.

...

It was this vision for his high calling, not drivenness that lay behind [Abraham] Kuyper's famous banner statement mentioned earlier: "There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, 'This is mine! This belongs to me!'"

...

Luke in his gospel describes how Peter was brought on his knees over this point. Jesus borrowed Peter's boat from which to teach a crowd and then told Peter to "put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch." Peter objects to the absurdity. He'd already fished out there all night. "Look here," his answer implies, "you're the rabbi. I'm the fisherman. I'll listen all day to you, but you leave the fishing to me."
Reluctantly Peter obeys, only to find his nets breaking and the two boats sinking because the catch is so large. Shown up, he hurries back to land and falls at Jesus' feet, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man."
Jesus is not a "religious leader" but Lord of all life. Responding to his call touches the world of fishing as well as preaching, the depths of the lake, not just the shore. All that we are, all that we do, all that we have, and even all that we think and dream is called into question by this demand. Once again, it is a matter of everyone, everywhere, and everything.

Uvulapie said...

Have you considered calling upon the healing power of GOOGINS? I have and it has both turned my hair orange and my ankles large and swollen. Highly recommended.

void77 said...

Don't know who you are uvulapie, but anyone with Jelly Jam, Spock's Beard, and OSI in their band list seems like a highly intelligent individual to me!!

Joe B said...

I do not know what GOOGINS is, but the anatomy of my ankles suggests that I may already have encountered it (or them, or whatever.)

Seems like GoogLE isn't much sharper about googins than I am. Twelve pages of results and all I learned is that Googins is a much more common name than I had imagined.

Help me out U-pie!

scott said...

The Great Googins Mystery of 2007 can be solved at his blog here.

Uvulapie is one of the powerful triumvirate of Daily Journal writers, along with Robo and myself.

The Daily Journal... Now only 15 months behind in entries! But it's low in saturated fats!