Category Archives: Uncategorized
Did Jesus exist? I had never seriously considered the question before (of course he existed!), until getting swept up in a heated conversation about it in a discussion thread on Facebook. And then articles like this one and this one and this one kept showing up in such an untimely manner Right Where I Could See Them. So I gave in and decided to do some catching up on the subject, and at this point—somewhere in the neighborhood of halfway, if that, through all the reading I ever plan to do on it (for the time being, if I can help it)—I have to say that I’m not any more impressed with the scholarship against the historical existence of Jesus than I was with the scholarship for the existence of planet Nibiru as the alien source of ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations that my students so enthusiastically brought to my attention back when I was teaching a course in Ancient Near Eastern Literature several years ago, which I also wasted more time than I care to admit vetting ( but h/t to Zecharia Sitchin for making it at least entertaining).
Why? I’ll make just this one point for now, and save others for later: “mythical” is not the opposite of “historical”. No Religious Studies scholar with any crediblity uses “myth” to mean “falsehood”. In Religious Studies, to be sure, mythology (like other seminal terms) is always already also a contested term, but the obvious meaning of “myth” in the title of that culturally iconic TV show “Mythbusters” isn’t even in the running. Mythology is, like art, aesthetics, language, and ritual, a complex symbol system for the social and cultural construction of meaning. If you want to make a start toward understanding what mythology is, you might do worse than with the vivid illustration of it provided by this episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (in lieu of the full episode, these YouTube excerpts from “Darmok” (season 5, episode 2) will have to do) …
In short, and in general, a myth is a traditional story that tells us something true about the way things are (from our cultural perspective, that is). Euhemerism, allegory, personalism, pseudo-science, etc., are various ultimately unsuccessful attempts to explain the origins of myth, and I’m going to have to add the historicism (!) of Jesus mythicism—weaving various mythic topoi together to invent a pseudo-historical figure to embody them, essentially the polar opposite of Euhemerism—to this list as well. What myths are, instead, is axiological: they concern what we value (and what we don’t), what we regard as virtues (and what we don’t). The kinds of stories we tell about ourselves (and others) influence the (cultural, personal, social) values we hold dear; and the (cultural, personal, social) values we hold dear influence, in turn, the kinds of stories we tell about ourselves (and others). This reciprocal relationship between narrative and life is essential to human social being, and is less relevant to the question of the existence of Jesus than it is to the question of the meaning of Jesus as a figure in history.
Although it’s four years old already (ancient in terms of news cycles these days), the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey is still making waves. Montclair State University sociologist Jay Livingston offers an explanation for why Atheists/Agnostics, Jews, and Mormons all performed better on the survey than Christians.
(h/t to The Dish for the link)
Find out by taking the U.S. Religious Knowledge Quiz. No, this isn’t another one of those “Which Flavor of Ice Cream are You?” internet timesink quizzes. It’s the 15-question short informal quiz version of the Pew Forum’s 32-question U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. I’ve used this quiz to good effect at the start of Intro to Religious Studies and World Religions courses. The result not only ranks you in comparison to how people who took the survey answered these questions, it also allows you to compare your answers with those of various respondent groups (white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, black Protestants, white Catholics, hispanic Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Atheists/Agnostics, and Nothing-in-Particulars).Anyway, click here to take the Quiz, and see how well you do.
… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth striving for.
One of the things I find most striking about Zen Buddhism … and I’d say much the same thing about Roman Stoicism as well … is how much of it so readily transcends religious and cultural boundaries, in practical if not in theoretical terms. It’s good advice for whoever, wherever, whenever you are, or aren’t, as the case may be.
A group of young British Muslims released a YouTube video #NotInMyName against the
Islamic State on Wed. 10 Sept. 2014 …
About a week and half later, thousands of ordinary Muslims gathered for public prayer protests against the
Islamic State in seven German cities on Friday 19 Sept. 2014.
And now, on Wed. 24 Sept 2014, 126 Muslim scholars from around the world have signed and disseminated an open letter to the
Islamic State‘s self-appointed leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and his followers, calling on them in the strongest possible terms to stop what they’re doing and return to the practice of Islam.
The letter’s executive summary is worth quoting in its entirety …
1. It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements. Even then fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts. It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter. In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot ‘cherry-pick’ Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.
2. It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.
3. It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.
4. It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.
5. It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.
6. It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.
7. It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.
8. Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct.
9. It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief.
10. It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture’.
11. It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture.
12. The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.
13. It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.
14. It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.
15. It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.
16. It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct
procedures that ensure justice and mercy.
17. It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.
18. It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.
19. It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God.
20. It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.
21. Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler and not allowing people to pray.
22. It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.
23. Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.
24. After the death of the Prophet, Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.
The original text is of course in Arabic, but a complete English translation of the whole letter is available here. And I must say I would love the opportunity to teach a course in scriptural reasoning in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam with this letter (among others) as a base text.
Atheists actually do have songs, but this isn’t one of them …
Instead, they tend to go more like this …
… if you’re not listening. Plenty of Muslim community leaders have in fact been speaking out pretty loudly against radical Islamism and Islamist terrorism ever since when. A new Tumblr blog, Muslims Condemning Things, offers a representative sample of links, tweets, and journalism to help put that old canard about moderate Muslims’ silence to rest. See here for more on MCD.