Of Qu’rans and hijabs

Of Qu’rans and Hijabs

I recently made a deliberate study of aspects of Islam, namely the Qu’ran and the wearing of the hijab. I did this to get a better sense of the religion that is often demonized and ridiculed in the West. Much of the prejudices about Islam come from a lack of knowledge aside from sensationalized newscasts and misrepresentations of the religion based on a few people who hide behind Islam and commit acts of atrocity, acts which are against the teachings of the Islamic faith.

Now, as I’ve stated before in one of my earlier posts, Islam is a cousin to both Christianity and Judaism. In Islam, Jesus (pbuh) is seen as a prophet and the Messiah, but not as God. Islam’s respect of Jesus (pbuh) is evident in the phrase “peace be upon him” that is mentioned or written in abbreviated form of pbuh after mention of his name, like I have done here in this article. All three religions trace their lineage back to Abraham of the Torah/Old Testament with the Jewish and Christian religions basing theirs on Isaac and Islam basing theirs on his stepbrother Ishmael. I will not go further into their similarities at this point due to both having written about them before as well as that not being the topic of this article.

Instead, I wish to focus on two other aspects about Islam which are often brought up in an attempt to show the religion as being hostile, intolerant, and sexist: the Qu’ran and the wearing of the hijab.

I have spent time reading the Qu’ran. In fact, I made it a point to read a verse or a surah (chapter) from it each day during the Lenten season. From this and other readings I have done of the Qu’ran, I find it to be no more violent than the Torah/Old Testament of the Bible. There are mentions of attacking non-believers who attack first. Yet, there are also admonishments to not compel belief in anyone. That is, to put it another way, no one is forced to believe in the Islamic faith, unlike the door-to-door proselytizing that occurs with some sects of the Christian church. In fact, there are many verses that sound much like the Bible and seek to convey the same incidents.

When some individuals or groups state that the Qu’ran is filled with violence and calls for violence against non-Muslims, they seem to forget places within the Old Testament/Torah where there are calls for the Israelites to do the same, such as admonishments to kill entire cities in the name of Jehovah. The calls to violence in both the Torah/Old Testament and the Qu’ran are contextual to the time wherein they were written. They are not to be taken as modern day admonishments for believers.

Instead, the practices of Islam are based on what are known as the Five Pillars of Islam: The Profession of Faith (Shahadah), Daily Prayers (Salat), Almsgiving (Zakat), Fasting during Ramadan (Saum), and Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). These bear resemblance to Judeo-Christian practices of reciting articles of faith, such as the Apostles Creed or Nicaean Creed; daily prayers or even the hours of prayer once used in the Catholic Church; works of charity; fasting during the 40 days of Lent; and the former practice of Christians who used to make pilgrimages to holy places or as many Jews do now to the Eastern Wall.

But what about the Islamic practice of jihad? What about it? Jihad simply means “the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin”. While some groups have used the term to engage in violence against others, that is not the true meaning nor is it sanctioned by the vast majority of Muslims. Muslims engage in personal jihad every day as they struggle to not commit sins against their faith. This is much like pretty much any religious person does as he or she strives to remain true to the tenets of his or her faith. So, there goes that argument.

The Qu’ran is filled with lovely sections that praise the Creator and the works the Creator has made, much like the Torah and the Bible are filled with similar sections.

My other topic is the hijab or scarf worn by some women who are Muslim. Many believe this is required by the Qu’ran, but it isn’t in the sense that many believe it is. The hijab or other head coverings are simply part of the Islamic faith for women to maintain a sense of modesty in dress. It is not that different from nuns who wear habits or Amish/Mennonites who wear bonnets. While there are some countries who impose the wearing of head coverings or full body coverings for women, they do not do this because it is required by the Qu’ran, but by their own set of moral or legal codes.

Women, particularly those living in the West, wear the hijab or other head coverings (shayla, khimar, chador, niqab, or burqa) for various reasons from believing their faith calls them to do so to a way to visibly express their faith to expressing their cultural identity or even to challenge the prevailing thought in the West that women who wear the hijab are somehow oppressed or silenced. There are also Muslim women who do not wear a head covering, but maintain their modesty in other ways. It’s a personal choice for the woman far more than a religious one. By the way, some Muslim men also wear had coverings for the same reasons, although they are not like the hijab. Even this is somewhat like the reason why some Jewish men wear yarmulkes or hats.

I hope this serves to enlighten my readers a bit about both the Qu’ran and the wearing of a hijab. If you have further questions, I suggest you contact your local mosque with a open mind and simply ask. Many mosques also hold open houses for non-Muslims to learn more about their Muslim neighbors.

The greatest defense against ignorance, prejudice, and fear is education. If more people take the time to learn about other religions and cultures, then the better our world becomes. Humankind has far more similarities than differences once you reach out and learn more about one another.

Peace-Salaam-Shalom

Immigrants are US

Immigrants Are US

Care to know a little history behind immigration to the United States? Here is a time line with numbers showing legal immigrants to the United States, some coming of their own freewill and others who did not.

1607: Jamestown Colony in Virginia
1619: Approximately 20 Africans forced into slavery in Jamestown.
1620: Roughly 100 people, later known as Pilgrims, come to what is known today as Plymouth, Massachusetts.
1630 to 1640: Approximately 20,000 Puritans arrive in the region.
1680: Roughly 7,000 African slaves in the colonies.
1790: Approximately 700,000 slaves in the US, with between 500,000 to 650,000 brought between 17th and 19th centuries.
1821-1830: 143,439 immigrants to the US.
1831-1840: 599,125 immigrants to the US.
1841-1850: 1,713,251 immigrants to the US.
1851-1860: 2,598,214 immigrants to the US.
1861-1870: 2,314,825 immigrants to the US.
1871-1880: 2,812,191 immigrants to the US.
1881-1890: 5,246,613 immigrants to the US.
1891-1900: 3,687,564 immigrants to the US.
1900-1910: 8,795,386 immigrants to the US.
1911-1920: 5,735,811 immigrants to the US.
1921-1930: 4,107,209 immigrants to the US.
1931-1940: 532,431 immigrants to the US.
1941-1950: 1,095,039 immigrants to the US.
1951-1960: 2,515,479 immigrants to the US.
1961-1970: 3,321,677 immigrants to the US.
1971-1980: 4,493,314 immigrants to the US.
1981-1990: 7,338,062 immigrants to the US.
1991-2000: 9,095,417 immigrants to the US.
2001-2010: 13,900,000 immigrants to the US.

Between the years of 1820-2000, the following numbers of immigrants came to the US from each of these countries:

Germany: 7 million
Mexico: 6 million
Great Britain: 5 million
Ireland: 5 million
Italy: 5 million
Canada: 5 million
Austria & Hungary: 4 million
Russia: 4 million
The Philippines:2 million
China: 1 million
Sweden: 1 million

Take a moment to let these numbers sink in. In the last 70 years, approximately 41,758,988 people immigrated to the United States. Those numbers are the legal immigrants. There are likely thousands more undocumented people who have immigrated to the U.S. in those years, including prior to the 1940s. The vast majority of those people came to make a better life for themselves. Many, came due to war, persecution, and famine in their home country. I find it both depressing and ironic that now, under the new administration, there is a movement to deport people and a demonization of immigrants, particularly when many of those people advocating this were either immigrants or the offspring of immigrants only a few generations ago.

Demonizing immigrants isn’t new. After all, the Irish were demonized as they brought a very large influx of poor and Catholic people to the country. The majority Protestant population distrusted them based primarily on their religion. Now, we have the same occurring to people who are immigrating who practice Islam. We also have negative rhetoric about people of Hispanic and Asian decent occurring as well. It’s not the first time Asians have been discriminated against either as many Chinese immigrants were blamed for the decrease in wages when the railroads were built in the 1800s since they would work for lower wages. Hispanics, in particular, are demonized for similar reasons, but not many non-immigrant or non-Hispanic people care to become migrant farmers/pickers either.

The present administration promised to get the “bad hombres” out of the U.S. Yet, we see and hear news reports where people who have been in the U.S. for 20+ years are being deported for something as minor as a DUI that took place decades ago. Hardly the hardened criminal element. In fact, if having a DUI were punishable by deportation, then there are likely plenty of people who should be deported, illegal or not.

Rather than eliminating criminals, what is occurring is the breaking up of families of people who have done nothing major or even nothing at all, except for entering the U.S. without proper documentation. Many of these people have worked since they arrived and done jobs that will go unfilled if they are deported simply because former immigrants and the children/grandchildren of those 41,758,988 people who came to the U.S. since 1940 won’t do the jobs the illegal immigrants do because those jobs pay little and are under extremely harsh conditions. I challenge the unemployed white person to go out and pick vegetables or fruits for 12+ hours a day for low wages. Some may attempt it, but many more won’t even try.

Rather than eliminating criminals, there are children who live in fear that their parents will not be home when they finish school or fear their parents will be arrested when taking them to school or checking in with U.S. immigration services. What happens to these children, some of whom will be orphaned for no good reason? Some will live with neighbors or relatives, but the trauma they experience will not end as it will always be with them.

The United States is a country of immigrants. There is no question as to that, especially if you look at the numbers above. Legal or illegal really doesn’t matter in the long term, especially when you consider that the people we know as the Pilgrims were illegal immigrants. They did not ask permission to stay from the First Nations/Native Americans when they arrived. Instead, they simply stayed and took advantage of them to the point where First Nations/Native Americans were driven from their lands through wars and broken treaties. Imagine if they had the power to deport those who did that or the progeny of those who did that to them. Would that be fair?

When the vast majority of people leave their homelands, it is not done on a whim. It is done to survive. It is done out of fear. It is done out of hope for a better life. It should not matter whether they come with papers or undocumented because they come and enrich our culture and our country with their culture. The only reason people want to deport them is fear. Fear of the unknown that could easily be known if folks would simply step up and be welcoming to them. It’s amazing what a smile and a kind gesture can do to further understanding.

It is also ironic and depressing that many of those who wish to deport or demonize immigrants claim to be good Christians. They seem to forget that one of the most important commandments given in Christianity is to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” There is no commandment to hate others. There is no commandment to fear others. There is no commandment to deport others. Love your neighbor. That means to love your fellow humankind regardless of his or her immigration status, religion, skin pigmentation, or any other label placed on other people.

So, what are the solutions?

First, for politicians from both parties to stand up against the administration and end these needless deportations. Then, for them to create a fast-track way for immigrants to remain in the U.S. and obtain citizenship more easily.

Next, and slightly less than legal, for churches and people who care to create a network not unlike the underground railroad to shelter and provide sanctuary for people who need it. These same people need to stand up and speak up for immigrants, legal and undocumented, to stop the deportations and assist immigrants, recalling that their ancestors were immigrants themselves.

A key to all of this is not seeing people as immigrants or undocumented immigrants, but as people just like we are. As such, we are to treat them as we would like to be treated.

The Myth of White Superiority-A Brief Look

It’s time once again for me to anger some people and delight others. With the recent installation of a new president in the United States, there has been a surge in the numbers of white supremacist groups, along with other hate groups that are primarily made up of individuals of white European backgrounds. They all claim to be of a superior race. It’s not a new thing that they’re claiming, but it is a myth or rather an invention of culture that has sullied the human race over time.

Gene researchers have concluded that race simply does not exist. All humankind is genetically the same. Our differences in appearance are evolutionary mutations that helped our ancestors adapt the climate where they lived. In fact, “the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)issued a statement asserting that all humans belong to the same species and that “race” is not a biological reality but a myth” in 1950 (Sussman). Dr. Sussman, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, further states that while “the concept of human races is real. It is not a biological reality, but a cultural one. Race is not a part of our biology, but it is definitely part of our culture”(Sussman).

I recently read, and I apologize as I do not recall from where, how at one time in our nation’s history, indentured whites and blacks were considered to be on the same level, the lowest in fact. However, in order for the white elites to maintain power, they allowed the poor and indentured whites to believe they were part of the ruling class based not on economic status, but on race. Much of this occurred as a result of Bacon’s Rebellion in the 1675, when Nathaniel Bacon, “a white property owner in Jamestown, Virginia,…managed to unite slaves, indentured servants, and poor whites in a revolutionary effort to overthrow the planter elite” (The Birth of Slavery). When the uprising was suppressed, the wealthy planters put into motion changes that brought in more slaves from Africa rather than ones from the West Indies who might know English and be able to try to unite again with the indentured servants and poor whites (The Birth of Slavery). As such, the poor whites, while allowed to vote, felt they were superior to black people based on their being white rather than being any better off than the black people were.

The myth of superiority of whites simply continued as our nation developed and the myth continued to be perpetuated though laws and stereotypes. Historically, there was, of course, the whole Eugenics area of pseudo-science that tried to perpetuate these ideas of race and racial superiority. Nazi Germany was perhaps the most infamous for this as they tried to show the superiority of the Northern white Europeans over everyone else. Even in the history of politics, we have the words of Lyndon B. Johnson who said, “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. [commenting on racial epithets seen on signs as he visited in Tennessee] If you convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

What does all this have to do with life in 2017? Everything. This myth of white superiority has never gone away. It’s why there are people who complain about the Black Lives Matter movement and reply with All Lives Matter. It’s why enough people went out and voted in such a way as to give an openly racist and xenophobic person the Electoral Votes to win the presidency, even though he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, which he claims were rigged. It’s why there are people who have given themselves over to irrational fear of immigrants from primarily non-white countries and who are of primarily non-white dominated religions. Racism is not dead by a long shot, but it is, despite the uptick of hate groups in recent years, terminally ill.

One remaining vestige of the myth remains with white privilege. There are whites who wrongly claim this does not exist. Many of these white privilege deniers think that since they are not wealthy, then they cannot be considered privileged. These folks still buy into the same culturally based myth as the poor whites did after Bacon’s Rebellion, yet they refuse to see how people of color are treated differently than they are treated. They do not see how law enforcement target people of color in subtle and not so subtle ways. They don’t hear car doors lock at a stoplight when they walk pass. They do not know what it feels like to be denied service or even a loan because their skin color makes them a credit risk. If a white person commits a terrorist act, that person is deemed mentally unstable; however, if a person of color, especially a person of color who is also a non-Christian commits a similar act, then not only is the act labeled an act of terrorism, but it’s expected by the media that all members of the perpetrator’s race or religion come out to condemn the attack or else they are deemed to be in favor of it.

That’s white privilege. Those are not exhaustive examples, but I’m not writing a dissertation on racism or white privilege either.

White privilege is not about wealth or status. It’s about how being born white, particularly a white male, makes it that the person can get away with things that his or her non-white peer cannot. It’s the white kid caught with a joint who gets a verbal reprimand, but her non-white counterpart gets suspended or expelled from school. It’s the Asian kid who is told they must be good in math or science based simply on the color of his or her skin, while his or her white counterpart rarely hears that. It’s the Middle Eastern person who is seen as a terrorist, while his or her white neighbor never gets a second glance. It’s the Black person who is seen as a threat simply by walking down the street, while a white person is not. It’s the Hispanic person who gets asked if he or she is an illegal, even though he or she was born in the United States, but the white person is not. It’s stop and frisk versus let him or her pass freely. It’s fear that creeps into the heart whenever law enforcement passes a person even though he or she knows that he or she is doing nothing wrong.

White people need to own up to this problem and work to eradicate it. While a few whites may see this as an “us vs them” issue, it is not. Our country is based on the ideal that all humankind are equals. If a white person is treated better or differently than a person of color, that damages us all, if we truly believe in equality for all people. Some whites will feel threatened by this for fear that those who have been treated unfairly will rise up against them. Some whites fear no longer being in the majority and, therefore, feel they must fight for their culturally given right to remain a superior race. But again, there is no race aside from the human race. That’s a scientifically proven fact.

When it all comes down to it, all humankind are the same. There are good people and bad people of every skin pigmentation. There are intelligent people and, frankly, stupid people of every skin pigmentation. There are good people and bad people from every religion and no religion at all. People are simply people. Messy, mixed-up, and imperfect humankind.

We, as humanity, must begin to shift our conversations from non-existent race and toward conquering the problems we face as humankind. Problems that are not perpetuated by any race or religion, but by people being irrational and cruel to one another. Problems caused by not seeing one another as human beings regardless of skin color and treating one another with mutual love and respect that is due to all humanity.

Alexander, Michelle. “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” The Birth of Slavery (Bacon’s Rebellion), The New Press, 2010, http://www.duboislc.net/read/BirthOfSlavery.html. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.

Sussman, Robert W. “The Myth of Races:Why are we divided by race when there is no such thing?.” Rawstory, Rawstory, 9 Nov. 2014, http://www.rawstory.com/2014/11/the-myth-of-race-why-are-we-divided-by-race-when-there-is-no-such-thing/. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.

Be Prepared To Save America

The country, as we know it, will change dramatically come January 20, 2017. As such, we must be prepared. Already, there are rumblings from the GOP to gut the Affordable Care Act. They already attempted to undermine oversight of the House, but enough Americans stopped them through calls, emails, and letters. Don’t think for a minute that they’ll stop trying to pull midnight shenanigans or hidden attacks on those they deem as “enemies”.

We have already seen that the incoming person to the Oval Office has chosen to cozy up to a foreign government. Heck, even members of his party have done so with impunity. It seems the threat to our democracy will be from within as well as from outside in the coming years. This is why we must stay vigilant. We cannot allow our country to be taken over by a puppet president who answers to a foreign power and ignores his own intelligence agencies.

Here’s how I look at the next 4 years in the US as far as it comes to what we need to do to protect ALL Americans.

1. Make certain you have all the contact information for your politicians from the local level all the way up to the top (or down to the bottom if they’re GOP or Orange Sauron). Use that information to write/call/email/tweet your views and demand to be heard.

2. Keep a file of their pledges and promises and things they say or do and call them out if they screw up or praise them if they do what’s best for ALL Americans. (Use all your information from #1 and social media to do this).

3. Get or stay active, including informed, on all issues from local to state to national. Be heard!

4. Support candidates who will champion ALL Americans and not just a few.

5. When voting occurs, vote. If you don’t vote, you can complain, but you’re part of the problem if you don’t vote.

6. Orange Sauron DOES NOT have a mandate. The GOP does not have a mandate. He LOST the popular vote by 2.8 million votes! Remind him and others of that. If it wasn’t for the Electoral College, he’d not be there. Hold him accountable for special interests and his mouth/tweets.

7. Stand up against ALL forms of prejudice! Do this however you are able. March, hand out pamphlets, call, write, be there for someone who feels threatened, donate to causes, just do something. If not, you’re part of the problem.

Again, stand up and speak up for what is good. Don’t allow prejudices against others for whatever excuses they make to prevail. We are better than that as a country. There is no room for fear or hatred in the US.

Thank youE

Political Extremism

The dictionary defines extremism as “the condition or act of taking an extreme view” and “the taking of extreme action” (-Ologies & -Isms. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc.). It goes further to describe a person who acts in such a way as an extremist or “One who advocates or resorts to measures beyond the norm, especially in politics”(The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition).

We see extremists at work in a wide variety of ways in our world. Most of the time, extremism is associated with groups of people who hide behind a facade of religion to commit acts of atrocity against other people. Yet, there are those who are extremists who use other facades, such as political views or parties, as their means of acting in a manner that is beyond the norm.

One of the problems with extremism is that as it is covered more frequently in the news, it loses its shock and starts to become seen as the norm. We become desensitized to extremism unless or until it rears its ugly head in a violent manner. Even then, to some extent, we are desensitized to it unless it happens to us directly. Then, we become incensed and enraged and demand action to rid ourselves of extremist elements around us. By then, many times, it is too late for the extremism has crept into our mainstream lives and, in doing so, has caused others to see the extremism as a means for their own salvation.

Rather than focus on the obvious example of extremism, that being religion based, let us look to that which is based on politics. They share commonalities with one another even though their mode of operation and existence is different.

What breeds extremism? What causes seemingly normal people to want to follow extremist views? I believe this is a very complex issue and cannot claim to be an expert, but I think some of it has to do with power or at least the perception of power to be gained through extremism.

Some people who have nothing to lose are drawn to extremism and extremist views. They feel that their problems are caused by some entity or group of people who are different from them and, since they themselves feel powerless or so downtrodden that they cannot bring themselves up, they turn to promises made by the peddlers of extremism.

Take a look at the current political situation in the U.S. One particular candidate knows how to peddle extremism very well. So well, that he has managed to become the primary candidate for his political party. If a person looked simply at his ability to govern or ideas, there is nothing there. He leads through intimidation and inflammatory rhetoric alone. One news report mentioned his lack of debate skills during the primaries by saying that he “is active, if not overwhelmingly aggressive, in the first 30-45 minutes. When answering a question during that time, [he] tends to avoid any policy details and has, on occasion, shown a remarkable lack of knowledge on the issues” (Blake). The article continues and says that the candidate then, “tends to fade into the background. He answers the questions asked of him and hits back when someone attacks him. Beyond that, however, he tends to look somewhere between disinterested and sleepy. He does very little to inject himself into the conversation. He is, rather transparently, just waiting for the whole thing to be over” (Blake).

However, when he speaks at his events, he is very much the center of attention and speaks quite long. However, there is not much content in his speech aside from rhetoric that is meant to inflame his most devoted followers. He talks of building walls to prevent immigrants from Mexico, hints at both imprisoning or assassinating his opponents, and makes negative commentaries on refugees. These comments are not policy meant to give people an informed choice as to issues that matter to the entire country, but inflammatory remarks made to people who he knows are most likely led to extremism. While he may not directly tell his followers to discriminate or even consider murder, he does so indirectly and with innuendos that he and his supporters are quick to dismiss and remark that he was simply misunderstood.

It’s a bit like Mark Antony’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” where he says that “Brutus is an honourable man”(Shakespeare). Antony knows Brutus is part of the murder, but in order to turn the crowd against Brutus, he first uses the phrase to flatter, then to condemn him. The candidate in question says things such as “…nothing you can do, folks…Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is, I don’t know”(Corasaniti and Haberman). The candidate did not call for murder, but his words, along with chants often heard from crowds at his events to “Lock her up” or “Kill the bitch”, certainly give the impression that he does not disagree entirely with the suggestion. Add to this his hints at the possibility that the general election will be rigged as being the only reason he feels he could lose, and you have a potentially dangerous situation.

This political extremism is dangerous regardless of which party someone supports. It is dangerous for our country as it lends those who feel they are no longer heard or who fear no longer being in the majority an excuse to act in extremist ways.

That is not how a democracy exists.

It is dangerous because it creates a sense of anger-fueled anarchy simmering below the surface of our society. It only takes people who feel they have nothing to lose who have reached either such a low state of self-control or who are worked into a frenzy by this type of rhetoric for things to become violent.

That is not how a democracy exists.

It is dangerous because, if unchecked by people who are not beguiled by such extremist rhetoric, it undermines the very Constitution upon which our country is founded.

That is not how a democracy exists, but how a democracy perishes.

We cannot allow political extremism to hold sway over our country. We must peacefully and legally stop the extremism. We must get out the vote to stop that particular candidate and those who support him and his extremist agenda in order to save our country.

Extremism is not an American value. It is the value of dictators, tyrants, and those who do not value human rights and decency.

Works Cited

Blake, Aaron. “Why Donald Trump might not debate Hillary Clinton.” The Washington Post. N.p., 9 Aug. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. .
Corasaniti, Nick, and Maggie Haberman. “Donald Trump Suggests ‘Second Amendment People’ Could Act Against Hillary Clinton.” The New York Times. N.p., 9 Aug. 2016. Web. 11 Aug. 2016. .
Shakespeare, William. The Life and Death of Julius Caesar.

America: Becoming an Under-developed Country

When there is talk of undeveloped countries, the focus usually centers on those countries that make up Southeast Asia, Central America, and even South America. Yet, I would argue that there is a new form of underdevelopment that is sweeping the West, and in particular, the United States. It makes it so that the U.S. is not undeveloped, but rather under-developing. America, one of the most richest countries in the world, is becoming an Under-developing Country. While I am certain that making that comment is certain to anger some people, I hope that even they continue to read to see why I make such a harsh observation about the country of my birth.

First, let me define what it is to be an under-developing country. I did not coin the phrase, but read it on a comment about an article about the rise of anti-intellectualism in the U.S. Being an under-developing country means that we are no longer encouraging ourselves or our children to aspire to gaining an education that is broad in scope nor one that encourages critical thinking. We relegate our teachers to teaching to a test rather than encouraging each individual students to attain their personal best. People who question the status quo are seen as deviant and potentially dangerous. The U.S., through certain facets of our population, is careening toward becoming an underdeveloped country. The members of this facet point to those who are educated as being elitists and being bent on turning the U.S. away from core values and beliefs. They define what they consider to be core values and beliefs rather narrowly into their particular values and beliefs and even extremely narrow interpretations of founding documents such as the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

Those who advocate this anti-intellectualism use labels such as elitist and liberal as if they are profanity. They accuse those who think critically of wanting to undermine and tear the fabric of our society. In short, being intelligent is seen as dangerous and being uneducated is seen as being desirable. It is desirable, especially for those who want to stay in power. After all, an undereducated populace is easier to control. When people think, they make decisions. When they simply allow others to think for them, then their decisions are made for them as well.

Take public education for example. Many of us, at least those of us above the age of 35 or so, can recall a time when our teachers taught and tested us on material learned in class from a fairly decent textbook. Our job was to think about what we were learning and apply it in some way to life outside the classroom, either directly or indirectly. I recall a teacher I had for both math and science in junior high school whose mantra was ‘Try. Try Again. Suffer. And when you feel as if blood is pouring from your pores from your suffering, then, and only then, will I help you.’ He allowed us to work at our own pace within certain parameters. He circulated the room as we worked on whatever chapter we happened to be in. Most of the class may have easily been on five to ten different chapters at any given time. However, we each learned the material. If we happened to finish a considerable number of chapters and were far ahead of our classmates, he encouraged us to help our classmates who were struggling with the material. We learned not only math and science, but also how to help one another. Talk about learning to a higher standard, that was it. We did projects in most of our classes. Took field trips. Engaged in discussions about current events and our subjects. We were even free to disagree with our teachers provided that we listened to them and they to us and never said they were wrong. We backed our arguments with facts and logic.

Move into today’s public education and you have a vastly different story. Many teachers are given a curriculum map with set deadlines for teaching material. These deadlines must be met so that students can take a standardized test that likely had no input from the local teacher. Many times if students attempt to assist one another, then it is considered cheating and they suffer the consequences. Should students not be able to achieve a passing score on the standardized test, then the teacher is considered at fault rather than the unrealistic deadlines imposed by the curriculum map or the test written from the sterile viewpoint of someone hundreds of miles away from the school. There is no longer time for field trips. The textbooks are vetted through a process that has a limited number of publishers whose books are often pre-vetted by larger and more conservative states education panels that wash from them anything that does not fit into a more conservative agenda. Prime example being Texas where Moses is considered as a major contributor to the ideas of the founding fathers of the U.S. We can add to this the numerous arguments for the teaching of Creationism and the lessening of scientifically based Evolution. When teachers deviate from the curriculum or encourage students to do something about an injustice they see, then they risk their jobs.

An article in The Guardian from May 18, 2012, points to a high school teacher who lost her job after having “asked her students in an upper-level language arts class to look at the American Library Association’s list of ‘100 most frequently challenged books’ and write an essay about censorship” (The Guardian, “Anti-intellectualism is taking over the US”). In a more recent article from The Guardian dated September 24, 2014, they listed seven books banned by Highland Park High School in Dallas, TX, “after parents complained about their children having access to ‘obscene literature’” (The Guardian, “Texas school bans seven ‘obscene’ books in banned books week”), among them were Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This is not an isolated incident, nor is it only just Texas being Texas. There are hundreds of cases where books are banned in our country. There are also hundreds of cases where teachers are told to remain silent and just teach what they are told to teach and that their opinions are never to be heard in the classroom.

I know this from experience as having taught middle and high school for over 12 years in Florida. While I, for the most part, was never directly censored by my administration, I did receive comments and even felt some animosity toward me in the form of my yearly reviews as I encouraged my students to think and reason. I stood up for students, including those with whom I disagreed, as they discussed literature and life in my classroom. I never hid my politics from them, but never told them they were wrong when we did not agree. Rather, I advised them to step out of their belief and see how someone else could believe different from them. The majority of my students realized that their opinions were sometimes just that. Opinions based on emotions or their parents rather than facts. Many of them agreed to disagree with their peers, some even with their parents. Yet, I recall being told that I was to remove my political bumper sticker from my vehicle since it was in a school parking lot. I refused stating that those with opposing political views who also parked in the lot displaying their politics would have to do the same. I didn’t have to remove mine at that point. I recall being told by one administrator, and a colleague by another one the following year, that we should not encourage students to form a Gay-Lesbian-Straight organization as that would disrupt the learning process and the school climate. Students want to be able to learn, discuss, and think, not take tests that only require the rote memorization of facts or a version of the facts in order to pass them. They see more gray in the world than simply black and white. The banning of books and critical thinking only serves to continue the downward spiral of underdeveloping our nation.

Moving from the educational realm and into the political, we see this even more as politicians claim not to be scientists, yet refuse to listen to the vast majority of scientists when they say climate change is real and will have devastating effects on the world. Even the U.S. Department of Defense sees it as a major problem. However, there remain a group of politicians in Congress who deny the facts. They seem to relish in their denial of the facts. Why? Because their wealthy corporate donors want them to do so. These are the same people who advocate for looser gun laws saying that it will prevent crime if more people have guns. One of their standard mantras is that a ‘good guy with a gun’ can prevent mass killings like the ones at Sandy Hook or Columbine, or the theater in Colorado from ever occurring. What they fail to see is that even a supposed good guy with a gun could have a really bad day or a bad temper and easily become a bad guy with a gun. They claim that the liberals and elitists want to take away guns from law abiding citizens through laws requiring background checks and gun registration. What they fail to admit is that would take a change to the current interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution to truly do so.

Those who fear intelligence also claim that the liberals and elitists want to take God out of schools because public entities, including schools, are barred by the First Amendment of the Constitution from placing one religion over another. These ultraconservatives claim that by not having the Christian Bible taught in our schools that this is the reason for all the problems in our country. Yet, they fail to see the real causes for the problems of poverty, crime, homelessness, drugs, and the like. They fail to enact laws or create programs that would help put an end to these social ills by claiming it’s not the government’s job or that there is no money to fund these programs. However, they refuse to raise taxes on the wealthy who can afford to pay more. How do they get away with this? Through the dumbing down of the populace. They bombard the legitimate news stations, as well as using their own media, to claim that raising taxes would result in fewer jobs. They further make claims that those who are homeless, jobless, and on government assistance are simply lazy. By only letting out what they want people to hear, then they can get away with harming the majority of the people in our country. How does this tie into religion? Consider the number of religious figures in the United States that are most often heard that hail from the ultraconservative, anti-intellectual front. People like Pat Robertson and Mike Huckabee who claim to be Christians, yet talk about how lazy people are who are on welfare, unless they donate, in the case of Robertson, to his ‘ministry’. He recently told an elderly woman whose husband is ill that she needed to keep tithing rather than use that money to help with medical expenses because that is the way God wants it to be. Huckabee recently said he is in favor of what’s termed the Fair Tax which serves to actually be rather unfair to the poor and what’s left of the middle class. These people, and those like them, rely on their being seen as Christians in order to be seen as being somehow more truthful than if they were not. They are, to paraphrase the Bible, simply wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Instead of using intelligence, they play to irrational fears, much like the above arguments they make about gun control. In the last few years, they have used their media outlets and pundits to push that the evil is in the form of Islam and those who follow that religion. What they fail to mention is that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all stem from the same God and the same human progenitor by the name of Abraham. They have gone so far as to try to paint our President as being a Muslim. Why? Because he is of mixed race, dark-skinned, and his biological father was a Muslim. They use this false argument as a way to try to equate our President with the faces of those who espouse a radical form of Islam who commit terrorist attacks. And through the continued dumbing down of American society, there are actually people who believe this misinformation. These are the same people that claim Obama was not born in the U.S. and other such lies that play into the uninformed psyche of those who lack a decent education or wherewithal to research something about which they are uncertain.

Until we, as a society, are willing to confront anti-intellectualism for what it is, that being a way to keep those who hold the power in power, we are destined to continue down this path that leads to failure. At one time, the U.S. was on the cutting edge of discovery and intellectual progress. We had the strongest colleges and universities. The brightest minds who were allowed to think, wonder, experiment, and create. We made it into space with minds like that. We funded education for all from the daycare to the university. We rewarded intelligence of all kinds from the skilled factory worker to the professor to the mechanic to the inventor. It takes intelligence to progress. We cannot allow our country to become one that is underachieving and underdeveloped. We must take back our schools from being corporate run entities and allowing corporate money to influence free thought. I could go on, but this is already longer than I planned. Thank you for reading.

Musings on Jesus and the Abrahamic faiths

It’s been awhile since I last posted a blog entry. However, I’ve been thinking a bit about Jesus from a theological view when it comes to the Abrahamic faiths, particularly Islam and Christianity. What I am about to write may anger some people, but it is not meant to do so. Rather, it consists of thoughts that I’ve had based on life experience, the brief formal theological training I’ve had, and my own theological training through reading on my own.

First, most people, especially fellow Christians, seem to forget that Jesus never once said to pray to him as if he were God. Rather, the prayer given as the model prayer states that when we pray, we are to pray to Our Father/Allah/Abba. Most Christians consider the Lord’s Prayer to be the perfect or model prayer for our faith. It is simple. It is succinct. It covers all the major areas a simple prayer to the Creator should cover. Praises the Creator. Asks for His Kingdom to come to earth to save us from our human troubles. Asks God to grant us food. Asks God to forgive us for our sins. Asks God to help us to not be tempted to sin, even though we will be tempted since we are human and, as such, imperfect. Asks us to forgive others as we forgive them, which we try to practice, but rarely accomplish due to our imperfect nature. Ends with more praise to the Deity. A good prayer. However, it never says to pray to a Trinitarian Godhead, just to God/Allah/Abba.

So, why do Christians consider Jesus to be God? If Jesus never said he was God, then why do we? One argument uses the passage where Jesus says no one can come to the Father except through him. However, many of the prophets of the Torah or Old Testament also say they need to be heeded if people are to obey God and follow His commandments. One particular event in history occurred to make the theological statement that Jesus was and is God. That event was the First Council of Nicea in the year 325.

The First Council of Nicea was called together by Emperor Constantine the Great to bring about unity in the Church when it came to the nature of Jesus as either being the Son of God or actually God in the flesh. One one side were those who were led by St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius who stated the doctrine that Jesus was God, rather than separate or even a prophet of God. The term they used was ‘homoousios’ which meant that Jesus and God were of the same “essence”. The other side, called the Arian side due to the primary debater of the side being named Arius, used the term ‘homoiousios’ meaning that Jesus and God shared a ‘similar essense’. This one letter difference brought a substantial change to Christianity in that by deciding that Jesus and God were essentially the same rather than similar, then Jesus was God rather than just one of God’s prophets. Let me break this down a bit for you.

St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius, hereafter known as the Orthodox side, argued that God the Father always existed and God the Son always existed along with Him in an equal manner. They used the scriptures where it quoted Jesus as having said phrases such as, “I and the Father are one”(John 10:30), and the “Word was God” (John 10:30).

Arius, and those who followed his idea of God, argued that God was God alone and that the Son of God was created by God and therefore could not be God due to his being a creation of God. As such, there was a time when the Son did not exist. That would make the Son separate from the Father and therefore inferior to the Father. To use Arius’s words, “were He in the truest sense a son, He must have come after the Father, therefore the time obviously was when He was not, and hence He was a finite being”(M’Clintock & Strong, 1890, p. 45). They also appealed to scripture by using phrases such as, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) and stating the Son was “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).

In the end, the Arian side was branded as heretics and the orthodox side held sway over time as a whole. They adopted what Christians know as the Nicene Creed which declares that Jesus is and always has been God, rather than just God-like.

Yet, if you think about it, for the 325 years leading up to the First Council of Nicea, Christians varied in the belief of Jesus as being God. That would have made them much like the Jewish and Islamic faiths of the time in that Jesus was considered a prophet, albeit a major prophet. In a way, it makes the early followers of Jesus much like our cousins of the Muslim faith in that Christians see Jesus as the last of the great prophets and Muslims see Mohammed as the last of the great prophets. For them, God was God. One God. Allah. Abba. Father.

It becomes even more ironic when you consider the fundamentalist branch of Christianity which says it longs for faith like the early Christians in that the faith they long for is more in tune with Islam and Judaism than it is with what is now seen as Christian theology.

If one looks deeper into the Islamic faith, it is also seen how Muslims view Jesus with reverence as a prophet. I have a long way to go to fully understand my cousins of the Islamic faith, but I can say that they and our cousins of the Jewish faith are closer to us than many Christians realize. It just takes all sides wanting to open the door to dialog and understanding rather than simply believing all that is given to us by media outlets. Our common heritage through Abraham exists. Sure, we have different theologies and variations on those different theologies, but we share in the common belief of one true God as Creator of the Universe.

Just food for thought in a world where there is too much negative stew.

Peace-Salaam-Shalom

References:

M’Clintock, John; Strong, James (1890), Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature 6, Harper & Brothers.