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'tis a gift to be simple: 8-31-10

If you are Christian, what comes to mind when I ask you to think of a famous but simple children's hymn? My guess: "Jesus Loves Me."



Well, today is a good day to think about that old hymn because the woman who wrote the words to it (a poem eventually set to music) was born on this date in 1820. She's Anna Bartlett Warner (pictured here), born on Long Island, the daughter of a prominent New York lawyer. For an even better online biography of her, click here.

There's a story told about the great 20th Century theologian, Karth Barth, and Warner's hymn words. I've often thought the story apocryphal, but on page 4 of this site, the story is reported as true and told by the late Reformed theologian and pastor J.M. Boice this way: 

Several years before his death, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth came to the United States for a series of lectures. At one of these, after a very impressive lecture, a student asked a typically American question. He said, “Dr. Barth, what is the greatest thought that has ever passed through your mind?” The aging professor paused for a long time as he obviously thought about his answer. Then he said with great simplicity:


“Jesus loves me! This I know

For the Bible tells me so.”


I've always liked that story. And whether it's historically accurate or not, I judge it to be true.


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The complications of religion are multiple in Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country with a Coptic Christian minority. Now there's legal action over the reported conversion of a Christian priest's wife to Islam, and it involves both the Coptic pope and Egypt's strongman president, Hosni Mubarak. The facts in this case seem hard to nail down, so it's wise to wait to make any judgment. But given the way in which the government has oppressed the Coptic Church for years, it's hard not to have some sympathy for that side in this matter.


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Reborn to Be Wild: Reviving Our Radical Pursuit of Jesus, by Ed Underwood. The author, a 60ish former "Jesus freak," is nostalgic for the 1960s and '70s, when the so-called "Jesus Movement" set some young hearts astir. This book is a call to regain the kind of enthusiasm for being a Christ follower that he remembers experiencing then. It's a book clearly aimed at people who think of themselves as evangelical but it seems somehow divorced from the energy that has been brought by the Emergent Church Movement. Rather, this strikes me as a call back to some of the narrowness that the Emergent Church Movement has tried to get beyond. For instance, Underwood places much emphasis on John 14:6, in which Jesus is quoted as saying that "no one comes to the Father except through me." This verse often has been used to promote a kind of exclusivism that no doubt would have been foreign to Jesus himself. And that's what Underwood seems to long for -- a message that would suggest that only Underwood's version of Christianity is right or makes any sense. This is a message of personal salvation with little space for the idea of  being part of a larger, covenant community or the idea that God intends to redeem the whole creation, not just individuals. I like the enthusiasm the author expresses for being radically committed to following Jesus. What I find troubling is the notion that if others don't buy this they have no hope. I think there's a more welcoming way to introduce people to Jesus.

Seeing Jewish life in Poland: 8-30-10


As you may know -- especially if you've read my latest book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust -- Hitler's death machine murdered more than 90 percent of the nearly 3.5 million Jews living in Poland at the start of World War II.

Jewish life in Poland went back hundreds of years, but the Holocaust killed nearly all of it. Today, the number of Jews in Poland is numbered somewhere around 20,000, depending on who's counting. But there is, despite such appallingly low numbers, a resurgence of Jewish life and culture there, though much of it (restaurants, festivals, etc.) is produced by and for non-Jews, as my co-author, Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, and I discovered when we went to Poland to do interviews for our book.

(The photo here today is one I took at a restored synagoge in Oswiecim, where the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp is located.)

But as Poland's rich Jewish heritage is being rediscovered, we are being treated to various artistic offerings that highlight it.

One of them will be presented in a special movie theater event at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21. It's called, "100 Voices: A Journey Home." It's a documentary about the history of Jewish culture in Poland. The film will be preceded by a mini-concert with cantors from the documentary and will feature 20th Century contemporary American music.

The link I gave you in the previous paragraph will connect you to a page about the show. There you also will find a link to give you the names and locations of theaters where the production can be seen. There are quite a few such theaters on both sides of the state line in the Kansas City metro area as well as theaters around the country for those of you outside of KC.

I hope the documentary eventually will be available in other venues because I'm committed to giving a speech at that hour that evening. If you hear that "100 Voices" is available on, say, DVD, please let me know.

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As Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United Kingdom approaches, Catholics in Britain are feeling sort of alone and under pressure, this report says. Well, in some ways that may work to the advantage of both the pope and the church. The church, after all, often does best when it is persecuted. No one ever asks for persecution so the church may grow, but often growth is what happens in troubled times.

Martin Luther King at prayer: 8-28/29-10

To coincide with this weekend's anniversary (Aug. 28, 1963) of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., Fortress Press is bringing out an important new book about King's prayer life.


Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King Jr., by King biographer Lewis W. Baldwin, will be published this coming Wednesday. It helps us understand the powerful role prayer played in shaping King as a spiritual leader. Baldwin had spent several years putting together a collection of King's prayers but, in the end, officials at the King Estate refused to grant the necessary permissions to use those in a book he had planned.

So he went in another direction, a book in which he describes in much needed detail how and why prayer was so vital and life-forming in King's ministry and in his leadership in the civil rights movement.

Baldwin explains the purpose of the book (and of prayer in King's life) well in his preface:

"The ways in which King engaged in prayer and praying as creative energy may be the most distinctive angle developed in this work. In King’s case, prayer, voiced and unvoiced, became a call to mission or to action. He was convinced that prayer worked as an empowering and liberating force in the context of struggle. He had little patience with those who turned to prayer as a substitute for human initiative or who prayed while ignoring the social maladies that afflict society."

There is a tendency today when thinking about King, four-plus decades after his assassination, to remove him from his religious base -- a fatal mistake in trying to understand the man former President Jimmy Carter said freed not just black people but also many white people. If you don't understand King's religious roots, his beliefs and practices within his black church Christian tradition, you simply don't understand King.

This long-needed book helps us restore some of the richness of sources that produced King. Let's all hope that eventually the King Estate will grant Baldwin permission to publish the collection of King's prayers as a companion piece to this impressive new work.

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OK, people, repeat after me: If God tells me to kill someone I will not listen. I will not do it. Never. Ever. Under any circumstances. A woman in Texas shot someone after getting some kind of sign from God, she said. Look, if God wants you as a hired gun, I'm thinking this may not be the God you want to worship. And if the real God really does want someone dead and tells you to do it, say no and ask for forgiveness later. I'll bet my own life that you will be forgiven.

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The Notre Dame Book of Prayer, edited by Heidi Schlumpf. On a weekend when I'm writing about prayer, it seems appropriate to tell you about this book, to be released in a few days. The University of Notre Dame is, for sure, Catholic, but in many ways it seems to belong to the nation. Similarly, the collection of prayers in this book will be of interest to any Christian, not just Catholics. But because it invokes various locations on the Notre Dame campus, it will be of special interest to Notre Dame graduates, who seem to be everywhere. The book is a joint offering by the Notre Dame Campus Ministry and Ave Maria Press. It includes a forward by the president emeritus of Notre Dame, Theodore M. Hesburgh. It's hard to imagine a circumstance for which this book doesn't include a prayer. Oh, and in the book you'll also learn this wisdom from the great pitcher Satchel Paige: "Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines." Satchel, whose 1982 funeral I covered as a reporter, is buried near where I live. Maybe I'll wander over the recite a few of these prayers at his grave.

Another Islamic center view: 8-27-10

When I wrote here on the blog last week about why I believe an area near Ground Zero in New York is exactly where an Islamic center should be built, I indicated that people I know and respect disagree with me.


Today I want to share with you the viewpoint of one of those people, Barry Speert, an adjunct instructor of religion at Baker University and an active Jewish voice in the Kansas City area for interfaith dialogue. Barry, who also does some teaching at St. Paul School of Theology, believes that through the application of the Jewish concept of marit ayan, he has found a way to oppose the location of the Islamic center near Ground Zero while not opposing either Islam or religious freedom.

This concept, which literally means "in sight of eye" requires not just that our actions be in harmony with what is right, but that they also avoid the appearance of being out of synch with what's right. The marit ayan link I've given you in the previous paragraph explains the concept more fully. (Christians might think of the admonition from the Apostle Paul not to do certain things even though may be legal in front of others who don't approve of them because your actions might cause them to stumble into sin.)

Barry, by the way, begins by quoting John Podhoretz in a New York Post column suggesting that the Islamic center project "only became feasible because of the appalling and astonishing fecklessness of the officials who were charged with the reconstruction of the site and the neighborhood all the way back in 2001."

Then he says that backers of the site should use the concept of marit ayan to be cognizant of opposition to the site and find a different location.

I asked Barry whether Jews believe that non-Jews, particularly Muslims, are as bound by marit ayan as Jews might be.

Barry's response: "First, according to traditional Judaism, non-Jews are bound by the seven Noahide laws only and these laws do not include marit ayin. I am, however, aware that Islam has a very similar principle called ihsan that is mentioned several times in the Quran."

Barry provided the link I've given you to the concept of ihsan. Among other things, it says: ". . .Islamic ethics (are) not simply about justice in the legal sense, but ihsan, benevolence that transcends justice." And couldn't we all use benevolence that transcends justice. Sounds like love to me.

Whether marit ayan or ihsan provides an airtight reason for opposing the proposed Islamic center's location near Ground Zero is, of course, up to one's personal interpretation. I admire Barry's efforts to find a reasonable way around all of this but I believe other factors outweigh the responsibilities required under those two concepts.

If you didn't read my own take on all of this, the link in the first paragraph of today's posting will take you there and tell you why I think the project should move forward. In addition, I might offer you this column by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. In it, he argues that one should oppose the proposed Islamic center's location only if one believes that the entire religion of Islam attacked the United States on 9/11.

I don't believe that for a minute, just as I don't believe the entire religion of Christianity murdered abortion doctor George Tiller at his church in Wichita last year. In both cases, violent radicals acted well outside the boundaries of behavior set by their religions.

Although I might not have worded Cohen's column exactly as he did, he speaks pretty well for me on this matter. And yet I also respect Barry Speert's sincere disagreement with me.

A final note: I thought an editorial in the Boston Globe this week got it right. Of all people who might be sensitive to the the right response on the Islamic center issue, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon, should be a voice of reason here. But, as the paper's editorial notes, Romney has ducked the issue.

Well, that was almost a final note. Here's another one: Earlier this week the "Fresh Air" show on NPR did an interview with journalist Eliza Griswold, who has a new book out about Christian-Muslim relations. To listen, click here. Oh, and a new survey released yesterday indicates that 57 percent of Americans oppose locating the Islamic center near Ground Zero, while a much larger majority -- 76 percent -- supports construction of mosques in their local communities.

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Are you aware of the Saint John's Bible project? Click on the link in the previous sentence and learn about it if you don't know about it. I own a couple of volumes of the less-expensive versions. Beautiful books. Well, St. Mary's College in South Bend, Ind., just received one of the six-volume "heritage" editions, of which only 299 sets are being printed. The Bible is a gift from a graduate of the school. This project is a demonstration of the value Christians place on the Bible. I just wish more of them would read it.

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P.S.: Christians in search of ideas to re-energize their congregations might want to surf around on a new Web site, Based on what I've seen, I'd say the site has some good ideas with a kind of evangelical feel to it. I'm not sure, for instance, why all blogs by pastors seem to be by males. And a lot of the language seems unaware of gender-inclusive issues. But it was good to see a piece by someone making the (obvious) case that not all Muslims are terrorists. Anyway, check it out.

The role of religious art: 8-26-10

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As I sat at the front the sanctuary of my church this past Sunday as part of a group speaking to the congregation, I was struck again by the lovely stained-glass window high on the wall at the back of the church. (It's pictured above.)


It's a 1917 work by Louis Comfort Tiffany called "Good Samaritan," and it was restored in 2005. It's a stunning work and serves as a reminder to our congregation as we leave the building to do ministry to the wounded and needy whom we find outside the walls of the church.

This is a good day to be talking about religious art because it was on this date in 1498 in Rome that artist Michelangelo Buonarroti was commissioned by Pope Alexander VI to carve the Pieta (shown in the photo on the left here), that breathtaking sculpture of Mary holding the lifeless body of her son Jesus after the crucifixion.

I can't imagine what new I might say about the Pieta, so I won't try. Rather, I will suggest that in all religious traditions art plays an important role, whether it has to do with sculpture, music, architecture, drama or painting -- just as each tradition sets limits (or purposefully sets none) on what is acceptable to be the subject of works of art.

In the Christian tradition in which I locate myself, I find art a right-brained way of preaching the gospel, whereas a sermon would be a more left-brained way. And I think we shortchange people in the pews if we don't offer them both ways.

Just for today, imagine the world void of religious art. What a sad place that would be.

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Howard Kurtz, media critic for The Washington Post, weighs in wisely on the ridiculous question of whether President Obama is a Muslim. People who would believe he's a Muslim also are capable of believing such delusional fantasies as: 1. There was no Holocaust. 2. Earth is flat. 3. The George W. Bush administration orchestrated 9/11.

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Doubt & Reassurance, volumes I and II, by Don Ray. I will honestly tell you that at first I had no good idea what to make of these books. They seemed quirky, starting with an explanation in the first volume of why a table of contents seems sort of out of place here. Add to that the author's decision to separate each paragraph in each chapter by extra space, making the pages look as if they contain airy thoughts sort of floating around a bit free. But once you get inside and begin to digest what this man with degrees in engineering and physics has to offer you begin to be struck by sharp rays of wisdom and insight into the nature of our world and how we might live in it guided by love and concern for one another. Don Ray has produced a babbling brook of thought into which one can step and feel both refreshed and challenged, if not altogether reassured. These are books you don't plow through. Rather, you taste them a bit at a time. The author gives us a clue about his religious orientation on the covers where, after his name, he uses the initials s.D.g. The initials can stand for many things but in this context I take them to be a reference to the Latin phrase soli Deo gloria, which means "To God alone the glory."

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P.S.: My latest column for The National Catholic Reporter now is online. To read it, click here.

The silence of the imams? 8-25-10

Let me return today to a subject area that took up several blog posts last week -- Islam.

Ever since 9/11 I have found it frustrating when people claim that Muslims don't speak out against violence by radicals who call themselves Muslims, too. I have reported both in print and online many examples of Muslims and Muslim leaders decrying violence done in the name of Islam.

But because the idea persists that traditional Muslims are silent on this issue, it's necessary for them to be even more energetic about having their voices heard. This is especially true in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere -- countries in which a radical and distorted version of Islam has found an accepting audience and where speaking out against terrorism sometimes puts one at risk from those who engage in or support terrorism.

But it's also good to hear radicalism denounced by Muslim leaders anywhere in the world. Which is why it pleased me to read recently that a large group of Canadian imams issued a statement condemning radicalism in Islam.

To read the whole statement from the Canadian Council of Imams, click here. Perhaps the second point in the statement is the most pertinent. It reads:

"We believe in peaceful coexistence, dialogue, bridge building, and cooperation among all faiths and people for the common good of humanity. Islam does not permit the killing of innocent people, regardless of their creed, ethnicity, race, or nationality. The sanctity of human life overrides the sanctity of religious laws. Islamic rulings do not – and should not – contradict natural laws. Islam is a religion that promotes peace, justice, equality, dignity, and freedom for all human beings."

(By the way, not long after 9/11, someone at the University of North Carolina collected statements by Muslims denouncing terrorism. To read them, click here.)

It is, of course, unfair to hold all members of a religious tradition accountable for the crazy things some of its members do. I did not, for instance, hear a nationwide demand for Christian leaders to denounce the murder of abortion clinic doctor George Tiller in May 2009 by Scott Roeder. And yet it first is up to Christians to control radicalism in other Christians just as it is first up to Muslims to control radicalism in other Muslims.

At any rate, when people insist that most Muslim leaders are silent in the face of terrorism done in the name of Islam, it mostly tells me that those people aren't listening.

(By the way, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life yesterday released a survey about American attitudes toward Islam -- attitudes that are growing more dismal. It is leading such publications as Time Magazine to ask whether American is Islamophobic and to conclude that many (not all) of the opponents of locating the Islamic center near Ground Zero are, indeed.)

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Speaking of silence, have you been silent in the face of cries for help from beleaguered Pakistan? I've made a donation to help through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, an agency in my denomination. But however you do it, our brothers and sisters there are desperate. Governments and individuals all need to respond to this humanitarian crisis.

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P.S.: My latest column for The National Catholic Reporter now is online. To read it, click here

The source of liturgy: 8-24-10

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last week announced that the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which contains the words used in a Mass, has been issued for American dioceses. Having previously been approved by the Vatican, It will be used starting in late November 2011.


This project has been years in the making and has not been without controversy. Indeed, some people inside the church think it's a misguided translation effort that will confuse and outrage people in the pews. This commentary reports on some of that reaction. As you might expect, Catholics are divided on this question. Some support the more literal translation of the Latin found in the new missal and some don't. This story, for instance, offers some supportive comments about the new missal.

That's an internal Catholic debate. As a Presbyterian, I have no standing to enter it.

But what intrigues me about this whole process is the difference in ways various branches of Christianity approach the question of worship. In the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox traditions, for instance, most, if not all, of the words used in the liturgy and in various litanies are prepared by authorized church leaders and simply assigned to local congregations in various ways. Thus if you participate in a traditional Catholic Mass in Seattle, Sioux City or Sarasota, you will find the congregation saying the same words. Differences come in sermons, hymn choices and announcements and in general style.

At the other end of the liturgical spectrum you will find Quakers, who gather in silence in what is sometimes called "unprogrammed" worship, without leadership from clergy. The informal liturgy, if you want to use that term, emerges from congregants who may or may not choose to speak.

If, as author Phyllis Tickle says in The Great Emergence, Christianity is in the midst of one of its every-500-year reformations (and I think she's right), one of the changes that already is happening in various ways is a move toward a decentralized liturgical tradition. By that I mean that instead of words being written by a central authority and imposed on local congregations, words increasingly are being written at the local level and used just there and not elsewhere. A small example: I wrote the corporate prayer of confession that my congregation said this past Sunday.

It will be interesting to see whether and how local Catholic congregations adapt to this new Roman Missal and whether this change will be close to the last one that gets written at the direction of the Catholic hierarchy, which then simply orders its use. (For more about the new Roman Missal, click here.)

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The big old chestnut tree outside the home in Amsterdam where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis in World War II collapsed in a storm Monday. Isn't it odd how one little girl came to represent the whole of the Holocaust and how we came to care about a single tree because of her? Humans seem to understand the great sweeping stories of history only when they can be personalized. It's one reason why, since 9/11, I've written as much as I have about the death that day of my sister's son, a passenger on American Flight 11.

Religion's role in gay debate: 8-23-10

The good news in a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute is that despite continuing hatred of gays and lesbians preached from some Christian pulpits, prejudice against people of homosexual orientation is declining in the U.S.


The study shows growing support for civil unions, same-sex marriage, adoption by gay or lesbian couples and allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

The study analyzed more than 20 years worth of polling data gathered by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public LIfe to detect trends in opinions. The changes of attitude reported in the new study are not uniform across all groups of American citizens but it's reassuring, nonetheless, that even among religious groups that often have been the source of anti-gay prejudice -- especially those identified as white evangelicals -- opinions are changing away from condemnation and more toward support.

Clyde Wilcox, professor of government at Georgetown University, who spoke to journalists about the study on a conference call I participated in this past Friday, said some of these changes of attitude have been quite remarkable in the last decade or two.


"There are very few things that have changed in American public opinion as dramatically as support for gay and lesbian rights," he told us. "Since 1994 the numbers just really pop off the charts. . .It's really been kind of a tidal wave of change, and these trends occur all across religious communities so that white evangelical fundamentalists today are far more accommodating to gays and lesbians than they were 20 years ago and so are Catholics and so are Mainline Protestants."

These supportive trends are especially visible among younger people, the researchers say. And that's for lots of reasons, including the reality that many of them know people who are gay and, unlike previous generations when more gays were in the closet, young people know that they know gay people. And, of course, when you know people personally it's more difficult to hold ridiculous stereotypes about them.

Someone else on the conference call Friday was the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, a United Church of Christ pastor who works with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

"While I am very happy and glad for the trends," she said, "and I really do feel that the universe really does bend toward justice and folks are by and large increasing their support for LGBT persons in society, I think one of the cautionary notes I take from the study is the continuing role that religion plays in anti-LGBT attitudes and behaviors in our country."

My guess is that these supportive trends will continue until one day those who would marginalize gays and lesbians either for religious reasons or out of simple fear and prejudice will become such a minority that they themselves will feel more comfortable espousing their views only in the closet. I hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

For my own take on what the Bible says about homosexuality, look for my talk on that subject under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.

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The French government has been trying to get rid Roma and Gypsy people, but Pope Benedict XVI has weighed in with an admonition to welcome all people. It's one more example of how religion inevitably winds up having to say a word about what some people think of as strictly a political matter. If it involves the human condition, religion should and must have its say.

Demonizing shari'a law: 8-21/22-10

I want to continue a bit of a theme I started this past Thursday here on the blog.


On that day I outlined a case for why the area near Ground Zero in New York is exactly the right place to locate an Islamic center.

Then on Friday I wrote about a new study that shows a growing number of Americans think Barack Obama is a Muslim. No, really. I know that's nuts, but that's what the study found.

Today I want to talk with you about an effort being made by such people as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to declare that the enemy is Shari'a law.

To read about that and a good response the effort to demonize Shari'a click here for a piece I found in Tablet Magazine. The author of the piece to which I've linked you is Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.

As we think about Shari'a, let me share with you a good description of what it means from a book called Understanding Islam: An Introduction, by C.T.R. Hewer.

The prophets, he says, interpreted through their life and teaching the guidance they believed they had received from God and in this way "set a pattern or model of. . .living for their followers to imitate. When this pattern is later drawn up as a complete code of life, it is called a shari'a.

"The word shari'a literally means a road or highway, a well-beaten path that leads to a definite place. . . .In technical religious terms, it is a clearly defined way of following the guidance of God that was left as a pattern for. . .living by each of the Messengers. Moses left a shari'a for the Jews based on the guidance of God in the Torah and the tradition that he established. Although in essense the guidance is always the same, the precise details of that guidance and therefore of the shari'a that was based on it may vary. . .

"Shari'a is never arbitrary law made up by the Prophet or by a vote among the people. It is a divinely ordained way that the Prophet implemented and human beings are to follow in obedience to the will of God. It will make for a happy, just, upright, fulfilled life on earth and has as its ultimate destination the gateway to heaven in the life after death."

Another good reference to use to understand shari'a is The Heart of Islam, by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. In a chapter entitled "The Philosophy of Law in Islam," Nasr writes this: "To speak of the Shari'ah (Tammeus note: scholars even disagree about how to spell this word in English) as being simply the laws of the seventh century fixed in time and not relevant today would be like telling Christians that the injunctions of Christ to love one's neighbor and not commit adultery were simply laws of the Palestine of two thousand years ago and not relevant today, or telling Jews not to keep Sabbath because that is simply an outmoded practice of three thousand years ago."

Indeed, for me as a Christian, I think it might be fair to say that my shari'a law would be the Beatitudes, found in the beginning of Matthew 5.

One thing peope unfamiliar with Islam seem not to get is that sometimes cultural patterns overwhelm religious traditions in many countries that are predominantly Muslim. The subjugation of women in some Islamic regions, for instance, reflects much more on the culture than it does on Islam, which was actually quite liberating for women as the faith was first defined and lived by the Prophet Muhammad.

And just as there are many interpretations of both Judaism and Christianity, so there are many ways in which Muslims interpret and live out Islam, which is insistently monotheistic but not in any way monolithic in the way it is found in the world. This diversity applies also to how shari'a is understood.

When people such as Gingrich insist that there's an international Muslim conspiracy to "replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of shari'a,” it's simply a political scare tactic that has precious little to do with reality. That is not to say that there aren't violent extremists who call themselves Muslims who want to kill Americans and destroy our nation. There certainly are. But to counter that threat by attacking shari'a is a ridiculous misappropriation of energy.

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I thought Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sounded the right tone of caution on Friday when she announced that direct Israeli-Palestinian talks would resume Sept. 2. We've all had our hearts broken and hopes dashed before in all of this. She acknowledged there would be roadblocks ahead and it won't be easy to get where we need to get, but there's hope. May all the participants in this not just speak honestly and clearly but also be open to hearing from others with whom they disagree. The land considered holy by the three Abrahamic religions deserves nothing less.

Bizarre American beliefs: 8-20-10

Thanks goodness for the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and its on-going series of surveys and reports about various aspects of religion in America.


We often learn distressing things about ourselves from the center, but they're things we need to know. For instance, a study released Thursday called "Religion, Politics and the President" revealed that a growing number of Americans believes President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

A modern version of Know-Nothingism lives, apparently. How sad and embarrassing for the U.S.

Another sad finding: A plurality of the public says they do not know what religion Obama follows. Well, Obama may not being very public about going to church, but my guess is if he were he'd take criticism for that, too.

It's worth nothing that this new survey was conducted before Obama spoke out on the question of locating an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York, though it's impossible to tell how the public's reaction to all that (see my blog posting from yesterday) might have affected this study.

If you'd like a pdf copy of the study to download and save, click on this link:

Download Religion,_Politics_and_the_President

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Susan Boyle certainly has come a long way from a quiet beginning singing in her church choir to being an overnight TV sensation. And now she's going to sing for Pope Benedict XVI on his upcoming visit to the U.K. No doubt a better choice that some other pop culture sensations I can think of, starting with Alvin and the Chipmunks, who would have to be renamed Chipmonks for this gig.