A Palestinian state

Have you noticed that the Republican presidential candidates are saying almost nothing about foreign policy, despite the huge problems overseas and the current administration’s bungling of so many of them?  And now the Palestinians have gone to the UN on Friday, seeking that body’s ratification of a Palestinian state:

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, says he will go ahead with a request to the United Nations Security Council to recognise what amounts to a unilateral declaration of independence, despite warnings from the US that it would raise ”dangerous” false hopes and set back real self-determination.

Mr Abbas said in a televised address the Palestinians would seek recognition next week of an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the borders of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as the capital. He noted that the US President, Barack Obama, said a year ago he hoped to see an independent Palestine join the UN at this time.

”Obama himself said he wanted to see a Palestinian state by September,” Mr Abbas said. He said he would not bow to foreign pressure and what he called attempts to ”buy off” the Palestinians.

”We are going to the Security Council,” he said. ”The world is sympathising with the aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

The defiant speech came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by the US, the European Union and the envoy Tony Blair in Jerusalem and Ramallah aimed at trying to avoid a showdown next week at the UN Security Council, where the Americans say they will veto a Palestinian request for recognition of statehood.

via Palestinians warned on UN bid.

Do you think a Palestinian state might calm the region or make things even worse?  If the UN can create Israel, why can’t it create Palestine?  If this goes through, should the U.S. exercise its veto?  If so, what would be the consequences?   And what do you think Israel would do if a Palestinian state comes into existence on what was once Israeli-occupied land?

One legacy of 9/11: More interfaith services

Ecumenical News International reports that the number of interfaith worship services–that is, those in which people of different religions worshipped together (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.)–have doubled since the 9/11 attacks:

Interfaith worship services have doubled in the decade since the 11 September attacks, according to a new study released 7 September, even as more than seven in 10 U.S. congregations do not associate with other faiths.

The survey by an interfaith group of researchers found that about 14 percent of U.S. congregations surveyed in 2010 engaged in a joint religious celebration with another faith tradition, up from 6.8 percent in 2000, Religion News Service reports.

Interfaith community service grew nearly threefold, with 20.4 percent of congregations reporting participation in 2010, up from 7.7 percent in 2000, according to the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership. After the attacks, “Islam and Islamics’ presence in the United States (became) visible in a way that you couldn’t ignore,” said David A. Roozen, one of the report’s authors and the director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

National Muslim groups tried to build bridges to other faiths, who in turn “reached out in new ways to be neighborly,” he said. Reform Jewish congregations led the way, with two-thirds participating in interfaith worship and three-quarters involved in interfaith community service.

The largest percentage of interfaith-worshipping congregations (20.6 percent) was in the Northeast, which is home to a disproportionate percentage of more liberal mainline Protestant churches. About 17 percent of interfaith-worshipping congregations are in a big city or older suburb, where greater diversity makes interfaith activity more likely.

The study implies that the more liberal a congregation, the greater likelihood for interfaith activity. Approximately half of Unitarian Universalist congregations held interfaith worship services, and three in four participated in interfaith community service. By contrast, among more conservative Southern Baptist churches, only 10 percent participated in interfaith community service, and five percent in interfaith worship.

The study shows most of the 11,077 congregations surveyed reported no interfaith activity, a finding that troubled the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Washington-based Interfaith Alliance. “The reality in our nation now is we have a major problem with Islamophobia, and that fear is being fed by people in large enough numbers that we need probably ten times as many people involved in interfaith discussions and actions,” Gaddy said.

via Paul McCain: Interfaith Worship on the Rise Since 9/11 | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

But if we have a major problem with Islamophobia, why the growing popularity of Christians worshipping with Muslims?  The bigger question is surely, why the vogue of interfaith, syncretistic worship in the aftermath of 9/11?  Do any of you have an explanation?

Christianity & Science

In an article on “Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science,” Hillel Ofek describes and helps account for the great contributions of early Islamic scientists and mathematicians, but he then chronicles how ever-more-absolutist brands of Islam came to shut them down.  Ofek says that civilizations often abandon scientific inquiry–citing China and India–and that the West is the notable exception.  For this he gives Christianity lots of credit:

As a way of articulating questions that lie deeper than the Ash’arism-Mu’tazilism debate, it is helpful to briefly compare Islam with Christianity. Christianity acknowledges a private-public distinction and (theoretically, at least) allows adherents the liberty to decide much about their social and political lives. Islam, on the other hand, denies any private-public distinction and includes laws regulating the most minute details of private life. Put another way, Islam does not acknowledge any difference between religious and political ends: it is a religion that specifies political rules for the community.

Such differences between the two faiths can be traced to the differences between their prophets. While Christ was an outsider of the state who ruled no one, and while Christianity did not become a state religion until centuries after Christ’s birth, Mohammed was not only a prophet but also a chief magistrate, a political leader who conquered and governed a religious community he founded. Because Islam was born outside of the Roman Empire, it was never subordinate to politics. As Bernard Lewis puts it, Mohammed was his own Constantine. This means that, for Islam, religion and politics were interdependent from the beginning; Islam needs a state to enforce its laws, and the state needs a basis in Islam to be legitimate. To what extent, then, do Islam’s political proclivities make free inquiry — which is inherently subversive to established rules and customs — possible at a deep and enduring institutional level?

Some clues can be found by comparing institutions in the medieval period. Far from accepting anything close to the occasionalism and legal positivism of the Sunnis, European scholars argued explicitly that when the Bible contradicts the natural world, the holy book should not be taken literally. Influential philosophers like Augustine held that knowledge and reason precede Christianity; he approached the subject of scientific inquiry with cautious encouragement, exhorting Christians to use the classical sciences as a handmaiden of Christian thought. Galileo’s house arrest notwithstanding, his famous remark that “the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes” underscores the durability of the scientific spirit among pious Western societies. Indeed, as David C. Lindberg argues in an essay collected in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (2009), “No institution or cultural force of the patristic period offered more encouragement for the investigation of nature than did the Christian church.” And, as Baylor University sociologist Rodney Stark notes in his book For the Glory of God (2003), many of the greatest scientists of the scientific revolution were also Christian priests or ministers.

The Church’s acceptance and even encouragement of philosophy and science was evident from the High Middle Ages to modern times. As the late Ernest L. Fortin of Boston College noted in an essay collected in Classical Christianity and the Political Order (1996), unlike al-Farabi and his successors, “Aquinas was rarely forced to contend with an anti-philosophic bias on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities. As a Christian, he could simply assume philosophy without becoming publicly involved in any argument for or against it.” And when someone like Galileo got in trouble, his work moved forward and his inquiry was carried on by others; in other words, institutional dedication to scientific inquiry was too entrenched in Europe for any authority to control. After about the middle of the thirteenth century in the Latin West, we know of no instance of persecution of anyone who advocated philosophy as an aid in interpreting revelation. In this period, “attacks on reason would have been regarded as bizarre and unacceptable,” explains historian Edward Grant in Science and Religion, 400 b.c. to a.d. 1550.

via The New Atlantis » Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science.

Augustine indeed, on the basis of the classical science of his day, said there was no need to take the creation account in Genesis literally in every detail, while still affirming the truth of what it means.  Arguably, the worldviews of Christianity and those early scientists were in harmony–indeed, the former made possible the latter–whereas  they started to clash after the Enlightenment and 19th century materialism.  Still. . . .

HT:  Joe Carter

Islam & concubines

A Muslim woman is calling for the legalization of sex slavery–which she describes as the temporary marriage of concubines–on the grounds that Islam permits it and that it is a cure for adultery.  From the International Business Times:

Sex slaves are OK in Islam, according to a former candidate for the Kuwaiti parliament, who is advocating for the legalization of sex slavery. . . .

In a video posted on YouTube earlier this year [see below], Salwa Al-Mutairi proclaimed that a sex slave trade would prevent Kuwait’s Muslim men from extramarital sexual activity, explaining that a purchase transaction for a sex partner would be tantamount to marriage.

“We want our youth to be protected from adultery,” she said.

Mutairi claimed that on a recent trip to Mecca, she spoke with several muftis, or Muslim religious scholars, who believe that there is a basis for the purchase of concubines in the shariah, or Islamic holy law.

She gave the example of Haroun al-Rashid, the third caliph or head of state of the Islamic Abbasid Empire, is rumored to have had some 2,000 concubines.

Appropriate candidates for the sex trade would be Muslim women from war-torn countries like Chechnya, Mutairi suggested.

In an earlier post, we talked about “living together” as a kind of revival of concubinage; that is, “marriage lite.” Islam apparently has a specific provision for it. The description of the “purchase transaction” is also something we blogged about: The woman is paid a sum, which is construed as a bride price. The man says something like, “I marry you.” Then, after having sex, he says, “I divorce you.” Given the acceptability in Islam of polygamy, that is all anyone needs for valid marriages and divorces. Thus we have prostitution without adultery, all of which is religiously-sanctioned and oh-so-moral.

This may be the perfect religion for our time: One that is legalistic–giving the pleasure of self-righteousness–while also, at the same time, allowing immorality! How can Christianity compete against that?

HT: Mary

When government embraces religion

A speaker at the National Press Club called for making religion central to our foreign policy. He made a lot of sense at first, but then fell off the deep end:

The best way to address Jihadist terrorism is to make religion a central component of American foreign policy, according to Douglas Johnston, an expert on foreign policy and religion, who spoke at the National Press Club on June 23.

“We’re dealing with symptoms and not the real cause,” Johnston said in a critique of current U.S. policy. “And that’s the problem.”

The International Correspondents Committee hosted the event to coincide with the launch of Johnston’s new book, “Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement.”

The book argues that what is required today is a longer-term strategy of cultural and religious interaction, backed by a deeper understanding of how others, especially the Muslims, view the world and what is important to them.

As a first step, the State Department must immediately appoint religion officers at its embassies overseas, just like the military attaches, according to Johnston. They must be given a prominent role with clear-cut policy directives based on the fundamental American principle of tolerance and accommodation with other religions.

In this context, he suggested the experiment should begin at home with American Muslims. He lamented the fact that they feel alienated and shunned.

“It’s a shame that we’ve failed to embrace them wholeheartedly,” Johnston said.

As a first step, he said efforts should be made to arrange for Imams of mosques in America to deliver sermons at churches, and pastors should go to mosques to talk about their religion.

Johnston, who runs the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, added that the whole approach should demonstrate the essence of what he called “organic suasion,” meaning “change and healing from within.”

He also advocated spreading Madrassa education with emphasis on critical thinking.

“We’ve got very positive results through our projects in Pakistan and how it can change the attitude of Madrassa students,” said Johnston, a former Naval officer and veteran of the intelligence community who holds a Ph.D. in political Science from Harvard.

Most of the panelists essentially agreed with Johnston’s premise, saying religion should take center stage, rather than a back seat, in the formulation of American foreign policy.

Arrange for Muslims to preach in Christian churches, and vice versa?  The government would arrange that, as a “first step”?  Surely it would be better for the government to keep religion in the back seat–or even persecute it–than to give it “center stage” in an inevitably syncretistic civil religion.

via Johnston: To counter Jihadists, put religion at center of foreign policy | The National Press Club.

HT:  Aaron Lewis

Iranian president’s theological troubles

Theology may be bringing down Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.  So says Karim Sadjadpour, writing in the Washington Post:

While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery and Holocaust revisionism on the world stage have earned him alarmist comparisons to Adolf Hitler, his recent, ignoble fall from grace reveals the Iranian president for what he really is: the dispensable sword of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The marriage of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad should be understood in the context of Iran’s internal rivalries. Since the death in 1989 of the revolution’s father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — whose austere nature and anti-Americanism set the tenor for Iran’s post-monarchic order — Tehran’s political elite has been broadly divided into two schools.

Reformists and pragmatists argued that ensuring the Islamic Republic’s survival required easing political and social restrictions and prioritizing economic expediency over ideology. Hard-liners, led by Khamenei, believed that compromising on revolutionary ideals could unravel the system, just as perestroika did the Soviet Union. . . .

Ahmadinejad’s pious populism resonated among Iran’s working classes, and his revolutionary zeal and willingness to attack Khamenei’s adversaries endeared him to the supreme leader, whose backing of Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election proved decisive. The balance of power between the two was exhibited during Ahmadinejad’s inauguration, when the new president prostrated himself before Khamenei and kissed his hand.

Under the supreme leader’s approving gaze, Ahmadinejad’s first term as president was spent bludgeoning Khamenei’s domestic opponents, taking a hard line on the nuclear issue and taunting the United States. Ahmadinejad’s newfound fame abroad, however, confused his true position at home.

What Khamenei failed to realize was that Ahmadinejad and his cohorts had greater ambitions than simply being his minions.

They spoke of their direct connection to the hidden imam — Shiite Islam’s Messiah equivalent — in an attempt to render the clergy obsolete. In “private” meetings — which were bugged by intelligence forces loyal to Khamenei — Ahmadinejad’s closest adviser, Rahim Mashaei, spoke openly of designs to supplant the clergy. The last straw came earlier this year, when Ahmadinejad tried to take over the Ministry of Intelligence, whose vast files on the financial and moral corruption of Iran’s political elite are powerful tools of political persuasion and blackmail.

The supreme leader was publicly nonchalant about Ahmadinejad’s insubordination; privately, however, he unleashed jackals that had long been salivating for the president’s comeuppance. The powerful Revolutionary Guards — who helped engineer Ahmadinejad’s contested 2009 reelection — swiftly declared their devotion to Khamenei, and several of the president’s advisers were arrested.

One former Guard and current member of parliament, Mohammad Karamirad, sent Ahmadinejad a message last weekin the form of a macabre Persian proverb: “If [Khamenei] asks us to bring him a hat, we know what to bring him,” i.e., the head of the person wearing the hat.In addition to proving the primacy of Iran’s supreme leader, the rise and fall of Ahmadinejad exemplifies the contempt that Tehran’s ruling cartel has for the intelligence of its citizenry.

Ahmadinejad’s tainted reelection — which spurred millions to take to the streets — was hailed by Khamenei as a “divine assessment” and the people’s will. Two years later, Ahmadinejad and his cronies are accused by former supporters of being “deviant Zionist agents” and “possessed by the devil.”

Khamenei’s desire to project a unified front to the world is likely to keep Ahmadinejad in office until his term expires in 2013. Khamenei seeks to wield power without accountability; this requires a president who has accountability without power. A disgraced Ahmadinejad can conveniently absorb blame for the country’s endemic economic, political and social disaffection.

via The rise and fall of Iran’s Ahmadinejad – The Washington Post.