The Qur’an: One Protestant’s Lacking Review

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             As with any document that claims to be revelation from a divine source, the Qur’an concerns itself with divulging the meaning of existence within the cosmic context.  Like all holy books, its basic presuppositions find their locus in not only the actual existence of a deity but also in the desire of said deity to communicate with its creation.  Within the broader socio-religious context, the Qur’an claims to be the successor and final authority in the tradition of monotheistic religions coming out of the Middle East begun by Judaism and continued by Christianity.  The Qur’an is seen by Muslims as the miracle that ratified Muhammad’s prophetic ministry: a revelation delivered to a devout man born fatherless in the lower caste of a tribal culture.[1]  As such, the Qur’an follows the Judeo-Christian tradition in expounding the will of the transcendent God, Allah, to his creation in order to reconcile fallen humanity to himself.  This review will examine the interplay between Allah, humanity, and prayer as themes within the Qur’an.

            The Qur’an reveals Allah to humanity in a style informed by eastern traditions.  Namely, while Allah is personally concerned for humanity he is seen primarily as transcendent by Islamic traditions.  Consequently, humanity does not know Allah through personal intimacy, but rather through Allah’s self-revelation in the Qur’an and a strict adherence to the righteous lifestyle it prescribes in the Five Pillars.  While Islam has a rich theology which stems from the ninety-nine names used for Allah, four attributes in particular seem to be communicated about Allah in the Qur’an.  First, Allah is the one true God, the Creator of all that exists.  Second, Allah is the sovereign ruler of all that he created.  Third, Allah is the righteous judge of all, believing and non-believing Muslims alike.  Fourth, Allah is truly merciful and understanding to those who will confess him as the one true God and Muhammad as his prophet.

            The Qur’an proclaims that Allah “created all things and gave them due proportions” (87:2).  His power to create is a demonstration of his status as the one true God (6:102; 65:12; In verses which echo the biblical account of creation in Genesis[2], Allah created all things perfectly in six days (32:7), divided the heavens and earth (21:30), put the sun, moon and stars into orbit (21:33; 41:37), and caused the sun to give light to the day while the moon gives light to the night (10:5; 6:96).  Additionally, humanity is the pinnacle of Allah’s creation (45:13; 55:3-9; 67:2).  These claims are foundational to the Muslim understanding of Allah’s essential attributes.  The picture the Qur’an paints of who Allah is thoughtfully extends concentrically to notions that prove logically necessary.

            If Allah is the one true God, and he is the Creator of all that exists, then it logically follows that Allah is also sovereign over his creation.  Allah’s is a sovereignty that first encompasses the created order (18:26).  He has perfect control of the universe, space, time and all their workings (25:2; 35:13; 2:255).  He has also ordained the existence of living creatures (11:118), kingdoms and tribes (2:107; 3:189; 5:17-18; 9:116), and even personal affliction (6:17-18; 10:107).  Indeed, he directs all of the personal affairs of his people (9:51).  Interestingly, Allah has also directly guided the evolution of his prophets’ messages.  The revelation, mistakes and subsequent corruption of Allah’s message within the Jewish and Christian traditions were all directed by the hand of Allah (6:106-107, 148-149).  Ultimately, however, the outcome of all the created order and even those who submit to Allah are all an outcome of his volition (7:178-179; 10:99; 11:118-119; 16:93; 32:13).

            Two attributes of Allah that are set in tension against one another in the Qur’an, much like the biblical picture of God, are judgment and mercy.  The judgment of Allah is preeminently fair (95:8, 6:73).  In fact, the predominant idea surrounding Allah as judge is his ability to set everything to rights.  Islam teaches that a final judgment in which every person’s account is settled will occur.  Each, believer or unbeliever, will be accountable to Allah for their behavior (25:25-26; 40:15-17; 2:123, 254; 22:56; 3:9, 25).  The view of Allah as preeminent judge is juxtaposed with the proclamation of his mercy, sometimes within the same passage (6:12).  Often, the reach of Allah’s mercy is as ubiquitous as his sovereignty (38:66, 4:110; 39:53); and in many regards, the mercy of Allah seems far more inclusive than that expressed in the Bible (53:32; 14:7; 35:45).  Allah, then, is communicated as a divine ruler, the Creator of everything that is lavish with his mercy and fearsome to those who will not submit.  While the sin of humanity is pervasive and an affront to Allah, the Qur’an communicates a high anthropology.

            Similar to the account of creation, the Qur’an contains an account of the fall of Adam that runs parallel to the biblical account in many ways.  However, in the Qur’an Adam and Eve beg Allah’s forgiveness after their fall (7:23), and he grants them forgiveness, punishing them only with mortal life on earth (7:25).  The theological outcome of this account is a high anthropology that concedes humanity’s proclivity for sin (20:124), but rejects any kind of doctrine of “original sin,” stating instead that every person has a natural inclination toward faith and repulsion from sin (95:46; 49:7).  The Qur’an lucidly explains that humanity urges itself on to evil (12:53), that sickness dwells in their hearts (2:10), and resentful when good befalls it (70:19-21).  Nonetheless, humanity’s ultimate purpose and lifelong endeavor is the pursuit of wisdom and obedience, which the true believer pursues with joy and the unbeliever is incapable of comprehending (22:46).

            An interesting paradox occurs within the Qur’an concerning the will of humanity and Allah’s sovereignty, though.  While the Qur’an is careful to articulate the sovereign rule of Allah, its high anthropology places each person firmly in control of their obedience to or rejection of Allah.  One account of Allah’s interaction with Satan demonstrates that only humanity will be given the discretion concerning which company to keep, to choose a path of evil or righteousness (15:33-50).  Even those who pursue paths of destruction are offered respite for a time, so that they might come to the true knowledge of Allah (35:45).  In fact, the God who “governs the destiny of all things” will grant help to those who choose to pray and give (22:41-43).  Here, and in many other places, the relationship between Allah and humanity emerges.  Allah is sovereign and directs the affairs of creations, but it is the will submission of the heart which garners his favor and attention.  While all five of the Great Pillars are essential elements in demonstrating submission to Allah, prayers prove a consistent conduit of favor in the Qur’an.

            Prayer, as prescribed in the Qur’an, is a daily ritual intended to bring the person’s whole being into alignment through the remembrance of Allah (6:162; 20:14; 29:45).  It is intended that daily prayers, the Salaat, be observed throughout a person’s life (19:31; 70:23, 34).  Those prayers are to take place three times throughout the day: morning, evening, and the middle of the day (24:58; 11:114; 2:238).  There are several stipulations within the Qur’an concerning the ritual of prayer.  First, the person praying must perform ritual cleansing with water (4:43; 5:6). 

            Prayers must be said facing the Ka’ba, and must be observed on time every day (2:125, 143-150; 22:26; 4:103).  The prayer should be begun in a standing position, with noteworthy exceptions for riding or driving (2:238; 3:39; 4:102; 2:239).  The person praying physically symbolizes the submission to Allah that should be occurring in the heart by first bowing, then prostrating (4:102; 22:26; 38:24; 48:29).  Again, unusual circumstances warrant amending the physical ritual during prayer (2:239).

            Though the ritual seems to possess a large portion of the Qur’an’s teaching of prayer, there is a call to adopt a contemplative attitude as well (4:43).  It is not uncommon for the reverence expressed in prayer to be accompanied by mental recall of one of Allah’s attributes (23:2; 17:111).  This of course is intended to be a centering exercise based on the person’s condition or needs at the time of prayer.  Prayer is firmly set aside as a time to honor and reflect upon Allah (6:162; 20:14; 29:45).  Even mentioning other names during prayer times is seen as an act of rebellion against humanity’s need for God (72:18; 29:45).  Ultimately, the purpose of prayer in the Qur’an is to remember and glorify the greatness of Allah, his mercy, and humanity’s dependence upon him (1:1-7; 20:14; 17:111; 2:45).  One other unique element of prayer within the Qur’an is its frequent pairing with almsgiving.  Often, when Muslims are called to pray, they are also called to give to the poor as a demonstration of a heart that recognizes human dependence on Allah and communal responsibility for those who pray together (2:43,83,110; 4:77; 22:78; 107:1-7).  Such expressions of practicality often accompany rituals of devotion within the Qur’an.

            Consequently, it is these types of rituals, specifically that of prayer, which bridge the gap between a rebellious human population and a transcendent, holy God.  While many themes of the Qur’an have been left unexplored here, these three seem to encompass the greater intent of Muhammad’s message to Muslims.  Namely, God (Allah) does exist, and he is the sovereign creator of all that exists.  Though he transcends all of creation, he is a merciful and forgiving God to those who submit, and a fearsome and perfect judge to those who will not believe.  The crown-jewel of his creation, humanity, teeters perilously on the edge of repentance.  While all of humanity is capable of and desirous of living well, many have given way to their passions and follow a path of destruction.  However, Allah has sent Muhammad with instructions about how to live a life of submission to God.  A life that begins with confession and continues in demonstration of faith through holy living.

 


[1] Some claim that Muhammad was illiterate, and that the beauty of the Qur’an is an evidence of its divine nature.  It is a disputed point, but Muhammad was an unlikely source for the Qur’an, illiterate or not.

[2] However, in the Qur’an all living things, including humanity, were brought forth from water (21:30).

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29 Comments

  1. Shawn:

    Why does Muhammad’s illiteracy make him an unlikely source for the Koran? Is your assumption that a person who cannot write cannot speak well? If so, I think you’ve overlooked the difference between an oral and a literate culture. Both can produce works of great verbal merit, but they do so in different ways.

    And anyway, Arabic is such a beautiful language that reading the Yellow Pages in Arabic sounds beautiful. I’m not sure this would argue for the Yellow Page’s divinity, however.

    George

    Reply

  2. George,

    Thanks for interacting – you’re critical eye is always appreciated.

    The footnote may have been poorly worded. I intended to communicate that Muhammad’s literacy is, in fact, irrelevant (certainly, for the reasons you cite if nothing else).

    His socio-economic status prior to marrying a wealthy widow, and his tribal connection to the religious pluralism of Mecca are a couple of things that make him an unlikely source for the content of the Qur’an.

    Shawn

    Reply

  3. Shawn:

    Thanks for the clarification on literacy, but now I’m not sure why these other points matter.

    Was his tribe polytheistic? Yes. But there were monotheists (Christians, Jews, and others) in Arabia at the time. And we know that Muhammad had interaction with these people due to his trade journeys to Syria and back.

    Was his premarital socioeconomic status such that it unlikely to have made up the Koran by himself? No. The Banu Hashim of the Quraysh tribe were influential, and Muhammad’s grandfather and uncle were successive chiefs of the tribe. Muhammad’s skill as a trader earned him a good reputation, which is why Khadijah was attracted to him (in part). So, he may not have been wealthy, but he wasn’t unsuccessful.

    And anyway, the Koran came after his marriage, when he had a measure of leisure to think through issues.

    So again, I’m not sure why you think Muhammad was an “unlikely source” for the Koran.

    George

    Reply

  4. George,

    I am merely offering conjecture about how likely a person in Muhammad’s position would have been to deviate from “what was working.”

    He grew up in a tribe that had some influence over the religious tone (though it was largely driven by the economy and not any personal/communal commitment to religious ideas)- as such his ideas about monotheism, social justice, equality, etc. were vehemently opposed (which would have meant opposition to the tribe) How likely is that to happen?

    He was not wealthy (as you noted) until he was married, so the exposure to monotheism due to travel would have come after a “life of leisure” began. However, again, it would have seriously harmed (did harm) his standing in the community to contradict the social and cultural norms that made his position possible.

    This footnote is not an attempt on my part to prove any claim that Islam makes about Muhammad, it is merely an observation regarding the Muslim tradition surrounding the transmission of the document.

    Shawn

    Reply

  5. Shawn:

    What are the metrics of probability here?

    Muhammad was raised in a prominent clan, although it was sort of down on his luck in his early years. But when he was a child, his grandfather evidently provided for him minimally. When he was older, and his clan had achieved more prominence, his uncle helped shelter him from the negative response to some of his radical monotheistic ideas. Which part of this incredibly complex mix makes it unlikely that Muhammad would side with the little guy against the powerful guys (his early social ethic)? To me, it seems that his background would have sensitized him to the plight of the poor and outcast, since he–although well-connected–was nonetheless relatively poor and outcast himself in his early years.

    He traveled prior to his marriage. That’s how he earned his reputation as an honest trader and attracted the attention of Khadijah. Thus, he was exposed to Christian, Jewish, and indigenous Arabian forms of monotheism prior to his marriage and ensuing life of leisure, not after it. Indeed, it was only after his marriage that he had the means no longer to travel on long caravans. I think you’ve got the historical chronology backward, in other words.

    If this is the correct chronology, then Muhammad’s emerging monotheism tracks with his rising social status. His relative wealth enabled him to withstand the vicissitudes of criticism from others. And, in turn, it probably helped “buy” the favor of a few since he finally had some “favor” to throw around himself.

    George

    Reply

  6. George,

    I don’t disagree with your analysis. I think you have articulated the anthropological/historical view of Muhammad well. I have tried to present the situation as I believe Islam would, so no problems from my end.

    Interestingly, this seems to be a fairly clear situation from our perspective, but it was sufficient to satisfy the questions Muslims had for centuries – because, of course, Islam views Muhammad’s switch to monotheism as a divinely inspired event, one that led to the miracle of the Qur’an. Perhaps it is our distance from the original situation that prevents us?

    Shawn

    Reply

  7. Shawn:

    In my case, it’s not “distance from the original situation,” it’s skepticism of the revelation. I believe Muhammad had (or at least thought he had) a profound spiritual experience. The question is, “Of what spirit?” That’s a theological question.

    All I’ve been trying to do is point out that there are non-miraculous explanations of the beauty of the Koran, and that these are at least as plausible as the traditional, miraculous ones offered by Muslims.

    George

    Reply

  8. One more thought:

    Interestingly, the Christian concept of divine revelation is more expansive than the traditional Muslim one, which is really a dictation theory of inspiration. Christians hold Scripture to be divine revelation (or at least traditionally did), but this concept of revelation included dictation (the Law, the Letters to the 7 Churches, etc.); historical investigation (the OT Historical Books, Luke-Acts); and common-sense investigation (e.g., Proverbs); as well as admixtures of revelation and personal style (e.g., the Prophets, who spoke the Word of the Lord in their own distinctive voices and ways).

    Because the Koran is dictated revelation, and because it is beautiful (although how beautiful Arabic language scholars might debate), traditionally Muslims have contrasted Muhammad’s relatively low origins with Koranic beauty to score debater’s points. How could such an awful man have written such a beautiful book under his own steam? I think this argument appeals to Muslims because of their background beliefs (just as intelligent design is a more convincing system to people who are already believers), but I don’t know that we need to pussyfoot around its critical flaws.

    GPW

    Reply

    1. I often believe that I have been such a disitpoanpment. But, know that when God sees me he sees Jesus. But, here is what I often think about. If God sees Jesus who died for all of our sins, what does Jesus see when he looks down on earth. I try so very hard to be a good person and when I try really hard, I fail. But, when I run to Jesus to say I am sorry, he holds out his arms takes me into a tight hug and tells me it is okay. Go try again but, let me help you. Each day is better than the day before.

      Reply

  9. Shawn, George

    Looks like I’m back for another visit.
    You are both correct. Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) did seem an “unlikely” candidate for Prophethood because while his tribe the Quraish had a lot of status, the Prophet himself was an orphan and had no direct “status”. This did give him a personal advantage in his youth though–because of his percieved neutrality, he became a magnet for arbitration of disputes–and since his arbitration was fair, he was popular. They called him Al-Amin (the trustworthy)
    The Prophet(pbuh) was an ordinary bussnessman (with great character) who was also a spiritual-seeker (which was what he was doing in the cave in the first place—meditating). However, his ordinary existence simply took a fateful turn one day when something extraordinary happened.

    “illiterate Prophet”—it is correct that there may be some dispute about the understanding of the word “illitrate” some feel it refers to the idea of being unable to read and write, some say it refers to the fact that the Prophet(pbuh) was not a “poet” and others say it means that the Prophet(pbuh) was not “versed in scripture” (–as the Quran points out)which means he did not have any in-depth knowledge of (previous)scripture. Those Christians unfamiliar with Judaism may miss this point–but the Quran does not simply intersect with the Torah, there are also many intersects from the Talmud, apocrypha and Rabbinical works in the Quran. The theory (of some non-muslims) is that the Prophet(pbuh) may have had a Rabbi as a teacher. (It is a theory out there —but facts as they stand–do not support it yet. Nevertheless it is one of many theories about the Quran.)The similarities between the Torah and the Gospels (both NT and others) are easy to explain—but what has stumped non-muslim scholars are the fascinating differences. These are harder to explain—the easiest explanation comming from some Christian sources is that he misunderstood the Bible. However, “misunderstood” inadequately expresses the differences between the Torah and the Quran.

    George–“his relative wealth….” According to the traditions we have, the Prophet(pbuh) thought he had lost his mind—after-all, he was simply minding his own bussiness, meditating, when out of nowhere, and for no apparent reason he could think of, he kinda got zapped into prophethood. It was a Christian relative of his wife, who explained to him about Angel Gabriel, and being a Prophet etc.
    He did the best he could—but it was a difficult journey—The more popular his message of justice, compassion and equality became, the more he and his followers were abused and persecuted–a group of his followers left for the (Christian) kingdom of Abysinia where they sought refuge. During this time of persecution, the resulting hardship took a toll on his family—his wife and young child died. His Uncle (and protector) also died. Without a protector, the threats against him and his followers took a deadly turn–there were plans to kill him.

    Shawn—“interesting paradox”–Free-will vs Pre-Determinism. You have brought up an important point—the Quran iteslf is very nuanced in this regard—Our Free-will is a gift from God, which he can take away at any moment if he so wills, however, he is Compassionate and Merciful and gives us this gift to use—but with this gift comes the resposnibility to be accountable for our choices. This balance has been debated by muslim scholars (8/9th CE—12th/13th CE)—for a long time with some favoring a more pro-free-will stance and others a more pro-pre-determinism stance.—(Most translators try to keep a carefully neutral stance) The stance of the Quran on the issue—God has no “needs”(or desires)—the guidance that we are given is not for the benefit of God, but for our soul(nafs). We are free to choose it or discard it—the decision will have consequences as all our choices do. Thus, though God will guide whom he pleases—we must make the choice first—God will not make that choice for us—he will provide us the opportunities to make choices. If God were to force his choices onto us (which he can—being omnipotent)it could create an injustice/oppression—and God is just, compassionate and merciful.

    Taqwa–God-consiousness/God-awareness. The 5 pillars of Islam are rituals requiring descipline—Spiritual descipline is for the purpose of developing Taqwa. The Quran says God is closer to us than our jugular vein—by developing Taqwa, “we” (soul/nafs) will be able to develop the ability to live our lives as if “God is right there in front of us” this state of being is called “Ihsan”. There are a total of 3 states–Islam is the lowest, Iman is next and Ihsan is the highest.
    It is not my intention to impose my views or even “muslim” views, only explain them.
    The above post was interesting and I would not mind commenting on a few other points…such as the “6 days of creation”, “original sin/proclivity to sin”….etc……..(If a dialogue were to continue, my primary interest would be to find areas of compatibility/similiarity between Christianity and Islam.)

    Reply

  10. George,

    I must be making strides in my personal struggle against being obnoxious – this has to be the first time I have EVER been accused of pussyfooting around something. It feels kind of nice. :0)

    Kat,

    You said:

    “If a dialogue were to continue, my primary interest would be to find areas of compatibility/similiarity between Christianity and Islam.”

    I am sure that many would express a wide range of opinion as to how plausible this would be – even on this site. However, I would love to have this dialogue with you. I am very interested in getting input from the Muslim community.

    Shawn

    Reply

  11. George wrote:
    Because the Koran is dictated revelation, and because it is beautiful (although how beautiful Arabic language scholars might debate), traditionally Muslims have contrasted Muhammad’s relatively low origins with Koranic beauty to score debater’s points.

    RESPONSE:
    If these points score high with Muslims, then they should have no problem accepted the Book of Mormon because the Mormons use the same argument. Joseph Smith was young and unlearned, but look what a marvelous book he wrote. It must be a miracle book. What they fail to tell us is that there have been thousands of corrections to grammar and spelling in the BoM. If God dictated it, then he was not so good at English grammar. There is also evidence that the BoM was plagiarized from a couple of different sources.

    Likewise, there is evidence that parts of the Quran are derived from pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts that were misinterpreted by later Islamic scholars who prepared the editions of the Quran commonly read today. Google “Koran textual criticism” and you may be surprised at what you find.

    Reply

  12. Kat:

    You wrote, “If a dialogue were to continue, my primary interest would be to find areas of compatibility/similiarity between Christianity and Islam.” I’m less interested in addressing that question than in how Christians and Muslims can live together despite their rather deep theological differences.

    George

    Reply

  13. George—“Christians and Muslims live together.” Theological differences do not pose much of a problem (IMO)—In Asia, populations are dense, people of all religions live shoulder to shoulder. Eastern Christianity has had relations with Islam since the time of the Prophet(pbuh), as I mentioned before, Eastern Christians gave refuge to muslims fleeing persecution, some churches extended their hands in friendship to the Prophet(pbuh) and collaborations between Eastern Christians and Muslims continued—for example, the Christian scholars Joannitius (Arab name–Hunayn Ibn Ishaq) and Johannes Damscenus(Arab name–Abu Zakaria) translated many Greek works that helped build the “Golden Age”.
    I am open to dialogue on this issue if there are areas you would like to explore.

    Shawn–“love to have dialogue” Thankyou for your kind invitation. You mentioned charity as one of the similarities–In Judeo-Islam, Charity(the practice of compassion) is an important spiritual component for both faiths. However, Judeo-Islamic understanding is that good intention/good actions are an important aspect of life and spirituality–and in Islam it gets tied into “Judgement”. How do Christians view Charity?–it is my understanding that “Judgement” depends on “faith–not works” —What is your approach to God-consciousness/God awareness and how does it inform spiritual progress? are there levels of spirituality/soul? Is there an ultimate spiritual goal?(In Buddhism it is achieving Nirvana(enlightenment) in Judaism, the highest level of spirituality/soul is Neshama and in Islam it is Nafs mutmaina)…I know these are very basic questions but maybe they could serve as a starting point for exploring further?—If you have questions of your own—do ask.

    Reply

  14. This was an interesting exposition, Shawn.

    I actually have an iPod App for the Qu’ran with a recitation function, since (I only recently found out) this falls in line with how it is supposed to be experienced within Islam. It’s not to be simply read, it’s to be recited aloud. I’m not saying I “get it” or anything like that, it’s simply a different way to get into the text in addition to study, and it’s pretty cool.

    I do find it interesting that the similarities in creation narratives, the first two humans, and a handful of other stories often get relegated to a category of “Ripped off from Christianity,” thus they are considered unoriginal “myths” while somehow the Christian version of these narratives are viewed as original and authoritative in some way.

    Why not continue going further back into the lineage of those stories to their roots? I don’t understand the historical stopping point and I really don’t see it as a negative… you know, for any religion to admit there are common themes among them even when in other places they disagree. But I digress. Sorry.

    However, I do appreciate Islam’s focus on prayer and communication to God and his overarching attribute of mercy.

    I’d be interested in seeing how this is supposed to work, possibly by way of contrasting and comparing the Christian and Islamic view of Final Judgement and things of that sort.

    Reply

  15. Tony,

    In many cases we do have some of the original documents and stories from which Hebrew scriptures “borrow” – and usually subvert. Intro to Hebrew Bible usually starts right off the bat with “The Gilgamesh Epic” or some other similar story.

    Reply

  16. Oh I know.

    I just find it interesting that, for instance, my folks and thousands (millions?) of other people like them believe the Bible is 100% original and *le sigh* even factual historically speaking, and that all them other myths are big fat lies of the devil.

    Sorry. I’ll try to avoid sarcasm.

    Reply

  17. Christian and Islamic view of final Judgement—I would be interested in exploring that as well—Could I ask,How Christian is Dante’s version? Does Christianity really have purgatory? Also–is there a “mainstream” Christianity?–I am under the impression that the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches are the “biggies”—would they be “mainstream”?
    I am out of time—but can explain Islamic concept of Judgement later……..

    Reply

  18. Now Dante I can talk about… though probably not in a comment in a thread, lest we derail the entire discussion.

    …But Dante’s Inferno and The Salvific Figure of Beatrice was the topic of one of my senior papers.

    To sum it up, I would venture to say his salvation, at a cursory glance, is more along the lines of catholicism by containing Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

    But he was also writing an epic poem in the style of other epic poems, namely Virgil’s Aeneid (which Inferno is roughly based on) though it contains many other themes and elements; so some of the method for salvation and transformation are informed by much more archaic archetypal stories that neither Protestant nor Catholic Christianity would resemble when examined closely.

    Okay, done for the moment. Don’t get me started on Dante. 😛

    Reply

  19. Kat,

    I would say that there is a huge disparity between many Christians in regards to the Final Judgement.

    Some believe in physical flames that burn eternally in which will be all who do not “accept” Christ as Lord and Saviour; there are some who are pluralistic and who place little to no emphasis on the Final Judgement in their view.

    In a way, views of The Final Judgement can be fitted loosely into views of who will be “saved” – Exclusivists, Inclusivists and Pluralists. I myself am an Inclusivist who believes in a “hell” which is “where-God-is-not” where “dwell” those who persist in resisting Christ even to their own non-existence.

    Even Roman Catholic views of Purgatory are shifting slightly. They recently rid themselves of the doctrine of “Limbo” and, the Holy Father, when he was not yet Pope wrote some pretty interesting stuff on Purgatory being more “instantaneous” but still having a cleansing effect.

    Historically speaking, it is difficult to maintain the idea that Jesus’s talking of “Ghenna” had anything to do with “hell” conceived of as Dante did.

    Reply

  20. disparity between Christians—I understand some Christians take the Bible more literally than others–is this where the diversity of understanding occurs?

    Judgement—
    Personally, I am pro-free-will—my life experiences incline me this way—I will try to stick to the more nuanced perspective of the Quran, but my bias may color our discussion a bit.
    Day—The word “Day”(Youm)has the connotation of “a period of time” rather than earth-day(24hr period)–The Quran explains that it could be a thousand (earth)years or fifty thousand (earth)years or any period of time. (this would also apply to the “6 days” of creation–it means 6 “periods of time”)
    Soul—Both Islam and Judaism have the concept of “soul/self” (Nefesh-Hebrew, Nafs-Arabic). “We” are the consciousness/self that inhabits the body/form. At Judgement, it is the nafs that will be judged. Whatever actions we take, good or bad, effects our nafs. Good intentions and actions strengthens our nafs and brings us closer to Taqwa (God-consciousness) while bad intentions and actions “degrades” our nafs. (Human beings are created inherently good)
    Experience death—At death, our body/form dies and nafs(“we”) experience this death (but do not “die”). Judgement-Day does not occur at the time of death of the body, but will happen at some time in the future. There will be Justice (tempered with mercy) and “we”(nafs) will be convinced of the absolute Justice of the descision. (the details are described in the Quran)
    After Judgement—Everyone will be sorted into 3 groups—those that are closest to God (firdaus), those that go to Paradise, and those that go to hell. This will be for a “long period of time as God wills”
    I have tried to simpilfy things—it is actually more complicated and the Quran spends a lot of time explaining it.—if you have questions—ask.

    “Historically speaking, it is difficult to maintain the idea that Jesus’s talking of “Ghenna” had anything to do with “hell” conceived of as Dante did.” —interesting—-could you elaborate? What was Jesus Christ(pbuh) talking of?

    Views of Exclusivists, Inclusivists, and Pluralists—-more details please?—along with more about the RC Church’s views of today………..

    another quick comment—Although we muslims consider ourselves part of the “Abrahamic family”, We also believe Islam itself–as in “the path to submission” (to God)started from the beginning of mankind—from Prophet Adam(pbuh) so stories of Gilgamesh or “archaic archetypal stories” need not be excluded unless everyone feels it is for the best.

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  21. Kat,

    You could go on for hours trying to nail down a definition for sin. For starters, it depends entirely upon what Christian tradition you seek out.

    Raised in a pentecostal tradition, I always defined it as: Anything that separates a person from God.

    This is a pretty popular definition in recent years, I think. However, I’ve had to let it go since I’ve had a very hard time figuring out what it actually means. At face value it sounds nice, but it really doesn’t carry much weight when I think about it for too long.

    A better definition might simply be: Anything that, without God’s forgiveness, would land you in Hell.

    But since Christianity generally asserts that we’re born with a sinful nature and there’s no way around that, well, we’re sort of screwed from the get-go.

    I’ll stop before I come off too glib. In all honesty, I’m trying to be frank and reserve the long winded elucidation for the real scholars. I’m just a hack.

    😛

    Reply

  22. Sin—maybe if we added an extra word it might make it work?—how about—“everthing that seperates us from God-Concsiousness”? For Christians—if they have faith in Jesus Christ(pbuh) and practice compassion and mercy (through charity…etc) as he taught—it would increase them in God-Consiousness? Would something like that work for Christians?—Taqwa is a major concept in Islam.

    here is some interesting stuff on salvation——(concerning muslims—see 841)
    Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church

    839 “Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways.”

    The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People, “the first to hear the Word of God.” The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”

    840 And when one considers the future, God’s People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.

    841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

    842 The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race:

    All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .

    Found this too——-
    1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”

    Reply

  23. Kat,

    I promise I’ll reply when I get the chance. I’m super busy right now. Perhaps you could elaborate what you mean by “God consciousness.”

    Reply

  24. Kat,

    I got way behind on this conversation, I apologize. My students needed me to do some grading/tutoring for them so I went off the radar for a little while. Let me see if I can offer some admittedly shallow answers to some of your questions:

    Let’s start with the first –

    “How do Christians view Charity?–it is my understanding that “Judgement” depends on “faith–not works” —“

    Unfortunately, I have witnessed that charity in some Christian groups has merely become perfunctory. As a matter of personal discipline/habit many Christians donate 10% of their income to their local church (not the poor/needy, but that’s a rant for another time) without any real concern for the “why’s” or “how’s” of charity. They, more often than not, are very sweet, dedicated Christians who have faithfully supported their local church for a long time. However, the mindset among many is that you give to be obedient, to receive blessings in return, or to further the agenda of the local congregation/pastor (none, of which are bad per se).

    There is a broader theological sense, though, in which giving encompasses the personal sacrifices of a believer (Romans 12:1) in service to God. This type of self-sacrificing charity is a sign of righteous living in Christianity.

    Now, part two of your question – there has been an overcorrection happening in Protestant Christianity (think of the Sufi response to legalism within Sunni traditions) for going on six centuries concerning the relationship of faith and salvation. Protestants broke from the Catholic Church due to (and I am way oversimplifying here) abuses by the authority structure in the Catholic Church. In response, the Protestant church has long emphasized the role of faith in salvation, hoping to avoid a system that legitimizes the ecclesiastical role in a person’s salvation (what is often referred to as a “works based” salvation, where a person “earns” righteousness by ritualistic adherence to prescribed behaviors/ceremonies). This separation supposedly prevents the church from exerting too much authority over the believer. However, there are strong themes in the Gospels and in the book of James that demonstrate that behavior and faith cannot ever be divorced. James 2:24, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”

    So, I believe that the New Testament teaches that a person who is capable of expressing faith is a person who demonstrates that faith by righteous behavior that will necessarily include charity (in the broader sense, not JUST in what has become the perfunctory monetary sense).

    Shawn

    Reply

  25. Shawn—thanks for the explanation. I like what you said about expressing faith by righteous behaviour.
    In your opinion, what has caused some Christians to misunderstand/move away from the teachings of the NT? My previous attempts to understand Christianity have been frustrating because as soon as I felt I had “got it”, some other Christian would come along and inform me I had “got it” all wrong!.

    God-Consciousness—-I prefer the term God-Awareness. This is when “we”(“self”/Consciousness)awaken to the awareness of the Divine so that our intentions and actions reflect this state at all times. (the highest level of this state would be nafs mutmaina)In some religions, awareness of the Divine comes through contemplation of nature (—one could say, natures submission to God’s will) Others work this out through getting “in touch” with the spirituality within by silencing the mental activities of the “self”/consciousness. Another way to promote God-awareness is through practices/rituals that encourage the development of compassion and mercy. (God=compassion, mercy)
    So–what would seperate us from God-awareness?—Christians might answer–the devil—but in Islam, the ultimate responsibility for all of one’s intentions and actions, rests with the individual. Good intentions and actions strengthen the nafs/self while bad intentions and actions degrades it, seperating it from Taqwa/God-Awareness.

    Reply

    1. Kat,

      “Sin” is a word that has several layers of meaning. Or, if you like, there are several ways of looking at the concept. There is a sense where “sin” is a breach of God’s laws. These can be explicit laws in holy Scripture or “laws of nature.” In this case it is almost always viewed legally with an imagined courtroom where the sinner is guilty plain and simple because the “law” is plain and simple.

      This is a very important way – if not the exclusive way – of viewing sin amongst Evangelicals who tend to view the “atoning” work of Christ as a legal payment. This is often called the “Penal Substitutionary” view of what what “accomplished” by Christ’s death on the Cross. (I am here, of course, assuming the Christian picture of who Jesus was and what happened to him).

      Another way to view sin is as an “out-of-tune” way of acting or being in the world. An image may help. In Eastern Christianity it was/is common to think of the Creation as participating in the “dance” of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sin in this picture is an upsetting of the balance of how Creation ought to be: Dancing wrongly or refusing direction. In this view Christ’s whole existence as Incarnate God is as important as the Cross and Resurrection in that it shows how to properly be as God is, so sin is conceived of less as legal breach and more as a refusal to love.

      There are likely other ways of viewing sin but I hesitate to wax eloquent as it is so interconnected to other themes such as the “Fall,” “Redemption,” “Law” and “Grace” that it would a) be beyond my ability to explain well, and b) take a heck of a lot of time.

      There are many devotional habits that have developed amongst the Church that encourage what you call “God – Awareness.” As far as what keeps us from promoting such habits? One need not blame the “devil” for what often is simply laziness or selfishness. “The Devil” has a varied history in the Church and I do not at all feel compelled to comply to the highly anthropomorphized “devil” that has been promoted since the late Middle Ages both in Roman Catholicism and in Evangelical churches. “Evil” does not need to be incarnate and is most traditionally viewed in Christian theology as a point of “nothingness” rather than an active force being spread abroad.

      Reply

  26. Thankyou. That was an interesting (and understandable)explanation.
    I like the Eastern Christianity concept of sin–Asian religions also emphasize the harmony created by “balance”—that “balance” is natural and imbalance is unnatural.
    God’s Law—Both Islam and Judaism have “God’s Law” Halaka-Judaism, and Sharia-Islam. What is God’s Law in Christianity?
    In Judeo-Islam, “Law” has 2 areas–those between man and God and between man and man. In the area of “law” concerning man and man (Fiqh–Islam) the injured party has the right to seek justice (–within an appropriate system of jurisprudence).—but in those areas between man and God, only God has the authority to make judgements (—according to the Quran–though this aspect is sometimes ignored today)
    Devil/Satan—A Jewish person explained it to me as “a force of fragmentation” which I think fits with Islam as well. Both Judaism and Islam view Satan as a “weak” force. In Islam—this “force” is only as powerful as (individual)humans allow it to be.
    The “self”/soul has levels (Judaism—“animal self”/”egoic”level is Yezter hara (a part of Nefesh), Islam—Nafs amara. The higher level is Yezter hatov–Judaism, Nafs lawamah–Islam)In Islam, the “animal self”/”egoic” level is necessary for the survival of the body—we all need to eat, sleep, have shelter and companionship…etc—however, when these desires become excessive then harmony/balance in “self” is destroyed

    If “Evil”=”Nothingness”, how is its existence explained?

    Reply

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