Jan 17, 2015

Duke's Mosque // Christians, be Christian... Muslims, be Muslim

Duke Chapel was to going to play an Adhan until someone decided against it. It is not clear to me who up which power structure pulled the plug on whatever was/was not planned here. The media wants to say that Franklin Graham somehow pulled the strings on Duke's powers-that-be, but I think that's the media's usual "trying to find a narrative when none exists" sort of thing. From my time at Duke, I think Franklin Graham had as much sway on that campus as, say, Donald Duck.

NPR tries to clarify things more than other news sources do, but even the reasoning behind pulling the plug is vague: "security concerns" seems to be a reason for just about any kind of questionable chicanery nowadays.

Here's my hot take on the whole mess: nevermind the who/what/where/when, ask the "why."

The "why" for those who were pro-muslim-prayer is, universally, about "pluralism."

The original decision to allow the prayer was described by Christy Lohr Sapp, the associate dean for religious life at Duke University Chapel, as "a larger commitment to religious pluralism that is at the heart of Duke's mission."

The problem with the kind of pluralism that would enjoy a Muslims call to prayer echoing from the tallest reaches of an ostensibly Christian place of worship is this: that kind of "pluralism" undermines itself entirely by eroding the massive differences between religions. That kind of "pluralism" is nothing but thinly-veiled unitarianism, a belief that all religions are not just to be treated equally, but are actually the same underneath all their veneer of difference.

That kind of "pluralism" is ignorant at best, malicious at worst:

Ignorant, at best, because Islam and Christianity have important intractable differences that mark them as separate religions. Consider the Adhan itself: this is a non-pluralistic, monotheistic, exclusivistic call to worship as specific God, one whose name should never be uttered in the walls of a proper church in a positive way:

4xالله أكبرAllāhu akbarAllah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest.
2xأشهد أن لا اله إلا اللهAsh-hadu an-lā ilāha illā allāhI bear witness that there is no God but Allah.
2xأشهد أن محمدا رسول اللهAsh-hadu anna Mohamadan-Rasul ullāhI bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
2xحي على الصلاةHayya ʿala ṣ-ṣsalātHasten to worship (salat).
2xحي على الفلاحHayya ʿala 'l-falāḥHasten to success.
2x 1الصلاة خيرٌ من النومAs-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawmPrayer is better than sleep. 2
2xالله أكبرAllāhu akbarAllah is greatest.
1xلا إله إلا اللهLā ilāha illā-AllāhThere is no God but Allah. 3
What kind of ignorant fool thinks this sort of thing is equivalent to the Christian creeds undergirding the corporate worship at Duke Chapel? This is a direct contradiction of Christian belief: I am speaking factually, not even asserting the right/wrongness of this prayer. This is different than what Christians believe. If Christians cannot maintain this difference, what does pluralism even mean?

That supporters of this prayer being broadcast from the top of a Christian place of worship are so upset by its cancellation leads me to think the worst, that is, that they have a more malicious intent:

Malicious, because folks who believe in this sort of "pluralism" would see the degredation and ultimate cessation of religious difference via the undermining of the core beliefs of these religions. This is an active unitarianism, the kind that says "screw what you believe, I think you are all the same and need to stop thinking otherwise." Who cares if a Muslim call to prayer is broadcast from the top of Duke Chapel? It is all gobbleygook anyhow, right? Let's get those Muslims and Christians (equally crazy) to both admit their beliefs are similarly stupid.

I tend to think the folks that wanted this "pluralism moment" are more ignorant than they are malicious, because the more malicious Liberal (think Bill Maher) would have wanted to prevent the Adhan as much as he would want to prevent the Christian Creeds. 


There is a final problem that is much larger than the ignorant/malicious idea of pluralism put forth by supporters of this Adhan, and that is this:

Supporters of this Adhan would never allow a similarly Christian expression from a Muslim place of worship. 

That would be anathema to these "pluralists." What if we find a Mosque in Durham and ask that the Nicene Creed be broadcast from its' minaret? I mean, come on, sure there are all sorts of things that are offensive to Muslims in that there Creed, but, hey, lets be pluralistic! 

There is no equality here. This is not about "fair play" or "equality." This is an intentional appropriation of a Christian place of worship for heretical purposes. This is an erosion of vital Christian identity. In other words, this is the antithesis of true Pluralism.

True Pluralism says: Let the Christians be truly Christian, and let the Muslims be truly Muslim. Let the Muslim worship at his Mosque, and if he lacks a Mosque, let him raise the money to build one. Let the Christian build his church and worship there. May they both be free to do as they please. Let them share in a free exchange of ideas. Let them build their schools and train their clergy. Let them do as they desire, and let their ideas compete freely in the marketplace of ideas.

That would be something - that would be real pluralism.

Nevermind Franklin Graham: just be consistent, eh?


Ironic note: this plaque sits about fifty yards from the front of Duke Chapel.

The aims of Duke University are to assert a faith in the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; to advance learning in all lines of truth; to defend scholarship against all false notions and ideals; to develop a Christian love of freedom and truth; to promote a sincere spirit of tolerance; to discourage all partisan and sectarian strife; and to render the largest permanent service to the individual, the state, the nation, and the church. Unto these ends shall the affairs of this University always be administered.

Jan 8, 2015

And Yet There is Hope for These Monsters

Another terrorist strike.

More people dead, killed for speaking their mind or, as is too often the case, merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We are wearily angry at this point, tired of our own rage at these monsters who behead, rape, bomb, and murder. Monsters who indoctrinate children to lives of miserable, unquenchable hatred. Monsters whose views of the world are so vastly different from mine that I cannot begin to help or even understand them. They are the absolute Enemy, the ones so Other to me that I cannot do anything but fight or flee from them. They are, in the eyes of many, mere animals fit for slaughter, these Monsters.

And yet there is hope for these Monsters. Yes, even for them. Even for their inner beings to be moved, for their hearts (they do have them, after all) to be moved toward goodness by the infinite power of grace.

There is hope for these Monsters because of that very thing, that awesome and unsurpassed good in the world that God bestows from time to time in an unmistakably divine and majestic manner: Grace. Grace. God's grace. Grace that can pardon and cleanse within.

I firmly believe that no one is unreachable or impenetrable by Grace. I believe this because of the first word marking so many of the books of our New Testaments: Paul.

Paul, the murderer, the persecutor, the coat-holder for the enraged masses bruising and breaking the body of our first martyr. Paul who was Saul, he who so hated the followers of Jesus that he broke down their doors

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
The implication is clear: he would bind the people of the Way and bring them to the same place where his people - the Pharisees - killed their Lord and Master, Jesus. Murder was on his breath, emanating from his inmost being.

Like these Monsters, he thought he was working for God.

Like these Monsters, he killed for righteousness' sake

Like these Monsters, he would have gone to the grave with a clean conscience, thinking he was right.

Unlike these Monsters, he was shaken to the core by a miraculous divine presence.

We struggle to think of these Monsters as individuals. We struggle to respond to them as individuals. What would you do with a terrorist if you met him face to face in a room? My first instinct would be to bash his brains out. My second would be to argue. My third? Ignore.

My last instinct? To pray. To pray for God's infinite grace to run this fellow over like a bulldozer, to blind him and send him on his knees begging to God for real wisdom, for real truth, for the ultimate revelation of where faith truly belongs: not in guns, bombs, or machetes, but in a man who gave - gave, not took - life that we might all live.

There is hope for these Monsters, and that hope is the hope for all men. Will you pray for the miraculous and transforming presence of God in the lives of even these murderers, rapists, and terrorists?