erik lundegaard

Religion posts

Friday November 14, 2014

The Pepsi Challenge in Syria

Two Sundays ago, The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on and by Theo Padnos, an American who was captured in 2012 by Nusra Front, a Syrian al Qaeda organization, tortured for months and months, and eventually let go this fall. He's writing a book about the experience. There are interesting sections throughout the piece, and I recommend reading it all, because we rarely get such firsthand accounts from the War on Terror, but the section below stuck out for me in trying to parse the difference between the various groups in Syria, and for the humanity on display:

I was curious about the futures of the five people now responsible for looking after me. What if they retired from military life, I asked, went home and promised to obey the Islamic State in the future? Would the group still wish to kill them?

Continue reading the main story

“Of course,” they said.

“Really?” I asked. “But why?”

“Because we are Jebhat al Nusra,” they replied.

I knew the answer to the next question but asked it anyway. “Your practice of Islam is exactly the same as ISIS — you admire the same scholars and interpret the Quran just as they do?”

“Yes,” they agreed. “All of this is true.”

“And it’s true,” I said, “that when you joined Al Qaeda, in the early goings of the revolution, ISIS did not exist?”

“Yes, this is so,” the fighters agreed.

“And now they’re hoping to kill you?” I asked.

They shrugged their shoulders. “Yes.”

“But the situation is absurd,” I said. “You’re like a guy on the street drinking a bottle of Pepsi. Along comes the Seven-Up salesman. ‘Wicked man!’ says the Seven-Up salesman. ‘How dare you drink Pepsi? You must die.’ Under the circumstances, it ought to be O.K. for you to reply: ‘I’m quite sorry, sir. But when I went into the store, there was only one brand of soft drink available. Pepsi. That’s what I bought. Where’s the problem?’ ” The foot soldiers, all in their 20s and early 30s, were regular cola drinkers and were happy I had put the matter in everyday commercial terms. Everyone laughed.

The real issue between the Nusra Front and the Islamic State was that their commanders, former friends from Iraq, were unable to agree on how to share the revenue from the oil fields in eastern Syria that the Nusra Front had conquered.

What lessons do we get reading this piece? Some of them: 1) People will find any way to justify any behavior; 2) we don't know how good we have it in the U.S.; and 3) everyone wants a Western girlfriend. Also this: 4) even when they say it's about religion, listen to Deep Throat: follow the money. 

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Posted at 02:05 PM on Nov 14, 2014 in category Religion
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Monday April 07, 2014

Reader Comment of the Day: Who Put the Conservatism in Christianity?

A reader named Kersy said the following following my review of “Noah”:

The co-option of Christianity in the culture by conservatives is the worst thing to happen to it since, what, the witch trials? The people who make noise about this movie for embellishment are the same ones who have never put real, deep thought into their faith and beliefs but who think and feel and see what they're told by a group of self-appointed arbiters of what is actually a wildly diverse religion. They don't want to be challenged or engaged; they only want comfort and affirmation.

“Noah” doesn't completely work, but it's a shallow faith that prefers “Son of God” and “God's Not Dead.” ...

And sorry for the rant! I'm just a Christian who is consistently insulted by the pandering crap I'm “supposed” to support because it “shares my values” even though it rarely does (unless we're getting pro-gay marriage, pro-choice Christian film? Anyone? Bueller?). I was thrilled to see “Noah”'s creation montage be all about evolution, and I'm not looking forward to the fresh hell that “Heaven Is For Real” appears to be. Ok, I'm done.

Unfortunately, I'm not. My review of “God's Not Dead” up tomorrow.

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Posted at 09:04 AM on Apr 07, 2014 in category Religion
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Sunday October 13, 2013

Our Misapplication of the Golden Rule

We know it this way:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

But we tend to live it this way:

Why aren't others doing unto me as I would do unto them? Fuckers.

Or the shorter version:

Well, I would never...

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Posted at 08:46 AM on Oct 13, 2013 in category Religion
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Tuesday July 30, 2013

Reza Aslan and FOX-News' Projection Problem

This viral video has been making the rounds for a couple of days. I saw a truncated version earlier but it's worth it to watch the full monty:

Here's what's happening and it's startling in its obviousness: projection. FOX-News and its anchor are projecting onto the interviewee, religious scholar Reza Aslan, their own narrow tendencies. They can't believe that someone, anyone, and particularly someone on the other side (of the religious question), couldn't be partisan, because they themselves are so partisan. 

These are the questions the FOX-News anchor asks Aslan. The beauty is in his responses, so watch for that, but just look at the questions:

  • You're a Muslim, so why did you write a book about Christianity?
  • Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?
  • How are your findings different from what Islam actually believes about Jesus? <-- This is a real follow-up question.
  • What do you say to [this criticism from Dr. William Lane Craig]?
  • What are your conclusions about Jesus? <-- This is where an unbiased interview would have started.
  • What do you say to [the comparison that your book is like a Democrat writing about Reagan]?
  • But why would a Democrat want to promote democracy by writing about a Republican?

After that last fumbled question, she merely makes statements. Most are attacks. “To say that your information is different from theirs is really not being honest here” is one. “I believe you've been on several programs and have never disclosed you're a Muslim” is another. Both of her statements are incorrect.

Aslan (and how beautiful is it that he shares the name of C.S. Lewis' lion?) nails it in the end:

I think that the fundamental problem here is that you're assuming that I have some sort of faith-based bias in this work that I write ... My job as a scholar of religions, with a Ph.D. in the subject, is to write about religions, and one of the religions that I write about is one that was launched by Jesus. ...

I think it's unfair to simply assume that because of my faith background that there is some agenda on this book ...

But they assume that because they know their own mind. It's what they do. They have bias; they have an agenda. It not only permeate the network, it's the point of the network.

The truly awful thing? Apparently there's a discussion to be had about this book, and it would've fit right into FOX-News' actual political agenda, since Aslan is basically calling Jesus a revolutionary for the poor and oppressed. That's hardly a new thought but it's not FOX-News' interpretation. Put another way: That interpretation of Jesus doesn't work for FOX-News or the GOP. So that's the discussion they could've had. Instead we got this. Because the network couldn't get past “Muslim.”

In the end, I actually learned something here. I learned that those weren't thieves being crucified alongside Jesus. At least according to this one scholar with a Ph.D. in religions.

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Posted at 08:42 AM on Jul 30, 2013 in category Religion
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Tuesday July 09, 2013

Ricky Gervais Finds God

The God of Thunder (second from left, behind the hot chick), hanging with his buds.

The Avengers, and Thor, Ricky Gervais' new God

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Posted at 02:58 PM on Jul 09, 2013 in category Religion
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