Okay, so this is an arbitrary debate that has gotten on my nerves from some time. I want to first come out to say that both sides of this argument are whiny and oversensitive.
Non-celebrating folk, when somebody wishes you a Merry Christmas, don't get your panties in a bunch. They are trying to be polite. Just simply say "you too" or "happy holidays" and be on your way. Get over the sight of a Christmas tree in public too. It's such a commercial holiday and the tree is practically void of any religious significance.
The people who are opposed to the saying of Happy Holidays, you are even worse. When someone wishes you Happy Holidays, they are not only trying to be polite, but thoughtful in unassuming what you celebrate. After all, this is a holiday season; Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the solstice, and New Years all take place at this time. There are many holidays, not all religious, during this six week span. When someone wishes you a Happy Holiday, they are generically including any and all holidays you may or may not celebrating. And get over the religious persecution, because most of you have stood by while your second-most holy holiday has become so commercialized. You've monopolized the holiday season for years and years, so don't be angry when others are merely trying to be included.
I typically just say both unless I'm talking to someone whom I'm unsure what they celebrate.
In short, this isn't a time to be so hostile over the semantics of well wishing. Get over such petty differences and try to enjoy yourselves. It's a time to be happy, or at least try to be.
The three topics I chose for my paper was about each faith and it’s relation to the world (science, the natural and metaphysical life), sexuality and gender, and politics.I asked the Imam my questions in his office following the service. A member of the church came in and offered us a bottle of water and some Guava juice.While the Imam and I had some minor difficulties communicating (he spoke good English but was born in Yemen and had a less-developed vocabulary), he was very open in answering questions and kind.When I asked him about how strict his mosques interpretation of the scriptures was, he said that for nearly all Muslims, the word of God is what it is, and while different groups interpret differently, they adhere very close to their interpretations (there are very few who have a loose interpretation).I began with my first topic.I asked if Islam was open to scientific theories like the big bang and evolution, and he confirmed that Islam is open to science.He acknowledged that in the early days of Islam, we did not have the means to make the discoveries we know today, and that they often take belief in the scientific discoveries that are made; that said, there are certain practices by scientists that Muslims object to ethically.He said that all the scientific happenings in the world are directly caused by the hand of God, and that he has an ultimate purpose for everything.He said that when a loved one dies, they can be sad, but they do not become angry with God because they believe that as God gives, he has the right to take away.He said Muslims believe that humans are given free will to do the right thing and carry out the word of God themselves.Having the knowledge I wanted about his thoughts on the natural, I asked about the metaphysical world.I asked if all Muslims go to heaven, and he said yes; a Muslim may go to hell if they make the wrong choices, but ultimately believing in the word of Muhammad will get you into heaven eventually.He said he does not believe a Jew or Christian or any non-Muslim can get into heaven ever because they don’t believe in Muhammad’s word, but also admitted that it is not up to him to decide.He acknowledged his interpretation has a chance of being wrong, and that he could go to hell before heaven, and that non-Muslims could go to heaven, if this were the case.
I asked the pastor my question during the coffee break.He was friendly upon greeting me, but initially did not seem enthusiastic about being asked questions.He answered them kindly and casually though, and the idea that he did not want to ask quickly went away.He reminded me that there is no universal thought in his church or in Presbyterianism, and that his answers may not be the same if I were to ask others.When asked if he objects to scientific theories, he said that he does not.He told me that he thinks religion and science ought to be friends, and that they can describe the world together.He believes that natural disasters are products of nature, and that God would not cause such a thing.In terms of free will, he said that humans have free will but often times the environment plays a major role that we cannot change.In the metaphysical world, he believes that Jesus died for all people, Christians and otherwise. He believes that heaven is for everyone, and a person is only in hell if they believe that is where they will be; he quotes a philosopher “we create hell for ourselves”.He says there may or may not be a hell like many believe in, but if there is a lot of it is right here on Earth.
Upon asking the Imam about sexuality and gender, I noted that there were no females at the service.He informed me that the women meet in a separate room on the other side of the building (my mom, who drove me, said she saw women going in the back of the building).He said this is common for many mosques—some will allow them in the same room and have the women in back—and the purpose is to protect the women; it is a preventative measure to keep people from lusting, and it protects women as men are typically more aggressive than women when they lust.He said that we all lust as it is only natural, but it is very wrong to do so while worshipping.I asked if he thinks women are inferior, and he said not at all, but they do assign gender roles because they think working comes more natural to men and housekeeping to women.I asked about how women dress, and he said it is highly a cultural thing.Most women who were raised Muslim will wear the entire garb, while many converts do not wear all of the attire.This is why Saudi Arabia is so traditional and Pakistan and Turkey are more open to how women dress.I asked if he thought homosexuality was wrong, and he said Muslims do think that it is very bad.According to him, many homosexuals will hide their identity as it will bring them down and their tribe, but homosexuals are not often shunned by their loved ones, as it is seen as a sin, but they don’t treat it much differently than other sins—it is simply highly and openly discouraged if a Muslim is openly gay.
The pastor told me that he does not believe that God assigned any objective gender roles, and that we have simply been socialized to have them.He also said that certain gender roles can be necessary to promote some aspects of life, but again nothing is objective.When asked if it is natural to lust, he said that lust does come naturally (he defines lust as sexual exploitation for one’s own gain), but it’s not really a good thing since, it is only to promote your gain and not another’s.When asked about homosexuality, he said that he believes that him sexuality is biological or physiological and that we should not condemn someone for being homosexual, just as you wouldn’t condemn someone based on their eye color.He believes that if alcoholism can be genetic, then so can homosexuality.He also says he supports the right for homosexuals to marry.
My final topic was about faith and politics.When asked if Muslims want their religion to be an aspect in lawmaking, he said that while some view religion as a thing of worship, most Muslims believe it covers all aspects of life.He says that Sharia Law is their law, but as long as the laws of a country do not interfere with their ability to practice Sharia Law, they will not be interested in changing the law otherwise; from what he sees, the US Constitution does not interfere conflict with Sharia law and that Muslims are not interested in changing to constitution because they have the ability to practice.They support Sharia Law to be the law of Middle Eastern countries, but that is because most people are Muslims there anyway.When asked about religious extremism, he said that radicals are condemned and their way is wrong.When I brought up Israel and Palestine, he admitted that there is the real issue.He believes that a two-state solution is the best solution and that they have no right to tell Jews they should not be there, and vice-versa, so long as what is Islam’s remains Islam’s.When asked if he is okay with Jerusalem being split, he said that this is the main problem and that while he believes Jerusalem should be Palestine, he knows it is not that easy.He says if you were to split it, however, the conflict would not end.
The Presbyterian pastor, when asked if religion should influence law, said that he feels religion, whether directly or not, cannot help but influence law and culture in some form.He was also adamant that his church and most attendants very much support the separation of church and state.He said that he appreciates the tax breaks that churches get, but would oppose any taxpayer money going toward a church if the church can’t support itself as it is.When asked for his opinion on very socially conservative politicians with a religious agenda, he noted that he clearly is not a social conservative, and that he finds those types of politicians discouraging, and at times annoying.Even though the question at hand is not one that Christianity is directly a part of, I asked any about a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.The pastor said that a two-state solution should really be the only solution, and that Jerusalem should be split between the two.
One thing I noticed about the two religions is that the answers I received from their leaders were mostly similar, but they have different ways of achieving their beliefs.Neither group objects to scientific theories, nor that people have free will.Both believe that lust is natural but is not a good thing.Neither believes that homosexuals should be shunned.Both are open to a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.Neither believes religious law should be imposing political law so long as it does not interfere with their personal religious law, but that it will influence law in some form as a religious person wouldn’t pass a law that interferes with their own religious rights.There are some differences however.In Islam it is believed that God is the cause of everything and uses nature, while Presbyterianism doesn’t believe God controls aspects of nature that would harm people.The Imam believes only Muslims can go to heaven while the pastor believes that everyone technically goes to heaven, but at the same time both admit they could be wrong.Neither believed women were inferior, but they do differ on the concept of gender roles.Even though they neither would shun a homosexual, the Imam was adamant that Muslims do think homosexuality is bad; the pastor was very open about it, although in the context of the rest of Christianity he is one of the few exceptions, as most of Christianity is very opposed to homosexuality.They also differ on the policy of Jerusalem.I notice that most of their differences are very minor though, and a lot of their ideals are the same.The differences between the services were mostly the people:the Muslims were nice but they were much more focused on praying before the service, while the Presbyterians were very open and casual.Also, at the mosque it was very leader orientated, while the Presbyterians seemed pretty focused on the group.A characteristic they both shared was their sense of unity.I never felt anything quite like hearing the Muslims sing “ameen” during prayer, but the group orientation of the Presbyterians also gave you the idea that they were unified, because everyone talked to each other like they knew each other.Both religions were revitalization movements, which is described as “a deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture” by Anthony Wallace (Bowen, 185).Both religions developed out of Abrahamic origins but made their own editions to as what they as is more proper, or the correct version of God’s word.If I could find any objective issue with the information I was given is that the leaders’ beliefs aren’t going to be the same for all Muslims or Christians or maybe not even all Sunnis or Presbyterians.While this Imam does not believe Sharia Law and the US constitution contradict, even if most Muslims think this way, there was no way for me to know whether most are on the same page or not.His beliefs on whether women are inferior may be subjective to others as well.I’m not sure if I would get the same answers from the man on the board or the head Imam.As for the pastor, while he seemed to be very socially progressive, in my experience most Christians are not this way, especially with his openness to homosexuality and how people can get into heaven.I get the feeling I would have more objective date if I went to a different mosque or Presbyterian Church.Regardless, I found this assignment enjoyable and would like to attend these services again.
Works Cited Page
Bowen, John. “The Qur’an as Recitation of God’s Speech” Religions in Practice.Boston: Prentiss Hall, 2008. Print
For my fieldwork,
I attended two seemingly different religious services: those of Sunni Muslims
at the American Moslem Society in Coldwater, MI; and Presbyterian Christianity
at the First Presbyterian Church of Sturgis, MI.The reason I chose Islam was because Islamic
culture has been fascinating to me for many years.I chose Presbyterian Christianity because a
friend of mine invited me to attend (I actually invited myself as I needed to
attend another service and he kindly accepted).I also thought it would be good to compare Christianity and Islam as
they have a common origin, and while they may have different aesthetics to
their worship practices, their very basic ideals are quite similar.Although the two religions have been fighting
each other for centuries, one has to wonder if the two religions have a real reason
to be fighting amongst each other at all.
a religion that started as a small sect of Judaism in the first century CE, and
later became the largest religion in the world (Warms, 471).Christianity comes from the life, death, and
teachings surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, a radical Jew that is believed to be
the so-called Messiah (the Hebrew term; Christ being the Latin term, hence the
common name of Jesus Christ.Christ
means “anointed one”; the one who redeem the sins of man) (Warms, 471).Jesus was (is) believed by his follower to
have been born via virgin-birth, perform miracles, teach a revitalized version
of Judaism, died during crucifixion, and resurrected before ascending to heaven(Warms,
471-473).Although for the first few
centuries Christianity was just a sect of Judaism (with Gentile divisions such
as the Pauline and Gnostics), in the fourth century Christianity was adopted as
the official religion of the Roman Empire (Warms, 475).Roman Catholicism—the largest denomination of
Christianity--spread through Europe for the next millennium (Warms, 477).Between the 14th and 16th
century arose a series of Protestant reformations who sought to break away from
Catholic doctrine that was seen by some as unnecessary (Warms, 477).One of the most prominent leaders of the
Reformation was John Calvin.Presbyterianism
finds its roots in the doctrine of John Calvin and John Knox, a Scotsman who
studied alongside Calvin, although contemporary Presbyterians have put much
less emphasis on Calvinist doctrine (New Advent).The word Presbyterian comes from the Greek
term for elder, as the church is governed by a council of elders rather than
bishops (New Advent).Presbyterians
advocate lifelong education as well as generosity and hospitality.
from the teachings of Muhammad, and is the youngest of the three Abrahamic
religions (Judaism and Christianity being the other two); it is also the
world’s second largest religion (Warms, 486).Islam is the Arabic word for “submission”, as Muslims (people who
practice Islam) believe they must completely submit themselves to the will of
God (Bowen, 147).Muslims hold high
respect for Abraham, Moses, and the other Hebrew prophets, and Jesus Christ,
and believe that they are authentic people of God; however, they believe that
the words of these people were incomplete, or mistranslated (Warms, 486).Muslims believe that God spoke to Muhammad in
Arabic, and since Muhammad could not read or write, he had to memorize every
word that God spoke to him.Muhammad
then spoke the word of God to his followers, who then wrote his teachings in
the holy text called The Qur’an, which is Arabic for “recite” (Bowen, 146).A proper Qur’an is always written in ancient
Arabic, as the words themselves are considered sacred and should not be
reinterpreted or translated.There are
two main divisions of Islam: the Sunni and the Shi’ites.Following the death of Muhammad, there was a
struggle for leadership (Warms, 487).A
number of Muslims backed Muhammad’s nephew, Ali, and his son, Husayn, as they
believed Islam should be led by Muhammad’s own blood relative (Warms, 492).Those who supported the successors of Ali
were called Shi’a, and they make up the Shi’ite division (Warms, 492).However, those who followed the Umayyad
dynasty, which began with Muhammad’s father-in-law Abu Bakr, became Sunni
Muslims, and make up the majority of Muslims by far (Warms, 492).Despite the faction, most of the beliefs of
Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims are very similar (Warms, 492).
Moslem Society of Coldwater was the first of the services I attended.Upon arrival, there were two men who appeared
to be selling things on a table by the front door.I waited in my vehicle as I was a bit early
and watched as many men and their children entered the building; I noticed that
none of the people entering were female.I eventually decided to head into the building.I introduced myself to a man at the table by
the door, declaring I was a student looking to attend his mosque’s service, but
he looked at me with the most confused look.After speaking to a teenager in Arabic, he told me to follow a group of
people inside (I was later told that the men at the table cannot speak English;
at least not much, since he told me to follow the group).As soon as I walked in, a short elderly man
in front of me bent down, and I knew to take off my shoes as he was doing, and
place them on a shelf.I walked into a
sanctuary where people sat or knelt on the floor.It was mostly quiet, as people were either
reading, praying, or just sitting quietly, however there was some light
conversation.I was guided to who I
thought may be the Imam, as he was sitting on the floor against the back wall,
with his legs crossed, reading scripture and wearing a white cap and
traditional Muslim robes. He spoke English, and I told him my purpose for being
here.He pointed me to another man (who
appeared to be in his 20s) who was wearing a long white robe with a leather
jacket and a turban that was walking across the room; this man noticed me and
smiled, and I was told to follow him into the office.When we sat in the office, I told this man my
purpose for being here as I had told the previous man.The man kindly accepted my presence here, and
informed me that he was the assistant Imam, filling in for the head Imam whom
was not present.I asked if this mosque
was Sunni, and after some clarification that I meant “either Sunni or Shi’ite
or another denomination” (he thought I was talking about the desktop computer
and must have thought I said “Sony”, confirmed they were Sunni (he pronounced
it Sunna).We waited in his office as he
went over the notes for his speech.Many
children and older pre-teens came into the office to say hello, and they mostly
spoke in Arabic; I got the feeling that many of the kids there looked up to
this assistant Imam (I will simply call him the Imam from this point for
simplicity’s sake).Some of the kids
spoke to him with a voice of curiosity, and I heard him answer and heard a word
that sounded like “university”; he told me people were curious about me, which
makes sense as I probably stuck out in the crowd.Another man in traditional garb came in and
also asked about me, and introduced himself—he was from the board (which I
assume is a council).I was offered a
chair for the service, but I declined and said I was comfortable on the floor
like everyone else.When it was time for
his speech, I followed him out of the office, and sat in a small staircase by
the office where I could get a good view of the alter (which was in the East
corner) and not be in the direct view of a lot of the worshippers; I sat with a
lot of young people.To start, everyone
got very quiet, and a short old man sang in Arabic in front of the alter.This man sat down afterwards, and the Imam
began his speech.His words were in
Arabic very fast and fluid, and there were few stops (although occasionally he
would stretch a syllable for a couple moments).There was also a sense of seriousness on his face and in his voice.He spoke loudly and with command, but never
shouting. I was told later by the man from the board his speech was about
children and how they should act and be raised.Sometimes people would come in late, and would do a prayer where they
folded their arms, then bent down, then stood up, than knelt down and touched
their head to the floor; some repeated this a few times.After over 25 minutes of speaking, he sat
down, and stood back up a moment later.Most
of the people who were sitting against the walls began facing the alter.The Imam began speaking again, and at the
tail-end of phrases everyone would quietly mutter “ameen” (I was later told this means “please God, accept”.We then all stood in rows side-by-side to
engage in the final prayer.The Imam now
began singing the prayer, and we would do the same prayer motion that those who
walked in late did, although we paused after each movement.We did this twice, and at the start of each
time, everyone in the room chanted “ameem”
and stretched both syllables very long; it was one of the most powerful things
I had ever felt.After this, people
shook hands with their neighbors.
I arrived at
the First Presbyterian Church of Sturgis about ten minutes before service
began.Before service I stuck with my
friend and his mother and a couple of people introduced themselves.At the suggestion of my friend’s mother, I
signed the visitors’ book.The lady at
the front desk gave to me a coffee mug with the church’s symbol on it.Many of people were congregating while drinking
coffee or tea that was offered by the church.We soon went into the sanctuary for First Light service (an informal,
family-friendly service), which began with a song by the praise band.The sanctuary had a stained-glass window
above the stage of Jesus, and there were many Christmas decorations.After the song, the leaders had their
announcements, where they informed the congregation of extra activities and
news involving the church members, including a farewell to an elderly couple
who were retiring south; they had been members since the 1960s.Following a series of prayers and songs,
there was a short segment for the children where they talked about
Christmas.The major theme for the day
was the “First Sunday of Advent”, which I deduced was the holiday season before
Christmas and after Thanksgiving.A
video was showed on the projector of a bunch of people singing a Christmas
carol in a mall, and people in the crowd of the mall would join in.The pastor gave his sermon relating to the
holidays, and how while all the gifts and food and decorations of presents is
great, it only scratches the service about how great Christmas is, and that
knowing the Lord’s love is the greatest feeling of all.There was another video showing a comical
story of a man who wanted to ask his neighbor if he wanted to attend church
with him on Sunday, and in his anxiousness imagined many worst-case scenarios;
in the end the other man agreed to attend, showing the intent of the video was
that it doesn’t hurt to ask people to attend church.Following offering, hymns, and reciting the
Lord ’s Prayer, there was a coffee break, where I met more people and the
pastor.After the coffee break, there
was a traditional Sunday service, which while more aesthetically formal (there
were more elderly people, the songs were sung by a choir in robes), had the
same theme and many of the same segments happened.
Ever since I was young, my mind constantly was racing. I thought about things all day long--my thoughts kept me distracted from the finer things in life; they even kept me from sleeping. I had questions for everything. I was raised as a Christian, and from this made many questions rise. Why, in church, did we only talk about Adam and Eve, Moses, Noah, and Jesus's birth/death? The pastor/group leaders did talk about Jesus's teachings, but that didn't seem to be the main point. I always asked myself why we worship a man, who had a great message, but he couldn't be our main point of discussion. I didn't dare ask questions, for the stories of the Old Testament of people being stoned for not conforming had me scared shitless. I've figured for a long time the only reason the Old Testament was in the Bible was because Jesus was Jewish so you get a background for him. Otherwise, it seemed irrelevant to me. Also, much of the Old testament was written ages after these events may have occured, so I didn't know how accurate they could be (I came to this conclusion when I was like 10). The New Testament was recorded as the events occured, so I didn't have a reason to question it (you could argue it was made up, but let's not go there).
Now, I find it useless--no, insulting--to say you can worship a man and only loosely follow his message, if at all. If you are going to worship Jesus, you could at least follow his teachings more closely. The red words you find in the New Testament (quotes from Jesus) should be the only words that matter. I always felt in church they were connecting two different things. They would tell a story irrelevant to Jesus, and claim the morals are Jesus's will or what have you. I say if Jesus didn't say it, don't bother with it (by that I mean there shouldn't be a point to, believe what you want we have freedom of religion in the Western world).
Now, Jesus said some things that were a bit outlandish, like certain human emotions are sins; lusting before giving yourself cognitive reason to tell yourself you really do not want that person is committing adultery at heart; a woman who divorces and remarries is an adulterer. Adultery is, of course, a sin and frowned upon in almost all cultures that I am aware of. But Jesus taught forgiveness as well. If you look at it in an abstract way, couldn't he be metaphorically saying that we all sin, so no person is perfect, but that is okay, because we can't all be perfect?
Back to people who don't follow Jesus as closely as they claim. My favorite quote from Jesus--this is a word of advice I live my life by--said not to judge others, for if you judge someone for having a speck in their eye, you may very well have a plank in yours. A Christian should believe that only the holy spirit can judge them in the end, so why do so many Christians (obviously not all of them) feel the need to judge others anyway? I understand if you want to "save" them, but let them do it on their own terms. No calling of people "fags" or any slur for homosexuality is necessary in the slightest, and it will only alienate them further. Jesus used the word hypocrite several times, and if he were alive today, he would call many of his followers hypocrites for the actions they live their lives by. If he saw the Westboro Baptist Church holding "God Hates Fags" signs at soldiers funerals, he would proabably be in tears knowing these people claim to be doing the work of him.
The Republican Party (not the whole of people who associate themselves with the party, but the party in general) are guilty of these types of things. Along with things I previously mentioned, Republicans are most likely to be okay with capitalists abusing workers for their own gain. Jesus would hate capitalism. He opposed greed and wealth to the fullest extent. If the Republican Party is so Christian, how is allowing this to happen okay by their belief system? The Republican Party is also more likely to support death penalty/harsh prison sentences; not very forgiving, if you ask me.
It's safe to say I am not a religious person anymore.
Now, this blog is also titled God, so let's get to God, shall we? While I questioned the way the church taught about Jesus, I never really questioned God until 7th grade. I was depressed with my life, and didn't think God would let anyone be unhappy if he existed. So I questioned God through 9th grade. At that point, I realized that God can still exist, the evil/chaos in the world can be God's way of testing us, or maybe he created everything and let nature take its course from that point on, and evil came about naturally; who knows. But it was always these back and forth philosophical arguments in my head for years until recently. I have realized that it we as a species cannot comprehend things. We only can think with 10% of our minds at a time, after all. Unless Noetic Science has some breakthroughs, we won't be able to comprehend certain things anytime soon. God is just a subject we aren't meant to understand at this point in time in our state. Therefore, we can't make a gnostic claim that he exists or doesn't without being a militant, close-minded fool. It's all a matter of belief: what argument you hear on him sounds the best and most compelling will determine what you believe. I have read arguments for and against the existence of God. The arguments for God's existence seem to be weaker, and I believe this is not because people arguing this don't have an idea; it's because their arguments are gnostic and deductive, claiming it guarantees his existence. If they approached it inductively, which acknowledge the fact that they MIGHT be wrong, they would be more respectable, at least I believe that is very likely.
So you may be wondering, if you don't already know, or think my thoughts in this text have shaken what you think you know of me--Does Jon believe in God? My answer is simple: yes, I do. Let me explain. First, I will repeat that we cannot know everything, so God's existence is left to belief, to faith. You can believe in something without knowing it is true or not. I can say I believe my Grand Valley State University's football team will win it's national championship for the 5th time in less than a decade, but I don't know if that is true (I hope it is ). It's all about the argument that compells you most. I am an agnostic theist, or spiritual agnostic, meaning I believe in God but I readily acknowledge that I cannot know if God truly exists, and am willing to accept the fact that God may not exist if it were provable beyond a reasonable doubt. Many (if not most) atheists are the same way on their side: they don't believe that God exists, but if God's existence were to be proven somehow beyond a reasonable doubt, they would accept it. We just view the argument differently. Atheists likely disbelieve in God because they don't buy the arguments for God; they understand them, the arguments just don't give them a reason to believe God exists. I, and other theists, on the other hand, believe God's existence is likely enough to warrantbelieving, and I see no reason to NOT believe.
So, call me a heathen, call me a moron, call me what you will. I just wanted to put my thoughts to the keyboard and screen. Now that I am at peace with my thoughts, I can enjoy the finer things in life, see it for what it is, and live it to the fullest. That is all.