Dave Sim's blogandmail #20 (October 1st, 2006)
NEXT READING IN THE "SCRIPTURE AT THE REGISTRY THEATRE"
122 Frederick Street in Kitchener
NOVEMBER 12, 2006
"If thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold vnto thee, and serue thee sixe yeres, then in the seuenth yeere thou shalt let him goe free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away emptie: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flocke, and out of thy floore, and out of thy wine presse, of that wherewith the YHWH thy God hath blessed thee, thou shalt giue vnto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the YHWH thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day. And it shall be if he say vnto thee, I will not goe away from thee, because he loueth thee, and thine house, because he is well with thee: Then thou shalt take an aule and thrust through his eare vnto the doore, and hee shall be thy servant forever: and also vnto thy mayd seruant thou shalt doe likewise. "
What I imagined would be a severe drawback to the Blog & Mail from the average Yahoo vantage-point is that I decided up ahead of time to let my mail dictate the direction of the content, so as you can see from the first week or so worth of entries that was largely centered on books and magazines and letters that I had gotten in the mail—most of which pointed in the direction of revisiting my criticisms of feminism and which I tried to minimize in the interests of not losing my entire feministic audience in one go (er, again, I mean). I got most of the new material covered and then braced myself (again) for this week, wondering if I would ever again have time to actually answer my mail with letters of my own or if I was trapped in Blogland for the duration. And then this week the only thing that really came in was a letter from Al Nickerson (he of the by now largely aborted and abortive Creator's Rights debate) and a copy of Islam Reviewed [Fish House Publishing, PO Box 453, Fort Myers, FL, 33902 – ISBN 0-9628139-7-4]
Hi Dave, A friend of mine gave me a copy of Islam Reviewed. I liked the book, so I thought you might be interested in reading it. I'm still not too clear on how you see God, so I hope this book might be interesting to you, as well. I hope all is good. God bless you! Best, Al Nickerson
Well, the short answer to Al's question—and I am trying to be brief here in the Internet level-of-attention-span context—if you want to know how I see God, all you have to do is read the Torah commentaries on pages 290 to 424 of Latter Days. TV Guide version in boldface for your further cybernetic convenience:
I believe God and YHWH are separate beings. God is God and is He, YHWH is not God and is a he/she/it. The Torah, the Gospels and the Koran, to me, are the beginning, middle and end of the discussion between the two of them. How does this High End Discussion apply to men? We're supposed to read the Torah, the Gospels and the Koran and pick a side. You're either with God or you're with YHWH. Overall that is what we're here for. As far as I can see, if you don't think God exists then you have picked YHWH by default.
If that's all the text you can handle in one sitting, there you go.
For those made of sterner stuff
In my view, in the Gospels, the life of the YHWHist Jesus is documented in Matthew Mark and Luke. The life of God's Jesus is documented in John. In the Koran, God and YHWH alternate (virtually all of the narration begins with "We") and, again, you're supposed to discern which one is speaking where. When the narration says that there should be no compulsion in religion (a hot topic lately), as an example, I assume that is God talking. When the narration says that you should kill the infidels wherever you find them, striking off their heads and striking off every fingertip as well, I assume that is YHWH talking. Likewise in the Torah, when the Hebrew people are told to stone disobedient sons to death and stone to death anyone caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath, I assume that's YHWH talking. If the narration simply says, "Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery" I assume that that's God talking. Am I 100% sure? No, not at all. Do I think my soul is at stake? Yes, I definitely do. Which is why it's more important to me to give full value to fasting in Ramadan than to, as an example, being there for the Kitchener Rangers' first six home games of the '06-'07 season [21 September update – just got the prayer times in from Reflections on Islam and Ramadan doesn't start `til Sunday so I got one of the last two rail seats for their home opener against the Soo Greyhounds tomorrow night. YIPEE!][26 September update – the Rangers lost 3-2. Boo.]
If what is being said is good, it is God narrating. If what is being said is bad, YHWH is narrating. I can divide most of the text pretty comfortably but there are areas where I really have no idea, which to me is not the fault of the text but my own fault in not having a sharp enough sense of the demarcation between good and evil (I assume because I didn't read the Bible until I was 40, so I have ten years of good and 40 years of evil to guide me—not the straightest of edges to measure yourself against). I also assume that some text is intentionally more difficult to penetrate and appears more ambiguous, in the same way that the bottom lines on the eye chart are more difficult to read. I suspect that what you see when you read Scripture (I assume your unspoken interpretations are known to God) tells Him how are you doing spiritually in the same way that the eye chart tells the optometrist how you're doing optically. It's one of the reasons that I called the Scripture Reading at the Registry "No Preaching". What the listener hears and thinks is important, in my view, is far more important than what I could tell them about what I see and think is important. Telling them how to interpret Scripture is like telling someone what the bottom lines on the eye chart are to help them get a passing grade. First of all I have no idea if I'm reading the bottom lines correctly, so I might be passing on false information. Second of all, I think Scripture is a test in the same way the eye chart is a test. If you fake your way through, the glasses you end up getting aren't going to do you much good. If you just say that you can see the big E at the top and that's it, then the glasses you get are going to correct your vision.
Sandeep Atwal just phoned to give me his new phone number and I cracked him up with my dilemma. "Here I am trying to be Mr. Nice Guy, trying to do a Blog that might help reboot sales a little bit and this week the only thing that comes in the mail is a book by an apostate Muslim dissing Islam and championing Christianity." I always figure God is putting something on my plate that I'm supposed to deal with and this is virtually the only thing that came in this week so it doesn't exactly seem like a subtle hint. So there goes all my hard-fought attempts to be Mr. Nice Guy, everyone is just going to dismiss crazy Dave Sim all over again. Oh, well, you play the cards you're dealt. Maybe everyone will just learn to skip the Sunday instalment of the Blog and Mail after this.
The problem I see with M. Ali's book is that he either isn't aware that the Christian Gospels are as vulnerable to criticism as is the Koran or he's choosing to ignore that fact which, if that's the case, I tend to see as intellectually dishonest. The Koran came to its final form by a roundabout route and the early Caliph who carved the final text in stone burned the other four versions in existence. Yes, unquestionably that makes the Koran vulnerable to the human intervention and destruction charge that is levelled at the Torah by and in the Koran. At the very least it does qualify in modern terms as "bad optics". But, then, at least the Koran is still 114 Suras long. If you look at the Christian Apocrypha, a lot of books got eliminated by the early Church. Whole books—and dozens of them—not just chapters or verses. Having read the Apocrypha, I think the early Church fathers made the right choices—nothing else appears to me to be anywhere near to the same lofty category as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and John's Apocalypse—but if you want to throw stones at the Muslim house, you better be aware that you have a number of fragile glass walls in your own house in the same area. And that doesn't even involve the widely different phrasing of what are supposed to be exact quotes of the Synoptic Jesus's words and wildly varying sequences of events as documented in the Synoptic Gospels—different number of people and different people documented as having been at ostensibly the same event, different phrasing of direct quotes in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Arguably the Gospels are the most internally inconsistent of the three scriptural bodies of work at a level that Jews and Muslims would find intolerable in their own scripture and which would disqualify them as scripture under even the basic requirements of Judaic and Muslim consistency. No offence intended, Al, but if you send me a book that trashes the Koran six ways to Sunday regarding its internal and external inconsistencies and muddy history of coming into its final form then, obviously, I think it's only fair to retaliate on the same playing field. Live by the sword, die by the sword.
We have no idea if the Torah is in its original form—as with the Gospels and the Koran there is no seminal point where we can say, "Here is where it was first transcribed and here is who transcribed it." The origin point of the recording of scripture is lost to the mists of time in all three cases. However, given that the Dead Sea Scrolls match the present Torah word-for-word, we can at least say that the Torah has been in its present word-perfect state since the time of the events documented in the Gospels and I think we're safe in assuming that holds true going back however many years. On sheer longevity, the Torah has demonstrably been in its present form the longest if that proves anything to you (for me, it lends Judaism VERY high credibility for consistency). You won't find much variance—if any—in the Koran after the 8th century and the Gospels have been in their present form—in Greek anyway—since the 2nd Century and in English since 1611 (although in my view the latter radically changes the meaning of the former if the Kingdom Interlinear version is an accurate word-by-word translation). There are irresolvable conflicts between the Torah, the Gospels and the Koran, unquestionably. M. Ali points out that the Koran has Abraham's father's name as Azar rather than Terah which is what it is given as in The First Book of Moshe/Genesis. I noticed that right off as well. But I don't think it's a matter of "earliest source winning". That is, I don't think you can disprove the Koran by saying the Torah came first. Many times in the Koran it is asserted that it was sent down to correct mistakes (or, not to put too fine a point on it) to give the real story that the Jews changed in their own sacred text "selling" their scriptures "for a mean price"—whatever, specifically, that is supposed to mean (and that's an area where I take issue with Islam: if you can't identify where the Jews "moved the words out of place" or withheld scripture then it is just as intellectually dishonest to dismiss the entire Torah unquestioningly as it is to accept the entire Torah unquestioningly. Again, live by the sword, die by the sword).
Moshe's father-in-law is given two different names within The Second Book of Moshe with both names appearing within a few verses of each other (Reuel in chapter 2 and Jethro in chapters 3 and 18). The first verse of Mark's Gospel misidentifies a verse from Malachi as appearing in Isaiah. If you want to indulge in stone-throwing, how consistent is that? My own conclusion, which also comes from the Koran, is that these issues in which monotheists differ are only going to be resolved on Judgement Day. That is, only God knows for sure if Abraham's father's name was Azar or Terah. Personally, I think there are more important issues facing each individual human being with his soul at stake and so much good that can be done in our day-to-day lives than to get bogged down in minutiae of that kind. Feeding the poor, praying five times a day, fasting in Ramadan, attempting to eliminate my own wrong behaviours and change them into right behaviours, acknowledging God's sovereignty, observing a Sabbath, writing my commentaries on Mark. Using up any part of my day really, really trying to determine if Abraham's father's name was Azar or Terah strikes me as completely counter-productive missing the larger point of what scripture is for, as does voting a "straight party ticket" i.e. everything in the Torah is 100% good and right and everything in the Gospels and Koran are 100% wrong and evil or everything in the Gospels is good and right and everything in the Torah and the Koran are 100% wrong and evil or everything in the Koran is good and right and everything in the Torah and the Gospels is 100% wrong and evil. Because my own faith centers on the fact that all three revelations are a dog's breakfast of God's Word (and, in my view there isn't much of that in any of the three scriptures: God appears to have very little to say, I suspect, because He created us and knows that the choice between right and wrong is up to us. We don't need some huge instruction book, we just need to stop doing wrong things and start doing right things) and YHWH's abominations I just think picking one revelation at the expense of the other two is not much better than being a co-equivalency atheist (Hey, it's ALL good!). That's what I think M. Ali does in this book. Everything Christian is wonderful and verifiable and true and everything Islamic is horrible and fabricated and false. I'm actually writing this 20 September so we're just coming to the end of the Pope's recent foot-in-mouth dust-up with Islam which seemed to center on the same sort of (to me) misapprehension. "Here let me quote from this Christian Emperor who asked what Muhammad brought to the table besides evil and inhumanity and let's use that as the basis for an inter-faith dialogue." No, that's not a dialogue—that's starting with the supposition that Christianity is absolutely right and Islam is absolutely wrong—unless, of course, the Emperor in question was just discussing Muhammad as a man (but I don't think his argument was as consciously fine-tuned as all that with Muslims imminently breaking down the gates of his city). To just outright dismiss Islam in toto seems like self-evident lunacy to me unless you want to remain in a completely solipsistic self-reverential state. You've got three monotheistic faiths that dominate the world that have survived in their present form for hundreds if not thousands of years. Do you really think they could do that if any one of them is just so much smoke and mirrors? If you want to have an inter-faith dialogue, it seems to me you have to leave aside the question of whether God had/has a son. If you're not prepared to do that—and it seems to me obvious that 99.999% of Christians are unprepared to do that—then don't pretend you want to have an inter-faith dialogue. Admit that what you want the other guy to do is capitulate to your belief and you want to just posture your self-perceived superiority at him (M. Ali, in my view does this to an unconscionable degree) and that what you envision is worldwide Christianity victorious over Judaism and Islam which is no different (however much you hide the fact from yourself) than Extremist Islam envisioning worldwide Islam victorious over Judaism and Christianity. To me, whether God had or hadn't a son is a question left to Judgement Day. We aren't going to find out for sure until then. In my model of reality, God agreed to a dual construct where YHWH would have a son (the Synoptic Jesus) and God would have a "son" (the Johannine Jesus) so as to move the dialogue along which was locked into a YHWHcentric view of the world up to that point. I think the texts support this. Certainly the word-for-word English translation from the original Greek that I'm writing my commentaries on seems to me to support this once you put all the words back in that the English translators have been leaving out and actually read what the words say rather than what you want them to say. As far as I can see, having done preliminary notes on Matthew, Mark and six chapters of Luke and finished notes on two chapters of Mark, Christianity has, with the most noble of intentions, mutilated the Gospels. Any word that they can't fit into their construct they just leave out. Any expression that doesn't sound like what they think Jesus would have said or should have said, they change into what they think Jesus would have said even if the text suggests the opposite. I don't in any way diminish either the nobility of their intentions in doing so, nor can I fault the worldwide benefit to humanity that Christianity has represented over the last 2,000 years in large part because they did so. Most Indisputable Good has been accomplished in the name of the high-minded ideals as enunciated in the Gospels. But, for me, the larger concern and where I see intellectual dishonesty as prevailing—as I see it prevailing with Orthodox Jews, Christians and Muslims—they just treat the text as a series of disconnected anecdotes. What I'm reading in Mark is a sequential narrative. This happens because this happened because this happened because this happened. God attempts to make the YHWH repent and acknowledge God's sovereignty. The YHWH uses everything at his/her/its disposal through the Synoptic Jesus to establish that YHWH is God and to institute a new and improved YHWH-based religion by constructing a new church. Men completely misconstrue what the debate was about and—based on their own best and most high-minded God-given natures—came up with something completely unrelated to the debate that was going on that also served as the greatest living template for good moral living we have seen on this planet to date. And I think God intended that, God knew exactly how men would misconstrue the debate as it was enacted in the Gospels and that they would essentially decide the story was about God and His son and, basically, deal YHWH out of the game entirely. Far from choosing the Synoptic Jesus over the Johannine Jesus and YHWH over God (which I think was what YHWH saw as the game that was going on), men conflated the two Jesus into one Jesus and made him God's son leaving YHWH as the little boy that cries down the lane.
It's pretty funny if you look at it as slapstick on a very high Spiritual Plateau or—to be borderline blasphemous—the Chuck Jones Bugs Bunny vs. Daffy Duck cartoons. Bugs is God and Daffy is YHWH. No matter how much YHWH tries to usurp God's place, he/she/it just ends up blowing his/her/its own duckbill off or spinning it around or getting a custard pie in the face.
I'm thinking about publishing my commentaries on Mark here at some point but, frankly, I have trouble coming up with a reason why because I don't think there's an audience for them. Not a small audience—I've got that already for Cerebus—but no audience. 99% of the Yahoos and I assume visitors and lurkers reading this are secular-humanists who believe the Torah, the Gospels and the Koran are fairy tales. They're not even interested in what the books say let alone the minutiae of what might or might not be the discussion taking place and they certainly don't see their souls as being at stake. In the other 1%, as far as I can see there are only Jewish, Christian and Islamic bigots who have no interest in any discussion that doesn't start with the conclusion that their religion, whatever it is, is absolutely and irrefutably 100% right. No offence intended, Al, but if you genuinely liked Islam Reviewed, then I think you're pretty firmly in the latter category.
There's really not much I can do. My Torah commentaries have been out in front of the public for over two years and have been completely ignored. I've been reading scripture at the Registry Theatre for a couple of months to between 4 and 6 people. I assume that somewhere up ahead there will be an interest somewhere in a theory which explains the contents of the Torah, the Gospels and the Koran and how they're interrelated and why so much of those contents is at best morally suspect if not outright repugnant, but I certainly see no evidence today that that interest actually exists. I think there are areas of interfaith discussion possible—if that discussion starts with the confidence that whether all three scriptures are word perfect, they are close enough to word perfect in order to assume that what we have as a worldwide monotheistic society is, more or less, what God relayed to us through His prophets and messengers. But, frankly, I think most of what passes for discussion is stuck in the 18th century if not earlier and, consequently, isn't worth participating in any more than what passed for discussion of issue 186 or "Tangent" was worth participating in. All it was was name-calling and that's all that Pope Benedict has brought to the table so far and all that this book by M. Ali is bringing to the table that I can see. If you start your discussion with name-calling you don't have a discussion, all you have (that I can see) is bigotry.
And whether M. Ali actually exists or is (I suspect if only from his lack of knowledge of the Prophet's biography which most Muslims would know inside and out) just a Christian who has studied the Koran and the Hadith in order to bash Islam more effectively by pretending to be an apostate Muslim, I would firmly put Reviewing Islam in the non-dialogue camp.
But thanks for sending it, Al, and God bless you, as always, as well! Hope DC and Archie continue to swamp you with inking assignments and good luck with your own projects.
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