Because Friday: Postmodern Koran

ZEIT published a theological article speaking for and about the left’s wanna-have religion: postmodern Islam.

The author Mansur Seddiqzai is a school teacher and teaches Islam. In Germany church and state are not separated. Religious instructions are commanded by the constitution although students can opt out for philosophy classes on ethics.

Seddiqzai starts with an altered version of a story that he often reads to his pupils.

Heinz takes his son Fritz to the forest because he heard voices that told him to sacrifice him. The police intervenes.

After telling this story he usually asks the class how they would deal with Heinz. The usual condemnation follows. The pupils are supposed to learn that today’s morals are different from historical morals. And while he emphasizes again and again that all his students prefer modern morals to tribal ones, he does not give one argument why the modern ones are better.

He also alters the story in a significant way. The voice from G-d is turned into some voice in Abraham’s/Heinz’ head. This is another common element of many religious readings these days. Legends are not seen as legends first and, before digging into what they still tell us about those who taught them and the historical facts they reveal, we just assume that Abraham was a real man and the voice from an invisible being is just a loon’s invisible friend. This is how atheists mock the religious!

There is a difference if in a hypothetical scenario G-d himself talks (and questioning it is not part of the moral of the given story) or you just hear a voice in your head. I don’t know any Muslim, Jew or Christian who thinks that the Lord still talks to people. Usually the revelation is considered to be revealed.

Seddiqzai says that his students admire Abraham and his son “who is called Isaac in Judaism and Ishmael in Islam” for their submissiveness. Isaac and Ishmael are two different sons! Jews/Christians and Muslims disagree on who is supposed to be sacrificed! What is more important is that Isaac must be fooled to follow his father. He is not submissive at all! Even if stories tell us little, they never fail to tell us something about the people who told them.

The author tells his students that submissiveness is not modern. Back in the day, this were the moral, but now we are supposedly over it. Indeed the Koran story has submissiveness as its moral, complete submissiveness of both Abraham and Ishmael. Judaism does not even preach submission under G-d. Given that the Festival of the Sacrifice عيد الأضحى is the most important annual event in Islam, the idea that modernity has changed something has little substance.

And we are hitting the basic problem of postmodernism. The claim that all cultures and morals were equal (present and past), everything were interpretation and nothing were binding, is immediately brushed away when the postmodernists demand that progress is infallibly for the better and the current authority is always right.

I personally believe that postmodernism is a sly trick to make people gullible. Endless lessons in schools are spent on interpreting things (arts, literature, religious texts, culture). Everything is freed up, no limits, it seems. Yet, the student who hits the opinion of the teacher best will be rewarded for it. Postmodernism does not question authority. It just questions the authority of the truth, the intention of words, and gives way to the political authority of the day. And the left’s willingness to misrepresent and strawman their opponents is the result of their postmodern interpretation circus in school.

Seddiqzai blows it with a “psychological interpretation.” In this version, Abraham dreams to sacrifice his son and only wished that his son was devout enough to let it happen.” Remember that the article does not make it clear that the story is completely different in Christianity and Judaism. The title is even “Religious class – When Heinz becomes Abraham.” So the reader is tricked into believing that what he says is equally valid for all Abrahamic religions.

Postmodernism comes with a big deal of dishonesty. It does not say, I disagree with the text. But this would be essential. People feel the dishonesty. Seddiqzai even admits that his pupils are not very happy with his “psychological interpretation.” If I were a Muslim and some ISIS recruiter walked up to me and asked, “Do you follow Allah or your dream-voice-in-the-head teacher?”, I would join up!

Seddiqzai answers the question about what is the right interpretation with “There is no right interpretation.” And because postmodernism is essentially authoritarian, he adds that “we” must not cease the interpretation to “esoterics” and “radicals.” Consequently “truth” is what the authority says and that is better the majority of “you.”

He goes on to say that the fight for “women equality” is about reinterpreting the holy texts. Doubtful students, who read the story correctly, are told that they would “give up their self-determination to a higher instance.” Yes, but this instance is G-d and when push comes to shove he might become more important than feminism.

No, Muslims must question, disagree and challenge old texts, fickle majorities and worldly authorities alike, and not interpret everything for their or anybody else’s pleasure.

Setting Straight Sodom

One of the most unsettling aspects of the Torah is its condemnation of homosexuality. Radio talker Dennis Prager who writes a lot about religion, obsesses about this problem and it has caused a lot of pain throughout history.

The story of Sodom is often quoted to emphasize that the Lord hates homosexuality. Gay activists and like-minded fellows argue against it. They say the story was about guest rights. Both sides are wrong.

When Abram’s (later called Abraham) brother Lot moves to Sodom, the city was at war with the cities of Shinar, Ellasar, and Elam as well as with King Tidal who ruled over multiple peoples. On the side of Sodom fought Gomorra, Adma, Zebojim and Bela. In this war voices reached the Lord that complained, Sodom and Gomorra committed grave sins. He already decided to eradicate the cities on the basis of these claims – which most certainly had nothing to do with “guest rights.” The Lord sent two angels to the city to check out how bad the situation was (I might add a general truism – almighty or all-seeing in the biblical context just means more than everybody else and not all all). Abram knew that his brother had moved there, assumed that he had made friends and asked the Lord to spare the city if he found only ten or more righteous people. The Lord agreed.

The men who knocked on Lot’s door demanded to “see” the two angels (angels look like men throughout the Torah). They must have assumed that the strangers were spies. So “see” could very much mean “see” and not “bang.” The Hebrew original (וְנֵדְעָ֖ה = see/know/have sex with) makes it hard to tell the difference, but the situation is obvious. Lot even offered to bribe the crowd with his two virgin daughters. The men were NOT interested in sex. They wanted to “see” the strangers.

The Bible knows another version of the story (Judges 19), which I believe is older. This time Lot is an elderly man who works in the field when an unknown man approaches him with his second wife and a donkey. The old man invites the group to stay with him over night. The men of the city Gibea ask to “see” the strangers. The old man offers his young daughter plus the second wife of his guest if they just left the stranger alone. Again, this is most likely to spare a visitor from interrogation and a potentially false conviction for spying activity. This time, however, the guest grabs his second wife and throws her to the crowd. They immediately rape her to death. In the morning the stranger finds his wife dead, brings her corpse home, cuts her into twelve pieces and sends them to all corners of Israel. Then the Jews unite to burn Gibea to the ground. I believe this less mythical version is the original because the Lord usually punishes with military losses throughout the Bible. The Sodom story with angels and firestorm looks embellished and probably became the more popular version because of its mysterious, magical nature and the connection to more widely known characters.

Because Friday: Freedom Toons on Islam

Moses Actually Existed

The Torah is first and foremost a recollection of the Jewish historical memory. It is the laws we lived, the legends we shared and names we understood and understand. It is often said that all legends have a true core. I do not know all legends, but let me try to get to the core of Moses (Mosheh  מֹשֶׁה in Hebrew, Musa in Arabic).

As I have pointed out last week, the ten commandments are a reformation. The thicket of the laws as they developed by judging disputes between members of the tribe became dense. The Torah mentions (in Exodus 18) how this came to be.

Jitros came from the land of Midian to visit his son-in-law Moses. He sees how the prophet spends his entire day judging conflicts between his people and asks him to stop it. He suggests that every ten should have a judge to rule between them, every fifty should have a judge to deal with the cases between them, and every hundred and every thousand should also have a leading judge.

Instead of judging every case, the leader appoints representatives who he trusts will rule according to standards that he would agree with. As smart as it sounds, this creates a lot of standards and a sense of unfairness. Why is this neighbourhood asked to live by this rule and the other by another one when the only thing that divides them is the appointed judge? What happened was that the rule by which a case was judged got written down and other judges only deviated from the precedents when a case demanded a new rule.

Naturally, the rule book grew and grew and there was no institution like a parliament that could override the mess. There are laws mentioned in the Bible that make no sense, never made sense, remind us of nothing and were most likely produced by vicious conflicts, weaponized courts and corrupt judges. Eventually the laws of old were seen as sanctimonious and G-d-given.

Because of the tight mix between civil law and ritual practices, it needed an authority to clear the books. No leader could have overturned the age-old ways and delegitimize his predecessors. Moses was certainly not the man who both set up the judicial system which produced all the tight regulations and the one who lifted up the ten commandments like the Torah says. His name is, however, most strongly associated with the ten commandments (and the exodus – more to that later).

Interestingly, one of the major rules is not to use G-d’s name in vain. Moses felt that he had a strong reason to speak in his name to legitimate the new order. But how did he do it? In antiquity one would claim to represent a god’s will by saying that he spoke to you in person when nobody else could have heard it. Torah sets the story on the Mount Sinai. The location, however, is not relevant. Moses runs into a fire and asks nobody to follow him. He carries two slates with him with the new law engraved – probably hidden under his clothes, tight to the upper body. According to the Torah he disappears for quite some time and his people had doubts about his return.

The Bible fiddles in the story of the golden calf. Because they thought, leader and law were dead, they cast a god, whored, and celebrated. It most certainly did not happen, but you must admit that it is funny as hell!

Moses returns with the slates. And why slates? They were public displays. Rome and multiple Greek cities also had such public stones with laws. Torah adds a number of lesser laws right after the ten commandments and claims that they were also spoken to Moses. This shows how intense the conflict was. If G-d had considered all laws that important, Moses would have carried scrolls. I simplified the matter so far. The ten commandments did not have the power to clear the books, but you will notice that a significant number of them no longer bore actual penalties. That looks a lot like a compromise to me.

At some point the slates broke. According to the Bible, Moses smashed them when he saw the golden calf. As I mentioned before, the whoring and celebrating thing makes no sense, but there is another interesting aspect of this story that I just want to wedge in: There are two golden calf stories. In the first version (Exodus 32:7) G-d wants to destroy the partying Israelites and Moses calms him down. In the second one (Exodus 32:15) Moses gets surprised, boils with anger, asks who was still with the Lord and lets them kill their “brothers, friends and neighbours.” This is most likely a philosophical episode about absolute devotion. The Bible is full of stories with competing versions and much of the fun reading the Holy Book is to figure out what belongs to what.

Anyway, the slates did break. To prevent this from happening again, a copy of them were placed into the ark of the covenant. People were told that whoever even touches the arc would die. By this time the laws were common knowledge and their display was unnecessary. Whether or not Moses still lived is impossible to tell.

And the exodus? Archeologist are pretty sure that the entirety of the Jewish people had never lived in Egypt. It is also impossible for the biblical events that let to freeing the slaves to have happened without Egyptians writing about them. However, I believe that there was an exodus from the hillside of the Sinai peninsula. Abraham’s original name Abram רום אב  actually means “father of the high” (Abraham means “father of the many”). Torah returns again and again to the Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb. There is no reason to refer to your once holiest place of worship when it is outside your current habitat unless you grudgingly admit that it was somewhere else. The above mentioned land of Midian, the land where Moses lived and married, is believed to be in modern day Saudi Arabia! There are many reasons to believe that the homeland of the Jews was this southern tip of the peninsula between Egypt and Midian. And it is from this hillside that the law is taken, symbolically placed into a chest (ark of the covenant) and taken to a new Temple on a new hill. Before the chest became physical, the law was the law and the people were the people because of their customs and rules which they took with them. Was it Moses, the guy who introduced the ten commandments, also the man who asked his people to leave Sinai?

I don’t know that. I do assume that trade between Egypt and the Hebrews, interaction and population exchange was common because of the location. A Jewish king could have bought a substantial number of Egyptian slaves and freed them. If the man who freed the slaves and the man who simplified the law was the same person is impossible to say, but they were both libertarian spirits.

Because Friday: Bob Ross Paints the Prophet

 

Because Friday: Mohammad was Extremely White for an Arab

שחיטה‬ Shechita – Kosher Slaughter – #mähtoo/#mootoo

Following the #metoo debate, there was a ridiculous #metwo hashtag about people moaning about fake “everyday racism.” As a reaction, #mootoo (actually #mähtoo) about halal slaughter was launched. And this is where it gets really childish and stupid.

For one, many Germans are brainwashed by the Greens and think that humans and animals are equally worth of protection. Atheism plays a big role in this. So they think that the suffering of animals is more important than religious practices. They fail to see that shechita is not more cruel than other forms of slaughter.

In Germany about 800 pigs are accidentally boiled to death with waning anathesia in mass slaughter houses every day because the cuts on the necks were not set accurately. All pigs in these places are suffocated with CO2, panicking about 20 seconds until they become unconscious. I smell a little hypocracy.

I reserve the Saturdays to write about religion and I don’t want to go into the details here. Shechita is not the most interesting theological topic. I don’t denounce a debate about it as antisemitic because I believe that all religious matters are always up for debate. However, this is a bit annoying because it seems to target Muslims on purpose and the motive is Islamophobia. I maintain that most claims of Islamophobia are fake, but some are real and to be credible we must call out BS where we see it.

The other thing is that I see the comments and it is not just Islamophobia that comes to light, but antisemitism, even much more. I don’t cry wolf.

And this is how animals die in the wild, how long they struggle in panic and pain.

The problem with anathesia is that it reduces blood pressure. An animal might even suffer longer and feel something when the blood flows out of the brain more slowly. During the French Revolution people noticed that the heads remained conscious quite some time after a beheading.

It is impossible to tell how much the brain still understands while an animal looks unconscious from outside, but it is clear that a slowed down blood circulation prolongs the process of dying. But this is only a factor with pigs.

Lambs and sheep are anathesized with electroshocks to the head. It paralizes, but does it make unconscious? See all the twitching and judge for yourself. Also, is a religious slaughter that spends time to ensure that an animal is dead in no time really more cruel than that?

Cows have for an anathesia a shot into their brain. No joke. Because the brain is so small, the cow is still often found conscious dangling from the ceiling while their necks are cut open. Here you see footage that shows slaughterers removing the legs while the animal is clearly conscious.

The Ten Commandments

The Lord revealed the laws of the covenant to his chosen people. You shall not have gay sex with another man! You shall not paint Mohammed! …Hm, maybe I should have a second look at what Torah says.

But why? Why are the rules to live by revealed? And what if the ten commandments don’t include the taboos of our time? Is it okay to call somebody the n-word? If it’s not included in the Torah there is something seriously wrong with this old swagger. In my righteousness I’m prepared to call the thing a racist, Nazi book if it does not condemn Holocaust denial.

So maybe we step back a little. The ten commandments address a similar situation to our own. A set of morals predated them. But where did those come from? The discussion that the ten commandments open is the discussion on ethics.

I borrow this terminology from the field of philosophy. From an etymological point of view the words “morals” and “ethics” have roots that mean the very same thing, namely habits. In the philosophical discourse, however, the word “ethics” has come to mean asking WHY we believe that this or that principle or rule is good, i.e. conducive to the public as a whole. Morals are the set of rules by which we judge whether somebody or some action is good. People look at their peer group, think they know what’s right and wrong and hate those who disagree. Morals are enforced with whip and sugar and most people are happy to engage in the enforcement process. In times of moral decline when good morals are replaced with bad habits and questionable criteria, majorities form roaming mobs. Sociologists call this a “moral panic.” It is colloquially referred to as witch hunts and manifests itself at the moment as “political correctness.”

Obviously some of the morals that are right today (e.g. taking issue with Holocaust denial) could not be addressed before. Other morals have lost their purpose. Some morals never had a point.

Where do pointless morals come from? Outrage culture produces them. They are made and upheld because people are shamed publicly. This can be the result of a power play. A person gets in the crosshairs of the power elites and is harmed by them. A cheap excuse follows and the power players nod to a random behavior of the person. Unsuspicious people just notice the seriousness of the overall mood and accept that the called out behavior is indeed bad although they wouldn’t have recognized it as bad before the outrage. This is a very common behavior and protects people from getting ostracised themselves. They will then enforce a punishment for the same behavior in future. (More in my article on Moses)

The Ten Commandments were an early attempt to cut through the wilderness of sound morals, obsolete morals and faux morals. This is not the standard Jewish reading. The Ten Commandments were revealed to the chosen people. This introduction was necessary because you need authority to present guidelines if you don’t rely on outrage mobs. Many people cannot reason morals and only take on a rulebook because of one (or both) of the two mentioned forces. This is why we must also refer to human rights or to the US constitution in public debates because they are accepted as an authority. Why the texts are right is a discussion too difficult for a wider audience. Still, I believe an explanation must come with rules in a second step and there are many Americans (and it pains me to say that I rarely see non-Americans do it) who explain why core values are conducive to the public good.

Now, the Ten Commandments, shortened – to add some commentary.

You shall have no other gods!

One thing that makes Judaism stand out is that worship of him is special. There are other monotheist religions (e.g. Zoroastrism), but the exclusivity is unique (I leave the offshot Islam aside). Judaism is based on a covenant, on practical rules, on a very specific deal. Unlike faith-based religions like Islam or Christianity, Judaism does not judge people on what they think. You can believe that other gods exist, but you are asked to only worship the Lord.

You shall not make an image of G-d!

If you don’t want that people constantly try to disprove what is a hard to grasp spiritual being, a priest working on that cow-chicken-lion-hybrid statue does not help. It will not represent anything in the local woods and might burn down with the next fire. Still, I’m a bit lax on this one. Catholic theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann once said, “A man sees G-d as a man and a donkey sees G-d as a donkey.” I think both are right. We are made in his image and some sort of mental representation helps to identify with him. We just should recognize that our image of his is subjective and does not represent the Lord in an objective way. Nonetheless, I might add my argument for G-d having a schlong: I believe in forgiveness.

You shall not use his name in vain!

This “in vain” bit deserves way more credit. The original idea was to avert a theocracy. If you speak in the name of G-d, you better be sure that you represent his will. It was about curtailing abuse. Torah does use the name of the Lord. There are even two: El/Elohim אלאֱלֹהִים/‬ (like “god” with a small g) and YHWH יהוה. Because the idea not to use his name in vain has been overstretched and become an obsession, the pronunciation of YHWH has gone lost. It is possible that the two names were the reason why people started to avoid using any name, making it a sanctuary. When reading Torah we replace the names with Adonai אֲדֹנָי‬ (Lord) or stricter Hashem השם (the one who must not be named – like Voldemort). I would suggest also to remember not to speak in representation of the Lord with ill intentions no matter in what terms (See also: You shall not lie!).

Keep the Sabbath!

I think this started as a working rights issue. Torah emphasizes that slaves, animals and strangers shall also lay down their work for one day a week. Today, it gives us rhythm, traditions and time for spiritual reflections.

Honor father and mother!

And by extension also honor the elderly and ancestry! Successful cultures have always known this. The wisdom preceding you is always more and better tested than what you can accrue in the time frame of your existence. The entire idea of culture is based on this. I could get political again. What culture does is to remember mistakes. This is why evolution is so much slower than culture. In nature a mistake is culled out, but the other members of a species would not remember why one failed and died. So love your parents…and listen to them! They made all the mistakes so that you don’t have to.

You shall not murder!

Very often falsely translated with “You shall not kill!” Check out my article on pacifism.

Do not commit adultery!

As free love and sexual revolution ravaged Western nations we saw morals and families break apart with enormous speed. Children don’t see their fathers. Over-challenged single mothers become dependent on welfare programs. This can be averted. Commit to one partner, be faithful to him and get your act together!

You shall not steal!

Of course, this commandment comes with a subclause to ensure that the capitalist class and South African farmers can be expropriated to advance the communist revolution. Ooops. Sorry, I had a second look. It just says “not steal” and goes on with the next commandment.

You shall not give false testimony against thy neighbour!

If you don’t want people to get riled up for a bloody conflict, you better stay honest. Important decisions, particularly those that decide life and death, rely on clean information. We let our media and politicians get away with far too much dishonesty. I’m partisan about what political side does it more often, but I will give a brief example of two lies in American politics, one from each major party. 1) Madonna did not advocate to burn down the White House. There was an important “but” that was habitually edited out. 2) It is not an abuse to grab groupies by their pussies. “They let you do it.” (D. Trump on infamous tape).

You shall not desire what is your neighbours’!

I think this is about focussing on your own lot and to incrementally improve your situation. Your neighbour’s house does not matter unless you can learn from him how you get one.

The reading that the ten commandments were lifted out of a large set of rules is not always accepted. Many argue that the Lord did not only hand the commandments but the entire Torah to Moses. Today the most formal understanding is that not only the written Torah was revealed to Moses, but also all the habits. In the third century CE the details of the rites and habits, the oral Torah, were compiled in the Mishnah מִשְׁנָה‬. The discussion about both written and oral Torah is the Talmud תַּלְמוּד. The centrality of the ten commandments reflects that the struggle between traditionalism and liberation is almost as old as mankind itself.

Because Friday: Terror Attacks Help All Muslims

Because Friday: Cats Argue About the Koran

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