Is that all there is? And how to remember 9/11 constructively…

If you read That’s all there is! yesterday you may be wondering if I would still endorse this:

I am now utterly convinced (and this from a one-time Evangelical Christian) that all sacred texts are of human origin and one of the world’s most dangerous delusions is the belief in inerrant verbal revelations from the Divine…

Well, consider this quote for today:


That is so true! It comes from Spong’s latest book – and possibly his last — Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven…, Harper One 2009. See Book Review–Bishop John Shelby Spong’s “Eternal Life: A New Vision” and Rollicking journey to Eternal Life. I find Spong’s case against religiosity extremely convincing but his attempts to find a new way rather less so. The book is one of the best meditations on old age, aging and death that I have ever read, however, and I am at an age when such things have increasing relevance.

I do read the Bible and profit from it. Lately I reread Genesis. Most recently I have been examining the Joseph stories. This is a really attractive part of the Bible, and is one of the great folk tales.


Now one thing it isn’t, and that is history as we would understand the term. For starters it was written long after the events it portrays, and while the Genesis account preserves some tantalising bits of history the tale is best thought of as fiction. It is more than likely that Joseph never existed, or not the one we read about anyway. But then much the same can be said of everything in Genesis – or the whole Torah if it comes to that. Not only can be said but positively SHOULD be said. Sadly if you Google relevant material the bulk of what you will find are more or less bone-headed literalists and fundamentalists rather than serious scholars. At least Wikipedia, sourced above, has heard of scholarship.

Quite clearly the New Testament regarded the Joseph stories as historically true, and the Genesis stories generally: “By faith Abraham did as God said when he was ordered to go out into a place which was to be given to him as a heritage, and went out without knowledge of where he was going.” – Hebrews 11. So does the Koran where we can read another version of the Joseph (Yusuf) story, one which is also quite beautiful.

… Go, my sons, and seek tidings of Joseph and his brother, and despair not of God’s mercy, for none but the unbelieving despair of the mercy of God."

And when they came in to Joseph, they said, "O Prince, distress hath reached us and our family, and little is the money that we have brought. But give us full measure, and bestow it as alms, for God will recompense the almsgivers."

He said, "Know ye what ye did to Joseph and his brother in your ignorance?"

They said, "Canst thou indeed be Joseph?" He said, "I am Joseph, and this is my brother. Now hath God been gracious to us. For whoso feareth God and endureth. . . . God verily will not suffer the reward of the righteous to perish!"

They said, "By God! now hath God chosen thee above us, and we have indeed been sinners!"

He said, "No blame be on you this day. God will forgive you, for He is the most merciful of those who shew mercy…

Unfortunately, or not, this also demonstrates something really obvious: texts which claim to be infallible come crashing down when they don’t seem able to distinguish fact from folktale – and such is the position of ALL THREE holy books of the Abrahamic tradition.

As I said yesterday, and in 2001, “all sacred texts are of human origin and one of the world’s most dangerous delusions is the belief in inerrant verbal revelations from the Divine.”

On Joseph see Jim Stokes, a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, The Story of Joseph in Five Religious Traditions from the Bahai Library but originally elsewhere. On The Koran something very many Muslims will object to, but which Islam needs to confront in a more positive manner than it seems to have done: The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book.

… Most of the essays are now a bit dated, and those familiar with the modern revisionist approach to Islamic history will recognise the areas where further study has proposed conclusions very different to some of the authors included here. These essays are foundational reading for all students of the Koran. They reveal many areas where new study is needed as well as providing a good grounding in the materials available to us both within the Islamic tradition and from non-Muslim sources…

What is NOT needed, and not only not needed but strenuously to be deplored, is the kind of fanatical drivel Quadrant chose to publish this month: Bernard d’Abrera’s rant God versus Allah II.

… D’Abrera is listed as a signatory on the petition known as "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism", a campaign begun in 2001 by the Discovery Institute. D’Abrera is also a fellow of the pro-intelligent design organization, International Society for Complexity, Information and Design.

D’Abrera is strongly opposed to the theory of evolution because in his view it is not a bona fide scientific theory. He describes evolution theory as "viscid, asphyxiating baggage" that requires "blind religious faith". He believes it cannot be tested or demonstrated in any natural frame of reference, and therefore it may not be considered even a scientific postulate. The objection that evolution is unfalsifiable has been widely rejected by the scientific community. D’Abrera’s views on evolution and science have been criticised by Arthur Shapiro, who describes him as "profoundly anti-scientific — not unscientific, but hostile to science.”…

I sometimes think Quadrant is a sheltered workshop, a funny farm, and/or a haven for the aged and delusional. It is all of these, I’m afraid, though it still runs a worthwhile literary department under Les Murray. I’d also make an exception of my old class mate Clive Kessler, whose contribution to the September Quadrant I may come back to.

As for D’Abrera, he’s pretty much the kind of bird Isis, an American conservative Republican, referred to in her excellent post Isis’ Guide to Sensible Islam Posting in 2006.

Reading Robert Spencer’s latest book or citing “the Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam” does not make you an Islamic scholar.

Neither does reading the Koran. Proper knowledge of the faith requires interaction and instruction from practicing, learned Muslims. Also, expand the reading list to include books from actual Islamic scholars, so you get actual interpretations of Islamic faith from living, breathing Muslims.

Can’t be said too often, especially in the light of this .

Better and best:

Change the story

Huge numbers of Americans profess to having little knowledge of Islam despite the fact that there may be as many as five million Muslims living in the U.S. offers an interactive experience where users—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—can meet their neighbors, learn about Islam and apply techniques of interfaith dialogue and action to local communities. Our primary audiences are educators, religious leaders and individuals concerned about building bridges of understanding across lines of faith and culture…

Intersections International

Intersections International is a New York based NGO that works at the intersection of communities in conflict. We promote peace through dialogue using direct service programs, advocacy, educational and informational outreach.

And finally:



Yesterday in Wollongong

14 thoughts on “Is that all there is? And how to remember 9/11 constructively…

  1. That last photo is a powerful one. Good catch, Neil. You can tell that the muslim woman is dying to be free and rip the mask off her face. But alas, she is too afraid of being honor killed, which is islamic for ‘murdering your relatives who want to free themselves from the yoke of islam’.

    You really nailed it with that photo. ‘Grats.

    • What a vivid imagination you have, Kevin. I think she was trying to remember if she had bought enough baked beans…

      In fact she’s using a mobile phone.

  2. Hey, do you want to be avant garde? Try writing this very same post, but with an image stating “It’s hard to be a koranic literalist if one actually reads the evil koran — What John Shelby should have said in 2009

    I’d love to hear you say that in a peaceful muslim country. Like you are always saying Indonesia is. Or Malay.

    Whining about Christianity is silly. If you don’t want to participate, then don’t. No one cares. No matter where you are. Whining about islam, however… that can cost you your life.

    I’m constantly stunned by your support of islam over Christianity, Neil. I just can’t fathom it.

  3. Hey, do you want to be avant garde? No.

    I’m constantly stunned by your support of islam over Christianity, Neil. I just can’t fathom it. I do not favour Islam over Christianity. I do oppose “he kind of fanatical drivel Quadrant chose to publish this month: Bernard d’Abrera’s rant God versus Allah II” or cretins who can’t say Koran without putting “evil” in front of it.

    I do favour things like

    I do favour living in THIS country where the woman in Wollongong is able to be who she is without fear. Thank God the fanatics and terrorists of this world haven’t yet succeeded in totally undermining that principle.

    If after reading what I have to say on this for so long without grasping that I oppose ALL fundamentalist crap then there’s not much more I can do about it. My views on Muslims — and Jews and Christians if it comes to that — are based as much on actual experience of real people in those faith traditions with the wide range of views I have encountered in ALL of them as they are on anything I have read. Can you say the same? I think not.

    I didn’t put “Islamophobes: Before you even think of commenting, read this post. I’m just sick of arguing!” in the side bar lightly.

  4. Great Christian posts:

    …Sojourners and the World Evangelical Alliance co-sponsored a press conference this morning overlooking Ground Zero. (The picture above was our view from the conference.) We brought together voices to remind us of every angle of this event, including the global impact, the ongoing healing, the biblical call to reconciliation, and the Christian response to terrorism. More than 5,000 people have also signed our 9/11 Commemoration Pledge, agreeing to stand shoulder to shoulder with people of all faiths, and of no faith, who are helping to build a nation that reflects our best values.

    I’m proud of this event, not for what it is, but for whom it represents. For the Christians who welcome Muslims into their neighborhoods. For the Protestant firemen who let Catholic priests pray over them that day. For the little girls who sit at lunch tables with the new kid in school. We’ve been instructed to love our neighbors and as far as I can tell, persecution, prejudice, discrimination, and picketing outside a mosque aren’t part of ‘love.’

    And so with this September comes another new year, a time to reconsider our commitment to unity, to mourn the loss of life, but to clear the fog of war and move to a more just, welcoming world.


    Ten years on, I’m remembering the literature I read and the music that kept me going in the days and months after 9/11. I had Rumi and Whitman on my bedside table, reading them back to back, alternating between selections of the Mathnawi and poems from Leaves of Grass, sometimes feeling like the two were one, the soul of America, and that the soul of Islam were intersecting at some point beyond where the eye could see:

    Whoever you are!, motion and reflection are especially for you, The divine ship sails the divine sea for you. — Walt Whitman

    Come, come, whoever you are, Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving, Ours is not a caravan of despair. Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times It doesn’t matter Come, come yet again, come. — Rumi

    Until then, the Quran for me was a book of personal spiritual guidance, a convening symbol for my religious community. But after 9/11, I viewed it as a balm for my country’s pain, especially lines from Ayat al-Kursi: “His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them.”

    I remember trying to decipher the opening noises of Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” and then having my breath taken away by the understated poetry: “All my lies are always wishes / I know that I would die if I could come back new.” In the death of that day, how many wishes went unfulfilled, how many lies went untold, how many resolutions had no chance?

    I remember the lift I felt when I first heard Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” and the light that broke through when I went to the tour and heard him include in a song a bit that sounded like Arabic prayer. I felt like he was saying to the Muslims in the crowd, “You are a part of the U.S.”…


    Amen to both!

  5. More may be found in Christianity Today, whose position is much more orthodox than the one I have outlined in this and other posts — which, by the way, my friends at South Sydney Uniting Church understand and accept, if not necessarily agree with.

    For example:

    The decade since 9/11 has taught us the limits of force. Imposing democracy on Iraq and Afghanistan has come at a terrible cost to all parties, with no guarantee of long-term success. Meanwhile, Tunisia and Egypt gained freedom almost overnight in a grassroots protest against powerful regimes.
    As Christians, we believe in a counterforce of grace. Lewis Smedes and others have identified three stages of forgiveness: first, recognize the worth of the person you are forgiving; second, surrender the right to get even; third, put yourself on the same side as the one who wronged you. Increasingly, I’m convinced that we need more of this attitude toward those who seek to harm us.
    In 1999, Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines was burned to death by a Hindu mob in Orissa, India. In 2007, German missionary Tilman Geske was tortured and murdered by five Turkish fanatics. The widows of both men made sensational headlines in those countries by repeating the words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
    I am not a pacifist; I believe that we must pursue justice. Yet a Christian history stained by anti-Semitism—holding an entire people responsible for the actions of a few—teaches us the terrible consequences of not following Jesus’ way. We dare not do to Muslims what we have, to our shame, done to Jews.

  6. “I do not favour Islam over Christianity. I do oppose “[t]he kind of fanatical drivel Quadrant chose to publish this month…”

    *sigh* Three things. 1)I don’t know what ‘quadrant’ is 😦 so I can’t argue with you about it. And 2) you are spelling ‘favor’ incorrectly.

    3) You say, “If after reading what I have to say on this for so long without grasping that I oppose ALL fundamentalist crap then there’s not much more I can do about it.”

    This sentence is yet another example of why conservatives realize that liberals are thoughtless and flighty. You’ve just equated all fundamentalists. Regardless of the fact that only the fundamentalist followers of islam are killing people, chopping off their heads, planting explosives, etc… you’ve decided that ALL fundamentalists are equally bad. That’s simply not true. Despite my repeated attempts to get you to wrap your head around this fact, you’ve failed to accomplish it. I’m close to giving up. Some people can’t see truth, even when it is blowing up islamically in their face.

    So I guess you should just keep excusing atrocities committed in the name of islam by saying Christianity is just as bad (without citing examples of course, because you can’t). The free people of the world will just have to hope that no one is listening to you.

  7. More people have been killed by the (Christian) USA and its allies in the past ten years than by Muslims or others such as Tamil Tigers in all the terrorist attacks everywhere in the world in the last twenty. “The War on Terror has cost $1,283 billion and has left between 227,000 and 300,000 dead. About 51% of these deaths are civilian casualties.” Death by remote control or from a great height is OK, apparently.

    See on another aspect All Terrorists are Muslims…Except the 94% that Aren’t.

    We live in a very strange world.

    I oppose all fundamentalists, murderous or not — and most are not, including Muslim ones — on the grounds that they promulgate lies and/or self-delusion. God has not written ANY book. Period. Whatever people may have thought in the past or think today. Least of all the Book of Mormon, the silliest of the lot… Has anyone ever seriously tried to reconstruct pre-Columban American history from this 19th century fantasy novel? But of course people can believe what they like, can’t they, so long as they don’t go around blowing people up to make a point. I don’t have a problem with that. Just as I don’t mind seeing a woman in a veil shopping in Wollongong. Doesn’t mean I agree with her though.

  8. So, the USA is killing people because many of them are Christian? Are you sure you understand what is going on here? It has nothing to do with Christianity. Or really even the USA.

    “And I oppose all fundamentalists, murderous or not…”

    Well, at least you’ve admitted it. But hopefully you’ll allow us who oppose only the murderous fundamentalists to put a quick end to their murder. Then you can oppose the peaceful fundamentalists at your leisure, and no one has to die.

    • “…the USA is killing people because many of them are Christian?”

      ??? No, I just meant that the USA thinks of itself as Christian, even if strictly speaking it obviously isn’t.

  9. Just adding what I quoted from Aussie economics writer Ross Gittins today: “The fact is, despite the escalation in our fear of terrorism, and despite the considerable publicity given to cases where the authorities have foiled bungling terrorist intentions, there’s been no great increase in terrorist attacks outside war zones.

    “In 2005, after years of well-funded sleuthing, the FBI and other investigative agencies admitted that they had been unable to uncover a single al-Qaeda sleeper cell anywhere in the US.

    “So any terrorist threat derives from small numbers of home-grown people, often isolated from each other, who fantasise about performing dire deeds and sometimes receive a bit of training and inspiration overseas.

    “Home-grown Islamist potential terrorists are estimated to represent one in every 30,000 Muslims in the US. Muslim extremists have been responsible for a 50th of 1 per cent of the homicides committed in the US since 2001.

    “Around the world, the number of people killed since 2001 by Muslim extremists outside of war zones is 200 to 300 a year. That’s 200 to 300 people too many, of course.

    “But it’s less than the number of people in the US who drown in bathtubs each year…”

  10. Let’s clear some things up. The USA doesn’t ‘think’. It’s a land mass, and land masses don’t think… as far as we know.

    And your source really stinks. “Around the world, the number of people killed since 2001 by Muslim extremists outside of war zones is 200 to 300 a year. That’s 200 to 300 people too many, of course.” Sure, 2-300 would be bad – a great reason to condemn islam – but it’s not even remotely accurate. Hell, 10x more than that many people are killed by murderous islam in Nigeria alone. The dead that pile up because of islam are in the thousands per year… perhaps tens of thousands.

    I think the writer tried (and apparently succeeded) to fool you by using the phrase ‘war zones’. Any place where islam is causing mass murder must be a war zone, so don’t count that. If every area where muslims are >5% of the population is considered a war zone, then he’s quite accurate. But the data is meaningless, of course.

    Meh. You’ve made your mind up that our great nation is bad. I don’t care enough to try to convince you otherwise. Instead, I’ll leave you with a fun video, poking fun at the ridiculous woman that you guys elected to be the head of your government. Don’t feel bad that we’re laughing at Australia up here in the states for your decision. You have every right to laugh at us too for electing Obama :). I hope we’ll both resolve our reasons for being laughable soon.

  11. You’ve made your mind up that our great nation is bad — No.

    I have made up my mind that world history and current politics are best not seen as black hats and white hats cowboy movies.

    Poor Julia. Kind of goes with the post I am about to write.

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