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Monday, November 28, 2011

One God, Three Faiths, Eternal Love

Three of the world's major religions are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Whilst each see themselves as very different to the others, Judaism and Christianity share a common suspicion of Islam.  Christians in general, tend to support Israel and the Jewish diaspora.

Amidst the arguing and criticism, all three share a common history and worship the same God.

Some people argue that Muslims do not worship the same God that Jews or Christians do.  However, Allah is a word that simply means "God", so an arabic bible has numerous references to "Allah".  Additionally, all three religions have a common ancestor, Abraham, the Father of Many Nations.

Certainly there are a number of crucial differences between the three religions, for instance Christians worship Jesus as the Son of God, whilst Muslims honour Jesus as one of their most respected prophets.  Interestingly, both Christians and Muslims believe Jesus was born of a Virgin and both religions are awaiting expectantly for the return of Jesus.   Jews on the other hand, see Jesus simply as a man, a false prophet and certainly not as the Messiah. The Qur'an has an entire Surah (Chapter) dedicated to the birth of Jesus.  Islam or Judaism consider themselves to be purely monotheistic and do not believe in the Trinity (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forming a 3-in-1 "Godhead") which Christians do.

Whilst Muslims are accused of violence, intolerance, racism & close-mindedness, the irony is that their accusers are behaving in exactly the manner which they criticise, but all in the name of Christ, Democracy or Zionism.  To justify their belief that Islam is a violent religion, some people will quote passages from the Qur'an which describe killing non-Muslims.  Yet, the same can be said of Christianity and Judaism.  There are a number of passages in the Old Testament  which call for the killing of every man, woman and child.  Of course, Jews, Muslims and Christians would and should argue that when quoting such scriptures the context needs to be explained.

Mainstream media has focussed on those extremist Muslims whose behaviour and words justify the fears that some people hold.  The media will broadcast messages from those Muslims who want to introduce the Sharia (with no explanation of what they are actually saying), or those who believe that women are second-class citizens or that Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims should be killed, or that we should all eat halal meat and not celebrate Christmas.  This inflammatory and sensationalist reporting makes great airtime and always provokes the wrath of right-wing talk-back hosts and their listeners.  Of course, those Muslims who give the others a bad name are in the minority, considering that there are a billion Muslims across the globe, from a variety of cultures who manage to live together well.  The media would do better to focus on the behaviour of the majority of Muslims, rather than the minority.  The media would do better to foster harmony rather than fear and hatred.

Attend a mosque and you will find Muslims from different countries and cultures celebrating their religion whilst appreciating the diversity in the various cultures, such as Egyptians sitting down with Indonesians, Pakistanis sharing with Syrians or Turks, Malaysians celebrating with Moroccans. Islam has brought many cultures together and is a religion of peace.  This of course is similar to churches and synagogues across the globe, where people from various nations come together to worship and celebrate their faith.

Many crimes have been committed in the name of Christianity, including of course the Crusades, right through to the recent reinvention of Jesus as a war-mongering capitalist.  Reinventing Jesus has conveniently enabled the "Religious Right" to justify the bombing and invasion of Muslim nations in retaliation for the extremist behaviour of Muslim terrorists whose actions most of the Ummah (Muslim community) do not support. Of course, this reinvented Jesus doesn't make mention of "love" or "turn the other cheek".

All three religions claim to be peaceful and tolerant of others.  So why the fighting?  Particularly, considering that both the Bible and the Qur'an have their roots in Jewish scripture. Jews view both the Qur'an and the Bible to be complete departures from the original scriptures.  Of course, the messages of both Islam and Christianity have changed from their Jewish roots and their adherents believe that the Jews have missed the final message from God; in the case of Islam, the message of the prophet Mohammed and in the case of Christianity, the message of Jesus Christ.   In acknowledgement of this common scriptural root, Islam considers Jews and Christians to be "people of the book" and honours their original scriptures. Whilst the Christian bible includes the Old Testament which is basically Jewish scripture.  Both Muslims and Christians see their holy books as the fulfillment of the original Jewish scriptures.

Whilst the three religions have different interpretations of the nature of God and His message, the fact remains that they worship the same God.  Their messages may differ, but God does not.

The Qur'an has a number of scriptures which describe God's love and His love for people who do good.  For instance Surah 3:134 "those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men; for Allah loves those who do good".

The Bible is full of verses describing God's love and his commandments to love one another, such as John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever shall believe in Him will not perish, but be saved") and Matthew 22:37 & 39 ("Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind and ....You shall love your neighbour as yourself").

And then Deuteronomy 7:9, which appears in both the Christian Bible and Jewish Torah (and honoured through the Qur'an), states "Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands"

God, in the Bible, Qur'an and Torah, is a God of Love and commands us to love each other.

We should forget the petty bickering over religious differences and do what God has commanded us - to love one another and to love Him.

God loves each of us, and Christians, Jews and Muslims love Him - as expected.

But - here is the kicker - is it too much to expect all of us to love each of us as God does?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Axis of Evil - Iran, Halliburton, Cheney

In 2002, then President George W. Bush declared Iran to be part of the "Axis of Evil", which was comprised of three nations: North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

Vice President Dick Cheney stated that "we don't negotiate with evil, we defeat it" when referring to one of those "Axis of Evil" nations.

Dick Cheney's CV also includes a stint as the CEO of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000, when he resigned amid claims of a conflict of interest as U.S. Vice President and favouritism in the awarding of government contracts.  Nonetheless, Halliburton continued to be awarded extremely lucrative government contracts, particularly with the rebuilding of Iraq and the establishment of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay.

Whilst Cheney was CEO, Halliburton was trading with Iran and even had an office based in Tehran.  This violated American law, namely the "Trade with the Enemy Act" and the "International Emergency Economic Powers Act". These Acts specifically prohibited trade with Iran, even before Bush's declaration of the "Axis of Evil".

Halliburton has been charged with selling nuclear technology to Iran as recently as 2005 and as early as 1995 - while Cheney was CEO.  This has prompted the obvious allegation that these deals may have assisted Iran in developing weapons-grade uranium.

Cheney was willing to profit from these dealings, willing to profit from an organisation that traded with "evil" whilst he was CEO and Vice President and was continuing to trade with evil after he resigned as CEO and whilst he still held significant influence within the company and around $40 million of Halliburton stock options.

"We don't negotiate with evil, we defeat it".

If it hadn't been for Halliburton's dealings whilst Cheney was CEO, there may not be anything to defeat; or is the conquest of Iran seen simply as another profit-making opportunity for Halliburton.

"We don't negotiate with evil, we defeat it".

What's the problem here? The definition of negotiation, or the definition of evil ...

or do money and power transcend ethics and hypocrisy?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You Will Know Them By Their Fruits

Being a Christian can be summed up in one word: LOVE.

Love is the one way in which others can tell that we are followers of Jesus as stated in John 13:35,  "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another".

In distinguishing false prophets from true believers, Jesus stated in Matthew 7:16 that "You will know them by their fruits."

A Christian, a person with a heart for God, will yield the Fruit of the Spirit.  Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that "The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control"

LOVE is the very first fruit of the spirit.

"If someone says 'I Love God'  but hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also". 1 John 4:20-21.

Sadly, we are seeing that the fruit produced by many people in today's world is hate, intolerance and fear, which is generally directed towards Muslims, homosexuals, socialists, communists, social justice advocates, "do-gooders" and so on.

Hate is a manifestation of fear.

Yet 1 John 4:18 tells us that "there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.  But he who fears has not been made perfect in love."

In Matthew 22:37 & 39, Jesus summed up the entire law, the entire bible in two commandments: "You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and ... You shall love your neighbour as yourself".   
As Christians we are commanded to love, not hate.

Our fruits should distinguish us from the fruits of the world. Whilst we live IN the world, we are not OF the world.

What are your fruits?

What do people see when they see you?  Do they see a person of love, with compassion for all?  Or do they see a person of hate and fear, full of vitriolic bigotry?

When people see you, do they see Christ?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grass Roots - Then & Now

Back in the day, the Labor Party's grass roots supporters were the working class.  Those hard working men and women who built this country and struggled to earn a living in order to feed, cloth and house the family. They were generally union members who fought for fair pay and conditions in the face of blatant opportunism and exploitation by "the man" - the boss who represented the company with no compassion for individual circumstance, no understanding of "work/life balance" and who was only interested in increasing profits for the Company.

The Liberal Party's grass roots voters were traditionally businessmen and women, those who owned businesses and were interested in the vagaries of the stock market.

The National Party's grass roots base were traditionally farmers.  Hard working men and women who struggled to make a living through drought, flood, fire and famine.

Back then, it was easier to differentiate political affiliations and loyalty.  Generally, people voted for the same party all their lives.

That was then.  This is now.

All three parties are so closely aligned that you would not know which party released a policy unless you were informed. No longer are the party policies clearly delineated.  People swing between parties from election to election, which is not necessarily a bad thing depending on the motivation for it, however it is made easier when the major parties are so closely aligned.

Party policies are predominantly determined by popularity and focus groups.

The "New Grass Roots" these days is driven by fear, selfishness, ignorance and misinformation which is often manipulated and encouraged through government rhetoric and media sensationalism.  Lindsay Tanner expounds on this in his book, "Sideshow - Dumbing Down Democracy".

The Labor Party has lost many of its grass roots supporters who have become disillusioned with unions and complacent about their industrial rights.  We see workers supporting the Liberal Party and even backing big business to sack other workers (for instance, the stand that many workers took in supporting the grounding of the QANTAS fleet to break the strike - a strike which was not just about more pay, but about protecting jobs in Australia and not seeing them outsourced overseas). Back in the day, every union in Australia would have gone on strike to support the QANTAS workers. It will be interesting to see if those workers who supported QANTAS management will then bleat if their jobs are the ones outsourced.  So much for solidarity.

One of the New Grass Roots values is fear.  Fear of anyone different to us, whether it be skin colour, race, nationality or religion.  We have seen asylum seekers demonised and misrepresented as terrorists.  People have very little sympathy or understanding of their situations.   Yet, had Australia been invaded by Japan in the Second World War, we may well have been the ones seeking asylum in other countries.  I wonder if we would have joined an orderly queue as we expect other asylum seekers to do.  I wonder if we would have politely awaited our turn as our families were brutalised.

The Grass Roots these days is also driven by selfishness.   Whenever an election is called many people are more interested in the benefits to their hip pockets than in what is good for the country, for the economy, for the environment, for those less fortunate then us.  This is evidenced by the increased "pork barreling" during recent election campaigns and the focus in the media of stories detailing "what's in it for you" or "what's the cost to the hip pocket?"

Two other values of the New Grass Roots are ignorance and misinformation.  Very little truth or detail is given by any party or the media when discussing policies.  It is more about smoke-screens, misdirection and focusing on red herrings rather than truth.

The New Grass Roots values of fear, selfishness, ignorance and misinformation are pandered to by all parties.  Political policy is often reduced to inane slogans which strike a chord with those who are too ignorant and apathetic to look deeper into those slogans, to realise that they have no substance, no policies and no real meaning.  

Politics in the 21st Century is marked by politicians capitulating to the amoral values of the New Grass Roots.  It is time that politicians of every persuasion change the dialogue which drives these selfish values and for the electorate to not accept blindly the manipulative posturing of politicians and the media who thrive on fear and feed on selfishness.

Regardless of political preference, we all should take stock and return to the true values of Australia - fairness, equality, tolerance ... mateship.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Adam & Eve meet Adam & Steve

Whilst there has always been a strong Christian protest against same sex marriage, and homosexuality in general, the campaigning by both sides is heating up.

On one side of the fence is the gay community, which includes a diversity of sexual proclivities, namely Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI).

On the other is the Christian lobby, whose opposition to homosexuality is reliant on the interpretation of a number of biblical scriptures and the incorrect assumption by many Christians that people are not born 'gay'.  There are also a number of Christians who believe that people are born 'gay', but that it is a defect which can be cured by God. Nonetheless, most of them believe that homosexuality is a sin.

The old adage that God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve, ignores the fact that the bible teaches that God did actually create Adam and Steve and Bob and Joe and Mary and Lucy and you and me.  According to the bible, God created all of us and knows how our lives will pan out before we were even born.  Psalm 139:13-16 describes this beautifully: 'for you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.'

People are born homosexual. People are born lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersexual. People are born heterosexual.  There are a multitude of variations of chromosomes from just the normal XX and XY genes. There are XX males, XY females, X0, XXY, XYY, XYYY and numerous other combinations which impact on a person's sexuality.  These occur naturally.

Some of these manifest under the broad description of intersexual (or hermaphrodite).  In terms of intersexuals, the stereotypical image of a person with both male and female genitalia is not always correct,  often chromosomal variations which may result in a person being born intersexual are unable to be physically detected.  Instead, they will manifest as a desire for the same gender, or a feeling that they are a woman trapped in a man's body or vice versa.

The reason that I refer to intersexuals is because this is perhaps the best physical example of people born with a variety of sexual combinations and subsequently their sexual urges may manifest as transexual or homosexual.

With such a natural variation in chromosomes, hormones, genetics and brain structure, how can it be argued that people are not born LGBTI?

There are a number of ways in which a person's sexuality is formed, particularly in terms of attraction to the same sex:

  • they are born that way;
  • through societal influences;
  • their upbringing is punctuated by abuse, rejection, lack of appropriate affection; or 
  • they chose to - there will always be people who decide to rebel against the established position or wanting to experience all that life has to offer, or for any other reason.

Some Christians believe that LGBTI people are acting against nature, in keeping with their flagship scripture found in Romans 1:26-28, which says:

'For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.'

This scripture is talking about people acting against their natural sexual urges. Now, for this scripture to effectively condemn homosexuality as a sin, it requires that people are not 'born gay', that homosexuality is against their nature. Yet, it is natural for people to be born homosexual.

Verses 29-32 go on to say:

'being filled with unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful, who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.'

Pretty much every sin that a person can commit is listed.  Many of those who aggressively criticise and abuse the LGBTI community are committing many of the sins listed in Romans 1:29-32.  It should come as no surprise that the bible is opposed to fornication, that is, sex outside of marriage.  So those people who are naturally attracted to the same sex should have the opportunity to live within wedlock if they so desire, to live in a committed relationship with their chosen partner and entitled to the same legal benefits that other married couples have.

Back to biblical scripture.  There are a number of other scriptures which Christians use to condemn homosexuality.  Many of these are based on the interpretation of the scripture's context or subjects.  Before launching into this, I want to preface it by saying that the Bible is not incorrect, however, our interpretations may well be. Below are my interpretations of specific passages relating to homosexuality, I'm sure that many will disagree; I'm also sure that a large number will agree.

  • Romans 1:26-28 - For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves the recompense of the error which was meet.

    As discussed above, this scripture is talking about people acting against their natural sexual urges. For this scripture to effectively condemn homosexuality as a sin, requires that people are not born gay, that homosexuality is against their nature. Yet as discussed above, people are born homosexual, it is their natural sexual urge.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:9 - Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind ...

    The word 'effeminate' in this verse is incorrect. The correct term in the original scriptures is 'catamite', which means 'male prostitute'. This is in keeping with the nature of the verse which was referring to those having sex outside of a committed relationship. Additionally, the term for 'abuser of themselves with mankind' is based on the word 'arsenokoitai', which was used by Paul when writing this scripture. This word was not a common word and in fact, its meaning is unclear. If Paul was referring to homosexuals he would have used the term 'paiderasste', which was the common Greek term for homosexuals. A number of interpretations have been given to the word 'arsenokoitai' since the early Christian church, including 'temple prostitutes' (generally males servicing women), and masturbators.

  • Leviticus 18:22 - 'thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind'.

    The book of Leviticus was centred on the law of the Israelites at that time. Many of the laws do not apply today, nor are they acceptable to modern society. For instance, these days most of us sanction divorce, we don't ban people from sleeping with a menstruating woman, we happily accept the charging of interest on loans, farmers now harvest the corners of their fields, we don't punish the victims of rape, we eagerly devour pork and shellfish, all of us wear clothing manufactured from two or more types of fibre and many people (including Christians) are tattooed or admire tattoos - in fact, there is a small industry in Christian tattoos.

  • Leviticus 20:13 - 'If a man lies with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them shall committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death: their blood shall be upon them.'

    See Leviticus 18:22

  • Genesis 19 - The story of Lot in the city of Sodom. Two angels stay with him and the men of the city want Lot to give them over so that they can have sex with them. The men also ask for Lot's son-in-law and daughters. God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone.

    Homosexuality is commonly given as the reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, however, the story is not about homosexuality but about rape and the treatment of strangers (the angels). The men of Sodom wanted to rape and sexually humiliate both the male and female members and guests of Lot's household. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for the complete rejection of biblical standards. In fact, Ezekial 16:49-50 explains why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed: '... this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.'

  • 1 Timothy 1:9-10 - 'Knowing this, that the law is not made for the righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for men stealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.'

    Refer to the response to 1 Corinthians 6:9 regarding the word 'arsenokoitai' being translated as 'them that defile themselves with mankind'.

  • Jude 1:7 - 'Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire'.

    This scripture clearly states that Sodom and Gomorrah had given themselves over to fornication and 'going after strange flesh'. It condemns sleeping around, but it does not condemn committed homosexual relationships. 
There have also been studies published which provide evidence that same-sex unions were sanctioned and conducted by the church between the 4th and 14th centuries. Most notable are the books 'Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe' and 'Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexualityby John Boswell, a Yale historian.

Sexual attraction is based on natural, innate impulses which we are born with or have developed.  The majority of people are attracted to the opposite sex, some are attracted to the same sex and some are attracted to both. 

Marriage is a promise of commitment between two people who want to share the remainder of their lives with each other.

Not all people who oppose same sex marriage are Christian.  Besides biblical scripture, some arguments against same sex marriage include the obvious issue that same sex couples cannot procreate.  Based on this argument, heterosexual couples who can't procreate also should not be allowed to marry, that would include those who are infertile or who are older and won't be having children.  The point of marriage is commitment, not procreation.  The desire to commit to someone is generally because we love that person and want to spend the rest of our lives with them.

This leads to the fallacious argument of 'where will it end'.  This argument states that if same sex couples are allowed to marry 'for love', then why not allow polygamy, incest, bestiality and so on. This is similar to the so-called sexual relativism argument which claims that people should be able to engage in any sexual activity they want, including homosexuality, sado-masochism, exhibitionism & voyeurism, fetishisms, polygamy, bestiality, incest, pedophilia and necrophilia. Both arguments are blatant scare-mongering and raise issues which are of no relevance to the same sex marriage debate.  To humour those who argue this, it is important to understand that polygamy, bestiality and incest are activities which very few people indulge in. They are based on lust and sexual gratification. Homosexuality on the other hand is a natural sexual urge, just as heterosexuality is, and forms a person's identity - it is not an "activity", it is a basic, primal desire and is not just concerned with sexual activity, it includes all other aspects of human relationships. Marriage (same-sex or otherwise) is based on two people committing to each other for the rest of their lives, not on more than two people marrying. It is biology and psychology, not mathematics.

Other arguments centre around adoption with the assumption that same sex couples do not make good parents. This argument ignores the fact that many people in this situation already have children from previous heterosexual marriages. It ignores any evidence to the contrary, that people are people regardless of sexual orientation and generally parents have a desire to protect and nurture their children, regardless of the parent's gender. The argument then goes on to say that the children will suffer because of the stigma of living in a household with same sex parents. Many of those children grow up as well-adjusted as any other child.  Children can suffer regardless of the gender of the parents who raise them if they are in a household without love, tolerance and respect. Every year, children become the unwitting victims in domestic violence or divorces. Certainly far more are in those situations than children who are raised in a household with same sex parents.   

Whilst some people may find the thought of homosexuality to be abhorrent, it needs to be remembered that it is more than just the sexual act. Just like heterosexuals, LGBTI people have emotions, attractions, needs, love and the desire to be loved.  They also want committed relationships based on respect and love; the very things that are the corner-stone of any successful marriage.  Those who oppose same sex marriage, are dictating how others should live their lives.  They are stating that they know better than others and through this they are delegitimising the lives of others.

Marriage is the right of all adults, the basis of which is commitment, respect and love - gender is not a criteria.