Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dealing with real differences; Islam, Christianity, and Laestadianism

I recently read President Obama's speech at Cairo University. It's quite lengthy, but worth reading in full. It really sets a different tone than what I've heard before from any American President when speaking to the Muslim world. Gutsy, to say the least.

Regardless of how successful one thinks this attempt at outreach to the Muslim world will ultimately be, I think the speech can raise some interesting questions about how we on this blog can deal with the real differences between us. There has been a lot of heat lately. I have participated in that heat. Maybe there has been some light too, but I'm much less certain on that score. ;-)

I've excerpted some of the passages that are especially relevant to us below. I hope this post will serve as a jumping off point for further discussion.


So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.



But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.


Growing up Laestadian, it seemed like saying "openly the things we hold in our hearts" was very difficult when those things were things that questioned, or revealed difference. It seems to me like it was encouraged to keep those things very private indeed, in order to avoid offending.

Therein lies some of the problem. How can differences be shared openly without it causing conflict and hatred? How can "a sustained effort to listen" happen when people truly and widely disagree?

41 comments:

  1. Theoretically what Obama says is good. He said "We are and never have been at war with Islam." The problem is- they are and always have been at war with us.

    How can you reason with people who's fundamental belief system is the polar opposite of ours? Never mind the terrosim, how about the complete and total oppression of women, killing homosexuals- to name a few. As much as each of us cling to our beliefs-they do in the name of Allah.

    That is what is in my heart, to quote our president. They are never going to change their centuries old religion/beliefs and we should never stoop to theirs.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think I've told the story before -- the joy of getting old is you are allowed to repeat good stories -- but when we lived in a small village in England, there was an association formed between the three major churches in the village. They were the Roman Catholics, the Church of England, and the Methodists. The gist of their charter was to do all things together that they could. Obviously there had to have been some hurdles to overcome sinc ethe C of E was formed by Henry VIII as a result of his disagreements with the RCs.

    We used to have community services a couple times a year, rotating amongst the churches, to whihc all were invited. The popularity of the program was such that those services were standing room only -- and that is highly unusual in England where religion is a pretty casual thing. Of course communion could not be shared, but the particpants from the other churches would still go up and receive a blessing from the Priest, Vicar, or Minister.

    In another example of working together, I've seen where in small towns across America, in places where congregations are very small, they are banding together to have things like vacation Bible school -- for all faiths. Cooperation amongst the Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, United Church of Christ Congregational, and others. My goodness, what will come next? Perhaps someday we won't even consider a marriage between a "Finn kid" and a "German kid" a "mixed marriage"! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think Obama was pretty clear in this speech that he doesn't consider all Muslims to be at war with the U.S. any more than he considers us to be at war with Islam. He goes out of his way to break down the us versus them, pointing out that the first country to officially recognize the U.S. as a nation back in 1792 was a Muslim country, and that we have 7 million Muslim-Americans, whose right to worship is protected under the Constitution.

    It's notable that the word "terrorist" is not used in this speech at all.

    To finish the quote PS posted, "We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people."

    He also highlights some of the positive contributions Islam has made to Western civilization, and quotes the Qu'ran extensively (the Torah and the Bible less so) to support the idea that all three religions value peace.

    As we know so well from this blog, there are many versions of Christianity. Obama seems to be arguing that there are many versions of Islam, calling upon people of all faiths to reject violent extremism and cling to a version of their faith that promotes peace and shared values.

    I agree, in the sense that I think that the long term answer to this problem is for people of different faiths who love peace to feel more kinship with each other, than with the violent extremist factions within each faith.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Perhaps it is not what Obama says but how he says it. (tho I doubt it) He recently said "We are no longer a christian nation." Then a bit later he said there are more Muslims in America then any other religion. I beg to differ. Stats show we are something like 90% percent christian.

    He is the first president in 20 years who did not send a represenative to the National Day of Prayer.

    Our congress starts with prayer each day (not to allah) the ten commandments are posted at the supreme court. I beg to differ with Mr. Barrack Hussain Obama.

    It is appalling to hear him say on foreign soil that we re-acted out of fear after 9/11 and went against our standards as a country by engaging in war. (not a direct quote- summerized) We were protecting lives, our right to live free. He diminishes us as a nation. It shows extreme naivety on his part and makes him look like a weak leader.

    ReplyDelete
  5. LLLreader sez once more: Let's get away from the Obama vs. Limbough stuff for awhile.

    ReplyDelete
  6. PS, well, I think it was a very strong speech. I think that this isn't a Christian nation (at least not in the sense that you and David Barton do). I think George Bush did act out of fear after 911, and now Obama has to clean up that mess.

    Obama was very clear about what will and will not be tolerated. That's being strong, not weak.

    But we'll probably never agree on that stuff. I've been listening (i.e., reading) what you have to say for awhile now, and I think I've found the common theme that ties all of your posts together.

    You're a "lumper." You lump stuff together that I don't think should be lumped together. On this thread you're lumping the whole Islamic world together as though it was all one thing.

    I'm more of a "splitter." (Some might say hair-splitter, although I won't go that far. ;-) So I'm not going to find your lumping very compelling.

    ReplyDelete
  7. In terms of discussion, I notice that PS is sticking to the issues, but Tomte can't keep his eyes off PS. The aim is to discuss issues, isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I don't think there has been a bloodier "Christian" group of people than the Spanish conquistadors, who visited genocide and mayhem on the native peoples in Mexico, Central America, and the entire South American continent.

    --Stranger in a Strange Land

    ReplyDelete
  9. ...and the great Spanish empire eventually fell apart. In a nutshell, there was no blessing in it, and God did not allow them to prosper (that is the way I would frame it as a Christian). Great empires rise and fall, and there are lessons for us in history.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yes, that's exactly what I mean, Norah.

    If we were to lump all of Christianity together, we could look at the Spanish conquistadors, for example, to illustrate that Christians are colonizing, blood-shedding terrorists. Some people are willing to do that with Muslims based on incidents like the World Trade Center bombing. There are things in their culture I perhaps do not understand, like the role of the women in their society, but I'm told that Christians used to be much worse. I remember hearing about the days when my grandmother was young that men and women sat together in church and the women had to wear a hyvee in church. Sounds right Islamic, doesn't it? I am wondering if those of you (I won't name names) ever had a Muslim friend, more than just a surface acquaintance. I have, and it made my world different. I saw that most are not any more violent than any of us, that they want peace, and they do not condone the actions of the radical left. No, honey, they're not the polar opposite of us.

    I think Obama did a marvelous job with his speech. It seems Al Quaida is pretty scared of its impact in the Muslim world. They have issued statements that are pretty incoherant.

    --Stranger

    ReplyDelete
  11. Sorry, I meant to say the men and women couldn't even sit together in church. Urghhhh! I need to quit writing these on the fly.

    --Stranger

    ReplyDelete
  12. We can't base our opinions on the past.(especially waaaay past.) But we can look at the present. The muslims TODAY are rogue. Terroism, yes. Suppressing women and Killing homosexuals..how can any of you argue those points?

    You can't argue or negoitate religion. They won't see it because allah or bin laden or some other leader says so.

    People generally belong to a group because they agree with the basic precepts. As far as lumping people together...when you belong to a group you are in the "lump" When you refer to a few here and there that may have a softer side- it is not a true representation of the group as a whole AND how the group presents themselves to the WORLD.

    By their fruits you shall know them and when we see a civilized society in the muslim world- THEN we have something to work with.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Newsflash for PS, not all Muslims are violent extremists. Not even most Muslims are violent extremists. That was the whole point of the speech.

    Keep on lumpin', though.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Crap! I hate it when I have to agree with my liberal friends, but Tomte, you are spot in this regard! I have quite a few Muslim friends and they are no more terrorists than anyone else. (P.S., do you actually know any Muslims?) By the way, I will greet some of my Muslim friends with Assalaam Alaikum", or "Peace be upon you" -- and it's not a "secret handshake" here either. We also often use "Inshallah" - "If Allah wills", and there's nothing wrong with recognizing the will of God either.

    Oh, by the way, Allah is God. It is not a different God than ours. It is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Whether known as God, Allah, Yahweh, or other name, he is simply God. The language does not matter.

    Oh what the heck, since I'm sermonizing, it is interesting to note that Abraham is considered neither Jew, Christian (duh, he lived a few years too early), or Muslim (duh again), but might be known as Hernif, a person who realizes and knows one God.

    On another interesting note, did you know that Islam recognizes that there are only about four major prophets -- Abraham (or Ibrahim, as they call him), Moses, Muhammad, and....Jesus? Shocking, no?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Stranger, you made me chuckle with your comment about men's side and women's side in church. Since I know your roots do not fall far from mine in terms of church, I have hypothesized that in the place where our ancestors went to church down the road from each other -- and often interchangeably, as we've discussed -- that it came about because those old farmers going to church on Sunday often got there well before services were to begin. Since they had the time, they took the opportunity to sit and visit -- men with men, and women with women. All of a sudden those darned "lukkaris" would start the first song, and rather than disrupt the whole scene with shuffling around, people just sat where they were. I remember OALCers from other "localities" (remember that word?) coming to our church and wondering why the women and men sat apart. When they chose to sit with their spouses, we locals would kind of wonder why... I think today it is less practiced, but those old traditions die hard.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I do know some muslim people. well, two anyway. They do not approve of terroism. I know allah is God to them. It's just that I serve a different God. They may believe Jesus was a prophet, I
    believe he is the Messiah. They use the Koran, I use the bible.


    Here are some verses from the Koran that I think they get the message to Fight against others and they will be rewared with virginal women.

    47.
    Whenever you encounter the ones who disbelieve [during war], seize them by their necks until once you have subdued them, then tie them up as prisoners, either in order to release them later on or also to ask for ransom, until war lays down her burdens. Thus shall you do-; yet if God so wished, He might defend Himself from them-in order that some of you may be tested by means of one another. The ones who have been killed in God's way will never find their actions have been in vain; He will guide them and improve their attitude and admit them to the Garden He has acquainted them with.

    55.
    Bashful maidens will be there
    whom no human being has tampered with
    previously, nor an sprite.
    So which of your Lord's benefits
    will both of you deny?


    56
    Those will be the nearest in gardens of bliss, a multitude from early men and a few from later ones on couches set close together, leaning back on them, facing one another. Immortal youths will stroll around them with glasses, pitchers, and a cup from a fountain which will not upset them nor dull their senses; and any fruit that they may choose, and the meat from any fowl they may desire; and bright-eyed damsels [chaste] just like treasured pearls, as a reward for what they have been doing.

    66
    O Prophet, strive against disbelievers and hypocrites; act stern with them! Their refuge will be Hell and it is such a wretched goal.

    ReplyDelete
  17. To "Stranger"

    You stated that your Grandma said that the men and women sat apart and the women wore huyvees?
    The men and women may not sit apart any longer-but the huyvees are still there.

    My confirmation the girls sat away from the boys-and I am not a grandma!

    I attended a wedding not too long ago in the OALC.

    The minister talked quite a bit about how woman's role is to serve the man.


    It may not be muslim,but it is a bit extreme. The man does not receive a ring, but the woman accepts the ring from him.

    The men look normal by society standards. The women wear long skirts ( which were not so long in the 70s). The women wear their hair up in a bun.

    I have read a lot about the treatment of women in the Islamic world. The extremist are there. They do not allow the women to be educated. Their clothing is dictated. Their role is to have children.

    The OAL rules are not as extreme, but there are rules that do keep women at a lower level than the men.

    The women are not encouraged to go to college.
    They are encouraged to get married young. If they go to college it is to be a nurse or a teacher (even teaching is rare).

    And it may not be a barca-but the long skirt and huyvee and the bun-sure keeps a female in her place.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I think it's hilarious that PS, having treated us to her fundamentalist reading of the Bible, is now going to do the same thing with the Qu'ran.

    ReplyDelete
  19. My grandma has been dead for several years ago. When she said that the men and women sat apart and the women had to cover her hair with hyvees, she was explaining how things were in church when she was very young. We belong to the IALC, and the women look like any other women in the world--we decided that was not important. My grandma always had short permed hair. My other grandma wore lipstick. I did not grow up in a locality with other Laestadians, so I was grown before I found out very much about the very strict sects within what religious scholars call the "Laestadian movement."

    --Stranger

    ReplyDelete
  20. As usual, no direct comment to actual post, but direct to me. Hmmm. frustrated are you? When the cats away, the mouse play.

    There is no refute to that which the Koran promises, is there? It doesn't get any better then calling the Muslims and the Koran fundamentalists. I happen to agree.

    This is so redundant.


    Women in the ALC also look alot like the world- there are some though that remain stedfast to the bun, skirts and kids.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Are some completly ignoring our host or are they simply "priviliged?"

    The community is the best part of being here. Let our conversation be spirited, gracious and full of questions. However, any nasty comments with a personal attack, or diatribes with no intention but to hurt? They're not getting published. So too with overlong comments (for that, you need to start your own blog!).

    ReplyDelete
  22. To borrow a very profound quote:

    " Reagan did not bring down the Wall by highlighting the positive aspects of Communism or ignoring/excusing its crimes. He condemned the Evil Empire and demanded accountability: “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall.”

    Has anyone here seen the DVD series "SPEACHLESS, silencing the Christians?"

    ReplyDelete
  23. ps--have you mentioned your connection with the OALC, or did you belong to another group? How did your parents come to leave the church? It's always interesting to know what motivates people to leave--sometimes it's marraige.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Anon 8:47

    I was raised in the ALC. My Parents did not leave the church. I did(and my 5 siblings)I do have friends and some family in the OALC. I left about 7 years ago. My husband was from the ALC as well. For years I felt disconnected from the teaching/legalism. We finally "broke free" and now attend a community christian church.

    ReplyDelete
  25. PS, as my daughter is fond of telling me: "You just don't get it."

    Calling your reading of the Bible or your reading of the Qu'ran "fundamentalist" and "hilarious" is not a personal attack on you --it's an attack on your argument. Which is totally within the rules established for this forum.

    The fact is that most Muslims are not violent extremists, so obviously they do not read the passage you posted as a license for violent extremism.

    The only thing your "reading" proves is that you can misread the Qu'ran just like a violent extremist misreads it --not that your misreading is correct or normative for the vast majority of people who would consider the Qu'ran sacred scripture.

    ReplyDelete
  26. P.S., There are also some fundamentalist quotes in the Bible as well:

    "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard." (Leviticus 19:27)

    "Bible-believing" fundamentalists never preach against the evils of shaving, as they do not take this verse literally for our day. Of course, they most certainly would do so if they had a personal bias against shaving, but apparently, they do not.

    "Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property." (Leviticus 25:44-45)

    Did you ever wonder where racist, uneducated people in the 19th century got the idea that slaves were just property and not people? Directly from the above verse, which fundamentalists do not, of course, take literally.

    --Stranger

    ReplyDelete
  27. Stranger:

    Can we at least establish that on the world front the perception of Muslim/Islam is that of terroists, oppressive of women and homosexuals?

    I was merely suggesting that perhaps it is that part of the Koran they use to justify their behavior. I personally think the scripture is a bit wack...promising virgins in heaven to those who obey.

    It is what it is. Fundamnetalist? I didn't know we were discussing the christian bible on this thread. I know the bible has scripture that pertrains to certain times that may be taken literally or not.

    Round and round. I accept your opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  28. All I am saying, is give peace a chance.

    --Stranger, borrowing some words from John Lennon

    ReplyDelete
  29. Well, this might not pertain to this particular discussion, but I was gone for a few days.. Happened to be part of a group of about 100 people. Picked out the Laestadians in a New York minute. They looked like most everyone else, but their behavior gave it away.. My only task when I got home was to figure out which branch, and with a quick Google search that was confirmed. I am disheartened and disappointed at us as a whole. We have a long way to go, but I doubt we'll ever get there, or ever change. It's too ingrained and most of us don't even know there's a problem.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Norah--would you mind mentioning what the behaviors were that identified the Laestadians?

    ReplyDelete
  31. Yes, and what branch it was!

    --Stranger

    ReplyDelete
  32. Norah, you have piqued my interest, too. What kind of group activity? What behaviors? I hope you had a good time. You sound rather bummed out. SISU

    ReplyDelete
  33. I really did have a good time! It was the 'closed' behavior that gave it away. There is much more that I could say but I'd better not. The most fun we had was with an 86 years young adventurer who 'rescued' us from a lecture and took us out for a nightcap at the local watering hole. She drove. lolol What a gift she was, and a whole new perspective on aging! It was a good exercise in focusing on the positive peeps in your life, and ignoring the negatives! It's a cliche, but I'll say it anyway - God works in mysterious ways.

    ReplyDelete
  34. If it was "my people" its okay to say, Norah. I can only take responsibility for my own behavior!

    --Stranger

    ReplyDelete
  35. Men and women sitting (or standing) apart during prayer is nothing Laestadians invented, it's an ancient custom followed by many traditional religious groups. In Orthodox Jewish synagogues men and women always sit apart, and there's even a low wall or a curtain that separates the men's and the women's sides (sometimes men and women are on the opposite sides of the room, sometimes men are in the front and women in the back, and sometimes men are on the main floor of the sanctuary and the women on the balcony). Also in my church, the Eastern Orthodox church, men and women traditionally pray on opposite sides of the church, men to the right and women to the left. In Greece, where they have chairs in church (most other places there's just an empty floor for standing, and just a few chairs for the older people), they sometimes even write "for men" and "for women" on the chairs. This practice is gradually falling into disuse, in many Orthodox churches men and women stand together without any distinction, but in the church where I usually go, you can still clearly see which one is the men's side and which one is the women's side.

    ---

    Allah means simply God in Arabic. The Christian Arabs use the word Allah when they mean God. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the God of Islam is the same as the God of Christianity.

    ---

    I know a Finnish Eastern Orthodox priest who often uses the greeting "Salaam aleikum" and says "inshallah" for "God willing".

    ReplyDelete
  36. Stranger, I don't want to divert this thread or reveal any more than I have.. but would rather look at the encounter as in a mirror: Is this how I behave now, or have I behaved this way in the past? And when I encounter it, what should my response be - the choice is mine, it starts with me. Free's quotes at the top of the page say it well:

    "Conquer the angry man by love. Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness. Conquer the miser with generosity. Conquer the liar with truth." "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." "Seek peace, and pursue it."

    ReplyDelete
  37. Maybe my post does apply to this topic. How do we deal with real differences in religions? For that matter, how do we deal with differences in race, or nation, or gender? What does it say about us as nations, or as individuals?

    While I would not agree with the prescription that Barack Obama provides which appears to be leveling the playing field to achieve justice and peace, there are parts of the speech that may apply. I would not say we need to compromise our beliefs in order to appease those who do not agree with us, but I think we need to learn how to be assertive without being angry, to listen even when we don't agree with what we are hearing, and to respect the beliefs of those who believe differently. What we tend to do both as individuals and perhaps as nations is to take on an air of superiority. We are smug and self-satisfied, content that we are right and that our own needs are being met. We build walls, not seeing the needs of those outside those walls but rather venturing out at times to destroy, demean and diminish those who are outside the walls. I hope that doesn't sound overly dramatic or over the top.

    From a Christian perspective, I believe that God gives us opportunities in life to 'break down those walls'. We can choose to use those opportunities as paths to a new ways of thinking and seeing, or we can resist and see the opportunities as threats to our position and build them even stronger and higher. For those safely tucked inside the walls, I say be well. But I will continue try and be more assertive in saying there is a better way. We can't change the world, but we can choose how we react, and hopefully be salt and light in the process.

    SISU, you're right..that stuff got to me (because it was unexpected and yet I knew it so well!!) but the rest of the weekend was great. Email me at argine234 at yahoo.com if you want to know more! You too, Stranger :-)

    ReplyDelete
  38. Norah, your post is very relevant to this topic. You said it, and model it, better than I do sometimes. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  39. Thank you, Tomte. I think we have to be very careful not to be forceful and authoritarian, and let people make up their own minds about things. Most of us have been raised in an authoritarian way, and have been in authoritarian churches.. but there is a better way, and it's good to practice letting go and giving up the need to control... Not that I'm saying you are doing that, but I am trying to practice it myself.

    ReplyDelete
  40. ex falc says,

    as a conservative, I was also impressed with Obama's sermon. It's true - we can bring more peace to this world by reaching out our hands to show we care for others in the world instead of hiding in a little church group.

    I've got my hands full with the in-laws from Mexico right now and every day I try to show that same love and understanding to them. Some situations are more difficult than others. Dealing with them has been an eye opener for sure. I have noticed that I accomplish more with them when I listen to them and when we have a 2-sided conversation.

    I think too long the conversation has been 1-sided towards the muslim world, and that needs to change if we are going to every achieve peace.

    ReplyDelete
  41. 'Here's my strategy on the Cold War: We win, they lose.'

    - Ronald Reagan

    'Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.'- Ronald Reagan

    'Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it' -
    -Ronald Reagan

    ReplyDelete