March 31, 2018

Religion to the rescue?

Seattle area faith-based organizations continue to aid refugees who have settled here from countries where they have suffered immeasurable harm. Buddhist monks are also in the news these days as they champion the continuing genocide of Burmese Rohingya Muslims. Religion continues to confuse with its examples of wondrous good and unlimited evil. Or is religious belief just the poster child for what lurks behind it; some good and some evil people who use religion as the lodestar for what they are inclined to do in any event? 

Since April is the Easter month, it’s a good time to search for a silver lining. Garry Wills, a prominent Catholic theologian, has written a marvelously readable book about the Qur’an. In What the Qur’an meant and Why it Matters (Viking Press), he convincingly makes the point that whatever the cause of Islamic rage, that good book is not to be blamed. He decries the ‘fearful ignorance” of “anti-Muslim animus” before getting to the heart of the book. He explains that Muhammad wrote a desert book and injects water’s importance into the core of the Qur’an. Wills goes on to compare countless biblical and Quranic versions of the prophets Moses, Abraham and Jesus who are also revered prophets in the Qur’an. One warning, though. If you are the sort of person inclined to go astray, you should avoid Islam. What happens in the Bible’s most cataclysmic hell is nothing compared to what will happen to a Muslim who ends up down there.

It may be poor form to recommend a book that I haven’t yet read, although this full disclosure may count for something. It’s just that James Parker’s review (“The Atlantic,” January 2018), of David Bentley Hart’s mind bending The New Testament: A Translation, (Yale University Press) is too tantalizing to ignore. First, he frames the acerbic Hart who offers up this opinion of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code: “…surely the most lucrative novel ever written by a borderline illiterate.” Hart is only slightly more charitable in describing the New Testament – “a grab bag of reportage, rumor, folk memory, and on-the-hoof mysticism produced by regular people, everyday babblers and clunkers, under the pressure of a supremely irregular event – namely, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Our readers will have to decide if they are ready for what the author himself describes as “an almost pitilessly literal translation.”

It’s next on my nightstand!

~ Dave