Earlier this year on HBO’s Real Time, host Bill Maher declared that Islam is “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will f***ing kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book.”
Maher was likely referring to Islam’s “blasphemy” laws, which ban on pain of death any “insult” — as found in a statement, a picture, a book — to Islam and especially to its prophet Muhammad.
While Maher has been criticized for his “Islamophobic” assertion, he and others may be surprised to learn that the similarities between Islam and an organized crime syndicate such as the mafia far exceed punishing those who say, draw, or write “the wrong thing.” In what follows, we will examine a number of these similarities.
We will begin by looking at the relationship between Allah, his messenger Muhammad, and the Muslims, and note several parallels with the relationship between the godfather, his underboss, and the mafia.
Next, we will examine the clannish nature of the mafia and compare it to Islam’s tribalism, especially in the context of the Islamic doctrine of “Loyalty and Enmity.” For example, in both Islam and the mafia, members who wish to break away, to “apostatize,” are killed.
We will consider how the mafia and Islam have both historically profited from the “protection” racket: Islam has demanded jizya from non-Muslims under its authority/territory, and the mafia has demanded pizzo from people that fall under its jurisdiction.
Finally, we will consider what accounts for these many similarities between Islam and the mafia, including from a historical perspective.
The “Christmas single” phenomenon is unknown in the U.S., unless you’ve ever watched Love, Actually.
It’s sort of the “Black Friday” of the British music industry. Since so much music is sold (or, at least, used to be) during the holiday season, having the #1 song on the charts during that time gives one lucky record company a financial boost.
After Slade took the top spot in 1973 with their “Merry Xmas Everybody” — beating out “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard — “an emotional attachment to the Christmas countdown has developed, and for many [in the United Kingdom], it is part of the fabric of their childhood.”
So I doubt many American readers care that there’s a campaign to get Iron Maiden’s old chestnut “The Number of the Beast” to the top of the charts in time for Christmas, “for a laugh.”
What’s really funny (sort of) is that, during the early 1970s, such a campaign would have been denounced on the front page of every British tabloid, and remarked upon within American newspapers’ “entertainment” sections, at the very least.
Because culture-watchers would see it as yet another sign of the satanic takeover of the culture, and the world — the one I wrote about last week.
Editor’s Note: See the first three parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” ”Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone,” and “The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power.” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here.
The idea of Olivia Pope is one of a woman who trusts her gut instinct so implicitly that she bases her every decision on it. As a result she unwittingly justifies a range of crimes, puts her life and the lives of her employees and friends at risk, and helps terrorists escape the country. Sometimes listening to your gut just isn’t good enough. Which is probably why God provides a wise alternative in Torah: the prophet.
Biblical culture believes that God speaks to human beings. Sometimes this is done in a group setting, like when the Israelites entered into a covenant with God on Mount Sinai. Other times this is done on an individual level, as when God called out Abraham, spoke to Moses through the burning bush, and when God speaks to His prophets. Given that God spoke to His priests through the long-ago destroyed Temple, Rabbinic Judaism tends to view prophets as the stuff of biblical history, despite the prophecy of Joel:
And afterward [after the restoration of Israel], I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
The Spirit of God in prophecy, known in Rabbinic Judaism as the “bat kol,” is highly regulated by Rabbinic law and culture:
In any event, the consensus in Jewish thought is that no appeal to a heavenly voice can be made to decide matters of halakhah where human reasoning on the meaning of the Torah rules is alone determinative. In non-legal matters, however, a Bat Kol is to be heeded. …In modern Jewish thought, even among the Orthodox, claims to have heard a Bat Kol would be treated with extreme suspicion and dismissed as chicanery or hallucination.
But is it really wise to always trust your gut?
The introduction to an extraordinary new series:
Next, see the first commandment explained here.
Still the Best Moral Code
Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, the official beginning of the religious Christian season. This is a season rich in meaning and symbolism for Christians, much of which can be found in the Advent wreath.
Found in churches and many Christian homes, many focus on the candles, but the wreath itself is also an important symbol. Wreaths are a circle, with no beginning and end, just as we have been promised eternal life in Christ, an image that many wreaths also continue with the use of evergreens. Laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering. Pine, holly, and yew mean immortality. Cedar is for strength and healing. Even the decorate holly, with its sharp edges, reminds us of Christ, in the suffering of his crown of thorns. Some decorate an Advent wreath with pine cones, which symbolize resurrection.
Advent is about the light of the world coming to us. You may have noticed that the four Advent candles have different colors: three violet and one rose. Each week represents one thousand years, symbolizing the 4,000 years of waiting from the Garden of Eden until Christ was born. On the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Lent, we light a violet candle. In the Christian tradition, violet means penance, sacrifice, and prayer. On the third Sunday, the rose candle symbolizes joy. However, each candle has a meaning beyond that.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice the confusion laced within a holiday message. When it comes to Christmas, the confusion is on overload. Somewhere along the way a religious message got smacked with a load of pop culture overtones to create a holiday lush with semiotic excess, too much for the brain or heart to process. So, allow me from my seat on the sidelines to create the How To guide so you can enjoy the perfect pop culture Christmas.
12. Shop early and shop often for things you’ll never need that are on sale at bargain basement prices.
Christmas really begins on Black Friday, or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, whichever you prefer. The holiday is about buying to your heart’s content and making sure everything you and your children have ever dreamed of is stacked up under that decorated tree. The bruises and broken limbs you get in pursuit of those awesome sale prices will be well worth it. Who needs teeth when they can have stuff?
Lately my editor, David Swindle, has been encouraging me to develop a series describing my own out-of-the-box Jewish faith. It’s this mish-mosh of biblical proverbs, Torah adages, stories and songs tightly woven together by my American colonial heritage and intense Zionist pride. There is no one perfect word to describe my Jewishness beyond biblical in nature. Orthodox, Conservative, even Reform I am not. Reconstructionist or Renewal? Forget it. But I find commentary from all denominations (“streams” we call them in Judaism) interesting and acceptable in a “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” kind of way that gives me the liberty to define my Judaism in a way most of my compatriots are simply afraid to do. Which is probably why David finds my approach so fascinating. It’s rare to find a Jew who isn’t somehow fettered by the chains of guilt.
So I begin at the beginning, with Thanksgiving, the quintessential Jewish and American holiday. Traditionally Jews celebrate the idea roughly 1-2 months earlier during Sukkot, a festive fall harvest holiday in which we humble ourselves before the God who brought us out of bondage, not because we are perfect, but because He loves us and wanted to dwell with us. (Sukkahs, as in “tabernacles,” as in “the Lord tabernacles with us.”) When you understand the story of God and Israel as a passionate love story, the struggles are contextualized as are the prophecies, into tough tales with happy endings. When you understand the metaphor of God and Israel as a greater metaphor of God’s love for humanity (we’re just the physical reminders) you open your heart to the immense, overwhelming love of God. And there is nothing more you can do as a human being than reflect on that truth with awe-filled gratitude.
The Drudge Report remains one of the most accurate barometers of what’s happening right now.
But can we augur near-future trends by sifting through that site’s headlines?
Lately, Drudge has posted lots of news stories about “the devil” and “exorcism”:
Camera captures exorcism performed on shrieking woman “possessed by devil:
Church Turns to Exorcism to Combat Suicide Increase… Archbishop: “Satanism has spread among young people”
BILLY GRAHAM: In Our “Lawless and Wicked Age We’ve Taught Philosophy of Devil”
Aside from the uptick in stories like these, I’m not sensing a resurgence in interest in all things diabolical, a new version of the “occult” fad that helped make the 1970s so miserable, and led to the “satanic panic” of the 1980s that was almost as bad.
Peter Bebergal doesn’t agree.
According to him, “we’re currently experiencing ‘an Occult Revival in rock music and popular culture.’”
He’s penned one of the year’s most talked-about books, Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll.
“My argument is that the spirit of rock and roll — the essential rebellious instinct of rock and roll — is certainly social and sexual and political, but it’s also a spiritual rebellion,” Bebergal explained. “And the way in which it expressed that spiritual rebellion was through the occult imagination.”
That “occult imagination” conjures everything from Ouiji boards to Christian and Jewish symbolism to LSD trips to “alternative spiritual practices.” Bebergal says it ultimately helped rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath save rock from sounding too poppy, sappy and mainstream.
Author and journalist Judy Bachrach started volunteering in a hospice in the late 1980s, and her real motive was to try to overcome her fear of death. About two decades later, when her mother came down with Alzheimer’s, Bachrach decided to look into the subject of near-death experiences.
So she delved into the literature, and journeyed around the United States and the world to interview near-death experiencers (NDErs or, as she calls them, “death travelers”) and leading researchers in the field. The result is her book Glimpsing Heaven. Her conclusion from her inquiries: “there are simply, as some of the doctors and scientists I’ve interviewed point out, too many experiencers and too many experiences to discount.”
How many? Dutch cardiologist and NDE researcher Pim van Lommel says that in the last 50 years over 25 million people worldwide have reported NDEs. A 1982 Gallup poll found eight million Americans reporting them. As Bachrach comments: “Not every self-proclaimed death traveler could be an arrant liar or deeply unbalanced or both.” If you want to hear accounts by “travelers” who are evidently balanced, mature, and intelligent, you can easily find them on YouTube.
But were these people really “dead”? Aren’t these experiences just hallucinations caused by oxygen deprivation? Having looked into the NDE subject myself for a few years, I believe one can only hold that view if one is ill-informed or determined.
Editor’s Note: See the first two parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” ”Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone.” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here.
The husband/wife relationship is central to feminism. Historical, first-wave feminism studied matrimony in terms of legal rights. Contemporary, second-wave feminism approaches marriage in terms of sexual and economic power. Biblical feminism seeks to understand the spiritual relationship between a husband and wife, and how that spiritual relationship manifests into physical action. To do so, we must begin at the beginning, with Genesis 3:16:
To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
“Rule over you” is a phrase that sends chills down any feminist’s spine. But, what does it truly mean? A study of the original Hebrew text provides radical insight into one of the most abused verses of Torah:
This brings us to perhaps the most difficult verse in the Hebrew Bible for people concerned with human equality. Gen 3:16 seems to give men the right to dominate women. Feminists have grappled with this text in a variety of ways. One possibility is to recognize that the traditional translations have distorted its meaning and that it is best read against its social background of agrarian life. Instead of the familiar “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing,” the verse should begin “I will greatly increase your work and your pregnancies.” The word for “work,” izavon, is the same word used in God’s statement to the man; the usual translation (“pangs” or “pain”) is far less accurate. In addition, the woman will experience more pregnancies; the Hebrew word is pregnancy, not childbearing, as the NRSV and other versions have it. Women, in other words, must have large families and also work hard, which is what the next clause also proclaims. The verse is a mandate for intense productive and reproductive roles for women; it sanctions what life meant for Israelite women.
In light of this, the notion of general male dominance in the second half of the verse is a distortion. More likely, the idea of male “rule” is related to the multiple pregnancies mentioned in the first half of the verse. Women might resist repeated pregnancies because of the dangers of death in childbirth, but because of their sexual passion (“desire,” 3:16) they accede to their husbands’ sexuality. Male rule in this verse is narrowly drawn, relating only to sexuality; male interpretive traditions have extended that idea by claiming that it means general male dominance.
One of my favorite things about being on staff at a church is that I get to engage in discussions about faith and spiritual life with other men and women who are passionate not just about their relationship with God but also about helping others to deepen their relationship with Him.
Last week, I was brainstorming with our creative arts director and the student pastor at one of our campuses about improving one particular element of our services, when the student pastor remarked about how he knew people who thought of our church as light on doctrine and substance, largely because we don’t engage in activities like “altar calls.” Near the end of that part of the conversation, I remarked that Christianity in the South is more of a culture than a relationship with God.
In a now-famous quote, Flannery O’Connor once said, “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” She may have been more right that she realized, because the dominant Southern Christian culture concerns itself largely with seeing and being seen, with church attendance as an end to the spiritual journey rather than a beginning, and with safely sheltering families from an increasingly messy world.
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert joined Sean Hannity on Thursday to discuss President Obama’s speech announcing his executive action on immigration. Rep. Gohmert took issue with Obama’s use of a verse from Exodus to defend his actions:
“Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too,” Obama read in his prime time speech, quoting Exodus 22:21.
Gohmert said that people here illegally are not legally allowed to work. He said the president is flaunting the law, which is an offense to the Constitution and to African Americans and Hispanic Americans who have an enormously high unemployment rate. Gohmert said Obama is “going to leave five million people out in the cold” when their jobs are taken by illegal aliens who now have the ability to work here.
Gohmert then pulled out his own well-worn Bible. “But I also want to point out he quoted Exodus 22:1 here. But if you just go over to the next column,” Gohmert pointed to a page heavily highlighted in in yellow, “maybe he hasn’t seen these verses, Sean.”
You must not spread a false report. Do not join the wicked to be a malicious witness. You must not follow a crowd in wrongdoing. Do not testify in a lawsuit or go along with the crowd to pervert justice. Do not show favoritism to a poor person in his lawsuit. (Exodus 23:1-3)
“This man is showing favoritism and he is lying about Congress,” Gohmert said. “And I’ve seen this in another politician that I went up against who would call you everything in the book and would say, ‘Now we’re going to be gentlemen. We’re not going to talk bad about each other.’ Try to keep you from defending yourself. But we’re going to defend ourselves.”
Now, obviously Gohmert engaged in the same kind of cherry-picking that Obama did when he cited a verse that he liked from that same passage of Exodus. I suspect that Gohmert was trying to point out the absurdity of taking one verse out of context (though I wish he had taken a few seconds to explain that).
In the past few days, liberal extremists have launched a full-scale attack on the Duggars, demanding that The Learning Channel cancel the Duggars’ popular reality TV show.
Their reason? Michelle Duggar openly opposed an extreme ‘transgender’ bill in Fayetteville. The bill would have given biological males who say they are women the right to use women’s bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other female-only facilities!
As of this writing, that petition has over 80,000 signatures, and is growing fast, with media like the Huffington Post leading the charge! We need to launch a counter-attack, letting TLC know that the American people stand by the Duggars and their defense of traditional family values.
Rather than being extreme, the Duggars represent the majority of people in state after state who have stood up for the traditional family.
The real extremists are those who are demanding that a TV network penalize America’s beloved family because they support the truth about family, which they have always expressed in a loving, compassionate fashion.
I haven’t watched 19 Kids and Counting in years. It just fell out of my usual television viewing rotation. That doesn’t mean I want to see it become the next victim of toxic progressive pitchforking.
The next target may be your favorite show.
LifeSiteNews’ counter-petition has just under 20,000 signatures as I write this.
You can read it here and sign it if you agree.
Women are fixers. It should come as no surprise to anyone with an understanding of the sexes that the leading female figure on primetime television is none other than a fixer named Olivia Pope. Fifty years ago women primarily played the role of mother on screen and, in doing so, they fixed things and life was pretty darn perfect. But perfect doesn’t fly on network television any longer. Today it’s all about drama, and drama is conflict. So, we get Olivia Pope: beautiful, intelligent, who fantasizes about marrying an already married man, having his children and fixing a nice little life in the Vermont countryside for them, but is too embroiled in fixing her own life and the lives of those she loves to ever quite reach her American nirvana.
Like Israel’s matriarchs, Olivia Pope has a vision of justice, of order, of the way things should be. The wearer of the “white hat,” she wrestles between good and evil in her many attempts to manifest this divine sense that has been humanized as her “gut” instinct. Watch her and you’ll see the woman in white when she pursues truth, the woman in black when she has given over to evil, and the woman in gray when she questions everything she knows. Being a fixer is a woman’s inherent power and inevitable struggle. It isn’t that we want to “do it all” because doing it isn’t as hard as taking responsibility for it, for the lives under our care. Olivia Pope cares for everyone, wants to save everyone, wants to repair everyone and make everything all better. Her struggle, like that of the matriarchs, is in placing the sole burden of responsibility on her own shoulders. But, the greatest lesson of God-given responsibility is that you are not expected to carry it all alone.
There are many really bad reasons to leave a church. Some common but silly excuses for leaving a church are the following: somebody hurt your feelings, the church is getting too big, and you aren’t getting your way on some issue. There are some reasons one should prayerfully consider leaving a church. But how does somebody know when he should definitely leave a church?
Church membership and attendance should not be taken lightly. We enter into a family relationship when we join a church. It is the body of Christ. We should take joining and leaving a church very seriously, but sometimes circumstances leave no doubt that it’s time to go.
As a regular church attendee my entire life, and as a pastor who has been in some form of ministry leadership for over 15 years, I have some experience with church-attendance issues. I offer 5 reasons that a church member most likely should exit his place of worship and find another one.
5. Members (especially leaders) in the church are in grave sin but no one is holding them accountable.
All of us sin; that includes leaders in the church. We all mess up. We all fall short. But the Bible makes it clear that the immediate response to sin is repentance. And if we do not repent then we need discipline. So if church members are living in blatant sin, and especially if its leaders are involved (who are held to a higher standard), there needs to be quick repentance — or discipline if there isn’t.
Let me be clear: I’m not telling you to only attend perfect churches where no one sins. If you join that church then you will immediately mess it up. But the name of Jesus is destroyed by churches that refuse to deal with rampant sin. Simply read the news to hear about church after church that ignored or covered up sin and are now facing lawsuits. Church members and leaders should be quick to admit wrongdoing and quick to try to make things right.
The Bible is filled with teachings on holiness and repentance when we mess up. And the Bible takes sin in the church seriously. It’s so serious that if people refuse to repent then the worst-case scenario is to remove them from the church (1 Corinthians 5:9-12). However, if your church is refusing to deal with sin in the camp, then you must leave the camp. You cannot associate with a church that refuses to repent and seek Christ.
On November 9, 2006, as the free world celebrated the seventeenth anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s demise, an 83-year-old man died in a peaceful slumber at his home in the German capital city. The man was Markus Wolf, who during the Cold War led the foreign-intelligence section of East Germany’s secret-police apparatus: the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit), known colloquially as “the Stasi.” The Stasi’s most renowned spymaster, he controlled thousands of agents, whose purpose was to infiltrate important Western institutions and government positions. Often mistaken as the inspiration for John le Carre’s shadowy Karla character, Wolf for years remained a mystery to Western intelligence services, who didn’t even have a picture of him until the late 1970s—several decades into his career. Historians have marveled at his success in leading the Stasi’s foreign wing, known as the HVA, or Hauptverwaltung Aufklaerung. Perhaps his most well known accomplishment is having one of his agents, Gunter Guillaume, become a trusted aide to Willy Brandt, the West German chancellor.
Seven years after Wolf’s death and twenty-five years after the Wall’s, the West still doesn’t appreciate the breadth and depth of the Stasi’s brutality. (The KGB still reigns in the popular imagination as the ultimate secret-police force.) Formed after the Second World War in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, the Stasi grew to become the most potently effective Eastern bloc intelligence organization. They possessed a more impressive informant network than even the KGB. When East Germany crumbled, the Stasi employed upwards of 190,000 unofficial informants. By 1989, approximately one out of every 90 East German citizens was a Stasi informant. Referred to as inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (“unofficial collaborators”), most were simply ordinary German citizens, tasked with reporting everything they could about possible (real or imagined) anti-regime activity, as well as details about family and friends. Even children were involved in spying on their parents.
An excerpt from page 251 of an extraordinary new book illuminating one of the most important Jewish philosophers and why he positioned an explanation of the Noahide laws in the section of Mishneh Torah titled “Laws Concerning Kings”:
The lights went out on Mount Olympus a long time ago, but they’re burning bright on the red carpet. There’s a connection there – it’s not a coincidence that a world without Greek gods is a world that wants to know what Brad Pitt eats for breakfast. We can’t worship the ancient pantheon anymore – it would be ridiculous, and, God be praised, we know better. But like it or not, there’s a space in the human heart shaped like the pagan deities. That’s the space we’ve filled with T-Swift and J-Biebz, with Miley Cyrus and Will Smith. Absurd but true: with the old temples empty, we’ve built new altars to matinée idols.
My editor, David Swindle, has a penchant for assigning me to review what I’d consider some pretty nasty stuff. It started with HBO, Girls in particular. He tried getting me into Game of Thrones, but after the whole Red Wedding thing I just couldn’t take it. Now, David has me watching Scandal. It’s more palatable in the network sense (nowhere near the gratuitous nudity and graphic sex levels of HBO), but it’s still as dark. Nothing beats watching a show about a team of lawyers who don’t care a whit about the law. In fact, they go to great lengths to break the law in order to serve the gods of public opinion.
Only four episodes in, I consulted with my PJ colleague April Bey, a big fan of the show, for her opinion. “Everyone is evil, but that’s okay because we’re all evil,” she explained. Her observation was ironic, disturbing, and thought-provoking. Despite an apparent thread of cynicism regarding religion and morality, the struggle between good and evil remains the stuff of blockbuster hits like Scandal. Because our stories reflect our cultural psyche, it should come as no surprise that the word “evil” is beginning to carry serious weight in intellectual circles. Ascribed with more power than a petty adjective (i.e. early 2000′s “evil” George W. Bush), evil is now being discussed as a theory and a reason for contemporary political, legal, military and indeed cultural failings.
A Catholic friend attended her church’s All Saints’ service on Saturday. She came over afterward to visit and help me with some stuff and told me about the lovely service. She mentioned something she still finds odd. The saints are often depicted with the instruments of their torture. St. Lawrence of “Turn me over, I’m done on this side” fame carries a grill, St. Catherine carries a wheel. Here are 10 of the more brutal martyrdoms.
We found this disconcerting for two reasons: one, the memory of what happened to those people. These were not quick deaths. Two, such tortures are still happening to Christians today. (Warning for graphic links, although the Daily Mail has pixelated them.) Beheadings and crucifixions still plague us. As does sexual slavery. According to the videos there, the blue and green eyed girls fetch a higher price.
When I went to church the next day (I’m Anglican and we do All Saints on the Sunday closest to November 1st) this is exactly what one of our reverends gave his sermon on. Our tormenters don’t let up. That’s what we are supposed to remember on All Saints’ Day, perseverance in the face of anything.