Thursday, April 5, 2007

Well, Shut My Mouth!

I just read a recent article in the International Herald Tribune describes a resolution passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which strongly urged a prohibition on any speech that "defames religion." The resolution has its genesis in a block of Islamic nations, who want to see speech critical of Islam banned. They're offended by things like the Danish caricatures of Mohammed, or perhaps anything coming out of Salman Rushdie's mouth...breath included. Although the resolution was opposed by European countries, Japan, Canada, and South Korea, it passed nonetheless.

Such a ban, were it in force in the United States, could be used to silence...well...anyone. You could use it to prosecute the atheists who are still earnestly putting up their silly Blasphemy videos. You could use it to being critical of a cult like the Creciendo en Gracia movement. Were this in force worldwide, you could use it to coerce Mahmoud Ahmedinajad into silence about Judaism. Again, we see the fundamentalist incapacity to understand irony at play.

Fortunately, this Orwellian interpretation of what "human rights' means has no legal bearing at all. Freedom to be annoying is one of the necessary byproducts of a real democracy. As difficult as it might be for people who strongly hold to their faith, we've got to be willing to defend the rights of those who oppose us if we're to really honor our democracy.

It's a pity that so much of the world as of yet does not grasp that.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Dropping the Ba'al

One of the larger challenges we have as Christians is telling the world about who Jesus is, and why we feel he's important. As important as John 3:16 is to all of us from this side of the looking glass, I think that unless we can unpack that a teensy little bit the rest of the world just hears us talkin' loud and sayin' nothing.

"He's the Son of God," we say, sounding much like Uhura on that Star Trek episode most Trekkers would rather forget. What, you mean like Hercules? Is Jesus the demi-god offspring of divine canoodling? Has the Holy of Holies, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, just become the Jewish Zeus as a goose, coming down to do the humpty hump with an underage Judean Leda? No, of course not. That's not what we say at all, but I'm not sure that most of us have an adequate grasp on the depth of what orthodox Trinitarian theology actually says to be able to fend off that sniping.

"He died for our sins and was raised again, so that we might have eternal life," we say, and we really mean it. But then some jaded former Christian with a chip on their shoulder asks us how that's different from the Canaanite Ugaritic stories of Ba'al the lifegiver, who dies in battle with Mot, the god of sterility and death. In his death, the hold of Mot over the earth is shattered, and Ba'al is then resurrected, restoring life to the earth, giving a great harvest and hope to humanity. "It's...different...,"we stammer, but they're hardly going to be convinced if that's all we have to offer. There are plenty of distinctions, but to really surface them, we have to both know the witness of Scripture and tradition.

Then...and I think this is the hard part...we have to be able to tell the story of who He is in such a way that a world that no longer is steeped in Bible stories can understand it. If all we can offer are what amount to terms of art, the language of our own in-group conversation, I think our ability to show the world who Jesus was and what He meant will fade to nothing.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Deliver Us All

As we move into the Christian Holy Week, we're also entering the Passover Season. Being the good goyische dad that I am, I sat down with the boys and Rache this last week and re-watched "Prince of Egypt," which--notably by Bible Movie Standards--actually doesn't bite. Yeah, it gets a wee bit Broadway now and again, but it tends to be creative, thoughtful and nuanced, while remaining essentially true to the Exodus story. It has very few Hallmark Movie of the Week moments, although I did hear that Sarah Gilbert provided voicework for a young camel that didn't make it into the final edit.

I really enjoy the opening's such an elegantly edited and constructed introduction. I watched it on YouTube, which lead me to something that struck me.

After watching the English version, I watched the Hebrew version. Then the German version (some deep, strange spiritual resonances there). Then the Spanish. The French. The Greek. Korean. Thai. There are others, many others. What leapt out at me intensely as I watched the same music and story unfold in a dozen different tongues was the depth of our human yearning for the story of deliverance. For all of the radical difference in our cultures, I think the cry for a shepherd or a deliverer is a universal. It's a shared experience, whether we're trapped in a society that politically or materially oppresses, or if we live in a culture "rich in things, but poor in soul."