Afghan Christian Faces Death Penalty

In case you haven’t heard, yet, Abdul Rahman, an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity has been arrested and is awaiting trial, at which he faces the possibility of the death penalty. CNN.com has the full story.

This is, obviously, an outrage. While freedom of religion is hardly universal and while other nations routinely persecute Christians and others for their beliefs, Afghanistan has a government the United States helped to create and which the United States is still actively protecting with military force. I’m fairly certain the possibility of people being executed by the new Afghan government for expressing a religious preference other than Islam was not in the minds of any Americans who helped oust the Taliban from power and install the current Afghan government. As Rep. Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said in a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, “In a country where soldiers from all faiths, including Christianity, are dying in defense of your government, I find it outrageous that Mr. Rahman is being prosecuted and facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity.”

It appears that our own government and the governments of Germany, Italy, and Canada, are expressing the appropriate level of outrage, at this point; let’s pray they keep it up until Mr. Rahman is free to go home.

UPDATE: In an unsurprising move, Muslim clerics in Afghanistan are saying that Rahman must die. If he is freed, some clerics say, the population will kill him (and some of the clerics seem intent on ensuring that outcome).

Holy Trinity Church

I visited the Hyde Park location of Holy Trinity Church, today. I figured that any church holding services in a chapel at a synagogue has got to be interesting. I really liked it. It really made me think, and provided a lot of what I’m looking for in a church home.

Skepticism and Faith

I was a Religious Studies major as an undergraduate. I loved my field and my department, and I would not change my major, if I could go back to that time. I have to say, though, that a major like RELI makes it very hard to take any group – religious or otherwise – at its word. This is especially challenging if one is a person of faith and is looking for a local congregation, be it church, synagogue, mosque, or something else. I am probably the most skeptical of the non-liberal Christians I know; I’ve seen friends get involved (and stay involved) with very scary religious groups, so I find myself taking everything any group says with a grain of salt. Oh, to live in simpler times…

Trying to Find a Church

I’m looking for a good church, preferrably not an incredible distance from my apartment. If anyone knows of a good one in Hyde Park, please let me know.

Oh, and if anyone can explain to me why, in broad terms, “theological diversity” in a single congregation that is supposedly committed to certain core beliefs is worthy of celebration, please let me know that, too.

Harry Potter, Parents, the Media, and the Lunatic Fringe(s)

“Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” (German: “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.”) — Heinrich Heine, from his play Almansor (1821)

I saw a report on CNN Headline News, earlier, about the (midnight, last night) release of the latest Harry Potter novel. Forget for a moment that 300,000 Britons felt the need to hang around British bookstores in the middle of the night to buy a supposed children’s book at the earliest possible instant; what bothers me is how the debate over the value of these books is carried on.

Continue reading “Harry Potter, Parents, the Media, and the Lunatic Fringe(s)”

Do terrorists really hate freedom?

That’s the question posed (and answered, tongue-in-cheek, Trudeau-style) in today’s Doonesbury strip. It’s actually a really good question, so I’ll offer my answer.

Continue reading “Do terrorists really hate freedom?”

Death in London, Madness in Iraq

This morning, as I’m sure you’ve heard, four bombs exploded in the London transit system, killing at least 33 and wounding hundreds. A group calling itself the “Secret Organization Group of al Qaeda of Jihad in Europe” is claiming responsibility. Also, this morning, the al Qaeda organization in Iraq claims that it has killed the Egyptian envoy to Iraq.

Speaking as somebody who has spent a fair amount of time in the Muslim world, I really can’t fathom what the terrorists who committed these crimes might be thinking. So many of the motivations cited – for example, the “facts” that there are 101 Jewish United States Senators, one I heard surprisingly frequently, and that the CIA sends huge numbers of Christian missionaries to the Middle East to convert Muslims – are obviously wrong.

The stated goals are usually ridiculous, as well – some of my Muslim friends told me that the 9/11 victims weren’t innocent, because they should have pulled American troops out of the Arab peninsula. Most of the time, my efforts to explain that American democracy does not mean that each citizen has personal, governmental powers fell on deaf ears.

Of course, some moonbats are claiming that this is because the United States failed to go after terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11, instead launching quixotic campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Right.

Meanwhile, the Democratic governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, on Wednesday decided to blast Bush for failing to unite the country in a “call to common purpose,” after 9/11. I thought, at first, that Warner surely meant Bush should have built more support for the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, so they would not become divisive. No, Warner meant that 9/11 presented an opportunity to work on health care and the deficit. Instead, for some inexplicable reason, Bush used to the sense of unity, post-9/11, to actually deal with the problem of 9/11. You know, Karl Rove was right.

America – the whole world, really – needs to snap out of it. After the 1993 WTC bombing, after the attack on the USS Cole, after 9/11, after the Madrid bombings, and after two intifadas, more than half of the citizens of democratic nations still don’t get it. Our enemies don’t care if we’re nicer to them; our enemies don’t care if they die fighting us; our enemies will never stop. If we are attacked again – and we will be – and if, huddling together in fear, we decide to talk about health care and the deficit, rather than how we will prevent more senseless death and carnage, we are all doomed.

Nationalized murder

Our nation is in the process of becoming a nation of accomplices. After a series of sham trials, in which only one side of the evidence has been permitted by the courts, a woman who is clearly not brain dead, legally or by simple observation, is about to die a torturous death by judicial fiat. The money awarded to Michael Schiavo was more than enough to sustain her life and provide for the treatments she has never received, before he and his lawyers squandered it. So, why the rush to pull the plug? Money, the evil will of a cheating husband, and the disdain held by the left for the sanctity of human life. The fact that there is even a possibility that Terri Schiavo, a living, breathing, and ailing human being, will be deliberately, slowly, and cruelly starved to death makes me ashamed to be a member of the human race. May God have mercy on all our souls.

A question about Bible “versions”

The following is my reply to an email sent by a visitor to my website, asking for an explanation of the different Bible “versions.” Please remember that this is only an overview of the topic and is written for one evangelical Christian, by another.

Dear [name withheld],

Thank you for your question. I will try to answer it without getting too detailed. The main thing to remember is that the “versions” are actually translations, not different versions of the Bible, itself. That is, each “version” is just a translation from early manuscripts in the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek in the Old Testament; Greek only in the New Testament).

Most of the differences between “versions” come from differences in translation. For example, the Hebrew word “wayomer” might be translated “saying” (King James), “and he said” (NIV), or just as a quotation mark, or not at all. Sometimes words or phrases have no direct translation into English, so translators approximate.

Other differences come from the priority given to different manuscripts. For example, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, is used heavily in some translations and not at all in others. This is like playing “telephone” – by the time the Greek translation of the rabbis from Hebrew gets translated to English, the differences become noticeable.

Generally, though, all the different manuscripts – there are about 6,000 total – agree very well, with most differences occurring in spelling (for example, “R” and “D” look nearly identical in Hebrew, so you might see notes about this in your Bible). When they do differ significantly, as at the end of Mark, for example, most versions will have footnotes about it, to tell you where the differences are. The introductory pages to your Bible will also have a list of abbreviations. If you look there, you will find for example that “LXX” refers to the Septuagint, the important Greek translation I mentioned.

The major versions in use in America are the King James (KJV, also called the Authorized Version), New King James (NKJV), New International Version (NIV), New American Standard Bible (NASB or NAS, sometimes NASV), American Standard Bible (ASB, sometimes ASV). There are also some “paraphrases” – these are not real translations, but summaries of Scripture. These include “The Message” and “Oxford’s Inclusive Language Version.” They may leave out whole passages or phrases, and usually boil the text down to one interpretation, so they are not recommended for serious Bible study, as you miss what the text is really saying. There are, of course, many other translations into other languages. Some of these are actually based on Cherokee! This is what Wycliffe Bible Translators do, as it makes a fast and consistent first translation into a new language much easier; future translations are often based on the original languages.

I am not aware of a version officially called the New Age Version, although I have heard various versions called that (usually derogatorily).

There are other translations out there, produced by the Catholics (the Catholic Bible with Apocrypha, The Jerusalem Bible), the Jewish Publication Society (The New JPS Translation Tanakh), independent publishers, and various cults and spin-off religions. The main thing you need to know about these are that the Catholic Bible includes something called the Apocrypha – these are books and parts of books written between the end of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ. They range from legendary to historical; some of the historical portions are correct and useful, but the Reformers (especially Martin Luther) rejected these books as not inspired. They are interesting to read, but not very useful for theology and should not be treated as Scripture.

The New JPS Translation Tanakh, of course, does not include the New Testament, since it is published by a Jewish organization. (Note: the Jerusalem Bible published by Doubleday does include the New Testament, as it is a Catholic translation. An earlier version of this document refered to another edition by the same name and was misleading.)

One final thing: you may hear references to the “Hebrew Bible” – this simply means our Old Testament.

I hope that helps. You can find a lot more information at http://www.gospelcom.net/ibs/bibles/translations/index.php. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

God bless,
Ed Cottrell

Grad School bound

I am definitely heading to grad school – I’ve decided that’s really where I’m called and where I want to be. So, applications have been a major reason for the lack of updates, recently. So much to do… I’m excited, though, and even have some rough ideas for thesis topics (yes, that’s 2-3 years away, but it helps to start working toward a thesis early, for a variety of reasons).

For those who wonder: I’m applying to Ph.D. programs – five in Religion/Religious Studies, and one in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC). No, I won’t say which ones, just yet – I have no desire to look like an idiot, should I be rejected by one or more of them! In any case, though, the plan is to pursue a degree in Islamic Studies – I see it as an area in great need of more Western scholars, and one where I can make significant contributions, in a variety of ways.

Okay, I need to work on my “personal statements” for these applications…