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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

On Bishop Spong (and the almost total lack of similar spokespersons for Islam)

that diminishes life for anyone,
whether on the basis of race, ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation,
or even religion,
is evil
and must be confronted.
that enhances life and increases love
is good
and must be encouraged.
Bishop J S Spong

Among all the people in the world of today's divisive leadership in religion, the likes of Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong are a rarity, indeed.

Spong, the author of several bestselling books, each an anathema to the Church, is a believer who places rationality above all else. This may sound strange, particularly to non-believers and agnostics, and to those who consider 'belief', per se, to be irrational. But, after reading his numerous essays and columns, several people - including those of other faiths and denominations, as well as unbelievers - agree that his approach is in total contrast to that propounded by the belching and bellowing fundamentalists currently at the helm of most religious affairs.

I'd suggest to those who are not familiar with Spong's work to surf the Internet for his writings. They are among the best essays available today, in terms of lucidity alone. [If you cannot access any of them, email me for a small sample selection I had once distributed among friends.]

The mere mention of Spong's name, among Evangelists and Catholic Priests alike, is enough to let loose a gushing flood of diatribe. This is, naturally, as expected. Spong's view of an 'errant' Bible (his latest book is titled "The Sins of Scripture"), his acceptance of the Theory of Evolution in opposition to that of Intelligent Design (a kind of Cloaked Creationism, named to make it more scientific sounding), and the negation of literal interpretations of the Old & New Testaments, would have been sufficient to earn him the wrath of the establishment. But Spong, not one to hold back his views, went even further by becoming an ardent supporter of women's rights, speaking out against the attitude of the Church on homosexuality, and vociferously criticising the Biblical punishment that requires society to kill all gays.

Condemning superstition, Spong wrote several pieces post-9/11 and post-Tsunami_2004, taking to task those religious (mis)leaders who had proclaimed these events to be divine punishments, meted out to innocent masses. He made matters far worse for himself by taking an anti-Bush stand on the Iraq War and, just when Democrats thought he was one of them, by taking Kerry to task for his lukewarm changing views.

Within the sphere of religious matters what Spong is engaged in, would, in the parlance of Islamic thought, be rightly called Ijtehaad - the current absence of which is, in all probability, the major reason the Muslim Ummah finds itself in a state of stagnation, confusion and directionlessness.

Joining hands with corrupt rulers - something that, by the way, is not exclusive to mullahs, for priests of all religions have always done this to grab whatever power they can - they strengthen the hands of those tyrants, in exchange, by inventing and falsely attributing sayings to Prophets and Saints.

Unwilling to accept their own ignorance and the consequent inability to adopt their outmoded interpretations to a world changing at an accelerated pace, Muslim religious leaders have, very cunningly, taken refuge in a variety of 'back to the basics' movements, with each one defining the 'basics' in the manner that provides him with the maximum benefits.

My use of the male pronoun in the preceding sentence is a conscious choice. For one, there are very few women religious leaders, primarily as a result of the age-old bigotry of self-styled Ulema echoing similar viewpoints that prevail among the high-priests of other religions and churches. For another, the few that do exist are divided between those that seek to re-interpret the Qur'an in a feminist perspective - a very small minority that, for the most part, has taken its cue from the women's movements in the West - and those who whole-heartedly and wilingly define themselves in terms of the traditional male perception. Among the latter are some that promote this self-effacement, even while 'seemingly' opposing it, as in the case of the numerous dars-giving scholars, who, funded by the Saudis, have begun to sprout globally.

Many of my Muslim friends, on being introduced to Spong's writings, have said that they are dismayed by the absence of even a single writer among them who couples the reformist approach of Spong with the credibility that he has established by his having been a bishop. While I cannot help but agree with them, I would like to use this opporunity and point them towards a source on the Internet, where, without doubt, some of the finest and most rational discussions (intermingled, of course, with the usual mumbo-jumbo) are taking place among Muslims. Visit and see for yourself.

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Anonymous Rahmat Masih said...

Are Mr. Spong's books available in Pakistan?

30 August, 2005 16:33


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