You can’t save yourself without others; therefore, says Pope Francis, you can’t have a personal relationship with Christ

The “Church is essential for faith; there are no ‘free agents,’ Pope says,” reports Cindy Wooden. (See also Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY Christians are not made in a laboratory, but in a community called the church, Pope Francis said. At his weekly general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis continued his series of audience talks about the church, telling an estimated 33,000 people that there is no such thing as “do-it-yourself” Christians or “free agents” when it comes to faith. Every Christian, he said, can trace his or her faith back to parents, grandparents, teachers or friends. “I always remember the nun who taught me catechism. I know she’s in heaven because she was a holy woman,” he said.

In the Old Testament, the pope said, God called Abraham and began to form a people that would become a blessing for the world. “With great patience — and God has a lot of it — he prepared the people of the ancient covenant and in Jesus Christ constituted them as a sign and instrument of the union of humanity with God and unity with one another.”

Pope Francis described as “dangerous” the temptation to believe that one can have “a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ without communion with and the mediation of the church.”

Obviously, he said, it is not always easy to walk the path of faith with other people. “Sometimes it’s tiring. It can happen that a brother or sister creates problems for us or scandalizes us, but the Lord entrusted his message of salvation to human beings, to us, to witnesses,” he said. “It is through our brothers and sisters with their gifts and their limits,” the pope said, “that he comes to us and makes himself known. This is what belonging to the church means. Remember: Being Christian means belonging to the church. If your first name is Christian, your last name is Member of the Church.”

At the end of his talk, the pope asked people to join him in praying that they would never “give into the temptation of thinking you can do without others, without the church, that you can save yourself, of thinking you can be a laboratory Christian.” Christians, he said, are not manufactured in isolation, but belong to a long line of believers who handed on the faith and challenged one another to live it fully.

The audience was the last the pope was scheduled to hold before beginning a reduced summer schedule.

(End of article).

I focus on Pope Francis’s prayer that members of the Church would never “‘give into the temptation of thinking you can do without others, without the church, that you can save yourself, of thinking you can be a laboratory Christian.’ Christians, he said, are not manufactured in isolation, but belong to a long line of believers who handed on the faith and challenged one another to live it fully.”

He equates “doing without others, without the Church,” “save yourself,” and “laboratory Christian.” I am reminded of a  conference on collaborative (team) learning I attended where one of the questions from the audience was: “If we can have collaborative learning, why can’t we have collaborative assessment.” In other words, if we learn together, we should write exams together. Pass one, pass all; and hopefully fail no one – especially if they are nice people.

According to the Pope, God (in Christ) is mediated through the “Church,” defined by Roman Catholicism as the institution consisting of the Pope and his hierarchy. And we all know that institutions do not have one personal bone in their body. And it’s only through cleaving to this clerical institution via the “Vicar of Christ” that Christians are able to cleave to God. So, when Jesus knocks at a Christian’s door (no, he never knocks at an unbeliever’s door, because Jesus doesn’t knock on coffins) and asks to be invited in for supper, for a more personal relationship (“I stand at the door and knock – Revelation 3:21), the Pope would admonish, “What’s with this “more personal!” when “personal” itself is not only forbidden by the Church, but an impossible concept?

Contrary to Pope Francis, Augustine of Hippo writes in his Confessions:

When I shall cleave unto You with all my being, then shall I in nothing have pain and labour; and my life shall be a real life, being wholly full of You. But now since he whom Thou fillest is the one Thou liftest up, I am a burden to myself, as not being full of You. Joys of sorrow contend with sorrows of joy; and on which side the victory may be I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. My evil sorrows contend with my good joys; and on which side the victory may be I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. Woe is me! Lo, I hide not my wounds; You are the Physician, I the sick; Thou merciful, I miserable.”

Is it possible to cleave to God? A Christian, as Augustine illustrates, certainly can. Such a God is personal, and if personal then surely one can cleave to God’s Person.

The Pope says above that it is “dangerous” to believe that one can have “a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ without communion with and the mediation of the church.” But Pope Francis’s recently pronounced that salvation is a reward for good works.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – The Holy Father is full of surprises, born of true and faithful humility. On Wednesday he declared that all people, not just Catholics, are redeemed through Jesus, even atheists. However, he did emphasize there was a catch. Those people must still do good. In fact, it is in doing good that they are led to the One who is the Source of all that is good. In essence he simply restated the hope of the Church that all come to know God, through His Son Jesus Christ.”

Then there’s Vatican 2; one of the major outcomes of Vatican 2 was:

Acknowledging God’s presence beyond the Church. The Holy Spirit is working in all religions, including “our separate Christian brothers” (Protestants). Ecumenical efforts should be made to foster dialogue with all religions.” The Catholic Church, since Vatican II (1962-65), has radically changed its attitude towards inter-religious dialogue. Thomas Merton and other Catholic devotees of Eastern thought had a significant influence on changing Rome’s attitude to non-Christian religions. (Nostra Aetate 2 – (Nostra Aetate is the Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October, 1965). (See Buddhism, Judaism and Catholic Nostra Aetate).

So, who needs the Roman Catholic Church to be saved. Salvation for the Pope, has, of course, nothing to do with a personal relationship with God. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heaven awaits, ’cause doesn’t Jesus say: “I (your neighbour) was hungry…and you fed me (him/her)…welcome into the Kingdom of my Father.” Who then needs faith in Jesus as a (personal) saviour? As we say in French, “personne” (no person).

The biblical God is very personal: “You have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father (Romans, 8:15) and “they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (Jesus’ prayer to hid father – John 17:20b). I often hear Christians say “Christianity is a relationship not a religion.” Trite but not complete tripe. More correct is it to say that the heart of the Christian religion is relationship; vertical first, between God and Christians, and horizontal second, between Christians. 

The Pope is wrong to dismiss the personal experience of God. It is true, though, that much of modern popular Christian culture is obsessed with self-discovery techniques where the church is set aside in favour of savouring one’s own personal Jesus. Christians do have a personal relationship with Christ but this depends on faith and trust in what Christ has done in history. Instead, we see personal relationship displacing knowledge: “I don’t wanna know about Jesus, I wanna know Jesus.’’ Such thinking is a disaster waiting to happen. It indicates that you know little Christianity. How in a future heaven or on this or a future earth can you have a personal relationship with someone you know little about? Knowledge, like books, is not everything, but it ain’t nothing. Indeed knowledge of the kind we are concerned with often comes from books, or someone bookish. 

The Reformed (Calvinist) position, is that the relationship we have with Jesus is based on the premises that he has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of  the  father. So, he is not with us in the same way  that people are together in a room. We don’t see Jesus in a  face-to-face relationship. He has ascended on high, so if I am going to relate to him it is through the power of the Holy Spirit and my trust in his work for me. This trust in Christ, is granted by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit somehow unites me too a personal Jesus who is not even in the room. The “invite Jesus into your heart” people think that Jesus can take up “residence in your aorta” – the pipeline to your heart. 

Paul says the Spirit has been sent into our hearts to cry out “abba father”‘ (Romans 8:28). To be in the spirit, says Paul, is to be in Christ, and to be in Christ is to be in the Spirit. We don’t ask Jesus into our heart – dead hearts can’t invite; we trust in him that his work and mercy will  exchange our sin nature for his righteousness (making us right with God; 2 Corinthians 5:21). 

I think, however, that the personal relationship with Jesus has been largely ignored. Jesus says: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4), and Paul tells of his “commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This is the language of “mystical union” in Christ by the Spirit. Christ is not climbing down from heaven into our hearts.

One of the most marvellous of all the Christian doctrines is our union with Christ (Romans 5 – 6; 1 Cor 15:2). Our union is not only in Christ’s life but in his death: “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20). Are these just “objective” words (outside of me) that I believe, or can they be a personal encounter with God? Both. 

I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15) shows us how the corporate aspect of the mystical union comes into play between parts of the body with Christ as the head. This does not mean, though, that the believer only comes alive (to the presence of God) when he or she is united to other believers (the Church). When I am born again, I meet Christ, person to person, in a mystical way of course. Yet just because this meeting is not physical, this doesn’t mean that it is not personal, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is not taking up residence in my ”heart.” We are given, says Jones, a new power, a new direction, a new disposition – we’re seated in the heavenlies. This power is given by Christ, not the church. This power is consolidated by the church (fellow members of the body). The key issue, though, is that if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature, a new person. Why? Because he has met the person Christ – in his “heart” – but (first) in his head. 

John Frame writes in his “Doctrine of the Word of God.”

The main contention of this volume is that God’s speech to man is real speech. It is very much like one person speaking to another. God speaks so that we can understand him and respond appropriately. Appropriate responses are of many kinds: belief, obedience, affection, repentance, laughter, pain, sadness, and so on. God’s speech is often propositional: God’s conveying information to us. But it is far more than that. It includes all the features, functions, beauty, and richness of language that we see in human communication, and more. So the concept I wish to defend is broader than the “propositional revelation” that we argued so ardently forty years ago, though propositional revelation is part of it. My thesis is that God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from him to us.”

There is a mystical union between: Husband and wife, and between Christ and His church – the Body of Christ: Many members, we form one body with unique gifts and roles. The Mystery of Christ – John 17: 20-23 ” …that all of them may be one …so the world may believe that you have sent me …may they be brought to complete unity …” And God and the individual – the Unio Mystica 1. Colossians 1:27 “Christ in you” John 15:5 “If a man remains in me and I in him” 3. John 14:16-17 “for he lives with you and will be in you” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 “God’s Spirit lives in you.” 

You can’t save yourself without others; therefore, says Pope Francis, you can’t have a personal relationship with Christ. I am reminded of a Roman Catholic relative  told me that she aims to drag lapsed Catholics and others into heaven on her back. I said to her “You seem to be talking about the Roman Catholic idea of the “treasury of merit.” She probably gets tis piggy-back view of salvation from the horse’s mouth.

(For a rabbinical view of whether one can have a direct relationship with God see Can a Jew singly cleave to God: it seems not).

Jews and the Eternal Self: It all unfolds

“And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promises and truth of God, which cannot deceive.” LUTHER’S WORKS, American Edition, 55 vols. Eds. Pelikan and Lehmann (St Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and fortress.) 45:70–71.

My sister Sonia is 84, and has been living in a Jewish old-age home for more than 20 years. She like all the Jews discussed here do not align themselves with the Bible or any branch of Judaism: they are “cultural” Jews. Sonia cannot do much for herself. Her favourite is chocolate which, if allowed, she would snarf all day. My second sister visits her always bearing chocs. She does not give it directly to Sonia but to the nurses, who, to Sonia’s chagrin, dole out a few morsels a day, because, they say, too much sugar is bad for her health. I told my second sister that she should let Sonia eat as much chocolate as she could afford to buy for Sonia. “But, she said, Sonia might die.” I replied, “So, she lives an extra few months – deprived.” I asked my second sister, “What do you think happens to you when you die?” She said she will rejoin Mommy and Daddy. I asked, “Will you see Jesus there?” She replied, “Of course not, he’s on a much higher plane.”

Although Christians believe that they will meet Jesus when they die, “higher planes” is not a Christian term. Christians (should) believe that it’s the work, the finished work of Christ, faith in Him, faith in His works, not ours, that reconciles us to God, that brings us into God’s presence on earth, and, in a much more intimate way, in heaven. Sonia also used to talk of higher planes. Years ago I asked Sonia whether she ever read the Bible. She said she had moved far beyond that.

In July 2006, when on holiday from Oman, where I was teaching at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, I visited Sonia at Highlands House, the Jewish home for the elderly situated in the “City Bowl” area of Cape Town. Cape Town seems to be quite small and neatly arranged. This is because of “Table Mountain” that surrounds the town centre and seems to hold the city in a bowl. For this reason, the terrain between Table mountain and the harbour is called the City Bowl. Highlands House is situated a stone’s throw from the mountain.

It was often difficult to get Sonia to talk about the past, but on this occasion, she was more relaxed. I wrote down our conversation verbatim.

Sonia’s words are in italics.

What school did you go to? She doesn’t answer the question. She gives me the name of five of her classmates who became doctors (medical doctors). For Yiddish Jews, you’re not a real doctor unless you’re a medical doctor. If you were thinking of visiting a certain place, my mother, Fanny (Yiddish, Feigele “little swallow”) would settle the issue with: “Die greste dokteirim geit dottern” (The greatest doctors go there).

I’m going to tell you how I became enlightened. I studied mysticism, the mystical way of life, since 1963, Goldsmith, a Jewish mystic.

In our family, Sonia threw out words like “infinite “divine”, “mystical.” They thought she was mad. She was an embarassment. What lay behind Goldsmith’s “Infinite way.”

Joel S. Goldsmith is described as one of the “great modern mystics – the American teacher, healer and lecturer.” Goldsmith’s “Infinite Way” is also called the “Circle of Christhood.” Here is an except from his book:

The day is coming when there will be a band of Christhood around the world, a circle of Christhood. Not persons, not people – I’m not speaking of that. I’m speaking of a band of spiritual consciousness around the world. You know how it will get there? By these realizations of Christ. The Christ, as Browning tells us, is within ourselves, bottled up there, corked up. We must open out a way for that imprisoned splendor to escape.”


My whole life expanded. I don’t know where to begin. It’s not a thing you can study intellectually. The pupil is ready; the teacher appears. Who we are, our function on earth; can’t talk anymore; it just enfolds(unfolds?).” “Enfolds?” A spark of gnostic genius, perhaps.

Sonia shows me a poem she wrote.

It’s from the soul. Can’t snatch from outside, or hear about it, or copy it. I always loved writing. I’m waiting for the right time. My thoughts become potent and real, become colourful.

You have a fantastic way of expressing yourself.

The scriptures.

Did you read the scriptures?

Didn’t need to, it just unfolded. I see things with such depth. I had an elocution teacher at Maitland High (School), Valda Adams, who went to Hollywood. I also wanted to help. I wrote a letter for Blanche in my class who was absent. I signed her father’s name. I was meant to be queen in a play. The teacher found out and I lost the part. The principal put me on his lap and said: “You’re a good girl but you must learn.”

I wrote an essay: “Good will and cooperation in South Africa.” The teachers thought it too advanced, but I wrote it from my heart. I left school to help Daddy in his business (See Bags, scrap metal, bottles and bare bones). I went, Sonia continues, to extramural lectures (in psychology).

Sonia then relates the time – more than 30 years later – when she went to Avrom, our nephew’s place for supper. Avrom is my brother Joe’s son. Avrom left South Africa more than 30 years ago for Australia, and is in the organic fruit business as well as being the Regional Director of the Jewish Defence League of Australia. Sonia describes Avrom’s cooking.

Black mushrooms grilled in garlic butter filled with delicious creamed spinach and topped with garlic white sauce. Peri-peri livers or plain and onions finished off in a delicious fresh tomato sauce.

Sonia then talked about our father, Issy:

I want to write a book about Daddy. Fantastic chef. He bought, he cooked, he presented.

Then about life at home:

Too full of sorrow. Daddy was not a thinker. Mommy was. He liked good food and getting his way. Gave her lots of babies.

I remembered the comment (in an official memo written in 1951) made by the Principal of the Cape Jewish Orphanage who said that my parents had “14 or 15 children.” My parents were described as people who have had 14 or 15 children, and are so brutish and self-centred that they are totally unable to care for their numerous progeny. The principal went on to say that the Orphanage had five of the Gamaroff offspring until 1949 (I was one of these). They did not have 15 children; thet had 9 or 10. I think one died in early chldhood. See Cape Jewish Orphanage (8): And then there were fifteen).

Sonia then talked about her ex-husband, Israel. They divorced in the 1970s. He got sick in the late 1980s. Sonia went to stay with him and cared for him. Sonia continues:

I stayed with him to make him well. There was dust in his lungs. I loved to cook and heal. Nothing was too hard for me. Made him chicken and salads. He got better and better. He was healed. He was living in his air cocoon (in a lung machine? in his own world?).

There’s a chakra in your breast that protects you. Thank you Father (God), you know better. I won’t retaliate. I went through the university of life. I studied 40 years – and you can’t buy it for money. But now we are purified with God’s love. I’m all because of You. He is perfect. So are we. And any less than that, throw out.

If Sonia thinks she is perfect, then she is God, and thus, she exists on the highest plane. Recall my second sister who said that because of her imperfections, when she dies it will take a long time to reach the realm where Jesus lives. When I was in my teens my father told me that if he had to change, it could only be for worse. Divine perfection was my father.

What were these religious outpourings and unfoldings from Sonia? Was there method in Sonia’s theosophical mishmash? Theosophy is a religious philosophy originating with Helena Blavatsky. Theosophy teaches that all religions are attempts by the “Spiritual Hierarchy”, the “One Mind”, the “Overself” to help humanity evolve to greater perfection, where all religions have a measure of the truth.

The source of love, for the Jewish psychologist, Gerald Jampolsky, is within the eternal inner man. When you discover that source – through transforming your consciousness – you will discover that your fear was groundless. Here is Jampolsky in his “Love is letting go of fear”:

“…wouldn’t our lives be more meaningful if we looked at what has no beginning and no ending as our reality. Only love fits this definition of the eternal. Everything else is transitory and therefore meaningless…..fear can offer us nothing because it is nothing (p. 17)…all minds are joined…we share a common Self, and that inner peace and Love are in fact all that are real…Love is letting go of fear (.p.18)…we can choose our own reality. Because our will is free, we can choose to see and experience the truth (p. 21).”

Jampolsky’s God is the “Eternal common Self,” which is an Eastern metaphysic. “We can learn to receive direction from our inner intuitive voice, which is our guide to knowing (p. 28). The “inner intuitive voice” is the voice of the eternal common Self.

When I was a devout Catholic, I read the great Catholic mystics such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. I was still wet behind the mystical ears, and didn’t know that you could be a good Catholic and a good Buddhist at the same time. According to Thomas Merton, Buddhism and Catholicism were two sides of the same coin, of the same Koinona (communion); they participate, according to Merton, in the same communion of divine fellowship. Each is a different door to human solidarity and brotherhood. The present Pope, Francis, says the same thing.

Buddha’s final words to his disciples were:

“Make of yourself a light. Rely upon yourself; do not rely upon anyone else. Make my teachings your light. Rely upon them; do not depend upon any other teaching.”

Contrast that with the words of John the Baptist:

“He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light” (John, 1:8). John the Baptist continued to proclaim that Christ “is the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world” (John, 1:9).

Christ says “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). Christ is the light. No human being has any light IN himself waiting to shine forth.

Here is an excerpt of an ABC-TV interview featuring Shirley Maclaine:

During an oceanside conversation, David presses her to stand up and assert the presence of the “God-truth” within. After suggesting several affirmations, he selects a powerful one for Shirley: “I am God.”
Timidly, she stands at the Pacific. Stretching out her arms, she mouths the words half-heartedly.

“Say it louder.”

Shirley blusters about this statement being a little too pompous. For him to make her chant those words is — well, it sounds so insufferably arrogant.

David’s answer cuts to the quick: “See how little you think of yourself?”

This deep insight embarrasses MacLaine into holy boldness. Intuitively, she comes to feel he’s right. Lifting both arms to the sky, she pumps it out — “I am God! I am God!” — as the ocean laps at her feet.

It didn’t come naturally to Maclaine. But to stand up in public and declaim it; that takes supernatural chutzpa.

I read much of Paul Brunton. I was surprised – but why should someone who is alert to the uncanny be surprised by anything – to discover that Paul Brunton was not only Jewish, but his original name was Raphael – Raphael Hurst. He was born in London from Jewish parents who had emigrated to England from Eastern Europe. His parents were part of the same wave of emigrants from Eastern Europe as my two sets of grandparents. Brunton’s parents stayed in England permanently. My grandparents came via England to South Africa.

Earlier we met the Jew, Joel Goldsmith, heading East on his “Infinite way” towards enlightenment. Now, we meet Raphael Hurst, another Wandering Jew wondering among the esoterica (Esoteric knowledge is knowledge only known to a few) of East and West. He was, if not the first, among the first to tailor Eastern philosophy to a Western audience. He said you don’t have to be a monk to be enlightened.

Why did Raphael Hurst change his name to Paul Brunton? Let me answer with another question? Who is going to read books about yogis, holy men and ancient Egyptian priests written by Raphael Hurst, unmistakably a Jewish boy? Although, in recent years it is has become respectable to be a “Jubu”: a Jewish Buddhist, as it has become chi-chi to be a “Cabu”: a Catholic Buddhist (Thomas Merton). Perhaps it had little to do with Raphael’s desire to hide his Jewishness and more to do with finding a name that is better suited to selling books. They do it in the movie business, so why not in the publishing business? For example, what kind of a name is David Kaminsky or Stewart Konigsberg if you want to be a great Jewish actor? Danny Kaye and Woody Allen would fit the bill. Imagine a Yiddishe mama saying to her gentile neighbour: my son de hekter Stewart Konigsberg. Compare that with: my son de hekter Voody Ellern.

What unites religions? “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” What divides religions: “I am God” (waiting to unfold in me) versus “I am a creature of God”. The one view is: “God is inside me; my spirit is eternal”. The opposite view is: “God, who is outside me, created me – both body and spirit, and I don’t find God; He finds me. I don’t look for God; He looks for me. I’m unable to look for God because I’m dead to the things of God.” That’s the New Testament view of the difference between the God inside waiting to unfold and the God outside taking up residence in you. How God comes to abide in you is the question that divides the monotheistic-creator religions. This “how” also is one of the major divisive points within Christianity, itself. (See Arminianism versus Calvinism).

In no domain other than religion do the prepositions “inside” and “outside” take on such great significance, eternal significance. What is considered as just another grammatical element of language – two prepositions among many others – is in reality of vast import. Language – every word that proceeds from the mouth of God – is of crucial import.

So, most religions and metaphysical systems such as Gnoticism fit into the “I am God” category. The three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam fit into the “I am a creature of God” category. For many in the monotheistic camp, this view of man as mere creature is too simplistic. For example, much of Christian and Jewish mysticism is about discovering that I and God are “ONE”. The quest is for ecstatic experiences, to BE, to be oneself, One Self, the One Self, the Overself (Brunton).

But what’s this I read in this papal encyclical?

In Hinduism, men…seek release from the trials of the present life by ascetical practices, profound meditation and recourse to God in confidence and love. Buddhism…proposes a way of life by which man can, with confidence and trust, attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help…. The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.” (No.56, Nostra Aetate, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”, Oct 28, 1965, in Documents of Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, Ed., New Revised Ed.(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1975, 1984) Para. 2.).

The Vatican seems to be emerging from its dogmatic stupor by recognising the divine in me. I feel a new energy rising in me. I leap across the boundaries that divide and cause so much strife.

My sister Sonia said she has gone far beyond the Bible. “It all unfolds.” Soon she will be standing before that terrifying majesty. “Out of the North He comes in golden splendour in his terrifying majesty” (Job 37:22).

Run for President 2016: A Muslim in the White House

Regarding the recent furore over Ben Carson’s remark that he was not partial (that is, not impartial – English!) to seeing a Muslim President in the White House, Dean Obeidallah, the comic Muslim, said on CNN today that he cherishes his friendships with non-Muslims.
He said Americans are very ignorant of true Islam, and that they often take the Qur’an out of context. As far as taking things out of context, that, indeed, is a common failing. I must say, however, that this kind of criticism is often both a pretext and a protest that hides either ignorance or duplicity – or a penchant for comedy. For example, consider Obeidallah’s statement that he has many non-Muslim friends.

Please don’t fall for the knowledgeable, believing, obedient Muslims’ “friendliness.” If it were genuine they would end up – they know it well – in hell. Qur’an (5:80) – “You will see many of them (professing Muslims) befriending those who disbelieve; certainly evil is that which their (professing Muslims) souls have sent before for them, that Allah became displeased with them and in chastisement shall they abide.” Muslims who befriend unbelievers will be thrust into everlasting torment.

Obeidallah, if he is on or comes to any nodding acquaintance with the above verse would probably cry “You’ve taken it out of context; that only applies when Muslims are attacked by enemies of peace.” Tripe.

Stand-up comedy in the West is much ado about parody; not an Islamic thing; unless cultural Muslims are considered Islamic. For many Muslims in the West, as with Jews and Christians, religion is a cultural thing, no more.

“Not to follow my passion is suicide.” No, not to follow The Passion is.

Is it true that not to follow your passion – assume you have a passion, which many of those impressed by this advice, if they think deeply about, don’t really have – is suicide? “Suicide” in this context means, of course, ending in, as Freud would say, the trash can of your repressed desires: the sewer – sewerside.

In his ‘Follow your passion,’ is crappy advice. Joshua Fields Millburn interviews Cal Newport:

JFM: The advice often regurgitated throughout the Internet is simply, “You should follow your passion.” Why does this sound so appealing? Why is this bad advice?

Cal: It’s appealing because it’s both simple and daring. It tells you that you have a calling, and if you can discover it and muster the courage to follow it, your working life will be fantastic. A big, bold move that changes everything: this is a powerful storyline.

The problem is that we don’t have much evidence that this is how passion works. “Follow your passion” assumes: a) you have preexisting passion, and b) if you match this passion to your job, then you’ll enjoy that job.

When I studied the issue, it was more complex. Most people don’t have preexisting passions. And research on workplace satisfaction tells that people like their jobs for more nuanced reasons than simply they match some innate interests.

In Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Bad Career Advice, Carolyn Gregoire writes:

Self-help books and career-building workshops love to peddle one secret to a successful career: Follow your passion. Ever since Confucius proclaimed, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” chasing one’s passion has been frequently served up as a quick fix for career happiness.

“Following your bliss” may be perfectly good (if a little hackneyed) advice, but when it comes to building sustainable success in your career, the answer might not be that obvious, according to Monique Valcour, a professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, who has spent 15 years researching careers.

The ‘follow your passion’ self-help industry tends to under-emphasize this key point: all of the self-awareness in the world is of little use if you can’t pitch your passion to a buyer,” Valcour wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review blog. “A sustainable career is built upon the ability to show that you can fill a need that someone is willing to pay for.

With acknowledgment to Huffington Post.

With acknowledgment to Huffington Post.

Here is the kind of advice the above writers are bashing. The heading of the blog article is a quote from Kevin Claiborne: “‘Ignoring your passion is slow suicide. Never ignore what your heart pumps for.’ Chris Nicholas writes:

We should be living every day to the fullest. Regret should be just a word in the dictionary. But it never is. We humans are creatures of hindsight; we are forever bound to look back at moments and note missed opportunities and failures. Did you fail to chase your dreams? Or tell your lover how much they mean to you? Were you disappointed that you didn’t invest in those risky shares that ultimately paid huge dividends? No matter what you thought of in your moment of fear you did have regrets. At some point you settled for something other than your true passions and now when your life flashed before your eyes you wished you’d never been so foolish.”

The comment box was awash with empathetic comments. Examples:

I can definitely relate to this feeling. I was putting my passion on hold for too long. Great writing. Strong words.”

I read your column in the morning just before doing anything else. It really hits me. It woke me up. It made me think and brainstorm.”

And this one takes the CAKE: “Great post…You have TRULY been Heard!”

In contrast to all these endorsements, I asked the following questions on two occasions:

AUGUST 17, 2015 AT 8:08 PM

Chris Hi, Are there any wrong passions?

SEPTEMBER 13, 2015 AT 9:35 PM

Is it possible that following your passion could lead to suicide. As for death, it is indisputable, that following your passion has on many occasions led to death.

No reply.

None of the above writers – I would think – have paid any thought to the only passion that is of lasting value, of eternal value: The Passion; the Passion of the Christ, which has little to do with passion – human or divine passion. Follow The Passion – with passion (See my Christ’s passion: sufferings of every kind and Passivity and suffering in the Passion of the Christ.

The beauty of Islam lies in its seventy faces


Related: See my ISIS, politics and Islam and Documentaries on Understanding Isis and Al Nustra.


Rhetorical question: If my title is meaningful, what meaning do you give to it?

We’re all ignorant until God gives us light. Does that mean we’re off the hook? Not at all. Acts 2:22-24 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know; 23 him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay: 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” If you don’t understand the truth that God’s decrees – He decrees everything – do not exonerate our ignorance, we would be ignorant of what He has revealed about Himself in the Bible. If we are to obey this revelation, we have to accept that the ideas conveyed by the words deal with certitudes, which demand a one-to-one correspondence between the words (signifiers) and concepts (signifieds). One would expect this rule to be flouted among agnostics/atheists in the post-modern strain, but one would hope not among theologians, especially Christian theologians. Yet, since the abandonment of scriptural inerrancy, postmodernism has been making inroads into Christian theology.

I discuss post-modernism in Christianity and philosophy, which is preparation for the discussion on Islam.

Here is a transcript of part of the Q&A session of the 2004 Emergent Theological Conversation with Walter Brueggemann. (The audio and the Brueggemann’s theses can be found here). There are four Q&A sessions. In this discussion, I deal with Session 1.

Q and A Session 1 (Parts in brackets have been added)

Question:How do you live with the ambivalence of biblical narrative.”

Brueggemann: “We all have a hunger for certitude. The problem is the Gospel is not about certitude, it’s about fidelity. So, what we all want to do, if we can, is immediately transpose fidelity into certitude, because fidelity is a relational category, and certitude is a flat mechanical category (such as systematic theology, says Brueggemann in his theses ). So, we have to acknowledge our thirst for certitude, and then to recognise that if you had all the certitudes in the world, it would not make the quality if your life any better because what we must have is fidelity. …It all went haywire in the 17th century with Lutheranism and Calvinism when we tried to outscience science and switch into categories of certitude …Fidelity is like having a teenager in the house and you never get it settled for more than three minutes, and you’ve got to keep doing it again or you don’t have a relationship.

I elaborate on Brueggemann’s distinction between “certitude” and “fidelity.”

For Brueggemann, any interaction between 1. certitude, which he considers limited because it is restricted to a single meaning (univocity) and 2. fidelity, should be frowned upon. We should, therefore, be open, as Jacques Derrida (the father of “Deconstuction”) says, to “an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time,” and thus unrestricted interaction between suffering persons desiring to tell their personal stories. For Brueggemann and Derrida, and all poststructuralists (who believe there is no metaphysical centre, no fixed structures), there exists no such entity as “Being,” no such entity as essence, no such thing as a True story, but only (human) beings telling their true-ish stories, which are the only stories that ultimately matter. And if the Bible stories are able to buck – and back – them up, thank you Holy Spirit. (See Certainty and fidelity in biblical interpretation: the decinstruction of Walter Brueggeman).

There is at least one Muslim who reminds me of this postmodern trend. In the forum “Does Islam need a better PR,” one of the participants says:

What we’ve got to realise is that Islam is not a monolithic block; there are many different interpretations and many different streams. Now the violence of a few violent extremists, who are against the teachings of the the Qur’an, that is the problem. This casts a shadow over the entire media discourse. The vast majority of Muslims condemn these actions and are against them, There is a completely different version, a beautiful version of Islam where social equities, social justice, all these things such as be kind to the weak, be kind to the elderly. All that is part of our value system (minute 2;34 ff).

Summary in a syllogism

Major premise: There are many different interpretations and streams in the Qur’an.

Minor premise: Violent extremism does not belong to the many different interpretations of the Qur’an.

Conclusion: Therefore violent extremism cannot be one of the legitimate interpretations of the Qur’an,

How can I be sure that what the participant says – about the rich variety of different meanings of Islamic texts – has only one meaning (interpretation). In her eyes, the very beauty of Islam is that you can select any interpretation you want and you’ll always find it bristling with beauty and compassion – for not only the poor and widows but also for Christians, Jews, idolators and Muslim apostates.

A course on rabbinical Judaism teaches that interpretation is ”bound to a text with wide room for interpreting its meaning?” In the room are seventy rabbis, each doing his own thing, or rather one rabbi with seventy faces. “There are seventy faces to the Torah: turn it around and around, for everything is in it” (Midrash Bamidbar [Numbers] Rabba 13:15); everything in the sense that it contains the building blocks of everything in and under heaven, which Jacob Neusner calls the “grammar” of rabbinical theology (See Jacob Neusner and Rabbinical Theology).

A Muslim version: A course on Islamic interpretation teaches that interpretation is bound to a text with wide room for interpreting its meaning? In the room are seventy Imams, each doing his own thing, or rather in the room in only one Imam with seventy faces. There are seventy faces to the Qur’an (and Hadiths): turn it around and around, for everything is in it.

Our Muslim participant reminds me of Jacques Derrida. In Derrida’s deconstruction (there is no other kind of deconstruction), language – the sediment of the desire to mean, to communicate – has no locatable centre nor retrievable origin; its existence is a network of differences between signifiers (sounds or written symbols signifying meaning), each tracing and tracking the other. In deconstruction there is no necessary connection between the desire to signify (to mean) and the signifiers (linguistic elements – sounds and writing) that evoke that desire:

[I]f language is not inherently determined by a set of univocal (single) meanings, then language use, given an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time, becomes an unrestricted interaction of signifiers, the Nietzschean affirmation of free play without nostalgia for a “center” or for ‘origins’” (J. Derrida 1981, Dissemination. Translated by Barbara Johnson. London: Athlone, 278-93).

Our Muslim participant’s joy over the free play of meanings inherent in the Qur’an clashes with Allah’s obsession with clarity, which he can’t emphasise enough:

Qur’an 6:114—Shall I seek for a judge other than Allah, when He it is Who has sent down to you the Book fully explained?

Qur’an 11:1—This is a Book, whose verses have been made firm and free from imperfection and then they have been expounded in detail.

Qur’an 12:1—These are verses of the clear Book.

Qur’an 16:89—And We have sent down to thee the Book explaining all things.

Qur’an 24:46—Certainly We have revealed clear communications, and Allah guides whom He pleases to the right way.

Qur’an 27:1—These are verses of the Qur’an—a book that makes (things) clear.

Contrary to the Muslim participant in the Forum, the Qur’an claims to be not only clear but the clearest book in the world – which must imply clearer than the instruction manual on how to plug in my TV. Allah says his Qur’an is not only clear but makes everything else clear. For me, Allah’s “clear” means “it says what he means” where the what is not whatnot, but an explicit what. Similarly, the Qur’an is crystal clear that the ISIS types represent the apotheosis of Islam. (See David Wood’s ISIS and the Radicalization of Young Muslims).