Islam and Extremist Islam: An Overview of the Muslim Faith

Part 3 of a 4 Part Series on World Religions

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Islam is a faith having up to 1.6 Billion adherents worldwide. It is a religion partially understood, but that has confusing and concerning areas of belief and practice that need clarification in people’s minds. This slide show is heavily documented and provides answers to some important areas on the minds of people outside of Islam.

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Christianity: Comparing the Christian Faith to Other World Religions

Part 4 of a 4 Part Series on World Religions

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What are the major beliefs of Christianity? What are the major divisions of the Christian faith and how did they develop? What is an Evangelical Christian and why are those foundational beliefs so important to Christians? How do the major beliefs of Christianity compare to other world religions? And finally, don’t all religions teach essentially the same thing? We’ll consider these and more issues in this final part of the four part series on World Religions.

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Hinduism: An Overview of the Hindu Religion

Part 1 of a 4 Part Series on World Religions

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Hinduism is an enormous faith tradition having hundreds of millions of adherents worldwide.  Below, explore the essential teachings and practices of the Hindu Faith by downloading our podcast or by listening along while scrolling through the slide show provided below.  Then share it with others who might want to learn more!

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Why You Should Be Informed

We live in the age of information.  Between 1750 and 1900, the total expanse of human knowledge had doubled .  At that time of pre-technology human history, it took 150 years.  Today, the growth of knowledge is occurring some 100 times faster.  It is said that the entire sum of all known information, i.e., human knowledge, doubles every 1.5 years.  By 2020 it is estimated that it will be doubling approximately every month and a half (72 days).  Think about that…

This Information Age is one in which the average illiterate person, one unable to read or write– but who can understand language and watch videos, can easily learn more about science than those towering figures of centuries past like Louis Pascal and Isaac Newton.  Another example: a 5 year old child holding a smart phone possess more technology than was required to send a man to the moon only 40+ years ago.
In a recent study by the University of California, San Diego, researchers found that we swim in a boundless sea of information, one in which the average person consumes 16 hard drives (3.6 zettabytes) of information every day– be it through TV, radio, the Internet/computer, reading, and other digital devices.  Ironically, with this enormous access to literally UNLIMITED data, one in which we can learn everything about everything, the average American is not very informed about the world in which we live.
Note that I’m not saying that Americans don’t know very much– because we do.  It’s just that the “average American” is simply uninformed to a large degree about the ultimate things that matter and that affect his or her life.  Whether this ignorance is apathy, indifference, or something else– I do not know, but it’s hard to believe such a high level of societal ignorance exists in this world awash in an infinity of information.
For example, while most people have instant recall on trivia like their friend’s speed dial numbers, their favorite TV shows’ times, nuances of their favorite wines, beers, coffee beans or marijuana strains (I live in California), most live without a working knowledge and, sometimes, only a vague familiarity about civics, economics, and politics– not to mention spiritual truth.
You might say– “Who really cares?”  It may seem that not knowing virtually ANYTHING about the stock market, the strength of US currency, trade deficits, political processes, the separation of power, representation and taxation, and things like that “makes no difference.”  Some think that ignorance is bliss because, they reason, we can’t do anything about it anyway.
Why should someone take the time and invest the energy to stay informed?  Especially in this Age of Information where it’s already impossible to keep up– it seems overkill and exhausting to even try.  So why worry about being informed?
My response is many-fold, but if I were to reply, I would give three primary answers.
1. Christians shouldn’t be ignorant about the world, because Jesus wasn’t.  For Christians, we should keep in mind that (of all people) Jesus himself had a working knowledge of those things, and he informed His disciples about them.  He spoke more about money than he did “heaven!”  In the gospels, Jesus shows familiarity with the Roman Empire and its government, the geo-political set up present in Judea and greater Jerusalem, and a deep familiarity with law, justice, economics, and even taxes.  If Jesus did that– and frequently taught his own disciples on issues of those sorts, it can be argued that we must do the same as Christians.
2. Being Uninformed Leaves You Open to Exploitation and Victimization.  Second, ignorance of the primary currents of our culture leaves us vulnerable to those things. Being unaware and disengaged of what is happening in any given area (say, government spending) is a sure-fire way for those who have authority in those areas to act with impunity.  An informed populace means that people can rise up and protest, shape public opinion (through free speech such as this blog), communicate with their senator, hold rallies, organize political movements, or a host of other things as a response.  If we are ignorant, we don’t respond because we are, well, ignorant.  We should keep in mind that an INFORMED MINORITY is always more powerful than an apathetic majority.  For example, in the former Soviet Union, only 24% of citizens were Communist, but they controlled approximately 1/5 of the world.  Informed minorities are always stronger than apathetic majorities.  What is funny is that some people say “I can’t do anything, so why bother?” I say that we can do more than we think– but even if that were true… even if we were powerless subjects being acted upon by the powers that be, at least by understanding what is going on we can play defense and perhaps be better off than if we didn’t.  Let me give an example.  If I were to be an 85 year old man and have to face a 23 year old Mike Tyson in a boxing ring– I may not be capable of successfully fighting him, but the fact that I couldn’t win by playing offense doesn’t mean that I would lower my arms and take a merciless beating… instead, I would AT LEAST put up my gloves and pull in my elbows and try to protect my vital organs and my face, head, and chest.  Then, even if I didn’t WIN, I might at least survive.  Similarly, when we don’t know much about our world, we are defenseless because of our indifference.
3. Be Informed Because You Are Greatly Affected By These Forces, Simply Because You Are a Living Citizen. Third, we need to be informed about the world– because we are citizens in that world.  It is where we live.  It is where we exist.  The condition of the world affects our lives.  The things happening in our world affect our families.  These things affect our children’s children and loved ones, friends, relatives, acquaintances and neighbors. And when I say that these things (civics, politics, economics, and so on) affect our lives– I mean that decisions made by people having authority who are not held accountable by informed, thoughtful, engaged people, affect you nearly every moment of the day.  So while we live in an apathetic state being brainwashed by time-wasting novelties, decisions and actions in the stock market, bond market, futures, congress, judiciary, by the President, governmental agencies creating regulations, and on and on and on– while those things are going on, together they affect EVERYTHING in life: gas taxes raise your gas prices, Standard & Poor’s downgrade makes loans for a car or school harder to get or to pay, new regulations on coal means higher prices for air conditioning at home, OPEC trade imbalances means it costs more for trucks to bring products to your favorite stores, raising the price of Mac & Cheese– do you see what I mean? All of that to say that being uninformed doesn’t make you invulnerable to these bad things– it makes you and your family and everyone you care about MORE vulnerable and, yes, victims.
Truth: Being Uninformed Always Makes Us Gullible. 
The irony of being a victim, however, is that those who are both victims and who are uniformed OFTEN (almost always) blame the wrong people for their problems.  Instead of kicking themselves for being willfully ignorant– and instead of holding the right people accountable– those who actually caused the problems– their ignorance typically makes them unable to discern what actually happened.  When this happens, we become gullible.  That gullibility makes us vulnerable to slick slogans and simplistic explanations, where we are more likely to believe someone because they speak with passion or eloquence, and we begin to believe certain things because the person is “speaking loudly” or pounding his or her fist.  Gullible people are defenseless to these things because they are ignorant– and since they don’t know the facts, they fall for rhetoric and emotion instead of believing things because they are actually TRUE.  Does that make sense?
The Challenge: How to Become Informed

We all have areas of ignorance– I know I do.  But the key is to do something rather than nothing.  My advice to those who feel unable to discern what is happening in our world and who are at a loss to understand what to do is this:

  1. Read God’s Word and ask for Wisdom (James 1:5)
  2. Reserve judgment, avoid giving opinions, and stop yourself from assigning blame until you know what you’re talking about
  3. Begin to be informed by trustworthy sources (people and institutions who, by having a long track record of being fair and informed, have earned and kept your trust
  4. Build your knowledge solidly in a number of areas, as they are all interconnected (the areas all influence one another)
  5. Check your thinking against others of like-mind and who disagree, then reassess your thinking
  6. Be sure to evaluate ideas based on their underlying assumptions (the basic commitments and beliefs that led them to reason a certain way and come to certain conclusions), then evaluate whether your assumptions about things are correct or need adjusting
  7. Test your ideas with both scripture (does it agree with God’s Word/truth) and reality itself (if it doesn’t work in real life, there’s something wrong with what you’re thinking)
  8. Be slow to come to final conclusions prematurely.  But when you know that you have finally discovered what is true, become unshakeable in your convictions.

Why People Interpret the Bible Differently and Why It Matters


 
Have you ever wondered why there are so many different opinions about different biblical passages, ethical issues, and other matters addressed in the Bible?
It’s a good question.
After all, why (or even better, how) could people reading the same Bible and the same scriptural passage come to such diametrically opposed positions on different issues?
Some, for example, read Genesis 19 as God metes out punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah, and conclude that God punished those cities after multiple warnings and rebellion over unrepentant sin, particularly sexual/homosexual sin, while others (such as those sympathetic to homosexuality) will say that God punished the people of Sodom and Gomorrah for a lack of hospitality to its divine guests/angelic visitors.
Other examples abound. There are people who profess to be Christians who believe in “just war” and others who believe the Bible teaches pacifism. Some believe in capital punishment while others believe in rehabilitation of prisoners without thinking of incarceration as either a deterrent or extracting hard time to “pay back society” for evils done. Other self-described Christians believe in abortion, while others strongly oppose it.
People use scriptural passages to posit teachings and perspectives that are quite novel. For example, some read the Bible and come, somehow, to believe that Jesus was not a historical figure and the Bible is not an accurate record of his life. Others believe Jesus was a real man, but that he was a homosexual who enjoyed frequent orgies with his Twelve Disciples and women having troubled pasts, like Mary Magdalene– whom many believe was a former, reformed prostitute. These are only a handful of examples but, really, need I continue?
So, what about the two questions I have posed?
Why Do People Interpret the Bible Differently?
If you’ll stick with me, I’ll use a couple of technical words– but I believe it’ll make perfect sense. I think it’s important, however, to keep in mind that the problem I’ve described is usually due to all of the following issues I’ll describe, so it’s important to keep them all in front of you when you discuss matters like this with those whom you disagree.
People claiming to be Christians come to different opinions about ethical and other matters because of: differing views on biblical inspiration, different hermeneutics, different exegesis, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who helps illuminate one’s mind to ‘truth.’
1. Differing Views of Inspiration
How you “approach” the Bible makes all the difference in how you interpret it. There are numerous different approaches to or “views of” inspiration. These range from vague notions where the biblical writers felt ‘inspired to write’ just as Shakespeare was inspired… to views of inspiration that imply the human recorders of scripture fell into a trance where they were controlled by a divine force who wrote through them, without regard to their own experiences, emotions, or perspectives– they were merely “mediums” or something like that.
Those who take a “low” or loose view of scripture invariably come to looser and more liberal views of ethics, morality, and biblical teachings– while those who take a high view of scripture invariably come to a more solid view of Biblical teachings and, generally, come to hold views more consistent with a clear, straight-forward reading of the Bible– which is often considered more conservative or progressive, but not often liberal.
How does one decide which view to take? It’s simple… If one is a believer in Christ OR if one has come to believe that the Holy Bible is from God and that it articulates God’s perspective and, literally, “truth,” then that person would hold a high view of scripture. Such people naturally believe that God is our ultimate authority, so they want to know exactly what He says. In addition, those people believe that God knows everything– so learning from Him and seeking to live consistently with scriptural teachings– is a way to live a blessed life and one with great meaning, regardless of how much pain life may or may not deal out. In this view, pain doesn’t imply God’s disfavor– what matters is devotion to God, obedience to His Word, and seeking His perspective in order to gain meaning in life.
2. Different Hermeneutical Methods
Hermeneutics simply means “the art and science of interpretation.” More specifically, it is the discipline that investigates the principles and theories that govern how to properly interpret a text– especially the Bible, and its different parts.
As such, hermeneutics is also concerned with understanding how the human author of a particular Bible book should relate to the content being presented, and how that should relate to the original readers of the biblical passage and to those who read those same verses of scripture today. So that is the so-called “hermeneutical bridge”– namely, what did it mean in the mind of the writer as that person understood the mind of God, and what did that mean to the people to whom it was addressed… and what application does that timeless truth have for us today? That is the job of hermeneutics– and that is the job of every person who teaches the Bible or seeks to properly interpret the Bible.
3. Different Approaches to Exegesis
People also come to different beliefs on ethical/moral/biblical issues because of their “exegetical approach” which is closely related to their hermeneutic, mentioned above. Exegesis is related to the word “educate” but, in this sense, means “to draw meaning out of.” To educate means “to draw out” or “to lead.” Certainly, when one does proper exegesis, he or she is educating a person in the purest sense of the word.
At any rate, exegesis is the process of seeking to understand what a text means or communicates in its unretouched, unfiltered original meaning. In other words, good exegesis seeks to provide the plain sense of what a particular portion of scripture (verse/verses) means. Metaphorically, it implies looking closely at the scriptures with spiritual glasses that have exacting and accurate lens that are able to view the accurate meaning of the original author. Exegesis is concerned with telling us what the original author meant– as opposed to simply telling us “what it means TO US.” The point of exegesis is that it doesn’t matter what we think of it UNTIL WE FIRST find out what it meant originally. Only after we apprehend the original meaning can we properly and accurately apply it to us. So in this way, hermeneutics provide the means for us to exegete scripture. Proper hermeneutics leads to proper exegesis– and that can safely lead us to an accurate interpretation and application of God’s Word on all matters of importance in human life (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
4. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who helps illuminate one’s mind to ‘truth.’
1 Corinthians 1:18-through chapter 2 in the New Testament talks a lot about this. In short, it simply means that people who profess to be Christians but who do not possess the presence of God within them, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, may be religionists or socially religious practitioners, but they fail to meet the biblical description of a person who is a biblical or born-again Christian (1 John, chapters 4-5), especially 1 John 4:13-17.
When a person has this type of intimate, indwelling reality of “Christ in us,” such a person is given a special type of relationship with God in which truth is more readily realized, perceived, and experienced. Illumination has to do with God guiding you in and toward “truth.” People without this indwelling– whether or not they ‘profess’ to be Christians (because professing and possessing are two different things), do not have the same capacity to apprehend truth as a person who legitimately enjoys a relationship with God through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God.

Why Does It Matter?

The reason it is important to properly interpret the scriptures and where they land on different issues, is because “truth matters.” Truth represents reality. And if we are incorrect on our view of what is true, that means we are living in a false reality. Our perception does not create reality– all that really matters is what is ACTUAL and REAL. When we base our beliefs on false ideas that are not true, but only propaganda, the problem is that we then ACT on those false beliefs. When we act on false beliefs, ramifications follow– and those ramifications are often destructive.
So when a person interprets something wrong or comes up with the incorrect position on a moral or ethical or political or economic view, there are real consequences to those ideas. This could include making mistakes that lead to many detrimental effects on our lives that affect both ourselves and others. That is why, however painful reality can be, it’s less painful than living in false hope, holding onto a lie, that only ends up allowing one’s life to collapse like a house of cards. “And great was the fall of that house, for it was not built upon a rock.”
That’s why truth matters.