The Life of Mohammad

The BBC recently ran a series about the life of the Islamic prophet, Mohammad (http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2011/06_june/20/muhammad.shtml). This is something I was very interested in watching as I had previously not had very much knowledge of the man or his influence.

I was expecting the programme to result in me having genuine reason to dislike him. The main reason for this is that previous descriptions of him that I have heard include the words; raider, polygamist and paedophile. Not words you’d want to have associated with any prophet.

The programme was very different though and did not portray Mohammad as the monster I was expecting. It was obvious that all those being interviewed held a respect for the man and his values that was more than just skin deep. I’d even go so far as to say that some held a reverence like respect for his legacy.

However, there is a caveat to that glowing praise. The presenter and producer appear to be Muslim and the majority of those interviewed were also Muslim. There were a couple of others who had written about Mohammad and they included a couple of Anglican Reverends and a Jewish leader (Priest?). There was no one who was an obvious atheist. The result is that I am left with a feeling that the whole programme was somewhat biased in favour of the prophet.

Impressions from the Programme

That said, I still watched all three episodes and found them informative and interesting. Even if I had no way of telling how much was left out or how much spin was being employed.

There are a few things that stood out for me from the programme. The most obvious one being the revelations that he had; they all seemed to be just the right thing at just the right time and to my sceptical mind it smacked of a man who was making things up to suit him and his continued establishment of power. At no point at all was anyone else the recipient of these revelations, it was only him. This seemed far too convenient and to me does not constitute satisfactory evidence of a man of God (or Allah), quite the opposite in fact.

Inclusive, ecumenical and respectful.

Mohammad’s early adult life seemed to be one that very few modern critics of Islam would recognise. Women were apparently valued as equals and respected and other religions were accommodated and given equal validity too. Those who look at modern Islam and see the oppression of women and the desire to be the dominating religion and a special zeal to eradicate Jews would not recognise the young religion that was growing during Mohammad’s lifetime.

In fact, all the commentators agreed that the modern activities of extremist Muslims were not in accordance with Mohammad’s legacy or the words of the Koran.

The Covering up of Women

The origin of Muslim women covering up was traced to an instruction by Mohammad to his wives to cover their whole bodies. I can’t remember the exact reasons given in the programme, but it was an instruction for a specific reason in the context of a specific situation at that time. The modern following of it seems utterly ridiculous and irrelevant. I can’t help but be reminded of the Christian Church’s issue with women and head coverings.

What a Young Wife to Have

Among the most uncomfortable issues to get brought up was that of one of his wives, promised in marriage at very young and still young when finally married. Some narratives place her age at 9, while others put her as a teenager. One commentator said that it was his belief that she was 16 or 17. Either way, it was a very young bride for a man close to 50.

I don’t know how I feel about this revelation really. Obviously by modern standards its not acceptable, but in the context of that time when an older man would take more than one wife and some very young, is it right that we should judge them by our standards today? If she really was as young as 9, then it is an act that can’t be defended well; even then, I don’t think he would have been alone in doing such a thing. If the culture of the time habitually did that then his actions should be seen in that context.

The Killing of the Jews

There was another major keystone event in the life of Mohammad; that of an act of war where he slaughtered the men from a tribe of Jews when they sided with his enemies.

The bigger story here is that these were Jews who had an agreement with him to help and assist him. The Jews in question saw a chance to usurp his leadership when he was busy defending from other attackers. The plan failed and punishment was exacted.

A Jew interviewed for the programme called it the first holocaust, which I think is a bit rich frankly. The slaughter was a clear punishment for a specific act that could easily be called treachery. It was not a specific attempt to rid the area of Jews. I think Jews who take the holocaust stance on this event should go and read about what the Israelites did in some of their battles in the Old Testament.

Summary

Having watched the programmes, I am not sure exactly how accurate much of the information was; but I now have some information with which to form a view of Mohammad.

I think he was a leader with ideals around personal integrity that people today would recognise as decent. He was one of several religious leaders in the area who were all fighting for greater boundaries of power. As such his personal ideals clashed with a greater desire and being a leader with growing power resulted in some of those ideals being sidelined when it suited.

I certainly don’t believe Mohammad was anything special, I was just one of many leaders, he was just the one that got lucky. I also don’t believe that he was the horrid despot that others would say he was.

The Islam that I see today in the news does not seem to bare any resemblance to the Islam that Mohammad was trying to practice in his day and that does seem to be a very real shame.

Poor, Poor, Joseph, What You Gonna Do?

Having already accepted that the Creation and Flood stories in Genesis were not true, (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/noah%E2%80%99s-ark-gilgamesh-or-just-a-story/) and (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/the-problem-of-adam-and-eve/).

The next major event in Genesis is the very well known story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers and ending up being the 2nd in command inEgypt.

First, Fast Forward to the Ending

Outside of the Bible, there is very little evidence for the Joseph story and the one of the best ways to test it is to examine the story of Moses and the Exodus fromEgyptbecause the two stories are effectively two parts of a longer narrative. The Moses story cannot possibly be true if the Joseph story is not true. While the Joseph story does not rely on the Moses story being true, it has little or no relevance without the Moses story.

The biggest obstacle in the validity of both stories is the simple fact that there is no Egyptian evidence whatsoever for the Israelites having been resident there. Without any correlating evidence, the Biblical narrative is nothing more than hearsay. The Egyptians, well known for recording lots of their history in their hieroglyphic writing, have either not seen fit to record the arrival, enslavery and departure of the Israelites, or the events simply didn’t happen as describe din the Bible.

Believing something just because its in the Bible, even though nothing else supports its story, is not wise.

The Red Sea or theSeaofReeds

This is very fascinating. The story the Exodus fromEgyptsays that the Israelites escaped through theRed sea, walking across dry land because the sea was parted, thanks to a miracle.

However, there is much confusion and discussion over what the source term actually refers to, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Red_Sea). Does it mean what we know now as theRed Sea? Does it really meanSea ofReeds orReedSea and if so, what body of water is that referring to?

Its not just the crossing and associated miracle that is the problem but also the places that are mentioned in the route to and from the crossing point. Not all of these locations are identified with modern locations and so cross referencing these with archaeological evidence is pretty much not possible and so not only is there no evidence for the Israelite residence in Egypt, but there is also no evidence for their flight out as documented in Exodus.

Without Moses, there is no point in Joseph

If there is no evidence for the Israelites having resided in or exitedEgypt, then it is not at all unreasonable to conclude that they were never there. It is for the Bible to prove that these stories are true and that proof is lacking.

With no Exodus and no Moses who was brought up as the grandson of a Pharaoh, then the story of Joseph is rendered irrelevant and equally suspect. More likely he never existed, my guess is its more likely that, like Adam and Eve and Noah’s Flood, his story is based on a pre existing fable.

The Questioning Continues

Having started to realise that much of what I thought was true was wrong, (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/noah%E2%80%99s-ark-gilgamesh-or-just-a-story/) and (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/the-first-nagging-doubts/). I decided to more open-mindedly explore the boundary between science and religion.

The most obvious place to start was evolution. My non-acceptance of evolution put me squarely in the minority of people I knew and it was now very important to me that I challenge my views fairly and adjust accordingly.

I had now pretty much come to accept that the age of the earth was much more than the ten thousand years (or thereabouts) that creationism would have us believe. The most obvious conclusion to this was that is the earth was actually very old, and my eyes had seen the evidence for this, then many other things that relied on a young earth must also be false.

I started off with listening to various science podcasts on the subject of evolution, I also subscribed to a few creationist podcasts to try and balance out the information I was getting.

The creationist podcasts subscriptions didn’t last long. To be blunt, they were awful, the science wasn’t convincing and they lacked technical detail. By contrast the evolutionary science podcasts overflowed with technical science and evidences. The more I listened the more I realised that evolution was true and that the special creation of humans simply could not have happened as described in Genesis.

Adam and Eve are now well and truly relegated from history and into myth, (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/the-problem-of-adam-and-eve/).

What Next?

With the basic tenets of creationism gone; 7-day creation, Adam and Eve and Noah’s Flood, the question that remained was “What Next?”.

Well, that would be the story of Joseph and the Israelite Exodus under Moses, surely they can’t be false as well can they?

Two Things that Happened last Sunday

There are two things that happened in church last Sunday that I would never have expected to happen in our last church and I think are a credit to our new church and the Pastor in residence.

Leavers being blessed

The first thing was during the service the Pastor mentioned by name a couple who had felt that they wanted to try another church in the town. The pastor mentioned this and said they’d been at tenders for about 7 years and that while he was sure they church would miss them, he wished them well and wanted to make it clear that they were welcome back any time they wished.

I think it is a good thing that a couple have a respect for their Pastor to the point that they can have that conversation with him and it shows grace that the Pastor points it out in church and the sensitive way he did and makes it clear that while he does not want them to leave he wishes them all the best.

This is something that I simply can’t imagine happening in our last church. I have seen many people leave the church in the past few years and they all disappeared silently.

An open atheist being made welcome

During coffee after the service my wife and I got talking to a couple of ladies of similar age to us. They both have children, some of which are similar in age to our daughter. One of the ladies is a Christian and had just come back from a Christian weekend away and was positively buzzing with enthusiasm as a result. The other lady was from a distinctly non-Christian household, her story of involvement with the church is that some of her children started coming to the Friday evening youth club at the church and eventually two of her daughters expressed a desire to attend church on Sundays. She and her husband agreed they would let them make their own decision and so she brings them to church on a Sunday morning but she sits in the church foyer and does not attend the service herself.

She admitted that at first it was awkward but the church lets her do that and is fine with it. She was quite happy and unembarrassed to profess her lack of faith and her Christian friend didn’t appear to let it affect the friendship that has obviously developed, although there was mention of some conversion attempts but I got the distinct impression it was not overt and was not a big issue.

I admire both the church’s stance in making this possible and in the lady in questions honesty in being in that situation. There was a level of acceptance and integrity there that I simply could not imagine occurring in my last church. There are definitely people at my last church that are capable of enabling this sort of situation to happen, however I just can’t see the church leadership making it a comfortable situation.

At one point in the conversation I told the lady that she was being more honest by expressing her position and sitting outside the service than someone who attended the service and pretended. It was meant as a compliment to her, but I was fully aware of the hypocrisy within myself as I was saying it. It was a challenge to me to be more honest about my state of faith, especially with those I love.

So what next for me?

Well, I don’t know yet. All I know is that at some point I’m going to have to stop avoiding the inevitable. Yet, I still can’t bring myself to say it straight because I am afraid of the hurt and upset that will result. I would feel immensely guilty about being the cause of that.

Sometime soon there is going to be a conversation about becoming members of the church. I know that when this church writes to our last church that there will be a glowing reference of us as a couple and a family. However, I don’t think its fair or right for me to make the same profession of faith that I did when we became members of our last church. To do so would be to lie and be dishonest.

I think what I will do is tell my wife that I am not sure I can make that same declaration and see what the conversation leads to. She knows I am having doubts as we have touched on the subject before (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/you-have-my-permission-to-be-controversial/).

Settling into a New Location

New Location Summary

At the end of August the family limey relocated to a seaside location. We’ve settled into our new home quickly and we are beginning to get our bearings in the town and meet some new people. We’ve moved to a small town, smaller than the town we used to live in, however, due to its location it’s a very popular holiday destination and there are two large static caravan parks north and south of the town; as a result the population swells considerably in the summer months. This brings its own benefits and challenges. For starters, it means that it’s a much more dynamic town and there is no shortage of visitor attractions in the area. There are also many events and activities in the town which are geared towards family’s and children. All of this is very good, because we’ve moved from a very nondescript magnolia town which was less than an hour’s train journey from centralLondon. Most residents wereLondoncommuters and people went out of town for their activities because there was no shortage of similar towns all a ten minute drive away. Now we can walk or cycle to many places, including the sea front.

We’ve moved into a brand new house, which is great in many respects, but also brings its own challenges and issues. For the next few months at least, we’re going to have to tolerate new houses being built 20 meters from our front door and all the dust and noise that comes with it. However, look out the back and we can see cows in fields and scrub land, which I hope never gets built on.

In short, we love our new location, there will be a time of settling required but we are already very happy here and are glad we’ve made the jump. I am currently working from home and my travel intoLondonwill be limited because the journey is not a practical daily commute.

Our phone and internet provider has been astonishingly slow in getting us connected and so I feel very out of touch with the blogs I follow and the other on-line communities I like to keep in touch with; which means when I do eventually get connected I’ll be overwhelmed with the volume I need to catch up on.

The New Church

As was previously predicted, the whole family has attended the Baptist church in our new town. It’s the longest run of consecutive services I’ve been to in a while. For the moment I am okay with going to church again so I we’ll see how things proceed.

Our last pastor is best described as intense and immature. He had a very black and white attitude to many things and his delivery was always shouty enthusiastic rather than considered intellect. In the last few years we’ve seen many mature Christians leave the church and the vast majority of the newcomers are new Christians or literal Christians. While I had much in common with our last pastor, including a love of cars and a very childish sense of humour, I had little respect for the way he ran the church.

The pastor of this new church is very different and carries a maturity that is immediately attractive; being ten years older than our last pastor probably helps with this. The pastor’s wife is actively involved the children’s work and when I’ve seen them both at the front doing a sketch together they were genuinely entertaining and very likeable. It’s the first time I’ve seen a Pastor’s wife so visibly involved in the ministry of the church.

The church itself has an older demographic than we are used to, and this is most obvious in the worship. The only musician is an elderly lady who plays the organ, a very lovely pipe organ that dominates the front of the church. Its quite surprising to see one in a building so small. In a way it reminds me of my Grandparents old Brethren Chapel

That’s not to say that all the worship is dowdy hymns though. There are many popular chorus’s sung and they are accompanied by a CD soundtrack. Its sounds immensely corny but its actually works quite well.

So far we’ve already managed to get a lunch invite to the Manse to get to know the Pastor and his family a little better. We had a lovely lunch and chat after wards. I can see that we’ll be getting to know them much better over the years.

Cause to Laugh and Chuckle

The biggest surprise came when I visited the local camera club in our second week here, only to find that the Pastor himself is a member. So it looks like I will be getting to know the Pastor on a social level regardless of whatever happens at church. This could be interesting; at least it gives the chance to have serious conversations casually so it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Nothing has changed, yet.

There is more that I want to say about the church but that demands its own blog post. What do need to acknowledge and clarify is that being happier with this church changes nothing in my state of belief; I am still an atheist. What will change is that I’ll no longer be able to hide behind our previous excuse of not being happy in the church. At some point I’ll have to stop wishing for a happy status quo and man up to the challenges that will come in answering questions on my spirituality. I don’t ever see myself professing faith again, so the issue of needing to tell the truth but not wanting to cause hurt and upset is still the big thing that is bubbling away in the back of my mind.