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Rabbis, Islam & End of Days II, also 2013 Mahdism Update, II

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — continuing my updating of Mahdist issues, also surprising parallels and oppositions ]
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By the time you’ve learned the various signs of the times — pre-, mid- and post-trib rapture dispensationalist, preterist, Mormon, I dunno, ecological, Sunni, Shiite — the list, like Tolkien‘s Road, goes ever on — who’s on which side, and who might be somebody else’s something — you may feel as confused as I do.

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The very first sentence of Tim Furnish‘s book, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden — which I may never tire of quoting — reads:

One man’s messiah is another man’s heretic.

I was rereading the amazing section on the Gharqad tree in Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg‘s book, The Road to Martyrs Square, the other day, and noticed on p. 21 yet another intriguing variant on Furnish’s point:

Even before the intifada, the figure of the Dajjal was equated by many Islamists with the Jewish Moshiach, the Messiah, as when the highly influential Pakistani Islamist Malauna Maududi claimed in the 1960s that “the stage has been set for the emergence of the Dajjal who, as was foretold by the Holy Prophet (PBUH), will rise as a ‘Promised Messiah’ of the Jews.” By the late intifada, the equation was commonplace in the West Bank and Gaza. When the Lubavitcher Hasidim in the early 1990s began to refer to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson as the Messiah, the claim had considerable effect on Palestinian Islamists. Some actually began to include Schneerson on their list of False Prophets, referring to him as “the Antichrist Liar.”

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Compare this, however, with the Muslim Harun Yahya‘s willingness to declare his expectation of the King Messiah / Moshiach in the screen-cap below. Yahya is presumably referring to the same salvific end-times figure he elsewhere refers to as the Mahdi.

Here we have the reverse possibility to the one Furnish points to — it certainly looks as though here, one man’s Messiah is another man’s Mahdi. On one of his websites, King-Messiah.com, Yahya makes the identification of these figures from two traditions explicit:

And “King Messiah” is a particularly interesting phrase for Yahya to use — among other things, it’s the term some followers of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Schneerson use to describe their rebbe.

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As I pointed out two days ago in Expecting the unexpected: Rabbis, Islam, and the End of Days, there’s a whole lot going on here, and it takes patience to tease all the strands out…

One of these days I’ll have to put together an extended list of messiah / mahdi correspondences — and prophet / false prophet and christ / antichrist correspondences between competing eschatologies, too, both within specific religions and across them.

I suspect Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was thinking along similar lines to Yahya when he wrote the paragraph I quoted towards the end of The Messianic Mahdist Moebius strip — or maybe Maze?:

The Mahdi is not an embodiment of the Islamic belief but he is also the symbol of an aspiration cherished by mankind irrespective of its divergent religious doctrines. He is also the crystallization of an instructive inspiration through which all people, regardless of their religious affiliations, have learnt to await a day when heavenly missions, with all their implications, will achieve their final goal and the tiring march of humanity across history will culminate satisfactory in peace and tranquility. This consciousness of the expected future has not been confined to those who believe in the supernatural phenomenon but has also been reflected in the ideologies and cult which totally deny the existence of what is imperceptible. For example, the dialectical materialism which interprets history on the basis of contradiction believes that a day will come when all contradictions will disappear and complete peace and tranquility will prevail.

The Iranian scholar Muhammad Ali Shumali, whom I also quoted, said much the same:

Imam Mahdi is not a saviour for [just] the Shias. Imam Mahdi is a saviour for all mankind…

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Parallels and oppositions…

My language here will probably not be precise enough for mathematicians or logicians — but isn’t the thing that most closely resembles another thing its exact opposite?

And to give this already twisty rope yet another twirl… not in terms of apocalyptic, but of Jewish / Muslim relations more generally…

Here’s Pastor John Hagee — the preacher who was so far right that Sen. John McCain rejected his endorsement in the 2008 presidential campaign — talking with Rabbi Daniel Lapin about Muslims being blessed, and how their five-times-daily prayers are particularly listened to by God:

These unpredictable “outlier” nuances and their attendant shocks and surprises are ongoing…

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The “signs” graphic at the head of this post is from a post titled Preparing for the Second Coming on LDS Why? — you can download their answers for teens in Chapter 12 of the book The Big Picture. It begins:

Imagine it’s a bright and sunny afternoon, and as you drive down the road with your parents you look up and notice that the sky looks different than normal. The clouds are luminescent, bright, and heavenly. Suddenly, without warning, the sky seemingly bursts open and the veil between heaven and earth is split. Trumpets start sounding from the sky, and you see above you the most glorious being your mind could ever conceive of descending out of heaven and touching down on earth — Jesus Christ in all His glory…

That’s a sign that might be hard to miss…

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Some interesting pre-debate readings, left and right

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — first, the humor, then the serious stuff — including insider and outsider claims as to who belongs with what religious grouping ]
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Two items from my inbox on this day of the Presidential Foreign Policy debate play humorously with the, for want of a better term, issue of Muslims and Mormons:

On the top, Tim Furnish, author of the book Holiest Wars and an expert on Mahdism, heads up a brief post on his MadhiWatch blog with an image out of South Park and the caption: The quintessential Mormon v. the original Mahdi! It’s ON! That’s from the right.

From the left, Frank Schaeffer, who “left” the movement his influential “right” father, the evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer, helped found, and is now an Orthodox Christian of a more sacramental and liberal stripe, plays a rather different game in his Huffington Post piece, posted under their Comedy header, and purportedly describing an “alternative USA somewhere on a planet far away and not so long ago…”

Okay, that’s the fun. The serious part, for me, boils down to these two things:

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Schaeffer has a point, I think, in mocking the Billy Graham organization’s sudden and opportunistic dropping of Mormonism from the list of cults on their My Answer page.

I support the right of Latter-day Saints to call themselves Christians, since they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as they understand them.

I support the right of other Christians to view them as non-Christian, should they feel obliged in good conscience to do so, since Mormons consider the revelations of Joseph Smith on a par with the canonical gospels, much as Moslems consider the revelation to Muhammad as a completion of the Towrat and Injil (Jewish and Christian revelations).

And I don’t much like the term “cult” as applied to people whose beliefs differ from one’s own in any case, since it tends to dehumanize those to whom it is applied, as witness the tragedy of the Branch Davidians in Waco not too many years ago.

I am not entirely opposed to the idea of adjusting religion to suit a changing world, but I have to say this move on the part of the Graham organization appears to be a totally inauthentic PR move, made for political and not theological reasons, and wide open to the appearance of hypocrisy. If, on the other hand, it leaves all concerned more willing to respect each other as individuals across theological borders, that’s something I can readily applaud.

As usual, there are nuances within nuances to be considered.

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And Tim Furnish’s use of an image from South Park (I imagine it’s from their Super Best Friends episode) is pure eye-candy. It’s an attention grabber, all right, and it’s function is to point you to Furnish’s recent piece on History News Network, titled What Would a Mitt Romney Foreign Policy Look Like? We’ll learn more about that tonight, I imagine, but Furnish’s column makes interesting preparatory reading:

Ironically, rather like Obama, Romney sees the events of the “Arab Spring” and the abortive “Green Revolution” in Iran through neo-Wilsonian lenses, as evidence of Middle Eastern masses yearning to breathe free — a “struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair.”

Interestingly enough, the question of who can or should not be tagged with a particular label is central to Furnish’s post. Discussing Romney’s use of the term “extremism” seven times in his Virginia Military Institute [VMI] addresss, he writes:

Only once, note, did he preface the term with the adjective “Islamic.” However, by that one example of intellectual honesty, Romney locates himself light-years ahead of the Obama administration, which actively discourages honest discussion of the fact that 61 percent — 31 of 51 — of the foreign terrorist organizations on the State Depatment’s list thereof are Islamic and which, further, sanctions counter-terrorist trainers who dare to utter words such as “jihad.” One wishes he would simply call an Islamic extremist spade a spade — but Romney is allowing himself to be constrained by his stable of advisors, as well as, perhaps, the pro-Islamic tendencies inherent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Someone needs to tell the Governor that naming Islamic extremism in the defense of Western civilization is no vice.

FWIW, I am in favor of recognizing that jihadists are influenced by their own versions of Islamic doctrine, within widely varying degrees of flexibility, so the phrase “Islamist extremists” makes some sense to me. And I am equally in favor of allowing those Muslims who see the jihadist’s theology as alien and contrary to their own Muslim tradition to make it clear that in their understanding of Islam, the “jihadists” represent an aberration from the faith. Nuance again, nuance.

Okay, that reference above to the “pro-Islamic tendencies inherent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” is linked to another of Furnish’s pieces for HNN, in which he asks Has Mitt Romney’s Mormonism Influenced His Views on Islam? — in which Furnish quotes Romney thus:

I spoke about three major threats America faces on a long term basis. Jihadism is one of them, and that is not Islam. If you want my views on Islam, it’s quite straightforward. Islam is one of the world’s great religions and the great majority of people in Islam want peace for themselves and peace with their maker. They want to raise families and have a bright future. There is, however, a movement in the world known as jihadism. They call themselves jihadists and I use the same term. And this jihadist movement is intent on causing the collapse of moderate Muslim states and the assassination of moderate Muslim leaders. It is also intent on causing collapse of other nations in the world. It’s by no means a branch of Islam. It is instead an entirely different entity. In no way do I suggest it is a part of Islam [emphasis added].

Here’s where the delicate balance is required.

On the one hand, we need to be clear — especially on the analytic and policy-making levels — on the ways in which Islam can be and is being interpreted as providing divine sanction for sustained campaigns of terroristic violence.

And on the other, we should in no way encourage — particularly at the level of popular public opinion — the idea that we are “at war with Islam”, an idea which leads to such things as the dehumanizing and killing of American (not necessarily even Muslims) citizens within our own shores, and an increasing sense that America is in fact at war with Islam in the minds of some few Muslims here and many more abroad — who then become prey for further radicalization, as rage on each extreme fuels the other in the multiple echo-chambers and feedback loops of YouTube and the net.

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And for what it’s worth, Tim F and Frank S — you should both talk to your editors about proof-reading. Tim, the Mormon church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints if I’m not mistaken, with a hyphen and lower-case “d” in “Latter-day” — strictly FTR. And Frank — you get Dinesh D’Souza‘s first name right on two occasions — why spell it Dnish and Dinish on two others?

Oh well, we all make mistakes. I tried to type the word “to” the other day. You might think that’s simple enough, but I spelled it “typo”. Oops!

Feel free, y’all, to let me know what I’ve mis-spelled, misunderstood, or just plain missed, okay?

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Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: Neibaur, Owens, Hamblin, Haaretz, Idel

Friday, October 5th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — controversy and scholarship re Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse and Kabbalah of considerable interest to students of comparative religion ]
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A scholarly Jospeh Smith translating the Bible, and the title page of Portae Lucis, Augsburg, 1516

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With Latter-day Saints more than a little in the news, Ha’aretz yesterday posted an article titled How kabbala shaped Mormon faith which you can also read here, and as it’s a topic I’ve been interested in for a while, I thought I’d point you to the article Lance Owens, a friend of a friend, wrote some years back, in which he describes the library of Alexander Neibaur, a Jewish convert to Mormonism and friend and Hebrew teacher to the Prophet, along with quite a bit of context.

There are two forms of Owens’ article on line, the original, quite long one [parts 1, 2, 3] and a shorter version [4] for those who’d like the details but not the details of the details.

I have to say that I find Owens’ work on Neibaur’s library, and the conclusion he draws about Joseph’s King Follett Discourse – one of the Prophet’s last sermons, and a fascinating work in its own right – pretty compelling.

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The great magister of studies in Kabbalah Moshe Idel probably catches the situation well when he writes in his as yet untranslated book, The Angelic World: Apotheosis and Theophany (Olam Ha’malakhim):

See for now the controversial article by Owens, Joseph Smith and Kabbalah, pg. 117-194, which also contains a list of Kabbalistic sources which supposedly were in the library of Joseph Smith’s teacher. The connection between Enoch-Metatron in Jewish tradition and Mormonism was first noted by Harold Bloom, in his book The American Religion, pg. 99, 105. I can’t go into the details of the controversies created by Owens’ article and the doubts about Smith’s relationship to the Kabbalah. It seems that the matter of kabbalistic connections is more complicated and interesting than what can be learned from the currently published documents. (Pg. 156)

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For a Mormon response to Owens’ article, and pending the comments our Mormon and other interested readers will hopefully provide, might I suggest William Hamblin‘s review of Owens’ piece, which indicates how seriously Hamblin takes the issues involved when it opens with these two sentences:

The Mormon History Association recently awarded Lance S. Owens’s “Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection” its Best Article Award for 1995. With such an imprimatur the article deserves a closer critical evaluation than it has apparently heretofore received.

Hamblin’s review runs to 74 pages and 186 footnotes – together with Owens’ original 77 pages and 161 footnotes, that would make a book-sized volume of interesting reading. And as Moshe Idel notes, what we don’t know may be “more complicated and interesting” yet…

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Yiddish humor, US Presidential Election

Friday, August 24th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Jewish Democrats suggest humorous barbs for Jewish Republicans to digest ]
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As those who follow my strand of posts her on Zenpundit know by now, I’m not a great one for taking sides: I imagine very few bridge builders are, and my real interest is in building bridges.

I am also, in general, interested in the ephemeral signals that go on between and within opposing camps — because they’ll often portray a different side of things from what’s in the official pronouncements.

What I’m offering here, then, is a fleeting glimpse into some Jewish humor from the Democratic side of things:


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— two “curses” from the from the Yiddish Curses for Republican Jews website.

As wry humor, I’m okay with these. As embittered humor, not so much.

And I don’t know the people who posted these “curses” — though I’m reasonably sure they didn’t intend them as actual, may G*d do this to you and I mean it, curses.

Frankly, I’m interested in the religious content.

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I’m interested in the jokes.

I’m interested in the leaflets, the comments in the comment sections of websites — and in the winks, the nudges and the nods.

I’m interested in the differences between “in-house” and “external” explanations of things, what the differences may actually mean, and what they may get interpreted to mean. I’m interested in the asides, the sneers and smears, the jokes, the ambiguous threats, the real hatreds, the moments of reflection, the metanoias, changes of heart, repentances.

At times, the materials I run across are threatening, at times witty or droll, at times insightful, and at times completely unhinged from reality, but they usually have something to teach us about undercurrents — about the variousness of human thoughts and feelings.

We humans are a strange lot, each one of us so singular that we have a hard time getting our heads around the differences between us — differences that can make all the difference between peace and war, life and death.

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I’m not going to explain the jokes, but I am going to take just a quick look at their religious content.

One of the qualities that is, IMO, most likeable about Jewish culture is that it delights in self-mockery. The New York Times journalist Michelle Goldberg tweeted a Jewish joke yesterday, to which I responded with a quote from Martin Luther:

Now I don’t know about Michelle, but I didn’t intend my quote from Luther — “sin boldly” — as representing either my personal advice to the world at large, or Luther’s, except perhaps in a very limited sense such as the one Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered as his explanation of Luther’s meaning.

Bonhoeffer’s question is the obvious one:

Is this the proclamation of cheap grace, naked and unashamed, the carte blanche for sin, the end of all discipleship? Is this a blasphemous encouragement to sin boldly and rely on grace? Is there a more diabolical abuse of grace than to sin and rely on the grace which God has given?

And his response?

Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do no try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don’t try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it. But to whom can such words be addressed, except to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness of sin? Who can hear these words without endangering his faith but he who hears their consolation as a renewed summons to follow Christ? Interpreted in this way, these words of Luther become a testimony to the costliness of grace, the only genuine kind of grace there is.

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So no, I don’t think all religiously-themed tweeting and web-based cursing is to be taken literally.

But I do find it interesting that Michelle jokes about kosher, and I joke about sinning boldly — and that the Yiddish humor displayed on the “curses” website includes references to the LDS practice of proxy baptism for the dead and an indication that it might be uncomfortable for those with strong anti-Muslim feelings to meet the generous hospitality that so often characterizes Muslim cultures.

So let’s dig into those two themes in a little more depth.

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Official Latter-day Saints doctrine teaches:

Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5). Many people, however, have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf.

And while the practice of baptizing the dead by proxy may seem strange to most Christians, the Latter-day Saints can point to I Corinthians 15.29:

Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

and I Peter 4.6 for precedent:

For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

Maybe so — but Saints Peter and Paul, though Jewish by birth, are now generally reckoned Christians, having accepted the belief that Jesus was the awaited Jewish Messiah, the Christ — so their epistles are not canonical texts for mainstream Judaism.

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Feelings in the Jewish community can run pretty strongly on the issue of Mormon believers’ baptisms of Jewish believing dead:

The wrongful baptism of Jewish dead, which disparages the memory of a deceased person is a brazen act which will obscure the historical record for future generations. It has been bitterly opposed by many Jews for a number of years. Others say they will never stop being Jews, simply because there is a paper saying they had been baptized, that the act of posthumous baptism is unimportant and should be ignored. We think this to be a narrow, parochial, and shallow view. We will continue opposing this wrongful act which assimilates our dead to the point where it will not be possible to know who was Jewish in their lifetimes.

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A protest drive initiated by Jewish genealogists escalated it to a nationally publicized issue that was followed by public outcry. American Jewish leaders considered it an insult and a major setback for interfaith relations. They initiated discussions with the Mormon Church that culminated in a voluntary 1995 agreement by the Church to remove the inappropriate names. Activists continue to monitor Mormon baptismal lists, seeking removal of inappropriate entries.

Indeed, in February of this year it was discovered that the Holocaust victim Anne Frank had been baptized by proxy — for what one researcher said was the ninth time.

The Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel responded with passionate anger, and the Mormon Church with an apolpogy and a firm statement that the practice was prohibited.

LDS spokesman Michael Purdy made it clear that the Church “is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism.”

There are serious issues here: as humans, we can listen to one another with respect, and work them out.

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Palestinian Muslim hospitality towards Jews?

Miftah is an Ethiopian who visited some Palestinian shepherds in company with people sympathetic to the Palestinian cause:T

he group I went with was a mostly Israeli – international activists’ group that accompanies shepherds in the village as they graze their herds. Since these shepherds face attacks from settlers and soldiers frequently, the purpose of the trip was to document and confront the settlers or soldiers if they try to harass the shepherds.

These were people the Palestinians had reason to respect, Israelis and foreign activists sympathetic to their cause — but the degree of hospitality they were shown nicely illustrates the innate courtesy of so many pastoral peoples…

As we were heading back from the hills to where our mini-van was, these shepherds we had met offered to take us home for some tea and coffee. Mind you, it’s the Ramadan fasting season and all of them were fasting. They would offer us water, coffee and bread even though the last meal they had was at dawn that morning and would not have any food or water until dusk that evening. In Ramadan, even people who don’t fast don’t eat in public or in front of people who fast. But out of true hospitality, they extended their “‘Mitzvah’ – their act of kindness” to us, as one of the Israeli activists put it

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The story is an old one: the person of few possessions who will kill one of their handful of sheep to feed the passing stranger…

In this second “curse” we glimpse the long tradition of hospitality to strangers without which the great trade routes of the ancient would would not have permitted China to supply Europe with silks, nor Roman jewelry to have found its way into Japanese tombs

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