Apostasy–What is it, Exactly?

Apostasy— what a mouthful! It’s a word full of harsh sounds, more consonants than vowels. Its’ pejorative connotation suggests more than a mere disaffiliation with a religion, yet sometimes, it’s not even that.

In recent months I’ve discovered a number of blogs dedicated to apostasy from Islam, yet no one ever uses this word. Perhaps former Muslims shudder at the thought of capital punishment called for by fanatics who understand nothing about human nature. let alone divine.

What I find curious is the defensiveness that marks these writings. Islam is accused of usurping free will, and ruining lives. Islam is accused of all sorts of tricks that rob the person of something that doesn’t belong to Islam. Since most religious systems could answer to the same accusations, I wonder about the maturity of such writers, and of their original motivation for adhering to Islam in the first place.  One thing is sure– when a person tries to fill the culturally square Islamic peg with a round Western personality, some spillage is bound to occur.

I suggest that many tears and arguments have been poured into the world not because the circle doesn’t quite fit the square, but that the square was not large enough to contain the circle.

When you consider how differently Islam is practiced from country to country, community to community, individual to individual, you may be surprised to discover as much variation as can be found in Christianity. For the person who feels in need of reformation, self-discipline, or spiritual development through ritual practice, Islam offers much, and so does Christianity. For the person whose character holds tenaciously to the preservation of what little free will we think we have, Islam offers much, and so does Christianity.

Using the broadest definition of terms, a Muslim is one who believes in one God and Mohammad’s prophethood. A Christian is one who believes in Jesus. Therefore,  a Muslim is also a Christian. Since both believe in the Judeo-Christian divinity commonly called “God”, both Muslims and Christians are also Jews.

So what’s the big deal?  Hindus and Buddhists and Atheists remain.  How ironic, then, that the most violent religiously based infighting occurs historically and persistently amongst Jews, Christians and Muslims, who supposedly believe in the same divinity! One would think that Jews, Christians and Muslims would get together and make war on Hindus, Buddhists, and Atheists, because those groups reject the singularity of an almighty god.

Getting back to apostasy, then, one can rightly ask of any so-called apostate, “From what are you apostatizing?” I think the answer would have something to do with the container being too small to accommodate the spirit being poured into it.

Relish, Sauce, or Chutney?

My mother, sister and her husband are football fans and Tea Party Republicans. As far as they lean to the right, I lean to the left, and they know it. By virtue of numbers, however, they feel no restraint in verbalizing their dislike of America’s president and all of what he symbolizes. We were together last night for dinner. My sister cooked a roast with potatoes. She also made salad, and my mother contributed a cranberry relish.  I contributed nothing.  I do not muster much enthusiasm for this sort of dinner. By way of showing appreciation, I offer to clean up and wash dishes. This is my usual contribution. My sister and her husband would not enjoy the kind of food I’d like to cook for them– Arabic or Indian style recipes I’ve become comfortable with over the years.

The three of them conversed, as usual, slugging insults at the Democrats, predicting doom and damnation for the country unless the Republicans get back in power, because the Republicans are the only real patriots, you know. The rest of us have wandered too far off the “right” path, ha ha ha…

I kept my mouth shut during this, because I had nothing to say. They are full of emotion. I am not. I do not get excited over political differences, but I do get excited about people who are narrow-minded, who do not recognize that this is a world of full of societies that get along just fine using rules that could turn the stomach of an American of either political persuasion. Representatives from those societies are permeating every corner of American life, doing so legally, even.

Years ago, kids were taught that America was a “melting pot.” That meant that American culture would be an amalgam of the many cultures from which Americans had risen. America had no historical identity of its own, no national character (we weren’t taught about Indians, in those days.)  The original immigrants were supposed to pool their cultural identities to craft something from which an American identity would emerge. So today, do we now have a national identity? Does America have an identifiable character which is desirable and should be striven after?

My table companions would not have considered such a question. They already knew the answer, evident in the speeches of Sarah Palin and and FOX “news” celebrities.

Halfway through the meal, my mother offered my brother-in-law some relish. He said, “I don’t eat relish.”
She said, “Well, call it sauce. Have some sauce. How about chutney? Have some chutney.”
He said, “Chutney? That’s even worse.”

They continued, moving from politics to football. They actually feel a sense of personal worth that’s attached to the local team and the skill with which the team plays and wins games. This is another area with which I have no resonance, no connection at all. The relish dish was in front of me, so I put a dollop on my plate, and tasted it.

“EWE!” I exclaimed, with wrinkled lips and squinty eyes. “This is sauce! I don’t eat sauce— I eat chutney!”

All three of them fell silent, looked at me blankly, and then resumed whatever it was they were saying about the football game to be played next week. I didn’t laugh– didn’t need to laugh. They’re not stupid; my point had not been lost on them, but they couldn’t say anything. That’s OK. I enjoy cleaning up. I also enjoy washing dishes. I can excuse myself from having to sit like a lump on a log and listen to more of the same.

It’s not their viewpoints that offend me; it’s their arrogance, their assumption that no other political party could possibly work for the betterment of American society. They are Christians, and they “know” that only Christians will go to Heaven. How can I exchange ideas with people like that, how can I examine doctrine or delve into any system of belief– political or spiritual– within the framework of civil social intercourse?  All I can do is tell them that I eat chutney, even though they know that already.

My Father’s Birthday, Death Day, and a Possibility

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been ninety years old. He died three years ago at the age of eighty-seven. He died consciously, albeit full of oxycodone. He died with his eyes open, searching the ceiling, but he couldn’t tell us what he was looking at. His mouth drew down into a frown of awe,  or fear, maybe, or even a great new emotion he had never felt before in his life. I could not read his face at that moment, except that his eyes focused intently on something above, something on or through the ceiling.

The day before, he had lapsed into unresponsiveness, except for an occasional foray into the world of the family surrounding his bedside. My sister had been sitting beside him, when suddenly he looked into her eyes, called her by the nickname only he ever used, and said, “People upstairs are waiting for me.” Then he slid back into his journey.

My sister said, “Yes, Grandma and Grandpa are waiting for you, and Aunt Mary and Aunt Rose.” She named his brothers and sisters who had died ahead of him. I don’t know how she did that, how she sat there and talked to him normally, but she did. She knew that “upstairs” referred to Heaven. That’s how our father always referred to Heaven— Upstairs.

Recently, I’ve been watching a program on cable TV about Near-Death Experiences, which have been documented often enough now to reveal a pattern. The sick or injured people recognize the moment they slip out of their bodies. They feel peace, euphoria, and indifference to whatever  brought them to the point of death. They see or feel white light, a tunnel, sometimes, and the presence of God. They might hear beautiful music, or see gorgeous panoramas of flowers or amorphous colors,  and relatives who had preceded them in death. The spirits of the dead ones always stand waiting.

This is the point that connects the documented  Near-Death experiences with what my father said just before he died. He “saw” his loved ones who had already died, waiting for him.

This phenomenon of seeing dead relatives is also well-documented by hospice workers who sit with people who actually die. Atheists would have us believe that the brain is fooling us, that at the critical moment, it fulfills our dearest wishes, which are to be reunited with dead loved ones. I don’t know; no one knows, and we cannot know, so discussing the phenomenon with respect to learning the truth is pointless.

However, what seems important is that all these stories of near-death experiences have much in common, regardless of whatever religion the person believed before they arrived at the point of death. This fact suggests that the dying process is more or less universal for human beings. It raises the possibility that whatever happens afterwards may also be universal. Whatever occurs to the spirit after the body completes the death process may well be marked by universal qualities, regardless of what a person believed in life.

Adherents of this or that religion will be with me so far, but will say that only their version of the afterlife will apply from that point onwards, and that it will apply to everyone. There’s something inherently wrong with that concept, but I’m not sure what.

What if the dying experience, and what occurs afterwards, has nothing to do with anyone’s concept of God, Heaven, Hell or how one should conduct one’s earthly life? What if no one religious concept of life after death really applies? What if our actual death experience, with its own, unique sequelae, occur pretty much the same for everyone, and that religious matters lose all relevance? The evidence of the Near-Death Experience, coupled with the reports of actual death experiences, suggest that this possibility cannot be overlooked.

Think about your own struggles with religion, if you’ve had them. Think about the conflicts between you and your family or friends who believe differently with respect to religious systems? Could all of that be meaningless? Could none of it come to bear upon our ultimate experience of death and the persistence (or lack thereof) of consciousness? Could our spirits actually unite in the joy so often related to us by survivors of the Near-Death Experience?

What if all our religious dissension, wars, murders, torture and annihilation of entire populations have no ultimate meaning whatsoever?