Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s plan to reform Islam

I have been a fan of Ayaan Hirsi Ali since reading and discussing her book Infidel on this blog several years ago, so I was pleasantly surprised to see her being interviewed on Real Time with Bill Maher last night to promote her new book Heretic: Why Islam Needs A Reform Now. During the interview, she explained exactly how she believes Muslims need to change their religious views.

  1. Change the attitude towards the Koran and Muhammad. The book is not a driver’s manual, and the man is not infallible.
  2. Stop investing in life after death, but concentrate on life before death.
  3. Give up Sharia law completely.
  4. Individual citizens should not be able to police and punish their counterparts.
  5. Eliminate jihad. Replace “holy” wars with holy peace.

Her goals are lofty and unrealistic to be sure, but they shine an important light on the most egregious elements of religious extremism.

Bill Maher, who often gets criticized by liberals for his brazen views on Islam, asked Ali why she believes liberals need to stand up to the intolerant aspects of Islam instead of constantly worrying about being politically correct.

The cancer of Islamic extremism is an assault on liberalism, on liberal ideas… Protect the life of the human being, the freedom of the human being, equality of human beings. That’s what it is an assault on. Islamic extremists divide the world into “us” and “them.” And the ones they deem to be “them,” even if they are pious Muslims, they kill them, they subjugate them, they sell them into slavery, they rape the women, and they destroy arts and civilization. And we see it on a daily basis.

If you are a liberal, and you really truly believe in the principles of liberalism, you have got to stand up to the challenge of the day, and that is Islamic extremism.

Casting stones

Each day, when I browse the news and look at social media, I see countless stories concerning religion that make me sick at heart. Whether it is someone committing mass murder in the name of Islam, a “Christian” refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple, or a politician trying to appeal to his conservative base by making disparaging remarks about same-sex marriage, it all makes me completely disgusted with religion.

The only problems I have ever had from being openly gay are because of people who have been blinded by their religion. I have had people tell me I am going to hell. People who have given me books about how God can make me straight. Family members who refuse to be around my partner at family functions. Anonymous people who have harassed me and called me names online. People I know who have done the same.

The common denominator between all of these activities has been religion. Specifically Christianity. How someone can follow Christ and know anything about him, yet allow bigotry and hatred to overcome their thoughts and actions is unconscionable.

I am glad I am gay, mainly because I have had to question things that some take for granted. It has made life more difficult, but I feel like I can see things more clearly than so many who use their faith as shields while they throw stones at anyone they deem abnormal and unworthy of love.

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Christian agnostic

I am writing for the Christian agnostic, by which I mean a person who is immensely attracted by Christ and who seeks to show his spirit, to meet the challenges, hardships, and sorrows of life in the light of that spirit, but who, though he is sure of many Christian truths, feels that he cannot honestly and conscientiously ‘sign on the dotted line’ that he believes certain theological ideas about what some branches of the Church dogmatize.

–  Leslie D. Weatherhead, The Christian Agnostic

Being effeminate

Years ago, while living with my grandparents for a short time, my grandfather and I were driving home from work when he took the opportunity to bring up some things about me that he had issue with. As he drove, he lectured me about helping them out more financially before getting to the heart of what he really wanted to talk about.

He started by telling me I needed a hair cut. I had been letting my hair get sort of long. It wasn’t even shoulder length, but was several inches long on the top and sides. Although having short hair was a requirement for men in the Holiness faith, this wasn’t exactly the reason he brought it up. As he talked, he recalled a verse in the Bible about being effeminate.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Now we were getting to the root of his issue with my hair. It wasn’t just that it was longer than normal for men in our tradition, it was that he thought I was trying to look like a woman (I was really trying to look like Michael Jackson, but whatever).

Not sure how to respond, I brought up two highly-respected men in the Holiness community who were very effeminate. Both had soft voices, had never married or exhibited any interest in women, and were perfectly manicured. “No,” he said, “They are just different.”

I began to get angry, more at his refusal to admit these men fit the very definition of effeminate than at his insistence that I did. Surely he could see what I saw, but just refused to accept it because these men claimed to be holy. My anger took a more personal slant when he told me I was being a bad influence on the younger males in our church. I realized this talk we were having was more about his fear of me being gay than the length of my hair.

When I get mad, I usually clam up and stew in it. That means I have to find other ways of releasing my anger. When we arrived home and he finished belittling me, I decided to go for a walk. I removed the cap I normally wore to work and let the wind blow through my hair as I journeyed down the country road in front of our house. I always loved the feeling of having my hair in my face, so I enjoyed it as long as possible. Then I returned home, grabbed the clippers, and shaved my head in the bathroom. From my perspective, this was an act of rebellion. If I couldn’t have long hair, I would have barely any hair at all.

After showering and getting dressed for church, I walked into the kitchen. My rebellious act wasn’t seen as such, but was embraced as me having finally seen the light. Both of my grandparents exclaimed how much better I looked, but the damage was done. I knew I no longer wanted to live with them, and I moved out a few weeks later.

It is worth noting that a couple of years later while visiting a local gay bar, I bumped into one of the effeminate Holiness men that I had mentioned to my grandfather during our conversation. That was definitely an enjoyable moment for me.

The other man never married, but maintained a close relationship with a single Holiness preacher. Apparently they traveled around the country together and often slept in the same bed. Maybe they were in love, maybe they weren’t. It was a long time ago and doesn’t really matter anymore since they have both passed away.

So, what does that verse in Corinthians really mean? I don’t know. Some newer translations have changed it to “men who have sex with men,” but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the Apostle Paul just had a problem with women, and by extension, men who looked or acted like women.

Misogynistic, if you ask me.

My exciting little life

Someone recently told me I have led an exciting life. After a few moments of denial, I admitted that my life has been pretty interesting.

A few examples…

  1. Growing up in a very strict household where I couldn’t watch television, wear short sleeves, or attend my school’s basketball games
  2. Coming out to my family at twenty years of age
  3. Creating a Michael Jackson fan site that became the catalyst for a trip to Germany in 2001
  4. Getting to see Michael Jackson in concert on 9/10/01
  5. Being in New York City on 9/11/01
  6. Meeting my partner of 9 years on the internet
  7. Getting to see some of the best performers on earth live in concert
  8. Traveling to various parts of the country
  9. Becoming a business owner earlier this year
  10. Having a scan of my Michael Jackson concert ticket included in an upcoming special on National Geographic

Even though I am typically scared of my own shadow, I am glad I have been willing to put myself out there on multiple occasions. Those are typically the moments that have been the most rewarding.

Judge not

My cousin’s birthday is tomorrow. She won’t be around to celebrate it, because she died in a car accident in 2001 at the tender age of 25. Her father called my mother today and sobbed on the telephone as he remembered. Even 13 years later, the wounds haven’t healed.

I remember Tammy’s funeral. People wept and talked in hushed tones as expected, but this one felt much different from other memorials. Most were quite obvious in their belief that Tammy didn’t go to heaven. Some were so convinced of this they dared to say it out loud. You see, Tammy was reared in a strict Pentecostal home, and she wasn’t living according to those standards the morning she wrecked on an ice-covered road.

Years later another young person I knew passed away. Like Tammy, they had left the faith of their childhood and weren’t living what you might call a “righteous” life. This time, however, things were much different. The same people who judged Tammy clung to hope that this particular person had gotten right with God in the final moments of their life, and the funeral was filled with admonishments about letting God be the final judge. There’s nothing at all wrong with that line of thought, but I wonder why Tammy was treated so differently?

If God is truly love and if God truly loves us more than we can possibly love each other, why would he cast a young person into Hell before they even have a chance to figure things out? I can’t think of anyone who deserves an eternity of torment, nor can I reason what it would accomplish. Even the worst criminal is given a shot at redemption.

I saw Tammy in a dream a few years ago. She looked lovely, and we walked together for a while as I wept. It was probably just a meaningless creation in my sleeping mind, but I treasure it. I prefer to think of her happy and at peace. I just wish those who call themselves “Christian” would give her the same courtesy.

Happy Birthday, Tammy. I remember your lovely smile and your wonderful sense of humor. I remember the fun we had driving with the windows down and the music turned up loud. I hope I made you feel even half as loved as you always made me feel. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see you again one day. Until then I’ll see you in my dreams.

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Remember it

Some people say homosexuality is a sin. It’s not. God is perfectly cool with it, God feels the exact same way about homosexuality that God feels about heterosexuality. Now you might say, “Whoa, slow down. You move too fast. How could you have the audacity, the temerity, to speak on behalf of God?” Exactly, that’s an excellent point and I pray that you remember it.

– Ted Alexandro