The advice-to-young-people racket is utterly shameless. Even William Burroughs gave in to the temptation, proving that the best advice-to-young-people may be to ignore all advice-to-young-people. Unless, of course, it comes from The Stranger, Seattle’s ornery, Pulitzer-prize-winning alternative weekly, whose annual back-to-school issue confronts incoming freshpeople with all manner of weird, ironic, and occasionally even useful advice on life, love, and… oh yes, sex.
This year, they decided to go for broke and include religion, and who else would they turn to but the Accidental Theologist? — who obligingly came up with ten questions for “young people” to ask if they’re trying to choose a religion:
1. How loud do its proponents talk? If they’re shouting, that doesn’t make what they say truer. On the contrary: There’s generally an inverse relationship between decibels and truth. Besides, do you really enjoy being preached at?
2. Do they know what God wants/thinks/intends? If so, either they are God or they think they are God. That’s called heresy if you’re religious, and psychosis if you’re not.
3. Are they obsessed with sex? If they’re threatened by women or are LGBT-phobic, there’s weird sexual stuff going on. If you’re similarly threatened and phobic, Westboro Baptist Church or Mars Hill Church will happily provide a home for your penis.
4. Do they have good music? Christians might have this one beat (Bach’s Mass in B minor, gospel music…), but if you’ve never heard Pakistan’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, you have an ecstatic Sufi feast in store.
5. Talking of feasts, do they have good food? Communion wafer, anyone? At least Jews have matzo-ball soup and four glasses of wine at Passover. And Muslims get to dine on fatted lamb at Eid al-Adha—but winelessly.
6. Do they cite chapter and verse at you? This is the primo tactic of fundamentalists: cherry-picked quotes, out of context. Try tossing this one back at them: “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (And since they can’t hear you unless you add numbers, that’s 2 Corinthians 3:6.)
7. Do they have any idea what “metaphor” means? If not, gently suggest they sign up for English Literature 101—no, demand it. Do not put up with literalism.
8. Are they into social justice? That’s the essential subtext of both the Bible and the Quran: social and economic protest against corrupt elites. The Big Three monotheisms began as the Occupy movements of the ancient Middle East. Where do you think Marx got his ideas from?
9. Do they insist on your swearing belief/loyalty/obedience? If they lack a sense of mystery and claim to have all the answers, run like hell. That’s not faith, that’s dogma.
10. Are they into joy? Do they celebrate life—in this world, not a next one? Do they make you want to laugh, cry, hug, dance, stay up all night and watch the sunrise? Do they make you happy and grateful and goddamn humbled by this strange thing we call existence? A++ if they do.
Well said. Can’t think of any more questions to add. Of course, by following these wuestions, a person would have excluded the vast majority of religions out there. So we are better off drawing our own path to spirituality. And I am guessing that’s why you put between quotation marks the words “choosing a religion”. Awesome.
By the way, speaking of great spiritual music, one great Sufi musician who is trying to bring Sufi music into the 21st century and also adding jazz influences is Dhafer Youssef. Check out his album labelled “Electric Sufi”. Would love to hear your feedback about it if you do check it out!
Shoot! Why weren’t you around giving out advice when I was a kid?! I LOVE #10 – the be all and end all of what any religion should be about. Thank you, Lesley Hazleton. You’re my heroine for today.
Spot on Lesley, as usual. Do call me when the mullahs/ evangelists etc. come for you….you’ve touched the rawest nerves!
Love it. LOVE it. Well done.
Excellent job Lesley.
On a side note, I discovered your “First Muslim,” “After the Prophet” and “Mary” books a year ago and highly recommend them to others.
BRAVO, lesley Hazleton. I too heartily concur with Mr jweeds. It is an excellent book for Muslims as well as non muslims. The book is an intelligent insight into the events that took place more than 1400 years ago, that has so much bearing on our todays lives.
Bravo, Lesley…it leaves little room for all those with an agenda other than a spiritual life.
Yes! to post on every playground fence, How about daycare centers. Come to think of it waterproof-words on every shower stall at school and home, and at the grandparents’ house!
Waterproofed words? Love it, T!
Fantastic! I am a 75 year – old Roman Catholic who needed to read this. Thank you!!!
As a theist and a Muslim, I resonate with much of what you say.
Just now, I saw your interview with Edip Yuksel. I liked your candor and I appreciate your openness to his views. Thanks much for that openness.
I completely agree that it is indeed sheer arrogance for someone (finite creation) to know the will of God (the transcendent One) in some all encompassing way.
I feel (and agree) that many of your points you provided to this Seattle paper speak to this snobbish attitude (of some who try to manipulate religion).
Regarding your last point, I think that if one views this transitory life of ours as a test for the everlasting life ahead, then to me it is wise to prepare for that immortal hereafter.
However, I empathize that if we don’t appreciate and wonder about this strange thing called existence, then we have not reflected enough. Such reflection should lead us to celebrate life.
As a theist, I think it should also lead us to celebrate the source of all existence.
Also, if we don’t strive to make life good in the here and now and to do so for all people, then we are being selfish and I agree that is a shortcoming.
Thanks for sharing and thanks much for hearing me as well.
I read ‘The First Muslim’, and ‘Zealot:the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth’. Very informative.
Is there a comparable, factual book on the historical basis of Judaism?
Thanks for any suggestion.
Well of course there’s my own book ‘Jezebel,’ which reaches from Jezebel’s epic confrontation with Elijah in the 9th century BC to the Babylonian exile three hundred years later, when much of the bible as we know it was written. For a more general introduction, you might want to take a look at Simon Schama’s ‘The Story of the Jews,’ which takes the story up to 1492 AD.
Thank you very much. I am looking forward to reading your book.