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September 11, 2010

Nine

Rob @ 4:27 PM

Ellis Henican said this much better than I could have, I highly recommend giving that a read today.

I'm still reading the Qur'an. It's not an easy read at all, I'm finding it quite ponderous in much the same way the Bible and the Torah were, but that was to be expected. As I further expected there are quite a few things of interest in the book so far, some of which I agree with and some of which go right against things I strongly stand for, but all of which are helping me understand more about where this religion and its followers are coming from.

I'm much less far along in the book than I thought I'd be by today, but I'm not working toward any particular deadline with it. I don't know when I will finish the Qur'an, but I'm glad to be reading it.

September 8, 2010

Reading the Qur’an

Rob @ 3:16 PM

Some troll with a cassock in Florida has loudly declared September 11th "International Burn a Koran Day."

That makes me very angry; burning is no way to treat a book.

Let's take a look at why book-burning is such a big deal.

Burning a book is a way of making a very specific statement. That statement is not simply "I disagree with what's in this book," which would be all well and good, respectable even. There's no more respectable position to be in when disagreeing with something, than that of having read and understood what it is with which you're disagreeing. It's the educated debater's position.

Book-burning has nothing to do with being educated or understanding, quite the contrary. The act of burning a book actually says to the world, "my burning this book is preferable to letting anyone else read it." Your feelings about the book are no longer the issue; what you are now doing is actively denying innumerable others the choice of reading it at all. Regardless of whether they would feel as you do about the contents, you are now denying them that choice; you would rather they not even be given the opportunity to read what's inside it and form their own opinions, to ever become educated about their position. A book-burning is a loud act of censorship, and the only goal and effect of censorship is ignorance.

I have never considered myself easily offended, but censorship is something I find deeply offensive on every level. I consider self-education a basic human right, and will not have that precious right denied by anyone for any reason. Inspired by those who want to stop me from doing so, I shall read the Qur'an.

For those unfamiliar, I'll explain a little bit about where I'm coming from. I'm an eclectic solitary Neopagan, and a clergyman in the sense that I believe everyone is and Divinity (under whatever label you wish to apply) does not require intermediaries between you and itself. My belief system might be described in further detail as somewhere in the general neighborhood of pantheism or panentheism; though I'm not entirely in line with either -ism, I'm close enough to borrow a cup of sugar now and then. One popular verse sums up my feelings on the whole of human religion and spirituality well; "an' it harm none, do what ye will." Tolerance is very important to me; when it comes to religious and spiritual matters, so long as no harm is being done, I do not believe anyone has the right to tell anyone else what they should or should not believe.

Much of my adolescence was spent reading and studying as many spiritual belief systems as possible, reading most of what my local library had in the 100s and 200s. I've read sacred books, reference books about the sacred books, and textbooks about the reference books. I've studied belief systems ancient and modern, traditional and eclectic, gnostic and agnostic, theist and atheist. I've attended services in as many local houses of worship as I've been allowed to, and spoken at length with friends and teachers of many faiths and of no faith. I've long been passionate about learning everything I could about where humanity has been and where it's going, and finding the threads common to us all.

The Qur'an has always been on my reading list, but I simply had not gotten around to it yet. The idea that some idiots are making the rounds in the press with their desire to prevent me from reading it was the final bit of motivation I needed to get started. I may not have a voice as loud as the book-burners at this point, but I have my curiosity and wits about me.

What do I hope to achieve with this particular book? My existing strong spiritual beliefs lead me to consider a conversion to Islam unlikely at best, but that's not my goal; my goal is to learn about what this book and its followers have to say. In that sense, I am approaching the Qur'an with an open mind.

I may end up agreeing with all of what's in the Qur'an, I may completely disagree with every last word; far more likely I'll find things in its pages I do and do not consider of value, just as with every other religious text I have read. The one thing of which I am entirely certain is that whatever my feelings about the Qur'an turn out to be, I will have come by those feelings legitimately and honestly; more than I can say about anyone willing to lash out and destroy something of which they have no direct knowledge.

I've selected the English translation of the Qur'an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, and have begun reading this afternoon with an eye toward finishing it on or about Saturday, September 11th. While others keep going on about "International Burn The Koran Day," I'll have achieved the complete opposite. I find that good.

This is undoubtedly a touchy subject on all sides; I detest that it is, but I cannot pretend it isn't. Whether what I'm doing interests, disgusts, pleases, or offends you, I would be quite interested to know why and how you came upon your feelings on the matter. I encourage open and reasonable discussion.. yes, this is the Internet, but I do have enough faith in you and the rest of the crowd that reads my blog to counteract standard expectations. Please feel free to share your thoughts; comments are open on this blog. (If you haven't commented before your comment won't appear until it's approved, which is standard procedure for this blog, but I shall approve anything I don't feel is blatant trolling, spam, or pointless flame.) You can also email me privately; though I might repost what you have to say, it will be anonymous unless I have your permission to attribute you.

Since I announced my intentions to do this on Twitter earlier today, a few people have asked me to consider posting what I think of the book. That's a good idea, but I'm not sure how I'll do it yet; I'll keep some notes, and perhaps publish them during my read in parts, or all at once after I've finished. I'll see how it shapes up.

September 3, 2010

Blame it on the rain

Rob @ 12:07 AM

Hurricane Earl is scheduled to whip up a froth in the ocean not far from my house this evening. Not only am I skipping NYC2600 because of this, but I'm now focusing on getting as much of my pile of computer-based work done as possible before the power and/or the Internet service goes out. If I fall out of touch for a little while, this would be why. I'll likely still be able to text-message my Twitter if that happens, so any necessary "I ATEN'T DED" posts will probably show up there first.

On the brighter side, please join me in wishing my best friend and co-conspirator Grey Frequency a happy birthday! Happy birthday, Grey! I heard you like nature, so I got you a big spinning knot of it. Right now it's in the ocean for safe keeping, expect it to arrive this evening. :-D

September 1, 2010

Miss Liberty and My Family

Rob @ 10:11 AM

Story time, kiddies!

In 1986 I was eight years old, and in third grade. The Statue of Liberty was constantly in the news: it was turning 100 years old, and was nearing the end of a long restoration effort.

That year, many of our school projects focused on the Statue, her role in local and national history, and the concepts for which she stood as a beacon to immigrants seeking their fortune in the United States. One homework assignment my class was given was such a project: an essay entitled "Miss Liberty and My Family." We were instructed to interview our families as research, and write up a summary of the role Miss Liberty (literally or figuratively) played in how we got here, and what the liberty she represents means to us now. Later we each read our essays in front of the class; I always liked that part.

Before you ask, there were no Native Americans in my class that I knew of, though in retrospect it'd have been interesting to hear their essays.

Newsday, a local newspaper, had set up Miss Liberty-themed art and essay contests throughout Long Island's schools. I wasn't aware of this, I thought I was just doing another piece of homework. So, it was entirely a surprise some time later when I was told I won the essay contest for my age group.

I vaguely remember being up on stage in a small ceremony in front of my classmates and my family. I was presented with a $100 savings bond, whatever the heck that was; the best I could ascertain was that even though I wasn't allowed to have that money yet, I'd surely be rich with it one day. I later received a laminated copy of the newspaper page with my name in it, and several copies of the special newspaper section that had all the winning essays and drawings from students of all ages across Long Island; it was finding those in a cabinet that prompted this post.

Anyway, all that TL;DR was the setup. Here's the essay, written by eight-year-old me after talking family history with my mom and grandpa for an evening, presented verbatim as printed by Newsday in June of 1986.

Miss Liberty and My Family

     My Italian great grandfather and great grandmother were farmers in Italy. He came here for almost 2 years. Then he owned a whole apartment building because he worked very hard and became a jeweler. He sent for his wife. They lived in Brooklyn and had 13 children. My Portuguese great grandmother was a farmer and my Portuguese great grandfather was a fisherman. They got married in America. They lived in the Portuguese area of Boston, then the Portuguese area of New Jersey, then the Italian area of Brooklyn. That's why my great grandmother learned Italian before she learned English. My great grandfather became a citizen by agreeing to serve in the army. He was in the Tank Corps in World War I.

     Liberty is freedom to believe in your own politics and religion. Liberty is good as long as there are laws to put order into our society. Because of liberty, we may vote for our own President and hope to get the person we want and hope the person will be honest.

Incidentally, that Italian farmer/apartment building owner/jeweler and his wife are the dashing couple you see atop this page.