Four Years @BlackElectorate.com: Theology Thursdays
[Editor's Note: Today we continue with the interview of BlackElectorate.com Publisher Cedric Muhammad "conducted" by BlackElectorate.com viewers via e-mail. In this portion, Cedric answers questions regarding Theology, Religion and Race.]
Question: What is the role of women in religion?
Cedric Muhammad: Please click here and read what may have been the most important series I ever wrote or arranged at BlackElectorate.com beginning on October 8, 2000 and ending on March 3, 2001 called "Women, Religion, Theology and Society". I really got into some deep political, gender, racial and even psychological dynamics there, in the context of religion and theology.
Question: What do you think of atheists and secular humanists? Don’t you think that there is at least as much evidence that there is no God as there is that maybe He or She or It exists? I have my personal opinion that religions have done more harm to Black people than good. Can you see my point on this?
Cedric Muhammad: I once was working with a person who told me that he felt we might have problems because he was an atheist and I, from his perspective, believe strongly in God. I just laughed and brushed his concern aside and asked him a few questions which were: Do you believe that existence is graded? Do you believe that human beings have a range of unique attributes? Do you believe that we all manifest these attributes and qualities in different degrees? Do you believe that it is possible that there is a single being somewhere that exhibits these attributes at a level higher than anyone else? Do you believe that this being would have the power to influence others? He said yes to all of my questions. I rested my “case”, so to speak, by telling him “Well, that means that we both believe in the real possibility of the existence of a Supreme Being, although we may disagree on the identity of that Being.” He smiled and agreed.
In many ways I think that atheists and secular humanists are more scientific and critical in their thinking and reasoning than the average religious or spiritual person. I appreciate that. And I certainly would agree with much of their critique of what has gone wrong with religion. But I think that through a reasoned dialogue and the combined or selective use of science, mathematics, human nature, and the scriptures any person could see the reality of the Supreme Being. It can take some time but there are so many ways to reconcile the apparent differences between science and faith. I used to think this was difficult but the older I get the more easy I recognize it to be. The more we see faith in science and vice-versa, the better it will be for our people.
Question: I have not seen you write at all about the hypocrisy of the religious right’s usage of God in politics? Why not?
Cedric Muhammad: Please read my April 1, 2001 piece, "God, Conservatives and Race"
Question: What is the state of the Islamic World right now?
Cedric Muhammad: I think that the Islamic world is at the point of working out and resolving very important theological issues right now that will lead to reform. One of the most important areas is that of so-called Islamist or political Islamic movements, which desire an Islamic state inside national borders and across them. There is significant difference of opinion over how this should be done, and whether or not this takes place before or after the expected return of the Messiah and the coming of the Mahdi. To me, unity across different Islamic schools of thought can best be resolved through conferring over the nature and purpose of tafsir, (the full interpretation of the Qur’an); and what Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) saw coming in the Last Days. Muhammad of 1,400 years ago said, that three generations after him would not be of him. And he said that the sun of Islam would rise in the West, in the last days. He also said that he heard the footsteps of the Black ex-slave Bilal, going into paradise ahead of his own. I personally believe that all of these hadiths (sayings) of Muhammad point in significant ways to the emergence of Islam in the Western Hemisphere with particular emphasis on the Black American ex-slave.
That is why my January 15, 2004 interview of Imam Mustafa El-Amin is so important. I think that he and I dealt with some of the most pressing issues impacting the future of Islam in America, and the unique role that Blacks will play, I believe, in the reform of the Islamic world.
Question: Brother Cedric I can really see how important it was for you all to start doing this Theology on Thursdays. What did you see out there that caused it to come about?
Cedric Muhammad: My acquaintance with otherwise very intelligent people who seemed to have a need to place politics or economics above religion in importance. I could make the case that in terms of influence on human beings there has been no greater force – for good or bad than religion. And religion is utterly political and economic, if you understand it properly. There is no need to bifurcate or set up an artificial dichotomy between the secular and religious world, in order to understand reality. That is deceptive when taught and a sign of a blindspot in one’s worldview. And I submit that there is no way to truly understand what guides and animates Black thought and behavior, as a community, without understanding the role and impact of religion.
Now, under current conditions, theology is deeper than religion, to me. It gets beyond principle, practice and ritual, which religion largely deals with; and revolves around the study of the nature of God and His relation to life and the universe. I have heard theologian Jabril Muhammad, describe it as God’s study of Himself. That’s deep. Theology, more directly than the subject of religion, as it is commonly taught, lifts you into the origin, purpose, structure and function of life itself.
I think that the greatest explanatory power for Blacks and all human beings comes from theology more than religion. Theology, in my view, deals more directly and clearly with the divine and human nature. This is a heavy area to be dealt with in Islamic theology. Surah 30:30 indicates that we are given our nature as a religion in Islam. This means that what we have in the way of the revealed word of God, and prescribed practices and rituals, reflect principles that come from the very nature of man and even the Supreme Being. So, stopping on religion is insufficient. The source of religion is the theology of God. Another characteristic that I see that differentiates theology from religion, in qualified instances, is that in a world where religion is used to oppress, there is greater potential for the liberation of the mind through non-traditional forms of theology. Theology takes one into areas of discussion that are beyond the grasp of those who are the establishment in religion and who have used it to rule us. I find this to be very liberating – because if there is a God, He certainly is not a slave to anyone. Therefore rising up into the mind of God is a liberating exercise in and of itself, and will eventually bring about righteous revolution as the nature and foundation of an evil, wicked, inefficient, and wasteful world is revealed through proper theological questioning. And the empowerment of the human being naturally grows out of a greater understanding and knowledge of himself, his nature, and the source of all strength – the Lord of The Worlds. This, I believe, is why there has been such a concern by the religious establishment over the spread of liberation theologies and Islam in the Western Hemisphere.
Question: Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses – how do you respond to that type of analysis or indictment?
Cedric Muhammad: I could say that if religion is the opiate of the masses then politics is the anesthesia of the masses. Due to greed, partisan or “faction” interests, the need for expediency and the institutionalization of bias, racism, sexism and materialism, there is much - in the way of truth - that politics often does not permit to even be discussed. And without truth you have no justice and you enable an insensitive government. As I have written that is what makes leprosy so horrific, it is the loss of sensation and pain that it enables that kills the victim. So it is with a political system that cannot feel the pain of the suffering masses or which diminishes or devalues certain kinds of human beings because they aren’t large enough in numbers or don’t vote. Religion, if its spiritual essence is not overcome by ritualism and dogma, can bring back the nervous system that politics lacks, and with it the sensitivity, truth, and responsiveness to the demands of justice that the political system cannot tolerate.
Having said that, Marx is historically correct in seeing how religion has been misused to put the masses to sleep. In my estimation, this took place on no greater scale than in the colonialism of Africa, our enslavement in America, and the conquering of native and indigenous peoples. There is a book called, "Thy Will Be Done" by Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett which I highly recommend to anyone curious about or unaware of the depth to which religion was used by intelligence agencies and business interests to deceive, pacify, and control the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere – particularly in the southwestern portion of the United States of America; and Central and South America.
Question:I think it is strange that African-Americans would be the most against homosexual unions. Do you? How did your community that once showed the most forgiveness and suffered the most just because of who they are turn into such an intolerant, homophobic society?
Cedric Muhammad: Well, I still am looking for somebody that can explain to me with precision what homophobia is. To me it is a largely phony political term that comes from some people who are very intolerant of those who might not want to see any harm done to homosexuals but who have a religious or societal basis for thinking that homosexual behavior is not the method of social organization originally intended by the Creator; or the way of life that produces the most healthy and organized community. I have read many powerful arguments from anthropologists which make a scientific case that homosexuality disrupts the basic model and natural order of descent and alliance that is the basis for kinship systems. Is that homophobia too? When can one not approve of the homosexual lifestyle and not be homophobic? The more I become acquainted with the homophobic argument the more I realize that it is not a paradigm designed for dialogue. I have a similar view of some usage of the term –“anti-Semitism”. At times, it comes attached more with preconditions and an indictment than with a forum for dialogue and understanding. Its usage by a few of the very politically-oriented, at times, is a means to compulsion rather than reasoning.
There is plenty in the Bible and certainly in the Holy Qur’an that I think forms a reasonable basis for a Believer to think that homosexuality is not the way of life that God intends. These same books say the same of adultery and fornication. But I have not ever heard of adulteryphobia or fornicationphobia. And the reason for this, in my opinion, is that there has not been as much of an effort by those who fornicate, commit adultery, or perform any of the other acts considered to be sins (not classified as “illegal” or criminal acts in society) - from the perspective of the religious person and the God they believe in – to organize a society around that behavior or to claim those behaviors as an identity that all of society must legally recognize. In light of that it is not very hard for me to understand why there would be a unique conflict between homosexuals and religious Believers. Many homosexuals have equated their sexual preference and way of life with cultural and, even a natural identity. There should be no surprise then, when a religious person is offended by the perceived preemption of the spiritual or even civic identity under Christ, Moses or Muhammad for example, by a cultural and natural identity that is based upon a behavior that is considered to be unnatural, or a “sin” and from the theological perspective, not in keeping with the original concept and purpose of man and woman in the mind of God. I think greater understanding between the homosexual and religious community (setting aside that they are now increasingly in some communities one and the same thing) can come when the homosexual community looks at the matter from the perspective of scripture and theology. To dismiss the perceived basis for disapproval with homosexuality is to deny understanding. I know that I benefited greatly from getting familiar with the arguments of homosexual Christians who believe that there is room for an interpretation of the scriptures in a way that does not show that there is any prohibition against the preference or lifestyle. I remember having an interesting discussion about this in 1996 with Episcopalian Bishop Shelby Spong, in Newark, New Jersey. I also have benefited greatly from hearing the point of view of those Christians who have lived and abandoned the homosexual lifestyle because they feel it is incompatible with God’s law and the scriptures. The point is to try and understand why the other person feels and thinks the way they do – even getting familiar with the basis of their perspective.
My view is that the more a person believes in the scriptures, religion and theology, the more likely they are to not accept a behavior listed as a sin as “normal” or desirable, or as a basis for identity – civic, or spiritual. But that has nothing to do with how the religious Believer is to treat the homosexual. A tremendous case can be made – from the perspective of religion - for mercy, forgiveness, understanding and the need to avoid self-righteousness that elevates the “sins” of others over the onlookers’ particular “sins”.
If Blacks are a people more deeply religious than others, then it stands that they would be at variance with a vocal and visible homosexual community that seeks their support for recognizing same-sex unions, but I do not necessarily believe that they would have to be the most violently or vehemently opposed. I think the history shows that in fact, Blacks have never done to homosexuals what Whites have. The same goes for mistreatment of Jewish people. Blacks do not share the White history on that. I also think that homosexuals would be wise to understand that Blacks will increasingly have a negative reaction to any community that seeks to compare its experience with discrimination and mistreatment with a people whose suffering began in an excruciating way with millions of people being whipped, murdered, raped, stripped of their identity and enslaved. I think it is legitimate to ask the question why don’t homosexuals make the same arguments about and comparisons with Jews that they do opposite Blacks. I think it is revealing that the homosexual community doesn’t lobby or criticize the Jewish community – to the best of my knowledge – like they do Blacks over these issues of same-sex unions and “homophobia”. Why no comparisons between the plight of homosexuals and the plight of Jews? I know that Jewish people are very sensitive about loose comparisons between their suffering and that of other people. Why no similar visits to Jewish synagogues to make the case for same-sex marriages like there are visits to Black churches? I think people should be careful of what they expect from Blacks; when they do not have similar expectations among other groups that are very religious or spiritual.
Question: What did you think of the controversy over the movie “Passion”?
Cedric Muhammad: I think that it was very illuminating. The question that so many did not ask in the debate was do the members of the Jewish community who protested against the film believe that the Gospels themselves are anti-Semitic? I think this is an important question. I often wondered as I heard the arguments against the movie, if these arguments were not really directed at the Gospel writers, who Christians believe were inspired and divinely guided.
After seeing the movie I realized how powerful the film would have been for our people if Jesus had been played by a Black man. The way that Jesus is whipped and beaten and mocked and scorned and hung on a cross brought nothing but images of slavery and the Jim Crow era to my mind. The Passion Week and crucifixion are symbolically metaphors and analogous to what Black people experienced in slavery. It is my understanding that the popular Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington D.C. lead, or is leading his congregation and members of the Black community into a mass viewing of the film. That is powerful. Because if the Black preacher is able to see the connection between the Gospels and what is written in the Bible in places like the book of Joel, Chapter 3 :1- 7 and Genesis Chapter 15: 13-14; he will have the key to unlocking the relevance of the scriptures to the history of our people in Africa, Black America and the Diaspora. There will also be implications for the reparations movement, if Black Christians can see a connection between Jesus and their history. At Saviours’ Day in February Minister Farrakhan, in part, raised the question of why the most popular Christian preachers on television don’t talk about the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I too, think it is so striking that popular Black preachers like Bishop T.D. Jakes, Rev. Fred Price, Bishop Eddie Long, Rev. Creflo Dollar, Rev. Kirby John Caldwell to name a few, don’t openly connect our condition to what is written in the scriptures as it relates to their being a people enslaved in the last days in Joel Chapter 3 and the prophecy contained in Genesis 15: 13-14. The deeper you get into this you see that the relationship between what Blacks have experienced in Africa and America over the last four hundred years is not just an analogy, it is the fulfillment of prophecy, and the actualization of what signs and types in the Bible and recorded history pointed towards. I wish that all of the Black preachers would follow Rev. Willie Wilson’s example and then teach about how all of the spiritual issues that we face today can be discussed in terms of what is written in the Torah about the Children Of Israel suffering as slaves in Egypt and what Jesus suffers in his passion, in the context of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Question: Congratulations on BEC being four years, since four is the number of foundation it is clear that you have laid the foundation for the re-education of the black electorate all over the world!
My question borders around religion as it relates to the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. According to the teachings the "Jewish holocaust" in ancient Egypt never occurred yet Jewish people all over the world celebrate the Passover.
Now, are there any proofs that it did occur? And what exactly is the stand of the teachings on the acclaimed 400 years of bondage of Israel in ancient Egypt? Did it ever occur?
Cedric Muhammad: Thank you very, very much for your kind words. When speaking of what Jewish people believe took place 4,000 years ago, written of in the Torah, the word “enslavement” is a better word to use, because “holocaust” has a more modern meaning commonly applied to what Jewish people suffered in Europe around World War II. There are many historians, scholars and even some Jewish rabbis that do not believe that what is written in the book of Exodus happened 4,000 years ago. One such individual is Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles. Please read carefully what I wrote about this on July 22, 2001 in a piece I called, "A Jewish Rabbi Challenges Whether Ancient History Supports The Biblical Account Of The Exodus And Why Blacks In America Should Be Interested In The Controversy". Rabbi Wolpe’s position is clearly stated, in his own words. I wrote of the implications of the debate, "If Rabbi Wolpe is correct it not only shakes the foundations of the world's three major religions but it also opens the door for the slave experience of Blacks in America to be reevaluated by the theologians, scholars, teachers and believers of the Torah, Gospels and Holy Qur'an."
So, you have asked one of the “big” questions of history, theology and religion. I think we have largely answered it, as well as its relevancy to Black people, all over the world in our multi-part series (still in progress) called, “The Dead Sea Scrolls Prophecy and Messiah” which began January 16, 2003. Click here to read the entire series in order. We will be making new installments soon.
Thursday, April 8, 2004