The Mosque in Tennessee Revisited

Last summer we followed stories about the controversy surrounding the proposed mosque in Lower Manhattan, and about the proposed construction of other mosques in America. As a  follow-up, this piece of news appeared recently, regarding the proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It’s a piece of good news for all of us who value religious diversity, openness towards others, and elemental justice: a lawsuit– brought by opponents of the construction of the mosque– has failed:

MURFREESBORO — Chancellor Robert Corlew III ruled that plaintiffs suing the county for approving construction of a mosque just outside the city limits have failed to prove they’re being harmed.

“We must note that, under the law, the Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a loss different from that which is common to all citizens of Rutherford County,” Corlew wrote in his ruling issued this week. “That Islam is a religion has been proven in this case. That the county ordinance allows construction of a church or place of meeting within a residential planning zone as a matter of right in this case is further undisputed.”

via Court decides plaintiffs not harmed by mosque | The Daily News Journal | dnj.com.

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Art and Religion, Part Two

Iris Murdoch

If you don’t know Iris Murdoch’s work, you’re in for a treat. I recently quoted a passage from her novel The Bell, in which main character Dora visits the National Gallery. Here I quote from one of her philosophical works, The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists:

“Good art, thought of as symbolic force rather than statement, provides a stirring image of a pure transcendent value, a steady visible enduring higher good, and perhaps provides for many people, in an unreligious age without prayer or sacraments, their clearest experience of something grasped as separate and precious and beneficial and held quietly and unpossessively in the attention. Good art which we love can seem holy and attending to it can be like praying… Good art… provides work for the spirit.”

Art and Religion

Thomas Gainsborough-- a painting of his two daughters

The late, great Iris Murdoch, in her novel The Bell, narrates main character Dora’s visit to the National Gallery in London. Her experience of the art– and in particular, this painting– breaks through like a revelation:

“Dora had been in the National Gallery a thousand times and the pictures were almost as familiar to her as her own face. Passing between them now, as through a well-loved grove, she felt a calm descending on her…. She could look, as one can at last when one knows a great thing very well, confronting it with a dignity which it has itself conferred…. Dora stopped at last in front of Gainsborough’s picture of his two daughters. These children step through a wood hand in hand, their garments shimmering, their eyes serious and dark, their two pale heads, round full buds, like yet unlike.

“Dora was always moved by the pictures. Today she was moved, but in a new way. She marvelled, with a kind of gratitude, that they were all still here, and her heart was filled with love for the pictures, their authority, their marvelous generosity, their splendour. It occurred to her that here at last was something real and something perfect…. Here was something which her consciousness could not wretchedly devour, and by making it a part of her fantasy make it worthless…. She looked at the radiant, sombre, tender, powerful canvas of Gainsborough and felt a sudden desire to go down on her knee before it, embracing it, shedding tears.”

Great art cannot be commodified, reduced, and consumed. We do not take its measure; rather, it measures us.

via Thomas Gainsborough.

Revenge, Blood, and the Victimization of Victims

One compelling theology of the Cross is that God in Christ interrupts the machine of blood-for-blood justice by refusing to retaliate. God in Christ suffers, thereby laying legitimate claim to revenge– and then freely chooses to forgive: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In affirming the divinity of Jesus, Christianity affirms non-violence and redemptive suffering  as being of God’s essence. It follows, then, that to practice Christianity is to practice mercy and forgiveness– in short, to practice ways of being in the world that interrupt the machine of blood-for-blood justice. This can be done in international diplomacy, at New England town meetings, and at home over the dinner table. Wherever people are in relationships, there will be pain and the desire to settle scores.

Neither the security apparatus of the United States, nor Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, will act as Christ did on the Cross. Blood for blood is the way of the world– has been, always will be. Meanwhile, faithful and courageous followers of Jesus will continue to witness to another way– God’s way– and give bodily expression to the possibilities for reconciliation and new life: a life that is stronger than death.

Here is Al Jazeera’s report on Al-Qaeda’s desire for revenge:

Al-Qaeda has confirmed the death of its leader, Osama bin Laden, and said in an online posting that it would continue to launch attacks on the West. The group said it would not deviate from the path of armed struggle and that bin Laden’s blood “is more precious to us and to every Muslim than to be wasted in vain.”

The statement was released on forums sympathetic to al-Qaeda and translated by the SITE monitoring service on Friday. “It [bin Laden’s blood] will remain, with permission from Allah the Almighty, a curse that chases the Americans and their agents, and goes after them inside and outside their countries,” al-Qaeda said.

The message called upon Pakistan, where bin Laden was discovered, to “rise up and revolt to cleanse this shame that has been attached to them… and to clean their country from the filth of the Americans who spread corruption in it.”

via Al-Qaeda vows revenge for bin Laden death – Central & South Asia – Al Jazeera English.

Osama bin Laden Is Dead

The security apparatus of the state– intelligence and special operations forces– has done what it is supposed to do: find and kill the enemy.

In a brief interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC, the daughter of a 9/11 victim said something interesting as she attempted to describe her feelings. While acknowledging the satisfaction of justice being done, and the accompanying sense of closure, she stopped herself from using the word “joy” to describe how she felt.  While she didn’t have the chance to say more, perhaps she had the sense that the payment of death for death, while just– and in this case welcomed and necessary– is still no cause for joy. At least not for me.

I grieve tonight– for all the loss, death, and destruction of 9/11; for the existence of evil; for innocents who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan; for post-traumatic stressed servicemen and women and their families; for cycles of violence and victimization that are always justified and therefore very difficult to end. Bin Laden’s death satisfies justice, but it does not mean peace.

via Osama bin Laden dead: officials – Americas – Al Jazeera English.