For Such a Time as This: The Need for Talking


There’s an interesting discussion going on at Christianity Today’s her·meneutics blog. It begins with a post by Patricia Raybon, co-author of the soon-to-be-released Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace.

In “A Nation of ‘Suspect Thy Neighbor,'” Raybon writes about her husband’s suspicion upon seeing an unfamiliar car parked in front of their house. She writes that following 9/11, “We’ve become not just a nation of strangers, but strangers who suspect each other on principle.” And then she shares another family story.

Ten years ago, Raybon’s daughter, Alana, left the church and became a Muslim. Recently, while mother and daughter were together, a man saw Alana, with her head covered, and yelled to her, “Go home!”

That man wasn’t interested in a conversation, but Raybon is. In the comments following her post, several readers have responded. Some are supportive. Some are not.

Dagney Reardon writes, “I’m sorry—I’ve having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I’m suppose to feel sorry for a Muslim-convert American woman for being subjected to a verbal insult . . .” He compares her situation to that of women in Islamic countries and then refers to the recent beheadings of Coptic Christians by the Islamic State in Lybia. “God has not even begun to give me the wisdom or insight to relate to a person who would deliberately choose to align themselves with a religion that condones such unspeakable horror.”

I don’t usually read comment sections on the internet. There’s just too much vitriol. But Christianity Today‘s policy of allowing only subscribers or registered users ups the level of  engagedness and civility. And what I appreciate the most is the willingness of CT authors to answer back. I’m not sure what I would have said in response to the above comment, but Raybon was obviously prepared. “Thank you, Dagney, for your comments,” she writes. “Your argument is interesting. You are right, in fact, about one key thing. No reasonable person would deliberately choose to align with a religion that condones unspeakable horror.” And she ends her response with this:

I’m reaching different conclusions than you. But at least you and I are talking. For such a time as this, talking is a seriously good place to start. Thank you, indeed, for sharing your thoughts. Measured conversations need to happen on these matters. Thank you for taking part in this one. Kind regards, Patricia.

As I’m writing this, Reardon and Raybon have responded again to each other. And to another commenter who disagrees with her, Raybon writes, “Thanks, meantime, for sharing your thoughts. Another view always stretches my thinking.”

I appreciate the “measured conversation” that Raybon has begun. I hope it continues, at her·meneutics and beyond.

(Patricia Raybon, “A Nation of ‘Suspect Thy Neighbor,'” her·meneutics, February 20, 2015)

[photo: “Brighton Beach,” by Mark Belokopytov, used under a Creative Commons license]


Three Quarters of World’s Population Live under High Religious Restrictions

From mid 2007 to mid 2010, the share of the world’s people living in areas of “high or very high” restrictions on religion grew from 68% to 75%. This is according to a recent report from The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The report combines scores on government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion. Findings include the following:

  • The percentage of countries with combined high or very high restrictions rose from 29% to 37%.
  • Six countries scored “very high” in both categories (government and social), as of mid 2010:
    1. Afghanistan
    2. Egypt
    3. Indonesia
    4. Russia
    5. Saudi Arabia, and
    6. Yemen
  • In the year ending in mid-2010, 28% of countries showed “moderate” levels of government restrictions, while 35% were in the “low” category.
  • At the end of the four-year period, 19% of the global population lived in countries in the “moderate” range of social hostilities, with 6% living in “low” countries.
  • Overall, from 2009 to 2010, 66% of countries showed an increase in restrictions, while 28% showed decreases.
  • The three groups that were harassed in the highest number of countries were Christians (in 139 countries), Muslims (in 121), and Jews (in 85).

While the United States ended the four-year study in the “moderate” range in both categories, it was one of sixteen nations whose scores on both indexes rose by one or more points in the final year. This was a first for the US during the four-year period.

(Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, September 20, 2012)

Pop Quiz: World Religions

In 2010, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a phone survey of over 3,000 Americans, asking them factual questions on a variety of topics, including religion. Eleven of those questions dealt with “world religions other than Christianity.”

Answers were tracked by the religion of those surveyed, showing that the group with the highest score on the world-religions questions were Jewish (with 7.9 correct answers), followed by Atheist/Agnostic (7.5) and Mormon (5.6). Catholics as a whole answered 4.7 questions correctly, while Protestants were right on 4.6.

To see how you compare, take a look at the 11 questions below. Do not click on the answer you choose (that will simply reload this page). Rather, hover your pointer over your selection and wait for the verdict to appear. Hovering over the correct answer will also show the percentage of participants in the original survey who answered correctly.

  1. Is Ramadan the Hindu festival of lightsthe Islamic holy month, or a Jewish day of atonement?
  2. Do you happen to know the name of the holy book of Islam? (answer)
  3. Which religion aims at nirvana, the state of being free from suffering? HinduismIslam, or Buddhism?
  4. Is the Dalai Lama Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, or Mormon?
  5. In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures? TaoismHinduism, or Islam?
  6. What is the religion of most people in India? Buddhist, MuslimChristian, or Hindu?
  7. What is the religion of most people in Pakistan? HinduBuddhistMuslim, or Christian?
  8. What is the religion of most people in Indonesia? ChristianMuslim, Hindu, or Buddhist?
  9. Who is the king of Gods in Greek mythology? MarsZeus, or Apollo?
  10. When does the Jewish Sabbath begin? Friday, Saturday, or Sunday?
  11. Was Maimonides Catholic, MormonBuddhist, Jewish, or Hindu?

(“U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, September 28, 2010)

[photo: “The Prayer,” by Connor Tarter, used under a Creative Commons license]

Sunni and Shiite, They’re Not the Same

If you want to better understand news coming out of the Islamic world—or if you’d like to better understand your Muslim friends living down the street—you’ll need to know some of the differences between Islam’s two main divisions, Sunni and Shiah. Test what you know, and probably learn some things in the process, at The Christian Science Monitor’s online quiz: “Sunni and Shiite Islam: Do You Know the Difference?” Hint: If you can correctly answer the first question—”Which Muslim sect is larger demographically?” you’ll be well on your way to a decent score.

[photo: “China,” by Steve Evans, used under a Creative Commons license]

Ken and Barbie, Not Welcome in Iran

Back in 1996, religious leaders in Iran declared Mattel’s Barbie un-Islamic because of “destructive cultural and social consequences,” but toy sellers largely ignored their edict. Starting in December of last year, though, Iran’s morality police initiated an official ban on the doll (and her companion, Ken). Who will fill the empty shelves? Enter Sara and Dara, created by the Iranian government’s Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults in 2002 “to promote traditional values, with their modest clothing and pro-family backgrounds.” The pair of dolls are modeled after eight-year-old children, and even though that is young enough for Sara not to have to wear a headscarf in public under Islamic law, one is provided with each of her outfits. Quoted in Islam for Today, Masoumeh Rahimi, a toy seller in Iran, welcomes Sara and Dara’s arrival. “I think every Barbie doll is more harmful than an American missile,” she said. Another shop owner, agreed, calling Sara and Dara “an answer to Barbie and Ken, which have dominated Iran’s toy market.” But a Reuter’s report quotes a toy seller in Tehran who has a different opinion of the changes: “We still sell Barbies but secretly and put [dolls covered with veils and wearing loose-fitting clothes] in the window to make the police think we are just selling these kinds of dolls.” And Famaz, a 38-year-old mother, said, “My daughter prefers Barbies. She says Sara and Dara are ugly and fat.” Made in China, a Sara doll sells in Iran for about US$15, compared to US$40 for a real Barbie, and US$3 for a copy.

(Mitra Amiri, “Iran: Morality Police Cracking Down on Barbie Dolls,” Huffpost World, January 16, 2012; “Dara and Sara—Iran’s Islamic Alternative to Ken and Barbie,” Islam for Today)

[the photo is of girls in Iran with a Barbie backpack: “Picture 980” by cordelia_persen, used under a Creative Commons license]