The Main Course of Christmas


My last post documented the role that ancient Middle Eastern rules of hospitality may play in accentuating the divinity of Jesus in his encounter with Zaccheus (see here for more on that). In thinking more on the subject, I’m wondering whether these hospitality rules may also help us understand another passage that has long bewildered many Bible readers.

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary together with those following him. In good Middle Eastern fashion, Martha scurries to the kitchen to prepare an elaborate spread for their honored guest and his friends. Jesus soon begins teaching, and Mary, not wanting to miss the gift of his wisdom and presence, quickly seats herself at his feet. Mary and Martha.jpgMartha, in the fevered rush of serving their guests, appeals to Jesus (as Lord!) to order Mary to get off her duff and tend to her hospitality responsibilities, not leaving everything to Martha. In the normal course of events, this would be the proper thing to do, for hospitality is a jewel among virtues in ancient Jewish culture. But, of course, this is not a normal event, for it is Jesus who is visiting. He gently admonishes Martha, noting that she is distracted by many tasks (even good ones like hospitality). But, he asserts, Mary has chosen the greater good, which is receiving what he has to give.

All this is clear from the text. But what if we apply the understanding we gained from the Zaccheus encounter, where Jesus is not just the “guest,” but in a deeper sense the Host? What if he is the God who owns all things, who receives the blessing of creation by visiting in the homes of His beloved creatures, but who also serves as the true Host to shower them with blessing? In the Middle East, it is the host, not the guest, who is quick to give gifts. The lavish spread, the place of honor, the memento of great value, these are all gifts from the host to express the depth of his joy over the presence of his guest in his home.

When Jesus comes into the home of Martha and Mary, he does so indeed as a human guest, delighting in their hospitality. But even more, he comes as the Divine Host who desires to impart loving gifts of infinite value. Arab host.jpgMary senses this in a way that Martha does not, and so she sits at the feet of Jesus, eager to drink in his presence, wisdom, joy and love. Martha see him as an esteemed guest, indeed the greatest guest she has ever hosted, but in the end, only a guest.

When she complains to Jesus about Mary, Jesus responds as the divine Host – “Martha,” he says, “Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her.” This is the language appropriate for the lord of a manor. “I have laid out my gifts for my guests – Mary has chosen this good gift, and I will not allow anyone to take it from her.”

It would not be good form for Jesus to speak this way to Martha if her were merely a guest in her home. In that case, proper convention at least would have been for Jesus to nod to Mary in silent urging that she fulfill her hospitality functions. But Jesus is not merely a guest; he is the Lord who comes bearing gifts to give to those who recognize his gracious authority. And so he gently chides Martha for missing the bigger picture, while assuring Mary that she is on the right track.

Eugene Peterson captures something of this in his rendition of Luke 10:41-42:

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”

In this Christmas season, the opening chapter of the Gospel of John reminds us that our world often responds to the Incarnation like Martha rather than Mary, at least in this one critical way. We miss the main course. main course.jpgWe do not rightly recognize the One who has come into our midst. Martha at least wanted to honor Jesus as a guest in her house, even though she didn’t recognize deeply enough the import of his presence. But, the opening chapter of John tells us that when the Word of God, who is God, the One through whom all things were made, the One who is the Life and Light of mankind, came into the world, “the world knew him not.” Even worse, “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (John 1:11). The Jewish people, to whom God had most fully revealed Himself, whom He had best prepared to receive Him, failed to recognize Him and open their hearts and lives to their incarnate Lord, the Word become flesh. The ones who should have rushed to honor Him with greatest hospitality failed to do even what Martha in her devotion to Jesus knew was the right thing to do.

But the Incarnation is not ultimately about our parties to honor God; it is about what God has done to honor us. The God who is regularly spurned by a sinful, rebellious world, nevertheless comes in love to rescue that world, to reconcile sinners to Himself, to cleanse and restore lost prodigals to the life and light of His home. Even though He is spurned by the majority of the world, He comes with gifts as the Host to all who will receive His invitation.

So, even though the world did not recognize Him, and His chosen people as a whole refused to receive Him, the next verse (1:12) tells us that “…to as many as received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…,” the greatest gift of all, from the greatest Host of all. His presence is the main course – to receive Him in the way Mary did is to be the guest of His hospitality, and to receive the gift of becoming His children with all the eternal blessing that entails.

Christmas is not first and foremost about what we do to honor God who was born in a manger. It is not about what we do at all. light.jpgIt is about what God has done to break into a world of darkness and death, bringing His light and life. It is about His initiative of love, about how the Host comes to His world and welcomes poor, cold souls into His home and hearth, and showers them with gifts of inestimable value.

Once we get straight who the true Host is and who the true guests are, then we can go on to celebrate with appropriate wild abandon the blessings of the Incarnation. After feasting on the main course, we can appropriately enjoy the after-dinner festivities! “Merry Christmas” truly has a deep meaning, for those who have responded to the invitation of their Divine Host.

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Unexpected Evidence for the Divinity of Jesus — All the Way from Oman!


It’s sometimes amazing what we can learn when we look through someone else’s eyes.

Recently, on a trip to the Middle East, I was told of a group of Omani Muslim men who gathered together to hear stories of Jesus read to them from the New Testament. Without any extra commentary, they were asked to share what struck them most about Jesus in these stories.oman

Before sharing further, I must let you know that the culture of the Omani people (and those of the other peoples of the Arabian peninsula and traditional Middle East are far closer to the customs and habits of the people of Jesus’ day than perhaps any other cultures existing today (certainly closer than that of modern-day America).

In this particular instance, the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zaccheus was read (Luke 19:1-10). We are typically startled by Jesus’ willingness to fellowship with a chief tax-collector, who although a Jew ethnically was considered by his own people to be a traitor in league with the Romans and a swindler whose wealth was made on the backs of his townsfolk. It’s no surprise that this encounter seems scandalous to our sensibilities, but that’s what we love about Jesus – his love is not just for the respectable, but for the tarnished. Some of us take great hope in such grace.

The Omani Muslims also expressed their astonishment at the scandal of this story. But for them the source of scandal was different. When asked what they learned of Jesus, one of the men remarked that he couldn’t believe the impudence of Jesus; the other men added their agreement. omani majlisWhen asked to explain, he said, “In our culture, what Jesus did was extremely rude. No one has the right to invite himself into the home of another. We honor hospitality, but never do we presume upon another’s kindness. Their home is theirs to offer, not ours to demand. Even the chief of a tribe has no right to demand the hospitality of his members. Even the king of the land cannot force one of his subjects to host him. A man’s home belongs to him alone and no one can invade it on his own authority – he must wait to be invited. The only one who could rightly do something like this is God, because everything in the end belongs to Him!”

As these words hung in the air, the import of what he had said began to sink in on the hearts of the Omanis. Maybe this Jesus was not just a man, even a human king. Maybe, just maybe, he had the right to demand Zaccheus’ hospitality, because maybe, just maybe, He was….

Perhaps we have much to learn from traditional Middle Eastern culture when it comes to understanding the message of the Bible. As we approach the Christmas season and hear once again the mind-boggling story that for the salvation of sinners God became a human being in the baby known as Jesus, we are reminded of the many evidences strewn throughout the New Testament of this incredible truth – Jesus’ claims to fulfill prophecy, his certainty of equality with his Father, his miracles accomplishing what only God can do, his appeal to his own authority in decreeing what is right and wrong in human behavior, his love for the outcast and unloved, and his willingness to sacrifice himself for sinners who clamored for his death. All these truths we point to regularly as reminders of Jesus’ divinity, that God became incarnate in a real human being, a Jewish baby who grew to become a man of certain weight, hair color, speaking Aramaic with a Galilean accent, who endured in his own body and soul the weight of the sins of the world while he hung up a cross, and allowed that incarnate life to slowly drain out of his human body.

For over forty years I have studied the Bible to learn more of the uniqueness of Jesus as God’s appointed Savior for the human race. But until last month, I had never encountered evidence for the divinity of Jesus based on an “argument from hospitality”!Zaccheus.jpg

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” An act of impudence, even rudeness, from Jesus? Or the declaration of God incarnate, enacting His will to rescue a Jewish tax-collector whose hope for heaven had long since grown cold? Zaccheus’ response hints at the right answer: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” In response, Jesus speaks with the authority of the Supreme Potentate of the eternal kingdom: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham….”

I thank God for those Omani Muslims and the innocent insight they brought to this all-too-familiar text! I pray they come to discover the full import of the life of the One they are studying.

I have so much to learn.

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What a Title for a City!


Today may register as a 7.0 earthquake on the Richter scale of international politics. President Trump has just announced that the USA will move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel as a country, in spite of the fact that all other nations continue to abide by UN wishes that Jerusalem remain “neutral ground” in the unending peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians.Temple Mount

The Palestinians claim that if a two-state solution is someday worked out, at least east Jerusalem must be their capital, and that what the USA might do today is a betrayal of our commitment to the peace process.

On top of that, the Muslim world in general wishes to lay historical claim to Jerusalem as the third holiest site of Islam, and is incensed over the idea that the world might recognize Israel as having the rightful claim to the Holy City. In order to prevent this step by the US administration, many Muslim leaders are warning of dire consequences should President Trump make this announcement:

Hamas, the Palestinians’ primary terrorist arm against Israel, has called for a “day of rage” this Friday after communal mosque prayers (the best time to whip crowds up into a frenzy) with death and destruction forecast;

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority and head of the PLO, has made it clear that he and the leadership of the Palestinians will cut off all contact with the USA;

Turkish President Recep Erdogan has called this a “red line” for all Muslims, and threatened that Turkey might cut diplomatic ties to Israel. He also is calling a meeting of all 57 governments which constitute the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to determine how to prevent the USA from taking this course of action.

King Abdullah of Jordan, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, President al-Sisi of Egypt and many other Muslim leaders warn of “dangerous repercussions,” “the undermining of peace,” “inflamed passions of Muslims around the world,” and so on. A gaggle of Western leaders, including the Pope, are advising the President to “preserve the status quo,” so as to avoid any negative consequences in the Mideast and around the world.

Yet it has been 50 years since the 1967 “6 Day War” when Israel won full control of Jerusalem and initial talks began about a “two-state solution” to the problem of who has rightful claim to the land, and in the midst of all the bloody attacks and counterattacks, charges and countercharges, the world is no closer to a peace agreement.

Whether the Palestinians have a legitimate right to east Jerusalem as a future capital, I do not claim to know. And so I will not attempt to argue the rightness or wrongness of the move of the US Embassy based on Palestinian wishes.

I will say something, however, about the larger claim of Islam to Jerusalem as one of its crucial religious sites, thereby rendering Israel’s designation of the city as its historical capital to be untenable.

In the lifetime of Muhammad, Jerusalem played almost no role in his version of Islam. It is commonly understood that when Muhammad commanded his followers to pray, and taught them how, he designated Jerusalem as the direction they were to face. This was because he desperately wanted the Jews and Christians to recognize him as a true prophet, and he knew that the Jewish practice in prayer was to face toward Jerusalem. However, within 17 months of Muhammad’s move to Medina, where relations with the Jews soured miserably, the Arabian prophet “had a revelation” in which Allah told him that the qibla (direction for prayer) was henceforth to be toward Mecca. Apparently, the only importance Jerusalem had for Muhammad was as an enticement to try to woo the Jews to accept him as a true prophet and Islam as the “pure religion” of Abraham. When they rejected him, he rejected their ways, including reference to Jerusalem as the holy city.

Many readers of the Qur’an are surprised to discover that Jerusalem is never mentioned by name within its covers. Muslim interpreters are quick to point to certain generic passages and insinuate that they must refer to Jerusalem, but for every scholar who sees Jerusalem as the referent, there are others who see some other earthly or heavenly location. Jerusalem just didn’t play an important role in the Qur’anic worldview.

Later tradition, however, in Hadith reports and traditional Qur’anic commentaries, demonstrates an increasing interest in Jerusalem. After the siege and conquest of Jerusalem by Arab Muslim armies in 637 AD (some four and a half years after Muhammad’s death), Islam became much more aware of the central importance of Jerusalem to biblical history. In an attempt to expropriate all Old and New Testament history  under Islamic history (remaking all biblical prophets into prophets of Islam sent by Allah), the movement of Islam attempted to revise history to show that Jerusalem had always been important to Allah and his prophet. Hence the effort to “find” Jerusalem in the Qur’an.

The most famous passage to which Muslims turn in this regard is 17:1 — “Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).”

This “night journey” (isra in Arabic, from which Sura 17 gets its title) is not detailed (in fact, this is the only direct reference to such an occurrence within the whole Qur’an). It claims that Allah took Muhammad during one night from the Sacred Mosque (almost all commentators agree that this must be the Ka’aba or the larger mosque surrounding it in Mecca) to the “farthest Mosque.” What is this farthest mosque (literally al masjid al aqsa)? We are never told. Later tradition defines this mosque as the one built upon the Temple Mount in Jerusalem which goes by that name today — the al-Aqsa Mosque — located on the SW corner of the Temple Mount site. But early interpreters had other ideas: some believed it to refer to another mosque located in the Arabian peninsula, others to the preternatural Ka’aba in heaven. As this latter view gained steam, the “night journey” became known also as the mi’raj ( which means literally “ladder”) and a whole tradition developed around Muhammad riding a winged beast (buraq), Al buraqescorted by the angel Gabriel, first to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where at the “farthest mosque” he led all the past prophets (including Jesus) in prayer, before ascending through all the seven levels of heaven to receive from Allah the directives for how many times a day his followers would have to pray.  Muslims owe a great debt of gratitude to Moses, who when he heard from Muhammad upon his return to the sixth heaven that Muhammad and his followers would have to pray 50 times a day convinced him to return to the seventh heaven and request a reduction. Muhammad returned; Moses queried again and found the reduction was from 50 to 40. This would still be unbearable, according to Moses; so he urged Muhammad to go back again; in typical Middle Eastern bartering fashion (think of Abraham in Genesis 18 bartering with God over whether He would withhold the destruction of Sodom if there were a sufficient number of righteous among the wicked). Muhammad makes more trips and the number is whittled down further to 30, then 10, then finally 5. Moses is still not satisfied, believing the burden to be too great (after all, the Jews were only required to pray 3 times a day), and so he urges Muhammad to try one more time, but at this point Muhammad tells Moses he would be ashamed to approach Allah one more time, and so the number of prayers was finalized at 5.  Still, can you imagine how the life of a Muslim would change if he/she had to recite the ritual prayers 50 times a day? Muslims owe a huge debt of gratitude to Moses!!!

In any case, back to Jerusalem. When the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, conquest of Jerusalemthey found no mosque/place of prayer on the Temple Mount. In fact, that location had become a dump site for all sorts of refuse, so was not in use for any religious activity. This of course did not fit with the nocturnal journey tradition developing around the now deceased prophet, and that had to be corrected. There is no historical record telling us exactly when the first rendition of al-Aqsa Mosque was constructed on the Temple Mount, but there is some evidence that in the late 670s there was some rudimentary structure erected for Muslim prayer. However, it was not yet called “al-Aqsa.” That was left to the time of Caliph Abdul Malik in the early 690s who commissioned the building of the beautiful Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque at roughly the same time. masjid-aqsa.jpg

Muslims lay claim to Jerusalem primarily based on the myth of Muhammad’s night journey to the place of prayer on the Temple Mount sometime around 623 AD. However, the Qur’an makes no clear assertion about a visit to Jerusalem. His young wife, Aisha, with whom he was in bed that night, stated clearly that he was with her physically all night long. The evidence of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem at that time indicates that there was no place of prayer on the site that Muhammad could have visited to lead a band of prophets in prayer. Even the earliest interpreters of the Qur’an could not agree on the location designated by al-masjid al-aqsa. It isn’t until some 60 years after Muhammad’s death that Islamic rulers construct a mosque on the Temple Mount which they name al-Aqsa, in order to lend credence to the developing traditions making Jerusalem a religiously important site for Islam.

And so today, the widespread Muslim view that Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam is built on a fiction. Islam has attempted (with quite some success) to expropriate Jewish and Christian history in order to assert its claim that Islam follows in the footsteps of what God did first with the Jews and then with the Christians. Yet the Qur’an ignores (is almost completely silent about) the history of the Jews in the Promised Land. It fails to recognize Jerusalem’s primary title as the City of David. It blinds itself to the construction of the Jewish Temple with the decree of Yahweh (not Allah) that His name might be there forever (2 Chron 7:16). In OT history, the Temple is the house of the God of Israel. It is marked by His personal name, the name that He declared to Moses — Yahweh, I AM. In Exodus 3:15 He decreed to Moses, “This is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” The Jews took God seriously. The generic word for “god”  (El and its derivatives) appears some 2700 times in the OT; the title “Lord” (Adonai) some 450 times; but the personal name Yahweh is used over 6800 times.

One might be forgiven for thinking that any true prophet, certainly from the time of Moses onward, would know the personal name of God by which He commanded His people to know him. So when we turn to the Qur’an, which claims to be God’s continuing revelation building on the Bible, we would expect to see heavy usage of God’s personal name, even transliterated in the Arabic language, because after all that is how God made Himself personally known to the world.

So, how many times does the name Yahweh, in its transliterated Arabic form, appear in the Qur’an. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Null set. Sifr (Arabic for zero…). This is no surprise. It certainly helps make the case that Muhammad cannot be a true prophet in the line of biblical revelation (subject for a future blog…), but in the context of my present argument it demonstrates Muhammad’s great ignorance of Israel and her God, of the place of the Promised Land granted to Jacob’s tribes, and of Jerusalem as her capital chosen by Yahweh for the site of His Temple.

In Ezekiel 48, a long vision given by the Lord of Israel’s post-exilic future concludes with details concerning the city of God, i.e., Jerusalem. The final verse (48:35) of the book of Ezekiel reads as follows:

The circumference of the city shall be eighteen thousand cubits. And the name of the city henceforth shall be, “Yahweh is there.”

According to biblical revelation, Jerusalem was chosen by the God who revealed Himself to Moses and the people of Israel, and who promised to indwell the Temple and establish His name there forever. As such, it does not belong to Allah, or to Islam, but is stamped with the personal name of Yahweh.

For 1400 years, Islam has nourished the fable that Jerusalem is historically a holy place for Islam, and today Muslims seem willing to riot and spill blood to protect that fiction. But should the threat of violence prevent the United States and others from recognizing the longstanding objective fact that Jerusalem has been the historical capital of Israel (going back 3000 years to David). In the arena of world politics, every nation gets to decide its capital city, and other nations place their embassies accordingly. Why should Israel be any different? The argument that it is so vital to the religion of Islam holds no water, in my book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Question Has You Stuck?


“What one question needs to be answered satisfactorily before you would be willing to  commit your life to Christ?” For me, that was easy to pinpoint. Here’s how I responded to that inquiry.

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When I read the Gospels for the first time in September 1975, it became immediately apparent to me that the Jesus pictured there towered over all other religious or philosophical luminaries I had ever studied or followed.Christ Redeemer.jpg

This was a major claim for me. By the age of 20 I had read major elements of Hindu and Buddhist texts, as well as the works of Lao-Tzu, Confucius and Mencius. I had learned the major tenets of Jainism, and of course was familiar with the teachings of Islam. At Stanford University I was majoring in philosophy and so had read representative texts of the formative thinkers of the West from the pre-Socratics up through the time of the Enlightenment period. Of course, I was no expert, but I was widely exposed to the leading philosophical thinkers and religious movements both East and West. No one compared favorably with the Jesus I encountered in the Gospels.

If he had been standing there in front of me at that time, I would have pleaded with him to let me be one of his students.  Christians around me claimed that indeed he was and is alive in resurrection glory even now, and that I could know him. I had to find out if that was true.

The story of Thomas was particularly compelling to me. He had not been present with the other disciples when the resurrected Jesus appeared to them that first Easter evening. When he shows up later and the excited disciples try to convince him that Jesus indeed had risen from the grave, he refuses to believe their testimony. His hopes had already been crushed once. It would not happen a second time. Only if he could personally examine the crucifixion wounds on the body of a resurrected Jesus standing before him would he believe.

rembrandt on Thomas.jpg

Rembrandt’s vision of Jesus appearing to Thomas

 

A week later, Jesus reappears before the gathered disciples, including Thomas. After greeting them with peace, Jesus turns immediately to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; stop doubting, and believe.” Thomas is overwhelmed, and confesses before Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus responds to his awestruck follower with a promise that would become precious to me, “Have you believed because you’ve seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

My first reaction upon reading this resurrection account was, “How did Jesus know what tests Thomas had demanded the week before – unless he had somehow been present but not visible?” This and other resurrection accounts made it clear that the resurrected Jesus was not limited by our “laws of nature.” If indeed he conquered death and lives with an eternal nature beyond the reach of death, then, I reasoned, I could ask him today if he would take me as a disciple. He might not respond to me, but at least I could ask with a measure of confidence.

So for me the big question I needed to answer satisfactorily was whether it was reasonable to conclude the bodily resurrection of Jesus truly happened. What led the disciples to broadcast this stupendous claim, unless they were personally convinced by real-life experiences?

In researching and pondering, I discovered three main “alternate explanations” to counter the Gospel narratives. If any of these were compelling, then they would prove a more credible account than that of a miracle.

The first explanation was that Jesus did not really die on the cross, but merely “swooned.” He was so close to death that the soldiers tasked with carrying out execution by crucifixion were fooled into certifying his demise after thrusting a spear into his side. He was taken down from the cross and transported by followers to a stone tomb, where he was hastily wrapped in burial cloths and about a hundred pounds of spices before the start of the Sabbath. No one apparently noticed he was still alive. Departing the tomb, they rolled a “great stone” across the entrance to seal it. tomb of jesus.jpgJewish leaders, fearing some skullduggery from Jesus’ disciples, went to the Roman governor, Pilate, and asked for a unit of Roman soldiers to guard the tomb. Pilate agreed. However, in spite of all this, the almost-dead Jesus lying in the coolness of the tomb revived, shook himself free of the burial spices, silently rolled the stone away from the tomb entrance and then tiptoed unnoticed past the guards, who knew that failure to fulfill their orders could result in their own execution. After stealing away, Jesus then went and appeared to his disciples, convincing them that he was not a desperately weak man in need of rest and recuperation but rather the Lord of all who had conquered death and reigns supreme. Jesus hangs around for forty days or so, and then disappears from history, never to be seen again.

This account seemed to me to require so much more faith in utterly improbable occurrences than believing in the Gospel resurrection accounts that I dismissed it quickly.

The second explanation, an “intentional hoax,” indeed involves the skullduggery of the disciples. It goes like this: the disciples know that Jesus predicted his resurrection, but they also know it is not going to happen. Yet out of devotion to Jesus and his movement, they want to fabricate a miraculous story so as to bless people or make themselves feel better or justify their future vocations. So they plan and execute a raid on the tomb, either overcoming the Roman military unit stationed there (hardly likely for untrained disciples) or somehow avoiding detection (equally unlikely) and silently rolling away the stone, allowing them to carry off the spice-laden corpse of Jesus (again without detection) and disposing of the body secretly in a location no one else would ever find. After this, on the third day they go public with a rehearsed account of how Jesus indeed rose from the dead and appeared to them and commissioned them to preach a message of salvation in his name. They commit themselves to spreading this lie with the full knowledge that it will likely lead to their own martyrdoms, which in most cases it did.

The obvious objections to this explanation were 1) Why would followers of Jesus, who claimed followers of his way of righteousness, knowingly concoct a lie to foist upon the world? And 2) Why would they be willing to place themselves in harm’s way, even face martyrdom, to advance what they knew was a lie? This scenario hardly comports with the New Testament post-crucifixion evidence of a dispirited and fearful group of disciples cowering behind closed doors for fear of harm. Again, it seemed to me to require more faith to believe the fanciful depictions of the disciples and their mysterious abilities than to accept the straightforward, though miraculous, explanations of the biblical texts.

The third explanation is a “mass hallucination” theory. The disciples are so overwhelmed with despair after Jesus’ brutal death that they are desperate for something to hope in. They remember Jesus’ promise of resurrection and wish beyond wishing that it might happen. Suddenly, one disciple claims to see Jesus exalted beyond death in a vision. Another chimes in that he, too, sees Jesus alive. Soon, they all in a massive display of wish-fulfillment declare that Jesus is indeed risen. This hysteria spreads to disciples in other locations, who claim as well to have encounters with the risen Lord. Indeed, as the apostle Paul reports, on one occasion five hundred apparently suffered the same hallucination. These despair-induced delusions led the early Christians to preach with deep sincerity that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Unfortunately, though they were sincere, they were nonetheless deluded. The movement caught on, but it was based on imagination, not reality.

Explanation three suffers also from some fatal flaws. First, mass hallucinations are rare and limited to one location and place in time. They typically are short-lived and entail little communication between the vision and the observer. The Gospel accounts on the other hand are detailed, varied and highly interactive between Jesus and his followers. They occur in multiple contexts (indoors, outdoors, in a garden, at the beach, on the road, etc.). According to these accounts, Jesus actually does things that alter the physical reality around them: he breaks bread, he consumes food. After his departure, the bread remains broken, the consumed food is gone. Something more than a hallucination has just happened. Second, if indeed the message of Jesus’ resurrection was based on a delusion that had begun to spread among gullible people, the Jewish authorities could easily have asked Pilate to open the tomb of Jesus, exhume the corpse and parade it around Jerusalem. That would have quashed the sincere but false claims. Third, the sworn enemy of the fledgling church, Saul the Pharisee, who believed the message of the gospel was vile heresy against God, suddenly had a change of heart which led him to become the first century’s greatest missionary for Christ. What happened? According to him, he had a real encounter with the risen Christ which completely transformed his life course. Could such a change be the result of hallucination? Possible, I think, but hardly likely.

Back in 1975 when I placed these alternate explanations alongside the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, the believability of the Gospels was much more natural than the strained efforts of the skeptics. I concluded it was much more likely that things happened as reported by first century eye-witnesses and their listeners than by later critics trying to discount them with purely naturalistic hypotheses.

kneelingSo on September 15th, 1975, believing that the resurrection of Jesus was likely a historical event, and that he was most probably alive and might listen to my request, and aware of the fact that this might be the most momentous decision of my life if Jesus should choose to respond to my plea, I bowed my head and asked that if he indeed were who the Gospels said he was, that he would show himself to me and accept me as a disciple. He did.

That was over forty years ago, and he has never given me any reason to doubt his claims or his love. No other person, no other way of life, can hold a candle to Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son incarnate, the risen Savior and Lord of all humanity.

 

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My Personal Story


Many people have asked me whether I have ever written up the story of my spiritual journey in book form — the answer is no. But earlier this year, in anticipation of a book project collecting the stories of twenty former Muslim converts I was contacted by the editor and asked to tell my story in under 2500 words. Knowing the editor personally, I was glad to agree. Unfortunately, he passed away in an untimely fashion and the project was abandoned. I’ve decided to post the material here for any who might like to know something of the grace of God grabbing hold of one particular human being….

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My patrilineal roots reach deep into the ancient soil of Syria, with ancestors tracing our heritage back to ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas, companion of the Arabian prophet and commanding general of the Arab Muslim armies that swept across north Africa. Whether that is true or not, my father was born and raised in a small village called Jabata Zayt on the shoulders of Mt. Hermon in the region known now as the Golan Heights. He was the first-born of my grandfather’s third wife, and was destined for success. Raised to be a devout Sunni Muslim, he began to adapt his faith to more Western, Enlightenment thinking as he studied law (under the French system) at the University of Syria in Damascus. Upon graduating, he seized the opportunity to do graduate study in the USA, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It was there he met his wife to be, an American of Roman Catholic background. They married, he received his Masters degree, and planned to continue for a Ph.D., but in the meantime my older brother had been born, and then I came along. Aramco World.jpgHe needed a steady job, and so hired on with Aramco Oil Company, then headquartered in New York City. After two more children were born, the family headed over to Aramco’s main facilities in Saudi Arabia. For us kids, it was a time of fairy-tale adventure and excitement.

Our home life in the town of Dhahran was very secular – my mother had informally renounced any ties to the Catholic Church (and to organized religion in general) and my father contented himself with retaining cultural ties to Islam while rejecting its religious practices. As we were growing up, our parents encouraged us to think and explore, but gave us no guidance in spiritual matters. We were, however, immersed in the highly religious world of Wahhabi Islam, and as such confronted regularly with the beliefs and traditions of devoted Muslims. Though my siblings showed no apparent interest in such matters, I was deeply intrigued, enough so that at age 12 I rather ignorantly imitated my Arab, Muslim friends in their religious practices and considered myself privately to be a Muslim. But that didn’t last long. The strictness of ritual observations, the inaccessibility of Allah to my seeking heart, and the impenetrability of the Qur’an to my mind all led me to conclude that Islam was a dry, legalistic religion of endless works and uncertain hope. I turned elsewhere for spiritual sustenance.

As the son of a Muslim, I knew implicitly that investigation of Christianity or Judaism was out of bounds, so my hopes turned toward the world of Eastern mysticism. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda introduced me to a blend of Eastern and theosophical thought which intrigued my young mind. yogananda.jpgA few years later, through study under a relatively young Indian guru, I plunged more deeply into classical yoga. As I was turning 19, he told me he had taught me all he could; if I wanted to go deeper, I’d have to study with his master in India. So that summer, prior to returning Stanford University as a sophomore majoring in philosophy, I spent the better part of a month in an ashram on the outskirts of Bombay (now better known as Mumbai), learning from a 90+ year old, Brahmin caste guru. At the end of my stay, I was licensed by his school to teach classical yoga. But even more important to me was the private “exit interview” he granted me my last day in India. I had two burning questions that needed answers, and he was at the apex of Eastern philosophical wisdom. What an opportunity!

But where I was looking for certainty, he was more interested in process (the Eastern way). So I asked my first question: “Does God exist?” His response: “If it helps you to believe in God as you walk the eightfold path, then believe. If it does not, then do not worry over it.” For me, that answer was decidedly unhelpful. So I pressed on with my second question: “Many of my Western friends believe that Jesus is God. What do you think of that?” His response: “Jesus was an avatar, just as Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, Zarathustra, Lao-Tzu, and others. They materialize in this world as human beings need new guides and exemplars throughout history.” ashram.jpgAgain, my hopes were dashed. I had used this same argument in late night bull sessions with fellow college students. But this didn’t deal with the claims that my Christian friends were making for their Jesus. He’s not just a prophet, they told me. He is not like any other religious leader or philosopher. He is one of a kind. He is the eternal God who has identified with the human race by becoming one of us in the person of Jesus – fully God, fully human. I found that claim to be outlandish, but I didn’t know how to respond to their arguments. My guru apparently didn’t either.

I left India spiritually depressed, with my burning questions unanswered, but with the practical conclusion that Eastern mysticism did not hold the answers to the deepest questions of life. If my guru, who was of the most spiritually advanced Hindu caste and who had plumbed the depths of Eastern thought for eighty years, could not answer these profound questions, why should I give seventy more years of my life only to have no more certainty at the end of my days?

With little conviction and purpose, I drifted the next year. Two more general questions emerged, which I saw as separate pursuits: “Is there some Truth at the center of the universe to which I must respond?” and “What is love – is it possible to love others with no strings attached?” I thought perhaps the answers to these questions might be found through readings in my philosophy and psychology classes. They proved to be wonderfully engaging, but not convincing.

That next summer, back in Arabia, my circle of friends contained many Christian students. I peppered them with questions, I observed their interactions with others, I argued with them about Truth, I emptied my philosophical arsenal of atheistic arguments upon them. Though they didn’t always have strong arguments, they never ejected me from their midst. In fact, they continued to love me and welcome me in their gatherings. One young lady captured my heart romantically, and we dated through the summer, but she told me she could never get serious with me since I was not a Christian. I replied that I couldn’t rearrange all my beliefs about reality simply to be in relationship with her.  We agreed that we would date through the summer, and then go our separate ways when fall terms began.

Her university, a Baptist school in Arkansas, started up in late August. Mine didn’t begin till late September. After she left, I twiddled my thumbs in lonely pining for a few days, and then decided impulsively to leave Arabia and stop in unannounced to see her on my way back to California. OBU commons.jpgShe and her friends welcomed me warmly and found a place for me to stay. My intention was to stay two or three days; it turned into almost three weeks. There, in Arkansas, the Lord revealed Himself to me and called me into His flock.

From a human point of view, two elements stand out as factors that led me to offer my life to Jesus Christ. First was the remarkable love I observed in the Christian community directed both to those inside, and to those, like me, outside. I was not looking for a new “religion,” but anytime I saw what looked to me like love “with no strings,” my interest was piqued. As I got to know some of these Christians whose selfless acts I had observed, I would ask them, “What led you to act in such-and-such a way toward So-and-So?” Invariably they would talk about Jesus in their hearts. I would respond, “I’m not interested in the religious stuff; I just want to know where you get the power to love people like that.” They continued to attribute their acts to the life of Jesus in them. That led me to the second factor.

I had to find out who this Jesus was, so I asked them where I could learn about him. The Gospels, of course, they replied. I had no idea what Gospels were, so biblically illiterate was I. So a new friend gave me his Bible as a gift, opened it up to the Gospel of Matthew and said, “Keep reading till you get to the end of a book called “John,” and you’ll have read all you need to know about the earthly life of Jesus.” It took me nearly three days of steady, deliberate reading, during which time the outside world seemed strangely distant. I felt like a fly on the wall watching as Jesus healed the lame, cast out demons, authoritatively answered questions, loved the unlovely, forgave sins, and conquered death. When I surfaced after finishing John, my mind and heart had been captivated by the Jesus I saw in the Gospels. I knew that no philosopher I had studied, no religious leader or founder I had read about, no holy man or healer I’d admired, could compare to this Jesus. I thought to myself, “If Jesus were alive today, I’d find him and ask if he would take me as a student.” It dawned on me that if the resurrection really happened that first Easter, then Jesus indeed was alive, not bound by space and time, and I could ask him. I might not hear any answer, but I could still ask. And so, one evening soon after I did just that, and the presence and peace of Jesus enveloped me. My walk with him has continued ever since, now going on 42 years.

Three months later, I returned to Arabia for Christmas break, prepared to share about my new spiritual life with my father. After all, he had always taken an interest in my studies and pursuits, and had even helped make my trip to India possible. So after sleeping off my jet lag, when my father returned from work for the day, we sat down to catch up. Excitedly, I told him about my conversion to Christ and life now as a Christian. But instead of listening with smiles and encouragement as in times past, this time he exploded like a volcano, roaring that such a decision was not permissible, that I could not become a Christian, that I would be putting the family in danger, that such a decision would be like stabbing him in the back and repudiating my heritage. For four days, surging with molten anger, he tried to convince me to recant. I remember well four of his arguments. First, he said, “If the Saudi authorities find this out, your girlfriend and her parents could easily be convicted of proselytizing, paying a heavy fine and going to prison. And remember, prisons here make American ones look like playgrounds in comparison. So you should think about that.” Second, he said, “If you still follow this foolishness by next summer, you won’t be welcome under my roof. You’ll have to find somewhere else to live. You might want to think about that.” I knew that meant I would not be able to get into Arabia much less be near my family, and that my father was threatening to cut me off from the family for good. Third, he said, “If the Saudis discover that one of my sons has become a Christian, I will have to give up my job. You should think about that.” My father was at that time the senior vice president of Aramco in charge of government affairs, and much of his work was with Saudi officials, all Muslims of course. His argument was that my conversion would be such a mark of shame and disgrace that they would lose all respect for him as a business man – if you can’t even raise you sons to be good Muslims, how could you possibly run a high-powered business well? Fourth and last, he said, “You are officially a Muslim, regardless of what you say, according to Shari’a law, because the son of a Muslim is a Muslim by birth. So, if Saudi officials hear about you and pick you up for questioning, what will you say?” I told him I would be cautious, knowing this was a sensitive subject. “But what if they ask you directly if you are a follower of this Jesus?” I answered, “I would say yes, because I am, and I can’t turn my back on him.”

I can still picture my dad throwing his hands up in the air and saying, “Then by your own mouth you would be convicting yourself of apostasy (leaving Islam for Christianity). And the penalty for apostasy according to Shari’a law here in Arabia is death by beheading. You should think about that.”apostasy.jpg

After that conversation, my father shut down and would not talk to me for the rest of my holiday from college. He told my mother and siblings that my name was not to be mentioned in his presence – I was dead to him. As things turned out, none of the threats came to pass, except that my dad did cut me off from the family for some 14 years before his heart was softened. But family life was never the same, for any of us.

My life as a follower of Jesus has been filled with twists and turns. But the spiritual hunger that I could never satisfy through Islam or Eastern mysticism, or Western philosophy and psychology, has been more than satisfied in the person of Jesus. The two quests I had been pursuing of knowing Truth and finding Love, which all along I had thought were separate searches, turned out to lead to the same end, not some theoretical formula or esoteric practice, but the very real Person of Jesus, the God of love who proved Himself to be the Way, Truth and Life for all who will come to Him. I am grateful that He found and drew me to Himself, and that He continues to reshape my life for His glory so I may forever testify to His love, faithfulness and grace!

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Jesus and Honor-Killings


Middle Eastern society (both ancient and modern) reflects an honor-shame culture. Societal good and evil are weighed on the basis of what brings honor or shame, not simply to the individual actor but to his social unit – family, tribe, nation, religion. In the Islamic world, this has led to the practice of “honor killings,” principally of women and girls who by their perceived or real behaviors have brought shame on their families and communities. (While honor killings are not limited to the Muslim world, the best statistics indicate that 91% of such executions are carried out by Muslims seeking to restore their families’ honor by the shedding of the blood of the shame-inducer.) Interestingly, while the Christian faith also came to birth in the Middle East, honor killing is strikingly absent among its practitioners. Why might this be?

Perhaps the difference can be well-illustrated by looking at the Jesus of the NT and the ‘Isa (Muslim name for Jesus) of the Qur’an. Both Jesus and ‘Isa in their respective traditions prevented the honor killing of a woman, yet as we shall see, the circumstances (and thus the future ramifications) were entirely different.

In the Qur’an (Sura 19:16-34) we find the story of Mary’s virginal conception and subsequent delivery of Jesus/’Isa, effected miraculously by Allah through the Spirit. To give birth to Jesus, Mary journeys out into the desert away from her community, and goes into hard labor under a palm tree. After the baby’s birth, Mary wraps him up and seeks to return to her village unobtrusively. But as she is walking through town, people notice and a crowd gathers and trails after her toward her home. They begin throwing insults at her, demanding to know how she could shame them all by having a baby out of wedlock:

“[Mary,] O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot.”

But Mary refuses to defend herself verbally in the face of their rising accusations. Though the text does not tell us, it is not hard to imagine the men picking up stones to carry out the penalty for adultery. Mary instead points to the baby whom she has just laid in his cradle, and the crowd responds with incredulity, as if she expected the baby Jesus to serve as her defense attorney:

“Then she pointed to him. They said: How can we talk to one who is in the cradle, a young boy?

But, indeed, according to the Qur’an, the infant Jesus stands and delivers a message from Allah, and in the process defends his mother’s innocence. Islam’s ‘Isa is the youngest preacher in the history of the world! And thank Allah for that! If he hadn’t spoken, he might have become orphaned a few minutes later as the crowd stoned Mary to death. The Jesus of Islam in effect prevents an honor killing from taking place.

“He spake: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet, and hath made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and hath enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I remain alive, and (hath made me) dutiful toward her who bore me, and hath not made me arrogant, unblest. Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the concerning which they doubt.”

Of course, to those in the know, the stoning of Mary would have been a grave injustice because she was innocent of the charge of adultery. But to all external appearances, by which the townsfolk were operating, she was guilty and had brought shame upon them. Jesus, in this context, prevents an honor killing which would have been an injustice.

In the NT, Jesus is presented in John 8:2-11 with a quandary by those wishing to derail his ministry.

Early in the morning [Jesus] came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.

Will Jesus show compassion and reject the demands of the Law, showing himself to be out of step with God, or will he confirm the rightness of the death penalty, betraying his message of mercy? The trap is set, but Jesus escapes by reminding them in an ingenious way of their solidarity with the adultress in being sinners worthy of execution.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”

When the zealous crowd realizes that none among them has the standing to serve as judge and executioner of this woman, they all slink away silently, until only Jesus and the woman are left. No one is left to pronounce judgment except Jesus, and Jesus also refuses to condemn her. Instead, he graciously sets her free from her guilt and shame to a fresh start at life. Honor-killing averted; a life salvaged instead of destroyed.

So far, the Islamic ‘Isa and the NT Jesus seem to be on the same wavelength with regard to honor-killing. But there is one significant difference between these two accounts. In the Qur’anic story, the baby ‘Isa steps in because he knows his mother is innocent of sin and so an honor-killing in this case would be a travesty. In the biblical account, Jesus intervenes in spite of the guilt of the adultress. He prevents the verdict of the Law from being carried out because as he says elsewhere, “I have come to seek and save what was lost” (Mt. 18:11).

Would the Qur’anic ‘Isa have acted the same way as Jesus did in this encounter with the woman caught in adultery? We can’t know for sure because there is no record in Islamic traditions covering this event. But we do know that Muhammad claimed that Jesus and all the other prophets had the same inspired mind he had, and so would never deviate from Muhammad’s own example, and when we turn to Muhammad’s decrees concerning those caught in adultery, there is never any question – they are to be stoned to death. The Hadith traditions report Muhammad issuing this judgment numerous times (Bukhari 7:63:196; 2:23:413; 3:34:421; 3:49:860; 3:50:885; 4:56:829; 7:63:195; Muslim 17:4191; 17:4196; 17:4198; 17:4199), but one example should suffice:

The Jews brought to the Prophet a man and a woman from among them who had committed illegal sexual intercourse. The Prophet said to them, “How do you usually punish the one amongst you who has committed illegal sexual intercourse?” They replied, “We blacken their faces with coal and beat them,” He said, “Don’t you find the order of Ar-Rajm (i.e. stoning to death) in the Torah?” … [The Jews attempt to hide this truth from Muhammad, but the Muslims discover they are lying to Muhammad and that the command to stone adulterers is found in the Torah.] … So the Prophet ordered the two adulterers to be stoned to death, and they were stoned to death near the place where biers used to be placed near the Mosque. I saw her companion (i.e. the adulterer) bowing over her so as to protect her from the stones.        – Bukhari 6:60:79.

By killing the guilty party, honor is restored to the community and God’s punishment is carried out against the perpetrator(s). Muhammad’s perspective is clear. Presumably, according to Islamic thinking, ‘Isa would have come to the same conclusion.

Hence, honor-killing finds a justifiable place in Islam as something befitting the judgment of Muhammad and the prophets, including ‘Isa. But it finds no place in the Christian faith, since Jesus models mercy and forgiveness. He has taken our guilt and shame upon himself through his crucifixion, so that we may instead be clothed with his righteousness and honor.

Thus we see once again the huge gulf between the theological worldviews of Islam and Christianity. Righteousness through judgment in Islam, or righteousness through grace in Christianity. The former appeals to Pharisaic-types; the latter to hapless sinners. If you are looking for the assurance of forgiveness, the Qur’anic ‘Isa will be of no help. Instead, you must go to the Jesus of the Gospels. He is the only Savior able to rescue the lost (Acts 4:12).

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Stanford and the Wind of Freedom


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I am deeply embarrassed by the recent behavior of my alma mater, Stanford University, regarding its recent treatment of Robert Spencer, who spoke last night on campus concerning the topic of jihadi terrorism. Robert Spencer.jpgIn the weeks leading up to his lecture he was vilified numerous times in the Stanford Daily with libelous opinion pieces and slandered by a host of special interest student groups. Posters announcing his upcoming talk were torn down, sometimes at the behest of various campus housing authorities, although they were posted legally.

For those who don’t know, Robert Spencer is the Director of jihadwatch.org, author of 17  books (including two NYTimes bestsellers) all revolving around the theme of Muhammad, Islam and the Qur’an, and a sought-after speaker. He is eminently qualified to address these matters, and does so with regularity. He has appeared as an expert on more radio and TV news and talk shows than I can list, has been utilized by our Federal and state government counter-terrorism and law enforcement departments as a trainer, and has willingly debated many in the Muslim and Leftist worlds over the place of jihad and dhimmitude in the religion and history of Islam. His voluminous work and practical credentials speak for themselves.

In the midst of all this campus uproar fueled by a campaign of calumny and malice against Mr. Spencer, Stanford’s President and Provost issued a thoughtful, joint blogpost entitled, “Advancing Free Speech and Inclusion.” Quoting from the university’s Statement on Academic Freedom, they acknowledge:

“Stanford University’s central functions of teaching, learning, research and scholarship depend upon an atmosphere in which freedom of inquiry, thought, expression, publication and peaceable assembly are given the fullest protection. Expression of the widest range of viewpoints should be encouraged, free from institutional orthodoxy and from internal or external coercion.”

Nonetheless, they also recognize the need to provide social support for those who may feel excluded or demeaned by positions taken in public speeches. Further, they outline their understanding of appropriate ways that opposition may be freely expressed. All this is very reasonable: one may attend the event and engage the speaker in the Q&A period (which Robert Spencer repeatedly declared his hope that they would); one may voice dissent by staying away; one may publicly criticize in advance the decision to invite the speaker; one may protest the speech without disrupting it (e.g., hold a rally outside the venue). What one may not do is disrupt the event and prevent the speaker from being heard.

What happened last night met the letter but not the spirit of this guidance. Prior to Mr. Spencer’s arrival on stage, the hall was packed, with a large overflow crowd outside that couldn’t get in. In an act of apparent collusion with the Stanford authorities, soon after Mr. Spencer began his presentation, the vast majority of the crowd (all students) got up and began to file out in silent protest (this was their right, although rude and unconducive to the spirit of learning).

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Now there was an almost empty hall, but with a large crowd outside ready and able to fill the empty seats. However, Stanford Security announced that according to their protocol they could not let anyone else into the event. How strange! And how strange that of all the people who wished to come to the event, the vast majority who got seats were those who planned to vacate them after the event started, thereby preventing others from the opportunity to engage with Mr. Spencer’s presentation. On top of that, the University administration disallowed any live streaming of the event, most likely as a way to preclude any bad press from potential student disruptions. This all seems like a neatly orchestrated plan to adhere to the letter of the law while trashing its spirit.

Like all universities, Stanford prides itself on being “…devoted to the discovery and transmission of knowledge,” in the words of its President and Provost. stanford motto.pngIn fact, the motto on Stanford’s seal is Die Luft der Freiheit weht, German for “The wind of freedom blows.” I’m ashamed that my alma mater refused to live up to this motto last night, deciding instead to sabotage freedom of debate by surreptitious censorship that crowned a preceding week of misleading propaganda against Mr. Spencer. Hardly the spirit of freedom of inquiry.

It seems the Stanford motto needs to be rewritten. I propose: Die Luft der Freiheit wird erstickt (“The wind of freedom is stifled”). Catchy, don’t you think? At least it’s more accurate.

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