Beliefs & believers

“I’m here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not just as good as Christianity. Christianity was founded by the virgin-born Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Mohammed, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives — and his last one was a 9-year-old girl.”

—The Rev. Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.


How often have you heard people debating the existence of trees? Who would argue that a dog does not bark? Exactly. When something is a fact, there
isn’t much room left for interpretation.

On the other hand, there’s a good reason why religious beliefs are referred to as “beliefs.” No one knows for sure. No matter how strongly someone believes that theirs is the one and only true God, and the one and only true religion, it is still just a belief.

We don’t know. And because we don’t know, those of us who believe in God — such as myself — can only believe.

I don’t have the right to tear down someone else’s entire system of beliefs just because they don’t view God the same way I do. And I sure as hell don’t have the right to spew the kind of idiocy the Rev. Jerry Vines ran down a few weeks back at the Southern Baptist convention.

I’m not the only one fuming.

“It’s rooted in abysmal ignorance,” says Michael Fahy, program associate at the University of Michigan’s Center of Middle Eastern and North African Studies. “It’s preposterous to assign a univocal description of a religion that has millions of adherents. What struck me was that this type of ignorance [regarding the prophet’s sexuality] stretches back to when Islam first began. This is such a regression.”

When I was about half my current age of fortysomething, I went through an intense period of religious fundamentalism. At one of the South Side Chicago churches I used to attend, the pastor preached that God didn’t even want us to think but to essentially ask him directions for every move we made in our lives. The pastor also mocked the saying that “There are many roads up the mountain.”

Oh, no, there ain’t!” he would holler, followed by a chorus of loud, enthusiastic hallelujahs, amens and handclapping. It was understood that we, the saints, were the only ones on the right road to salvation. Everybody else was lost.

If I missed a day of church, somebody would always call to make sure I was all right. This essentially meant “Why aren’t you here in church? You must be out there sinning.” Folks would regularly get the Holy Ghost, run around the church, cry and dance.

I myself went through an exorcism right in front of the pulpit one Sunday morning where the pastor claimed to be expelling all kind of demons out of my soul in front of a packed house of wide-eyed, rejoicing believers.

I later joined a considerably smaller church of another denomination that claimed to really possess all the answers. Of course, about 10 of the 12 or so folks in the congregation were family members.

No, I’m not kidding. The father was the pastor, his wife was the mother of the church, and one of their sons was the church minister. The remaining handful were other family members and a few friends. Services were normally three to four hours long and involved a considerable amount of speaking in tongues, shouting and laying on of hands. We met upstairs at the pastor’s home where the entire second-floor space — what little there was of it — had been converted into a makeshift sanctuary.

It’s funny, but I had to get newly baptized each time I joined another congregation because each one swore the previous one’s baptism
wasn’t good enough to keep my soul safe. Neither of my former pastors has the prominence of the Rev. Vines, but I don’t think their views on Islam would be too far removed from his. Strange thing is, both of my former pastors were basically good people who cared about me, cared about my soul — and honestly believed their interpretation of Scripture was infallible.

I eventually decided it was time for me to get the hell away from all those conflicting, intolerant beliefs and clear my head. I’d recommend the Rev. Vines do the same, although I kinda doubt he’d be interested in the advice of someone who’s been baptized as many times as I have.

But whether or not he does, isn’t it interesting that Vines figured it was OK to make inflammatory remarks about the founder of Islam being a pedophile nearly 1,300 years ago but couldn’t quite find the time to comment about the pedophilia that’s been going on in the Catholic Church in more recent years?

Moving right along.

I’ve read the comments of several Muslim scholars. Some say the prophet Mohammed did marry a 9-year-old girl, but that such an arranged marriage must be put into the context of the times and the culture. Others say the common belief is that the girl was actually older than that.

But it really doesn’t matter. If Rev. Vines is going to impose 20th century American morality on a 6th century Arab culture then he might want to consider what early so-called “Christian” churches have done in the name of their God. The Crusades, for instance.

Then there was Vines’ take on Sept. 11. To imply that Islam is somehow inferior to Christianity because of the misguided and twisted behavior of a few Muslims is like saying Presbyterians are better than Southern Baptists because of the perverse ramblings and rantings of Rev. Vines.

“Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist that will try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people,” Vines was quoted as saying.

That’s correct. But Allah isn’t in the habit of doing that kind of thing either. Sometimes misguided people do crazy things of their own free will. When that happens, don’t blame the God or the prophet. Blame the man.

Or at least that’s what I believe.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]
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