God Is Living, So Why Does Religion Treat God As Dead?

Source: Huffington Post

By Omar Naseef; Muslim, Writer, Traveller, Author, Foodie, Adventurer

There’s a vigorous debate in the United States about the nature of our constitution. Liberals tend to argue that the constitution is a living document, while conservatives, like the late Justice Scalia, claim our constitution is “dead, dead, dead”.

If the authors of the constitution were alive today – having lived through 239+ years of U.S. history – do we really think they would ask their 1787 selves how to interpret the constitution?

In secular law, the debate is reasonable. Because the authors are dead and a “living” constitution risks judicial tyranny, we do need to find some way to reasonably restrain the interpretation, especially since we can amend the constitution if we aren’t happy with its meaning.

This same “living” versus dead argument often happens in religion. Those who argue for dead” are often conservatives, and they are hurting their own cause. It is proper for all of us to deliberate before breaking with long-held tradition. However, insisting that the understanding of sacred text is frozen puts the most fundamental belief of religion at risk.

When any religious person claims that a sacred text is “dead” – in that the understanding of its meaning is fixed forever – they are directly at odds with their own idea of a living, active God.

Most religions claim that God is present and active in our lives. That is what I understand Islam to teach. The Qur’an doesn’t give us a mechanism by which to differentiate an outcome actively caused by God with an outcome that God passively allows. Yet for all the majesty and power we attribute to God, a lot people seem to teach that God engages us only on the micro-scale.

God will save a single person from a falling piano, and we praise God’s involvement, but on matters of philosophy where many more people are impacted by an unjust belief, we seem to teach that God is silent simply because there are no new scriptural revelations. But scripture is not the only form of revelation.

One of the most oft-repeated verses in the Qur’an is:

Behold, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards [one’s] fellow man; and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, as well as envy; (16:90)

The language of this verse is expansive. There is no one definition of “justice” or “generosity” or “good” that captures the scope of the words. Why do we believe that God, in choosing such deliberately expansive language, would constrain it to how some human might understand it hundreds of years ago?

Why do we feel bound to tradition when the Qur’an explicitly criticizes those who follow something just because it has alway been so.

But when they are told, “Follow what God has bestowed from on high,” some answer, “Nay, we shall follow [only] that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing.” Why, even if their forefathers did not use their reason at all, and were devoid of all guidance? (2:170)

The command is to follow what God has explicitly bestowed, not what people have understood was bestowed. God is no less capable of being as specific as those who interpreted God’s words. When God is not specific it is for a deliberate reason.

If we choose to confine the expansive language of the Qur’an in a particular human’s understanding, then our allegiance isn’t to the living God because the living God isn’t constrained by time. Only a dead god would be.

When we choose the past over the present, our allegiance turns from God to men. They have become our god. How do we know this? By simply asking the question: would any of the religious scholars who laid down rules thousands of years ago – if they were alive today – turn to their 1000-year-old writings to figure out the meaning of the Qur’an?

Of course not. They would re-read God’s words and use all the information we have today to arrive at what they believe is God’s will.

If we believe in an active, living, omniscient God, then all the information we have today is the same information God knew when the text was revealed. And all the information we have today is also a product of God’s will. How rational is it to ignore any of the information God has made available to us with the passing of time?

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During one of the Supreme Court case involving gay rights, Judge Scalia wondered when excluding homosexuals from marriage became unconstitutional. His point was that when the 14th amendment was ratified, we know for sure that the people who ratified it had no intention of legalizing homosexual sodomy or same-gender marriage.

So which year did the 14th amendment expand to now encompass homosexuals?

The question itself is a red herring. It presumes a very constrained meaning for words that cannot be so constrained. The amendment requires “equal protection”. The meaning of equal doesn’t change over time. Our understanding of what is equal may change.

I find Scalia’s question reasonable in the context of a constitution written by men, but I have a serious problem when we want to apply the same logic to a text we claim it is written by God.

With a human written document, the intentions are necessarily limited by a human’s very small scope of knowledge.

For God, the intention is timeless because God knew then what we know now, and God intends for us to use as much knowledge as God chooses to give us. If we want to claim God is alive, active and omniscient, then the text God wrote must be interpreted as if its author is present.

If conservative religious scholars believe that sacred texts have a fixed meaning, then they are necessarily presuming God is “dead”, and they are the ones pulling the trigger.

Reference

Suggested Reading

The Holy Quran Does Not Exhaust Any Subject in Any One Chapter

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Categories: Highlight, Islam, Qur'an, Quran, The Muslim Times

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19 replies

  1. Quoting Sir Zafrullah Khan about the Holy Quran

    It is this comprehensiveness of the Quran, the need to make provision for guidance in every respect for all peoples for all time, that made it necessary that the guidance should be conveyed in verbal revelation. The Quran is literally the Word of God and possesses the quality of being alive, as the universe is alive. It is not possible to set forth at any time the whole meaning and interpretation of the Quran or, indeed, of any portion of it with finality. It yields new truths and fresh guidance in every age and at every level. It is a standing and perpetual miracle (18:110).

    The world is dynamic and so is the Quran. Indeed, so dynamic is the Quran that it has always been found to keep ahead of the world and never to lag behind it. However fast the pace at which the pattern of human life may change and progress, the Quran always yields, and will go on yielding, the needed guidance in advance. This has now been demonstrated through more than thirteen centuries, and that is a guarantee that it will continue to be demonstrated through the ages.

    The Quran has proclaimed that falsehood will never overtake it. All research into the past and every discovery and invention in the future will affirm its truth (41:43). The Quran speaks at every level; it seeks to reach every type of understanding, through 142 parables, similitudes, arguments, reasoning, the observation and study of the phenomena of nature, and the natural, moral, and spiritual laws (18:55; 39:28; 59:22).

    Read the rest of his chapter on the Holy Quran

    • The idea of God being alive, is based on it being written by people who were psychologically convinced via the early Christians, that there was a god, this having been picked up by ear from the deciples of Jesus.

  2. Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency and manifest evil and transgression. He admonishes you that you may take heed.’ (16:91)

    As human knowledge is not complete and is based on limited experience, such warnings and advice are neither complete nor pre-emptive. Nonetheless, those who heed such warnings and advice remain relatively safe and do not suffer.

    The Messiah of this age, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, writes:The remarkable material progress of the current age has been more than counterbalanced by its deplorable spiritual decline, to the extent that the souls of men have lost their ability even to grasp obvious truths. It is apparent from a close study of humanity that a hidden and formidable force is pulling it downwards, and man is swiftly being dragged into a pit which is termed Asfalus Safilin (the lowest of the low). Such a complete change has come over the intellects of men that they have come to admire and praise things which are abhorrent and detestable to the spiritual eye. Pure truths are laughed at and ridiculed, and complete submission to God is looked upon as an absurdity. (How to be free from sin)

    Unlike secular society, religious society looks towards sacred scriptures and traditions to prevent moral degradation. However, all religions are either silent or inadequate on this subject, except Islam. No other religion claims to be complete and universal, except Islam. It is only Islam that claims to provide perfect guidance for all human needs: physical, moral and spiritual. It is only Islam that addresses the root cause of moral decline in profound ways and provides a panacea to the believers for the cure of this fatal disease when it proclaims:

    We gradually reveal understanding of the Qur’an which is a healing and a mercy to the believers…. (17:83)

    Islam purports to prevent moral degradation, then present a specific framework in which Islamic Philosophy and Teachings can be applied to prevent moral decline, and finally some simple Islamic tips we can use on a daily basis to save ourselves and others from moral degradation.
    Compassion and sympathy with humanity is a great form of worship and is a tremendous source to gain pleasure of Allah the Exalted.’ Allah the Exalted states, be sympathetic to people regardless of faith and ethnicity. Feed the poor, free slaves, and relieve those in debt and support those under burdens and pay the dues of true compassion with humanity.’

    Islam relies heavily on the system of reminders because humans are forgetful by nature.

  3. I think the question begs to differ is that why is your conviction in your God so weak? If your conviction is non existent then how do you expect your God to do any thing for you. Well you have no faith in God and your God has no Power since you don’t really believe in him. But if you believe in a living omnipotent omniscient Allpowerful God, them he will have the power to help humanity. God leaves those who leave him and appears to those who make their conviction in him strong. So religion is not to blame.

  4. I would like to add to the conversation with a quote from the book “Our God” by Mirza Bashir Ahmad:
    All religions in the world are originated from God . Though some teachings of these religions have been interpolated and corrupted, they were originally based on divine revelation.
    Remember, the material, intellectual, practical, moral and spiritual progress that you witness today is entirely dependent on the fact that the world is governed by laws. Take away this law and the door of all progress would be instantly closed. Human brain would be turned into a motionless stone. Man—the best of creations—would find his status in an instant fall below the lowest creatures. Do not consider these laws to be barriers, for they act like wings which the Creator of the universe has bestowed upon us so that we may scale the heights of knowledge and virtue. These laws are the suns of guidance which your Gracious Lord has raised to show you the way to progress.

  5. Of course all Muslims pray to a ‘Living God’. The idea that God is supposed to be dead must have come from some other religion, or rather ‘non’religion’.

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