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Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Tuesday Book Discussion: The Faith Club

Ranya, Priscilla and Suzanne -- three women, three faiths, taking off the politically correct gloves and getting real -- respectfully and in the context of friendship, yet holding no punches.

Ranya struggles with feeling left out and even banished (referencing the Judeo-Christian interpretation of the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar & Ishamel,as well as personal experience) from the monotheistic club/conversation, as well as the more conservative expressions of Islam. She pleas for a recognized Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition, instead of just a Judeo-Christian tradition.

Priscilla struggles with intense identification and fear related to the Holocaust and doubts about the existence of God, as well as with how to stand up for Palestinian rights within Jewish community.

Suzanne struggles with how she is perceived as a member of the majority faith as well with her own (previously unconscious) stereotypes and sense of spiritual superiority.

Together, three women come to recognize how sacred scriptures of all faith traditions are used at times in ways that engender intimacy with God and mutual appreciation of neighbor, and at other times in ways the foster a sense of one "people" being superior, endowed with the right to even commit violence in the name of God, or a promise of God found in the scriptures or taught by religious leaders. Priscilla finds God, Ranya finds validation and Suzanne embraces more ambiguity, along with a new sense of sisterhood with Ranya and Priscilla.

After Suzanne admits that she was uncomfortable being mistaken for a Jew, a lively, honest discussion of stereotypes ensues (chapter 5) and Priscilla pushes Suzanne to explore her stereotypes of Jewish people.

Suzanne: "Alright, I sighed. "I guess it's someone who is pushy. And, well, someone who cares very much about money. And then there's the Woody Allen neuroticism."

Priscilla: "Suzanne, two out of those three things justified the Holocaust...You know whenever there's a scandal on Wall Street, we Jews say, please God, don't let it be a Jew! We're paranoid about the stereotype of Jews obsessed with accumulating money."

Suzanne: "Do you think that stereotype is a vestige of the Jewish struggle against persecution?" I wondered. "Wealth and Education are two ways to ensure survival when you're being persecuted."

Priscilla: "Could be," Priscilla said wit ha shrug.

1) Imagine a stereotype you have of a group of people who live in your community. Lift it up to God and open yourself to new understandings. If continue to feel there is a grain of truth in a generalization (positive or negative) about a group of people, what factors, such as pain, fear or persecution might have given rise to certain patterns as a survival mechanism?

Ranya states, "I think Muslims and Arabs are now the only groups in our society about whom other people think they can make racial slurs and jokes without being labeled racists."

2) How does America's fear of the militant forms of Islam impact our ability to treat Muslim people with honor and care?

3) What might Jewish and Muslim people look to in Christian scriptures, and in the words of Christian leaders that might make them afraid that Christianity is a violent religion?

4) How do you feel (viscerally/emotionally/physically/mentally) when in the presence of a Jewish or Muslim person? How do you feel about your own feelings?

5. Ranya describes some of the positive contributions of the Muslim people to western culture: Preserving the classics, discovering/creating algebra, inventing the maps used by Christopher Columbus to find America. Are these facts new to you?

Priscilla describes her impression of Christians: "I think of Christians as good people, but we don't need the propaganda."

6)What does she mean? Have you ever found yourself engaging in "Christian propaganda"?

7)Is Christian Propaganda different from evangelism or sharing the Good News?

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posted by Jemila Kwon at 9:12 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 9/11/2007 10:54:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I haven't read the book, although it is on my list. But I figured I'd comment anyway...

    1) I need to think on this one.

    2) I think we can be afraid to form relationships based on fear or our own stereotypes. My uncle told me when I married my husband, who is Mexican, that I need to make a point of having other friends with a hispanic heritage so that when I get angry or frustrated with him, I don't make general stereotypes that are inaccurate. I thought it was silly at the time, but I think that philosophy could come in handy.

    3) Well, the OT is full of violent language, and much of it against the enemies of the Israelites. Regarding Christian leaders today, I think many of us Christians have taken on the militaristic jargon of our culture.

    4) There are several Muslim families at my son's school. I don't know any of these parents closely, but have had frequent contact with most and have really enjoyed our interactions.

    5) I knew about Algebra, but not the rest.

    6) Not having read the book, I picture propoganda as Christian TV type stuff. It could also be the emphasis from some in Christianity on certain issues, to the point of exclusion of others. And, yes, I have been a part of that in the past. Ouch.

    7) Hmmm...Yes, I think they're different, but I also have a different ideas on what evangelism and spreading the Good News means these days.

  • At 9/12/2007 09:36:00 AM, Blogger Dianne

    No answers to the questions but am putting it on my list and will follow the conversation here as well.

  • At 9/12/2007 10:10:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    So I'm not addressing the questions directly here, but this issue of stereotypes really bugged me in the book. Each of these women seemed so angry when anything they thought was a stereotype of their religion was brought up. But my issue was was that most of those stereotypes were true when applied to the more fundamentalist/conservative branches of the faith. So the issue is not that they are false, but that they do not apply to everyone.

    I understand the struggle to convince people that there are different ways to be a Christian, but I don't deny that the extremes of fundamentalism exist. I found that in this book the women did more to deny the extremes than show how they were different from those extremes. It felt like the women (who represent the liberal almost nominal sides of their respective faiths) thought that the fundamentalists were not real members of their faith (which is what I am sure the fundamentalists thought about them).

    I know that there are harmful and negative stereotypes, but if they have some basis in truth would it not be better to help change things instead of denying that there are problems?

  • At 9/12/2007 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I hear you Julie -- I think our culture tends to emphasize being PC and ultra sensitive to the point of making honest conversation impossible. However, I think Ranya really did own that all the scriptures of the major world religions have the seeds within them to justify violent interpretation by extreme members of that religion. And she called out Priscilla and Suzanne to acknowledge that as well. I think Suzanne and Priscilla began to acknowledge the complexity of stereotypes and scriptures and religious interpretation within and outside of their traditions, but I don't think they want far enough.

    In my question about what factors cause certain groups to develop general characteristics that apply in some measure to many, but not all people in that group, I was striving to get at a realistic approach of being able to be honest where generalizations/stereotypes may hold (some) water, without that becoming an excuse to demonize or write off a group of people.

    Because we can't positively change things if we can't honor the humanity of even extremists (within and beyond our tradition) and understand how they came to internalize characteristics that are survival mechanisms that ultimately hinder peace and prosperity for all people.

  • At 9/14/2007 09:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    This reminds me of growing up in Memphis where racial tensions are as thick as old honey. People really didn't deny that what they thought of people affected the way they treated them, rather, they justified the maltreatment of one another with their thinking.

    I think it's reflective and beneficial to take a moment and consider what we are thinking. There are always excuses, rationalizations, justifications, etc for actions.

    1) My community has many first and second generation Americans originally from Mexico. Especially in the grade schools, they boast many stereotypes and pit them against others. I think that the effort is made because they feel the opposite about themselves - else what need would there be for acting that way? Unfortunately, this often gets an aggressive counter response that perpetuates that need.

    2) Isn't this a given? If it isn't, why isn't it?

    3) I find that 'newspaper eschatology' generally pegs Muslims as the enemies which they believe that Jesus will fry later. It promotes hatred and fear and I can only imagine what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that.

    4) I feel like I would around anyone else.

    5) Yes, they are new. They do not impact my thinking however, since I never questioned that they contributed great things to this world like anyone else.

    6) No, not unless you count "Veggie Tales" :-)

    7) To me, they are extremely different. I'm not sure that other people distinguish that. I hear the "Left Behind" series being quoted as if it were the Word of God for example.

  • At 9/16/2007 11:23:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I just finished a book called "A Woman of Egypt," an autobiography of Jehan Sadat, wife of Muhammed Anwar el-Saddat, the third President of Egypt after the 1952 revolution.

    She has an interesting chapter on women in Egypt in which she addresses the interpretation differences in the Quran between moderates such as herself and the fundamentalists. She sees the Quran as liberating to women, especially when compared to the culture of that day. Whereas, the fundamentalists see it as very restrictive.

    It was very interesting to see Islam through her eyes.


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