Denison Journal of Religion, Vol. VII
"The Tower of Babel" by Laura Perrings
This essay refocuses the narrative of the tower of Babel to focus not on the division of languages or cultures, but rather on the relationship with god that this division reflected. Perrings notes that while the original unified language of humanity must have eased communication between people and can be seen, particularly in this day of cultural tension and violence, that this relationship was not pleasing to god. God is not only offended by the pride of the people, but is also concerned with their inattention to his rules and also their misunderstanding of their relationship with god. The focus that the people place on the building of their tower, Perrings claims, and do not on the next generations or their legacy is problematic in the eyes of a god who charged his people to "go forth and multiple." The future generations are less important than the personal accomplishments of the current, a indicator of a personal pride of which god disapproves. Furthermore, Perrings claims that the people build the tower in an attempt to get closer to god. This attempt to strengthen their relationship with god through finding closeness physically is a misinterpretation of how relationship with god works. The author concludes that this shows distaste for opening their heart to god, which is what obedience to god truly demands. Perhaps the most significant long term effect of this story is that god's guidance of the people in his division of them, leads god to choose a particular people to lead, the Israelites.
"The Tower of Babel: The Dispersion of God's People" by Stephanie Dixon
In this essay, Dixon reimagines the story of the tower of Babel by making God's dispersion of the people a reward instead of a punishment. While this story is often read as a sign of humanity's hubris and disobedience and God's punishment, this essay choose to see the narrative as evidence of God's pride in his people and his confidence in them to populate the earth. While the vast majority of the Genesis stories show very specific interactions between particular men and women and God, this story depicts a broader narrative. Perhaps while the other stories attempt to demonstrate the relationships that exist between the divine and humanity, this narrative's purpose is to explain the existence of many successful cultures. This is a story of humanity's creative success in their effort to build the tower, and God recognizing that creativity. In order for that success to replicate, God divides humanity, charges them to populate the world, and joyfully watches as the creativity blossoms in all corners of the earth. God offered a diversity of languages and human experiences to enable men and women to make the most of their creative potential.
"Desmond Tutu: A Theological Model for Justice in the Context of Apartheid" by Tracy Riggle
The power that religion can have over society today is undeniable. Riggle laments that our culture is plagued with strong memories of terrorist attacks, and fear of religious injustices based on gender and sexuality. Instead of giving up on religion's potential for positive influence, the author turns to an example of life-giving religion. Desmond Tutu, an Anglican Archbishop and South African political activist, demonstrates the continued existence of life-giving faith. Tutu, a man influenced by his Anglican religion, his African spirituality, and Apartheid, bases his theology on imago dei, the notion that humans are made in God's own image and inherently good. Tutu ties this notion to a life in community. He believes that because God loves all of us he also charges us to care for one another and to life peacefully in community. The strength of Tutu's convictions helped him not only to fight against the institution of apartheid, but also to ease the tensions after its destruction. In the rebuilding that occurred after apartheid came to an end the country was split between strictly persecuting and restricting those who committed crimes under apartheid, and giving them immediate amnesty. Tutu negotiated between these two sides to preserve community by creating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which asked for amnesty on the condition that all the details of crimes committed were made available for the public. This focus on confession and reconciliation instead of punishment allowed for the beginnings of forgiveness and the formation of a new community. Tutu's theology is profoundly life-giving and the effects of it can be seen in the experience of South Africa post-apartheid.
"Changes in Sufism in the American Context" by Patrick Hamilton
This article considers the ways in which Sufism has altered since entering the American context. While in Islamic countries, Sufism's atypical rituals and interpretations of the Qur'an often made it a target of mainstream Islam. Once Sufism arrived in the United States, however, it rapidly began to change as practitioners no longer had to consider the pressures of a largely Islamic community. This does not mean, however, that there is no pluralism within Sufism in the United States. While early generations of immigrant Sufis remain more strongly tied to a traditional Islamic heritage, many of the Euro-American converts claim no connection to Islam. In the U.S., Sufis have frequently altered many traditional rituals to embrace some kind of Western scientific thought. For instance, while dream interpretation has long been a spiritual matter in the Sufi faith, it now has strong overtones of psychotherapeutic thought. The author makes it clear that this development cannot be perceived as a value judgment. The changes that have occurred in Sufism since its arrival to America have neither improved nor destroyed the faith. Very simply, the American context is vastly different than the contexts in which Sufism initially developed, and this new context will continue to shape and reshape Sufism today.
"Literature, Christianity, and Empire" by Laura Perrings
Empires use all the weapons in their arsenal as it attempts to justify its actions. Literature has often been made a tool, but it also has a history of criticizing empire. In this essay, Perrings uses the example of the novella Oroonoko by Aphra Behn. This woman author of the 17th century uses a tale about an African prince sold into slavery in South America as a critique British Empire's dehumanization of native peoples, slaves, and women. The language that Behn uses over the course of work resonates with Christian metaphors. While religion was often used to legitimate empire, Behn uses her writings to criticize empire through a Christian lens. This attempt is most clear during the murder of Oroonoko, who shows control and refinement while the British brutally murder him. His execution reverberates with the language of Christ's crucifixion and in both instances the figures are accepting death as freedom from the bonds they previously experienced. This is a prime example of literature using Christianity to subvert the empire and recognize with respect those the empire so brutally oppresses.
"What Does Scripture Say About Homosexuality?: Ethical Questions for Christian Communities" by Emily Toler
This article seeks to articulate a close reading of the treatment of homosexuality in the bible in order to help Christians discern an appropriate reaction to homosexuality and homosexuals on a community level. First delving into the traditional verses used to condemn homosexuality like the story of the Sodomite, the Holiness Code in Leviticus, and Paul's letter to the Romans, the author finds that these passages frequently have competing interpretations. For example, the story of the Sodomites is often told as a condemnation of rape, violence, and inhospitableness, not homosexuality. The Holiness Code could be interpreted not only as a strict law against homosexuality, but disapproval of gender role confusion, or of an act against nature. Of course, the idea of homosexuality stems from the preconception that all people are heterosexual and some choose to engage in homosexual behavior. Modern psychology refutes this claim, and that makes it possible to have a more sympathetic reading of this passage. If it based on a fear of acting against nature, after all, then homosexuals should not be forced to act against their nature and engage in heterosexual activities. Furthermore, Paul's letter to the Romans, many believe, is really warning against idolatry and distraction from God. Scholars say that this could be true of any sexuality. The author concludes with two challenges to the Christian community. First, to look at the bible as a whole when considering the question of homosexuality, not just select passages that can be lifted from the message in its entirety and secondly, to act compassionately with the knowledge that the decision made will affect flesh and blood people, not just ideologies.