That beautiful if rather obvious propaganda image comes from the International Campaign for Tibet and is linked to a story about the photograph, but that is not my main concern today. Instead I want to draw your attention to the rainbow itself. There is of course a significance tied to the Abrahamic tradition’s flood stories, but that is not so much my concern either. Look at the rainbow. Do you see continuum or division? In point of fact there is only continuum; the colours we separate and name are arbitrarily separated by language itself; anyone with even a little knowledge of a number of languages knows this is so. Mandarin, for example, renders the blue-green part of the spectrum quite differently from English.
Now of course some kind of classification/division is inevitable as we could not practise science or indeed engage in everyday life and thought without it. It could be said that without schemata of various kinds we would go quite mad. But our schemata also have the power to drive us mad, or at least to separate us from the way things really are; the more wedded we are to them the crazier, and the more dangerous, we are liable to become.
I take the rainbow to be a metaphor, if you will, of the mind of God. The implications are quite heretical in the Abrahamic tradition; Neale Donald Walsch in What God Wants is just one of the more recent advocates of the heresy. While his art of simplification and prophetic tone do tend to make me cringe, I find his heresy healthy deep down; healthier far than the traditional alternatives.
Just the latest manifestation of the alternative is in today’s Australian: Imams condemn Islamic teacher.
ANGRY Muslim groups have attacked the University of Western Sydney over an Islamic studies course they claim is too sexually explicit, promotes lesbianism and derides the Koran as misogynistic.
Students, community members and the Australian National Imams Council have complained about the content of the course, Women in Arabic and Islamic Literature, being taught at the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies. They say it gives a negative view of women in Islam.
The imams council has circulated a petition recording its “deep concern with regards to the course structure and content”, saying it involved “repeated and unjustified attacks upon Islam”.
Another group, Muslims for Peace, has branded the centre as “evil” and demanded lecturer Samar Habib be dismissed and the course abolished.
“Now that its wicked nature should be crystal clear for all to see, Muslims should fear Almighty Allah and break all connections with this diabolical centre of Kufr (non-believers),” a bulletin on the Muslims for Peace website reads.
Dr Habib has declined to comment. UWS executive dean of the College of Arts Wayne McKenna said that, although the university was yet to receive a direct complaint, it was examining the content of the course…
University of Melbourne’s Sultan of Oman professor of Arab and Islamic studies, Abdullah Saeed, said concerns about the course had been raised at the centre’s community consultative committee meeting this week.
“Everyone has a right to express their opinion and views and that is what is happening,” Professor Saeed said.
“One of the essential things is to uphold academic freedoms and intellectual freedoms of students and the staff.”
I feel for Abdullah Saeed; he is a good man. I must also observe that the “Muslims for Peace” mentioned in the report (and I have linked to it) is merely an Australian blog, and NOT this site or this site. It would have been helpful if the Australian had also noted that.
At the same time, we do see encapsulated there the problem of Abrahamic religion: it has been founded on an us/them tradition that goes way back to its origins, and it attributes that style of thought to God *himself. (*Gender there is language-generated, not a reflection of the nature of God.) Eastern religions, in the main, have not made such divisions.
A corollary of the heresy I am advocating is, inevitably, that however God may have manifested *himself, it has not been through texts that are infallible and unconditioned by history and culture. That division of texts is itself a cultural and linguistic creation at heart, and a power relationship thing as well. This is not to say that God has not manifested *himself.
We westerners get a double whammy because so much of our philosophical tradition has also been in the binary either/or mode; we have been great at dividing rainbows. Even atheist/theist is such a binary and attempts to soften that binary, while commendable, simply keep on dividing the rainbow.
In these deep waters I will leave you for now…
In talking about that story in The Australian I did not make clear that there were levels of complaint about the UWS course from elements of the Muslim community; the blog represents the most extreme reaction; the Council of Imams and others seem to me to have been less extreme, in that they were in the “normal” range of conservative religious groups confronted by a feminist or postmodern critique of their tradition; given a different context it would not be surprising to get complaints of a similar nature from Cardinal Pell or the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney. In fact I can very clearly remember earlier Archbishops of Sydney making very similar complaints about courses at Sydney University — in the 1960s! That is not to say I would want the UWS course changed; after all, no-one actually has to do it…
UPDATE Sunday 4 May 2008