Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

Enough with the 72 Virgins!

posted by dilshad d. ali

Barbara Walters really covered her ground in last night’s ABC special, “Heaven: Where is it? How Do We Get There?” She, in trademark Barbara fashion, grilled priests, imams, rabbis, Hollywood movie stars, the Dalai Lama, and regular folk who claimed to have had near-death experiences and saw heaven. I was eager to catch this remarkable special, and more specifically to see what my brothers in Islam had to say about heaven. I was especially interested in what Barbara would ask of the failed “Muslim” suicide bomber jailed in an Israeli prison.

Sadly, it was all about those darn 72 virgins.

A little background, if there’s even a remote chance you don’t know of this already: Ever since 9/11, when “Islamic” terrorists gained worldwide notoriety, all we hear about is this notion that suicide terrorists are pursuing some warped version of martyrdom for the promise of 72 virgins in paradise. (By the way–72 virgins? Not stated in the Qu’ran)

It seems–judging from Barbara’s line of questioning–that the promise of 72 virgins is the reason why suicide bombers and terrorists do what they do. But to me, it seems rather far-fetched that this, and not years of radical teachings coupled with a life devoid of a viable future, is what fuels so-called “Muslim” suicide terrorists. Multiple articles written about suicide bombers elicit the same type of information: That many misguided youth who become suicide bombers are indoctrinated by years of radical teachings coupled with a life of chaos, poverty, hate, and constant warfare such that the thought of achieving paradise for being a “martyr” is reason enough strap on the bombs. Are male youth promised 72 virgins? Probably. But is this the promise that gets them to choose a violent death? I doubt it.

I’m not surprised Barbara zeroed in on this tantalizing line of questioning when she sat down with the failed suicide bomber. For all I know she asked a lot of other thoughtful and provocative questions regarding his reasons for doing what he did and what he believes heaven will be like. But journalistic television specials such as this one aim at exploring topics that interest the public in a stimulating, interesting way. People want to know about those darn 72 virgins. And so that’s the part of the interview that made it on the air.

I am so thankful that Barbara turned to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of New York City for the counterpoint to this issue of the 72 virgins. He pointed out that 72 is the Arabic equivalent for a nonspecific number, like saying “hundreds and hundreds.” More importantly, he steered the discussion away from those virgins to the important topic of how these bombers who try to be martyrs are not doing what the Qu’ran says of martyrs.

I especially applaud the Imam’s gentle withdrawal from answering the question of whether the suicide bombers will go to heaven. How can I say who goes and who doesn’t? he asked. It’s a mixed up world where “one man’s terrorists is another man’s hero.” Why don’t we try to figure that one out instead of wasting any more time on 72 virgins.

Bill O’Reilly Takes the Christ Out of Christmas!

posted by

I vowed not to wade into the so-called “War on Christmas,” given that (a) the whole idea of Christmas being under attack seems absurd to me aside from the occasional–and often laughably ridiculous–excesses by some people, and (b) even as a traditional Jew who takes no part in any Christmas celebration, I have no problem being wished a “Merry Christmas” by strangers and only say “Happy Holidays” to others when I don’t know if they celebrate actually Christmas or not.

Despite my vow, I would be remiss in my duties as an Idol Chatterer if I didn’t mention a delicious quote from Fox news loudmouth Bill O’Reilly, whom The New Yorker, in a Talk of the Town piece, calls the Patton of the War on Christmas. Among several representative quotes from Gen. O’Reilly is this gem: “There is no reason on this earth that all of us cannot celebrate a public holiday devoted to generosity, peace, and love together!”

Um, er, I never went to Christmas Eve Mass and spent my impressionable childhood in Jewish schools, but I thought Christmas is not just about peace, love, and understanding, but also about the birth of Christ. If generosity and peace were all there was to it, you could sign me up, and I would swig eggnog and sing carols while downing my potato latkes and lighting my menorah.

But that would be a sad day for Christmas (not to mention my digestive system). This Jew has no desire to see the Christ taken out of Christmas any more than I want miracles and Maccabees taken out of Hanukkah. But in his rush to equate celebrating Christmas with being American, O’Reilly is guilty of doing just that. So for the sake of all the good Christians in America, I beg you, sir: Please put Christ back in Christmas, and don’t try to make it a universal holiday that we can all supposedly join in on.

The Most Famous Christian?

posted by burb

As Time magazine’s “Persons of the Year” edition was hitting newsstands Sunday night, Bono, one of this year’s honorees (along with Bill and Melinda Gates) was on stage in Charlotte, North Carolina, wearing a headband reading “COEXIST” spelled out with the Muslim crescent, Jewish Star of David, Christian cross, and other religious symbols, according to a story in Charlotte News and Observer entitled “Our Minister of Music.”

“Coexist: what a beautiful, simple thought, and it’s getting harder to hold onto,” Bono reportedly said, adding a prayer “that we do not become a monster in order to defeat a monster.”

Bono, considered the world’s most famous rock star, is now perhaps the world’s most famous lay Christian, and could probably give Billy Graham and the pope–what’s the new guy’s name?–a run for most-famous Christian, period. Bono is on record doubting his own faith, and his activism has come with critiques of organized Christianity. But increasingly his statements about religion endorse Christian theology and practice (see this interview from a recent book in which he says he feels closer than ever to Roman Catholicism and sees grace moving in the world more than karma). His emergence as a religious figure comes to the chagrin of secular folks who love his music but can do without his preaching (see the concert review above), and to church folks who see his criticisms of the church as shallow, not to mention leftist.

Bono’s most pointed critique of American religion, at any rate, is not anything he has said against the Religious Right, but precisely in how he talks to, and has won over, both Blue and Red America. Hours before his Charlotte concert, he visited Jesse Helms, the conservative former North Carolina senator, whom Bono credits with getting AIDS drugs to half a million Africans. “He is doing marvelous things,” Dot Helms, the senator’s wife, told the News and Observer. “He is an exceedingly smart man and also a deeply committed Christian.”

Kelly Clarkson’s Jesus Juice

posted by ellen leventry

Biblical exegesis meets the Billboard Hot 100 in the January/February issue of Blender magazine. Kelly Clarkson–Blender’s Woman of the Year, winner of the first “American Idol,” and singer of the ubiquitous and insidiously infectious “Since U Been Gone”–considers herself a Christian, but is no “holy roller,” notes Blender. Having a couple of drinks at an after-concert party she says, “I don’t sweat it. Jesus drank. It came straight from the Bible that he had a glass of wine. Actually, I don’t know if it says he actually drank it, but whatever.”

After all, the Bible is a little bit ambiguous about Jesus’ highly-debated drinking habits, though he does say to his Disciples at the Last Supper, “Drink this in rememberance of me, or whatever.”

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