Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Biased Regents Exams Slam Christians, Laud Muslims

The New York Post yesterday brought to light a controversy involving readings on Muslims and Christians that portrayed Christians as bigoted and repressive and conversely lauded Muslims as tolerant and cosmopolitan. The readings are as follows.

"Concerning Muslims:

* “Wherever they went, the Moslems [sic] brought with them their love of art, beauty and learning. From about the eighth to the eleventh century, their culture was superior in many ways to that of western Christendom.

* “Some of the finest centers of Moslem life were established in Spain. In Cordova, the streets were solidly paved, while at the same time in Paris people waded ankle-deep in mud after a rain. Cordovan public lamps lighted roads for as far as ten miles; yet seven hundred years later there was still not a single public lamp in London!”

Concerning Christians:

* “Idols, temples and other material evidences of paganism destroyed.”

* “Christian buildings often constructed on sites of destroyed native temples in order to symbolize and emphasize the substitution of one religion by the other.”

* “Indians supplied construction labor without receiving payment.”

* “In a converted community, services and fiestas were regularly held in the church building.”

Source: Based on information from Charles Gibson, Spain in America"

The Board of Regents was slammed for displaying a bias against Christianity and deference to Muslims.Looking at the readings, there is not a single word of falsehood in them. There was indeed a time when Muslim Turkey and Egypt were havens for Jews fleeing Christian persecution. There were regular forced conversions to Christianity from other faiths, as well as burnings of the Talmud and of works by Christians deemed to be heretics.

Conversely, there was indeed a time when science and learning flourished in Muslim lands and in which a legal framework for some religious freedom existed.

There is a major problem with the Regents readings. Christianity has a 2000 year history and Islam has a 1400 year history. The sun of tolerance has risen and set many times in both faiths. Today, the politically dominant sects of Christianity do not force their faiths on non believers. Conversely, religious freedom is faring very badly in most of the Islamic world today. Religions other than Islam are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Christians are officially second class citizens in Egypt. The Christian population in the Arab world has been dwindling in the last 50 years because of institutionalized discrimination against non Muslims.

There was a time when Muslim lands were havens of refuge for Jews, and where Christians and Jews enjoyed a comfortable inequality. It should be noted that the Muslim world was not uniform in its attitude towards human rights. The family of Moshe ben Maimon, (Maimonides) had to flee one Muslim jurisdiction where they were forced to convert to Islam to Egypt, where Maimonides became a physician to the king.

There are sects of Christianity that died out because their adherents were murdered and their writings were burned. The followers of Arius, an early Christian leader who rejected trinitarianism were wiped out. Huguenots and Waldensians fared little better 1000 years later, although remnants of each sect survived the harsh persecutions.

Sunni and Shiite Muslims are famous for their persecutions of each other in areas where one has political or numerical dominance over the other . And who can forget the Ahmadiyya Muslims, who are outcasts in Pakistan and elsewhere?

The New York Board of Regents seems to have cherry picked centuries of Muslim and Christian history to present Muslims in a positive light and Christians in a negative light. Both Muslims and western secularists make of Christianity a common enemy.

An honest look at the history of the world's faiths that have achieved regional political dominance would show that there are periods of repression and of freedom in the history of each. Students of history would do well to find in each faith the textual and theological foundations of intolerance and of inclusiveness.

Additionally, external cultural, social, economic and political factors should be sought that cause believers to seek validation for either repressive or inclusive attitudes towards those who do not share their faith. If someone has a holy book with words of peace and words of war, what moves them to accentuate one verse over another? The Global History exam readings put together by the Board of Regents leaves many of these questions unasked.

It seems that there are parameters of discussion in American and European academia that are every bit as strict as any religion's articles of faith. It is tempting to label secular humanism as a new religion or at the very least a new political and social orthodoxy. Many would question whether secular humanism is a religion at all as much it is a sort of consensus. If indeed, secular humanism is a religion, they haven't invited me to their church or taught me their secret handshake. Since they don't believe in a hereafter, they can't threaten me with hell. But they can dock me points on the Regents Exam. I think I'm getting scared already. Sphere: Related Content

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