February 04, 2008

Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 2/4/08
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Afghanistan Without A Clue

Here’s another episode of Hamid and Doug Ponder the Universe. My little story has no real bearing on either the origins of the Qur’an or the resurrection of Jesus. It has a great deal to do with the nature of faith and evidence. I hesitate to share this because some Christian will assume I am trying to prove there was no resurrection (I am not), or some Muslim will become irate because I misrepresent Islam (I do not; I merely relate, verbatim, what Hamid told me, accurate or not). With that little caveat, let us proceed.

One thing that strikes me (with a great deal of force) about the Afghans I’ve met is their absolute certainty that Islam is true and the Qur’an has the answer to all of life’s problems. The notion that Islam isn’t true, or might not be true, never crosses their minds. Of course, this only applies to the ones I’ve discussed religion with, but I think it represents the majority of people over here. You are either a believer or you have deliberately chosen to reject God. The concept of being undecided or an agnostic is hard for them to grasp. This conversation will help illustrate what I mean.

Hamid and I were discussing holy books. He finds the notion of multiple religions fascinating, and always asks if the religion we are discussing has a holy book.

“Sir,” he commented, “you know that the Qur’an wrote itself. This is what the Prophet said.”

“Hamid, as I mentioned before, you weren’t there, and neither was anyone else alive today. If you want to believe that the Qur’an wrote itself, you have to take it on faith.”

“Fate?” he asked.

"No, faith, F-A-I-T-H,” I said, spelling it out. Hamid often asks me to spell new words for him. He is a diligent student of English.

"What is this?” he asked.

“You’ve never heard of faith?” I responded in surprise.

“No, what is it?”

“Faith is when you believe something without any evidence. Most religions require you to believe things on faith. When you believe the Qur’an wrote itself, you believe that by faith.”

“But sir, the Prophet said it happened,” Hamid protested.

“Yes, but how do you know he said this?  Like I’ve said to you before, you weren’t there, so you don’t know exactly what he may have written or said. You don’t have the original Qur’an, just like we don’t have the original scriptures that make up the Bible. People believe these are God’s word based on faith.”

“You make another good point. I don’t know if we have the original Qur’an or not.”

This conversation occurred shortly after Easter, so Hamid asked about the holiday.

“The Major was telling me about your Prophet, Yeesus (this is how he pronounces it).”

“You mean Jesus?” I corrected.

“Yes. He told me that 500 people saw him after he was resurrected,” said Hamid.

“Yes, that’s was written by the apostle Paul, one of the main leaders of Christianity. However, even that still requires faith. Let me tell you a story, to show you what I mean. Suppose I told you that last night, right here at Camp Phoenix, I caught a giant purple lizard that ate rocks.” I held my hands about three feet apart to show how big my purple lizard was. “Not only that, it could fly! Would you believe me?”

Hamid got that bemused look on his face that he gets when I start making him think too hard. He laughed. “No, I would need to see it myself. Would you believe me if I told you this?”

I smiled. “Very good. I would need to see it too. But what if I said that 500 people here at Camp Phoenix also saw the lizard? Would you believe me then?”

He paused, looked closely at me, and replied, “No. I would need to see it.”

I feigned indignation.  “But 500 people saw it!  Don’t you believe me?”

“No, I would want to see it.”

“That’s good, but can’t you find another flaw in my story? Can’t you think of another question to ask?”

He shook his head.  “No, I’m not sure what you are asking.”

“I told you 500 people had seen this lizard. You think it’s a pretty crazy story. Wouldn’t you want to talk to these 500 people?”

“Yes, that would be good,” he conceded.

“But what if I couldn’t tell you the names of any of them, and you couldn’t speak to any of them?  What would you think?”

At this point Hamid was lost, so I stopped.

Hamid, here’s my point. Paul wrote that 500 people saw Jesus after he rose from the dead. This may be true, but he did not give the names of any of these people. So 500 people with no names, and no way to talk to them, proves nothing. I always hated it in church when this was used as a proof of the resurrection, because logically it isn’t. But it’s not the sort of question you would ask in church. The same is true with your view of the Qur’an. You believe the Qur’an wrote itself. This may be true. But you have no evidence of this. You must believe it based on faith. Do you understand what I’m saying? Just because I say 500 people saw a giant purple, rock-eating, flying lizard doesn’t make it true, does it?”

“Oh, sir, you have such tough questions. I have never heard things like this.”

At this point I had mercy on Hamid and we moved on to other topics. But despite his protestations, he always came back for more. Maybe one day we can meet again here, and he and I can sit on my back porch discussing the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.


What a great blog! Love it!

I had a similar conversation with a minister that has been invading my family's privacy and trying to convert us.

I asked him to provide proof of God's existence and he quoted the five hundred witnesses story.

I asked him to point to one of their writings or their names, etc.

He said my response was 'trite.'

I hope you responded, clr, that a great many scriptures could now be considered "trite" as well. (And no, I'm not against Christianity in the slightest.)

Thanks for the Hamid posts, Capt. Traversa. Every one makes me look at life a little differently.

How dare you doubt the one truth!

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the ultimate truth in the universe. It is the central point of worship in the religion commonly known as Flying Spaghetti Monsterism or Pastafarianism, according to which it is The Creator and Overseer, watching our lives and our world, changing them as it sees fit, by use of his most holy noodly appendage.

Incredibly, this ancient religion was not well-known until its rediscovery in 2005 by graduate student Bobby Henderson. He shall live on forever in the afterlife next to the Beer Volcano. Due to this incredible rebirth, Flying Spaghetti Monsterism is now one of the world's most edible and fastest-growing religions.

I enjoyed reading your conversations with Hamid from your blog, I still remember the post where he asks about sex and you must play Dr. Ruth. You’re a diplomat for our people and it is these sorts of conversations that actually win hearts and minds.

Thank you for being reasonable, for your capacity to critically think about the BIG ideas we sometimes blindly follow -- for being a little light of logic. Many a thought-experiment exposes millenia old stories to a more thoughtful spectrum.

Its very interesting, seeing how people raised in other cultures have trouble understanding certain concepts.. That Hamid got confused with Faith, which he had so much of, was amazing! Very enlightening blog.

Although I don't know what he meant by "The Quran wrote itself." The Quran didn't come as a book, but as a series of revelations that were written down on scraps and compiled after the prophet had passed from these scraps and from the many who memorized the entire book, like those who still do today.

So yeah, one of the copies actually DOES exist to this day... in Istanbul, I think?

Hamid actually believed that the Qur'an wrote itself. He was later corrected by his Mullah when I asked him what he meant. Hamid had many odd ideas about Islam. He had never read the Qur'an, and would often go back to his Mullah and ask questions after one of our discussions. I was always surprised that he had never read any of the Qur'an, and when it was recited in the Mosque, it was always in Arabic. So I merely relate what Hamid said to me, understanding that it is his view, and in many cases it may be very different from traditional Islamic teachings.

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