Thursday, January 24, 2008

Who cares about a Big Mac?

I take pride in the fact that I've never in my life eaten a "Big Mac." Not once. Nor do I have any intention to. Nor do I even know what comes on it! And I don't care. But the primary religious code as it were of this country is the 10 Commandments. I did grow up learning about religion and even though I'm not a Christian anymore (and have never been Jewish), I do think it's relevant to know the 10 Commandments and I do know them.

But I remember watching some news channel recently polling people on the street to see if they knew these--and overwhelmingly the Big Mac won. In fact, most people couldn't even name 4 or 5 of the commandments while they were able to name all 7 ingredients of the Big Mac. There was a survey done of about 1000 Americans prompting the street poll... the street poll which confirmed the results of the survey really.

But what's interesting is that even among people who claimed to attend church weekly couldn't even name them. (I say claimed because they seemed to not remember that prohibition of lying was one of them...) They would say "There's a lot of thou shalt not" (they grew up with the KJV I presume) and "Uh... don't kill?" This was several months ago and if you google "Big Mac 10 Commandments" you'll probably find plenty of stories on it.

I brought it up a few weeks ago to my dad while he was trying to convert me back to Christianity. He put himself in the category of people who know the Big Mac but not the 10 Commandments. I found that strange... very strange... I know my dad doesn't go to church often but he does read his Bible and is very strongly Christian, so I was surprised.

As I recall, many "conservatives" were in quite an uproar about having the Ten Commandments pulled from a judicial building not long ago. Why the fuss? Clearly they aren't important to Americans... not important enough to even know them!

Last night I was watching Bill Maher and poking fun at the Bible was a happy topic of his. He was saying first that many Christians don't even seem to know these (and if you don't know them how can you follow them I wonder?) and then saying that some of them were "stupid."

According to him, not making idols and swearing are "stupid" rules while only things like "don't murder" are important. Someone else mentioned to me recently that he wasn't sure why shirk was such a grievous sin in Islam but because he understood the reward for monotheism, he just accepted it. That made me think about the rights Allah has over us--it seems natural to me alhamdulillah.

And Allah has brought you out from the wombs of your mothers while you know nothing. And He gave you hearing, sight and hearts that you might give thanks (to Allah)." [16:78]

We ask not of you a provision. We provide it for you. And the good end is for the Muttaqeen (the ones who fear Allah)." [20:132]

Allah created us and sustains us--the greatest blessing, really. He forgives us when we mess up and has such mercy on us that we can never repay, and from that perspective I start to understand the magnitude of denying Allah. Shirk is to associate something with Allah--something else that created us perhaps, or something else that sustains us. Imagine a child saying to his mother while suckling at the breast, "I feed myself and do not need you to hold me and nourish me." Of course it wouldn't happen but just think about the image... the mother could just let go, but she doesn't. Allah nourishes us and sustains us. Those first two commandments sort of sum it up--violating them would be associating something with Allah, denying His right over us.

May Allah protect us from shirk and make us among the muttaqeen.


alajnabiya said...

Assalaamu 'alaikum,

I am a bit shame-faced to say that I only got 6/10 on the commandments, but I am pretty sure that I got all the Big Mac ingredients. In my defense, it's been almost 30 years since I attended a church service, except my sister's wedding. I think one of the reasons that so many people got the Big Mac ingredients right was that there used to be a commercial that sang them. Constant repetition will get anything stuck in your head. Maybe that was a bit before your time? Or do they still use it?

I have missed your posts, have you been having exams?

Anonymous said...

It is precisely because it was a song in a commercial that we know the ingredients in the Big Mac.

Now how about this:
Ask a person if such and such is one of the 10 commandments and I'm guessing that they would get every one correct without much thought. But if you were to ask them if such and such is on a Big Mac they would probably have to think about it or go through the song. The results of that test would mean something.

There's a definite difference in not being able to think of something when asked to recite yet you know it because you LIVE it without even thinking it. In other words you do something because it is so ingrained in you to not steal, not lie, not kill. Not because it is one of the 10 written rules that you have memorized in the exact order that they were written but because it is who you are and who you were raised to be.

I bet there are a lot of people that have never had one but can sing the song of the ingredients. Do you credit your parents, as you should, for your ability to take pride in the fact that you've never had a Big Mac in your life and couldn't tell someone what was on it?

Amy said...

Al-Ajnabiya--Wa alaikum as-salaam;

There is a song but the thing is... I'm 24 right? The song ran in the 70's for about a year and I don't know the song. I think I might have heard it once or twice but never committed it to memory. So perhaps it was before my time. :-) If someone asked me what was on one I would just say "special sauce" and that'd be it.

I did have exams back in December, family drama, doctor drama, then school starting again. Just different kinds of busy and disinterest so I wasn't blogging much... or any at all.

Amy said...

To Anonymous--

Maybe someone should make up a song for the 10 Commandments then? I mean, I'm sure most Muslims can tell you off-hand the 5 pillars of Islam and the 6 pillars of Iman without much trouble--that's 11 things.

I'm also not so confident that people would be able to say yes/no about some of the commandments without guessing. Ultimately what I was trying to get at though is that the really important commandments come first and really people tend to not pay attention to them.

But the order of the commandments--I mean, I can't always remember the order. And I didn't memorize them in order either. But when out of 10 things most people can't come up with more than 3 or 4, that's pretty pitiful.

I don't think I know them now because of how I was raised but because I thought it relevant. If I were a betting person I'd wager that nobody else in my family could name them all--I would've thought my dad could but even he couldn't so...

And I really don't credit my parents for the fact I've never had a Big Mac, because it's merely out of personal preference, not for lack of opportunity, that I haven't had one. There was no teaching it was unhealthy, would be no criticism for eating it, and in fact others in my family have. Just personal preference.

But, I will credit my parents for this: I was in Awanas for years growing up and memorized tons of Bible verses--that has become very helpful to me as I've grown older. I memorized them young so they stuck and I can still remember them if I want, when talking to Christians or Muslims about Christianity. That comes in very handy. They tried to give all of their kids a good religious foundation and I credit them for that. :-) I made a plaque when I was younger (8 or 9 maybe) with the 10 commandments written in it that was hung in our home for a while when I was growing up. I'd never say it wasn't important to them.

No need for you to be so prickly about this though. I'm guessing you're just embarrassed you couldn't name them all either. It's ok.

alajnabiya said...

Hmmm.. I think they used that song in the commercials for the entire 70's, not just a year. Definitely drummed in my head with a lot of other useless stuff. I can remember all the words to the Christmas carols, show tunes and patriotic songs we sang in grade school, but I struggle to learn each small surah.

I think anonymous is correct about being able to recognize all the commandments. I am sure I would have got them all that way.

Amy said...

There is a saying that learning something as a child is like writing in stone, but learning when you are older is like writing in water.

I used to have a professor who would say that if he wanted to learn something new he would have to forget something old to fit it in because his brain or memory was saturated...

I wish I could choose things to forget and then remember other things instead. I wish, I wish. :-)

Anonymous said...

Good post Amy. It is a sad state of affairs. Unfortunately Christianity in America has taken a strange turn. It is a shadow of what Christianity used to be. I saw part of a movie called Jesus camp and man that was out there. However having said that the two most important commandments to a Christian is 'Love the Lord your God and treat others as you would want to be treated'. I must admit I like Big Macs and know the ingredients but I also know the ten commandments. :)

God Bless,


Amy said...

Jon, why do you think "Christianity has taken a strange turn?"

Anonymous said...

I think the message has been lost to a certain extent. If someone doesn't like a teaching they open their own church. The meaning gets lost. You now have Christianity splitting in three distinct ways. You have the Bible Belt, The liberal Christians, and traditionalist. Where as the Bible Belt used to have some sort of accountability they are now going into strange theologies. You have the liberal Christians who allow gay marriage and the like. The Traditionalist would be Catholics and Greek Orthodox. A lot of Mainstream religions such as Episcopal are turning to the Catholic Church. Just as Islam has The Quran plus the hadith Catholicism has Scripture plus tradition. I think this is important to keep. The Bible itself is not a book you want to learn spiritually by yourself. I think a lot of "Christians" use the Bible to define their own beliefs rather than God's. This is why you have such a split in America. I always try to say to some of these folks that you wouldn't give an algebra book to a first grader and say good luck I hope the holy spirit is with you. I think it is very dangerous and drives away good intentioned people from what Christianity really means.

God Bless,

Amy said...

I think a lot of "Christians" use the Bible to define their own beliefs rather than God's.
Absolutely!! But not just Christians, really. I mean, Jews do that as well. Muslims do similar things with their literature. It's kind of a pick and choose mentality. How many Christians don't read the Bible, they just read what the pastor reads in the service or maybe even follow along in a devotional, or read passages for Bible study. They don't read it comprehensively, so it's almost (to me) like they aren't reading it as scripture. It's not all relevant. (This bothers me about Christians, but I want you to know it has nothing to do with why I left Christianity.)

I always try to say to some of these folks that you wouldn't give an algebra book to a first grader and say good luck I hope the holy spirit is with you. Right. I tend to agree with you about keeping the tradition of understanding. I mean, the Bible was kept in Latin for a long time instead of the vernacular because the idea was that you had to have some sort of understanding before you could approach the Bible. And for Muslims too, there's something similar. But I think anyone can and should read the Qur'an. They shouldn't try to INTERPRET the Qur'an, however, as many "Christians" do with the Bible to have it define their beliefs rather than the opposite.

As a Muslim, I've decided to base my beliefs on the Qur'an. I do believe it is from God--and we can call that my premise. I haven't sat around under a tree and just arrived at the conclusions given in the Qur'an, independently. I read what it says, and I believe it is from God, so I believe the content therein. In fact, even if I have trouble understanding it I still believe it is from God and that the discrepancy is on my own part.

There are a number of ways that Catholicism bears more similarities to Islam even than Protestantism, and without a hierarchy in Islam there is still a respect for traditional scholars and their interpretation. Although, in the Islamic sense it has much to do with their nearness to the Prophet (saws) and the superiority of that interpretation to later ones.