September 15, 2017

An interesting article on gathering issues in the Middle East and North Africa, and beyond.

www.mei.edu
Africa has become a new competing arena between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both states have turned their focus to the continent, developing ties with a number of African states on both economic and security issues

Was Jesus Just a Mythical Person?

From my correspondence with a graduate student friend, a Christian, who asked, Was Jesus a mythical hero rather than a real person? The idea seems to be expressed in some recent statements on television and on the web.

Hi J.

I am unimpressed that an archaeologist found an object with an image of someone on a cross and naked; that tells us nothing.  The Romans crucified thousands of people that way, so it was not necessarily Jesus.  I was surprised that the argument [that you mentioned] made no mention of the paucity of references to Jesus in the ancient secular sources, which is an argument I am familiar with.  I think the earliest mention of Jesus outside of the New testament and the works of the Church scholars is from Josephus and I looked up what he had to say.  He was writing in possibly AD 70-90, published his book in 93, in Rome.  I was struck by how much he actually said.

But even if there were no such publications about Jesus in the first century I don’t see how archaeology would establish one thing or another.  What they have clearly established is that there was a church in Palestine and that it gave central place to Jesus in their iconography.  If you argue that Jesus never existed then did Paul exist?  Did Luke Exist?  Eventually you have to discount the writings of the New Testament merely as religious fiction created many years later — and as you know there are people who argue that.  What they seem unwilling to think about is the power of the movement, which gained so much influence within a few decades that that the shrines in Asia Minor ceased to be visited by many people.  Also, the people who claim this simply disregard the NT writings.

Have you read the book by FF Bruce, The New Testament Documents; Are they reliable? This was the first work by Bruce, who had been an antiquities scholar before taking up the NT documents.  Also, anyone who reads the NT would have a hard time fitting the story into the narrative that the deniers would have to construct.  The NT story is that the movement began almost suddenly, a few weeks after Jesus was crucified, beginning only a few hundred feet from where he was supposed to have been buried, and it became a major social problem to Herod, who therefore executed James in order to satisfy the Jewish leaders [to say nothing of the Stephen event], and that the message that Jesus taught and healed many and then rose from the dead had spread all over the circum-Mediterranean within a few decades.

Recently we read through Acts; I have heard that the details of the shipwreck in Acts are considered useful in understanding the way ships were rigged, etc.  The New Testament works books were deliberately crafted in historical settings, meant to tell about actual events. I now am inclined to read Luke-Acts as some version of the brief that must have been presented to Caesar as part of the legal case for Paul; it ends, note, with Paul waiting for a decision.  Also, the last time I read Hebrews I was struck with how early it must have been written, given what it was teaching:  This is a teaching about the eternal status of Jesus written before 70 AD [when Jerusalem was destroyed]: the author had no idea that the sacrifices were no longer being practiced, a good sign he was writing before 70 AD. Such a concept of Jesus as the High God was being taught within the lifetimes of hundreds of people who could have seen Jesus face to face.

Something important, seems to me, is the power of the twelve as the crucial witnesses of Jesus. When you get my book [Walking Blind, And Other Essays about Biblical Texts], look at the chapter on the Twelve Jewish Men.  Their influence was crucial.  They provided a united statement of what Jesus did and taught including of course the resurrection; their role was crucial.  They produced the early written statements of what Jesus did, in opposition to the fanciful myths that surely were swirling all around Palestine (note the so-called NT apocrypha).  Their unity in affirming the early short statements about Jesus, the “Q”, were fundamental to what we know about Jesus [used by the writers of the Synoptic Gospels].  And then you note that virtually all of them, except John, suffered violent deaths claiming that their stories of Jesus, including the Resurrection, were actual events.  This is part of my argument [in Walking Blind] for the Resurrection in the chapter on why I believe.

Anyway, it seems to me that those who claim that Jesus never existed have much to explain that they don’t address. History is a field that is always contested, which is another sign of how wise it was the Jesus assigned twelve men — twelve! — to be his “witnesses”.  They had to agree on what the movement would claim.  They may seem to be invisible now, but they did a wonderful service in providing us with — actually authorizing — a set of texts that reflect their teaching, their claims.

J., you are brilliant and so able to, and inclined to, read widely. This is all the more reason you need to be reading through the great texts of scripture.  Make it your daily habit to “listen” to what they have to say.

It’s such a privilege to know you and interact with you on these issues. We will be praying that God will lead you though the issues that you are struggling with, and will use you and prepare you for even great use for Jesus.

Best, Bob

On Evolution and Christian Faith

On Evolution and Christian Faith

My correspondence with a graduate student friend who is struggling with Evolution. Wondering if her study of evolution could undermine her faith in God.

My first letter

Hi J.,

Thank you for writing me.  Rita and I prayed for you after I read your letter to her.  We have all struggled with doubt, but on various levels and on different issues.  I will do my best to respond to your feelings and questions.

My first concern is what is happening to you spiritually.  The one thing we all need to be doing is reading through the scriptures.  This is especially necessary for those of us in the scholarly world.  Somehow engaging closely with the text has helped me to find grounding when I am struggling and find it nowhere else.  I so much appreciate your sharing your thoughts because my experience is that the usual things that we hear in church don’t suffice.  You and I need to be seeking answers from the word ourselves.  I wonder if I have sent you a copy of “Walking Blind,” a book of essays about things I have gotten from scripture that I don’t see other people talking about.  Nothing in that book deals specifically with questions/issues of your interest but the essays reveal, even though I don’t say so, how many issues of interest to me are not much addressed in Christian books or sermons.  I would love for you to see it if I haven’t sent you a copy.

Anyway, my first response is that you need to be examining the scriptures daily for what they have to say to you.  Do you have a habit of exploratory reading?  Set aside 10 minutes beyond whatever you do in your Quiet Time just to read parts of the Bible you have never read before. If you are thinking, you will often find things there that you didn’t know were there, and that no one talks about.  Paul (Rom 15:4), after quoting from a relatively obscure verse in the OT, says that “these things were written down for out instruction, that through patience [steadfastness] and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” The Bible was written that we might have hope.  And this point he demonstrates by quoting from an obscure passage from the OT.  Anyway, my prayer for you is that you will find anchorage in the texts of scripture.

Now, to respond to the issues that trouble you.  You are impressed with the number of scientists whom you respect who don’t believe in God. And you feel that now the great questions are “now answerable through science”. And you wonder if the “why” could be answered through science.

You are right to be terrified if it should turn out that there is “no reason” for what is going on in nature. If we take the view that the universe is expanding endlessly into space then we can be sure that our world will grow cold, the stars will disappear, that human beings will die out along with all life on earth, and there will be nothing to follow.  That seems where the kind of “science” you are looking at takes us.

I keep wondering what else your author believes that makes him certain that belief in God is a myth:  How does he know?  Does his scholarly ventures into the mechanisms of the world order entitle him to take such a leap of faith and declare it to others with confidence?  I keep wondering if behind such claims there is a deep resentment against God:  “I don’t believe in God because I’m pissed off at him.”

God certainly doesn’t do what we want him to do. Every one of us, not only scientists but we ourselves, have questions about what God is doing in our lives.  Rita and I have a retarded and behaviorally difficult child.  He is now 57 years old. I grieve over what he has missed, and how much he has suffered unnecessarily.  I used to think I would someday ask Jesus why he allowed such tragic circumstances to take place.  I now think, however, I will be so awed by Him that I will respond as Job did: with shame and wonder.

I have found a verse that got me thinking about myself in a different way [again, no one ever talks about this]:  [Eph 3:10] “God’s intent was that now, through the church [i.e, through me and you and all the rest] the manifold wisdom of God should be made known [not to you and me, but] to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” What is God showing the angels on the basis of what’s going on in my life? What does he see?  What he is saying about me?  Obviously I have no idea.

I have digressed into one of the perpetual problems for all of us: suffering.  If all the “scientific” assertions your author has made are true, then how do we deal with the problem of suffering?  Paul said that if the only realities are worldly then he and the other apostles were of all people most deserving of pity because they were wasting their lives.

But to deal more directly with your author.  I have already challenged his credentials to decide what is fiction and what is myth.  He has some ideas – a just-so story – about how the human creature developed a moral sensibility.  How would his proposal be disproved? And if it turns out to hold up under close scrutiny over time how does that bear on the Biblical concept that the God of creation willed it, or used material means to create creatures like ourselves? Wherever we go with mechanistic-materialistic solutions they still leave us in a material world that operates mechanistically.  On what grounds can I make declarations about God or the workings of heaven of the sort that the apostle Paul refers to in Eph 3?  Note that the author of Chronicles recognized the difference between earthly explanations godly explanations.  In Ch 36 he describes how Jerusalem and all of Judah were destroyed: a mechanistic/materialistic explanation. And then he provides the moral/supernatural explanation that he has been promoting throughout his book:  That Yahweh had tried through many means to bring them to repentance and they refused “until there was no remedy.” Both explanations can be true.

Your author is living by faith just as you and I do.  He does not believe the claims of the gospel.  Kierkegaard challenged those who said that if they could have been present when Jesus did his miracles they would believe. He said there were people present in most of those miracles who did not believe; they were not induced to impute moral significance in the event even though they saw it take place with their own eyes.  Faith, he said, was something else; it arises out of something within the observer that induces him/her to impute to the event something larger, to see in the event a significance that escapes the mundane elements of the instant. [Cf. the parable of the sower.] We believe what we are prepared to believe just as your author believes with great certainty what he believes; for him his interpretation of his material is obvious.

I can only say, he may not know it but he lives in a very pointless world, a dark world in which there is no hope for justice, for purity, for truth, because he lives in a world in which the lies and deceits of worldly human behavior will persist as we all scramble to make the best of our miserable, pointless struggles for what we want before we die to leave nothing of significance behind.

That, as you know, is not the world of the Bible.  There will be a reckoning for the ugliness in the world, and then will come into existence the kind of world we within ourselves deeply long for:

“Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more – or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.” [Rev 21:3-4].

Best, Bob

My Second Letter

Hi J.

One brief addendum to my earlier note.

Science is by definition an attempt to understand the universe in its own terms.  In no way can God be a factor in the universe as “science” examines it.  We as scientists recoil at those who want to make something of God’s intention in the mechanisms of the universe.  We won’t find God in the universe through the tools of science.

Science is a way of seeing. The tools of the scientist, such as they are, are by definition worldly and “earthly” in the sense that our knowledge develops by analogy from the workings of nature as we find it on earth. As scientists we have no way of finding God or of discerning God’s hand in earlthy affairs. If we see God in the universe we “see” it through other lenses.

And there are elements of the world that, despite many claims, are left out of scientific knowledge.  As science became self-conscious and formalized other traditions of thought — ways of seeing — developed alongside it.  Literature arose as a vehicle through which human beings could express their moral and emotional sensibilities. Also, the “essay” developed as a vehicle through which to examine the human condition dispassionately.  These other ways of seeing developed alongside of science as it became more clearly defined as a discipline — evidence that thoughtful human beings felt a need to draw attention to other features of the human condition, overlooked or poorly examined by the techniques of science.  The essay became a vehicle for examining and critiquing moral practice in human affairs, for at this time the new world was enabling philosophers to reflect on other ways of organizing social life.  The notion of divine right gave way to the Rousseauan concept of a populace whose consent a government should have in order to govern. The moral imagination is a topic worthy of rational inquiry, both as it is expressed in private thoughts and as it is deployed in social affairs [often to masque unseemly agendas].  There are rational ways of examining human beings as moral creatures but the tools of science, valuable as they are, can lead away from what is actually interesting about human beings.

Anyway, please forgive this deluge of ideas. They are meant to help you deal with the issues that now seem to challenge your relationship with God.

Best, Bob

August 26,2017

>> https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/26/us/fort-smith-arkansas-mosque-vandalism-and-forgiveness.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur

 

>> This statement has prompted Trump to come to Missouri.
If the Republicans take this view they could decide he should not be our President.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/opinions/trump-is-exactly-what-republicans-are-not/2017/08/24/9909a320-8832-11e7-a50f-e0d4e6ec070a_story.html

>> NYTimes: A Nobel Prize for Hong Kong’s Democrats

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/opinion/hong-kong-democrats-prison-nobel.html

>> I learned to love my neighbor as myself. That’s why I became an activist for democracy in China, but that work may bar me from ever becoming a pastor. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/23/opinion/derek-lam-xi-jinping-jesus.html

>> https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/08/28/carl-icahns-failed-raid-on-washington/amp

>> SEE The statement by Stephens quoted early in this review of several books.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2001/04/12/southern-comfort/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NYR%20Civil%20War%20fantasies%20Jefferson%20the%20brain&utm_content=NYR%20Civil%20War%20fantasies%20Jefferson%20the%20brain+CID_e6b1de6148a1bf590f71181cc0a2f1ed&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_term=Southern%20Comfort

>> On Race:  Anthropologists long ago decided that biologically there is no such thing; it is a cultural phenomenon only.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/white-supremacists-respond-genetics-say-theyre-not-white/

>> How a white nationalist gets produced.  https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/524505/

> Virtually everyone I knew who when to Afghanistan to do it good would say the same thing.

https://www.vox.com/2016/5/18/11692654/humanitarian-work-naive

 

Biblical objections to the Pro-Life agenda

In this election year politicians are appealing to the support of the voters, and some are trying to appeal to the Evangelical vote by declaring they are “pro-life”. That is, they would like to criminalize abortion.  I believe we should be careful of politicians that cater to us on such grounds, but beyond that I have a much more serious problem with that behavior:  The scriptures don’t favor the criminalization of abortion.

I know that the common view among Evangelical Christians is to support the pro-life movement, which aims to make abortion illegal.  This is not the way I read scripture.  The problem is that the whole of scripture, not the New Testament only, is about grace, not law.  Paul’s letter to the Galatians makes it clear that law cannot produce moral behavior.  Grace is the Biblical focus because “law” cannot make us human beings practice the morality we espouse.  It is by grace that morality is enabled.  To oppose abortion by making it illegal is to remove grace from all possibility.  By rights the woman caught in adultery should have been killed (John 8:1-12).  That is what law does:  it specifies, and it cannot be broken; it must apply in all cases, as specified.  She should have been stoned.

If that is how God had dealt with me, my life would be hopeless and I would be forever condemned, and probably a failure in many other ways than I am already.  Grace appeals for repentance, not punishment.  So if we oppose abortion we must not insist on making abortion illegal because that is contrary to the point of the Bible.  If an anti-abortion law is ever enacted the resulting society will not in any way demonstrate the love of Christ.  “The law of Christ” is of a different sort altogether: bearing other’s burdens.

If the pro-life movement gets what it wants, it will insist.  It will make abortion criminal, with specific rules for who should be punished and under what circumstances.  I therefore urge against making abortion illegal.  I don’t want to think about what our society would look like if such a moral appeal were made into law.

The increasing desperation in the Middle East

The news reports are preoccupied with the many families fleeing the Middle East — mostly Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — desperately trying to get into Europe, as if Europe were a safe haven.  As is becoming evident, after so many days and so much expense in order to make the journey, they are being greeted by reluctance if not open hostility.  Europe is in no way ready to receive them. But it is evident that these peoples — Muslims, Christians, people of all kinds and of all walks of life — are desperately voting with their feet.

In a sense this pattern of migration is not new.  The western world has benefited for many years by the flight of the middle classes, the professional and educated elements of these societies.  Those folks have been fleeing the troubled parts of Asia and Africa for years.  What is new here is that these refugees are from all levels of society:  the poor, the weak, the sick, the broken.  Everyone that has the means to flee seems to be fleeing.

So what drives them out of their homes, their whole social worlds?  Here is a note I received from a friend from one of those countries.

Tragedy and pain have found their way into my every organ today. What has turned my world upside down is that I have no solution to the problems I see. I have become mute. There’s too much suffering — way beyond my comprehension. Why God punishes its people when they are innocent? It’s on these trying days that we’d like to doubt God’s existence, His glory, His powers. But as I probe into the territory of the divine, it’s then that I see Him most vividly. Suffering and pain — contrary to the conventional belief — can make us a whole lot closer to the Almighty. I’m a fighter. Even though I despise the world and all its designs sometimes, I am grateful for all that has been bestowed upon me; and I feel lucky to be alive, fully functional — with all my cognitive faculties intact. In the midst of darkness, there’s always light. And that’s why I must remain sanguine and continue to stay in the fight and forge ahead.

At some point in the course of events we can come to the point when desperation leads us, as he says, to appeal to and seek help in the notion that there is a God who is above it all, who is well aware of the messy world that we live in, and is the only hope for any sense to be made in the human condition.  If there is no judgment, if there is nothing to look for beyond this life, if there is no mercy, then there is no hope.  It’s not good enough to rail at God.  At some point we have to throw ourselves on the mercy of One who is bigger than the world as we know it and has, as generations before us have desired, a bigger plan.

In the mean time, “In the midst of darkness” we seek the light, and remain sanguine, and continue the fight, and forge ahead.

[See the following site for a helpful analysis of what has caused the movement to flee Syria: Click here]

 

 

Fahim Masoud on the overwhelming need in Afghanistan

Fahim Masoud has written on Afghanistan, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Chinese affairs has paid a visit home to see his family in Herat.  He has been sharing his experiences and observations with us.  Here is the latest report:

It happens every time I come to Afghanistan. During my first days I am shocked by the amount of pain and poverty I see. During my first days I go out of my way to give out money to the poor and to the people on the streets. Even though it relieves me to know that I just gave someone money to buy himself/herself a dinner, I become down as soon as I realize how temporary the fix to the problem of poverty is. You can’t keep giving these people fish — without teaching them how to fish, any aid is useless. People in Afghanistan have been given a lot of fish in the last 15 years, but they were never given lessons on how to fish. That’s why we have so much pain and poverty in this country today.

Foreigners gave Afghans billions of dollars in aid, but the majority of that money left Afghanistan for foreign banks before they arrived to Afghanistan. Corrupt leaders and politicians stole every dollar they could get their hands on and deposited it into their foreign banks. I think had the world community spent the money on building factories and industries in Afghanistan, today the people of Afghanistan would have been much better off in every way.

Before I proceed, please allow me to say what I mean by normalization of pain. Earlier I said that the amount of pain and poverty on display in this country shock me. However, after a few days of being here, I’m no longer shocked. In fact, because I see so much misery, it no longer bothers me. I no longer go out of my way to help out the poor. I become de-sensitized. I feel like I no longer have warm feelings toward my fellow human beings. Pain can become normalized. Pain can be processed like all other things and feel like it’s not there when it’s right in front of you. Pain — even though it’s very visible — can become very invisible.

Everyday I spent hours with people from all walks of life. These people are teachers, students, intellectuals, and laborers. Even though these people are so different in their occupations, they are very similar in their forecast of how the affairs will turn out for Afghanistan. They know that Afghanistan has traveled beyond the point of being fixed.

Some say that a lot of good things have happened in Afghanistan — an idea that bears some truth. What they mean is that Afghans shouldn’t forget where they came from. They compare the current situation to the times of the Taliban. Then Afghans were stripped of every basic right there was. Now, they are endowed with some rights; it’s not perfect but in comparison to the the Taliban times, it is much better. The same argument is held when it comes to the sphere of economics. The majority of Afghans are much more better off. Yes, there’s a lot of poverty but poverty is universal. People who hold this line of argument say that Afghanistan will get better. We, the Afghans, need to be patient because this situation of terror and panic cannot last for too long.

So many issues and so much poverty in this country that it breaks my heart to be witness to so much misery in this country.

We have stress and misery everywhere, but the kind that is manifested in this country is beyond comprehension. One of the guards — at a school that I frequent and utilize their wifi services — works for $100 a month day and night. The interesting thing is that he feels very lucky to be working at this job.

When I see so much pain and poverty, I feel extremely lucky to be a citizen of America. We have our stresses and pains in that world too, but at least we are entitled to rights and have options. Not in this country. The status of women is especially appalling. People treat their women worse than property. At least there are people in this world who take care of their properties but in Afghanistan there are some people who have no respect for women. I have heard some “intellectuals” say: zan che ast ka aql-ash bashad — what is a woman for her wisdom to be of any value? I feel sorry for so many people in this country.

What’s amazing is that some very patriotic Afghans who would have never imagined leaving Afghanistan are now thinking of leaving this country. There’s a doctor who’s a close relative of ours. He’s considered the best heart doctor in this country. This man has many good skills — skills and an education that makes him about $10,000 a month in Afghanistan now. But he’s too decent of a human being to think about money. This man with so much money and so much prestige is now leaving Afghanistan. Another friend of mine who knows this doctor said: I thought he would never leave this country. Now that he leaves, I realize how dire our situation has become.

This paragraph will intrude on the coherence of my other paragraphs, as it doesn’t bear relevance to them. The other day I was in a busy part of the city of Herat. All of a sudden I saw a number of police vehicles cruising through the crowded streets in an extremely unprofessional way. The convoy of the police cars were still on the streets when people on my right and left began to curse them. Such a scenario — people holding feelings of disgust and anguish toward their government and security officials — seems to be prevalent throughout the city of Herat and Afghanistan in general.

The people of Afghanistan have lost all their faith and confidence in their government. A government that is losing the fight against the insurgents is not because it doesn’t have enough security forces capable of doing the fight, but because it doesn’t have the backing of its own people. Today, a BBC article says that only 20 percent of the Afghan people approve of Ghani’s government. That’s the lowest of any other government I know around the world. Another recent report, which was prepared by Tolo TV, claims that corruption has gone up under the Unity Government. These are not good signs. Ominous dark clouds are gathering over the skies of Afghanistan. I’m afraid no sun can smash these clouds and make them go away . . .

I’ll be back with more to say.
Fahim

Fahim Masoud: The view of the taxi driver

I take taxis or rickshaws everywhere in Herat. Most of the times I avoid taxis — instead I take rickshaws because I can save some money and give it to the poor. I say this not to show off my virtues. But to tell you that people here are very desperate and any amount of money can help mitigate their hunger.

Today, on my way to the doctor I took a taxi because I was in a hurry. The cab driver looked really interesting — his physical stature and form looked like an elite soldier, which prompted me to start a conversation and ask him: how is business. He said it was alright — not as good as it used to be only to finish his sentence with saying that there’s not “maza” in anything anymore. Maza means taste but in the vernacular sometimes people say that business maza nadara which means business is not too good.

The long taxi drive and the rush hour spearheaded our conversation into political issues. In a country like Afghanistan, everything and everyone is political. Necessities and pressing social and economic matters have made everyone political. To be political is to be bedar (awake) in this country. So no matter who you meet the issue that they want to engage in talking to you about is politics.

We, the driver and I, came across a number of traffic cops — and his disgust for them became obvious immediately.He talked about this morning and that he was pulled over by a cop for having run through a red light. While he was being questioned as to why he committed this traffic violation, an important car which meant it belonged to some high ranking commander or wali (governor) did the same thing as this cab driver had done. Instead of pulling over this traffic violator, and to the taxi driver’s surprise, this cop and his colleagues didn’t even bother going after this important car.

In Afghanistan, there are some laws and regulations — but only for the poor. The rich and the governing class can get away with anything and everything. Go murder someone, but if you have money, you will walk away Scott free. These are things that have turned people away from the government — to the point that some want to join ISIS or the Taliban in order to be free of this constant oppression and subjugation.

The taxi driver continued to register his frustration with the government. He said this current government is over. It’s been six months, he said, since its employees have been paid. He said every public official knows that this government cannot work and that its doomed to collapse. But he said they are here to enrich themselves and walk away. It’s amazing how much corruption there’s in the government of Afghanistan.

You cannot find one government office — one office that’s clean. The high degree of corruption combined with the regular abuse of the people by the security officials are driving the people into the arms of the insurgents.

Today is the 19th of August. It’s the day Afghans claim to have gotten their independence from the British. A number of celebrations are underway. For example, at the stadium of Herat there will be a large number of people talking and celebrating their independence. Around the city there are small gatherings in which a mullah or a prominent leader talks about Afghanistan’s heroic history and how Afghans have always maintained their independence.

As my taxi was making a turn toward our destination we heard a bunch of people clapping to the words of whoever was speaking to them. The driver started laughing out loud. He said I don’t know what our officials and politicians are thinking. He said either they are mad or we are mad. He interrupted himself right away and said: I know we, the Afghans, are not mad. These politicians aren’t mad either. They are just too stupid celebrating an independence that doesn’t mean anything because Afghanistan is still occupied and has become a rentier state. How can we claim independence, he said, when we are so dependent on foreign governments? Independence must mean not only political independence but also economic independence.

As we got closer to my drop-off spot, the driver said: I’m so tired of the government that sometimes I’m tempted to join ISIS in Afghanistan. Then before stating his last sentence, he looked at me to reveal the seriousness of his tone to me, he said: “sometimes I am tempted to join ISIS so I can kill as many officials as I can. It pays $500 a month. What can be worse than that?”

PS: a bomb went off a couple of hours here in Herat. About half a mile from our house.