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More Than One Path to God—A Controversial Idea? May 19, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Christianity, God, Islam, religious fanaticism, religious tolerance, spirituality, Uncategorized.
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The key to religious tolerance is the recognition that there may be more than one path to God, more than one route to the Divine for the righteous, spiritual human being—that is one of the major themes of my novel about the “Third Crusade,” The Swords of Faith. True, two of the major religions of the world, Christianity and Islam, are proselytizing religions, professing only one legitimate route to God. But except for fanatics, haven’t we all grown to recognize the “more than one path to God” idea, not withstanding less tolerant tenets expressed by those faiths? Recent experience indicates to me that this is not as obvious to others as it is to me. This is an issue we need to face to establish peace in our times.

Let’s start by recognizing a little history. In the movie “Ben Hur” (recently compared to the original book in this blog, Books-Into-Movie Commentary – Special Easter Edition: “Ben Hur”), Balthasar, one of the three “wise men” of Christian tradition, turns to Ben Hur and says “there are many paths to God—I hope yours will not be too difficult.” This struck me as an extraordinary statement for a character who would become one of the first followers of the Jesus teachings. But this isn’t extraordinary at all. At that time, Jesus was preaching about a relationship with God. Christianity—its scriptures and tenets—did not exist. Judaism is not a proselytizing religion. In fact, there were no major proselytizing religions at this time. Conquerors in the ancient world simply adopted the gods from the peoples they absorbed and added them to their own gods. So Balthasar’s statement to Ben Hur, given with a tone of benevolence, of fatherly concern and love, makes complete sense.

Balthasar’s hope for Ben Hur still makes complete sense as a simple prayer for all of us to offer each other. But it is not so easy to offer now.

In my essay “Demonizing Islam is Both Wrong and Foolish” (published in Opposing Viewpoints: Islam), I touched on this obliquely, suggesting scriptures, especially those ripped out of context, should not be used to demonize any religion. I heard from angry detractors accusing me of moral equivalence among all religions. One stated to me that Christian scriptures appearing to be fanatic and extreme have been taken out of context, but that Muslim scriptures appearing to be fanatic and extreme were actually meant seriously and should be considered as entirely in context. His implication was that Islam truly is a “bad religion,” an unworthy path to God.

I am not arguing for moral equivalence among all religions. I have no trouble making the judgment that the Aztec priests tearing the hearts out of live human beings were practicing an evil religion. I’ll add to that the judgment that a Muslim fanatic who sends a Downs-Syndrome child strapped with bombs into a crowded area to kill as many innocent people as possible is committing evil in the name of his religion.

The question becomes how to judge these acts. I think this is not difficult at all. We can use a principle found in cultures from ancient Greece and ancient China to the Buddhist faith to Christianity and Islam—what is often called the “Golden Rule.” If you wouldn’t want your heart torn from your living body in front of masses of people staring at your final agony, don’t do it to someone else. If you wouldn’t want to be blown up, or sent unwittingly to blow up others, don’t do it to someone else.

For those who have touched the spiritual force, there is a feeling—I’ll call it love, but we’re talking about an inner glow beyond the love of a book, or a movie, or chocolate, or even a spouse or child. While under the influence of that feeling of spiritual glow, that love, we are not capable of tearing hearts from live victims, or scheming to use one innocent person to kill others.

I also believe another key to applying this concept is to judge humans and their spiritualities by their behaviors, not by their scriptures. This eliminates the debates over which religion has the most righteous tenets.

I also ran into resistance to this idea when a publicist I contacted left a polite voicemail indicating that because their firm is a “Judeo-Christian” company, they could not work on behalf of someone who advocates this idea. I deleted this voicemail too quickly—I should have called back to discuss this. I’m not sure this idea is so contrary to Judeo-Christian principles. The very phrase “Judeo-Christian” implies more than one path to God. But the reaction from this publicist has been part of my learning experience that this idea is more controversial than I believed it would be.

It was also surprising to me that I caught resistance from people I would consider to be on the other side of this argument when I argued that some people acting for religions needed to be resisted. I argued that violent fanaticism is the true danger in our world. I ran into real moral equivalence arguments as a result of this assertion. On a recent radio show appearance, I pointed out that Muslim fanatics, misappropriating their religion as they killed innocents, needed to be fought—by Christians, and by moderate Muslims who find this fanatic behavior as abhorrent as those of other faiths. I was told I needed to acknowledge that Christian fanatics were just as responsible for terrorism in our modern world. (I acknowledge that Christians have engaged in brutal activities in the past. That was not the argument. They were saying Christian fanatic terrorists are just as dangerous as Muslim terrorist today.) I asked for an example of a Christian terror network around the world trying to take as many innocent lives as possible. I was referred to the Illuminati and the Rothschild family (I think the Rothchilds were Jewish), and the “terrorism” of Proposition Eight in California against defining marriage to include same-sex unions. (I voted against Proposition Eight. I have written about this in one of my internet columns. I disagree with the state’s voters on this, but this is hardly terrorism!)  They also mentioned fanatic Christian killings of abortionists. I wholeheartedly condemned that behavior; most Christians do too. But this activity hardly rises to the level of the worldwide assaults on innocents by Al Qaeda.

A blogger listened to my appearance, during which I repeatedly argued for more than one path to God and exalted moderate Muslims who have condemned fanatics, naming Muslim writer Kamran Pasha as an example of a man to be praised. The blogger condemned me as an anti-Islamic bigot, as a person who spreads “anti-Muslim propaganda.” Now, I have to say, this person ended her post by stating I was out of line to blame fanatic Muslims for the Nine-Eleven attacks—it was really the United States government that perpetrated the whole event. Okay. Consider the source. But it is a further illustration that this idea, seeming so obvious to me, comes with nuance and unforeseen ramifications in our modern world.

Still, I strongly believe by recognizing there may be more than one path to the spiritual force, to God, to whatever we call it, we find the key to ending religious wars. It is historical fact that Jesus and Mohammed, so-called “founders” of the two major proselytizing religions in our world today, were not focused on founding new organized religions. They were focused on assisting fellow human beings with finding the path to God. The scriptures, the formal tenets of these religions, did not form until decades after the deaths of these men. It is not in dispute that the New Testament of Christianity and the Koran of Islam were written down decades after these spiritual sages completed their time on earth. Both men were inclusive; they wanted to help humans from inside and outside their ethnic groups, traditions and birth religions to find God through their teachings. It can be argued that the “only one path to God” idea formed and developed through the efforts of later adherents to the original message, efforts directed at forming new organized religions. I believe Jesus and Mohammed would have been unhappy with the violent fanaticism generated by the “only one path to God” idea. We can honor them by embracing the idea of “more than one path to God.”

Opposing Viewpoints: Islam

Opposing Viewpoints: Islam


Ben Hur (DVD)

Ben Hur (DVD)

Ben Hur (the novel)

Ben Hur (the novel)

Book Commentary/Review – The Crusades, Christianity and Islam by Jonathan Riley-Smith October 12, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in anti-colonialism, book review, history, Jonathan Riley-Smith, modern Islam, religious tolerance, the crusades, Uncategorized.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

Jonathan Riley-Smith has been writing definitive reference materials about the crusades for many years. The book I will discuss here is a short book, from 2008, eighty pages, derived from a series of lectures. What makes this book different from a standard authoritative text on the subject (which Riley-Smith has written, see below) is the discussion of the crusades in the context of current events. Present-day Muslim fanatics have invoked the crusades as justification for their hostility toward their perceived enemies in the West. Some Western apologists have actually adopted the Muslim fanatic line, apparently ignorant of the true history, and accepting the misappropriations of history. Others try to rationalize the crusader period, arguing that no negative judgments should attach to the actions of western Christians in the eastern Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. Having these comments from an expert like Jonathan Riley-Smith helps enlighten the discussion.

Here are key points made by Riley-Smith:

  • “The perception modern Muslims have of the crusades dates only from the end of the nineteenth century.” He argues, citing solid historical evidence, that crusader actions of the Middle Ages have been projected onto the actions of later western imperial powers. This development was set up by some “crusades” rhetoric used by those western powers during the age of European colonial empires. He argues that at the time of the rise of the Ottoman Empire, “the crusades passed almost out of mind” of Muslims.
  • He also discusses how western apologists try to minimize the role of religion in the crusades, fashioning anachronistic, pseudo-imperialistic motives to Christians of the Middle Ages, who were, by-and-large, fanatically devoted to their religion. Crusading was not a chance to gain riches. It was “for most laymen… a serious business, dangerous, debilitating and impoverishing.” Nobles died at a rate of 35%—the rest certainly at higher rates. But for human beings living as western Christians during the Middle Ages, penance, the opportunity to gain forgiveness of sins and escape the searing agonies of hell, was a very real concern.

The book is separated into four chapters followed by a brief conclusion:

  • “Crusades as Christian Holy Wars”
  • “Crusades as Christian Penitential Wars”
  • “Crusading and Imperialism”
  • “Crusading and Islam”

In the two-page conclusion, Jonathan Riley-Smith brings the material to the present, ending with another slant on the concept of crusades, that a fanatic dedication to a “religious or cultural or even pseudoscientific ideal” is a concept that could be universal to civilization, manifesting in “wars waged in the names of imperialism, nationalism, Marxism, fascism, anticolonialism, humanitarianism and even liberal democracy.”

The book is a short, quick read, packed with a lot of material shining the light of historical accuracy on the historical aspect of debates that rage today over centuries-old events that still have meaning for some of the most pressing issues of our times.

The Crusades, Christianity and Islam

The Crusades, Christianity and Islam

The Crusades, a History

The Crusades, a History

Atlas of the Crusades

Atlas of the Crusades

A Mosque at Ground Zero? A Gandhi-esque Idea September 19, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in mosque at ground zero, religious harmony, religious tolerance.
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When I first heard about the idea of a mosque at ground zero, I reacted impulsively. I actually posted a comment at another writer’s blog—“While we’re at it, let’s put a mosque, a church and a temple side by side by side.” I felt some remorse for that post when I found out that the writer, Kamran Pasha, had been subjected to some form of cyber-attack because of his post and my reply. Sorry about that, Kamran Pasha. You are a man to be treasured, a moderate Muslim who condemns terrorism by Muslim fanatics. I want to see you and those who share your views supported in every way.

We are a few months down the line now. I have learned more about this, and have had more time to think about it. I have two lines of thought on this issue: the first will sound familiar while the second will seem utterly “out-of-the-box.”

Before I elaborate these lines of thought, I will clarify one aspect of this issue right now. In the United States of America, Muslims have the right to build a mosque and worship. This is not a controversy over whether the mosque can legally be built—of course it can. Religious freedom is part of this country’s founding tradition. It is woven into the fabric of our culture from the days of the first English colonists. No serious person speaking against this mosque is trying to deny Muslims the right to worship freely. It is the location of a mosque at that particular location that has created the controversy.

Also, I am not going to delve deeply into the background and motives of the imam who is the prime-mover behind the mosque. It is his behavior in the near future as this issue comes to a head that concerns me the most, and nothing he has said or done before now will matter as much as what he decides to do going forward.

Line of Thought One. This point has been expressed before, and I think it is valid. If the people putting up the mosque really want to be healers, if they want to be known that way, and not as provocateurs, they will voluntarily move that mosque. A few blocks away might very well do it. The precedent has occurred. The Catholic Church moved a convent established at Auschwitz during the mid 1980s. This issue was a little different, as the Polish Catholics attempting to establish the convent were doing so in memory of Polish Catholics killed at the German concentration camp. Feelings ran high over this issue as well. But the Pope pushed for the convent to be moved, and the nuns of the convent voted to move it by the early 1990s. Moving the convent was the healing thing to do, addressing the victims and victims’ descendants’ sensibilities. Moving the mosque location voluntarily, with a magnanimous, sympathetic heart, reaching out to pained victims with love and understanding, would be the healing thing to do. Such an act should not be compelled. It should be offered as a sincere gesture by human beings of good faith.

Line of Thought Two. Yes, we are back to my original impulse on this issue, an idea straight out of the Mahatma Gandhi playbook for religious tolerance. And the more I think about the idea, the more I think it puts everybody’s religious tolerance and sensitivity to the test. If the mosque builders want to be true healers, to build bridges to Christianity, to build bridges to the world, they should include every major faith as part of what I understand will be a large, multi-storied complex. Along with the mosque, they should include a church, and a temple. Maybe Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches side by side by side. Shia and Sunni Muslims should both be represented. Along with the Jewish temple, include a Buddhist temple. Hindus and Sikhs should also be provided for. Make this a monument to religious tolerance, to religious sharing. The Nine-Eleven savages will torment in their graves with such a result rising out of their vicious acts. This would be the ultimate celebration of the American tradition of religious freedom, religious tolerance, of what we Americans do every day—live in prosperity alongside people with origins from all over the world, coming to this place to join together and choose this way of life. And if this monument was to be established by Muslims, what a triumph it would be for true Muslims over the fanatics who have been trying to hijack their religion! So this idea is a real test. Could Muslims interested in healing possibly object to this idea? Could those who strenuously object to the mosque right now still object if the mosque came with all these other structures?

I have written in more detail about monotheism (see the tenth paragraph of my post “‘The Pillars of Earth’ – A Few Final Words”) and organized religions (my essay “Leave Organized Religions—And Find God!”). I will say here that I believe the best route to religious harmony in the world is for us to recognize that there may be more than one path to God. This is a major theme of my novel, The Swords of Faith. It would be the major statement of a religious center of the type I have described within this post. I will admit that while this idea has the potential to bring people together, it also runs the risk of angering both sides of the issue. But the idea is offered with earnest sincerity, in the hopes of bringing people together, and of catching a glimpse of the future, of religious harmony and mutual understanding, a future some of us believe we can live in right now in much of this country.