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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)

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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

What The Swords of Faith Says About Our Times June 16, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in historical fiction, literary commentary.
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In my last post, I offered some ideas about how The Talisman was formed by the times of author Sir Walter Scott. This isn’t a criticism—it is a factor present in any literature or art. So how do I think our current times have shaped my novel, The Swords of Faith, due to be released on July 4th? Before I start into this, I need to admit that offering a commentary like this can only be a preliminary assessment because when writers are immersed in their time periods, there are influences swirling around that are not easily identified. Only the perspective of time passing allows a fully informed assessment. But, why not address the issue now? If nothing else, we can look back years from now and see if the initial comments still make any sense.

I fully admit that the events of September 11, 2001 inspired me to write this novel. The story of Richard and Saladin fascinated me for a long time, and in the back of my mind, I considered writing about it. Nine-Eleven brought the idea front-and-center.

I will identify three present-day influences I believe shaped The Swords of Faith, and how specifically they affected the book:

1. An understanding that terrorizing innocents has not always been the Muslim way. After Nine-Eleven, I found myself wanting to understand why these fanatic Muslims were so angry with us in the United States, why they were willing to kill so many innocent people and risk bringing down such terrible consequences on themselves. As I looked back at the history, at Saladin and other Muslim examples, I learned quickly that there is a constructive, altruistic side to Islam, historically, and in the present-day. What Western European historians commonly call the “Dark Ages” occurred while Muslims were experiencing their “Golden Age.” Muslims preserved Greek learning and advanced in many intellectual pursuits, including medicine and astronomy. These personal discoveries factor into the themes of The Swords of Faith. Knowing these facts beckons us to reach out to moderate Muslims, to Muslims who embrace the constructive and altruistic aspects of their faith. Then, together, we can defeat the fanatic terrorists trying to hijack Islam. (Kamran Pasha is a moderate Muslim who has written a throught-provoking, entertaining novel about the same time period as The Swords of Faith. His novel, Shadow of the Swords comes out on June 22nd.)

I will further develop this idea, with its complex historical aspects, in my follow-up novels, The Sultan and the Khan, The Ghosts of Baghdad and The Sultan and the Prince. It is important to consider that during the period from the late 1000s to the mid to late 1200s, Islam underwent an existence-threatening assault from two directions: the “Crusaders” from the West, and the far more severe threat of the Mongols from the East. The nobility of Saladin became a luxury Islam could not afford. The efficient ruthlessness of Baybars arguably provided Islam with what was needed for survival, and eventual victory. But a Baybars-instead-of-Saladin approach arguably changed Islam.

2. A desire to speak against demonizing an entire religion because of the actions of a few fanatic extremists. I have written at length against demonizing Islam; my essay “Demonizing Islam is Both Wrong and Foolish,” (published in August 2009 in Opposing Viewpoints: Islam.) The Swords of Faith reflects this idea. Demonizing the fanatic aspects of religion leads to counter-fanaticism, an effect absolutely in play during the Crusades. In The Swords of Faith, all four of the main characters (Richard, Saladin, and two fictional characters) thrive best when they approach the world without religious fanaticism. They have the most trouble when they lapse into fanaticism.

3. There is more than one path to God. This the most personal of the influences, an idea pervasive in our culture, but definitely not embraced by even a majority. Religious tolerance is honored, but the proselytizing religions of Christianity and Islam still have, in my opinion, the baggage of claiming to be the only “true faith.” I believe the idea that there is more than one path to God is an idea for our times, and I pursue that theme in The Swords of Faith. I will be developing this theme in additional writing.

I invite comments, particularly from readers of The Swords of Faith.

Items mentioned in this blog with links to purchase at Amazon.com:

Opposing Viewpoints - Islam

Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha