Category Archives: Religion & Reason

Sincere Apologies, and Thoughts From a Friend

As my readers may have noticed, my posts have become more and more sporadic; indeed, it’s been more than two weeks since I last published! For this, I apologize. The rush of life, as well as the beginning of new work and (I must admit) the compelling opportunities afforded by the beginning of my summer break from university, have made it all too easy to slack off from Mundi Cogito.

The purpose of this blog, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is to help readers stay informed about current issues and concerns in the world, as well as offer some of my own thoughts and ideas for consideration. This is still what Mundi Cogito is about!

Because life doesn’t seem willing to slow down to let the blog catch up, at least for the moment I’m setting a goal of one post a week. Though I won’t produce nearly as much content as I have in past, having this goal will help me continue to share important ideas and thoughts with the world.

To get back into the swing of things, I’d like to share a story written by my friend Musa Askari (whose blog, Spiritual Human, can be found here) and read by him on Blogtalkradio.com. It’s a wonderful story about lives, the soul, stories, and connection to other people. If you can find the time, please give it a listen!

The show can be found here. Musa’s segment begins right around the nine minute mark. Enjoy!

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Filed under Religion & Reason, Uncategorized

Read On: Prothero on May 21sters

Whether or not Christ is returning on May 21st, this op-ed by Stephen Prothero is provocative and insightful for any reader. (Source: eurweb.com)

This is the first in a new category of posts I’m starting called Read On. These are short posts that include a brief introduction to a topic followed by a link to an article, op-ed, video, or other piece on that topic. I’m starting this category for two reasons: First, this will allow me to continue writing and encouraging discussion about interesting and provocative topics and issues, even when short on time (which I have been of late). Second, there are many pieces to be found online that I feel merit more discussion, so I want to share these with my readers.

As many of you have likely heard, the world is going to end tomorrow, May 21st, at 6 pm. Well, that’s the story at least.

Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, made a prediction about the end of the world, declaring that it is to come on May 21st: tomorrow. This isn’t the first time Camping has made this prediction, and after 6:01 passes without incident tomorrow, he’s likely to come up with another.

Now, the idea of this world crashing down around our heads tomorrow seems unlikely at best to the vast majority of us. And while I would agree that this theory is pure lunacy and fantasy, perhaps this kind of unfounded belief is not as far from home as we would think.

In the article I link to below, Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, discusses the idea that we all have our pet irrational beliefs, and perhaps we’re not all that different from the May 21sters.

My Take: Doomsdayers not so different from the rest of us

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Filed under People & Society, Read On, Religion & Reason

Clashing Dreams in the Middle East

As revolution rushes through the Middle East, radical Islam and democratic secularism will clash and confront one another. (Source: beforeitsnews.com)

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his dream lives on. His was a dream of violence, bloodshed, and sectarianism, one in which a new Islamist caliphate could take power, and his repressive ideology would flourish.

Bin Laden also envisioned a Middle East that would be sympathetic to his ideas and ideals. And while most people are repulsed by his beliefs, there are a frightening number of people who hold the same bloodthirsty views as him. Many of these are already involved in al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other distinct terrorist entities. But this mindset can be found all throughout the Middle East and beyond. It is an idea that advocates the violent enforcement of one’s own beliefs, and is not only a grave danger to lives, but an offensive and woefully misguided interpretation of the otherwise peaceful and fairly welcoming religion of Islam.

Yet the Arab Spring, as it is now known, is seriously calling into question the efficacy and popularity of bin Laden’s violent Islamist vision for the Middle East. Unlike the religious revolution al Qaeda dreams of someday bringing about, the Arab Spring which brought down both Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was almost exclusively secular, and motivated by secular desires and aspirations. It’s democracy that the Arab people seem bent on achieving, not an Islamic state or caliphate.

So there seem to be two conflicting viewpoints in the Middle East right now. On the one hand, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and all who share their twisted views see a future in which their own beliefs about religion and society are paramount. On the other hand, a powerful new youth movement is swelling in the Middle East, a movement that, despite al Qaeda’s fondest wishes, is a secular one.

The stage seems set for yet more tension in the Middle East. Even as a new dream of freedom and democracy builds momentum in places that previously suffered under terribly repressive states, a different kind of repression, this time of a religious variety, is still in the arena. As these two dreams of the future, one of religious nationalism and the other of secular democracy, face off over the coming years, the people of the Middle East will have a choice. They must make it wisely.

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Filed under International Focus, Religion & Reason, Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

Islamophobia and Ignorance

Peter King, the man behind the recent "Muslim hearings." (Source: peteking.house.gov)

Earlier this month, Representative Peter King of New York held a hearing that was called to “investigate the radicalization of Muslims in the United States.” This sparked an uproar among religious and secular groups across the US, who were infuriated by what seems to be obvious bigotry.

King, who is pictured here, of course denies any such allegations. The man is adamant that this is not discrimination, and many people agree with him.

I have to admit that it’s an unavoidable (and unfortunate) fact that there tend to be more Islamist extremists than there are extremists in other major religions. (I pray that no one takes this in an offensive way!) But King’s approach to this problem of possibly-encroaching extremism is not just appallingly bigoted, but the wrong way to solve the issue.

First, the bigoted part. While it’s statistically true that there tend to be more Muslim extremists (at least here in the US) than those of other religions, it’s patently false that violent extremism is exclusive to any one religion. (Just take a look at Timothy McVeigh or Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult.) By claiming that Islamist extremism is the only real threat to America from religious groups (which he hasn’t necessarily explicitly said, but seems to be pretty heavily implied in his singular focus on Muslims), King is isolating and discriminating against a typically peaceful and law-abiding group of people simply based on their religion.

Now, to me it seems obvious that this is religious discrimination. King is essentially leveling his gavel against an entire group of people based on the actions of a very few individuals. This is a vast and offensive generalization of Islam and of Muslims. It’s understandable that Peter King would want to hold a hearing on religious violence in general. But by focusing exclusively on Muslims, King is not only ignoring the possibility of religious violence from other sectors, but unfairly focusing on a religion whose adherents are almost totally peaceful.

The implications here are more than simple issues of religious fairness though. Radical Islamist groups’ resentment toward the United States is often based largely on the perceived bigotry of Americans toward Muslims, and sadly there’s often a lot of truth to accusations of religious animosity against Muslims among Americans. Besides this, many non-extremist Muslims in the US feel victimized by some Americans’ anti-Islamic sentiments. Peter King’s recent actions do nothing but add fuel to the fires of disenfranchisement among American Muslims, and make Islam seem like a religion that has no place in America. Other countries, including the United Kingdom and France, are also making moves that alienate their Muslim inhabitants.

This alienation is not just wrong, but a violation of basic American and human rights. If the US claims to be a country based on “liberty and justice for all,” then its public servants, especially its federal level ones, cannot single out groups of people, whether or not those groups have a greater tendency toward extremism. Peter King, and any other politician who wants to look into the radicalization of any religious group, must do it in a way that is not exclusively focused on one group. The longer our country, and really any country (or person), continues to foster this kind of prejudice and religious ignorance, the greater our problems with extremism will become.

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Filed under Politics & Power, Religion & Reason

Seeking the Spiritual: Dueling Monologues

Part of the interior of Hagia Sofia, a monolithic museum in Istanbul that has been both a church and a mosque in its past. The beautiful building has a stark and beautiful blend of Christian and Muslim art and symbolism. (Photo credit: Yours truly!)

I’d like to thank Musa Askari for helping me find inspiration for this post by sharing some of his father Hasan’s writings, and for broadening my perspectives on spirituality. I’d strongly recommend reading his blog to any of my readers out there. Thanks so much Musa!

Countless religions are represented in our modern world, spreading over the entire world, and affecting the lives of billions. Many consider religion and spirituality one of the most central parts of their life, and I would put myself in this camp.

But so often, this expression and belief leads to terrible conflict with those who may not hold the same views. Strong convictions born of powerful spiritual experiences or cultural forces lead many people, from all religions, to insist that only their religious beliefs are the best and only valid ones to have.

What this inevitably leads to is a dreadful and anger-ridden stalemate. When a person’s religious convictions become deeply rooted in the wrong way, they begin to lose the ability to listen to others, and only focus on how they can best spread their own beliefs.

And so the situation becomes one of dueling monologues, rather than a cooperative dialogue. For people of different religious backgrounds to truly get along and respect each others’ beliefs, those people need to abandon the notion that they are absolutely and fundamentally correct. A good image to help visualize this is that of two people shouting at one another in an argument. Both people are shouting their opinions very loudly, and being very vocal about what they think. But their voices are too loud for them to hear anything, let alone what the other person is shouting at them! The problem is, far too many religious people are so closed-minded and forthright about their beliefs that they can never manage to get along. Instead, people of different religions who fit this description waste their energy on trying to convince people of other faiths (people just as devout and rigid in their own, different beliefs), that they fail to accomplish anything.

There’s a great need to move away from this model of “monologue vs. monologue” and begin to engage in real dialogue with people of other faiths and beliefs, even if it’s a challenge to our own way of thinking. As long as people keep talking to each other as though only their own beliefs have any significance, and all other people need to believe the same, there will only be a greater distance between people of different faiths.

People of different faiths often have many goals in common, though of course they have different approaches. Religious faith can be an incredible way to satisfy our deepest needs, and often it can lead us to a greater understanding of spirituality and the world. If people of all different backgrounds and beliefs can realize that there is valid wisdom and strength to be found in other religions, then we can work together, rather than apart. This doesn’t even require total cooperation of beliefs! While different people may disagree on specific orthodoxy, or even how they think of God and spirituality, they can still set aside their differences and agree to try and learn from each other, working toward the same goals of unity, peace, and understanding. It’s time to give up our monologues, and finally learn the skill of dialogue.

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Filed under Religion & Reason, Seeking the Spiritual

Seeking the Spiritual: Languages of the Divine

What if we're all just speaking different languages to the same divine source?

I attend a book discussion group every Tuesday night at a Methodist church in my town, which I might add is one of the best churches I’ve ever been lucky enough to attend. This last Tuesday (the 8th, I think it was), we were discussing the book we’re currently reading, when the pastor mentioned a fascinating idea that he had heard: Religion as a language. This immediately resonated with me in a way that I didn’t really understand, and still can’t claim to completely comprehend. Truth be told, he mentioned this idea only in passing, but it has stuck with me strangely.

When I really think about this, it’s a very simple idea, but such a beautiful and profound one. Religion as a language. There are so many layers to this statement, so I’ll cover what I can in the time and space that I have!

First, language is the key method we use to communicate with those around us, so a “religious” language might be seen as the way we communicate with the spiritual aspect of our lives. But, as with language, there is no one unique way of communicating with the spiritual. Some may speak the language of literal or verbal prayer. Others speak the language of meditation, and still others speak the language of dance or song. Just as we use different languages to talk to each other, we each can use different spiritual languages to connect to the spiritual in our lives, in the way that best fits our personal needs.

Second, no one language needs to be dominant in any sense. While more people may speak a particular language, the fact that they speak it in no way takes away the validity or importance of another language. The fact that my first language is English doesn’t mean that every person must speak English. There is no “right” language that the entire world must know and understand, and no language can claim moral superiority over any other. A person may be raised with a language or choose to speak it, just as a person may be raised into a religion or choose one.

And while it may come most naturally for someone to know and speak only in their own spiritual language, and only to those who understand them, I really don’t think it’s necessary. Just as someone can become multilingual, someone can become multispiritual! The conflict that so often arises between religions can be expressed in terms of language as well. If I speak my native language at someone whose native language is completely different, and neither of us knows the other’s tongue even a little bit, we can’t possibly understand each other! It’s the same with religious dialogue. If we can’t take the time and energy to learn another person’s spiritual language, the way they see the world and the spiritual, then there is no way we’ll ever understand each other.

And this leads me to what I think is the most beautiful part of this analogy. If you think of religions as spiritual languages, then it becomes possible to envision a “multilingual” spiritual existence. In this way of thinking, a religion need not be elitist and dominating, but can be something that is understood by others who may speak a different language. If a friend speaks the language of Hinduism, I can grow to understand her way of seeing the world and the spiritual by learning some of her language. Perhaps, one day, I can even speak it myself!

If we continue to tell ourselves that there is only one true language, only one way of understanding life, then we will never be able to approach others and their spirituality in a loving way. In fact, we don’t necessarily need to even understand another’s language; we need only allow them to speak it. I don’t need to fully understand the ways in which other people approach the divine. We only need to sit back and appreciate the beauty of their language, and allow them to speak to the spiritual in whatever way they know and understand. Only then can we achieve true religious understanding.

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She Must Be Stopped

Who's the greater threat to America, Muslims or religious bigotry like this?

“In the Muslim world, extreme is mainstream… there is a cancer infecting the world. The cancer is called Islamofacism. This ideology is coming out of one source: The Koran.” With these words, Brigitte Gabriel (also known as Nour Saman) opens her book “Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America.”

If these few sentences weren’t enough to alarm you, consider me alarmed!

Brigitte Gabriel (a pseudonym she uses, as she claims to have received death threats) is a conservative author and activist who’s made repeated appearances at conservative events across the country, including a Tea Party convention last fall. Gabriel is originally from Lebanon, and frequently recounts stories of the horrors of growing up in war-torn Lebanon in the 70s. But rather than give a fair account of what happened during that time, Gabriel portrays the conflict as one of righteous, completely nonviolent Christians being massacred by warmongering Muslims. While it’s true that Christians were the group that suffered the greatest losses during this time, the Christians in fact formed their own militia and struck back against Muslim groups, which could hardly be called turning the other cheek.

This victimized mindset shows through very clearly in her talks and thoughts, in which she portrays all Muslims as extremist terrorists bent on the destruction of America and Christianity. Gabriel sees Islam as a religion bent on total world domination and subjugation, which is an idea as surprising to most Muslims as it is to her listeners and readers. She has a particularly strong following among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and factions of the Republican party, especially those on the far right side.

To get the rest of the story, you should really read this New York Times article, which does a much better job than me of describing her antics.

Okay, welcome back! I hope you enjoyed and were as stressed out by it as I was. The most offensive part of Gabriel’s aggressively anti-Islam stance is how hypocritical it is for a fundamentalist Christian to be saying such things. When Gabriel makes the claim that Islam seeks to control the whole world, she obviously isn’t looking very closely at her own religion, one which is notorious for its colonizing influence and insistence on total religious conformity. Christianity, especially that of the evangelical sort, is a religion focused on conversion and, ideally, the entire world would be converted to this religion eventually. At least, I’m guessing that’s what Brigitte Gabriel would say.

So it seems to me that saying Islam is particularly “conquest-happy” is a horrible misrepresentation of this unique religion, and I’m sure most Muslims would agree. Radicals exist in all religions, not just Islam, and Gabriel’s singling-out of Muslims as particularly “anti-American” or as universally extreme is infuriating. There’s already enough anti-Muslim sentiment in the Christian community, and the last thing the world needs is more tension between these two major religions.

And it doesn’t end there. Brigitte Gabriel isn’t just offensive with this kind of rhetoric, she’s dangerous. Besides inciting dangerous hatred toward Muslims, which is of course bad enough in its own right, Gabriel is likely to stir up exactly the kind of extremism that she’s warning against. While the vast majority of Muslims are the polar opposites of terrorists, there are violent cells within the religion, and this kind of hateful, aggressive speech will only stir up more hatred and aggression in turn.

So I would say that it’s time for Americans to start standing up for religious freedom for all, and a freedom from discrimination is a large part of that. Just as most would consider it wrong to assume that someone is guilty of a crime based solely on their race, it is wrong to assume that a person is harboring terroristic motives and intentions based solely on their religion. What Brigitte Gabriel and others who would stereotype and demonize Muslims must realize is that this country’s laws were not made to protect their religious freedom, but the religious freedom of all people.

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