An npr interview with Akbar Ahmed in which he described his trip with several students to various locations in the Muslim world, “A Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization”

inspired my own breakdown below of our world religions as I have known them. I was email scolded this morning by one of our religious leaders for whom I have the greatest respect for my piece, “Ancient Roots of Hate Religion” to which I responded:

“As I am sure you know, our religions were THE principal mode of human understanding and expression until the scientific revolution came along to challenge their absolute authority.  They contained both the best and worst of human desires and capacities to act.  I will probably do one entitled “Mystical/Modern/Militant” which follows along the break down in Akbar Ahmed’s latest book, “A Journal into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization.”  He is working towards the best of things while recognizing the worst.  I realize that you have religious commitments that I have abandoned — seeing too many harms emerging out of the religious scams of today following upon some of the worse horrors of the past (all those burned alive in the Inquisition, followed by the lost generation gassed in WW1 and burned alive in WW2 (Dresden), napalmed in Viet Nam, rocketed in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Gaza).”

Let me then update on each of the mentioned breakdown terms:

MYSTICISM is an ingredient in virtually all of the world’s religions — a belief that one can somehow have a direct encounter with an all mighty being or reality thought to underlie our world of mere appearances.  Some of the world’s great mystics became primary contributors to the well-being of humanity.  I fear, however, that much mysticism today has been reduced to what I would call ‘feel good’ personal comfort located in imagined dialogues with a super natural being — what Freud viewed as an immature father figure need.  Born again Christians in the U.S. are of this type. Some do good works, but all too many are into religion as a guarantee for their bank balances and good health — and they may mix their self-sourced divine conversations with a wide range of hate elements — against women (pro-life), gays, minorities (immigrants), other religions (terrorists), et al.

MODERNISM involves the application of the best religious ethical insights to our fellow human beings (and other life forms) — whether one is an explicit religious believer or some variety of humanist — agnostic or deist (believer in a world order but not divinity) or atheist.  It is important for Americans particularly to recognize that our founding fathers were not Christians per se (i.e. theists) but self-proclaimed deists (Ben Franklin as archetype) or atheists (e.g. Ethan Allen).  The slogan “under God” was added only during the Eisenhower years.  Most Americans are totally unaware of this historical reality.  I only discovered it in an history of American theology course with Bob Handy at Union Theological Seminary and joint teaching of an honors course with Lillian Schlissel, an expert in American history.

MILITANCY is the major and perhaps now apocalyptic threat today of religion.  I could add a chapter here on all the mad wars that have been waged down though the millennia in the name of religions.  Kwame Anthony Appiah draws a distinction between what he calls “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” racism.  Both entail prejudices against groups.  But whereas extrinsic racism can be corrected by appeals to the facts, intrinsic racism is resistant to challenge and deadly because it is connected to beliefs that enhance one’s own group identity.  By analogy militant religious cannot yield respect to others without admitting that their own beliefs are not absolute or the only way up the mountain.  Pope Alexander XVI’s recent digs at both Islam and Judaism and claims that his is the only real church are of this character.  In another era such views sent troops off to the Holy Lands on crusades and caused the burning alive o many thousands ‘unbelievers’.

Militant religion is the true enemy of humanity — whether it takes the form of terrorist attacks on innocent civilians or occupation of resistant peoples.  Bush slipped when he started his own crusades by using that term before he corrected himself.  His comments are full of the vocabulary of militant religion which is obliged to justify its murders of others by declaring them to be “evil” ones — the “axis of evil.”

Whether we are explicit religious believers or not, our job is to recall our militants, encourage our mystics not to join their crusades, and to bring modern standards of justice and the rule of law back into our world system.  I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard one of our generals in Iraq suggesting that ‘democracy was possibly not the way to go there — most of our allies in that region are not democracies’.  Obviously the U.S. has unleashed an horrendous pattern of militancy against enemies real and imagined over there.  And one cannot escape the militant religious connections of the Republicans — its right wing evangelicals who want Israel reestablished and then destroyed to bring Jesus back again?!  Needless to say this message is a demonic perversion of the Gospels.  Satan rides again!

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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