Friday, September 23, 2005



Here are the names and addresses of our Midway 301 Ethics class who attended the Conference on “The Battle for God” by Karen Armstrong at Transylvania College.

Class members numbers 1 thru 10 may consult either of these two
Melisssa Wineka Tel 859-553-2025, Email
Rebecca Hays Tel 502-859-6078, Email

Class members 11 through 21 may consult either on these two
Michelle McCrury Tel 859-588-3738, Email
Allison Hood, Tel 502-839-6644, Email

Class members 22 through 33 may consult either of these two:
Josette Knowles, Tel 859-293-6380, Email
Tiffany Gook, Email

The questions to address in your journal report is
What is the source of religious extremism today, that is, how can we understand it?
What effort or work do we need to overcome these religious tensions today?
Or what is necessary to have peace among various faiths?

You may consult other posts on this blog on Fundamentalism in the writing of your journal entry on this subject. It is obviously
one of the most important issues of our times, and one that will contiuue
to impact your own future, and the future of world peace.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Karen Armstrong at Transy, Paschal's notes

The Battle for God
Talk by Karen Armstrong, at Transylvania University, September 19, 2005
Notes by Paschal Baute

I arrived before 7 p.m. with a friend and we found seats but the auditorium was already more than 2/3 filled. I was told by my Midway Phil 301 class that some 24 arrived at 7:05 (scheduled at 7:30) and were refused admission. The large auditorium was packed and standing / sitting room in aisles was also filled. Unfortunately the speaker whose task was to introduce her used the occasion to promote herself speaking for some 20-25 minutes, and reduced time available for Armstrong. This ego-project was obvious to the audience.

Dr. Armstrong’s subject was the Battle for God. There is a militant form of piety today that is fundamentalistic, but not simply Islamic. The Muslim extremists are only the last form, Every type of Wisdom tradition, Christianity, Hebrew, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. has also experienced this militant extremism. She admitted that she could only take some highlights from her book.

Fundamentalism is not orthodoxy, or “right teaching,” but a break with the past, and is not always violent. Only a very small segment of fundamental extremists are violent. Basically it is rebellion against Modernity, a fear and disappointment with modern society. In response to the threat of modern society (characterized by independence and innovation), Fundamentalists form a sacred enclave to shut out the rest of the world. One example is Bob Jones University. Another would be my wife reporting that in her Baptist Sunday school they decided they could not go to a certain place to meet because that was where “sinners were.” Thus it is a fear of contamination.

Modernity is based upon technology, innovation and freedom to think for oneself. The theme of the pre-Modern world was to Conserve. Innovation was zilch. We in the West took 300 years to reach the culture we have now, which is in fact a fundamental change in the way we live.

Democracy and its benefits had to be fought for, in many battles, often bloody. As more people became educated, more demanded a share in the wealth of society. Those societies which did not democratize did not develop. In this development, toleration was the key. The aim was to bring everyone into the mainstream. The two essential changes in modern society were A) Independence and B) Innovation.

During this time of the Industrial Revolution and the changes it wrought, there was great despair in Europe. We in the West have forgotten both the anguish and uncertainty and struggle we survived, but also the excitement.

The Islamic world at this time, former leaders and even rulers of much of the West and the East, were left behind. Instead for them there was colonization and imitation, but no true or authentic development of their own societies. At the heart of all of this was a deep and profound fear and dread of being over-run, over-ruled, and persuaded or seduced into a world that seemed increasingly Ungodly. Remember Muslims had never separated church and state.

This fear and dread was the same as that of small town America to the propect of being dominated by the Harvards and Yales of the Northeast and Washington DC. Or fancy big time lawyers who came to town for important cases.

There was the strong sense and fear that Modern Society, represented by the West wanted to wipe out the Muslims, their own precious faith and sense of community.

In the Muslim world, modernization was too rapid, compared with the West taking some 300 years to get where we are today. Sometimes rulers insisted on changes all at once, e.g., the modernization of Turkey, actually requiring strange Western dress. In Iran, the American puppet Shah took aggressive action against religious orthodox forms of behavior and protest.

E.g. Nasser in Egypt, a Sunni Muslim imprisoned the radically orthodox for some 50 years, without relief. Several later leaders admitted that this long imprisonment and torture convinced them that any cooperation with America was evil, and so Secularism, a development of society apart from religious tradition, became increasingly perceived as satanic, or undermining the true Muslim faith, sense of community and many religious practices.

Not everyone has the same amount of privilege. . .and so the reaction was to regroup. In the USA, there was the Moral Majority. Attack always makes the defenders more extreme. Flashpoints were different for different groups. In the West, doctrine is the Achilles heel; in the State of Israel, politics were supposed sacramental, but this was seen as anathema by others; among Islamists, the vital role of the Iman and the community were the flashpoints.

Ideological terms were not same metaphors in other Wisdom tradtions. “Satan” is the Temptor in Islam, not the personification of evil. America was seen at first as the Temptor, or possibly the great Trivializer. We did not understand what was happening in Iran, and how that was the outcome of our own policies in supporting a Shah seen and experienced not only as abusive, punitive but also as the USA puppet.

No one faith has the monopoly on truth. But unless we embrace this world view we will continue to threaten one another at a very deep level, and the response will be dread and rage. It is not helpful to dismiss Fundamentalism.

Comments on wearing of the veil or scarf. We must allow others to come to Modernity in their own way. None of the great world religions have been good for women.

I was able to attend a breakfast group the next morning where the entire session was questions and answers. Some further notes: We are in this mess now because liberals attacked the conservatives and they regrouped and returned. We must find language for conversation that is firm, principled and specific.

Question about differences? We should approach differences with calm acceptance. Anger will suppresss the spirit. We must avoid the polemical road of arguing texts, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” When we treat others with genuine respect that can take the wind out of their sails. The Chinese rituals of politeness creates their own sense of a holy space.

If we truly listen, how much control do we give up in the conversation? Fear is at the heart of these differences. Religion is getting rid of the ego. The opposite of ego is the place where God abides. Kenosis, New Testament description of Jesus, is a self-emptying.

An Christian emphasis on Doctrine is self-indulgent guesswork. We Christians must strive and keep striving to create a space for community and honoring other Wisdom traditons. That is our challenge for the Village we now live in.

Armstrong referred to the Dai Lama several times with admiration, and reminded us that Jesus required us to Love our Enemies. In response to my question about what her personal belief system was, she said she could no longer believe in a personal God, because this personal God had never answered her or spoke to her. But her answers indicated that she at least accepts Jesus as a prophet of Wisdom.

I do not vouch that this is an accurate portrayal of Dr. Amrstrong’s presentation, but only my own notes.
OVERNIGHT THOUGHTS: An idea of Armstong in this matter of the Battle for God that I omitted above was the fact and role of poverty. Most Muslims are poor, very poor. The main protection and security they have is from their tribal leader and their faith, often not well informed concerning the principles of Koran. They have no sense of a society built upon human rights and political compromise as we do in the West. They feel their faith and their way of life deeply threatened by the secularism and materialism of the West, symbolized in its worst examples by the power and glitter and blindness of the USA and its policies of supporting Arab dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., and its unwavering support of the state of Israel against the Palestinians.