David Brooks, Nidal Hasan, and the Separation of Religion and Violence

We are on dangerous ground.

In an op/ed piece published in The New York Times on November 11, 2009, David Brooks takes the American media to task for their initial reticence to portray Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan as a radical Muslim terrorist. Maj. Hasan, in case you haven’t been following the news, is the man who murdered thirteen of his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas last week. According to witnesses, he shouted “God is great” in Arabic before pulling out his pistol and killing people. Continue reading

A Christmas Homily from Foothill Presbyterian Church

Just before worship last Sunday I discovered a beautiful poem about Mary becoming pregnant by God’s spirit. The scriptures for Sunday’s service were all about Mary and so I read the poem at the beginning of worship:

Know that the wheeling heavens are turned by waves of Love:
were it not for Love, the world would be frozen, stiff.
How would an inorganic thing transform into a plant?
How would living creatures sacrifice themselves
to become endowed with spirit?
How would the spirit sacrifice itself for the sake of that Breath
by which Mary was made pregnant?

For me this is a surprising poem because, while I believe it captures the beauty of the mystery of Mary’s divine conception of Jesus—and by extension, communicates much of the wonder of Christmas—the poem was not written by a Christian. It was composed something like 750 years ago by a Sufi Muslim poet named Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad, who wrote under the penname, Rumi. Continue reading

Cultural Jihad*: Nothing to Fear

*A note on the use of the word “jihad”: “jihad” means something like “faithful struggle.” For Muslims, “jihad” is a positive word unassociated with terrorism or violence of any kind. In this column I use the word as it is misused by many non-Muslims, that is, as a synonym for holy war, especially when such war is directed at the West. I’ve done this because I don’t know how to talk about the concept of “cultural ‘jihad'”–a figment of paranoid non-Muslim imagination–without using the awkward name given to the phenomenon.

So a pastor, a rabbi and an imam walk into a crowded, fancy hotel ballroom in California’s Silicon Valley…

Each clergyman says a few inspirational words and offers a prayer of invocation. The men of the cloth then embrace and seven hundred folks in the room clap and cheer because the three of them— the pastor in his faux-linen dog collar, the rabbi in his crocheted yarmulke, and the imam in white robes beneath an ankle-length gabardine overcoat— present a compelling image, a brief reminder that options beyond antagonism are readily available for the spiritual heirs of Abraham.
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Sarah Palin’s Crusade

This column also is published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum.

When her critics point out that Governor Sarah Palin is inexperienced on matters of foreign policy they tend to note what she hasn’t done —she seldom has traveled outside the United States. In fact The New York Times reports that Governor Palin had to apply for a passport before traveling to Kuwait and Germany to visit deployed members of the Alaska National Guard in 2007. She also visited Ireland on that trip—The Wall Street Journal says she was there just long enough to refuel her plane—and it’s fair to assume that she’s seen the parts of Canada between Alaska and Idaho.

Governor Palin never has been to Iraq and she’s never visited any of America’s most important allies. Even though their population is roughly equivalent to that of Memphis, Tennessee, Alaskans must engage in foreign commerce, yet Palin has not visited Alaska’s trading partners. I have no idea if Palin has received foreign delegations to Alaska. I’ll leave it to more astute political observers to decide if what Sarah Palin hasn’t done qualifies her to set our nation’s foreign policy. I am a religious commentator. My job is to point out that, what Sarah Palin has done (or, more precisely what she has said), suggests that this affable hockey mom is theologically ill-prepared to lead on matters of foreign policy; and the American people should be singularly concerned if Sarah Palin ever is in charge of representing the United States in its relationships with the Muslim world.
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John McCain and Rod Parsley: Sacrificing Peace for an Ohio Victory

By now we all know about Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor whose homiletical remarks have become a serious liability for the Obama campaign. Less known are the “pastor problems” of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. This week’s column is the second in a series of two columns that will look at the religious baggage being carried by Barack Obama’s fellow presidential hopefuls. Last week I wrote about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in “the Fellowship,” a secretive, powerful and sometimes abusive affiliation of our nation’s power elite. This week I’m focusing upon John McCain’s relationship with Rod Parsley, a Mega-Church pastor from Ohio.

Whatever you may think of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright—he of the “Goddamn America” homiletics—it doesn’t take much examination to find that Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor was good in many ways. A tendency toward radical theology notwithstanding, Jeremiah Wright’s church provided the Obama family with the kind of spiritual home that every family should have regardless of religious affiliation.

Something similar can be said of Hillary Clinton’s participation in the ministry of The Fellowship, a secretive network of mostly rich, mostly white, mostly powerful, mostly men, who have extraordinary influence in Washington and who have  a well deserved reputation for being creepy.  The Fellowship provided the then First Lady with a place of sanctuary and healing in the wake of the Monica Lewinski scandal. As a senator, Ms. Clinton’s Fellowship connections have helped her to forge significant and (I think) nationally beneficial bi-partisan relationships. On these two points the Fellowship gets no complaints from me.

There is, however, nothing good to be said about John McCain’s courting of Rod Parsley, the pastor of World Harvest Church, a 12,000 member congregation outside of Columbus, Ohio. Continue reading

Religion and Politics in Tibet

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on March 31, 2008. 

“Religion and politics don’t mix.”

This is an American mantra that has been reinforced by the Jeremiads of Rev. Wright God-damning America on the Left and by countless mega church power brokers on the Right God-damning just about anyone who isn’t a straight, Republican, Protestant Evangelical.

Then we look across the ocean and our determination grows. In Northern Ireland, Presbyterians like me are filled with hatred for their Catholic neighbors; the Catholics respond in kind and with bombs. In Kosovo Orthodox Christians and Muslims are poised to resume the age-old practice of killing one another. In the Holy Land religion is used by Jewish Israelis to justify the appropriation of Palestinian and to deprive peaceful Palestinian civilians of human rights. Palestinians—both Muslims and Christians—are inspired by religion to attack Israeli civilians.

Lord have mercy. Osama bin Laden is condemning the entire European Union because of Danish cartoons. Radical Hindus are calling for the expulsion of Muslims from India. Buddhists are killing Hindus in Sri Lanka. The officially atheist Chinese government is killing  Buddhists in the Himalayas.

This brings us to Tibet. Continue reading

Barack Obama’s Pastor

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on March 17, 2008.

I imagine this presents something of a dilemma for Barack Obama’s detractors and political rivals: what should be said about The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Obama family pastor, who has made incendiary statements about the September 11 terrorists attacks and about Hillary Clinton and John McCain? Continue reading

The Sanctity of Words

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality website on May 14, 2007.
Last week the FBI uncovered a plot involving a handful of roofers and pizza deliverers from suburban Philadelphia who, according to the allegations, were planning an attack on the United States Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

If the government’s case against the would-be militants sticks, it will be a fine example of what actually keeps Americans safe in the post-nine eleven world. It was not the invasion and occupation of Iraq but the sleuthing of gumshoes in the Garden State which thwarted the evil machinations of this small, violent anti-American cell. Score one for the good guys. Continue reading

Respectfully, the Pope is Not a Muslim

A link on the Islamica Magazine website will take the curious religiously inclined websurfer to an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, written in response to the pontiff’s impolitic and regrettable remarks given during a lecture at the University of Regensburg, Germany last September. I was impressed enough by the letter to send my thoughts to Islamica Magazine, who, I’m told, will publish it as a letter to the editor. Said letter, somewhat expanded and extended is published below. Given the Pope’s visit to Turkey this week, now seemed like a good time to share my thoughts. This piece also can be found on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality page.

As I read over the list of Muslim leaders who have signed the “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XIV,” I cannot help but be impressed. I’m not familiar with all of the names, but many of them are recognizable to me, and I am privileged to have made the acquaintance of at least one of the signers, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson of the Zaytuna Institute in California. It is a extraordinary list. The only name I wish could be added is my own.

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