Friday, August 24, 2007

God's Warriors; The Buddha Diaries Recommends

Now that I've watched all three segments of Christiane Amanpour's CNN special, God's Warriors, I'm left wondering why the series left me feeling so dissatisfied. True, it was mostly interesting to watch (though I'll confess I dozed off a couple of times: chalk it up to the late hour, for this vacationing geezer), and the topics were thoroughly discussed. What was missing, for me, I think, was a sense of the controversy and outrage that swirl around the influence of religion in current political life. This may have had to do with Amanpour's decision to separate her three segments by religion, Jewish one evening, Muslim the next, and Christian the last. The fact that they never came head to head in the broadcast--the source of such animosity and bloodshed in the real world--made them seem insulated from each other, and thus relatively benign.

Lacking, too, was any real critical analysis of the views that Amanpour generously allowed the subjects of her interviews to discuss. There was little effort even to present opposing views. We saw a procession of mostly well-meaning folk whose passionate embrace of their particular religious bias seemed, well, almost laudable without the context of the dire results of their fanaticism. What's deeply troubling is not that strong religious views exist, but that their intolerance of other views results in terrorist acts, hostility, and outright warfare. It's the clash that is causing such problems in the world, and the clash that the series format effectively avoided. Amanpour's careful and compassionate listening was impressive, but left this viewer wanting more by way of challenge.

That said, I think that we progressive, liberal democrats do ourselves a serious disfavor by too easily discounting the depth of the contemporary desire to rediscover the values that religious practice--in all its manifestations--once represented. There's clearly something going on in the world, some major shift in consciousness, in reaction perhaps to the scientific and philosophical rationalism that has dominated human thought since the eighteenth century and that brought with it the industrial and technological revolutions. It seems evident, at the beginning of the 21st century, that while these may have brought "progress" on the material front--flush toilets, refrigerators and, yes, even the computer on which I write and post this entry in the blogosphere, these are surely advantages we would be reluctant to live without--they have also left an aching void in the life of the human spirit. As I see it, these warriors of God are seeking, each in their own way, to fill the void. Their mistake--again, strictly in my own view--is to be sifting through the already discredited myths of the past to find their answers.

In this context, this might be a good moment to return to...

The Buddha Diaries Recommends

... because we're happy to see that Mark, at Marko Polo and Eli at Memory Palace are both back at the keyboard and posting new entries on their blogs after a prolonged absence. (I guess summer breaks for students tend to break up the rhythm of the year.) Anyway, here are two young bloggers who are not loath to engage in the hard process of wrestling with religious ideas and beliefs, and are willing to question their own as well as listen to others. It's good to stay in touch with the heartland, where they reside. And I mean that in both senses of the word. I'm looking forward myself to hearing more from them.


robin andrea said...

I didn't watch any of CNN's "God's Warriors." I am a very serious anti-theist who thinks monotheism is the absolute worst thing that ever happened to spiritual thought. I am certain that scientific and philosophical rationalism can co-exist with a deeply spiritual mindfulness. One need not abandon awe in the face of technological and industrial revolutions. Enlightenment is abandoned to dogma and ancient myths that demand obeisance rather than awakenings.

I suspect you are right, though, about progressive liberal democrats needing to pay more attention to this resurgence in religiosity. Pity.

Anonymous said...

One wonders why in God's Warriors references to the Afghan war are reduced down to merely mention it as the cause celebre of a fringe bunch of some Arab youth. A fuller picture will take account of other much pertinent factors worth taking note of:

According to Bob Woodward's book ''Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987.'' William Casey believed not only in the President Reagan's ''evil empire'' brand of anti-Communism but also in taking risks. Casey had the instincts of a venture capitalist, but as Director of Central Intelligence he was playing not with money but with people's lives.

CNN would recall interviewing Jere Van Dyk the author of "In Afghanistan" and a former reporter for The New York Times. In the early 1980s he covered the Afghan-Soviet war, living with the Afghan rebels. Van Dyk recalls:

In 1986, the CIA under William Casey, made a very clear decision to supply the Afghans with serious hardware, stinger missiles. The United States ultimately spent $10 billion supplying weapons to the men fighting the Soviet Union. All of these arms went through the Pakistani military, in particular, the intelligence arm, which is called ISI, Interservice Intelligence. The ISI gave most of these arms to the most radical elements in the mujahadin.

Van Dyk further reminds:
"In the mid-1980s, Pakistani and American military officers did train certain members of the mujahadin. We were introducing new weaponry to them, and we wanted them to win their war. So we did do some training. We did not fight with them. And bin Laden did, at the beginning, work with the Americans."
Crile and the subject of the book, former Texas congressman Charlie Wilson, will speak to the Friends of the LBJ Library on October 7, 2003.
According to the book’s publisher, The Atlantic Monthly Press, “George Crile tells how Charlie Wilson, a maverick congressman from east Texas, conspired with a rogue CIA operative to launch the biggest, meanest, and most successful covert operation in the Agency's history. At a time when Ronald Reagan faced a total cutoff of funding for the Contra war, Wilson, who sat on the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee, managed to procure hundreds of millions of dollars to support the mujadiheen.”

Another character worth a befitting mention is Charles Wilson, a Texas congressman who uses his political wiles to arm tribes of Afghan holy warriors…which ultimately led to the fall of the Soviet Union in the best-seller by George Cirle Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.

The Houston Post writes, “In Charlie Wilson’s War, George Crile reveals in extraordinary detail the over-the-top, under-the-table machinations of Charles Wilson, one of Capitol Hill’s ablest political bulldozers, as he spearheaded what eventually became known as the Soviets’ Vietnam.”

TaraDharma said...

I saw two of the three. I think the reporter had a very fine line to walk in order to get some honesty out of her subjects. To challenge their beliefs would have turned the conversation into a debate, as opposed to allowing each representative to say their piece. I found myself falling asleep during the christian segment. Oh hum. Maybe because I've seen it/heard it so many times before. And as outlandish as some of the Islamic beliefs expressed were, I got a real sense of the diverse thought amongst Muslims. The fundamentalists scare the crap outta me. How DOES a world deal with terrorists who hold out religious belief as their sheild? This goes for right wing Christians who bomb women's clinics as well! Robin, as always, puts it well. And we ignore these crazies at our own peril.

D.Ekon said...

Excellent work by Christiane Amanpour! More than anything else this documentary reveals a deep human search for God and a quest for what is the truth. There appears to be a veil over the faces of everyone including Christiane that makes everyone unsure of an answer to the deep spiritual questions that drives all three religious groups. I have thought a lot about this mystery. The Jews expect a messiah to come and remove this veil so they can see the truth. The Christian say the messiah has come and is removing this veil and is showing us the truth. The Moslems say there is no veil. We can see the truth clearly.

However, the Moslems have the witness and account of only one prophet to believe while the Jews and Christians have the account of several prophets down the history lane that kept account of these things. Also it appears to me that the Moslem holy book mentions some of the notable Jewish prophets and the message they conveyed but there is no mention of the prophet that inspired Islam in both the Jewish and Christian holy books.

In life the witness of three is often referred to as stronger than the witness of one person. I wonder whether this is also true in this case. Between the Jews and the Christians though the witnesses of the prophets appear somewhat consistent about what this messiah would do. The Jews hold to the literal text and see every fulfillment of prophecy by these prophets as very physical but the Christian read a lot more means into every word. Jews tend to focus on a given time that spans from Abraham to somewhere around the prophet Daniel while Christians tend to be a little broader by examining also the events during the time of Jesus and Paul the converted legal prosecutor.

By examining these events the Christians say it sums up the prophecies and brings greater light into these secret and mysterious things. The Jews agree that a final piece of the puzzle is required to sum up the mysteries and bring understanding to the messages of the prophets but disagree strongly about examining the events surrounding the person known as Jesus Christ rather they prefer to look beyond for another prophet.

The Moslems say to the Jews beyond Jesus there is no other prophet but Mohammad, look no further. While the Jews question the fact that no other prophet they know has spoken about or mentioned the name Mohammad. They also question the fact that the Message of Mohammad does not align with the rest of the prophets they know.

I find all these very interesting. I think Christiane’s documentary, God’s Warriors, helps me see how far every religious camp is willing to go in defense of things they hold so dear to their hearts. However, the issue I find more fascinating, controversial and worthy of far more examination and attention is the person of Jesus Christ. Everything about these three great religions appears to somewhat revolve round this single individual.