The Battle for God

The Battle for God

Written in 2011, and prior to the events of September 11th too, Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun turned religious scholar, has always had a fine eye for religious turn of events. She applies the same rigor to Judaism, as she did with Islam and Christianity, even in her preface she acknowledge the existence of "Confucian" and "Hindu fundamentalism" too.

Of her three treatments above, the focus on the Jews and their Judaism is most illuminating. After the Edict of Expulsion was signed by Queen Isabella on March 31, in 1499, seven years after the dispatch of Christopher Columbus to India (only to find himself landing in the shore of America i.e. the New World), the Jews in Spain had found themselves confronted with the choice to either convert to Catholicism or forced to leave. Many embraced Catholicism, while a good 130,000 souls moved to Ottoman Empire. But the former were not immediately respected as born again Catholics. Rather the Catholics referred to them as "murranos" (pigs).

In the Ottoman Empire, the Sephardic Jews would be welcomed with open arms, but they were classified as "dhimmis," which consigned them to paying a poll tax in exchange of the protection they would receive. Nevertheless, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire would permit them to practice their faith.

However, due to the signal event in Spain, the Jewish diaspora found itself distributed all across Europe too. Some went to Portugal, others to the Balkans, and yet others to Russia. The de-centralized nature of the Jewish community forced many to wonder if they were indeed God's "chosen people," since their very esteemed status could not even promise a permanent and proper abode. Was God really there for the Israelites ?

Karen Armstrong explained this acute phase of soul searching. With Lucianic Kabbalah manifesting itself into a sect that believes in the necessity of earth-bound suffering before the arrival of the Messiah. Others like Baruch Spinoza, who grew up in Netherlands, argued that faith was not a mere belief in an absentee God, but an epistemic appreciation of God as "the totality of nature". Hence, a religious person, by right, would pursue logic, sciences, knowledge, and all the emancipatory disciplines, to be as near to God, or God's many hidden secrets in Nature, as one can arguably be.

The dialectics, dilemmas and tensions in Judaism made for a need for something ever purer, culminating in modern time with the creation of the state of Israel, of which many secular and religious Jews are going all out to defend; even if it involves Occupying Palestine. In this sense, the battle for God is effectively "the battle" for a home, a strong country, to anchor and secure the 'faith,' in addition to centralizing and purifying its axioms, theology, myths, and organizational hierarchy.  

On Islam, Karen Armstrong also highlighted the brave position of Mullah Sadra, an Iranan thinker in Isfarhan. Sadra argues that mere reading and recitation of the religious text, at best, would only provide one with rich information on Islam. But they would far short of transforming the inner life and soul of the believer. Hence, in order to change oneself, one has to pursue the "journey" to be God-like. Such a journey would also constitute a return to the earthly society to share what had been learned. All of these endeavors would require deep and dedicated spiritual practices of meditation.

In a way, what Karen Armstrong is trying to say is that, the attempt to find God, has always been a perennial one, some just do it with more violence than the others. Some, for example, are contented to find God, others are convinced that once found, the message and revelation of God should be disseminated all over. Those who abstain from listening to the "good word of the God," such as the Shariah, would find themselves unmoored and cut off from the spiritual anchor of God.