Written on December 30th, 2014
Written on March 11th, 2014
Christianity, Judaism and Islam are both peaceful and violent. Robert Wright discusses what circumstances bring out the best and worst in religion.
Is religion a force for good or ill?
This question has been more energetically debated over the last few years, globally, due to the West's confrontation with radical Islam, and in the U.S., to the political emergence and activism of evangelical Christians. This was brought to a head with the misadventures of George W. Bush, from Teri Schiavo to Bagdhad.
Robert Wright takes on big questions, and he's taken this one on in his new book, The Evolution of God. He follows the changing moods of God as reflected in ancient Scripture, to see what circumstances brought out the best and worst in religions.
According to Wright, "The moral of the story is simple: When people see their interests threatened by another group, this perception brings out the most belligerent parts of their religion. Such circumstances are good news for violent extremists and bad news for moderates. What Obama is trying to do -- make Palestinians feel less threatened, and make Muslims generally feel more respected -- may now, as it did in ancient times, bring out the tolerant side of a religion."
Wright is a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, and founder and editor of www.bloggingheads.tv
His books include: Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information; The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life; and Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny.
Last summer author and scholar of religions REZA ASLAN came out with a book that utilized a great deal of historical research to give readers a sense of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. ASLAN had taken on a similar task seven years earlier with his first book NO GOD BUT GOD, in which he tells the story of Mohammed. But the problem for some folks this time around is that Reza Aslan is a Muslim. In an interview that has been viewed at least a million and a half times on YouTube, Lauren Green of Fox News demanded to know, “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” – and that interview sent Aslan’s book, ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, to the top of best-seller lists for weeks.
REZA ASLAN has been a guest on Free Forum a number of times in the past, and I’m happy to welcome him back again, to talk a bit about the reaction, but much more about the content and meaning of his book. He examines Jesus through the lens of the time and place in which he lived, first-century Palestine, and labels him in the book’s title, a zealot – a radical political opponent of the Roman occupation. Because Jesus was crucified without overthrowing Roman rule, he is one of many failed messiahs. But why did this particular failed messiah become the starting point of one of the world’s great religions, wielding enormous influence over two thousand years later among more people than even existed during his lifetime?