Monday, November 4, 2013

Beyond Fundamentalism

Resa Aslan, 176 pgs, Random House, 2010, $16.
Subtitled “Confronting religious extremism in the age of globalization.”  

Aslan outlines the historic similarities shared by extreme wings of major religions.   He illustrates that none have consistently occupied a higher ground where seeking peace and understanding might be the ultimate goal.  Exhorting themselves into Cosmic battles, extremists bolster their cause with the words “God is on our side,” or “We are fighting God’s war.”  Frequently the cause has been simply to emerge victorious.  The reward awaits in the next life: to hell with those we defeat.  Often there is no end game – no: “What shall we do on earth once we accomplish our mission?”

In the twenty-first century, America finds herself engaged in a so-called Cosmic War pitted against those whose motivation may not appear rational.  (What rationale for war is rational?)  Our strategy?  To fight such zealotry with zealotry of our own.

A better strategy?  Aslan makes a good case for refusing to engage.  History, he says, shows that the middle will win out over the extreme, so long as someone doesn’t stumble into becoming the extreme’s foil.  The book offers historic perspective to  present a balanced view of the hazards when veering too far to the left or right in our beliefs.  No religious group, no matter how righteous their underpinnings appears immune. 

Coincidentally, I read Aslan’s work as the shut-down debacle in Washington was playing out.  I couldn’t help viewing things happening in our nation’s capital through the lens Dr. Aslan provided.  Apparently political groups can fall into the same zealtrous traps.

Good read, although the occasional passage must be waded through.  See your local, independent book retailer.

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