My Mom and South Sudan?

My Mom occasionally buys me books that she thinks I will like. She has bought me about ten books in the past couple of years, and all ten books were far from my usual reading selection. I try my best to have a diverse reading list, but my Mom is in a league of her own when it comes to getting me out of my comfort zone. The most recent example of her eclectic curation came from the book – What is the What by David Eggers. What is the What is a nonfiction book written as a fiction book…yes I did say my Mom expanded my horizons. It is technically a piece of fiction because it is the story of Valentino Achak Deng – one of the lost boys of the Sudanese war during the 1980s. Valentino was a child when the war occurred, and hence his first memories are not 100% accurate – but doesn’t take away from the real nightmare that made up the first two decades of his life.

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When Valentino was seven, his peaceful life in the southern region of Sudan turned upside down when war broke out. The war was between the SPLA, who wanted an independent South Sudan, and the government of Sudan who wished to maintain control over the area. Southern Sudan was primarily Christian while the political north was primarily Muslim. The Islamic government wanted to bring an Islamic state to the south, and the SPLA wanted to maintain its unique Afro-Christian identity. The conflict has been known to posterity as the Second Sudanese Civil War which began in 1987 and ended in 2005. During that time, two million people were killed – almost three and half times more people that died in the American Civil War – and thousands of children were left orphaned to fend for themselves.

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A large portion of those children were boys who were too young to enter into the SPLA and fled their homes to escape the conflict. Valentino was one of 20,000 lost boys who marched from South Sudan to safe havens like Ethiopia and Kenya. The boys walked to these places many times in small groups and had to endure starvation, government attack, and even predatory animals. Valentino witnessed his friends being dragged into the jungle by lions, shot by overhead helicopters, and eaten by parasitic flies after dropping dead from exhaustion. The walk he took consisted of hundreds of miles and months of toil – on several occasions, he laid on the ground for hours unable to move from extreme malnutrition and infection.

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Valentino was able to obtain some semblance of life at a Kenyan refugee camp that was funded by the United Nations. He lived in the camp for several years until the US allowed several Lost Boys to resettle in the states. While in the States he met Dave Eggers who recorded his story and wrote the book What is the What. Through funds of the book, Valentino started his own foundation to support education in Southern Sudan. South Sudan won its independence in 2011 but is still in conflict with various internal organizations – it is one of the most depressed countries on earth. I had no idea the turmoil in Sudan until reading this book, and it has ignited in me a desire to learn more about Africa in general. Oftentimes, we get consumed with our own interests that we miss seminal events around the world. All these things impact us, and we must continue to learn and help those who are suffering. Refugees need help more than ever, and we need to seek practical policies which benefit not only the “lost” but also the countries who take the “lost” in as citizens. Thanks, Mom, for expanding my horizon, and I always appreciate your eclectic tastes – I never thought I would be mentioning your name with South Sudan. Expand your world…I am continuing my expansion by reading a book that is far from my comfort zone – Emma by Jane Austen.

Here are 9 out of the next 15 books that I will begin in June:

Nabokov, Vladimir
Tennessee Williams

Malcolm X – Darkness to Light

This week’s blog is a complete 180 compared to last weeks blog on John Quincy Adams. I am still trying to read all the Penguin Classics, and because of that I just finished The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley. Malcolm X is a mystifying character in history, and I didn’t know anything about him before picking up this classic. This is one reason why I highly recommend making it a goal to read the classics – you will be forced to read books that expand your worldview. We can’t improve discrimination or racism without empathy – one of the best ways to practice empathy is by stepping into the shoes of someone else through biography. 

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Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska – he shortly moved to Lansing, Michigan where he lived until the age of 14. At 14 he moved to Boston to live with family and eventually found himself in Harlem at the age of 21. While in Harlem, Malcolm Little – Little was his original last name – lived a life of crime, drugs, and racketeering. His lifestyle caught up with him, and in 1946 he was arrested for larceny. The prison he was sent to was unique in the sense that it promoted rehabilitation and education. Malcolm began to read and participate in debating events. His family in Michigan had moved to Detroit and while there became involved with a new movement called “The Nation of Islam.” Malcolm’s brother introduced him to the preachings of Elijah Muhammed – a radical black leader who preached a twisted version of Islam. Malcolm converted to Islam in prison, and upon his release in 1952, became a full-time disciple of Elijah Muhammed.

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Elijah Muhammed with his follower Muhammed Ali

Malcolm got rid of his last name and replaced it with an “X” to represent his crossed out African name which could never be discovered. The Nation of Islam was a movement targeted towards frustrated blacks who were sick of discrimination and “white” Christianity. Elijah Muhammed taught his members the following about the white race…

“Though he was a black man, Mr. Yacub, embittered toward Allah now, decided, as revenge, to create upon the earth a devil race – a bleached out, white race of people. From his studies, the big-head scientist knew that black men contained two germs, black and brown. He knew that the brown germ stayed dormant and being the lighter of the two germs, it was the weaker. Mr. Yacub, to upset the law of nature, conceived the idea of employing what we today know as the recessive genes structure, to separate from each other the two germs, black and brown, and then grafting the brown germ to a progressively lighter, weaker stage. The humans resulting, he knew, would be, as they became lighter, and weaker, progressively also more susceptible to wickedness and evil. And in this way finally he would achieve the intended bleached-out white race of devils.”

It gets worse…

“But finally the original black people recognized that their sudden troubles stemmed from this devil white race that Mr. Yacub had made. They rounded them up, put them in chains. With little aprons to cover their nakedness, this devil race was marched off across the Arabian desert to the caves of Europe…When this devil race had spent two thousand years in the caves, Allah raised up Moses to civilize them, and bring them out of the caves. It was written that this devil white race would rule the world for six thousand years.”

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Malcolm X truly believed these falsehoods and regularly recited the message that all white people were the devil. This obviously was not well received by whites, and prominent black leaders like Martin Luther King denounced the separatist hate speech. Malcolm X actually didn’t want desegregation and believed there was no way for the white race and the black race to cohabitate. Eventually, Malcolm X became more prominent then Elijah Muhhamed and was kicked out of the organization. Once he exited the cult-like Nation of Islam, he traveled to Mecca to see for himself what Islam sincerely offered. While in Mecca Malcolm saw people of all races and realized that all his former beliefs were lies. He came back to America a new man…

“In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I never will be guilty of that again – as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man. The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks.”

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Unfortunately, the changed Malcolm X did not have enough time to reverse his public image of hate – on February 21, 1965, he was shot 21 times by assassins of the Nation of Islam. I understand the reasons behind Malcolm’s hate speech and I respect his change of views later in life. We all have the capacity to hate – no one race has a monopoly. Malcolm taught me the danger of fundamentalist teaching and the power of real knowledge – we must seek the truth if we desire to rise above the ignorance of the past.

My Case for Christ

Just this past Easter I went to church with my family; I don’t always look forward to church but when I do it is on Easter Sunday. The pastor covered a lot of the standard resurrection points, and I was having a difficult time concentrating. All of a sudden my ears perked up when I heard him cite The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. This book gets mentioned a lot in the Christian community and on that particular day the pastor was challenging us to read it for ourselves. I finally got around to getting the book, and I was honestly skeptical about its content. Strobel was a former atheist who set about to disprove Christianity. In his journey, he ended up accepting Jesus as his savior. It sounded almost too good to be true, and I slowly dipped my toe into the meat of the text. Strobel was actually a journalist with the Chicago Tribune and approached the “case” for Christ as if he were covering a courtroom proceeding. In a trial, there is a variety of evidence presented to a jury: eyewitness, documentary, corroborating, scientific, rebuttal, identity, and circumstantial evidence to name a few. Strobel was a skeptic and went about interviewing professional academics who had spent their entire lives researching the subject of Jesus. He grilled these individuals with difficult questions: Can the biographies of Jesus Christ be trusted?; Were the biographies of Jesus reliably preserved?; Is there credible evidence for Jesus Christ outside of His biographies?; Does archaeology confirm Jesus’ biographies?; Was Jesus’ body really absent from the tomb?; And are there any supporting facts that point to the resurrection?

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Growing up a Christian, I took these questions for granted – my faith weakened as I got older because I assumed there just wasn’t much to back up the history of Jesus. I was never a full-blown atheist, but many times I doubted the Gospels. After reading this book, I can firmly say that there is no doubt in my mind that Jesus both existed and was raised from the dead. This is a big statement but all the evidence points towards the truth – if I were a jury member I would be negligent if I didn’t admit this verdict. The most astounding fact that I think everyone must reckon with is the spread of Christianity by the Apostles. These men had nothing to gain and everything to lose by spreading the message that Jesus was the Son of God. We must remember that they were Jewish and in the Jewish culture, tradition is absolute. Nothing could have turned Jewish tradition more on its head than saying that the temple was unnecessary because the Son of God had died for the sins of the world. Preaching this message led to imprisonment and death – far from the best motivating factors for a young religion; yet Christianity continued to spread and has yet to fade away after 2,000 years. The burden of proof lies with those who don’t believe – trying to explain the early spread of Christianity in purely naturalistic terms is very unconvincing.

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Am I biased in my claims? Yes and no. I have grown up a Christian, but I have also studied every major world religion – none comes close to the verifiable history of Christianity. That does not mean that other religions do not have things to offer – for example, I meditate daily from reading about Buddhism, I respect Sufism’s mystical practices, and I mildly indulge in the asceticism of Hinduism. My personal case for Christ is that He is still living in us today. The only way I truly know that Christ exists is that he speaks to me on a daily basis. I know He is with me because I also know what it is like to be in the presence of evil. Evil is powerful and very palpable – when Christ fills you it is like a light being turned on in a dark room – impossible to ignore. Suffice it to say, read the book and see the evidence for yourself. If you are an atheist just give it a try. If you believe in God but are not a Christian give it a try. Having a relationship with Jesus makes my life better, so I want your life to be better also. In the end, there are no absolute answers to these metaphysical questions – that is why it is called belief. I think we should close out this blog with a reassuring quote from the most famous atheist in the world.

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.”

-Stephen Hawking

1% Christian History

My old college roommate and I started a tradition last year. Each Christmas, we buy each other a book that we think would be beneficial reading. I didn’t know what to expect from my greasy friend but waited patiently for my gift to arrive. One day, I walked up to my porch and saw a package that looked like a wrapped encyclopedia. I wasn’t too far off; my dirtbag roommate bought me a 1000 page book on the history of Christianity – Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch. This book loomed over me all year and I kept putting off what seemed like a Sisyphean task. By the end, it took me about 50 hours spread over a month.

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Christian history is difficult because it isn’t like normal history – it is a weird dance of facts, figures, and eternity. Having eternity involved complicates everything because you either have to take the Thomas Jefferson route and get rid of all supernatural events or take the Jack Van Impe route and prepare for the apocalypse. These two extremes frame the gamut of Christian beliefs and preface why Christian history is one continuous story of division. From the moment Jesus died on the cross, his disciples went out and preached the Gospel – within a generation, groups were already disagreeing on the intricacies of theology. The Christian church as we know it today is like a box of peanut-brittle that has been shaken by a two-year-old. Originally there was one solid chunk but now there are thousands of variant morsels. This post will only focus on one tiny but very important nugget of Christian history – as the title surmises, this book could fill 99 more blogs.

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The 1% we will cover is one of the most important moments in the Christian church – the Chalcedonian Schism. The Council of Chalcedon met from October 8th to November 9th in the year 451 AD. This Council was called by the Roman Emperor Marcian as an ecumenical meeting for all the important churches at the time – the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Oriental Orthodox. At this point in history, the Christian church needed to clarify theological doctrine and adjust the power roles of western and eastern leaders. The main reason for this meeting was to clarify the true nature of Jesus.

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How could Jesus be both God and man? Before the meeting, there were groups who believed Jesus appeared on earth as a man disguised as God (Docetism) while other groups believed Jesus was, in reality, a normal man chosen by God (Adoptionism). These beliefs led to Nestorianism (which viewed Christ as having some mixture of divine and human elements) and Eutychianism (which viewed Christ’s divinity as completely consuming his humanity like a drop of vinegar in the ocean).

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The Council of Chalcedon sided with a watered down Nestorian view which became known as Dyophysitism – which states that Christ is one person in two natures – “distinctively” man and God in one. This led to the creation of Miaphysitism which held the belief that Christ is one nature and that nature has “inseparable” components of man and God. Confused yet? Again, Dyophysitism believes that Christ is one person with two separate natures while Miaphysitism believes that Christ is one nature which is both divine and human.

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This Dyophysitism decision at the council was agreed upon by the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, the Oriental Church broke off from this definition and became known as Non-Chalcedonian. The Oriental Church includes the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. This schism had drastic effects on the eastern church as a whole by shifting power to the west and decreasing overall cooperation. This separation was one variable that allowed the new religion of Islam to take over eastern strongholds of Christianity; the west would not realize their mistakes until the first crusades 600 years later.

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Our current world is shaped by the decisions at this council: The politics of countries, the religious makeup in the Middle East, and the West’s ignorance of the Oriental Church. So what can we learn from the Council of Chalcedon? One huge lesson is that Christianity can come in many different flavors, shapes, and sizes. Christians shouldn’t be divided into little pieces of peanut brittle. Christians should work together under one absolute truth – Jesus is the son of God who died for our sins so we can have eternal life and spread His message of grace; in a world still divided, we need to focus on that point more than ever. Don’t get hung up on the details and throw your hands in the air thinking religion is stupid. If you focus on loving others, you will obtain the other 99%. 

 

How Islam Shaped Shakespeare

Did you know there was a time when Protestant Christians partnered with Muslims to usurp the Catholic Empire? Did you know that Queen Elizabeth sent a carriage to the head of a harem as a political gift? Did you know Shakespeare included many Muslim characters in his most famous plays? If you knew all these things give your brain a break and go watch the remake of Gilmore Girls. For all of us still reading, let’s take a weird journey into 16th century England where the teeth were black from Moroccan sugar and the houses were ordained with Turkish rugs. As a guide to our journey, we will reference my most recent read – The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam by Jerry Brotton.

Our journey begins in 1558 when Queen Elizabeth took the throne and began ruling a island in a very fractured world. Elizabeth was a protestant while Spain and the Holy Roman Empire were obviously Catholic. The Holy Roman Empire was the beez neez back in those days and made the rules of the land. Well, Pope Pius V and King Phillip II of Spain hated Queen Elizabeth because of her religious views. They colluded against her for decades and finally in 1570 the Pope excommunicated Queen Elizabeth from the church and all of its domains. This put the Queen in a sticky situation – England could no longer trade openly with European countries but needed trade to survive on an island. Added to her woes, Elizabeth was also cut off from the Americas because of Spain and Portugal’s dominance. She had one option that could work but the chances of success were slim. Trade with Muslims in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.

Englishmen were sent to the Ottoman Empire and Morracan Sultanate in hopes of opening up economic partnerships. What is interesting is the fact that when the Englishman met with the Turkish Sultan, he didn’t know where England was and viewed it as politically insignificant. He was correct in this assessment because England and Europe as a whole during the 16th century were far less powerful than the Ottoman Empire (Constantinople had a population of 500,000 compared to 200,000 in London). The Sultan agreed to the trade because he needed valuable metals to make weapons and in exchange the English would receive all sorts of exotic goodies. Guess where a lot of the metal came from for the production of Turkish weapons? Catholic church bells. Protestant English were using Catholic metal to arm Muslims. The same Muslims that were targeted by the Crusades. By the late 1580’s, thousands of English merchants, sailors, and privateers were moving about the Muslim world exchanging goods, beliefs, and culture.

One unlikely cultural exchange occurred in the world of English theater. The theater, up until that point, had primarily consisted of moralistic plays which followed similar patterns of plot and structure. This all changed with the play Tamburlaine which enlisted Muslim characters with plots that included conflicts of religion, politics, and power. Guess who was inspired by Tamburlaine and came out with his own play 6 months later? William Shakespeare. Shakespeare would go on to include 150 references to Islam in 20 different plays – many of which included main characters who were Muslim.

This weird time in history, thanks to inter-Christian quarrels, led to major cultural changes that we still experience today. Every year thousands of students read about Islam through Shakespeare. Everyday millions of people use words that were introduced to the English language from this period of trade: candy, turquoise, and tulip to name a few. Maybe most of all, the Moroccan sugar that blackened Queen Elizabeth’s teeth, led many to search for new sources in the New World. Unfortunately, Christianity and Islam’s 16th century partnership soon ended after Elizabeth’s death. Fast forward today, what can we learn from these previous partnerships? Would we have Shakespeare? Would a England, who decided not to trade with Muslims, have the resources to settle the New World? Interesting questions that all root to the fact that intermingled cultures are powerfully synergistic.

Post 9/11 Potato Salad

Does anyone remember the War in Iraq? The Weapons of Mass Destruction? The invasion in 2003 with nearly everyone’s support? The War in Iraq and then subsequent war in Afghanistan was like a 4th of July party that starts out fun but ends with everyone getting food poisoning from the warm potato salad. We were fired up, we wanted revenge for 9/11, we wanted any excuse to right the wrongs. We got emotional. We didn’t look at all the facts. We jumped in blind holding George Bush’s hand. Eventually we would learn that shooting a hornets nest doesn’t get rid of a dangerous problem but rather makes it far worse. We are yet again repeating these mistakes with rhetoric following the Orlando shooting. There is fear against Muslims, ISIS, radical Islam, terrorists, and future attacks in general. Emotions are getting the best of us and leading us to irrational solutions: prevent all Muslims from entering the country, prosecute neighbors who do not call in suspicious behavior, patrol neighborhoods of Muslim-Americans, etc. How will these measures affect human behavior? They will divide Muslims and Non-Muslims even further. They will tell young Muslim-Americans that they cannot be trusted. They will create an “Us vs Them” mentality in targeted neighborhoods-decreasing the likelihood of sharing information. They will foster hatred, anger, and resentment in high risk individuals who are prone to “Lone-Wolf” attacks. They will shake the hornets nest and release even more dangers for America.

As I have previously written, ISIS does not practice anything close to Islam. It is like saying the white-supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed 9 people in a church last year in Charleston, practices Christianity. After that attack we did not bunch all Christians with Dylann Roof; and yes white-supremacists do use the Holy Bible and radical protestant views regularly in their zeitgeist of beliefs. There are over 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. According to the FBI, between 1980-2005, 94% of terrorist attacks in US were committed by NON-MUSLIMS (Source). During that same time period there were more Jewish terror attacks then Muslim terror attacks. Why don’t we ban all the Jews from coming into the country? Nazi Germany anyone? The reason these facts elude us is that most people get their information from the news. The news loves flaming our emotions and nothing gets us more scared or mad then the headline-RADICAL-ISIS-MUSLIM-TERRORIST KILLS AMERICANS!!! Since 9/11 less than 0.0002% of Americans were killed by Muslims (Source); you have a better chance of dying from your TV crushing you while watching FOX News. If we are going to group all Muslims with terrorists then we should group all Christians with members of the Westboro Baptist Church.

So what is the solution? I know that disenfranchising people and stereotyping whole religions will never bring about positive change. I know that jumping into policies based on emotions will never reap the desired results. I know that human nature is predictable and targeting people will make them more likely to fight back. Let’s take a lesson from our current involvement with fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We are involving the Muslims in the area and empowering them to fight their enemy. The Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites are all helping fight this terror group with US assistance. They are actually winning the battle and will have the proper infrastructure to fight ISIS in the future. Funny how partnering with Muslims is showing positive outcomes. Partnership is our only way of winning this war. ISIS wants us to fight them (see my previous posts below) and would love a hot head like Trump to be president. Trump would be there number one recruiting tool. Remember the past so we don’t have to repeat another Post 9/11 Potato Salad.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 1 of 3

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 2 of 3

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 3 of 3

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Part 1 of 3

ISIS is front and center in the news and the acronym itself is now synonymous with fear. This terrorist organization is extremely violent, radical, and is responsible for many recent attacks which resulted in a multitude of innocent deaths. Where did ISIS come from? What do they believe? Are they any different then previous terrorist groups? I wanted answers to these questions so I read ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. This book was published prior to the Paris and San Bernardino attacks but it eerily predicted that events like those would occur. Let’s take a journey in time and look back at the birth and development of the worlds most famous terrorist group.

Our journey begins in 2003 when former President George W. Bush commanded the United States military to invade Iraq. Bush said “We’re taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don’t have to face them here at home.” This statement proved to be half true-we brought the fight but instead of decreasing the number of terrorists, the invasion became a lighting rod for jihadists. Before the invasion, Jihadist’s had a difficult time operating in Iraq and were in severe decline after the destruction of al Qaeda’s primary base in Afghanistan. Jihadists used the American presence in Iraq as a recruiting tool and Abu Musab al Suri, the jihad’s most prominent strategist, said that the war in Iraq single-handedly saved the movement. Numbers wise, following the invasion, terrorism within Iraq rose exponentially; “There were 78 terrorist attacks in the first twelve months…in the second twelve months this number nearly quadrupled, to 302 attacks. At the height of the war, in 2007, terrorists claimed 5,425 civilian lives and caused 9,878 injuries.” The US occupation would also rekindle fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims (think different theological beliefs like Protestants and Catholics). This created a civil war and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a little known jihadist who would use this sectarian violence to his advantage. Zarqawi would found Al-Qa‘ida in Iraq (AQI) which was responsible for several attacks on Shiites and Iraqi civilians. Osama bin Laden would chastise Zarqawi for these attacks on fellow Muslims but Zarqawi believed in a very strict interpretation of Takfir. Takfir is the pronouncement of someone as a nonbeliever and gives jihadists the permission to kill subjects as apostate (no longer believers in Muslim). Zarqawi (who hated Shiites) believed that all Muslims which did not support his beliefs were fair game to kill. This radical ideology was beyond al Queda and even bin Laden thought it was crazy.

Zarqawi’s philosophy was influenced by a few key works. The Management of Savagery, which was created by the research and analysis division of al Queda, outlined stages of jihadist struggles: Disruption and Exhaustion (keep the US fighting to destroy its image of invisibility, Management of Savagery (carry out highly visible violence intended to send a message), and Empowerment (establish regions controlled by jihadists to re-create the caliphate). A Call to a Global Islamic Resistance, cited the need for leaderless resistance and effectiveness of lone wolf attacks. Furthermore, it extensively spoke about apocalyptic prophecies (many of which supported Shiite hatred), which needed to be fulfilled.  Zarqawi’s library was seriously twisted but his reign of terror would end in 2006 when the US killed him in a targeted airstrike. The Defense Department would soon post a picture of the Zarqawi’s corpse, which turned him into a martyr, and led the leader of al Queda to post a eulogy in which he encouraged the AQI to establish an Islamic state. Within a few months, a group of AQI insurgents announced the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). The new leader of the ISI was Abu Omar al Baghdadi who was eventually killed in 2010. Enter, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the second leader of ISI and the current leader of ISIS. Stay tuned for more on Baghdadi and the continuation of our fascinating story.

Thanksgiving and ISIS

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Happy Thanksgiving and I hope you all have recovered from your cornucopia of butter laden dishes. This year I cooked the Thanksgiving meal for my family-we all thoroughly enjoyed and needed to wear XL sweatpants after the feast. Christina, who weighs in at 100 pounds, didn’t stop eating for 36 hours and is currently experiencing after tastes of Pepto Bismol. Thanksgiving not only requires ridiculous amounts of food but also ridiculous amounts of humbleness. That humbleness is needed to appreciate all the blessings in our lives. Below I wanted to list 5 blessings that I am especially thankful for this year.

  1. I own a house and have a hammock witch I lay in every night when I read.
  2. Christina makes me laugh more then ever and I love the subtleties of her personality.
  3. My back, which I hurt last year from falling on ice, has finally healed.
  4. I have successfully blogged for a year and rediscovered my love for writing.
  5. My family is healthy as a whole.

I want to take this blog in new directions this coming year and I hope to incorporate more original posts which cover the mind, body, and spirit. Wisdom is the goal of my writing and I believe that true wisdom comes from a well-balanced life. With that said, future posts will be more diverse and encompass different dimensions of health: learning, fitness, relationships, spirituality, and food to list a few. Stay tuned and thank you for sticking with me. I am currently working on posts which touch on ISIS and Islam as a whole-in the hopes of understanding events that recently occurred in Paris. Give thanks this Thanksgiving and again I thank you for supporting my writing efforts.

-Jon

A Buffet of Religion

Happy Easter! Today is the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead after being crucified for the sins of all mankind. I love learning about religions in a historical context and the differing philosophies are quite fascinating. Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism are the top three religions in the world with an estimated 5 billion followers. The problem with religion is that it is easy to get wrapped up into theological nitpicking. This is why there are so many different types of denominations within a particular religion. Everybody interprets religious texts differently and touts their views as the almighty-most-correct form. This gets tricky especially when eternal life is on the line. People want to be right because they don’t want to burn in hell. The idea of an afterlife is why radical zealots exist and why there has always been wars associated with religious beliefs. If religion was solely a philosophy then no one would care about conversions and cramming their ideology down people’s throats. In particular, Christianity and Islam, requires you to believe in certain things to go to heaven. Ironically, Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe in the exact same God and share much of the same religious texts. The spread of Christianity and Islam destroyed longstanding pagan religions in the pursuit of mass conversions. In Europe, there are no remaining pagan religions that have active practitioners today. In the Middle East however, there are still many religions that never converted to Islam because they were so geographically remote it was difficult for the government to force conversions. Furthermore, these religions survived because they believed in one god which was similar to Islam and hence somewhat acceptable by certain regimes throughout history. I read about these religions in Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East by Gerard Russell. These religions are disappearing because of political unrest, global displacement of followers, westernization, Islamic conversions, and difficulties adhering to beliefs. Below I will summarize some interesting things from each religion.

Mandaeans: Originally from Iraq, this group has been dispersed to several middle eastern countries because of persecution. They believe in John the Baptist and hold baptism to an extremely high regard. They believe John the Baptist did not baptize Jesus and Jesus was actually a deceiver and distrustful person. They share several religious texts with Christians but have differing views when it comes to the Holy Spirit (actually a wicked figure) and the creator of the world. Estimated 60,000-70,000 members.

Yazidis: The Yazidis are mostly Kurdish Iraqis who live in the northern mountainous province of Nineveh. They believe in one god who sent 7 angels to earth to protect it with the most powerful angel being a peacock. The peacock angel is in charge of good and evil and actually fell from god in a similar way that Christians believe Satan fell from God. This similarity has created the myth that Yazidis worship the devil and for this they have been persecuted for centuries. Estimated 860,000-1,020,000 members.

Zoroastrians: At one point in time it was the main religion of the great Persian empire. Members today now are found primarily in Iran. Zoroastrians are believed to be the first religion that believed in a Heaven and Hell, which may have influenced Judaism and Christianity beliefs. Followers believe in morality and that their acts will be judged in the afterlife. Their beliefs are very detailed but mirror the general ideas of a creator with struggles of good and evil. Estimated 2.6 million members.

Druze: The Druze are primarily found in Syria and Lebanon. They are actually very similar to Muslims but they believe in reincarnation and use a different religious text. A quirky thing about the Druze is that their religious beliefs are only known by the educated Druze leaders. This secrecy was probably first put in place because it prevented persecution. It is not uncommon for a proclaimed Druze to have no idea what they believe in. Estimated 1,500,000-2,000,000 members.

Kalasha: The Kalasha are actually polytheists who live in the remote mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They sacrifice animals and celebrate festivals annually in honor to their gods. They believe in mountain fairies and the ability to connect with the spiritual world through mediums. The Kalasha do not believe in monogamy and if a married women is caught having sex with a man other then her husband the man is fined and laughed at by the villagers. Estimated 4,100 members.

These are only 5 of the estimated 4,200 religions in the world. Is there one group that has it all right? Why do we have so many different beliefs? Who is going Heaven? Hell? In the end, I don’t have all the answers and my religious beliefs boil down to what Jesus taught; don’t judge others and just love them-no matter what they believe.