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Posts tagged ‘religion’

Review: ‘The Lake of Learning’ by Rose and Berry

The Lake of Learning (Cassiopeia Vitt Adventure, #3)The Lake of Learning by Steve Berry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novella, and “The Museum of Mysteries,” represent everything a good novella should provide for readers: strong characters, mysterious stories based on heavily researched history, conflicts that are not easy to resolve, and a compelling storyline that leaves the reader wishing the book went another 500 pages farther than it did.

This story focusses on the Cathar religion, a system of beliefs that the Catholic church considered heretical and then killed the adherents in a crusade launched in 1209 and later during the inquisition. However, Cathars still exist today, and it’s about them–and the discovery of an old Cathar book of hours–that’s the focus of this story.

An old book is found on a construction site, and suddenly opposing Papist and Cathar individuals insert themselves into the story, creating a dangerous game for the protagonist Cassiopeia Vitt. Old conflicts die hard, it seems, as those who believe and those who don’t believe put Vitt’s life, wealth, and company in danger.

Books like this not only have compelling stories but teach readers a lot about the subject matter. In this case, the authors’ note at the end of the book what separates fact from fiction so that readers can see what’s true, what’s imaginary (but possible), and where to follow the historical record for themselves.

The characters in this novel (both the ones you like the and the ones you don’t like) not only have great depth to them, but they’re experts in their fields and savvy about everything that surrounds their areas of interest. If you have an interest in the Cathars, you will enjoy this novella. But even if you don’t, the fascination of a well-told tale will keep you reading.

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Malcolm

Freedom of Religion Means We Listen But We Don’t Preach

I grew up in a faith where one of our duties was to witness and spread the Word. I was never comfortable with that admonition because it seemed presumptuous to tell somebody else, “I know you already have a religion, but I want you to think about giving that up and switching over to my religion.”

My feeling is, if I ask you about your religion, feel free to tell me about it. Otherwise, don’t show up on my doorstep with a prepared sermon. Another feeling I have is that freedom of religion means that while we can learn from each other’s beliefs, none of those beliefs should be enacted into law. If they are, then one person is forcing his or her religion down the throats of those with other beliefs.

My mood is a bit sour today because in the novel I’m reading, the characters believe that mysticism is the work of the so-called devil. I guess the Christian mystics would take exception to that misguided idea. So do I. I take exception to it because I believe that while there is much I can learn from a preacher, there is also much I can learn by my own interactions with the Creator.

The polarized battle between red-state advocates and blue-state advocates has brought a lot of scripture quoting into the national debate. The people quoting scripture seem to think that freedom of religion is viable only as long as their beliefs are in control of the country.  Yet, when the same people look at other countries that don’t have separation between church and state, they complain about how outmoded it is to govern due to one interpretation of a holy book vs. another.

Eulalie, the main character in my Florida Folk Magic series, mixes fundamentalist Christian beliefs with hoodoo. This is fairly traditional. While I am sympathetic to the mix of magic and religion, Eulalie’s beliefs are not my beliefs. However, as an author, my duty is to portray her belief system as it is and not belittle it with authorial comments that stem from my beliefs. I think the author of the fundamentalist-oriented novel I’m reading now has intruded himself into the story by having his characters say that mystics are aligned with demons.

When I sat in high school and college history classes and learned about the numerous religious wars, I naively thought, thank goodness this can’t happen now. Apparently, I was wrong. There’s a lot of dueling scripture flying around as a justification for a lot of clashing beliefs and contrasting cultural approaches to the world. In fact, the world seems to be divided along religious lines with all sides believing their faith is everything and that the faith of others is nothing. Frankly, I don’t know how to combat that kind of arrogance other than to listen and try to understand.

–Malcolm

Have we met before?

“You meet the one you meet amongst thousands and tens of thousands of people, amidst thousands and tens of thousands of years, in the boundless wilderness of time, not a step sooner, not a step later. You chance upon each other, not saying much, only asking softly, ‘Oh, you are here, also?’”

–“Love,” by Eileen Chang, translated by Qiaomei Tang

Countless times, I’ve wanted to say, “Oh, you are here, also?”

But I usually don’t because I don’t want to argue or freak people out. I want to say, “The world is vaster than we know and so are we,” but again, that scares people even though it speaks of a wondrous, seemingly infinite unity and breadth of the soul to me.

Some early Christians believed in reincarnation, but that belief–like many others–ended up on the cutting room floor. During my more volatile youth, I said that I thought the church where I grew up was–without malice–leaving out most of the big picture. This caused me no end of trouble. Outside my fiction, it has, more often than not, been better to keep silent since then.

In the old days, there was a fair amount of malice and politics destined to police what people thought and felt. I’ve read a lot of historical accounts of this, but frankly, I’ve never understood the uproar about differences in beliefs and interpretations. Such feelings have come around again in today’s political arena in left vs. right debates. So I understand how mob mentality works, but I don’t understand how one’s fear can be so great they need to join the political or religious mob.

But, I digress.

It seems likely to me that the people who are important in my life now might well have been important in another lifetime many years or centuries ago. If so, this would make us a timeless extended family whether we recognize each other or not. I think a lot of people ponder this, though many of them discount it because they don’t consider the idea might be true.

Knowing whether it’s true or not probably isn’t required for us to live spiritual, highly moral lives. If I knew you in ancient Rome, I’ll still treat you fairly today even if I’m consciously ignorant of our previous friendship or previous discord. Our decisions are based on who we are right now. Or, at least, that’s how I see it. However, I think people tend to communicate with each other at an unconscious level or even in their dreams and that this impacts many of their “real world” decisions and ideals.

But maybe not. It has always seemed better to me to believe that what I don’t know about the true workings of the universe will always be greater than what I know about them. I don’t like the word “impossible” because it doesn’t seem true to me even though I don’t know why it isn’t true to me. Have we met before?

Maybe so, but I don’t know where or when. Perhaps we can say, ““We’ll always have Paris.” We might have had something, somewhere. Odds are we did.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell writes magical realism novels (are you surprised?), the next one of which (“Lena”) will be released August 1 by Thomas-Jacob Publishing.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes Doves Think Like Hawks

During the 1960s, the so-called “flower children” suggested that we sit down with our worst enemies and sing songs, share a meal, have a few beers or maybe some pot, and “give peace a chance.” While I was (and still am) a pacifist, that approach sounded naive and unworkable.

It’s easy when a war is far away to say, that’s a civil war and should be decided by the people who live there. It’s harder to say that when the war is on your doorstep or the news is broadcasting a steady stream of information about the kinds of atrocities now being perpetrated by ISIS in northern Iraq in the name of their religious and cultural views.

Like most doves, I have a few hot buttons that make me think more like a hawk. I have no patience when it comes to crimes against women (stoning, mutilation, honor killings) or crimes against peoples (such as the Yazidi) based on the absurd, stone-age belief that one’s god wants them to do such things. It’s especially sad for a dove whose beliefs are based on a spiritual foundation, to see the horror committed by others in the name of a religion.

Generally, I’m tolerant of other religions and really feel no missionary zeal whatsoever to tell people who are worshiping their god to stop doing it and come worship my god. I don’t know why so many people care about the spiritual practices of others.

I grow intolerant, though, when anyone says their god is telling them to kill me or torture me. I see no spiritual component whatsoever in such attitudes and as an angry dove, I quickly think “those people are worshiping a misguided tradition rather than a god.” And, as a dove who is being pushed by circumstance to think like a hawk, I think that if I were flying a drone over a bunch of men about to kill women and chidren for purportedly religious reasons, I would fire a Hellfire missile.

The issues, of course, are larger than one band of religious thugs, and one or two Hellfire missiles. We cannot kill every ISIS thug. And right now, we don’t know how to change their minds. Perhaps some day we will figure out what makes them tick and how to stop it. Until then, the atrocities are mounting up in real time and they require us, I think, to take a pragmatic look at how we should respond as civilized and sympathetic people.

Doing little or nothing should not be the default answer to ethnic cleansing against entire peoples or faith-based crimes against women.

–Malcolm