"A cosmic war is a religious war. It is a conflict in which God is believed to be directly engaged on one side over the other. Unlike a holy war - an earthly battle between rival religious groups - a cosmic war is like a ritual drama in which participants act out on earth a battle they believe is actually taking place in the heavens. ... We humans are merely actors in a divine script written by God."
~ Reza Aslan in the introduction of Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization.
A few things I wanted to note and then I have questions for you below. I'd love to read your thoughts so please share!
In cosmic wars such as the 9/11 events, the battle is, as the terrorists noted, for the sake of God. "A cosmic war transforms those who should be considered butchers and thugs into soldiers sanctioned by God." (pg.5)
"It is easy to blame religion for acts of violence carried out in religion's name, easier still to comb through scripture for bits of savagery and assume a simple causality between the text and the deed. But no religion is inherently violent or peaceful: people are violent or peaceful." (pg.4)
Aslan claims that "religion is a stronger, more global force today than it has been in generations." He discusses whether secular nationalism and its failure "to live up to its promises of global peace and prosperity" along with the atrocities committed by "unabashedly secularist ideologies" are reasons for this while stating that "globalization has radically altered the way people define themselves, both individually and as a collective. Across the globe, secular nationalism is beginning to give way to new forms of nationalism based on ethnicity, tribe, and above all religion. ... Indeed, in many parts of the world religion is fast becoming the supreme identity, encompassing and even superseding ethnicity, culture, and nationality." (pg. 10,11)
Aslan claims that we need to "strip the conflicts of our world of their religious connotations; we must reject the religiously polarizing rhetoric of our leaders [think "us vs. them" or "if you're not with us, you're against us" and seeing things purely in black and white, good and evil with no middle ground] and of our enemies; we must focus on the material matters at stake; and we must seek to address the earthly issues that always lie behind the cosmic impulse." We must "bring their cosmic war back down to earth, where it can be confronted more constructively. Because in the end, there is only one way to win a cosmic war: refuse to fight it." (pg. 11,12)
While the term "globalization" may be somewhat new and mean something different (e.g. "interconnectedness of national interests," and the rise of global media and technologies so people know more about one another), the practice has been going on since the first people left Africa in search of more food and resources for survival. The ages of empires and colonialism allowed countries to "cross-pollinate their trade, communication, and cultures across vast distances with fluidity and ease." But the greatest "single force" that has moved globalization forward is religion, "which has always sought to spread its message across the boundaries of borders, clans, and ethnicities." (pg. 18)
QUESTIONS -- answer them all or pick and choose
1. How concerned are you with the threat of a cosmic war? Do you think the author's views concerning cosmic war are over-the-top (exaggerated), too little too late, not even the tip of the iceberg or what?
2. Have you been concerned with the polarizing efforts of political and/or religious leaders or individuals? Or is this something you've never heard of until now? How seriously do you take such people?
3. Do you live in fear of terrorist attacks? Do you think the government and media (and maybe others) perpetuate this fear mentality too much or do they not realize the enormity of the threat and, therefore, not give us enough warning?
4. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being I'm not fearful at all and 10 being it consumes my mind nearly every day: how fearful are you about a terrorist threat? Why?
5. What do you think of globalization? Do you agree with the author about empire building, colonialism and religion being examples of globalization that have gone on since the earliest of times? How do you think those things differ from the current understanding of globalization?
6. Do you agree with Aslan's statements about people, not religion, being violent or peaceful? Why or why not?
7. Besides the terrorism of 9/11 what are other examples of people who claim to do things "for the sake of God" when in reality they probably should be labeled butchers and thugs?
8. Aslan writes: "Indeed, in many parts of the world religion is fast becoming the supreme identity, encompassing and even superseding ethnicity, culture, and nationality." -- How alarming is this to you? Do you tend to identify yourself in a similar way? Do you notice this as a growing trend? Is this a bad thing?
9. Do you agree that secular nationalism has failed and people are once again becoming more religious? Does this seem true where you live?
10. Aslan states that we need to strip things from religious talk and bring issues back down to earth where they should and need to be addressed. What issues do you think are important to confront in this down-to-earth way?
Any other thoughts or comments?