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Clarifying Views on Faith

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Last week turned out to be a fantastic for Exodus. More than 2000 books were moved, and when I woke up on Christmas morning, the book was ranked #207 on the Amazon Kindle free rankings, and number six in the science fiction category (I engaged in a modified version of Brian Meeks’ strategies).

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The success brought some interesting commentary (cough) from some more devout Christians who weren’t pleased with the depiction of a medieval-like fundamentalist state that used their faith to conquer others. This post is not a response. I did want to take the opportunity to clarify my views on fundamentalism, Christianity or otherwise, for friends and readers who may be curious.

As to the hate mail itself, I expected this when I published the book. I don’t believe hardliners will actually get the message. As soon as the more devout read the first chapter, they’re certain that I am a heretical liberal. By the fourth they may think I am in league with Old Scratch himself (thus the preface from Paul Dunn).

To be clear, I read every remark to see if it’s an actual critique of the book, or someone ranting that Christianity was used as an example of fundamentalism. If it’s the prior, I pay attention. If it’s the latter, I ignore it. Welcome to America and The First Amendment.

Faith and Christianity

I believe that any faith is capable of helping people enjoy life more. That includes Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Bhuddhism, and others. I personally believe in God. I also believe that humans are capable of taking any faith, and warping its words to achieve wrongdoing.

I don’t think Islam is a violent religion. In fact, I quite like Sufism. Unfortunately for the faith of Islam, violent extremists use it to justify their actions. And that creates quite a lot of ignorance and stereotypes about fundamentalism.

Back to the impetus for this post, I have seen many benevolent acts performed by Christians. The faith (in its various forms) offers incredibly powerful teachings for anyone who wants spiritual guidance. In fact, while not a Christian, I say the Lord’s prayer several times a week, my wife is of Presbyterian decent, and most of my friends are Christian or of Christian descent.

Yet like any other faith, people can use its words to justify great wrongs. You can look back at the Crusades for an example. Or more recently at the IRA terrorism of the 70s and 80s, or in the Unted States the KKK’s acts of racism and violence. I have experienced this personally in my life. Many people have tried to convert me, or explain to me how I was going to hell because of my decent. You could argue the Christian right’s political impact in our country could (not will, but could) create similar situations.

As for the faith of my blood, Judaism, some feel Israel’s hard line views towards Palestineans and other Islamic states is also in the fundamental extreme. People are dying in the Middle East, and sometimes at the hands of the Israeli military.

In none of these situations is the faith in question wrong. Rather, people make decisions, and use religion as a justification to take actions that impact their fellow man, usually in a negative fashion.

What’s worse, when blind faith exists or when people generally believe what they are told, we create problems. We see this today in the media and the violated trust we feel when the Lance Armstrongs and government officials of this world let us down. To be clear, this is the power of propaganda, not religion.

Now About the Book

Let’s look at several aspects of fundamentalism in the book. First, it was the Islamic fundamentalism of the present (and a fictional Christian right reaction to it) that provokes the Great Sickness, the apocalyptic event that creates the world of Exodus.

Why not continue with Islam as the faith of wrong doing? For starters, it’s too easy per the earlier stereotype discussion. As a writer it’s about as challenging as depicting Richard Nixon as a villain.

Frankly, I think we have a blind eye in this country to our own actions. Since the book takes place in America, I decided to use our country’s dominant faith, Christianity. And per the conversation earlier, Christianity has been misused by the power-hungry for such purposes in the past. Unfortunately for humankind, history has a nasty tendency of repeating itself.

Several of the characters have intentional names referring to Greek mythological characters and one biblical character, Mordecai. Mordecai represents the true Christian faith (at least as it appears to this Jewish fellow’s eyes). In book two, Mordecai attracts new Christians, but he does so through principled action rather than proselytizing.

The power-hungry leader of the Christian Empire is Pravus, which is Latin for depraved. That should be a clear tip off to folks who think I am engaged in blasphemy. I am not, this guy is fricking nuts. There’s a reason why Mordecai left the Emperor’s side to venture out on his own.

Without tipping my hat too much, the entire trilogy explores the concept that every single one of us is capable of rationalizing wrong with ideologies and belief systems. We think we’re right, that our ideas can protect us from wrongdoing, but in actuality we may be harming others.

This is true for every human, and there are many ideologies — not just religious ones — that can be used to justify wrongdoing. Evil is rarely a dramatic moment. It is often the result of small decisions that collectively point someone in the wrong direction.

OK, I’ve said my piece. The floor is yours.

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  • Steve Woodruff

    “every single one of us is capable of rationalizing wrong with ideologies and belief systems” – profoundly put, my friend. Very, very true. This is one reason why a theocracy (of ANY dominant faith) is so dangerous. Earthly power in the hands of a few (whose hearts are always going to be far from pure), mingled with a religious view that the kingdom of God will come about by the hands of the state – we all know how that’s going to turn out.

  • kevindockery

    Well speaking of sufism there is an old saying:

    “Knowledge is something which you can use.
    Belief is something which uses you.”
    ― Idries Shah

    Often times, I believe we need to consider, when haters hate they hate without any real idea what they are hating against.

    You see….. often haters stumble over something that triggers and expectation that prevents them from perceiving a thing or understanding what is before them.

    Of course they take no notice of their temporary blindness. It’s pretty much an impossible thing to do considering that beliefs transforms into an ass whatever free intellect haters tend to possess.

    Take in stride your negative criticism. As Idries Shah also have said:

    “When the human being says:

    ‘It is not true…’

    He may mean:

    ‘I don’t know about it, so I think it is untrue.’

    Or:

    ‘I don’t like it.”

    Regardless, the best rebuttal to the ignorant is silence, but then again since they are not listening any answer should suffice.

    p.s. I am loving the final sentence you wrote: Evil is rarely a dramatic moment. It is often the result of small decisions that collectively point someone in the wrong direction. I am sharing that on my FB wall. :)

  • Lewis

    I do not disagree with anything you have written here. I think of myself as a Catholic. As a former graduate student in theology, I have read and studied the Bible, the Koran and the Tanakh. I pray daily and was an Associate of a religious order, now a supporting member. When I see religion used as a reason to disrespect, condemn or hate on others, I am saddened.

  • Gloria Bell

    So well stated. Every belief, religion or otherwise, has the capacity to be twisted to the believers own interests. I love the premise behind the trilogy and am looking forward to reading the next two books.

  • Marc Meyer

    Love it. But I would change this: Evil is rarely a dramatic moment. It is often the result of small decisions that collectively point someone in the wrong direction.

    to: Evil is always a dramatic moment, and yet… It is often the result of small decisions that collectively point someone in the wrong direction.

  • whitneyhoffman

    While I’m not religious, I subscribe to the belief we should all treat each other with kindness and understanding at all times- because it is the right thing to do, whether or not any supreme being is keeping score or not. I’ve seen more people tie themselves into metaphysical and moral knots trying to comply with some sort of doctrine and live by a strict set of rules, only to abandon them later when they become inconvenient, which has made it harder for me to adopt one faith as the center of my belief system.

    I’m with you, Geoff. Fundamentalism, in any format, is really zealotry, and is more often used as a tool to determine who is in and out of the club. It’s used to objectify the outsider and then justify treating them as less worthy or less human, and that’s where faith and righteousness fall apart for me, regardless of the flavor.

  • Monica

    Keep your chin up, Geoff! The concept that “every single one of us is capable of rationalizing wrong with ideologies and belief systems” is an important one. How this intersects with religion, however, is a subject impossible to address without upsetting some people, particularly those “who know not” of your words and deeds re: tolerance, social good, etc.

  • will lowry

    Geoff, thanks for sharing this. As for myself, being a bible believing Christian your book does not threaten me. And your right – forms of fundamentalism can be incredibly dangerous. My only qualm is that you seemed to have lumped Roman Catholicism (Crusades) and the likes of Westboro in with Bible Believing Christians which I do believe to be inaccurate portrayal of true biblical Christianity. There are plenty of people out there who are goats as found in Matthew 25. Maybe some clarification on what you mean “Christian Fundamentalism” would help clear that up. Thank you Geoff.

  • susancellura

    Nicely put, Geoff.

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