This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

February 13, 2002 - Religion is a Complicated Thing

Every now and then I stumble across an author interested in the same things that interest me.

My latest find is Karen Armstrong. She’s a Brit, a former Carmelite nun who has taken to writing about a subject many Americans find hard to tackle without offending, or being offended. That subject is religion.

I’ve read two of her books now, and I’m listening to a third. The first two were biographies. The first is called “Buddha.” The second is “Mohammed.” The third is titled, “The Battle for God,” about the conflicts that have given rise to various fundamentalist beliefs among followers of the Christian, Judaic, and Islamic faiths.

Armstrong has a scholar’s mind. She mostly concerns herself with no more than the historical record provides. But as a diligent researcher, she mines that record with insight.

Her take on Buddha is fascinating. Here was a man who not only founded a religion observed by many millions of people around the world today, but lived into his eighties. During that time, he steered his developing community through many encounters with the prevailing power structure of the day., and the developing power structure among his own followers.

I find his management style instructive. Invariably, the Buddha sought not power, but a principled and compassionate peace.

He worked ceaselessly to prevent the establishment of a cult of personality. Over and over, he said that the only charge of the curious was to investigate the claims of Buddhism. If something didn’t check out, then the obligation of the newcomer was NOT to Gautama Buddha’s supposed authority, but instead to his or her own judgment.

Here’s the detail that sticks in my mind. Buddha managed to convert both his father and son to what became a new religion. His wife, the wife he abandoned to pursue the spiritual life, did NOT convert.

The story of Mohammed is also illustrative. He believed himself to have been touched by the presence of God. Given Armstrong’s research, I’m inclined to think he really was.

He too lived for many years, and in that time, proved himself to be not only a prophet, but also an astonishingly able politician. But here’s a telling detail about him. Soon after his establishment in Mecca, he was reviled by a wandering poet, the media of the day.

Mohammed had him assassinated.

Nonetheless, Mohammed had a deep and undeniable interest in the poor and orphaned. Like many of his desert peers of the time, he had multiple wives. But unlike them, he treated them with altogether extraordinary respect and regard. The clear focus of his young and revolutionary belief system, in that place and time, was the disadvantaged, the orphaned, the widowed, and the poor. He was an advocate for social justice.

It’s hard not to contrast all this with the story of Jesus, who died in this early 30's.

I wonder sometimes if so many things about our own country’s predominant religious beliefs don’t owe their origin to the fact that the founder of Christianity wasn’t there to guide it through its early organizational stages. Or that Buddhism to this date equates age and wisdom. Or that the followers of Islam still closely tie religious belief with politics.

Religion is a complicated thing.

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