According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Online Class - Christ(ology) Through the Writings of Theologians: Barth, Bultmann, Pannenberg, Tillich, Sobrino, Vattimo

Christ(ology): Reflections In the Wake of the Event



We are gonna spend six weeks looking at six central thinkers and their Christologies. These figures have each developed a unique and influential understanding of the Christ Event. Each week we will read a chapter and then spend 90 minutes together engaging the text. Our goal is to see how each figure is shaped by different philosophical commitments and confessional assumptions. Together we will encounter & hear multiple answers to questions such as:
  • Does the historical Jesus matter?
  • What are the conditions for the possibility of genuine revelation?
  • What did God do in Christ?
  • Is Christology sustainable in our pluralistic world?
  • Can a Christology rid itself of God?
  • How is Jesus’ Cross connected to those of the poor and oppressed?
  • What is the Kingdom of God & its significance for theology?

Format of the Course: 90 Minutes
30 Minute Talk
30 Minute Conversation
30 Minute Q & A

Dates:
9/4, 9/11, 9/18, 9/25, 10/2, 10/9

Start Time:
6 pm PST / 9 pm EST

All Sessions will be video live streamed. Afterward each course member will be able to download the audio/video.



4 September - 10 September
Barth

11 September - 17 September
Bultmann

18 September - 24 September
Pannenberg

25 September - 1 October
Tillich

2 October - 8 October
Sobrino

9 October - 15 October
Vattimo

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Sunni-Shiite Divide Explained With Extremely Useful Maps And Timelines, Part 2


In the currency of global discussion and dialogue it is always appropriate that one attempts to understand nationalities and heritages foreign to our own Westernized cultures here in America. Part of that discussion must include an appreciation and respect for the Islamic culture around the world in this day-and-age of pluralistic, cross-cultural communications of religions, languages, tribal relationships, and racial ethnicities. Without a bare minimum of knowledge in these venues it would be hopeless to assume any rational discussions with one another as responsible/responsive global citizens to an increasingly smaller world laced with technology, economic, ecologic, and civil concerns.

Huffington Post recently published a brief history between the Sunni and Shiite Muslim populations that may help connect current events within the larger palette of civil wars, global terrorism, tension, and turmoil. In hopes of providing more concrete discussion these few historical vignettes are here repeated to help enlarge the scope of world events and their connectedness to the past, present, and future relations with the Western World's plethora of democracies and capitalistic activities of commercialism.

As we well know, the present will always challenge our ideas of the past and future. That nothing stays the same for long. And that the past can never be returned to. What the present demands of us is that we become willing, and capable, observers of our present times while learning to use practical common sense, a large dose of goodwill, and an even larger dose of learning to listen better to one another. What we think we have heard or understand may not necessarily be the full embodiment of the ideas presented to us. That doubting our position and ideas might will help towards cementing better accord with religious groups far different from our own sense of God, faith, worship, and conduct.

In essence, we are to be peacemakers in a world going mad. Humble servants to one another where only brutality and oppression exist. Thoughtful providers of life-giving streams that might better defeat ignorance, corruption, greed, and ignoble pride. Looking back on world history these pleas seem hopelessly misplaced when trying to imagine a world greater than itself. And yet, if one doesn't dream or imagine peace and goodwill, respect and grace, than the world cannot continue under the domain of humanity. Its end result will be annihilation and destruction as befitting its senseless species and foolish pride.

Respectfully,

R.E. Slater
July 28, 2014


Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 20:19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Mark 9:50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Luke 6:27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

Romans 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

James 3:18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.



continue to -



* * * * * * * * * * *


CFR map link

CFR link

The Sunni-Shiite Divide Explained With Extremely Useful Maps And Timelines
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/27/sunni-shiite-violence_n_5617767.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051

The Huffington Post | By Yasmine Hafiz
Posted: 07/27/2014 9:18 am EDT Updated: 07/27/2014 9:59 am EDT

"If we want to understand the Middle East, if we want to understand why conflicts are happening the way they are, and how these conflicts may be resolved, we cannot take our eyes of the Shiite-Sunni conflict, says Vali R. Nasr, Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in a video from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

The Sunni-Shia Divide


The video is part of an interactive infoguide produced by CFR, that is an in-depth look at the roots of a divide which is at the heart of many of the violent conflicts currently engulfing the Middle East.

"The Shiite-Sunni divide is a political and religious divide around who was the rightful heir after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad in early Islam. Yes, it's remote history, going back to the seventh century, but for millions of Muslims around the world, it's what defines them- sectarianism," says Ed Husain, adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at CFR, in the overview.


* * * * * * * * * * *

THE PRESENT

* * * * * * * * * * *


To see how this ancient dispute has been playing out in the modern word, this timeline starts with Iran's Islamic revolution and goes up to the present day...



JANUARY 16,1979
Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Tehran in 1979 after fourteen years of exile. AP Photo

Iran’s Islamic Revolution

Iran’s ruler, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, flees the country after months of increasingly massive protests. Exiled Shia cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns and leads an Islamic republic based on a constitution that grants him religious and political authority under the concept of velayat-e faqih (“guardianship of the jurist”). Khomeini is named supreme leader and starts to export the Islamic revolution, which is viewed with suspicion by Sunni rulers in countries with significant Shia populations, such as Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon.

DECEMBER 24, 1979
Afghan tribal rebel with captured Soviet-made light machine gun.
Hiromi Nagakura/AP Photo

Soviet Army Invades Afghanistan

Soviet forces invade Afghanistan after the communist government in Kabul requests military aid to fight Islamist rebels. The insurgents, known as mujahadeen (“those who fight jihad”), attract mainly Afghan fighters and are augmented by thousands of foreign Sunni fighters, including a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden. Weapons and cash for the mujahadeen are supplied through Pakistan by Saudi Arabia and the United States. The war, which is framed as a resistance to Soviet occupation, raises the profile of fundamentalist Sunni movements.

JULY 5, 1980
Muhammad Zia Ul-Haq, Pakistan's sixth president, ruled from 1978 to 1988.

Central Press/Getty Images

Shia Protests in Pakistan Exposes Sectarian Tensions

Tens of thousands of Shias protest in Islamabad against the imposition of some Sunni laws on all Muslims. Pakistan’s president gives Shias an exemption, but the sectarian confrontation becomes an important political issue in the country. Sunni groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, funded by Wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia, kill thousands of Shias over the next three decades. Smaller Shia sectarian militant groups such as Tehrik-e-Jafria also emerge but are responsible for fewer attacks.

SEPTEMBER 22, 1980
An Iraqi soldier watches the Iranian Abadan refinery burn during the Iran-Iraq conflict.
Henri Bureau/Corbis

Iraq Sparks a War with Iran

Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, a Sunni ruling over a majority-Shia country who fears the spillover effects of the Iranian Revolution, sends his troops to occupy part of an oil-rich province in Iran. The move sparks an eight-year war, resulting in roughly one million deaths. Iraq is backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States, the latter responding to hostility from Tehran’s new government following the Islamic revolution and taking hostage of U.S. diplomats.

FEBRUARY 28, 1991
Bodies suspected to be Shias killed by Saddam’s regime are found in a mass grave in 2003.
Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters

Saddam Crushes Shia Insurgency After Gulf War

Riots erupt in the Shia cities of Basra and Najaf after U.S.-led allies drive Iraqi troops from Kuwait and rout them on the battlefield in the first Gulf War. The Shia protestors are in part motivated by a perception that they will receive U.S. backing if they turn against Saddam. U.S. officials say this was never promised. Saddam’s forces mount a brutal crackdown, killing tens of thousands of Shias, shelling the shrines of Najaf and Karbala, and razing parts of Shia towns.

AUGUST 8, 1998
Afghans flock to the Blue Mosque, also known as the Tomb of Ali, in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Taliban Massacres Shia in Mazar-e-Sharif

Taliban militants, Sunni fundamentalists who seized power after the defeat of Soviet forces, capture the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in northwest Afghanistan. The Taliban kills at least two thousand Shias in Mazar-e-Sharif and Bamiyan in 1997 and 1998. The offensive in northwest Afghanistan, backed by Pakistan, helps the Taliban consolidate power in the country. Militants kill eight Iranian diplomats based in Mazar-e-Sharif, prompting Tehran to deploy its troops to the border, but United Nations mediation averts a confrontation.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
The second tower of the World Trade Center explodes into flames on September 11, 2001.
Sara K. Schwittek/Courtesy Reuters

Al-Qaeda Strikes the U.S., Killing Thousands

In response to the attacks on New York and Washington, U.S. forces pursue al-Qaeda leaders and militants to their bases in Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban government. U.S.-led international troops help set up a new order in the country. The toppling of the anti-Iranian Taliban government in Afghanistan, followed shortly thereafter by the U.S. invasion of Iraq that brings down another Iranian foe, Saddam Hussein, fans Sunni fears in Jordan and Gulf states of a Shia revival.

MARCH 19, 2003
U.S. troops pull down a twenty-foot statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad.
Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters

U.S. Forces Topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq

A coalition led by the United States invades Iraq and ends Saddam’s regime and centuries of Sunni dominance in Iraq. Sectarian violence erupts as remnants of the deposed Ba’ath party and other Sunnis, both secular and Islamist, mount a resistance against coalition forces and their local allies, the ascendant Shia community. Shia militias also emerge, some of which also oppose the U.S. military presence. Foreign Sunni militants, many affiliated with al-Qaeda, flock to Iraq to participate in what evolves into a sectarian war. Iranian influence in Iraq grows dramatically as Tehran backs Shia militants, as well as the Shia political parties that come to dominate the electoral process.

FEBRUARY 14, 2005
Supporters of Rafik Hariri in protest over his killing.
Ali Hashisho/Courtesy Reuters

Assassination of Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri

Former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri is killed in a car bomb after spearheading an effort to raise international pressure on Syria to withdraw its forces, which have been in Lebanon since 1976. His assassination is seen as a Syrian plot supported by Syria’s Lebanese allies, including Hezbollah, and leads to massive demonstrations that convince Syria to withdraw. The assassination and subsequent mobilization pit the Lebanese Sunni community, whom Hariri had come to represent, against Hezbollah and Lebanese Shias, who remain allied with Syria. Lebanese Christians split, with some supporting the Hariri camp and others supporting Hezbollah.

FEBRUARY 22, 2006
Iraqis walk past the damaged al-Askari mosque following an explosion in Samarra.
Hameed Rasheed/AP Photo

Bombing of Shia Shrine Escalates Iraq Violence

Sectarian killings become normal in Iraq, with both Sunni and Shia militias targeting civilians across the country. The bombing that destroys the golden dome of al-Askari mosque in Samarra, home to the tombs of the tenth and eleventh Shia Imams, triggers a more intense wave of violence that almost doubles the monthly civilian death toll in Iraq to nine hundred.

DECEMBER 30, 2006
Indian Muslims protest the execution of Saddam Hussein. Ahmad Masood/CourtesyReuters

Saddam’s Execution Inflames Sunnis

Saddam Hussein, responsible for the deaths of thousands of Shias and Sunnis in Iraq, is executed amid taunts by witnesses who chant the name of Shia cleric and Mahdi army militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The unruly scene, captured on video, elevates Saddam’s status as a martyr among many Sunnis in the region and underscores the new reality of rising Shia power in Iraq.

FEBRUARY 11, 2011
Protests Erupt in the Middle East, Exposing Sectarian Fault Lines
Uprisings in Tahrir Square - Wikipedia

A wave of pro-democracy protests sweeps across the region, starting with the overthrow of Tunisia’s president, and then Egypt’s on February 11, eventually spreading to other Arab states in what is known as the “Arab Spring” or the “Arab Awakening.” Iranian officials welcome the fall of long-term U.S. allies like Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, and unrest in Bahrain, home to an oppressed Shia majority. As protests reach Syria in March, Tehran backs the government, which is dominated by Alawis, a heterodox Shia sect, while the opposition is dominated by members of the majority Sunni community. Dormant sectarian tensions in Syria are revived and a regional sectarian showdown begins.

AUGUST 30, 2012
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talks to Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, during
the sixteenth summit of the Nonaligned Movement in Tehran. Courtesy Reuters

Egypt’s Morsi Visits Iran

President Mohamed Morsi’s trip to Tehran, the first visit by an Egyptian leader since Cairo’s recognition of Israel in the 1980s, signals the potential for a new relationship between Iran and Sunni Islamists. Iran tries to rebrand theArab uprisings as an “Islamic Awakening” and an extension of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. But the visit by Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, exposes Islam’s deep cleavage. He praises Islam’s first three caliphs, whom Shias reject, and says opposing the Assad regime is a “moral obligation,” remarks that Iranian officials criticize.

OCTOBER 1, 2012
Hezbollah members carry the coffin of commander Ali Bazzi, who was killed in Syria.
Ali Hashisho/ Courtesy Reuters

Hezbollah Commander Killed in Syria

Civil war divides Syrians largely along sectarian lines, with Sunnis supporting rebels, and Alawis, Shias, and other minorities backing the Assad regime. Foreign Sunni fighters trickle and then flood into the country, and signs of increased involvement from Iran and its Lebanese proxy militia, Hezbollah, emerge. The death of Hezbollah founding member Ali Hussein Nassif comes months before the group publicly acknowledges its role in the war. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries fund rebels, turning the fighting in Syria into a regional proxy war.

APRIL 8, 2013
Jihadist group ISIS declares Islamic ‘Caliphate’ in Iraq, Syria

Al-Qaeda’s Iraq Affiliate Expands in Syria

The Islamic State of Iraq, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country, extends its activities into Syria, creating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Known for its brutality against Shias and most Sunnis who oppose it, the group proves to be too extreme for al-Qaeda and is eventually expelled from the network. ISIS attacks in Iraq and Syria add an additional layer of sectarian violence to the region, and its control of territory in both states threatens to dissolve borders and fracture countries in the Middle East. (Yaser Al-Khodor/Courtesy Reuters)

APRIL 20, 2014
Indonesian Shias protest plans to relocate hundreds who had been driven from their village.
Ibnu Mardhani/Demotix

Anti-Shia Sentiments Spread to Indonesia

Asian Muslims, influenced by the sectarian violence in the Middle East and Pakistan, aim to avoid potential tensions by suppressing the growth of their tiny Shia communities. Indonesian clerics and radical Islamists hold an “Anti-Shia Alliance” meeting in the world’s largest Muslim country, which is more than 99 percent Sunni. Malaysia, where Sunnis are also dominant, has implemented laws forbidding the propagation of the Shia faith.

JUNE 10, 2014
Mahdi Army fighters loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr march in Najaf. Alaa Al-Marjani/Courtesy Reuters

Shia Militias Mobilize as ISIS Advances in Iraq

ISIS militants and other armed Sunni groups seize Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, with little resistance from the Iraqi army. The Sunni insurgency, brewing for years in response to what it sees as exclusionary policies of Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, expands toward Baghdad and the borders with Syria and Jordan. ISIS threatens to destroy sacred Shia shrines, prompting a call to arms by Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Shia civilians respond to a mass recruitment drive that swells the ranks of militias and elevates sectarian tensions.



The Sunni-Shiite Divide Explained With Extremely Useful Maps And Timelines, Part 1


In the currency of global discussion and dialogue it is always appropriate that one attempts to understand nationalities and heritages foreign to our own Westernized cultures here in America. Part of that discussion must include an appreciation and respect for the Islamic culture around the world in this day-and-age of pluralistic, cross-cultural communications of religions, languages, tribal relationships, and racial ethnicities. Without a bare minimum of knowledge in these venues it would be hopeless to assume any rational discussions with one another as responsible/responsive global citizens to an increasingly smaller world laced with technology, economic, ecologic, and civil concerns.

Huffington Post recently published a brief history between the Sunni and Shiite Muslim populations that may help connect current events within the larger palette of civil wars, global terrorism, tension, and turmoil. In hopes of providing more concrete discussion these few historical vignettes are here repeated to help enlarge the scope of world events and their connectedness to the past, present, and future relations with the Western World's plethora of democracies and capitalistic activities of commercialism.

As we well know, the present will always challenge our ideas of the past and future. That nothing stays the same for long. And that the past can never be returned to. What the present demands of us is that we become willing, and capable, observers of our present times while learning to use practical common sense, a large dose of goodwill, and an even larger dose of learning to listen better to one another. What we think we have heard or understand may not necessarily be the full embodiment of the ideas presented to us. That doubting our position and ideas might will help towards cementing better accord with religious groups far different from our own sense of God, faith, worship, and conduct.

In essence, we are to be peacemakers in a world going mad. Humble servants to one another where only brutality and oppression exist. Thoughtful providers of life-giving streams that might better defeat ignorance, corruption, greed, and ignoble pride. Looking back on world history these pleas seem hopelessly misplaced when trying to imagine a world greater than itself. And yet, if one doesn't dream or imagine peace and goodwill, respect and grace, than the world cannot continue under the domain of humanity. Its end result will be annihilation and destruction as befitting its senseless species and foolish pride.

Respectfully,

R.E. Slater
July 28, 2014


Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 20:19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Mark 9:50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Luke 6:27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

Romans 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

James 3:18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.



continue to -



CFR map link

CFR link

The Sunni-Shiite Divide Explained With Extremely Useful Maps And Timelines
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/27/sunni-shiite-violence_n_5617767.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051

The Huffington Post | By Yasmine Hafiz
Posted: 07/27/2014 9:18 am EDT Updated: 07/27/2014 9:59 am EDT

"If we want to understand the Middle East, if we want to understand why conflicts are happening the way they are, and how these conflicts may be resolved, we cannot take our eyes of the Shiite-Sunni conflict, says Vali R. Nasr, Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in a video from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

The Sunni-Shia Divide


The video is part of an interactive infoguide produced by CFR, that is an in-depth look at the roots of a divide which is at the heart of many of the violent conflicts currently engulfing the Middle East.

"The Shiite-Sunni divide is a political and religious divide around who was the rightful heir after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad in early Islam. Yes, it's remote history, going back to the seventh century, but for millions of Muslims around the world, it's what defines them- sectarianism," says Ed Husain, adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at CFR, in the overview.


* * * * * * * * * * *

THE PAST

* * * * * * * * * * *


Take a look back at the origins of the schism with this interactive timeline...


The Battle of Karbala

The Battle of Karbala

Timeline: Origins of the Sunni-Shia Schism

Early Muslims split into two camps following the death of the Prophet Mohammed. This chronology explains how the sects evolved from 632 until the late twentieth century. (Photo: Abbas Al-Musavi/Brooklyn Museum).

632 AD
Combat between Ali ibn Abi Talib and Amr Ben Wad near Medina in Arabia.
(Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection/Brown Library)

The Death of Mohammed

Early followers of Islam are divided over the succession of the Prophet Mohammed, who founded the religion in Arabia. Prominent members of the community in Mecca elect Abu Bakr, a companion of Mohammed, with objections from those who favor Ali ibn Abi Talib, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law. Ali eventually becomes caliph, or ruler of the Islamic community, in 656, and is assassinated in 661 after a power struggle with the governor of Damascus, Mu’awiya. Mu’awiya claims the caliphate and founds the Umayyad dynasty, which rules the Muslim empire from Damascus until 750.

661 AD
Painting of Ali being designated as the Prophet Mohammed’s successor.
(University of Edinburgh)

The Early Shias

The partisans of Ali, or shi’atu Ali, grow discontented after the murder of their leader in 661. They reject the authority of the caliphs during the Umayyad dynasty, which rules over an expanding empire stretching from Pakistan through northern Africa to Spain. Shias argue that the legitimate leaders of Islam must be the sons of Ali and Fatima, Mohammed’s daughter. Husayn, one of Ali’s sons, eventually leads a revolt from Kufa, in modern-day Iraq.

661 - 1258 AD
Map of the Ummayad Caliphate in 750. (Courtesy University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin)

Umayyad and Abbasid Dynasties Target Shias

Umayyads, and later Abbasids, who replace the Umayyads and rule from Baghdad after 750, oppress and kill the successors of Husayn, known as Imams, who pose a political threat to Sunni caliphs. The sixth Shia Imam, Ja'far al-Sadiq, orders his followers to hide their true beliefs for the survival of the faith. Shia branches such as Ismaili and Zaydi emerge from different interpretations of succession for Imams. The Sunni caliphate becomes hereditary.

680 AD
Painting commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn. (Abbas Al-Musavi/Brooklyn Museum)

The Battle of Karbala

Yazid, the Umayyad ruler, dispatches an army to crush the Kufa revolt. A battle in Karbala, north of Kufa, ends with the massacre of Husayn and many of his companions. Husayn's martyrdom and its moral lessons help shape Shia identity, and the sect grows despite the murder of its leaders. Husayn’s death is commemorated by Shias during the annual ritual of Ashura, which includes practices, such as self-flagellation, that are distinct from Sunni Islam.

939 AD
Shia pilgrims gather at a shrine in Kerbala, Iraq.
(Mushtaq Muhammed/Courtesy Reuters)

Occultation of the Mahdi

Most Shias today are Twelvers. They believe that the line of Imams continued to the twelfth Imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi, or the guided one, who entered a state of occultation, or hiddenness, in 939. Shias expect the Mahdi to return at the end of time. Sunni Islam becomes a broad umbrella term for non-Shia Muslims who are united on the importance of the Quran and practices of Mohammed, though they may differ in legal opinion.

969 AD
Visitors at a shrine in Cairo believed to hold Husayn’s head.
(Mohammed Aly Sergie)

Fatimids: The First Shia Dynasty

Ismailis, who break off from the Twelver line after the sixth Imam, take control of Egypt and large parts of North Africa and expand to western Arabia and Syria, creating the Fatimid dynasty. The Fatimids, who assume the titles of both imam and caliph, establish al-Azhar Mosque, which centuries later becomes the intellectual center of Sunni Islam. The Shia Fatimid caliphate fades in the twelfth century, and the Ismaili community spreads to Yemen, Syria, Iran, and western India.

1268 AD
The Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus (Wikipedia link)

Ibn Taymiyya in Damascus

By the ninth century, Sunnis adhere to four schools of Islamic jurisprudence: Hanafi, Shafii, Maliki, and Hanbali. Ibn Taymiyya, a religious scholar, moves to Damascus in 1268 and studies the Hanbali school, which condemns Shias as rafidha, or rejecters of the faith. He preaches a return to the purity of Islam in its early days. Ibn Taymiyya opposes celebrating Mohammed’s birthday and other practices that resemble Christian and pagan rituals. His ideas help shape Wahhabi and Salafi thought centuries later.

1501 AD
Painting of an early battle in the Safavid Dynasty by Mu'in Musavvir.
(Freer and Sackler, Smithsonian Institution)

Safavid Dynasty and the Rise of Shias in Persia

Ismail, leader of the Safavid dynasty, defeats the Mongols and brings the territories of former Persian empires under central authority, including modern-day Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey. Shi’ism becomes the official religion of the Safavids and is often spread through force. As the Safavid dynasty declines in the eighteenth century, the power of Shia clergy in civil affairs grows in Iran.

1639 AD
Murad IV, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1623 to 1640. (Public Domain/Wiki Commons)

Ottomans Conquer Iraq

Safavids briefly gain control of Iraq, an Arab territory, but lose it in 1639 to the Ottomans, who claim the title of the Sunni caliphate in Turkey. The Ottoman–Safavid wars eventually establish the modern contours of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Shia Islam dominates Iran, and Shia Muslims in Turkey are killed or displaced, shifting the demography in favor of Sunnis, a development that makes both these countries far more homogenous than their neighbors.

1703 AD
The renovated mosque of Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab in Riyadh.Mohammad Nowfal Areekode

Wahhabi Islam Emerges in Arabia

Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab establishes a religious movement on the Arabian peninsula in the eighteenth century steeped in the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam. Wahhabis, as his followers are known, preach a puritanical faith that puts them in conflict with other Sunnis as well as Shias. Wahhabi fighters desecrate the shrine of Husayn in Karbala and destroy Mohammed’s tombstone in Medina. They join Mohammed bin Saud to found the first Saudi kingdom, which is defeated by Ottoman forces in the early nineteenth century.

1916 AD
The Sykes-Picot Agreement. (The National Archives, United Kingdom)
Wikipedia link

Sykes–Picot and the End of the Caliphate

The secret Sykes-Picot agreement is reached between France and the United Kingdom to divide the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, which has been in decline and weakens further during World War I. Colonial rulers elevate minorities to powerful positions in Iraq and Syria, a policy which later contributes to sectarian tensions in these countries. Tempering these tensions are new ideas of secularism and nationalism that sweep through the Turkish and Arab province of the former Ottoman Empire. The newly founded secular Republic of Turkey abolishes the caliphate in 1924. In the Arab world, identity politics stressing pan-Arabism and a unity among Muslims helps mute sectarianism, especially during the fight for independence against the European powers.

1932 AD
King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud (seated) with his son, crown prince Saud.
(AP)

Saud Dynasty Establishes a Kingdom

Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud and his army of Wahhabi warriors consolidate control of the Arabian peninsula and form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. During the founding battles, fighters attack fellow Sunnis in western Arabia and Shias in eastern Arabia and southern Iraq. Wahhabi preachers go on to dominate the kingdom’s judiciary and education system, and their teachings are spread first in Saudi Arabia and then internationally as the country grows wealthy from its large oil resources. The rise of Wahhabi and the related Salafi branches of Islam fuels Sunni-Shia tensions today.

1947 AD
Mohammad Ali Jinnah
(Getty Images/Time & Life Pictures/Margaret Bourke-White)

The Birth of Pakistan

India’s struggle for independence includes an Islamic awakening, resulting in the creation of Pakistan in the partition of India at the end of British rule. The Sunni-majority country is founded by a Shia, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who emphasizes the need for a secular Pakistan where all citizens are equal irrespective of "religion or caste or creed." Pakistanis elect prime ministers from both sects. But the Islamization of the state, promoted by Saudi Wahhabi clerics, accelerates after army chief General Zia ul-Haq, a Sunni, seizes power in 1978. Sectarian violence escalates after the 1980s.

1959 AD
Al-Azhar Mosque in the old Islamic area of Cairo.

Al-Azhar Mosque in the old Islamic area of Cairo.


Sectarian Harmony: The Azhar Fatwa

Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut, the rector of Cairo's al-Azhar Mosque, which Sunnis view as the preeminent religious institution, issues a religious ruling, or fatwa, that recognizes Shia law as the fifth school of Islamic jurisprudence. After decades of colonialism and then secular nationalism, many Sunni and Shia religious authorities throughout the Muslim world unite to confront these common threats. This harmony is tarnished as secular states weaken.

1963 AD
Syrian president Hafez al-Assad in 1973. (Getty)

Ba’ath Rule Begins in Syria

Syria’s first years of independence are riddled with coups until Ba’athists in the military seize power in 1963. The Ba’ath Party, popular in Iraq and Syria, promotes a secular, pan-Arab, socialist ideology and is hostile to Islamists. Hafez al-Assad, a Ba’ath leader and member of the heterodox Shia sect known as Alawis, takes power in 1970 and rules until his death in 2000, after more than a thousand years of Sunni dominance in Syria. His son Bashar continues to rule the country amid civil war in 2014.


1976-1989 AD


Lebanese Civil War

Lebanon experiences a sectarian civil war that (with important exceptions at various times) pits the Christian minority that has held political power since independence in 1943 against the Muslim majority. Syria intervenes in the fighting in 1976 and Israel intervenes in 1982. After the Israeli intervention, Iran sponsors the establishment of a Shia Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, which over time becomes the most powerful force in Lebanese politics. Under pressure from Hezbollah, Israel withdraws its last forces from Lebanon in 2000.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review - The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence, Part 3


Milky Way on Leslie Gulch Reservoir, Owyhees, Idaho

A few weeks ago I made the following observations:

"God is holy. God is good. God is love. But the greatest of these is love. Love is how God makes one holy and good through Jesus. Not of human will but divine.

God's love cannot be preached enough. All Christian doctrine must proceed on God's love. All missions of the church must go at this sublime thought. No other church dogma must be higher than the grace of God. And all church doctrine must revolve around this one thought.


The holiness of God is meaningless without the grace of God. The goodness of God has no affect if it isn't bathed in God's atoning grace. Holiness without grace is austere. It proceeds in judgment first, last, and always. Goodness is without effect if not given in love. It is wholly utilitarian and bare of God's mindful relation to His creation if not met in love.


The love of God is the most sufficient descriptor of the Christian faith, of God Himself, and God's relationship to His creation. None else may proceed above this thought."



- R.E. Slater, June 2, 2014

In due consideration of today's article I think it is important to remind ourselves that open and relational theology rests in the entirety of its subject upon this sublime thought. Should it stray even an iota from the love of God than it ventures from the intentional (and some will now say, insistent) heart of God into the schemes and pretensions of men and their doctrines.

Today's article will be one of several to come. Here, we focus on what is meant by open and relational theologies when speaking to the subject of God's {open and relational} divine providence.

We will continue to discuss this important subject in the days and weeks to come.

Enjoy,

R.E. Slater
June 23, 2014


The God Who Risks

The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence
Book Blurb

If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, can he in any way be vulnerable to his creation? Can God be in control of anything at all if he is not constantly in control of everything? John Sanders says yes to both of these questions. In The God Who Risks, he mounts a careful and challenging argument for positive answers to both of these profound theological questions. In this thoroughly revised edition, Sanders clarifies his position and responds to his critics. His book will not only contribute to serious ongoing theological discussion but will enlighten pastors and laypersons who struggle with questions about suffering, evil and human free will.


* * * * * * * * * * *




The Preeminence of Love in God
http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/the_preeminence_of_love_in_god/#.U9LGh_ldVrM

by Thomas Jay Oord
July 23, 2014

My version of open and relational theology says love is the preeminent attribute in God’s nature. As I read John Sanders’s work, he seems to think sovereignty precedes love in God’s nature.

In two previous blogs, I explored Sanders’s ideas in his excellent book, The God Who Risks. The first blog offers a summary of his thought, and I personally agree with all claims in my summary of his work. 

The second blog was critical of one aspect of Sanders’s thought: the way he thinks about God’s power and love in relation to evil. I argued he does not solve the problem of evil. He says God allows evil that God could prevent. Without a solution to this problem, we cannot make sense of numerous events in our world. I believe my version of open and relational theology can retain what I find helpful in Sanders, while also solving the problem of evil.

What (Logically) Comes First in God’s Nature?

In my current book project, I offer a solution to the problem of evil. In particular, I focus on the random events that cause unnecessary suffering and the free will choices creatures make to do evil.

I conclude this blog series on Sanders’s thought, however, by arguing that the reason he cannot solve the problem of evil is...

Sanders does not regard love the foremost and governing attribute in God’s nature.

This charge may seem odd. Like most open and relational theologians, Sanders says love is God’s chief attribute. “Love is the preeminent characteristic of God,” as he puts it. And “the way of God is love.” Sanders talks often of the priority of love in The God Who Risks.

But Sanders’s other statements suggest that when God decides to create, divine sovereignty comes prior to, and is preeminent over, [God's] love. Sanders presupposes that God’s power logically precedes God’s love in divine decision making.

Quotes from Sanders on the Preeminence of Sovereignty

Here are statements from The God Who Risks that reveal the preeminence of sovereignty:


  • “If God wants a world in which he tightly controls every event that happens, then God is free to do so.”
  • “God sovereignly chooses not to govern the world without our input.”
  • “It was solely God’s decision to do things this way instead of exercising meticulous providence.”
  • “God is free to sovereignly decide not to determine everything that happens in history.”
  • “God, in sovereign freedom, decided not to tightly control human affairs…”
  • “In sovereign freedom, God has decided to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions.”

The point Sanders makes is that nothing essentially constrains God’s decisions, at least when initially creating. This fits his view, which we saw earlier, that God has the power to prevent genuine evil but instead allows it.

Three Providence Options

Sanders apparently believes we must choose among three options when thinking about God creating and acting providentially. The first option is a form of process theology. Sanders is wary of process theologies that say, as he puts it, God is “pervasively conditioned by creatures.” He wants to avoid saying God, by necessity or by nature, depends on the world. Sanders believes God can unilaterally act on the world, and he doubts process theologians can affirm this.

Let’s call the first option, “The world conditions God.”

The second option Sanders wants to avoid is a form of Calvinism. He is wary of Calvinist theologies that say, as he puts it, “the divine nature necessarily must create a world in which God is omnidetermining.” This view says God’s ongoing providential control is “a manifestation of the divine nature.” Creatures are not really free, and randomness and chance are illusions.

Let’s call this second option, “God totally controls the world.”

The option Sanders prefers says God’s sovereignly gives freedom but allows some evil. Sovereign activity lays within the framework of the divine project. “The divine nature is free to create a project that involves loving relations with creatures,” says Sanders. But God could have created a world without free creatures. And God could (and perhaps occasionally does) unilaterally control creatures or situations to bring about some outcome.

Let’s call Sanders’s third option, “God sovereignly, not of necessity, decided to create a world with free creatures.”

A Fourth Providence Option

I prefer a fourth option to these three.

We might call my view, “God’s loving nature requires God to create a world with free creatures that God cannot control entirely.” This option is part of the essential kenosis model I describe in the next chapter. But let me explain my preferred option here by comparing it with Sanders’s view that God sovereignly, not of necessity, decided to create a world with free creatures.

In our exploration of open and relational theology, we discovered this theology says a relational God of love collaborates with creatures. God’s love takes risks in relationship, as Sanders puts it. Because love does not control others, the risk model of providence does not offer the guarantees divine determinism offers. God’s relationship with creatures, says Sanders, “is not one of control and domination but rather one of love and vulnerability.” God “does not force [creatures] to comply.” In sum, Sanders believes “love does not force its own way on the beloved.”

If God’s preeminent attribute is love and love invites cooperation without forcing its own way, it makes little sense to say “sovereign freedom” would allow God to create in an unloving way. It makes little sense, for instance, to say God voluntarily decided against “exercising meticulous providence.” It makes little sense to say “God is free to sovereignly decide not to determine everything.”

To put it in question form, why should we think a loving God who “does not force the beloved” is free “to tightly control every event that happens?” Why should we think a loving God is free to control others entirely, even if God never actually exercised that freedom?

Mermaids Can’t Ride Unicorns

Let me illustrate my point: mermaids cannot ride unicorns.

Mermaids cannot actually ride unicorns, because mermaids and unicorns are fantasy creatures. We may imagine what mermaids and unicorns look like and do. But they do not exist in the real world. So while we may dream of mermaids riding unicorns (presumably sidesaddle!) or abstractly conceive of such, it makes no sense to believe mermaids actually ride unicorns. Neither creature actually exists.

Likewise, it makes no sense to say a God whose preeminent attribute is love could tightly control every event. If God’s love cooperates rather than controls and if God takes risks rather than forcing guarantees, love as the preeminent attribute prevents God from determining everything. God cannot force the beloved, because, as Sanders says, love does not force its own way. A loving yet controlling God can’t actually exist.

To put the analogy succinctly: mermaids cannot actually ride unicorns, because these beings are fictional. A perfectly loving God cannot create controllable creatures, because this God is fictional.

Sanders’s main problem is that he does not take love as the preeminent attribute in God’s nature, at least when he thinks about initial creation. Unfortunately, Sanders believes God’s “nature does not dictate the sort of world God must make.”

By contrast, I do think God’s nature dictates the sort of world God must make. God must act according to the divine nature, and the preeminent attribute of God’s nature is love. For this reason, I think love is God’s ultimate guide when creating any world.

If love seeks collaboration instead of control, takes risks instead of forcing guarantees, and does not force others to comply, a perfectly loving God could never sovereignly control every event, exercise meticulous providence, or absolutely determine everything. God cannot control others entirely, because, as Sanders rightly says, love does not force its own way on the beloved. Rather than saying God sovereignly decided to create a free world, we should say God’s loving nature requires creating undetermined creatures in any world God might choose to create.

Conclusion

Although I agree with the vast majority of Sanders’s version of open and relational theology, his ultimate misstep, as I see it, is failing to follow through on his claim that God’s preeminent attribute is love. He believes God’s sovereign will logically precedes God’s loving nature, at least when it comes to initial creation.

Given Sanders’s statements that God sometimes acts alone to bring about outcomes and allows genuine evil, his view also implies the sovereign will logically precedes love in the history of creation. Love does not come first.

My criticism of Sanders leads to my alternative version of open and relational theology, which I call essential kenosis. I have outlined some of aspects of essential kenosis in my book, The Nature of Love. I develop it further in my new book project.

A few footnotes for those who care about some additional issues:

(1. Sanders is aware of the possibility that God’s nature may prevent God from doing some things. He notes biblical passages supporting this view. But in response to such passages, Sanders says, “although there is no attempt by biblical writers to reconcile the notion that God can do anything with the idea that God does not get everything he wants, it must be remembered that both sets of statements occur within the framework of God’s relationship with the people to whom these particular statements are made.” This seems to mean he believes such statements are relative to certain times and places. At the least, it means he believes statements in scripture pertaining to God’s inabilities do not describe conditions in God’s eternal nature.)

(2. My view, “God’s loving nature requires God to create a world with free creatures that God cannot control entirely,” can apply either to the traditional view that God initially created something from absolutely nothing (creatio ex nihilo) or the view that God always creates from that which God previously created because God’s nature is love (creatio ex creatione a natura amoris). I explain the latter view in my essay, “God Always Creates out of Creation in Love: Creatio ex Creatione a Natura Amoris,” in the forthcoming book, Theologies of Creation: Creatio Ex Nihilo and Its New Rivals [New York: Routledge, 2014], 109-122.)

(3. In a footnote, Sanders admits he engages in speculation when he talks about whether or not God’s nature requires God to create a world. He says he bases his speculation on his prior doctrine of creation. Because Sanders affirms creation ex nihilo, I assume he is referring to this theory of initial creation when he speaks of his prior creation doctrine. My alternative position to the three I outlined is essentially neutral on this issue of creation ex nihilo. One can affirm creation out of nothing or deny it, while agreeing with me that God’s love is the preeminent attribute of God’s nature, and therefore God could not create a world devoid of freedom and/or agency.)

- TJO