Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, December 8, 2002

Authors Examine History and Strengths of Religion

It is ironic that the world is embroiled in a religious war in which the combatants -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- have so much in common. They all worship the same deity, and they are all heirs of Abraham and the prophets.

Unfortunately, this hasn't resulted in greater ecumenical understanding, since all three religions are extremely strong, with none dominating the others.The authors of the following books, however, do hold out the hope that the adherents of these three religions can live together in peace and understanding. May this be our fervent hope during this holiday season of Hanukkah, Christmas and Ramadan.

Divine Love, Light and Martyrdom by Sajjad S. Haider (Muhammadi Trust, 2002).

This is the third book in Haider's series on the universality of the divine message. The other two are Love, Virtues and Commandments and Time Bears Witness. His thesis is that all religions affirm a set of shared core values and that these guidelines are the foundations of world peace.

Haider argues that God has proved his love for humans by communicating his commandments through the words of his messengers and prophets. Judaism, Christianity and Islam share these prophets in common and all believe in the one and same God.

Haider dresses his message in beautiful prose to convey the central idea that love is the fundamental messenger and word of God. Everywhere there is beauty permeated with divine love, which is deserving of our appreciation. He backs these sentiments up with verses from mystic poets, such as Rumi and Hafiz. It is our duty to love each other as an expression of gratitude toward God for his grace.

The author finishes his treatise with a discussion of martyrdom, giving examples of martyrs from all three religions and distinguishing between suicide and martyrdom.

Haider will be signing his book from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

Why I Am a Catholic by Garry Wills (Houghton Mifflin, 2002).

The bulk of Wills' learned but readable book is taken up with explaining why he remains a Catholic in spite of the church.

From the outset, he makes it clear that he disagrees with the present pope on just about everything but the basics of the creed and faith. To maintain this adversarial position, he must first prove that the pope is not the infallible presence some claim him to be. Wills demonstrates how popes didn't even come into existence until the fifth century and that bad popes have been more the rule than the exception throughout history.

Wills sees no problem with disagreeing with the pope but remaining a Catholic. He doesn't want to do away with the pontiff because he sees the papal institution as safeguarding the church from heresy and fractured belief. John Paul II, in his estimation, has been a well-meaning failure, doing his best to reverse the progress made during Vatican II, a time when ecumenism and democracy flourished.

At a time when the church is beset with controversy and self-doubt, Wills' study will give many Catholics the courage to question the direction the church is taking.

Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler (Morrow, 2002).

Feiler, a native of Savannah, Ga., is a gifted popularizer and author of the popular Walking the Bible. Though his background is Jewish, he is an open-minded religious seeker who is trying to make sense of the religious conflict in the Middle East.

Feiler centers his book on the person of Abraham, the common ancestor of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He hopes that Abraham might be a figure of unity for all three. He shows how each religion has claimed him as its own -- the Jews laying claim to his land in Israel, the Christians by linking him to Jesus Christ, and the Muslims by claiming that his real heir was Ishmael and not Isaac.

After interviewing leaders of all three faiths, Feiler takes heart from the ecumenical leanings of the majority of them, though his encounters with the less receptive strike a chilling note and do not bode well for peace in the Middle East.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.