Friday, November 30, 2007

A Common Word Between Us and You and Mona Charen

God Bless Mona Charen.

For years she's been a beacon of intelligence and honesty in an often confused world.

Her recent comments on the publicity surrounding the issuance of "A Common Word Between Us and You" by 138 Muslim intellectuals once again shows why she is so worth reading.

The letter, addressed to Pope Benedict and dozens of other Christian leaders, was released by the Royal Jordanian Institute of Islamic Thought on October 11, 2007, had some encouraging things to say.

"Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians."


" The central creed of Islam consists of the two testimonies of faith or Shahadahsi, which state that: There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God. These Two Testimonies are the sine qua non of Islam. He or she who testifies to them is a Muslim; he or she who denies them is not a Muslim. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad said: The best remembrance is: ‘There is no god but God’….ii "

Wonderful sentiments with which Christians, Muslims, and Jews can all agree.

But in an article in the Jewish World Review on October 18, 2007, Ms. Charen points out that one such letter does not a peaceful world make.

''You can read through this entire letter and never learn that there are Muslims all over the world currently interpreting their faith as a license to slaughter innocent human beings (very much including fellow Muslims). Moreover, the overall thrust of the document suggests that misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians (rather than problematic interpretations of Islam) is what threatens world peace.''

''If the Muslim clerics are sincere in wishing for peace and understanding, they should issue a document that:''

''(1) Denounces Islamists''

''(2) Rejects Islamists' violent interpretation of jihad''

''(3) Affirms the human dignity of non-Muslims''

''(4) Condemns Osama bin Laden, Aymin al-Zawahiri and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by name.''

''That would be historic. This letter is worse than a bromide, it's a dodge.''

Mark Tooley, in an article in FrontPage Magazine voices similar sentiments.

Both Charen and Tooley point out the limitations of this kind of interfaith dialogue, a theme that is echoed in my new book, Abrahamic Small Groups, co-authored with Dr. Rashid Ahmad.

In our book, we discuss the importance of supplementing interfaith dialogue at the academic and theological leader level with interfaith engagement at the individual and family level.

Dialogue is often just meaningless exchanges of platitudes. Engagement, on the other hand, is a bit more like "tough love."

Interfaith engagement allows me to ask my Muslim friends tough questions like this:

If Islam is a religion of peace, why don't you condemen the terrorist actions of Bin Laden ?

And my Muslim and Jewish friends should feel free to ask me equally direct questions.

Leading American Scholar of Islam to Review Pre-Publication Copy of Abrahamic Small Groups

A leading American scholar of Islam has agreed to review a pre-publication copy of the new book Abrahamic Small Groups, which Dr. Rashid Ahmad and I are in the process of completing. Look for Harpeth River Press to publish the book in March of 2008.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

More Speculation on Trent Lott's Resignation

Slate Magazine is running an ugly story today which carries their speculations on the real reasons for Senator Trent Lott's resignation.

It's not a pretty picture.

Suffice it to say, last week's FBI raid on the offices of Lott's Mississippi lawyer brother-in-law "Dickie" Scruggs, and today's indictment of Mr. Scruggs and his son, Lott's nephew, figure prominently in the story.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Author Stephen King Actually Said This !

Author Stephen King actually made the following statement in the November 23, 2007 online edition of Time Magazine:

So I said something to the Nightline guy about waterboarding, and if the Bush administration didn't think it was torture, they ought to do some personal investigation. Someone in the Bush family should actually be waterboarded so they could report on it to George. I said, I didn't think he would do it, but I suggested Jenna be waterboarded and then she could talk about whether or not she thought it was torture.

Come on now, Mr. King. Shouldn't you stick to fictional terror, and not try your hand at the real thing ?

Trent Lott Shows His True Colors

Little more than a year after persuading his fellow Republican Senators that he was better qualified than Tennessee's Lamar Alexander to serve as Minority Whip in the Senate for the long haul, Mississippi's Trent Lott has unexpectedly announced his retirement from the Senate, effective at the end of the year.

Re-elected to a full term only last year, Lott leaves his fellow Republicans in the lurch, for the apparent purpose of pursuing "other interests". It might have been more honest of the Senator to have revealed his intentions at the time he was politicking to become the Senate Minority Whip. Certainly, had they known he would leave his leadership post in less than a year, his supporters would not have voted for him them.

Lott's decision leaves his fellow Republicans scrambling to field a candidate for a special election to fill out the balance of his term (which ends in 2012), either in the next 90 days or in November of 2008 (depending on which expert you listen to) putting this 'safe' Republican seat up for grabs at worst, and diverting limited party resources at best.

One can only speculate as to Senator Lott's motives, but the most likely explanation is his desire to cash in on the K Street lobbying gravy train. Lott apparently wants to "get his while the getting is good."

Apparently, Profiles in Greed is a better description of the conduct of certain seasoned Senators these days than Profiles in Courage.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We need you Ben Stein !

My co-author Rashid Ahmad and I have been discussing the need for a Jewish co-author. How, we wonder, can we write about the Abrahamic religions in our new book Abrahamic Small Groups, if we only have the Christian and Muslim point of view ?

We've sent the actor, writer, and professor Ben Stein and his literary agent an e-mail and invited him to be our co-author.

I spoke on the phone with his literary agent, who was polite but not encouraging.

If Ben declines our offer, do any blog readers have suggestions for us ?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A reader asks about Abrahamic Small Groups

A reader of Christian Faith and Reason recently asked several questions about an article I wrote for that magazine on Abrahamic Small Groups.

Readers of this blog may find his questions and my responses of interest.

1. Tell me more about the overall goal of Abrahamic Small Groups.

The goal is simply to promote understanding and peace between Christians, Muslims, and Jews in America at the family and individual level.

2. Tell me more about your mission and the organization behind it.

There is no organization behind it at present. A non-profit corporation, The Global Great Awakening, may be organized and incorporated to promote the development of Abrahamic Small Groups first throughout the United States, and then around the world. But for now, it's my family, a couple of other Christian families, a couple of Muslim families, and a Jewish family in Nashville.

There is also a Facebook Group you can join called Abrahamic Small Groups which has 26 members around the world as of this writing.

3. Tell me about some of the feed back you are getting from the groups currently meeting.

Only the Nashville group has met so far. And the feedback has been fabulous. All the families participating are enthusiastic and energetic about the next meeting. Every family had some great curriculum ideas for future meetings.

4. What are some of the issues that have come up due to differences in faith practice. Has there been unwanted proselytizing by any of the faiths involved?

Since The Nashville Agreement (the original organizing document of the Abrahamic Small Group movement) specifically prohibits proselytizing, it has not been an issue at all. Besides, there's so much to learn about the other religions, there's really no time for proselytizing.

5. What local support do these groups have? Are they endorsed by churches, mosques or synagogues? Or has the opposite been found to be the case?

We haven't sought any endorsement from churches, mosques, or synagogues, other than occasionally asking for an opportunity to speak about the existence of Abrahamic Small Groups. We have specifically avoided involving rabbis, imams, priests, and ministers in the organization of these groups, though we welcome their participation in group meetings.

An important point here is to emphasize that Abrahamic Small Groups are about interfaith ENGAGEMENT and not interfaith DIALOGUE. Dialogue per se tends to be overly intellectual, impersonal, and leads nowhere. ENGAGEMENT, on the other hand, is designed to touch the hearts of participants.

6. Anything else that you can think to tell me regarding these groups which you think I would find interesting.

Come to the January 13, 2008 Abrahamic Small Group meeting in Nashville from 3 pm to 5 pm. Send me a private message and I will tell you when and where !

Book on Abrahamic Small Groups pushes Civil War Novel back

Literary agents often advise writers that the best way to become a published novelistis to first finish the novel !

They are right of course, and I imagine that if I had an agent, he or she might suggest that I should finish writing Fort Desperate, my novel of the Battle of Port Hudson, before I take on another literary project.

And yet, I am not going to follow that advice.

I am being drawn forward by a compelling concept and an enthusiastic co-author into a follow up to my first book, Letter to an Atheist.
Dr. Rashid Ahmad and I are co-authoring Abrahamic Small Groups which will be published by Harpeth River Press in March of 2008.

Subtitled "Ten hours a year in the cause of world peace, that's all we ask !" (with a nod of the hat to talk show host Sean Hannity for inspiration on the phrasing), the book describes the process by which Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families in America can experience true inter-faith engagement. The idea is not to all sit around the campfire holding hands and sing "Kumbayah". Instead, the idea is to gain a true understanding of that which we have in common theologically and familially, as well as that on which we differ.

With 7 million Muslims, 3 million Jews, and 200 million Christians in America, it makes sense that we should try to learn more about getting along with each other, doesn't it ?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Letter to an Atheist finds more on line distribution

Letter to an Atheist apparently continues to find more on line distribution.

You can buy it online at Cokesbury Books, the retail arm of United Methodist Publishers.

And finally, it's landed on the Barnes and Noble online site. It's reached the high rank of 367,000 there !

Not sure how my book made it to Barnes and Noble, while RC Metcalf and Joel McDurmon's equally good responses to Sam Harris did not.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Abrahamic Small Group Meeting

We held the first Abrahamic Small Group meeting in our house last night.

The idea behind an Abrahamic Small Group is to duplicate the Evangelical Christian small group experience in a mixed group of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish families. This is not about inter-faith dialogue, but instead is about inter-faith engagement. We're not all sitting around a campfire holding hands and singing "Kum bay ah". Instead, we're getting to know each other on a personal basis, and we're learning those areas of faith in which we agree, and those areas in which we disagree.

We kicked off the grand experiment with a bit of trepidation all around. After all, Evangelical Christian small groups have high failure rates, and it's hard to tell how these things will evolve.

In what could have been an ominous foreshadowing of the evening, Middle Tennessee was hit with a severe thunderstorm last night. We prepared snacks for the invited families, but weren't sure if anyone would make the trek out to our neck of the far suburbs for the adventure.

The cell phone rang, however, about 15 minutes before the start time, and it was Rashid and his family en route.

Arriving just as the storm let up, Rashid, his wife Fatima, their children Ayesha and Ali joined our family and Marlin's family just as the storm let up. Setting a graciou tone, Rashid and Fatima brought a fabulous gift for my wife, a special perfume they had purchased when they had visited the holy city of Medina, Saudi Arabia.

We were fascinated to learn that Rashid, a medical doctor, and his wife Fatima, were both born in the same city in India, and had come together under a "quasi-arranged" marriage. Rashid came to the US as a young boy. Fatima came after their marriage.

Another good sign for the evening was that the children, who had never met before, connected easily.

Rashid, a fellow Ivy Leaguer, brought an enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity to the evening that matched my own. Both he and Fatima seemed to quickly "get" the structure of what a small group setting tries to accomplish, and the conversation flowed easily.

The evening had been in the works for over a year, since I had begun writing my book, Letter to an Atheist. My chapter on Islam there suggested that Sam Harris' dismissal of Islam as fundamentally and completely opposed yo intellectual and social compatibility with the West was simplistic and close minded. This evening, my criticism of Harris was put to the test, and based on how the evening went, I must say that my initial impression has been confirmed.