ISIS, Franklin Graham, and Christian Freedom

Mass murders, gruesome decapitations, and bombings mark headlines seemingly non-stop.  ISIS and other Islamic extremist groups have made it clear that they want nothing but the destruction of Western civilization and the implementation of Sharia law.  It is an aggressive and violent program to bring others into submission, to assert control and power over their enemies.  Christians have been no strangers to the persecution that follows groups like this.  Many have lost their lives because they refused to bow the knee and denounce Christ.

Seeing this reality has caused many Christians to be alarmed at any and all Islamic groups, painting them as a homogenous group with the same agenda.  Influential voices, like that of Franklin Graham, have communicated concern for the future if Islam is allowed more power and Christian influence in the American culture continues to wane.  In fact, Franklin Graham recently said, “I believe it’s going to get worse, and we see no question gaining influence in Washington by those that represent the Islamic faith.  We do have a problem in this country and we are losing our religious freedom and we’re losing it a little bit day by day.”

Let us pretend for a moment that Islam is a homogenous group (a very unfounded claim) and that Graham’s concern for our religious freedoms in this country are being attacked, diminished, and eradicated.  Let us imagine that all of Islam has the same goal and that goal is domination of Western culture, elimination of Christians, and the imposition of Sharia law on all peoples.  That is a legitimate claim for at least some Muslims, but let us assume for the moment it is true of all Muslims.

It is ironic that Graham denounces the imposition of another religion’s system of laws while lobbying for Christians to employ the same tactics to ensure our power and our rights.  The jihad-like call to return to a “Christian nation” resound from many Evangelical leaders, including Graham.  If we can only get enough voter turnout, then security and the maintenance of our “freedom” will be ensured.  While Islamic extremist groups evangelize at the point of a sword, Graham is calling for a Crusade of his own.  The methodology between the two isn’t extremely different because they are both based on a will to power and a hope in political systems to achieve their goals.

As a pastor, I find it deplorable that so many of people within the Church have given ear to this kind of thinking.  It isn’t inherently Christian.  The will to power, the desire to protect our rights, and the perception that freedom is achieved through a political process is misguided and misplaced.  If Christian still means to follow the life and example of Jesus, then we need to reconsider again what it means to be the imago Dei (image of God).

First, how we use power is of great importance.  God demonstrates the way power is intended to be used.  It is not through domination but through humble obedience and kenotic (emptying) service to others.  This is the way of the Cross and the Kingdom of God.  Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king.  Jesus is cryptic, but says that if his Kingdom was like that of Rome and others his followers would defend it with the sword.  But, that’s not the kind of politics Jesus is enacting.  Jesus doesn’t make the move to will power.  Instead, he gives it away.  Ironically, in giving it away Jesus receives all power.  But, again, it is not a power to dominate but a power of dominion (proper ordering), stewardship, holy-love, and compassion.  That is power.

Second, I find the use of “rights” language problematic.  “Rights” are assumed to be something that I possess, own.  This language tends to revolve around the individual, thus denying our need for the social.  And, where my “rights” are in conflict with another’s “rights,” they must be defended at all costs, lest I be trampled under foot by the world.  Because it isolates the individual as the sole possessor of these particular rights, we also negate our contingent and dependent nature.  Not only are we social creatures, but we are also not the Creator!  Our life is not a “right.”  It is a gift.  And, should we lose our life, the One who gives life is able to restore it – even from the depths of Sheol.

We are reminded in Philippians 2 that Jesus empties himself, not considering equality with God something to be grasped, and humbles himself unto obedience – even to death on a cross.  His very death that does not grasp and cling to his own life is what brings life to us.  As the Christian community, we are constantly called to “daily pick up our cross and follow Jesus.”  If we have any “rights,” they are not to be grasped and held onto with such tenacity and fear.

Finally, the idea that freedom is dependent upon a political process is sadly mistaken.  The reality of persecution is all too real for many in the world.  I don’t diminish the sacrifice that many make by giving their lives while giving faithful witness to Christ.  However, these martyrs demonstrate what freedom in Christ really is all about!  Paul and Silas sing in prison after being beaten!  Peter testifies to Jesus’ work and ministry before being crucified upside down.  John is exiled to the island of Patmos because he proclaimed Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.

The early Church, and many since then, have been those that did not have “freedom” in the political sense, yet demonstrated profound freedom in Jesus to love as Jesus had loved them.  Their lives proclaimed forgiveness, healing, mercy, and love that even extended to their enemies.  After Christians became a separate movement outside of Judaism, they experienced intense suffering and persecution.  They often did not have political or social clout or power.  They were branded atheists and threats to national security.  Yet, the Christians persisted in loving those society did not deem worthy.  They served the poor, the sick, and the hungry.

They embodied a new social ethic that enacted peace, extended mercy, and manifested love in tangible ways to friend and foe alike.  Few can deny the profound impact the Church had on its surrounding world, even while they had no power or freedom of which to speak or protect.  We can learn a great deal from our heritage on the means for engaging the world as cross-bearers embodying a new way to live in the world.  The freedom to love, pray for, and do good to our enemies is also freedom from a life entrenched in fear of the future.

Works Cited

You may find the above Franklin Graham quotes here:

Abraham: Father of Faith

Abraham holds a place of great importance for Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  These various world religions trace their heritage back to Abraham.  Jews and Muslims trace their genetic lineage back to Abraham.  Abraham is literally the progenitor of these groups.  But, more than that, Jews, Muslims and Christians find Abraham as the root of their theological heritage.  In this sense, Abraham is the father of faith for these religious traditions.

Arnold states, “[Abraham] is the father of all who believe.”  To a large degree this is inherently true.  As noted previously, several religious traditions name Abraham as the father of their particular faith.  But, that is the rub.  None of these faiths are the same, even though they might share some common denominators (i.e., Abraham).  The question then becomes: “Can Abraham really be the father of faith, even for traditions that are beyond or counter to the faith that is demonstrated by Abraham?”  In other words, if there is only one God (which all three faiths claim), yet each religious tradition’s viewpoint of God is divergent, can each faith legitimately claim Abraham as their father?

There are two potential pitfalls in Arnold’s statement.  First, not all Jews, Muslims, or Christians can actually trace their genetic heritage directly back to Abraham.  Each of these world religions has transcended, to some degree, the cultural/ethnic heritage in which it was conceived.  This drastically limits the way that Abraham can be conceived as the father of faith.  Thus, there is a more important criterion that is being used among the religious traditions: faith!  Jesus describes this criteria, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9).  Claiming Abraham as our father goes beyond genetic lineage!

Arnold’s statement is too nebulous to be fully affirmed.  Granted, we have concluded that there is a connection between Abraham and each of these faith traditions.  However, that does not then mean that “believers” are affirming the same things or that all are true.  We still must ascertain the common belief that unites people to father Abraham.  Will any belief do or is there something specific?  If it is “belief” in God, we should naturally inquire as to which God Abraham truly believed.  If we are connected to Abraham through faith, then it matters which faith.

Although all three of these “faiths” can be traced back in some way to Abraham that does not necessarily mean that Abraham would claim them as theological descendents.  If there is only one, true God whom Abraham served, then it is a likewise narrow field of “faith” that Abraham can be proclaimed as father.  Obviously, we cannot speak on behalf of Abraham.  We cannot make an air-tight argument against the claim of other faiths that produce counter-claims to Abraham as father.  The claim of Abraham as the true father of our faith is yet another matter of faith based upon our perception of who is truly God!

Abraham is not simply the father of “any who believes.”  That can too quickly denigrate into a universalism, which Judaism, Islam, or Christianity will not allow.  Abraham as the father of faith goes much deeper into the reality of the God that Abraham served.  Abraham is the father of “any who believes” in the One, true God.  And, although all three faiths may claim to be Abraham’s descendents, they do not all serve the same God.  There may be a genetic heritage that links all three, but matters of faith go beyond genetic lineages.

Unmistaken Child

Buddhists believe that a person is “involuntarily reincarnated.”  However, a Buddha can actually choose what form to be re-born into.  “Unmistaken Child” is a film about the search for a re-incarnated lama.  This particular lama’s closest disciple is chosen to find the newly re-incarnated lama.  The whole process takes close to two years before being completed.

First, after being chosen to find the new lama, Tenzin Zopa first has a dream about the lama coming back to life in the form of a “fat” child.  Also, the burial pyre remains contain several pearls and a “footstep” pointing east in the ashes.  These are considered very strong signs.  Next, these signs and the dream are written down in a letter, which is then considered by someone familiar with reading signs.  This man says that the child will be born to a father whose name starts with “A.”  Also, Tenzin should look in the valley where the previous lama spent time praying.

Tenzin begins his journey, traveling from village to village seeking a child between the ages of 1 and 1 ½ years old.  Tenzin has some rosaries from the lama’s life in which to “check” to see if the child might be the right one.  However, the search is futile for several months.  Finally, Tenzin finds a young boy born to Ahpe in the Tsum Valley.  The boy refuses to take off the beads or give them back.  Tenzin takes this to be a strong sign, which he then reports to his superiors.

The other lamas send for the child to check out the possibility of the re-incarnation.  The child is told to choose several things from a lineup (i.e. bells, beads) that he used in his past life.  The child chooses all three objects correctly.  This, then, is reported to the Dalai Lama.  The Dalai Lama responds by issuing a letter confirming the child’s identity as the re-incarnated lama.  As such, the child must go to a monastery away from his home to be trained as a monk.

The parents, although extremely difficult for them, decide that they must let their child go train.  Tenzin becomes the caretaker for the young boy and begins teaching and training him for his life as a Buddha.  The event is a significant one for the people that follow the teachings of the Buddha.

Overall, I thought it was interesting seeing the process of finding the lama re-incarnated.  In some ways, the selection seemed rather arbitrary.  Yet, at other times, some of the things that occurred were astounding.  For instance, the boy picking the right items was uncanny.  One might think that the boy’s father helped him choose the items, yet it would be odd for the father to actually know which items were used in the past.  Picking three items out of a mound of other distractions was intriguing, to say the least.

I think that one of the things that I learned from this film was that Buddhists are very patient in their pursuit of something.  Also, their treatment of others is extremely kind.  They seem to treat everyone, high or low, with a certain dignity.  And, finally, there is a quiet joy about Tenzin as he journeys through the valley.  Although he dearly misses his friend, he still manages to find wonderment in nature and in others.  It was a slow moving film, but I’m glad to have learned something about the process involved in finding re-incarnated lamas.


This film is about a young girl, Chuyia, during the late 1930’s.  Chuyia, at the age of eight, became a widow.  According to the Hindu scriptures, a female widow must remain unmarried for the rest of her life.  As such, they are considered “untouchables” that are impure and outcasts.  Chuyia is sent to live in a place for widows.  Chuyia does not understand why she is forced to do this rather than being able to return to her parents.  Essentially, she is told that when her husband, half of her died with him and thus cannot go on living a normal life.  To break that vow of chastity is to invite punishment and fail in one’s duty.

In order to survive and maintain rent, one of the girls is prostituted out.  The “gentry” of India, including a Brahmin in this story, use these women to satisfy them sexually.  It is deemed as “good favor and blessing” for the women.  Unfortunately, those that are prostituted are further ostracized, even within the community of widows.  In fact, the other women won’t even eat with her.  Chuyia, however, breaks this boundary and becomes friends with her.

During this time, Ghandi is becoming well known.  His ideas of liberation and freedom are extended to even the “untouchables” of society.  These ideas threaten the very core of society’s structure and its power sources, which lead to severe oppression of the weak.  In this story, Chuyia eventually becomes a victim of prostitution.  One of the older ladies at the “convent” finds her afterwards and takes Chuyia to the train station to help her escape from further subjection to such cruel treatment.  Despite what the Hindu religion dictated, this woman finally comes to the conclusion that one must follow their conscience over religion that leads to such oppressive misery.

The end of the film states that as of 2001 there are an estimated 34 million widows in India.  The same types of oppressive systems are still largely observed today and thus many of these women find themselves in less than ideal situations with little ability to provide for themselves.  They become the victim of power and politics in the guise of religion.  This film depicted in a very real manner the problem that plagues many religions.  Sometimes they are used to empower the influential and affluent with little to no regard for the “untouchables” of society.  In essence, I think this is the very thing that Ghandi opposed, not only in Hinduism but in Christianity.

The Upanishads – My Reflection

1. What does the text actually say about the matters it addresses?

            The “Self” is the ground of all reality.  To experience the Self is to experience true reality, which is not differentiated out.  Rather, the forms and functions we see of the material things is merely an illusion because it is all one thing.  The Upanishads talk about the rivers flowing into the vast ocean and becoming indistinguishable from one another.  This is the way that they conceive the Self existing.  To get caught up in the material world and the senses and to think those are what is truly real is to make the biggest mistake.  Rather, enlightenment happens as we recognize the Self in everything and everything in the Self.

Death is the natural outcome or consequence for not recognizing the undifferentiated Self.  That life is reincarnated and doomed to continue the cycle until they reach enlightenment.  This enlightenment is not knowledge of language or concepts.  Instead, enlightenment can only be experienced by one’s self.  For this to happen, one must be taught by someone who has experienced that divine Self.

2. What does the text reveal to me about this religious tradition?

In the opening section, Easwaran describes the spiritual journey as one that takes us to the edges of consciousness.  As we are lost in this intense focus of the Self, we discover that all of reality is really undifferentiated.  The Self, not merely the individual psyche, is the ground of all true existence and the ultimate satisfaction of our Infinite desire for something more than what this life holds.

This conception is very similar to the Buddhist conception of ultimate reality.  This ultimate reality is enshrouded by layers of falsehood that must be shed in order to “see” the true nature of things.  The differentiation of “things” is only in appearance for they all have their source in the Self of illumination.  This is challenging to me because I see a disconnect from this avowed “undifferentiated” reality and the reality of the social classes found within Indian society.

I understand that these classes are seen as the proper duty of Hindu peoples.  However, if tangible reality is merely a “shadow” of what is truly ultimate reality, then should not this life be made to reflect what is really Real?  If we all find our being in the ground of Self, then is there any real difference between Brahmans and the lowly serfs?  Is not relegating people to such debased existences a violation of the Self?  In other words, the hierarchal society structure is only a further differentiation of what is NOT truly differentiated, thus adding another layer of falsehood upon the one we already wear.

3. How does this text and the tradition it represents relate to Christianity (similarities, differences, etc.)?

            Within the Upanishad’s teachings are very similar teachings to Christianity.  There is a focus on serving others, on love, and on doing good.  There is even a “God” that is both imminent and transcendent in the world.  In this way, many people think that Christianity and Hinduism are compatible religions that teach essentially the same things.

However, upon further reflection, that is not altogether true.  The Self – or “God” – might best be described as space.  It’s not a space that is nothing, but it’s not really something either.  It is unthinking, unfeeling, unseeing, unknowing, and unhearing.  Although there seems to be a life about the Self, it is not a living being altogether.  This strongly contradicts the Christian understanding of God, who is both transcendent and imminent.  The Christian tradition sees God as living and the Giver of Life (Hindus believe the Self gives life).  But, unlike the Hindu Self, God is seeing, knowing, hearing, willing, and acting in tangible ways.  Whereas, the Self needs to only be recognized as already inherent within each person, Christianity affirms that we are all depraved and sinners.  We do not have the tools within us to be different without some type of outside intervention, which we believe is given through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Even the focus on loving and doing good within the Hindu religion is different than the Christian perspective.  Hindus believe that doing good and being loving are part of their sacred duty and that is mandatory to do these things so as not to incur bad karma.  Christians have a different understanding of these things.  We are not supposed to do those things so that we might get a just reward out of it.  Rather, those things are a response to what God has already done for us.  We love because God loved us first.  Love and good deeds in the Christian faith are more than simply doing a duty.  And, we are incapable of truly loving and doing good without God’s love and life being in us.  Hinduism is a much more humanistic religion.

4. How does reading this text contribute to (change/ confirm/ challenge, etc.) the way I view this religious tradition, and the subject of religion in general?

I definitely understand it much better than I did before.  In learning about another religion it helped me to see why I believe what I believe more.  It challenged my thinking and made me ask deeper questions of my faith.  Within the Hindu religion are some good thoughts and teachings.  They are not all inherently bad.  But, at least from a Western perspective, this religion contradicts itself in some very important ways.  Thus, reading this text has confirmed to me that this religion is very much based on a humanistic seed that ultimately fails to adequately wrestle with and answer the questions of sin and evil and salvation.

The subject of religion in general is important for us.  It is important to understand other religions as we can so that we can have some type of dialogue.  It allows us to make connecting points with the Gospel message with something that is familiar to others.  Paul used this method in his own evangelism and can be a significant way for us to converse with people of other religions.  Studying other religions helps us to understand our own faith better because it makes us aware of the implicit beliefs that we have accepted.  And, in becoming aware of those things we are challenged to verify and test them out to see if they are true, need to be revised, or need to be thrown away.

The Dhammapada – My Reflection

1) What does the text actually say about the matters it addresses?

            The text talks about self-control.  One must master the senses and the body.  One must exercise control over the mind.  As one learns to control these things, rather than be controlled by them, they travel the path of enlightenment.  Thus, no longer trapped by the sensory, they are able to see the true reality of Ultimate reality.  This Ultimate reality is differentiated from itself in no way for it is One reality.  Everything that exists is a part of this One reality.

The reason for evil and sin and pain is because people do not realize the Oneness of all reality.  Thus, if they fail to love others or the things of this world, they fail to see the connection between themselves and the rest of all reality.  They fail to see that by not loving others they are really hurting themselves.  As one comes to realize Ultimate reality, they recognize their duty to love others.

The highest goal of meditation and duty is Nirvana.  It is the state where everything becomes One and cannot be differentiated.  Death is the anti-thesis of Nirvana because it is the greatest illusion of all.  Death keeps one bound to the “lower levels” of life, doomed to keep wandering that path until one reaches enlightenment and Nirvana.

Wisdom, described as true enlightenment, is looked upon favorably.  That is hardly a surprise.  But, the understanding of wisdom is slightly different than what one might think.  Wisdom is not simply described as how one thinks and perceives the world.  Rather, wisdom is exemplified by right and good actions.  These actions have the power to overcome the bad that has been done.

2) What does the text reveal to me about this religious tradition?

            The basic premise reflects a basic form of humanism.  In other words, within every human person there is the power of self-will to move toward “perfection.”  The goal of this particular religion is to reach Nirvana through the Dhammapada, the path of righteousness.  The way to Nirvana is by knowing Truth.  It is only through Truth that one is able to move beyond the illusory world that we often inhabit.

This suggests that Buddhism recognizes that there is something inherently wrong with our world.  There are several ways it describes this pain and evil.  It is very aware of the human problem.  However, it does not seem, in my estimation, to have a firm grasp of how entrenched humanity is in this problem.  It recognizes that we participate in the problem, but it does not affirm that humanity is in a cycle of addiction to “sin.”  As such, it seriously believes that humanity is able to make a way out of the problem by recognizing and acknowledging the true nature of all reality.

In many ways, this religion is a very consequential religion.  What one does in life is what one receives as reward.  Doing good deeds results in good consequences; bad deeds result in negative consequences (i.e., pain, death etc.).  Thus, the idea of duty makes great sense, especially if everything is connected by One reality.  Duty also becomes the way by which one finds release from the illusion.  It becomes a way to work out one’s “salvation.”

3) How does this text and the tradition it represents relate to Christianity (similarities, differences, etc.)?

            The Dhammapada is very similar to the Wisdom tradition found within the Christian Scriptures.  Many of the pearls of wisdom sound similar to Jesus’ Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.  They are very cause and effect types of teachings.  There, at least by appearances, seems to be an expectation for both Buddhists and Christians to know what is evil and to not participate in it.

The Dhammapada, however, seems to lean toward Gnosticism.  It’s all about a secret type of knowledge that may or may not be available to everyone.  Furthermore, it is about appropriate thinking and denying the base passions of the flesh, whatever form those may take.  This is similar to dualism which sees the mind or spirit as pure and the body as impure.

Having an appropriate understanding of the world, right thinking, is important for both Christianity and Buddhists.  Both believe that our perceptions of the world are often skewed and not what they should be.  Too often we live under the “illusion” that the world offers, an illusion that falls far short of true reality.  Buddhists believe that enlightenment allows one to see through the illusion to the true nature of reality.  Christianity believes that it is not simply by changing our viewpoint that we come to live rightly in the world.  Rather, Christianity affirms that God must change and transform us.  Only then can we see and understand the “illusion” of living in sin or evil.  Buddhism believes that humanity can transcend the illusion; Christianity believes that we can only do so with God’s help.

4) How does reading this text contribute to (change/confirm/challenge, etc.) the way I view this religious tradition, and the subject of religion in general?

            In many ways, reading the Dhammapada confirmed many of my previous viewpoints concerning Buddhism.  Although I would say I am more informed about it, my previous encounters with Buddhism have been substantiated by reading this ancient text.  The ideas of transcending life through meditation and recognizing all of reality as One whole was something that I have recognized in this religion before.

I had previously conceived of Buddhism as a very heady, intellectual type of venture.  It seemed like it was primarily concerned about meditation and prayers and what the mind can achieve to relieve one from this world.  However, I was also interested in the ways that this was not solely an intellectual religion.  Rather, there is emphasis placed on duty and doing what is right.

The overall emphasis on doing right and on duty surprised me.  I had not really considered this religion to be very focused on these sorts of issues.  However, upon considering the underlying assumptions and goals of Buddhism, it makes sense.  The humanism evident within this religion is played out in its ethic as well.  This sense of duty makes me aware that Buddhism is not disinterested in the “good” happening within the world.  It is not unconcerned about the problem of sin and evil.  But, it has an optimism of the human person to overcome these barriers.

The thing that I was previously unaware of was how dependent Buddhism, at least initially, was on the ideas of Hinduism.  Granted, there are some nuanced differences, but one can see a significant similarity within these two traditions.  Ideas like samsara, mara, nirvana, Brahman, and the like play important roles in both religions.  This becomes increasingly evident as one reads through both the Dhammapada and the Upanishads.  Although they differ in their form and some of their content, their connection is evident.

Night by Elie Wiesel

1) What does the text actually say about the matters it addresses?

            The question that continuously arises for Wiesel is: where is God in the midst of such suffering?  How can God be said to be righteous, merciful, and just when our world often reflects another reality?  The text says quite explicitly and implicitly at points that faith can sustain people through tremendous pain, suffering, and trial.  A belief that there is a greater Good that is in store gives people hope in seemingly hopeless situations.

Furthermore, the text, in the acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, underlines the possibility to maintain one’s faith despite such tragic and horrendous circumstances.  Not only that, but faith is quite capable of surviving and thriving through and after tremendous suffering is endured.  Wiesel maintains his belief that God is good, which speaks volumes about Wiesel’s journey and struggle of faith.

2) What does the text reveal to me about this religious tradition?

The Jewish faith is one that understands and perseveres through trials.  It is an enduring faith because life’s greatest questions may be voiced, even angrily, at a God that holds sovereignty over life.  The traditions of the Jewish faith ground its faithful in a liturgy that continues to form them as God’s people.  And, it is from these traditions that they fall back upon and find strength within.  Faith is normative in their lives even in the midst of great chaos and turmoil.  Even when faith does not seem prudent or rational, it is still observed and practiced.  This patient endurance allows suffering to be transformed into something more than just tragedy.  It is not a faith that is easily broken, but is very resilient despite oppressive circumstances.  I also saw how diligently they studied the Talmud and the scripture.  They took it very seriously.  It is a faith that seeks to pass on its faith and traditions to the next generation.  Discipleship is extremely important to the Jewish community.

3) How does this text and the tradition it represents relate to Christianity (similarities, differences, etc.)?

Spirituality and truth, according to Moishe the Beadle, begins within the questions that humanity has.  Humanity supplies the questions and God supplies the answers.  However, the answers are not knowable now.  According to this tradition, the answers reside in our souls until we die.  Praying is a way to ask the right questions from the “God within ourselves.”  This seems to be contradictory to the sentiment within Christianity that God calls and we are only then able to respond.  Likewise, God is knowable.  God makes Himself known to us now.  Furthermore, God resides outside of us, as well as, within us.  However, just because God resides in us does not render us God ourselves.

The Kabbalah tradition is treated as a type of mysticism.  It is an unveiling of “hidden knowledge” than can only be revealed through careful seeking in the right places.  It hints of Gnosticism.  At one point in the story, a man believes he has discerned a hidden message from the Bible that has been translated into numbers.  However, it is found to be wrong.  This really sounds similar to some of the interpretations of Revelation that are constantly floating around in the evangelical world.  It is a belief that God hides knowledge so that only a few may find it.  This is an incoherent view of God from a orthodox Christian standpoint.

Also, there seems to be an underlying assumption that God causes all things to happen.  Thus, God is to fully blame when bad things happen.  This sounds similar to a Calvinist leaning.  God is omnipotent and the Great Cause.  As such, God causes all things to happen.  Although this is consistent with Deuteronomistic thinking, it is not the only perspective on the cause of suffering and pain.  This assumption is not one that would likely be fully embraced from a Wesleyan perspective.

One aspect that jumps out at me is the routines of faithful living that are not broken.  The holy days are still observed, if not always appreciated.  Even when believing is difficult or impossible, the traditions carry the people through.  In the evangelical world, we often lack the same tenacity and commitment to traditions and our faith as did the Jews in our story.  Our Christian “faith” is often much more non-committal and temporal.  We are faithful when it suits us and is convenient.  Many of the Jews were faithful despite it being inconvenient.

4) How does reading this text contribute to (change/confirm/challenge, etc.) the way I view this religious tradition, and the subject of religion in general?

Reading Night did not challenge or change my views of the Jewish faith.  If anything, it only served to confirm and strengthen my view of the Jewish faith.  However, I did learn some new things concerning Kabbalah.  I was unaware that it was a type of Jewish mysticism.  Reading about the underlying premise of Kabbalah, it seemed rather flaky and rickety.  The idea of finding the divine within oneself seems even less appropriate considering the utter darkness of man.  The concentration camps only serve to underline this reality.  Overall, I thought this text contributes to my respect that I have for Jews.  Yet, at the same time, I hesitate to feel similarly about Kabbalah.  It seems incoherent and illogical from its description in the text.

However, I do believe that how we think about God inherently and profoundly impacts the way our faith interacts with our world.  Naïve beliefs only become faith when they have endured testing.  Those beliefs that are found to be lacking because they do not measure up in a situation will either be tweaked or tossed in the trash.  Religion can aid people in enduring great tribulation.  Trials have a way of winnowing out the chaff of our beliefs.  Faith, however, is enduring.  One thought that has provoked me lies in the knowledge that many religions have faded through the epochs of history.  What makes such religions as Judaism such an enduring bastion for people?  And, is this a feature that is shared by all other major religions?  I think religion is an important element in our lives.  It provides a foundation and boundaries.  It can give us strength to endure and persevere.  It can provide hope in hopeless circumstances.  And, it seeks answers to life’s biggest questions.  Religion can help us on this journey.  At the same time, religion can also contribute to our inability to listen to God.  It can lull us into a spiritual sleep that does not allow us to be challenged or force us to face reality.  I believe both realities are presented in this book.