TACOMA, Wash. — Noted religious historian Karen Armstrong wrote in the preface of her latest book that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., were, "simply the latest and most ferocious offensive conducted by fundamentalists in their ongoing battle for God."
Armstrong will visit Tacoma next month to give the latest in the series of Swope Lectures on Ethics, Religion, Faith, and Values at the University of Puget Sound. Her talk, named after the title of her book The Battle for God (Knopf, 2000), will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, in the Memorial Fieldhouse on the Puget Sound campus.
Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun, is a prolific scholar and author on the role of religion in the modern world. She understands the differences between the world's great religions and their profound similarities as well. In addition to The Battle for God, she has written two other books on the similarities: Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths (Knopf, 1996) and A History of God (Ballantine, 1993). She's also penned a "short" history of Islam; biographies of St. Paul, Buddha, and Muhammad; a book on the crusades; and played a key role in Bill Moyers' PBS series Genesis: A Living Conversation.
The shared characteristics of the religions include historic ties to the city of Jerusalem and a supreme being revealed to Abraham. In The Battle for God Armstrong wrote that each also now has a fundamentalist movement, a conservative reaction to modernity.
"For almost a century Christians, Jews, and Muslims have been developing a militant form of piety whose objective is to drag God and religion from the sidelines, to which they have been relegated in modern secular culture, and bring them back to center stage," she wrote. Fundamentalists believe they are fighting for the survival of their faith. But the most extreme leave something important out.
"When people begin to use religion to justify hatred and killing, and thus abandon the compassionate ethic of all the great world religions, they have embarked on a course that represents a defeat for faith. This aggressive piety can tip some of its more extreme proponents into a moral darkness that endangers us all."
Armstrong says fundamentalism leaves no room for democracy, pluralism, religious toleration, peacekeeping, or free speech. Her aim is to build understanding and shine some light into that moral darkness.
The Swope Endowed Lectureship was established at Puget Sound through a gift from Major Ianthe Swope in honor of her mother, Jane Hammer Swope. The lectureship is intended to promote broad discussions, critical thinking, and ethical inquiry about matters of religion, such as its role in public life, issues in contemporary spirituality, ethics, and world religions. Past speakers in the series have included author and professor Michael Barnett, Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Oscar Arias, author James Carroll, Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, and Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Tickets for the lecture are $5 for the general public and are available at the Wheelock Information Center. The box office and doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Credit card orders may be phoned in to 253.879.3419. Puget Sound students, faculty, and staff will be admitted free.
by Greg Scheiderer