Consciousness and the Existence of God – J.P. Moreland

In Consciousness and the Existence of God, J.P. Moreland argues that the existence of finite, irreducible consciousness (or its regular, law-like correlation with physical states) provides evidence for the existence of God.

Moreover, he analyzes and criticizes the top representative of rival approaches to explaining the origin of consciousness, including John Searle’s contingent correlation, Timothy O’Connor’s emergent necessitation, Colin McGinn’s mysterian ‘‘naturalism,’’ David Skrbina’s panpsychism and Philip Clayton’s pluralistic emergentist monism. Moreland concludes that these approaches should be rejected in favor of what he calls ‘‘the Argument from Consciousness.’’

Contents

Chapter One: The Epistemic Backdrop for Locating Consciousness in a Naturalist Ontology

Chapter Two: The Argument from Consciousness

Chapter Three: John Searle and Contingent Correlation

Chapter Four: Timothy O’Connor and Emergent Necessitation

Chapter Five: Colin McGinn and Mysterian “Naturalism”

Chapter Six: David Skrbina and Panpsychism

Chapter Seven: Philip Clayton and Pluralistic Emergentist Monism

Chapter Eight: Science and Strong Physicalism

Chapter Nine: AC, Dualism and the Fear of God

Author Bio


J.P. Moreland is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University. He has published over 60 articles in journals that include Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, American Philosophical Quarterly, Australasian Journal of Philosophy and Metaphilosophy. He has authored, edited or contributed to thirty-five books including Universals (McGill-Queen’s), Naturalism: A Critical Analysis (Routledge) and Does God Exist? (Prometheus).

The Argument from Consciousness

As mentioned in the introduction, many believe that finite minds provide evidence of a Divine Mind as their creator. If we limit our options to theism and naturalism, it is hard to see how finite consciousness could result from the rearrangement of brute matter; it is easier to see how a Conscious Being could produce finite consciousness since, according to theism, the Basic Being is Himself conscious. Thus, the theist has no need to explain how consciousness can come from materials bereft of it.

Consciousness is there from the beginning. To put the point differently, in the beginning there were either particles or the Logos. If you start with particles and just rearrange them according to physical law, you won’t get mind. If you start with Logos, you already have mind.

To expand on this, at least four reasons have been offered for why there is no natural scientific explanation for the existence of mental states (or their regular correlation with physical states):

(a) The uniformity of nature.
Prior to the emergence of consciousness, the universe contained nothing but aggregates of particles/waves standing in fields of forces relative to each other. The story of the development of the cosmos is told in terms of the rearrangement of micro-parts into increasingly more complex structures according to natural law.

On a naturalist depiction of matter, it is brute mechanical, physical stuff. The emergence of consciousness seems to be a case of getting something from nothing. In general, physico-chemical reactions do not generate consciousness, not even one little bit, but they do in the brain, yet brains seem similar to other parts of organisms bodies (e.g., both are collections of cells totally describable in physical terms). How can like causes produce radically different effects?

The appearance of mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable. This radical discontinuity seems like an inhomogeneous rupture in the natural world. Similarly, physical states have spatial extension and location but mental states seem to lack spatial features. Space and consciousness sit oddly together. How did spatially-arranged matter conspire to produce non-spatial mental states? From a naturalist point of view, this seems utterly inexplicable.

(b) Contingency of the mind/body correlation.
The regular correlation between types of mental states and physical states seems radically contingent. Why do pains instead of itches, thoughts or feelings of love get correlated with specific brain states? No amount of knowledge of the brain state will help to answer this question.

For the naturalist, the regularity of mind/body correlations must be taken as contingent brute facts. But these facts are inexplicable from a naturalistic standpoint, and they are radically sui generis compared to all other entities in the naturalist ontology. Thus, it begs the question simply to announce that mental states and their regular correlations with certain brain states is a natural fact.

As naturalist Terence Horgan acknowledges, “in any metaphysical framework that deserves labels like `materialism’, `naturalism’, or `physicalism’, supervenient facts must be explainable rather than being sui generis.”iv Since on most depictions, the theistic God possesses libertarian freedom, God is free to act or refrain from acting in various ways.

Thus, the fact that the existence of consciousness and its precise correlation with matter is contingent fits well with a theistic personal explanation that takes God’s creative action to have been a contingent one. God may be a necessary being, but God’s choice to create conscious beings and to correlate certain types of mental states with certain types of physical states were contingent choices, and this fits nicely with the phenomena themselves.

(c) Epiphenomenalism and causal closure.
Most naturalists believe that their worldview requires that all entities whatever are either physical or depend on the physical for their existence and behavior. One implication of this belief is commitment to the causal closure of the physical.

On this principle, when one is tracing the causal antecedents of any physical event, one will never have to leave the level of the physical. Physical effects have only physical causes. Rejection of the causal closure principle would imply a rejection of the possibility of a complete and comprehensive physical theory of all physical phenomena—something that no naturalist should reject.

Thus, if mental phenomena are genuinely non-physical, then they must be epiphenomena–effects caused by the physical that do not themselves have causal powers. But epiphenomenalism is false. Mental causation seems undeniable and, thus, for the naturalist the mental can be allowed to have causal powers only if it is in some way or another identified with the physical.

The admission of epiphenomenal non-physical mental entities may be taken as a refutation of naturalism. As naturalist D. M. Armstrong admits, “I suppose that if the principles involved [in analyzing the single all-embracing spatio-temporal system which is reality] were completely different from the current principles of physics, in particular if they involved appeal to mental entities, such as purposes, we might then count the analysis as a falsification of Naturalism.”

(d) The inadequacy of evolutionary explanations. Naturalists are committed to the view that, in principle, evolutionary explanations can be proffered for the appearance of all organisms and their parts. It is not hard to see how an evolutionary account could be given for new and increasingly complex physical structures that constitute different organisms.

However, organisms are black boxes as far as evolution is concerned. As long as an organism, when receiving certain inputs, generates the correct behavioral outputs under the demands of fighting, fleeing, reproducing and feeding, the organism will survive. What goes on inside the organism is irrelevant and only becomes significant for the processes of evolution when an output is produced.

Strictly speaking, it is the output, not what caused it, that bears on the struggle for reproductive advantage. Moreover, the functions organisms carry out consciously could just as well have been done unconsciously. Thus, both the sheer existence of conscious states and the precise mental content that constitutes them is outside the pale of evolutionary explanation. As Howard E. Gruber explains:

the idea of either a Planful or an Intervening Providence taking part in the day-to-day operations of the universe was, in effect, a competing theory [to Darwin’s version of evolution]. If one believed that there was a God who had originally designed the world exactly as it has come to be, the theory of evolution through natural selection could be seen as superfluous. Likewise, if one believed in a God who intervened from time to time to create some of the organisms, organs, or functions found in the living world, Darwin’s theory could be seen as superfluous. Any introduction of intelligent planning or decision-making reduces natural selection from the position of a necessary and universal principle to a mere possibility.

For these reasons, consciousness provides evidence for God’s existence and against evolutionary naturalism.

Stephen Mitchell: The Second Book of the Tao

THE SECOND BOOK OF THE TAO
Compiled and adapted from the Chuang-tzu and the Chung Yung, with commentaries
The Penguin Press, 2009

The most widely translated book in world literature after the Bible, Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching, or Book of the Way, is the classic manual on the art of living. Following the phenomenal success of his own version of the Tao Te Ching, renowned scholar and translator Stephen Mitchell has composed the innovative The Second Book of the Tao.

Drawing from the work of Lao-tzu’s disciple Chuang-tzu and Confucius’s grandson Tzu-ssu, Mitchell has selected the freshest, clearest teachings from these two great students of the Tao and adapted them into versions that reveal the poetry, depth, and humor of the ancient texts with a thrilling new power, and makes them at once modern, relevant, and timeless.

Alongside each adaptation, Mitchell includes his own brilliant commentary, at once illuminating and complementing the text.

The left to the Tao Te Ching’s right, the yang to its yin, a companion volume and antimanual, The Second Book of the Tao is a great gift to contemporary readers.

FOREWORD

“A second book of the Tao? There’s no such thing! What did you do—pull it out of your hat?”

Well, yes, if hat is defined as the treasury of recorded wisdom that is our common birthright. In that treasury, there is nothing more precious than the wisdom of the ancient Chinese.

The selections in this book have been adapted from two Chinese anthologies that were probably compiled between 300 and 100 bce: the Chuang-tzu, parts of which were written by the eponymous sage, Master Chuang (c. 369 – c. 286 bce), and the Chung Yung (“The Central Harmony”), which was ascribed to Confucius’ grandson, Tzu-ssu (c. 483 – c. 402 bce).

I have anthologized these anthologies, picking from them the freshest, clearest, most profound passages. Facing each chapter there is a brief commentary, which is meant to clarify the text or to complement it. I have written these in the spirit of Chuang-tzu, for whom nothing, thank goodness, was sacred.

The first book of the Tao (written by the perhaps legendary Lao-tzu) is the Tao Te Ching, that marvel of lucidity and grace, the classic manual on the art of living. What I wanted to create here was a left to its right, a yang to its yin, a companion volume and anti-manual.

The Chuang-tzu had the perfect material for that: deep, subtle, with an audacity that can make your hair stand on end. If Lao-tzu is a smile, Chuang-tzu is a belly-laugh. He’s the clown of the Absolute, the apotheosis of incredulity, Coyote among the bodhisattvas. And the Chung Yung provided a psychological and moral acuity of comparable depth.

Readers who are familiar with the Tao Te Ching but don’t yet know the Chuang-tzu or the Chung Yung—or who, having dipped into them, were discouraged by their unevenness—are in for a treat. Naturally, since all three texts tell of the Tao that can’t be told, there are passages in The Second Book of the Tao that overlap with the Tao Te Ching.

But even these passages may strike you as revelations, as if some explorer had discovered a trove of unknown Lao-tzu scrolls buried in a desert cave. And there is much that will be entirely new: meditations on dreams, death, language, the I and the other, doing and not-doing, the origin of the universe, the absolute relativity of things.

In addition to these descriptions, we meet a cast of vivid characters, most of them humble artisans or servants, who show us what it means to be in harmony with the way things are: the monkey trainer who turns on a dime in his hilarious, compassionate diplomacy; Ting, Prince Wen-hui’s cook, whose one-pointedness elevates butchering to the level of the performing arts and beyond; Pien the wheelwright, willing to risk his life to teach a ferocious nobleman that what is most valuable can’t be taught; Ch’ing the woodworker, whose bell stand is so beautiful that people think a god must have made it; and Chi Hsing-tzu, trainer of champion gamecocks and virtuoso of patience.

We also meet philosophers and fools: Lieh-tzu, who has an intimate chat with a skull; Hui-tzu, the epitome of logic and propriety, Chuang-tzu’s friend and rival, straight man and foil; the ludicrous Marquis of Lu, who shows that the Golden Rule can be mere projected egotism; and Master Yu, who, even when afflicted with a grotesque deformity, never loses his cheerfulness and sense of gratitude.

Finally there is Chuang-tzu himself. We meet him in a few delectable stories and dialogues, as he wakes up (maybe) from the dream of a butterfly, refuses the post of prime minister, celebrates the death of his beloved wife, or discusses the usefulness of the useless and the happiness of fish.

Chuang-tzu has been called a mystical anarchist, and it’s true that his words sometimes have a contrarian flavor that seems to put them at odds with Lao-tzu’s concern for enlightened government. Given the least semblance of control, Chuang-tzu offers a whole world of irreverence and subversion. But if you look more closely, you’ll see that he is neither a mystic nor an anarchist. He’s simply someone who doesn’t linger in any mental construct about reality, someone who lives as effortless action and peace of heart, because he has freed himself from his own beliefs.

What he subverts is conventional thinking, with its hierarchies of judgment, its fors and againsts, betters and worses, insides and outsides, and its delusion that life is random, unfair, and somehow not good enough. Learn how to govern your own mind, Chuang-tzu says, and the universe will govern itself. In this he is in wholehearted agreement with Lao-tzu and with the meticulous Tzu-ssu, for whom attention to the innermost self is the direct path to a just society.

One of the qualities I most treasure in Chuang-tzu is his sense of the spontaneous, the uncapturable. This makes it easy to follow in his footsteps. Since there are no footsteps, all you can follow is what he himself followed: the Tao. He had confidence that in being true to his own insight he was being true to his teacher Lao-tzu.

There was nothing to say and no way to say it, yet it had to be said. As a Zen poet-descendant of his wrote more than a thousand years later,

The moon floats above the pine trees
as you sit on the veranda in the cool evening air.
Your fingertips move lightly along the flute.
The melody is so lovely that it makes the
listeners weep.
But wisdom’s flute has no holes
and its ancient clear music is beyond emotion.
Don’t even try to play it
unless you can make the great sound of Lao-tzu.

What could be more useless than a flute with no holes? Yet, if you understand, you put it to your lips and the ancient clear music happens by itself. Had Chuang-tzu believed that there was anything to live up to, he would have been too intimidated even to try. There was nothing to live up to. There was only a passion for the genuine, a fascination with words, and a constant awareness that the ancient Masters are alive and well in the mind that doesn’t know a thing.

When we exhaust our minds by clinging to a particular side of reality without realizing the underlying oneness, this is called “three in the morning.” What does that mean?

A monkey trainer, handing out acorns, said, “Each of you will get three in the morning and four in the afternoon.” The monkeys were outraged.

So he said, “All right, then: you’ll get four in the morning and three in the afternoon.” The monkeys were delighted.

Nothing essential had changed, yet one statement produced anger, and the other, joy. The trainer simply knew how to adapt to reality, and he lost nothing by it.

Thus the Master uses his skill to harmonize with both sides, and rests in the Tao, which makes all things equal. This is called “walking on two paths at once.”

COMMENTARY

The whole human condition is present in this tricky little tale, which would be sad if it weren’t so ridiculous. Although from the standpoint of the monkeys it’s about the power of righteous indignation, from the standpoint of the monkey trainer, behind the scenes, it’s about skillful management. You have to admire his one-two punch; he’s both bad cop and good cop. But what is the trainer training the monkeys in, anyway? Discernment? If so, he’s being made a monkey of.

Whenever we cling to a particular side of reality, it’s we who are the monkeys, losing ourselves in outrage or partial delight. If we look more carefully, though, we can see that reality has only one side, like a Möbius strip. Stars or raindrops, acorns or ashes, apparent blessings, apparent disasters—when the mind is clear, each is an occasion for rejoicing. That’s what discernment is about.

Once our mind-monkeys are fully trained, it’s all good. In the mathematics of mental peace, three equals four, one equals zero. Adapting to reality means recognizing that nothing underlies or overlays it. The Master can travel on two paths at once, like a photon, because his mind is free. He’s subatomic and supererogatory. He knows that all ways are the Way and that ultimately he is neither coming nor going.

Nothing in the world is bigger
than the tip of an autumn hair,
and Mount Everest is tiny.
No one in the world has lived longer
than a stillborn child,
and Methuselah died young.
The universe came into being
the moment that I was born,
and all things are one with me.

Since all things are one,
how can I put that into words?
But since I just said they are one,
how can my words mean nothing?
The one plus my words make two,
and the two plus the one make three.
If we continue in this way,
even the greatest mathematician
couldn’t calculate where it will end.
If by moving from non-being to being
we get to three, what happens
when we move from being to being?

It’s better just to leave things alone.

COMMENTARY

There are paradoxes born of wit and paradoxes born of insight. No thought is true, but some thoughts are so much truer than the ones we’re used to that they seem absurd at first glance. It’s all a question of perspective.

Down at the level of the micro, there is no macro. If you get small enough, you see that the world isn’t solid and that uncertainty is the only thing that’s certain, perhaps. Thus, everything the electron meets is electronal. Ditto a galaxy: its consciousness, if it has one, is as little aware of a planet as you are of a corpuscle. We can’t stand outside the system and point to what’s real, because what’s real is defined by the system. This is relativity writ large. The fastest thing in the universe isn’t light: it’s mind.

All things may be one with me, but am I one with them? That’s the issue. And once I am one, what then? Even the one is excessive for anyone who wants to be meticulous. Look where it leads, after all—to two, to three, to infinity, to an infinity of infinities and beyond: always the unattainable, unassuageable beyond.

Of course, the nothing is out of the question as well, since there’s already a word for it. Not one? Not nothing? This leaves you in an ideal position: speechless, delighted, and ready to say the most nonsensical things, if only they make sense.



Biography

Stephen Mitchell is widely known for his ability to make ancient masterpieces thrillingly new, to step in where many have tried before and create versions that are definitive for our time. His many books include the bestselling Tao Te Ching, The Book of Job, Bhagavad Gita, and The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. His web site is http://www.stephenmitchellbooks.com.

God Makes the Rivers to Flow: An Anthology of the World’s Sacred Poetry & Prose By Eknath Easwaran

This latest edition of Easwaran’s classic anthology, with a beautiful new cover, contains his selection of life-affirming, lyrical writings from the sacred literature of the world. It includes passages from the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, and Native American traditions.

These passages can be read for daily inspiration, for their insights into other spiritual traditions, for the light they throw on how to live, for the sustenance they offer when we feel sad or tired, and above all for the deep transformation they can bring in Easwaran’s method of passage meditation (see also Passage Meditation: Bringing the Deep Wisdom of the Heart into Daily Life).

This edition includes a new section called Recommended Passages for Specific Uses, with passages for particular stages in life, such as caregiving, families with small children, death and dying, grief and loss. There is also a new list of passages for building positive qualities such as patience, courage, devotion to God, and putting others first.

For anyone seeking to establish or sustain a regular meditation practice, this is a deeply inspiring collection of spiritual texts that will keep your practice fresh and nourishing.

“I have read these passages countless times, yet I have never tired of them. With every encounter I find deeper meaning. May you, too, find in them a river of inspiration without end.”
Eknath Easwaran

Excerpt from God Makes the Rivers to Flow

The test of suitable meditation passages is simply this: Does the passage bear the imprint of deep, personal spiritual experience? Is it the statement of one who went beyond the narrow confines of past conditioning into the unfathomable recesses of the mind, there to begin the great work of transformation? This is the unmistakable stamp of authenticity. Only such precious writings can speak directly to our heart and soul. Their very words are invested with validity; we feel we are in the presence of the genuine.

The scriptures of the world’s religions certainly meet this test, and so do the statements of passionate lovers of God like Saint Teresa, Sri Ramakrishna, Ansari of Herat. And whatever lacks this validation by personal experience, however poetic or imaginative, however speculative or novel, is not suited for use in meditation.

But there is another thing to be considered: Is the passage positive, inspirational, life-affirming? We should avoid passages from whatever source that are negative, that stress our foolish errors rather than our enduring strength and wisdom, or that deprecate life in the world, which is precisely where we must do our living. Instead, let us choose passages that hold steadily before us a radiant image of the true Self we are striving to realize.

For the great principle upon which meditation rests is that we become what we meditate on.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part 1: At the Source
Passages that pay tribute to the source of our being in the divine ground of existence

Part 2: Deep Current
Ardent prayers from the world’s greatest lovers of God

Part 3: Joining the Sea
Passages on transcending death, and attaining immortality



Eknath Easwaran

Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999; given name Easwaran, family name Eknath) is respected around the world as the originator of passage meditation and an authentic guide to timeless wisdom. His method is a practical approach that fits naturally into any faith, philosophy, or lifestyle, enabling us to bring universal ideals into daily life.

Easwaran was a professor of English literature and well known in India as a writer and speaker before coming to the United States in 1959 on the Fulbright exchange program. In 1960 he began giving regular classes on meditation in the San Francisco Bay Area, including a course at the University of California. In 1961 he founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, which carries on his work today through publications and retreats.

Although known primarily through his books, Easwaran has also personally touched the lives of thousands of people who have heard him speak. During nearly four decades of active spiritual teaching, in thousands of talks and more than two dozen books, he brought timeless wisdom for daily living to an audience that now extends around the globe.

His book Meditation, now titled Passage Meditation, has sold 195,000 copies since it was first published in 1978. Easwaran is also well known for his Classics of Indian Spirituality – The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads and The Dhammapada, all bestsellers in their field.

Bhagavad Gītā, from Chapter 2 – The Illumined

Krishna speaks to Arjuna on the field of battle. From the Sanskrit भगवद् गीता, Bhagavad Gītā means “Song of God”. The translation is by Eknath Easwaran.

How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror (Hardcover)~ Reza Aslan

As devastating as they were, the 20th century’s two world wars were only global. What if the next war we fight—indeed what if the war we are currently fighting—is cosmic? “A cosmic war,” Reza Aslan writes, “is like a ritual drama in which participants act out on Earth a battle they believe is actually taking place in the heavens.”

Earthly wars are fought with weapons. Cosmic wars are won or lost with jihads, occupations, and forcible conversions. “There can be no compromise in a cosmic war. There can be no negotiation, no settlement, no surrender.” Aslan, the author of No God but God, devotes his new book, How To Win a Cosmic War, to explaining how some people in the world come to view their struggles in cosmic terms. Despite his title, he then goes on to propose ways not to win such a war but to make it more manageable.

Writing with a critical sense of urgency, Aslan wants us to bring struggles between religious outlooks down from the skies. Global jihad is one thing: It is ugly, violent, and impervious to reason. But religious nationalism—the effort to create states based on principles derived from faith—is something else. To reduce the lure of the apocalyptic, we must distinguish between the two.

As much as we must oppose those who kill in the name of God, we need to understand the desperation of those who seek the strong sense of identity derived from linking the quest for God with the desire for nationhood.

No one faith monopolizes cosmic war, Aslan argues. Islam, to be sure, has its share of angry soldiers bent on wreaking havoc on innocent civilians for the cause of their faith’s purity. But if the jihadis are zealots, we have to remember that the original Zealots were a Jewish sect and that their descendants, hard-right Israeli settlers determined to protect the Holy Land for the Jews, are just as much engaged in a cosmic war as militants struggling on behalf of displaced Palestinians.

To complete the trilogy, Aslan outlines the Christian versions of holy war that feature Jesus delivering a final judgment on who will be admitted to the kingdom of heaven, even if he does not give us a sense of where such a war is raging. Yet despite covering all these bases, Aslan’s book focuses on radical Islam; of all the cosmic wars, this one is the most global and the most in need of new approaches.

Why is cosmic war so central to the thinking of so many? In search of answers, Aslan starts from the ground up. He spends time in Beeston, the English city that was home to the July 7 bombers who attacked the London Underground in 2005. He visits Jerusalem, where, because he is Iranian-born and therefore neither Jewish nor Arab, he captures both the curiosity and attention of his interlocutors.

When it comes to Christian fundamentalism, he does not need to travel far; the Christian right’s influence within the Republican Party is there for all to see, and so are its apocalyptic spokesmen, such as the Rev. Pat Robertson or Gen. William Boykin.

Aslan comes not to justify but to explain. He wants to know why so many people, especially among the young, are alienated enough to be attracted to both religious and nationalistic extremism. Aslan’s travels illuminate the attractions of the apocalyptic. For one thing, religion rather than secularism, he insists, is on the rise.

We also must take account of the fact that globalization, by moving people and products all over the world, leads to the craving for identity that religion can provide. And we have to understand that in today’s world, religious longing and political grievances can be seamlessly blended by leaders skilled in mixing them together. Only by grasping this larger context can we head off cosmic war by reaching out to the disaffected.

For those living in lands that are not their own, we can try to make them feel more welcome. With those struggling for national identity in their own countries, we ought to take more seriously the political issues that motivate them.

Although anything but a cosmic warrior himself, Aslan has chosen a topic that lends itself to exaggeration—and he all too often succumbs. Explaining why European Muslims are alienated, he points to a bill introduced into the Dutch parliament to outlaw the Quran; he does not mention that it, and its proponent Geert Wilders, were laughed out of existence. He talks about how the racist British Nationalist Party has become a “legitimate force in British politics” but fails to note that it holds no seats in the House of Commons.

There has been significant hostility toward Muslims in Europe, but the big story is how it has softened in recent years, in part because immigration has been reduced and in part because most non-Muslim Europeans recognize that xenophobia gets them nowhere.

Under the leadership of its mayor, Job Cohen, for example, Amsterdam has created youth centers within mosques that recruit young Muslims to help in the delivery of social service programs, while German Christian Democratic Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has been holding an annual German Islamic Conference promoting mutual understanding between German Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors; Schäuble has also taken the lead in requiring the study of Islam in German schools.

Aslan’s tendency to emphasize the worst carries over into the way he understands the interaction between religion and politics. It is true that religion brings to politics a language and activism that make compromise more difficult and violence more likely. But it is just as true that political involvement brings to religion a sense of responsibility and a trend toward moderation. (The best example comes from Turkey, where the governing AKP, once a radical Islamic movement, has become a cautious governing party.)

So while Aslan is quite right to suggest that “the boundaries between religion and politics are, in all parts of the world, becoming increasingly blurred,” the fact that they are mitigates as well as promotes global cosmic war.

The same, by the way, is true of globalization. On the one hand, the global spread of technology and the breakdown of national borders intensify religious and political conflict; just think of right-wing Jews from Brooklyn, N.Y., living on land once occupied by Palestinians or jihadists spreading their messages of hate through the Internet.

Yet globalization also increases wealth around the world, thereby undermining religious fervor. China, the fastest-growing country in the world, is not engaged in a cosmic war with anyone; it is seeking, quite successfully, to use its wealth for global advantage. Similarly, while India experienced a recent terror attack, the increasing wealth of the country has been accompanied by a decline in the fortunes of that country’s Hindu nationalist party, the BJP.

The truth is that peace will come between India and its neighbor Pakistan when both become too globalized to allow their religious differences to disrupt manufacturing and trade.

Even a little bit of cosmic war, however, is still too much, and Aslan’s suggestions for cooling down the temperature, if not especially original, point in the right direction. I agree with him that the most important step the Obama administration could take to reduce global religious fervor is to help negotiate a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine problem (although any such step would no doubt increase the cosmic war being fought by ultra-Orthodox Jews).

The efforts already taking place in Europe to build bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims, much as he suggests, could be expanded.

Aslan’s most passionately argued suggestion is more controversial. After a scathing denunciation of the Bush administration’s hypocrisy in urging the spread of democracy while cooperating with authoritarian regimes, he nonetheless concludes that “President Bush was right: Only through genuine democratic reform can the appeal of extremist groups be undermined and the tide of Muslim militancy stemmed.”

Alas the evidence so far suggests that in the short-term, as we saw with Hamas’ electoral victory in Gaza, democracy and extremism can go together. It may prove to be the case that democracy, because it brings radical groups from the fringes into positions of power, will prove successful in toning down cosmic rhetoric in the long run. But this requires patience as steps backward occur before steps forward can be taken.

Religion, nationalism, politics—any one of these forces alone is capable of producing more than its share of death and destruction. Combine them, and the possibility of events spiraling out of control increases that much more.

No wonder, then, that our instinct is to separate them from one another as much as possible, whether it is by drawing sharp lines between church and state or by creating states, like the former Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union, that contain many nations. But it may not be possible to engage in such separation anywhere and everywhere: Multiethnic states collapsed in Eastern Europe, and the American model of church-state separation is not applicable to all.

We need an alternative, then, some way that these powerful forces can be combined that stops short of cosmic war. I am not completely persuaded by Aslan that religious nationalism is the best alternative to religious war; after all, even Aslan himself recognizes just how extreme religious nationalism has become in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Still, finding some ways in which we can accept the power of religious identity while stopping short of cosmic war is Aslan’s ultimate objective, and his book asks all the important questions. We cannot prevent wars. But he is right that we should realize that they are best fought on earth rather than in heaven.

Review by Alan Wolfe

Biography of Dr. Reza Aslan

Dr. Reza Aslan, an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, is a contributing editor at the Daily Beast (thedailybeast.com). Reza Aslan has degrees in Religions from Santa Clara University, Harvard University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, and the Pacific Council on International Policy.

He serves on the board of directors of the Ploughshares Fund, which gives grants for peace and security issues, Abraham’s Vision, an interfaith peace organization, and PEN USA, which champions the rights of writers under siege around the world.

Aslan’s first book is the International Bestseller, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which has been translated into thirteen languages, and named one of the 100 most important books of the last decade. He is also the author of How to Win a Cosmic War (published in paperback as Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized Age), and editor of an upcoming anthology from Norton titled Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East.

Aslan is President and CEO of Aslan Media Inc, whose holdings include BoomGen Studios, a mini-motion picture and media company focused entirely on entertainment about the Greater Middle East and its Diaspora communities. Born in Iran, he now lives in Los Angeles where he is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.

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