If you were to think through history's long list of religious leaders, which one would you describe as "the first creator of the moral world in which we live"?
I'll give you a hint or two (and if you recognize the symbol, shown here, of the religion associated with this leader, you already know). The author who wrote that in a new book said that the religion this man (yes, a man) was responsible for creating was the "first religion -- in this part of the world, at least (by which he meant the greater Middle East) -- to move beyond cult and totemism to address moral and philosophical problems with its theology, emphasizing personal choice and responsibility."
If you start looking for an answer alphabetically, it's going to take you a long time, for the answer is Zoroaster, and the author who wrote the things I quoted above is Michael Axworthy in his new book: A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind, about which I wrote a little in my last blog book column.
Axworthy teaches at the University of Exeter in England. Prior to that, he was with the British Foreign Service.
Well, you might ask, when did Zoroaster do all this?
Again, Axworthy: ". . .although Zoroastrian tradition places Zoroaster's birth t around 600 BC, most scholars now believe he lived earlier. It is still unclear just when, but it is reasonable to think it was around 1200 or 1000 BC (roughly the time of King David in Israel -- Tammeus parenthical comment), at the time of, or shortly after, the migration of Iranian cattle herders to the Iranian plateau."
What I find equally intriguing about Axworthy's account of this period is his description of "the relationship between Iranians and Jews," which he writes is "almost as old as the history of Iran itself."
Some scholars, Axworthy writes, "believe that Judaism changed significantly under (Iranian religious) influence in the period of the Babylonian exile."
That should not be surprising given that any culture into which a religion moves inevitably influences the shape of that religion. We've seen that happen to Christianity in the United States and we're seeing it happen now with Islam in the U.S. And we know Catholicism looks somewhat different in Asia than it looks in either Europe or in South America.
Well, Zoroaster doesn't get a lot of press in the U.S., so I just thought you'd like to know the way in which you may be indebted to him.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (My Saturday column this weekend is about the necessity of reconciliation)
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ANOTHER PROBLEM WITH IRAN
Religious freedom in Iran is deteriorating and in danger of extinction, the European Union says. No surprise. That's exactly what our State Department's 2008 Religious Freedom Report said, if only people would pay attention to it. Look, thugs run Iran. As Sen. John McCain correctly said in Friday night's presidential debate, "The Iranians have a lousy government." But that doesn't mean we need to attack them militarily. There are better answers.
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IMPORTING RELIGION FROM INDIA
This report in the Times of India describes the spread of Hinduism in the United States, including in the city in which I began my newspaper career, Rochester, N.Y. I first became directly acquainted with Hinduism when I lived in India for two years in the 1950s. As a rule, I find Hindus to be gentle and loving people, though, of course, every religion has its fanatics.
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P.S.: As a follow-up to my posting the other day about getting to know more about Islam, I thought you might enjoy this recent column from the "Sightings" series at the Martin Marty Center about what happens to that part of Islam in America made up mostly of African-American converts given the recent death of Imam W.D. Mohammed.
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Today's religious holiday: Laylat al Kadar (Islam; 27th)