South Sudan's Challenge

South Sudan's Challenge
Healing & Reconciliation

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Second Look at the Approaches to Militant Islam

A Second Look at the Approaches to Militant Islam…

Part of my present work is peace advocacy and the study of Militant Radical Islamists.  This study, inevitably, leads to the varied and many approaches to a perceived threat that is called Extremist thread in Islam, at times labeled simply as Islamist.  The term covers a lot of ground, as news reports tend to lump together Islamic movements regardless of ideology and persuasion.   My approach deals with an open and frank discussion with scholars, peace practitioners, and policy makers that deal directly or indirectly with the much the “feared” Islamic movements aka violent extremism. 

To begin with, Militant Islamic movements are NOT monolithic organizations forming a sort of international front (al-Qaeda, Jama’a Islamiyya, ISIS/DAESH, ASG or otherwise).  I recognize the legitimacy of the greater majority of Islamic movements that attempt to articulate in various ways a more authentic Islamic identity both in private and in public sphere.  There is always the need to remind people, especially policy makers in the West, that the militant Islamic movements or violent extremism form a small (albeit very assertive) minority in the Muslim world.  

There are now more than a billion Muslims in the world.  Of this number, more than two third lives outside the Arab world.  The biggest Muslim population is to be found in Indonesia.  Muslims differ linguistically, ethnically, racially and culturally, but also by the major divisions in Islam between the Sunni and the Shiites and by various schools of laws therein.

Following the tragedy of 9/11, there is always the danger of falling victims to over simplistic responses or reactions to militant Islamists or violent extremism in Islam. The US and its allies (the so-called the “coalition of the willing”) have launched the now famous slogan, “War against Terror”.  The slogan without depth becomes a new reductionism that leads not only to a naive response to a very complex reality but also to certain myopia in facing the challenges of militant Islam.  In fact, the myopia and naiveté fuel the prevailing paranoia in viewing militant Islam. Time and again, we need to emphasize that Islam and even the majority of the so-called militant Islamic movements do not constitute the new “ism” confronting the West or threatening world peace. 

There is the danger that the Cold War of the recent past is NOW replaced with a new war between Islam and the West (following the school that propagates the clash of civilizations).  The Crusade is long over…! The “war against terror” and the “coalition of the willing” approach often are interpreted in the Muslim world as new crusade against Islam.  Thus, it is crucial to differentiate in words and deeds (policy and commitments and actions) the mainstream Muslims and “legitimate” Islamic movements on the one hand and Muslim individuals and groups that among others advocate for “terrorism” and violence, on the other. 

Majority of the militant Islamic movements, including the more militant ones, are rooted on the perceived or real injustices and poverty.  The disillusionment with the West and the US in particular, has material basis.  Many people claim and believe that the singular US policy, which leads to Islamic radicalism and its anger, is its continued all-out support to Israel in the Israel-Palestine question notwithstanding the many UN Resolutions to the contrary.  On this one particular issue, the US is, tragically, always pitted against the entire Muslim world. (By the way, the Organization of the Islamic Countries emerged following the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Sinai and Gaza post 1967 Arab-Israeli War.)

Burning issues that fuel this growing frustration and  hopelessness are the following:

·      the continuing occupation of the West Bank;
·      the absence of forward movement in the Arab-Israeli Peace Process;
·      the ambiguity of other “Muslim homelands” in many parts of the world;
·      the inclination to “lump” Islamic movements into “terrorists circles”; and
·      the widespread poverty and lack of development in the world of Islam despite the almost limitless petro-dollars controlled by the few families in the oil producing countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

These and the continuing decline of Islamic world power following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire make the more militant radical groups more popular in the Muslim communities.  Militant Islam, like the ISIS/DAESH, attracts adherents and this may pose serious implications for the moderates – individuals and nations.  The failure to address these burning issues “satisfactorily” provides the fertile ground for a “dangerous” militant brand of Islam.

The overall positive reality in the world of Islam notwithstanding the existence of the radicals is the fact that the great majority of Muslims and Islamic countries are moderates.  No doubt, they can serve as positive forces and potential “bridges” not only between the Muslim masses and the moderates but also between Islam and the West.  In the final analysis, it is truly a “battle” for the minds and the hearts of the masses.  And this war is never won in the battlefield, even when couched with glorious slogans like “Operation Iraq Liberation/Freedom” or “War against Terror”.  In fact, battlefields simply produce more martyrs and thereby further reducing the option to one, that is, more violence. 

Another approach is the “policy of containment”.  Containment has different meanings depending on perspectives.  The common understanding is the military version that builds more fences, more road checkpoints, more blockades, and more blowing of bridges that separate peoples and communities.  This type of containment exacerbates the tensions and the anger that push people to extremism.  The other understanding of “containment” is not “geographical” but “paradigmatic”.  It is said that the best way to contain the spread of militant Islam that is akin to virus is not to build more fences and walls but to come up with a “vaccine” that presents a better image and hermeneutic of Islam and traditions.

The biggest obstacle in grappling with the militant Islam is the prevailing widespread of Wahabbism not only in its traditional geographical sphere (Saudi Arabia) but the preponderance of Wahabbism spread through petro-dollars among the scholars trained in Saudi Arabia and in many madaris and foundations funded and supported by Saudi’s petro-dollars. 

Wahabbism is the root to a taqlid-like approach to Islam that abhors any innovations (bid’a) and consciously promote a sort of return to the early Islam or the Medinan period  (the Salafiyya movement is precisely a return to the “early fathers of Islam” referring to the Medinan Period)..  Any departure from the practice of the early Islam is considered “haram” or forbidden.  This is an ideological and paradigmatic approach of Wahabbism is the singular reason for the decline of Islam that reached its pinnacle of enlightenment during the Umayyad era that merged the ideas, philosophy and innovations by way of adaptation to the wisdom and knowledge of the great civilizations of the Greek, Latin (Rome), Indic and Chinese including the old Persian Empire.  With Wahabbism, the approach is, simply, to repeat all that happened during the Median Era or simply return to the past that condemns any changes and innovations!

No doubt, there is also the urgent need to address the underlying socio-economic and political realities (real or perceived) that reduce the vast majority of Muslims to poverty and powerlessness. Petro-dollars and all the beneficence of the God-given oil/petrol must again be considered as the “patrimony” of the Ummah. There is a need to engage rulers of these petrol-producing countries and sheikdoms that it is a scandal in the Islamic Ummah to have the opulence of brought by petroleum being enjoyed by few families and treat these opulence as family owned that can be dispensed with according to the whims and caprices of their sheiks, emir and king and princes.

There is a growing rejection of interpreting faith as something limited to personal and private sphere.  The exclusiveness of the billion petro-dollars and the prevailing politics of oil within the Ummah are not acceptable. The more enlightened Muslims should take the lead in asserting a more egalitarian and religious message of faith in the public sphere.  Believers, governments, NGOs and community of nations should challenge the use of the multi-billion petro-dollar and make the blessing of petrol/oil more responsive to the needs of the Ummah everywhere thereby establishng a more equitable economic growth and distribution of wealth within the Ummah. 

Is it not precisely the “reclaiming” of the public sphere that forms the concrete basis for the inter-religious dialogues among the peoples of the BOOK?  Ultimately, the dialogue of life and dialogue of action make us all, Believers of Living Faiths, partners not only in our critique of the earth and our relationships but also in that great faith “enterprise” of building a new earth and forging new relationships.

In conclusion… I quote Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ: “The age of nations is past. It remains for us now, if we do not wish to perish, to set aside the ancient prejudice of ethnicity, religions, nations, cultures, civilizations, and build the earth.”

Fr. Eliseo ‘Jun’ Mercado, OMI
Institute for Autonomy and Governance
Professor – Notre Dame University Graduate School & San Beda Graduate School of Laws
July 2019

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Common Word

The Muslim Letter:  The Common Word – A Reading…
By Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI
Badaliyya - Philippines

(Editor’s Note: There is a new wave of both extremism and Islamophobia in the world today. There are many recent tragedies that contribute in the formation of this new wave that threatens to widen the gap not only between Islam and Christianity but also between and among the believers in both faith communities. 

In the light of this, I took my original presentation on the Common Word delivered at Georgetown University in Washington DC to commemorate the 3rd year of the “The Common Word” Letter in 2010)

A surprise to the “Christian World”

At the end of the month of Ramadan 2007, the leaders of various Christian churches received, to their great surprise, a letter entitled, The Common Word, with 138 signatories that speak of weight, influence and scholarship.  I personally consider the letter something historical with long enduring impact not only on account of the letter’s signatories, but also of the letter’s addressee’s.  The letter is a highly representative Letter coming from diverse schools and persuasions in the “Islamic World”.

The Signatories…

There are 138 signatories and they represent over 43 nations.  Among them are great muftis, religious leaders, academics and scholars.  The signatories are beyond the representatives of the two great Sunni and Shiite groups.  There are also representatives from smaller groups, sects and even diverging trends, for example the most mystic of those trends (Sufi), who are largely represented in the West.  There are also for example Ismailites, derived from the Shiites; Jafaarites, also a derivative of Shia Islam; Ribadites, which is an ancient group of Islam, rarely spoken of but which has a representation in Yemen.  This indicates a broadening of consensus within a certain Islamic ummah, a step towards what Islam calls ijmaa (consensus).  The first positive point of the letter is the fact that it is highly representative, coming from a converging group. 

This letter does not say that there is agreement between all Muslims, but it shows a concerted move towards a certain consensus.  This convergence came about under the auspices of the King of Jordan, and the Aal al-Bayt (family of the Prophet of Islam) foundation, lead by the king’s uncle Prince Hassan. This man represents the best of Islam today, from the point of view of reflection, openness and devotion.  Being a devote and faithful Muslim, he married a Hindu who – quite unusual in modern Islam – did not have to convert to Islam, as is being demanded of the Christian women today in the West, but which is in no way foreseen in the Koran.

The Addressee’s…

The letter is also representative because it has been sent throughout the Christian world.  If you take a look at those to whom it has been addressed, you can see a carefully drawn up and complete list: besides the Pope we have all of the eastern Christian traditions, the Patriarchs of the Chalcedonian and pre-Chalcedonian Churches; then the Protestant Churches and finally the World Council of Churches.  It amply shows that behind this letter is someone who knows and understands Christianity and the history of the Church.

The structure

On coming to the content of the letter what is immediately striking is the fact that the title has been taken from the Koran: “A Common Word between Us and You” (Sura of the family of Imran, 3:64). This is what the prophet says to the Christians in the Koran: when he sees that he cannot reach agreement with them, then he says: “Come let us agree on at least one common ground:  that we shall worship none but God (the oneness of God) and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God.” What must be noted is that this common word in the Koran does not speak of Mohammad as a prophet, or the last messenger of God.  What is underlined is the common word and the oneness of God.  This in itself is a positive step, exactly starting from the Koran. 

The structure of the letter is composed of three parts: the first is entitled “love of God”, subdivided into two, “love of God in Islam ”and“ love of God as the first and greatest commandment in the bible”. In reality, the title in the original Arabic is more precise, it says “in the Gospel”.  By using the word “Bible” (which includes the New and Old Testament) Judaism can be included in the discourse (even if the letter is only addressed to Christians).  The second part is entitled “love of the neighbour” (hubb al-jâr). It is also subdivided in two: «love of the neighbour in Islam» and « love of the neighbour in the Bible» - where once again the original Arabic says “in the Gospel”.  The third part concludes by taking up the Koran citation: “come to a common word between us and you”, and offers an interesting analysis in three parts: “common word”, “come to a common word” and “between us and you”.

Reflections on the content

It is most interesting to note that the vocabulary used is a Christian vocabulary and not a Muslim one.  The word “neighbour” (in the Christian sense of brethren) does not exist in the Koran; it is typical of the New Testament.  In fact, the Arabic text does not use the word “neighbour/brethren” but “neighbour”  (jâr), which only has a geographical meaning (like a neighbour who lives next door), compared to the Christian term qarîb, which also means “brethren”.

The word “love” is rarely used in the Koran. It is not even part of the names of God. It is never said that God is a lover, even if there are less striking synonyms.  Instead the word is widely used in Christianity.  Moreover if the first part, love of God in Islam, is analysed, we Christians would refer to it as “obedience to God”, not “love”.  But here they have termed it so, to align themselves to the Christian vocabulary.  Which is a lovely thought but also a little dangerous as it risks falling into the trap of “settling”. Usually Muslims speak of the adoration of God; but the theme of Love for God is another discourse, which is not excluded from Islam, but found abundantly in the world of Sufism.  Either way in this letter, speaking of “love of God” is a novelty.  Perhaps it is even an able way of referring to Pope Benedict’s first encyclical (Deus caritas est). It certainly shows a desire to draw near to the Christian way of speaking, even if at the same time there is the risk of taking two meanings from the same word.

Other questions of Vocabulary

In this context, the Arab version of the letter uses different terminologies compared to the French, Italian, or English versions.  We have already noted that where the Arabic speaks of the Gospel the western languages speak of the Bible.  I will give other examples.
For example: speaking of Christ, in the western versions “Jesus Christ” is always cited while in the Arab version it is "Issa- al-Massih”. This expression cannot be found in the Koran, but is the combined result of how the Muslims call Jesus (Issa) – Arab Christians call him “Jasua” – and the Christian definition of “al-Massih”, Christ, which is found in the Koran.  The expression in the Koran is “Al-Massih Issa Ibn Mariam” (the Messiah Issa son of  Mary), while the usual Christian expression “Jasua’ al-Massih” (Jesus Christ). The text of the letter is littered with expressions from the Koran intermingled with Christian expressions.

When they quote from the Koran and the Bible, they use two different measures.  Quoting from the Koran they say “God said”, as does every good Muslim.  When the quote versus from the bible, they only say “as it is found in the New Testament”, “as it is read in the Gospel”, etc… This means that they use, in terms of the Bible, a more scholarly studious approach, while for the Koran they use the terminology of a believer in Islam.

But in the end the structure is truly beautiful: from here on in we may say that Christianity, Judaism and Islam have love of God and of ones neighbour as the heart of their faith.  This is the real novelty which has never before been said by the Islamic world.

Use of the Bible       

In quotations from the New and Old Testament, they take for granted that the Bible is the word of God.  This, too, is a relative novelty.  In the Koran this idea is theoretically affirmed, but it is rejected in practice.  Very often Muslims consider the Bible as a product (muharrafah or mubaddalah) manipulated by later additions to the original nucleus.

The Letter even goes as far as to quote St. Paul regarding the idea of the “heart”.  St. Paul is, in general, totally rejected by the vast majority of Muslims.  He is even considered as a traitor of Jesus Christ’s message, which according to them was originally an “Islamic message”.  Often Muslims claim that Christ’s message was like that of the Koran, but that Paul introduced the Trinity, Redemption through the Cross, and the rejection of Moses’ law.  A famous anti-Christian book, published in 2000 and banned in Lebanon, is entitled “Unmasking Paul”!

All of these little signs show a real desire for dialogue at the level of language and biblical testimonies.  There are even some allusions to Hebraism, in order to integrate it in this vision.  Using for example the term “people of the scriptures”, it is clear that this refers to the Jews, even if the discourse is officially addressed to Christians.

Positive appreciation…

The Letter is looking for a common basis… The method being used is to choose excerpts from sacred texts that can be paralleled.   In the Koran there are texts that are a contradiction of Christianity, but they chose those which are closer and more similar.  This is an important step and as a first step it is useful to highlight our common foundations.

The signatories of the Letter are trying to find a common basis for dialogue with everyone on the basis of our Scriptures.  The letter presents what is common in the Bible and the Koran as the basis for universal dialogue.  It only attempts to re-establish relations between Christians and Muslims.  This is clearly stated in the introduction, recalling that together “we represent over 55% of the world’s population”.  Thus by reaching an agreement we could almost impose peace in the world. 

A beautiful conclusion: coexistence in diversity

In the letter the Koran verse on tolerance is quoted: “Had God willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ” (Al-Ma’idah, n. 5:48).

This sura is the penultimate in chronological order in the Koran.  This means that this can not have been cancelled or overtaken by another, according to the Islamic theory of Koran interpretation, the so-called “from the abrogate to the abrogated” (nâsikh wa-l-mansûkh). This verse is fundamental because it states that our religious diversities are destined by God.  The result is: “So vie one with another in good works” as a method of dialogue.  This is truly a beautiful choice for concluding the Letter, because it means that we can live together despite our difference, moreover that God wants these difference!

Towards the future

This Letter is a very important step in dialogue between Christians and Muslims.  Often Christians have taken the initiative regarding dialogue, and they have so done well. It is important that this first step continues in this direction with increased clarity, even showing differences and the need for correction. As the Letter is addressed to various leaders of the Christian world, we can hope that there will be a reply to this letter, which is the result of an immense effort by the Muslim part.

This Letter is, certainly, also addressed to Muslims, even if not explicitly.  What weight will it bring to bear in the Muslim world, considering that “extremists” continue to kill, persecute and kidnap in the name of religion? Up until now there has been no comment from the Islamic side.  I believe that with time this Letter can create an opening and a greater convergence on the more delicate issues of religious freedom, the absolute value of human rights, the relationship between religion and society, the use of violence, etc.., in short current issues that worry all believers in our world today.

The Vatican response…

The Vatican through Cardinal Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council on Interreligious Dialogue has observed that the Letter is "a non-polemical document with numerous quotes from both the Old Testament and the New Testament."  Drawing upon the letter’s recommendations, he invites Christians and Muslims to prevent the fusion of violence and religion by sharing the three convictions contained in the letter: that God is One; that God loves us and we must love Him; that God calls us to love our neighbor.”  The prelate also noted that the letter is “a very encouraging sign because it shows that good will and dialogue are capable of overcoming prejudices.

Pontifical Institute of Arabic & Islamic Studies (PISAI)

Firstly, we were impressed by the broad scope of this text. Its breadth at the level of the signatories, one hundred and thirty-eight Muslim personalities from numerous countries of every continent of various religious affiliations, demonstrates a great variety. There was breadth also at the level of the addressees, all leaders of different Christian Churches, including twenty-eight named explicitly.

In the same line of observation, we highlight the extent of the area under consideration: Muslims, Christians, Jews and people worldwide. The authors of the letter do not seek refuge in a convenient one-sided protest on behalf of the "ummah," but on the contrary, place themselves as partners within humanity. For it, they offer their way of perceiving its foundations and principles, accepted also by other communities, in view of its survival in an effectual and general peace.

The broad sweep of its perspectives is also a noteworthy feature of this text. Admittedly, its authors are interested in the fate of the present world, at stake here and now, but also in that of the 'eternal souls', a destiny determined elsewhere and in the future. This dual aim, at once immanent and transcendent, runs a strong and liberating current throughout this discourse.

Naturally, we are equally struck by the fundamental character of the issue in question: God and humankind. It is much easier to confine oneself to ideas that are all the more generous for being vague and general, than to call attention in this way to the urgency of God's rights and those of humanity that demand continual awareness and an active and concrete love from each individual.

We are also keenly aware of the special treatment that the signatories of this letter give to the supreme point of reference that undergirds "the other" as Jew or Christian, namely, the dual commandment of love of God and neighbour in Deuteronomy and in Matthew's Gospel. This willingness to acknowledge another person in the deepest desire of what he or she wants to be seems to us one of the key points of this document. Only this can guarantee success in a genuine relationship between culturally and religiously diverse communities.

At the same time, we appreciate the way the authors of this text, as Muslims, see the proper definition of their own identity in these two commandments. They do so not by compliance or by politicking, but truly, solely on the basis of their proclamation of divine uniqueness, (al-tawhîd), the pivot of Muslim belief. Indeed, we acknowledge that the radical acceptance of divine uniqueness is one of the most authentic expressions of love owed to God alone. In addition, as faith always goes together with good works, as the Koran never fails to repeat, (al-ladîna âmanû wa 'amilû al-sâlihât : al-Baqara 2, 25), love of God is inseparable from love of neighbour.

Yale Center for Faith & Culture (Yale Divinity School)

“Let this common ground”–the dual common ground of love of God and of neighbor “be the basis of all future interfaith dialogue between us,” your courageous letter urges. Indeed, in the generosity with which the letter is written you embody what you call for. We most heartily agree. Abandoning all “hatred and strife,” we must engage in interfaith dialogue as those who seek each other’s good, for the one God unceasingly seeks our good. Indeed, together with you we believe that we need to move beyond “a polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders” and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communities and our nations so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another.

Given the deep fissures in the relations between Christians and Muslims today, the task before us is daunting. And the stakes are great. The future of the world depends on our ability as Christians and Muslims to live together in peace. If we fail to make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony you correctly remind us that “our eternal souls” are at stake as well.

We are persuaded that our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another. It is with humility and hope that we receive your generous letter, and we commit ourselves to labor together in heart, soul, mind and strength for the objectives you so appropriately propose.

Cambridge School of Divinity

There are three main reasons why this is so important.

First, it is unprecedented in bringing together so many of the leading religious authorities and scholars of Islam and uniting them in a positive, substantial affirmation. This is an astonishing achievement of solidarity, one that can be built on in the future.

Second, it is addressed to Christians in the form of a friendly word, it engages respectfully and carefully with the Christian scriptures, and it finds common ground in what Jesus himself said is central: love of God and love of neighbour. I like its modesty – it does not claim to be the final word but to be ‘a common word’, one that Muslims and Christians (and, I would also add, Jews and many others) can share with integrity. This is shared ground, mutual ground, where there is the possibility of working further on issues that unite and divide us. This common word does not pretend that there are no differences between Muslims and Christians (for example, on the Christian teaching about Jesus rather than the teaching of Jesus). It takes a vital step forward, and wisely does this by concentrating mainly on each tradition’s scriptures, those core texts that are so often misused but which, in my experience, also have the resources for enabling deeper mutual understanding and trust.

Third, it opens a way forward that is more hopeful for the world than most others at present in the public sphere. Its combination of Islamic solidarity around core teaching together with friendly address to Christians should be seen as setting a direction for the twenty-first century. It challenges Muslims and Christians to live up to their own teachings and seek political and educational as well as personal ways to do this for the sake of the common good. It invites them to go deeper into their own faith at the same time as going deeper into each other’s. It cries out to be followed through by many initiatives in the same spirit. These should be among Muslims, among Christians, between Muslims and Christians, and between them and those of other faiths and no faith. They should be in many spheres of life and at all levels - local, regional and global. It is deeply encouraging that the Royal Academy of Jordan has had the courage, imagination and practical capacity to achieve this. Now the Royal Academy needs to be joined by many others in following this through.

An obvious question is:  Will this Letter have any impact on the violent extremism that afflicts the world? I do not think that problem has a simple one-off solution. But any long-term solution will have to include four elements:
·      Muslim solidarity around an understanding of their faith that clearly excludes violent, uncompassionate acts, programmes and language;
·      Better Christian understanding of Islam;
·      Deeper engagement between Muslims and Christians that makes use of the resources at the heart of their faith, such as their scriptures;
·      A concern for the flourishing of the whole human family and the whole planet.

I find all four in ‘A Common Word’. If sufficient people and groups heed this statement and act on it then the atmosphere will be changed into one in which violent extremists cannot flourish.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Longing, Desire and the Face of God


We’ve all heard these lines, prayed them, and in our more reflective moments tried to mean them; but, mostly, our hearts have belied those words. We haven’t really, at least not in our more conscious thoughts and feelings, longed for God with any real intensity and in our beds at night our souls are generally keeping vigil for someone other than God.  But, for this, we need not apologize.

We are human beings, not angels, and nature and instinct conspire to direct our gaze and our desire towards this earth. It is persons and things of this earth for which our hearts long with intensity. We ache for a lot of things, though our most intense longings mostly have to do with yearning for a soulmate and with emotional and sexual consummation.

Those desires, at first glance at least, generally do not appear as holy or God-directed.  We dare not associate what we are feeling at those times with the holy sentiments we express in our psalms and prayers. And we are the poorer for that, religiously and humanly. That desire, far from being unhealthy, is in fact a sign of health.  Beauty is meant to be honored; we are meant to feel that powerful attraction and pull, including its sexual component. Beauty, of course, is also meant to be respected and not violated.

The point here is that, consciously and unconsciously, we understand these powerful earthy and erotic attractions as taking us away from God and as something we need to give up in order to move closer to God.  Our desire for God and our more earthy, sexual desires are perceived as competitors, incompatible, demanding that we renounce one for the other.

 More than we imagine, that misconception hurts us, because everything that is beautiful and attractive, however earthy and sexual, is contained inside of God. God is the creator of all that is beautiful, attractive, colorful, sexual, witty, brilliant, and intelligent.  All that we are attracted to on this earth, including the beauty that allures us sexually, is found inside of God and our attraction and longing for it here on earth is, in the end, a longing for God.