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Published: Saturday, 6/12/2004

Writers try to ease readers' worries

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Father Jack Kimble, left, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, talks with Bishop Mark Hollingsworth during Bishop Hollingsworth's first visit to Toledo after his April consecration as the 11th Episcopal bishop of Ohio. Bishop Hollingsworth, 50, met with more than 90 local clergy and lay leaders June 5 at All Saints Episcopal Church, 563 Pinewood, to hear their needs and expectations. 'It was marvelous. A very positive meeting,' Father Kimble said. The bishop is not due to make another episcopal visit to the Toledo area again until late in 2005. Father Jack Kimble, left, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, talks with Bishop Mark Hollingsworth during Bishop Hollingsworth's first visit to Toledo after his April consecration as the 11th Episcopal bishop of Ohio. Bishop Hollingsworth, 50, met with more than 90 local clergy and lay leaders June 5 at All Saints Episcopal Church, 563 Pinewood, to hear their needs and expectations. 'It was marvelous. A very positive meeting,' Father Kimble said. The bishop is not due to make another episcopal visit to the Toledo area again until late in 2005.
WADSWORTH / BLADE Enlarge

CHICAGO - Americans are taking a close look at the crises swirling around them and they're asking how things ever got to such a point.

U.S. soldiers are dying in Iraq; Osama bin Laden is still on the loose; the Catholic Church is facing the fallout of its clerical sexual abuse scandal; battle lines are being drawn over homosexuality, prophets of doom are predicting that the world will end sooner than we think .●.●.

The concerns and questions seem endless - and so does the rising tide of books being published in an effort to shed some light on topics that have rattled readers around the world.

An estimated 50,000 people gathered in this city's sprawling McCormick Place Convention Center for Book Expo America, a four-day global trade show that ended Sunday and which, for the first time, set aside a day to spotlight Religion and Spirituality.

"In the time that we've been keeping records, there have been a couple years where we've seen a double-digit increase in the number of books we receive, and last year there was a double-digit spike in religious books," said Jana Riess, religion book review editor of Publishers Weekly.

"Certainly, there's a new openness to spirituality."

The Book Expo featured a number of panel discussions on religion, starting with a Friday morning session titled "Understanding Islam: How Books Can Foster Dialogue in a Faith-Fractured World."

Asma Gull Hasan, author of "Why I Am a Muslim," said many Americans are still ignorant of Islam, although there has been something of an awakening after 9/11.

Many Americans think most Muslims are Arabic, when in fact only about 20 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims are Arabs. The largest Muslim nation is Indonesia and many are from southeran Asia, such as Ms. Hasan's Pakistani parents.

She said American society "closely resembles the true Islamic values as embodied in the Qur'an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad," because of its religious tolerance, advocacy of human equality, and rights to self-improvement."

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, spiritual leader of a Manhattan mosque that was only 12 blocks from Ground Zero, concurred with Ms. Hasan's observation that the United States upholds Islamic values.

"America is a Sharia-compliant state," Imam Rauf said, referring to the Islamic branch of law known as Sharia. He cited the U.S. Constitution's protections of life, liberty, property, family, and mental well-being as being elements of the ideal Islamic society.

Imam Rauf attributed the radicals' hatred for the United States on their lack of understanding of American society.

Stories of greed, corruption, and immorality in America are covered by the non-western media, while many of the positive aspects of U.S. society are ignored.

"We need to show the radical Muslim extremists what is right with America," Imam Rauf said, cautioning that the U.S. "dream of a democratic Iraqi state" will not work unless U.S. leaders do not "ignore the role of religion in dealing with issues in the Mideast."

Unlike Americans, Iraqis do not want separation of church and state. Ignoring the importance in that region "is a recipe for disaster," Imam Rauf said. "You can only ignore religion at your own peril."

He also said that a transition to democracy is a complex process that is not a matter of a ballot-box or "cutting a ribbon at a McDonald's and saying, 'Here is democracy.'

It requires an independent judiciary, a free press, and secure banking, he said as examples.

"Americans have to unpack each line item of democracy and find its equivalent in Islamic doctrine," Imam Rauf said.

In a panel discussion featuring authors of religious books, the Rev. Andrew Greeley, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a Catholic priest this year, said he believes the Catholic Church was "destabilized" in the 18th century by such events as the French Revolution, and that Rome "tightened its grip" in the 19th century.

The result was that the Catholic leaders overreacted, seeking to repress change and ruling that "everything was a sin," Father Greeley said. "The mantra was that the Catholic Church will not change, should not change, cannot change. While all through history change was the nature of Catholicism," he said.

When the Second Vatican Council was convened 40 years ago, church leaders called for sweeping changes with broad impact, he said, and "the church is still coping with that revolution."

Father Greeley said the "lower clergy and the people" took control and the Vatican "can no longer control their sexual lives."

The longtime priest said Rome was out of touch with the times and "reacted as always - with repression. And the people did not listen anymore."

Father Greeley said he addresses these issues in one of three books he has scheduled for publication this year.

In a panel discussion on Christian fiction, authors and book sellers said the genre continues to gain market share, largely due to the phenomenal success of the Left Behind series.

The apocalyptic novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have sold more than 62 million books and opened the door for Christian publications to be sold in mainstream bookstores. People who normally do not shop in Christian bookstores can buy a variety of spiritual titles in retail outlets ranging from Barnes & Noble to Wal-Mart, Ms. Riess said.

Mr. Jenkins said that when Mr. LaHaye first approached him to collaborate on the Left Behind novels, he asked whether the books would be geared to Christian or secular readers.

"He said, 'Both.' I remember telling him: 'A double-minded novel is unstable in all its ways,'" Mr. Jenkins said, a wry paraphrase of the scripture in James 1:8 that says "a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."

Mr. Jenkins said he had been hopeful that the books would sell between 100,000 and 200,000 copies and was stunned when it became a mainstream best-seller.

"I never imagined Left Behind as a crossover book," he said.

He attributed the crossover success in part to the fact that the series opens with "the rapture," when all the Christians are instantly transported to heaven.

"All the evangelical lingo is gone," he said, and the characters who remain are normal people to whom the average secular reader can relate.



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