Wednesday, April 30, 2008


The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini).

If the first casualty of the War on Terror (as with any war) is truth, Hosseini’s best-sellers The Kite Runner (2003) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) are a terrific read if you want an insider’s view of the situation in Afghanistan. Remember the dictum ascribed to Zwi Werblowsky (Martin Buber Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem): ‘There are some things about a given religion which can only be understood from inside and some things about the same religion which can only be understood from outside.’ Hosseini gives us an insider’s insights into the lives of Muslim families in Afghanistan (and should help soften some of our bigotry about Islam).

Here we’ll look briefly at The Kite Runner. However, as the Chilean writer, Isabel Allende says, A Thousand Splendid Suns is ‘unforgettable’. For a review of that book visit here and for a summary of the Taliban’s less-than-creative (!) ways of taking the fun out of life start here.

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul (1965) and with his family sought political asylum in the U.S. in 1980. He is now a medico and an envoy for the UNHCR, deeply involved in the plight of refugees throughout the world.

Last time I looked there were 2348 customer reviews on for The Kite Runner. It was Hosseini’s debut novel, and offers dramatic insights into Afghanistan’s political turmoil, from the last days of the monarchy to the collapse of the Taliban regime. All that is backdrop to the story of two boys - Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman, and Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant (who are ethnic Hazaras). The boys are inseparable; they compete in kite-running competitions, and share dreams and stories, until something unspeakable happens, severing the relationship. After Amir and his father flee to America, the guilt and shame of that event still haunts Amir, who later returns to his war-torn country to rescue Hassan’s son after the Taliban murdered his parents.

Many of the great themes of literature and life are here: guilt and redemption, character and country, betrayal and loyalty, courage and cowardice and hope, war and terror and tragedy, children who are motherless and/or fatherless, bullying, rape, and the persecution of minorities...

We have to remind ourselves that this is a (haunting) morality tale – a novel, not a memoir. The plot twists are quite amazing (if sometimes implausible). When we meet ordinary people like these who are swept up in the turmoil of history, it ‘gives pause’ to our simplistic views about (a) how to relate to refugees, and (b) the kaleidoscopic varieties of belief inhabiting all major religions, in this case Islam.

The Kite Runner
was also produced as an audiobook read by the author, and was adapted into a film of the same name released in December, 2007. Hosseini’s official website is here.

Rowland Croucher
April 2008.


THINGS HIDDEN: Scripture as Spirituality, Richard Rohr (2008).

Franciscan prophet and teacher Richard Rohr is a mystic rather than a systematic theologian: indeed he believes ‘systematizing’ theology runs the risk of doing it violence and missing the point: theology is to be experienced in a life of faith, hope and love, not organized into creeds.

Is he ‘evangelical’? I would say ‘yes’ though he doesn’t use the term of himself: he has an unqualified commitment to Jesus as Lord and God’s special revelation of God’s character. Is he ‘progressive’? Yes: for example he likes Marcus Borg and reads the mainline liberal biblical scholars. Is he a dogmatist/ fundamentalist? Definitely not: any exclusionary system which divides humans made in God’s image into ‘our people’ and ‘those [heretics] not like us’ is alien to the will of God as experienced in the life and teaching of Jesus.

He writes in the Introduction: ‘Only when inner and outer authority come together do we have true spiritual wisdom. We have for too long insisted on outer authority alone, without any teaching of prayer, inner journey and maturing consciousness. The results for the world and for religion have been disastrous… I offer these reflections to again unite what should never have been separated: sacred Scripture and Christian spirituality.’

He quotes Eugene Ionesco with approval: ‘Overexplanation separates us from astonishment.’ Example: the humble recipient of God’s love in the Eucharist/communion, who gazes at Christ on the cross with awe and wonder and love, is far more likely to ‘get the point’ than a theologian who organizes dogma into theories of the atonement.

Here are some representative quotes:

• ‘Suffering seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering… as “whenever you are not in control”.’

• ‘If you are not trained in a trust of mystery and some degree of tolerance for ambiguity, frankly you will not proceed very far on the spiritual journey. Immature religion creates a high degree of “cognitively rigid” people. If you want to hate somebody… do it for religious reasons… do it thinking you’re following some verse from the Bible. It works quite well. Your untouched egocentricity can and will use religion to feel superior and “right”.’

• ‘It is painful but necessary to be critical of your own system, whatever it is. But do know it will never make you popular. As you know the prophets are always rejected by their own (see Luke 12:50-51)… Until you are excluded from any system, you are not able to recognize the idolatries, lies or shadow side of that system. It is the privileged “knowledge of the victim”. Insiders are by nature dualistic, because they divide themselves from the so-called outsiders.’

• ‘Law is the thesis; it lays the ground against which the Prophets develop a positive antithesis… the Wisdom books are a synthesis and integration of the first two. Transcendance to higher levels of consciousness always means inclusion of the previous levels. Walter Brueggeman finds [a similar progression] in the Psalms: Psalms of Orientation (confirming Tradition), Psalms of Disorientation (the prophetic recognition of things not working or not being true) and Psalms of Reorientation (the Wisdom level of a new faith-synthesis). All three levels are affirmed in the Psalms, and unlike today, one or the other level is not called heretical or faithless. (Although people trapped at stage one will normally call people at the other two levels “sinners” or “heretics”, which is what we see happening in the Gospels.) True transcendence always includes the previous stages and does not dismiss them.’

• ‘True orthodoxy (“right ideas”) is important, but in the Bible orthodoxy is never defined as something that happens only in the head… Jesus consistently declares people to be saved or healed who are in right relationship with him, and he never grills them on their belief or belonging systems… I observe that the people who find God are usually people who are very serious about their quest and their questions, more so than being absolutely certain about their answers.’

• ‘Prayer and suffering are the two primary paths of transformation. Only people who have first lived and loved, suffered and failed, and lived and loved again, are in a position to read the Scriptures in a humble, needy, inclusive and finally fruitful way.’

• ‘My lifetime of studying Jesus would lead me to summarize all of his teaching inside of two prime ideas: forgiveness and inclusion.’

It’s the best book I’ve read for a couple of years. And it’s best read devotionally, in small doses…

Rowland Croucher
April 2008