Exposing the saints: In new book, retired philosophy professor explores both the light and darkness of Eastern religions

By JENNIFER K. BAUER jkbauer@inland360.com

MOSCOW — For decades Nick Gier has examined, dissected and publicly challenged the roots of religion and the dangerous tentacles of undoubting belief. While he’s often aroused the ire of the Christian religious right, his latest work erodes the myth that Eastern religions are more peaceful.

“My liberal friends say, ‘Why do you have to show the dark side?’ ” of religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, which are based on ethics of tolerance and acceptance, says Gier, 70, who taught religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. “I think that’s the obligation of a scholar. Even saints have faults and clay feet.”

Gier’s new book, “The Origins of Religious Violence, an Asian Perspective,” is a scholarly overview of religiously motivated violence in Asia from medieval times to the post-colonial era. The idea caught Gier’s attention in 1992 when he was on sabbatical in India. Mark Twain called India the land of “a thousand religions and two million gods.” People of different faiths there have lived and worshiped together harmoniously for centuries. This is “Gandhi’s India,” Gier says. That’s what he expected and saw, but while he was there Hindu nationalists destroyed a Muslim mosque and he began to question his belief in “the peace of the East.”

Nick Gier
Nick Gier

For the next 25 years he explored Eastern religious violence, concluding that much Asian religious conflict began after colonial penetration. Europeans introduced the Christian tenet that their religion is based on pure revelation from God, unadulterated by other religions. In other words, the one true religion.

“Fundamentalists of all persuasions have this in common,” Gier says. “Once you establish this mentality, it is bound to cause conflict.”

Here’s a sample of stories he relates:

  • Welcomed by Hindu kings, Christians lived in medieval India for more than 1,000 years alongside Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. When the Portuguese arrived in the late 13th century, they were shocked to find Christians living outside the authority of Rome and that these people’s priests were married. They insisted the men divorce their wives or be killed. Most converted to Roman Catholicism.
  •  From the late 11th century into the 16th century Muslims brutally invaded India. Muslim rulers did not try to convert the vast population to their religion. Instead of destroying temples they charged a pilgrim tax. Buddhist monasteries were stripped of their wealth. This is a major reason Buddhism scarcely exists in the country of its birth.
  • The Chinese Taiping Christians hold the world record for number of religious killings by one sect. Introduced to Christianity by missionaries, Hong Xiuquan had a vision in 1837 where he visited God’s family in heaven and came to believe he was Christ’s younger brother with a sacred sword to kill all evildoers. He raised armies with an agenda that included replacing Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion with their form of Christianity. They killed an estimated 20 million people in southern China from 1850 to 1864.
  •  Historically Tibetan Buddhism has used the idea of “compassionate violence” as a justification for forming armies to stop people attempting to harm Buddhism. Over the centuries high lamas have used tantric “war” magic with devastating effect against their enemies, primarily other Tibetan Buddhist sects. Gier documents that the current Dalai Lama still supports compassionate violence even though there is nothing in Buddha’s words to support such an ethic.
if you go

Nick Gier will discuss and sign copies of his book, “The Origins of Religious Violence, an Asian Perspective,” at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 18 at BookPeople of Moscow. Hardcover copies of Gier’s book will be for sale for $50. A $35 paperback version will be released in spring 2015.

The store will also feature several other authors that day.

Noon — Boise author F.A. (Floyd) Loomis with his novel, “Raven’s Winter,” set in rural Idaho in 1958. Loomis is a former financial journalist and owner of a small Seattle press.

1:30 p.m. — Anesa Miller of Moscow with “Our Orbit,” a novel about an Appalachian foster family that faces cultural issues after taking in a motherless girl whose militia-wannabe father is imprisoned.

3 p.m. — Corrie Williamson with her first poetry book, “Sweet Husk.” Williams teaches writing at Helena College and Carroll College in Montana.

BookPeople is at 521 S. Main St.

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