Whoever coined the adage "never talk about religion or politics in polite company" has never been to Bosnia. Bosnians talk about politics with the same frequency and passion as Kansas Citians talk about the Chiefs. It is impossible to truly get to know the people of the Balkans without learning their thoughts on these two important topics. Ask a simple question and you will be treated to an hour long discussion. If you don't ask any questions, then they will bring the topic up (usually by referencing Trump Clinton).
|The funny thing is that Bosnians, in my experience so far, are generally loud and passionate but also decent listeners. This actually leads to some good conversations rather than shouting matches. But I have not asked about toilet paper.|
We went to visit a small rural school near Vlasenica with Nina Rašejević; a horse-loving political science student. It took little time until she began to ask about politics. Specifically, she wanted to know about the presidential campaign. She, like everyone that has brought up the topic here in the Balkans, is very concerned about Donald Trump. The other day we had a 10-year old boy bring up the topic out of the blue and inform us that he was very, very worried that Trump might be elected.
|Nina and some horses we found along the road|
|I now understand why Ramie has stayed so long. I just thought it was Cheryl.|
|Discussing where water pipes need to be repaired with the principal and main janitor of the school system.|
Nina does not have much faith in capitalism as a political system. She strongly prefers some form of socialism. And is hopeful about a time when a "truer" form of Marxism (or communism) can exist. She knows that this is idealistic. But she likes the Marxist concepts and believes that the world has failed repeatedly at implementing Karl Marx's true vision. When I pressed her little for a historical example of Marxism succeeding, her best example was Tito's Yugoslavia. That is another thing that most Balkans are nostalgic about. Most look back quite fondly about the Tito era.
|A wood burning heater in the rural school we visited. Appropriately enough this school was built during the Tito era.|
Our second translator gave me permission to write about our conversations but did not want to be identified by name. So I am not going to give too much personal information about her. She is Muslim and studied theology for two-years at an Iranian university. In my realm of friends that makes her unique and interesting to talk to.
She enjoys discussing religion, philosophy and theology. Which I do as well. So we had an immensely enjoyable conversation on our drive.
|Proof that we did some work on this drive. This is the location where a water reservoir will be built to serve the little community of Hrasno (100 inhabitants). They are currently get water from a nearby river.|
Some quick historical background on Islam. Founded in the 7th century CE, Islam flourished during the Middle Ages while the rest of Europe languished in the Dark Ages. In Islamic parlance, this time period is known as the Golden Age of Islam. Arts, science, philosophy, theology, math, and astronomy were all embraced and advanced by Muslims during this time period. During this early period Islam seemed to take a particular interest in Hellenism and especially Aristotle (known in Arabic sources as "the Master of Logic" and the "first teacher." As the Oxford History of Islam states..."to place Islamic philosophy in its proper historical context, one must first review the various stages through which its predecessor, Greek-Hellenistic philosophy, passed, to the eventual capture of Alexandria by Arabs in 641 CE."
This was the "primary channel through which Greek philosophy was transmitted to the Muslim world (Alexandria), where the study of Greek philosophy and science was flourishing when the Arabs conquered it in 641." Very early on Muslim thought and Hellenism became meshed together. For 500 years Muslim philosophers worked to make sense out of Islam theology and Hellenistic philosophy. So Islam has a rich history akin to that of the early Christian Fathers, Augustine, Aquinas, and Renaissance philosophers.
|An Arab depiction of Socrates teaching his students.|
Somewhat familiar with LDS beliefs, we talked a little about the nature of God. As we talked, we found ourselves hitting the same classic philosophical conundrums that are written about in philosophical treatises (e.g., even though we did not talk about this, a good example is the existence of God in a world filled with evil). Our conversation started by talking about whether or not God (or Allah although we never used that name for God) is incorporeal (does not have a body). For her, the idea of God having a body would in someway limit God and make him less deserving of worship. Even the term "father" is an anthropomorphism that is unfortunate because the idea of gender does not apply to God.
|The drive to Kalesija is along a river in a valley. Quite gorgeous.|
No discussion about God and creation can take place without a mention of predetermination, omniscience, and free will. One thing I respect about this translator is her ability to speak so many different languages. In addition to Bosonski, she is fluent in Farsi, can read Arabic, recognizes Spanish (watching Spanish language soaps), and could carry out a philosophical conversation in English. Quite impressive.
The paradox of creation, omniscience, and free will is this: if God made us out of nothing, he is solely responsible for our nature (he made us!). Even though he allows us to act freely, how can our nature be truly free if he is the one responsible for giving us our character and personality. The idea of God's omniscience compounds this problem. If God knows everything that we will do in the future, then, even though we supposedly have free will, it is impossible for me to do anything other than what God knows that I will do.
It is this logical paradox that has led to the rise of process theology and open theism among Western philosophers. Unfortunately, I have not found a Islamic parallel. It might exist but I have not found it. It is logical that Islamic scholars will begin to innovate in this direction because their thought is suspect to the same philosophical issues.
|I have been fascinated by the rise of open theism within the Christian theological world. Its proponents view it as a return to actual text and meaning of the Bible. Its opponents view it as heretical. There seems to be no middle ground.|
This cartoon illustrates that there was nothing new that we talked about. We were covering ground that has been walked on many, many times.
She mentioned that she feels God's presence when she reads the Quran. It is that book that testifies to her of God's existence. This made me recall the way some orthodox Jews talk about the Torah. They believe the Torah to be the literal word of G-d. Likewise, my fundamental Christian friends feel much the same way about the Bible. The words of the Bible draw them nearer to God. They know God exists because of the words found in the Bible.
If I mixed and matched the texts and the statements about the attributes of God, I could easily get confused with whom I was having a conversation. As a Latter-Day Saint, I realized that when all of these groups are combined, there are nearly 3 billion who believe in this Hellenistic God worldview; a view quite different from my own. That is a big marshmallow!
This was my big "aha." Along with the utopia that is Sweden!