Best-selling author Jack Weatherford to discuss Genghis Khan’s surprising approach to religious freedom at EWU event in Spokane

Anthropologist and best-selling author Jack Weatherford will explain Wednesday how the world’s greatest conquerer – Genghis Khan – used religious freedom as a way to rule the largest land empire in history.

“Everyone knows the name, but they can’t exactly remember what he did other than kill a lot of people,” Weatherford said. “There’s more to the story, and I’m interested in more to the story.”

Weatherford will speak at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox as part of the President’s Forum for Critical Thought at Eastern Washington University, which is a lecture series supported by the Daniel and Margaret Carper Foundation.

Bonny Bazemore, associate professor of ancient history at EWU, said Weatherford is presenting a new viewpoint based on ancient sources.

“It doesn’t get more exciting than that,” she said. “He talks about how Genghis Khan brings a cultural unity rather than a religious unity and I think that’s so very important because in the West, as we all know, we’re still having this problem.”

Weatherford will be discussing his latest book, “Genghis Khan and the Quest for God.” He said Khan wasn’t the first leader to believe individuals should have religious freedom, but he was the first to make it an international law.

“He really believed all religions were true and correct in certain ways,” Weatherford said. “There was no bad religion. No religion tried to teach people to be sinful or to do wrong.”

Khan worshipped nature and is considered by many historians to have been an animist or deist. He believed others simply worshipped differently, but were all on the same path, Weatherford notes.

Bazemore noted that Khan never imposed his religious beliefs on others.

Weatherford said that he also saw the practicality of religious freedom. It created a loyal society. However, Weatherford points out that the ruler wrestled with many of the same problems facing society today: religious extremism and the divisiveness that so often comes with religiosity.

Family and faith have long been the basic aspects of human life, Weatherford said, but religion has long been an excuse and motivating factor for warfare.

“Genghis Khan felt part of his job was to bring religions back in line, keep them subservient to the needs of society,” he said.

He said he hopes his book, and his lecture, will be an affirmation of religious freedom. Khan’s concept of it has been violated for centuries and he said a solution needs to be found.

“Religion is becoming a greater and greater problem in the world and we do need to find some way to get it back to being the solution that most religions are intended to be,” he said. “They were founded by someone or a group trying to solve a problem and a better world.”

Scholar to discuss views on inadequacies, realities of Scriptures

Christian principles are engrained in American society, but the text in which those values are based is cluttered with mistakes, omissions and intentional changes, said scholar Bart D. Ehrman.

Ehrman, author of numerous best-sellers including “Misquoting Jesus” and “Jesus Interrupted,” will speak about the inadequacies of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, on Thursday at The Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

“We don’t have the original books of the New Testament, which sounds strange to some people. We have the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and others, but we don’t have the originals of these books. What we have are later copies made by scribes over the centuries. They’re copies, they have differences in them, and in some places we don’t know what it originally said, so I’ll be lecturing on that,” he said in a recent telephone interview.

His mission, he said, is to educate people, especially people of faith, about the realities of the Scriptures they hold sacred.

“My goal is not to de-convert anybody or to change anybody’s religious views, but if someone has a deep commitment to the Bible they ought to know all they can about the Bible,” he said. “The alternative to being an informed believer is being an ignorant believer, and who would prefer being ignorant to being informed?”

Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, was an evangelical Christian for many years. His views began to change when he was studying the Scriptures at Moody Bible Institute in the 1970s.

He thought the Bible was the inspired word of God, he said, but as he began diving deeper into his studies of the New Testament, found himself becoming skeptical. He said he developed into a liberal Christian, which he practiced for many years. Today, however, Ehrman considers himself an agnostic.

“How do you explain so much pain and suffering in the world if God is in control of that?” he said. “I was dissatisfied with all the answers I found … Even if you can’t have a satisfying answer as to why there’s suffering, you can have an appropriate response to it.”

Last year he launched The Bart Ehrman blog, which is locked behind a pay wall, where he shares his ideas, thoughts, interacts with readers and responds to critics. In just over a year the blog has raised $37,000, which Ehrman has donated to charities devoted to fighting homelessness and hunger.

“We have to try to relieve suffering whenever we can, however we can,” he said.

Although Ehrman isn’t a believer, he said he remains fascinated with Jesus and the Scriptures and continues to lecture and write about both.

“There’s never been a force as powerful in the Western world as the Christian church,” he said. “Jesus and the New Testament are what stand as the foundation of the Christian religion so anybody interested in history, culture or society should be interested in the New Testament and the historical Jesus, so I find it continually fascinating.”

His lecture, sponsored by Eastern Washington University and the Daniel and Margaret Carper Foundation, is free.