Archive for July 3rd, 2007

The Myth of the Murderous Muslim


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I found myself in the middle of a heated argument the other night with a very well educated person who was espousing swift, brutal and total military action against the Muslim world. What started the debate was his remark that the Crusaders had the right idea and it was a shame that they did not finish the job. Although this man claims to be an atheist, he believes that Christians have always held the moral high ground and if it had not been for the admittedly brutal martial actions of medieval Christendom there would be no Church today.

Of course my response was that the Crusades had clearly demonstrated that the authentic Church had gone underground, that what passed for Christianity in those times was an obscene aberration, an abomination. Generally, the past actions of the so-called Christian Church are no more laudable, in fact they may be more heinous, than anything that can be attributed to the Muslim extremists of today. And just as one should not condemn the Gospel for those who desecrate it in the name of God, we should be very careful when we hold the essence of Islam responsible for the murders and tyrannies committed by fundamentalist elements on their fringe.

Many say, though, that the violence and oppression that we witness today in parts of the Muslim world represents the true nature of Islam, that the Quran expressly directs the true believer to initiate violent Jihad against the infidels of this world. This view is based primarily on a common Christian practice that results in many confused religious minds – proof texting. Just as a reading of Genesis, Exodus or Deuteronomy outside the light of the remainder of scripture can result in rationalizations for slavery, pogroms and genocide, this same practice will often paint a picture of the Quran as a world conquering instruction manual.

Actions speak louder than words and throughout most of history institutionalized Islam has a much better track record than institutionalized Christianity. During the Dark Ages, Early Islam was the fount of philosophy, art, poetry, science and medicine as well as charity and religious tolerance. In Moorish Spain Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in relative harmony. It was the Christian conquerors who set about violently removing both Jew and Muslim from the peninsula. Around this same time Islam conquered what we now know as Turkey and to this day Istanbul is still the seat of the Eastern Church. When conquering the Indian sub-continent both Hindu and Buddhist were allowed to freely practice their religions. This should not be surprising because it is prescribed in the Quran as well as other Islamic teachings; “Whoever hurts a Non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys God.” (Bukhâri) Unfortunately what little we know of the Quran is relayed to us in the sound bites of those with political agendas to meet.

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An oft repeated complaint against the Muslims of this country is their apparent lack of voice in condemning the violent actions of their brethren. This accusation does not take into account the long lasting divisions that have existed throughout Islam as a whole; not all Muslims feel allegiance to those reactionary fundamentalists who are behind most of the violence. Those Muslims now living in our neighborhoods are usually there because they sought escape from religious extremists. Even so, doesn’t this criticism cut both ways? Where was the voice of Christianity during the Holocaust? Where was the American Church in the condemnation of the bombings of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Purportedly “Christian” nations deliberately and intentionally ordered the horrendous deaths of non-combatants with liquid fire and burning radiation. We were at war, some say, and regrettable decisions must often be made. Perhaps, but this is Christian hypocrisy nevertheless.

Within Christianity we have groups of people who will not equivocate when it comes to refusing to take up the sword; the Quaker, Amish, Mennonite and Bruderhof easily come to mind. The Jehovah’s Witnesses (some dispute their “Christianity”) were some of the first to be sent to the Nazi camps because of their outspoken pacifism. On the other hand, the majority of professing Christians will tolerate or even espouse violence, especially when it poses a threat to our own security. At times we will commit our lives, resources and energies in coming to the aid of oppressed people (Tojo, Hitler, Hussein and the Taliban all desperately needed to go) but mostly we ignore the plight of millions of others. We can only do so much, so when we do finally act it is only prudent that the actions coincide with our national interests.

But how does this permit us the moral high ground? Well, for one thing, we don’t hijack airplanes and fly them into crowded skyscrapers. Some might even suggest (mistakenly) that we don’t kill people that we are not officially at war with. And we certainly would not condone indiscriminate violence from our own people. But of course, neither do the vast majority of Muslims.

In World War II, during the Allied invasion of North Africa, the Allied and Axis powers played a bloody game of cat and mouse, overrunning desert territory one day, being expelled the next by superior forces. Many Muslim towns and cities endured an ever changing procession of conquerors; British, French, Italian, German, American. At no time were these people ever considered other than pawns in the greater scheme of the western powers. Their homes, mosques, hospitals, schools and farms were obliterated. Their wells were poisoned and their religious shrines turned to rubble. Many children not killed were left maimed and orphaned.

These people had the misfortune of their ancestors making their homes in lands that were to be later colonized by Europeans. European armies then laid waste to the region as they fought battles begun across the Mediterranean, battles that were of little concern to the Muslim. One of the many devastated Muslim towns, offering little more than strategic interest to both Allied and Axis alike, was Medina, the second holiest Islamic city, after Mecca. How would the perspective of a Muslim survivor of that period be any different than that of someone who survived 9/11? How can their objections have less value than ours?

Are we intellectually, culturally and morally superior to these people? Because we have knowledge of the ‘truth’ as we find it in our religious and cultural traditions does this automatically place all other people in the unfortunate position of being ‘losers’? It is interesting to me that many Christians reach back to those parts of the Bible that they would (incorrectly) take to condone war and violence, yet those same Christians accuse the Koran of being a violent book. Mohammed believed that Jesus was not given enough time on this earth to present a systematic process for following his path to God. Islam believes that God gave the Koran to the people to provide just such a framework. I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle, in the Gospels, and exclusive pursuit of either of the other two ways (though not without value) can often lead to distortion, misunderstanding, fundamentalism, legalism, judgmentalism and finally hatred.

As stated on Crescentlife.com, a Muslim webpage: “Terrorists who persecute innocent people because of their faith are not welcome – their use of Islam as a scapegoat, does not make Islam what they portray it to be. “ If we can agree with the spirit of that premise, and also see there can be a fine line separating terrorism and military action, then it may prove interesting when we apply this same standard to Christians.

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“If I Have But One Life to Give….” (the error of a patriotic God)


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Recently it was brought to my attention that Rome, in the first century, was a very diverse civilization and actually quite tolerant of different religions and beliefs. The reason that they persecuted the early Church was not for their theology but because the Church held Jesus to be their only Lord and King, not Caesar. The Christians (the Romans themselves popularized the phrase) would not pledge their allegiance to anyone other than Jesus, Messiah and King. (Later the Romans figured out a way around this and the world was ‘blessed’ with the Holy Roman Empire, but that’s another story.)

I think this is worth remembering as many of us prepare to celebrate Independence Day. Certainly it is good to be considerate of those ideals and principles which have been instrumental in providing most of us with the benefits of American republicanism. I feel, however, that we venture onto tremulous ground when we quickly wed God with country. (I am reminded of a poster I saw in which Jesus has an American flag draped about his shoulders. You be the judge.) The British, after all, worshiped the same God that our forefathers did. Once, while listening to my pastor, who is British, I wondered what our country would look and sound like today if we hadn’t resorted to violent insurrection over 200 years ago. Much like Canada, I would guess, most likely peaceful, benevolent and perhaps a little boring. Hardly tyrannical.

We proudly and loudly proclaim the Christian morals of the founders and it does seem that most if not all were spiritual men, regular church-goers and well versed in the Bible. Many, though, owned slaves and those that did not still profited from the system, which was obsessively patriarchal and repressively dominating of the poor. (Having recently visited Monticello I can assure you that Thomas Jefferson was no Christian.) I do believe that patriotism (in moderate doses) can be a good thing. I wonder, though, if Jesus would have supported the Revolutionary War if he had been there. I can envision him standing atop Bunker Hill but I suspect the day would have turned out a little differently.

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The Meat of Human Kindness (The dangerous Revelation of John)


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“I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto you were not able to bear it, neither yet now are you able”.

For Christians the cross of Jesus Christ is the pivotal point of all history – no, of all time. The cross that Jesus asks us to bear with Him is usually that of having to love and forgive not only those who despise us but also those who despise Jesus. He loves them and we must also as well.

Contrary to what I used to believe, Jesus’ Gospel of love, compassion and forgiveness is the true ‘meat’ of the Gospel. This is what we have the hardest time digesting, the idea that no matter how repugnant the act or the actor, God allows us no option but to love that person as He would.

There is a fair amount of arguing going on over whether this image of God, as represented by Jesus in the Gospels, is the entire picture. Even though Jesus is quite adamant that He is a perfect representation of God the Father, many believers say that other parts of the Bible show a different side to His nature. Not everything in ‘red letters’ is about love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

As far as ‘red letters’ go (something we have had only since 1900), there is only one book other than the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles which uses them. Could that be where most of the problem lies? It would depend upon if you believe that Jesus actually uttered those particular words or not. Whoever John was, he admits that his revelation was not ‘real’, that it was probably a dream or an hallucination much like that of Daniel’s. He refers back to Daniel quite a bit, and both Daniel and Revelation use imagery first found in the Hebrew apocrypha, such as the book of Enoch. Little of what John tells us has anything relationally to do with the Gospels. As opposed to the Gospel of love and forgiveness that Jesus shared, John’s revelation is one of vengeance and wrath, encouraging many of the church’s historical excesses as well as (I would presume) much of modern fundamentalist theology

In fact, there is no mention of the cross of Jesus in the Book of Revelation. Nowhere in this book can we see God’s love and compassion displayed as we see it portrayed on Golgotha. For years there has been controversy within the church over whether or not this book should even be included in the canon, with Martin Luther saying that he could “in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.”

The idea that the righteous will be avenged by God through bloody and violent campaigns, that there is some hyper-powerful created being who, in opposing God, is causing the world’s suffering, that those who have hurt us will someday get what’s coming to them – this is all ‘milk’. It goes down easy because it is how the world ‘works’. It’s what we are used to, it’s how Hollywood movies are staged and resolved and it puts us in the enviable position of watching the losers suffer the way we think they should. Even though John harangues various churches for becoming too comfortable with the prevailing cultures of the day, his revelation actually complements those cultures and does not run counter to them. Jesus’ Good News was the counter culture message of His time as well as all others. (It is ironic that ‘milk’ and ‘meat’ are the words used in the KJV as both these foods must be kept seperate according to Hebrew custom).

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No matter how much stock we may or may not put into the inerrancy and infallibility of scripture it must always be looked at through the lens of the Gospel. There is nothing ‘evangelical’ about the book of Revelation. Actions speak louder than words and what Jesus did with his life drowns out any arguments over what he said, red letters or not. With practice, the tough, chewy, hard-to-swallow ‘meat’ of the Gospel eventually may become the easy flowing ‘milk’ of human kindness

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