Monthly Archives: June 2007
I must admit that living here in America often makes me feel like I am living in two separate worlds. The one world is the world I live in and interact with people every day. That is the American world, and it consists largely of going to church, eating Taco Bell, and watching Spider-Man. The other world that I live in is the near-daily communication I have with Christian leaders living in places like Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Senegal. With the exception of Nepal, I have been to these places more than once, inluding actually living in one of the places. With my memories of my travels and my near daily communications, I am reminded how the concerns of my brothers and sisters living around the world are drastically different than my rather petty concerns here in America.
I receive a report from a ministry we support in Pakistan and I am reminded how my Pastor friend (who is around my same age) is concerned with building a Bible School, an orphanage, and helping the poor. I receive a report from Nepal and, although I am delighted they are using the mega-voice players that I sent them (a tool from the God Story Project that plays the gospel story in multiple local languages), I am reminded that some of their pastors have just been beaten for the sake of the gospel. I am delighted that a pastor in India is in the process of translating my book “The Road Back Home” and plans to distribute it among the pastors under his organization, but then I am reminded that in my world back home, how many pastors do I oversee that would be interested in reading one of my books? Rather than relishing in my new celebrity status in one tiny part of the world, I know full well that my Indian pastor friend would be delighted to receive any Christian literature from an American Christian, since gospel literature is so scarce in his corner of the world. Living in two worlds can be quite humbling at times.
In today’s post-9/11 world, one of the most popular ways for an American Christian leader to get attention is to demonize the Islamic religion. The standard way of doing this is usually to cite a few war-like passages in the Koran and then to say how 9/11 proves that Islam is a violent and evil religion. Part of the inspiration in writing my Good Muslim post, taken from the story of the Good Samaritan, came from a conversation I had with a friend who couldn’t understand why I disagreed with his view that all Muslims have a propensity towards violence. For my friend, since the “spirit of Islam” itself is demonic, then it follows that Muslims themselves can not be trusted. Most of my moderate Christian friends would agree that we must judge individuals by the content of their character and not by their religious affiliation (which is one of the points that Jesus was making in the parable of the Good Samaritan), but I have to ask a further question, is it right to “demonize” Islam?
The first part of the question is theological. I’ve dealt with this issue in other posts, so I will not revise my arguments here, except to say that from a Biblical standpoint, there is a mixture of truth in error in other religious traditions outside of Biblical revelation. That is to say, both the grace of God and the deception of the devil are present in varying degrees depending on the tradition in question.
The second part of the question is a more practical one. Does it do any good for Christian leaders to demonize Islam by citing passages from the Koran? I say no and here is why. Pretend for a moment that I am an anti-Semitic fascist dictator (for some this might not be such a stretch, but humor me for a moment)and I want to make a case not simply against Jews, but against Judaism. All I would have to do is to point to the Old Testament and to show how God ordered the Jews to slaughter entire tribes (in some cases, they were ordered to leave nothing breathing alive, this would include women, children, and animals). I could then point to hundreds of verses to show how Jews are ordered to spread their religion around the world. For example, there are hundreds of verses that tell Jews to “proclaim his goodness among the nations” and there are numerous verses that speak of Israel’s priestly role as light to the nations. I could talk about who Judaism teaches that Jews will one day rule the world (think about the Messianic passages in Isaiah) and make the conclusion that Judaism is a violent and evil religion seeking to take over the world.
And the conslusion would be wrong. Even though Orthodox Jews today continue to read the Old Testament, I have not met one Jew interested in establishing a world-wide theocracy. Much less, I’ve never met a Jew even remotely interested in converting non-Jews even through peaceful means. And yet, this is exactly what Jews are commanded to do in the Old Testament.
What does this mean? It means that somewhere, somehow, in the course of history the religion of Judaism liberalized. Jews found a way to interpret their Scriptures in a way that is compatible with societal norms. If Jews can do this with the Old Testament, which is every bit if not more violent than the Koran, then certainly Muslims should be allowed (and indeed encouraged) to interpret their holy book in a way that is compatible with today’s world. Even if one believes that Islam is indeed violent and incompatible with the modern world, it still does no good to demonize the religion because this only drives moderate Muslims into the arms of the radicals. Do we really want to make Bin Laden’s case for him?