The fault line in our hearts

the_battle_of_viennaToday I experienced an earthquake — in my thinking. What do I believe?

My personal “earthquake” was triggered by a article that a priest friend of mine emailed me: Is terror intrinsic to Islam? by Father James Schall, S.J. [Click here if you’d like to read the entire article.]

Basically Father Schall’s opinion (and he strongly emphasizes that the article is only his opinion) is stated in the first sentence of his article: “The Islamic State and the broader jihadist movements throughout the world that agree with it are, I think, correct in their basic understanding of Islam.” Here are his major points:

  • The purpose of Islam, with the often violent means it can and does use to accomplish it, is to extend its rule, in the name of Allah, to all the world. The world cannot be at “peace” until it is all Muslim.
  • Jihadism, as it were, is a religious movement before it is anything else. (They believe) Allah does grant violence a significant place. It is over the truth of this position, or better the inability to disprove it, that the real controversy lies.
  • It may be possible for some to read Islam as a religion of  “peace.” But its “peace,” in its own terms, means the peace of Allah within its boundaries. With the rest of the outside world, it is at war in order to accomplish a religious purpose, namely, to have all submitted to Allah in the passive way that the Qur’an specifies.
  • In Muslim doctrine, everyone born into the world is a Muslim. No one has any right or reason not to be. Hence, everyone who is not a Muslim is to be converted or eliminated. This is also true of the literary, monumental, and other signs of civilizations or states that are not Muslim. They are destroyed as not authorized by the Qur’an.
  • We are in fact dealing with a religion that claims to be true in insisting that it is carrying out the will of Allah, not its own.
  • It is easy to write this movement off as fanatical and ruthless, which it is. To the outside world, it sounds horrific, but I suspect not to those who believe its truth and see the current revival of Islam with relief. The second or third class ranking of Islam in the modern world is over. But to the degree that we misjudge what is motivating the renewal of Islam, we will never understand why it exists as it does.

As I read this article, I felt a quaking, first of all, as a reaction of “Oh no! This can’t be true.” The quake then spread into thinking about history and the conflict between the West and Islam that has been going on for well over 1000 years. Then I thought of Armageddon in Revelations and the final battle between good and evil.  Could I be living in the early stages of this climatic war?

What is the answer?

Interestingly (and I think it was grace that provided this to me) there was an article in the Sun-Herald today about the reactions to the “rising tension in the community since the terrorism threat level was raised.” A Muslim who was interviewed said, “We just hope it goes back to how it was before . . . we just want to live in this great country.” Non-Muslims have joined in promoting harmony in the community. There is  a  woman’s group called WISH (Women in Solidarity with Hajabis). The Buddhists are organizing a solidarity march “so people can show support for the Muslim community.” 250 mosques around Australia sent a message that the “protection of human life is one of the five basic rights in Islam and as a Muslim we have a duty to protect humanity.”

Each of us need to look at all the evidence and decide which side we come down on. One side is the historical evidence Father Schall points toward, and the other side is the evidence of love and hate in our contemporary society. The future will be born out of each person’s decision and commitment to act according to their belief in this answer.

Anger and Mercy

Over the weekend here in Sydney there was a small riot in protest of the outrageous amateur film posted on YouTube about the Prophet Mohammed, and a sermon on mercy in the small church I go to. While the priest did not make the connection with the riots, the link between anger and mercy occurred to me.

Anger and Mercy

There is a lot of anger among Australians at the behaviour of the protestors. “Send them back to their own country!” (Notice I did not say Islamic protestors, because while the marchers may be Muslims, their outrageous slogans definitely don’t represent the approach of the vast majority of that faith.)  So what are we non-Muslims so angry about? Riots tend to trigger atavistic reactions — is that what we are feeling? Are these protestors wrong to march against the blasphemy of this YouTube video? I don’t think so. Perhaps it was the slogans they carried, some of which were extremely offensive. But we don’t get as outraged by off-the-wall polemics when they are used by other protestors, such as union members’ on strike. Do we think that Muslims really mean to start a Middle East-type war here in Australia? Doesn’t that say more about our fears than any realistic possibility? Whatever we are feeling, I suggest that we also ought to seek mercy for these protestors.

What a strange word mercy is, so inappropriate in most situations. Mercy means that the guilty person is simply forgiven not condemned. Mercy is contrary to this common atavistic feeling we have that someone (or some group) should get what they deserve. But why ought we to seek mercy? Basically because it is a higher form of human behaviour, which, for Christians, represents how God treats us. It is at the core of the second half of the Our Father, Jesus’ own prayer — “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” God, you have every right to be angry with us but we ask you to treat us with mercy, as we treat others. Mercy not only applies to the guilty one, it applies to us as well. Mercy transforms anger into love, in our hearts and actions — and perhaps also in the hearts and actions of the guilty ones. Surely that is why we ought to seek mercy for these angry protestors. And seek, not just wish it would happen. Be peace-bringers, for example, between Muslims and Christians for a start.

If you need any added impetus for seeking mercy for the protestors, read the editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald by Waleed Aly called “The Incredible Muslim Hulk proves to be no friend of Islam either.” http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/the-incredible-muslim-hulk-proves-to-be-no-friend-of-islam-either-20120916-260e8.html#ixzz26g3vhn9Z

Three Cheers for Empathy AND Religion!

In a recent Sydney Morning Herald essay entitled Evil lives when empathy dies, Simon Baron-Cohen wrote “Unlike religion, empathy cannot, by definition, oppress anyone.” I applaud his praise of empathy but, intentionally or not, the author has reinforced a stereotype — Religion equates to oppression. Christians need to understand that such statements represent the conventional wisdom of our culture and how many people typically see religion, including Christianity. If you ask the average man on the street to do a word association test, when you say ‘religion,’ I wager you will get mainly negative responses, all centered around religion limiting human freedom, historically and in the present.

Empathy accepts  the situation of another person, just as it is. We show genuine concern for another human being. What does religion do? Does it accept people empathically and show concern for them, or something else? To answer this, we need to look at the human situation as God sees it. Only then can we understand what we humans are attempting to do — and how well we have succeeded — when we create an organised way to relate to God, otherwise called religion.

A fundamental axiom of Judiasm and Christianity is that God created men and women to be free, like He is free. “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.” [Genesis 5:1] So, a key purpose of any religion ought to be to assist men and women in recognising that we are like God and meant to be free. It is evident that historically, all religions, not just Christianity have gone astray from this purpose. So, ought we now decide to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ and eliminate all religions?

If one doesn’t believe in God, then religion is extraneous. But if you do believe,  then Religion is essential to discovering our true freedom and our likeness to God. We learn about God from others. Human beings can have some contact with God in a spiritual sense without religion. But we can never know God as God is because God is essentially unknowable unless He communicates with us. All the major religions — Judiasm, Christianity, Islam — base their authority on God speaking to us and revealing who He is. The Christian religion claims that God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ is the full and final revelation of who God is. Making such a claim, Christians perhaps have more to answer for, beacsue so many men now conclude based on the historical evidence that man now longer needs religion!

Bernard Cooke sums up the Christian religion’s responsibility like this: “Christianity’s relevance is directly proportionate to the extent to which it can make the presence of Christ effective in the lives of men.” [in Christian Community: Response to Reality] If men do not encounter Jesus when they encounter the Christian religion, then we must change whatever has created that situation! That is the most fundamental “burning platform” for transforming local churches!

Reading the Bible, it is clear that people experienced Jesus through his empathy! The parable of the Good Samaritan makes that abundantly clear — and its message to  Christians is also clear: “Go and do likewise.” If men experience Christianity as rules and judgment and limitation of freedom, and do not experience empathy, then we have to expect that they will not see Jesus in our actions. Christianity without empathy is a false religion!

 

Christians and Muslims; A Way Forward

Jesus shines his light on the  most difficult issues we face in the early 21st century. Let me illustrate this by discussing a possible way forward toward peaceful collaboration between Christians and Muslims, to solve many of the economic and social issues our world faces. The issues between Islam and Christianity are extremely complex and I will not discuss them in depth.  Rather, I want to illustrate how one might discern the mind of Jesus regarding the entire global relationship, both cooperation and conflict, that exists between us today.

The mind of Jesus is especially plain in the Bible about the relationship between Christians and Muslims. In Chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, Jesus has an extended conversation with a Samaritan woman. She states the situation between Jews and Samaritan’s very succinctly at the outset, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans).” [John 4:9] Jesus’ mind is completely clear in his response. He simple ignores such conventional distinctions, and proceeds to engage in a deep spiritual conversation with this stranger. He offers her ‘living water’ and invites her into the Father’s household, “Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’” [John 4:21-23] Then he reveals who he is to her, the Messiah, which he reveals to very few others in his public ministry. At that point, his disciples joined Jesus and the woman and were surprised to see him talking with a woman (let alone a Samaritan!) Jesus uses the opportunity to teach them, about the harvest: “I tell you open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” obviously speaking about the woman and her friends that were coming out to see the person she told them about, Jesus. [John 4:35] [1]

In this story, and in many other ways throughout his ministry, Jesus showed his followers that man’s distinctions and prejudices are not his. The parable of the Good Samaritan showed that goodness trumps religious membership.  He emphasized that following him means associating with whatever wounded person needs to be healed. “[The Pharisees asked] ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. But go and learn what this means [from Hosea 6:6] ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” [Matthew 9:11-13]

To illustrate how a local church might begin to apply the mind of Jesus toward issues between Christians and Muslims in the current global situation (and toward all religions for that matter); I will quote from Hans Küng’s magnum opus Islam.

  • “In an age of ecumenical awareness – more than ever after the attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001, in Madrid on 11 March 2004 and in London on 7 July 2005 – I want to argue for the overall responsibility of all for all. . . Such inter-religious responsibility means we must all be interested in the well-being of Islam.” [2]
  • “No religion – neither Judaism nor Christianity nor Islam (nor the religions of Indian and Chinese origin) – can be satisfied with the status quo in this time of upheaval . . . Like Judaism and Christianity, in this transitional phase of world history Islam is involved in a fundamental conflict of tradition and innovation.” [3]
  • “Will the Islamic peoples, who are caught up in a tremendous crisis of existence at the height of modernity as a result of their confrontation with western imperialism and colonialism and with European science and economics, technology and democracy, succeed in accepting the challenge of a new era and work creatively toward a new post-modern form of Islam? In this globalized world, all the great religions are in transition from the crisis of modernity into a ‘postmodernity’ of some kind (or under whatever name) and are thus exposed to the same kind of structural problems.” [4]

I think the lessons to be learned by a local church from this brief discussion are this. First, we can have hope that even the greatest global conflicts can be transformed, when the mind of Jesus changes our narrow way of thinking about our neighbor and strangers. Second, because we Christians are going through the same emergence from a ‘cocoon’ as our Islamic neighbors, we can empathize with each other, and perhaps even heal each other. And finally, in our own small corner of the world, we can heal some of the wounds that underlie this global conflict, by following Jesus’ Principles as we seek out the Muslim ‘strangers’ and learn from them about our own path toward transformation. The local progress we jointly create with our Muslim neighbors can ripple throughout the world and help transform it too.


[1] I am not trying to make the case that Christians must ‘convert’ Muslims. To the contrary, I believe that this story shows Jesus’ invitation as well as acceptance and respect of the Samaritan woman personal journey to the Father. He offers her living water (the Spirit) unconditionally, while also telling her that he is the Messiah. This is obviously an issue that some churches may wish to debate, to discover the mind of Jesus in this situation. I am simply inviting local churches to remain open to the possibility that Jesus’ mind looks beyond our certainties.

[2] Hans Küng, Islam, Past, Present and Future, Oneworld, Oxford, 2007, p. 24

[3] Küng, Ibid, p. 22

[4] Küng, Ibid, p. 22