As I reflected on the latest atrocities, in Jakarta and Ouagadougou, perpetrated by those who claim to be followers of Allah, my mind went to a well known quotation: “A fanatic is a man who does what he believes God would do, if God really understood the facts of the situation.” I don’t know the name of the author, but it seems to me that the person who seeks to kill in the name of his god is implicitly acknowledging that his god is powerless.
This is true for religious fanatics of all kinds. The Crusaders were sent out in the name of God to destroy the infidels, which included Muslims and anyone who called himself Christian but didn’t hold to the Crusaders brand of Christianity. The result has been a millennium of hatred of Christianity by Muslims and the disgrace of Christianity in Europe.
Christianity was never meant to be a state religion, imposed by force on unwilling citizens. Genuine Christians have often faced persecution, from the apostolic era to modern times. Often the persecution has come from those in authority who called themselves Christians. Let me make two things clear:
- When someone calls himself a Christian and tries to silence, or even kill, someone else who calls himself a Christian, we can safely assume that the first person does not really know God or Christianity.
- When someone is opposed, oppressed or persecuted because he calls himself a Christian, and that person does not respond in anger, hatred or violence, that is good evidence that he truly is a Christian.
“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. ” (The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:25; 27-29).
This is another way of saying that faith, love and compassion have more true power than all the things that the rest of the world takes to be emblems of power. The power of God to change people’s hearts and lives may seem to be weakness, yet it is a power that is still at work after swords and cannons have turned to rust.
Historically, the faith has spread most rapidly in times of persecution. When people see someone mistreated, tortured and killed for no other reason than his faith in God, when that person was seen as someone who loved his neighbour as himself, and when such a person has faced death without fear, that has been a powerful witness to all who look on. “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”
Zealous Christians who do no evil to others but rather seek their good and do not try to force their faith on others, are not fanatics.