Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Islam

Manchester and the Crusaders

knight-1526945_1280

Islamic extremists are telling Muslim youths that it is their religious duty to strike back at Christian nations because they are descendants of the Crusaders who wreaked havoc upon Muslims many years ago. There are serious flaws in this simplistic approach:

1. The Crusades were efforts by the popes to expand their political influence. Religion was only a camouflage for their real purpose.

2. Crusades were directed against people who also called themselves Christians but were not Roman Catholics: The destruction of Constantinople, the seat of the Greek Orthodox faith; the Albigensian Crusade that soaked the south of France in blood.

3. The Crusades were manifestly contrary to the true faith in Jesus Christ, a fact recognized even by most Roman Catholics of our day.

4. It is absurd to label the nations of Europe and North America as Christian nations when the majority of people have no connection to a church.

5. The Crusades probably did as much harm to Christianity as they did to Islam. Besides the slaughter of innocent non Roman Catholic Christians, they have left a lasting stain on many people’s perception of Christianity.

In the same way, Islamic extremists of our day are doing more harm to their fellow Muslims than they are to Christians.

Leaving aside all thoughts about the nature of the Islamic faith, I believe most Muslim people want to live in peace. They don’t really want to be looked upon as accomplices or sympathizers of the extremists. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Muslim parents and Imams everywhere could find a way to teach their children that acts of brutality and the slaughter of innocent children are doing more harm to other Muslims than to anyone else?

Useful idiots

Russian Communism always had a throng of loyal and vocal supporters in the Western World. These were progressively minded people who endorsed the social experiment being carried out in Russia and who were blind to the brutality of the regime and the fact that conditions were not improving for the common man. They wanted so badly to believe that they were witnessing the dawn of a new age for mankind that they blithely explained away all news reports of what was actually going on.

Vladimir Lenin is said to have called them “useful idiots.” There is no documentary evidence that he actually used that term. Well, he wouldn’t have wanted those people to hear what he really thought of them, would he? There is no doubt that he found those supporters useful and kept them supplied with idealistic propaganda and financial support.

Looking at the present day propaganda wars, I am bemused by the seeming affinity between secular humanism and Islam. Could it be that each group regards the other as useful idiots?

Secular humanist governments welcome Muslim immigrants and use them as an excuse to suppress public manifestations of Judaism and Christianity. They claim that they have no anti-Jewish or anti-Christian agenda, but it just won’t do to offend Muslims by open manifestations of the Jewish or Christian faiths.

It’s highly unlikely that Muslims ever anticipated such co-operation on the part of the authorities, but they are taking advantage of it to promote their own faith and to invite people to convert to Islam.

The ultimate goals of each group are totally antithetical to each other, but for the moment they are feeding off each other to marginalize their common enemies: Christians and Jews. Which brings me to the main question: Why are these two groups so hostile to Judaism and Christianity? I believe there are two reasons.

First, while it is probably quite true that most people in both groups just want to go about their lives in peace, the leading elements in both groups cannot settle for anything less than unreserved endorsement of their principles by the general public. For the secular humanists these would be free access to abortion and euthanasia, endorsement of the LGBT lifestyle, and the belief that the state is primarily responsible for all children. For Muslims, it is unacceptable that any hint of satire or criticism should ever be voiced about Muhammad or the Qur’an, or that anyone should speak of God as having a Son.

Second, the Jewish and Christian concept of sin is anathema to both groups. While there is some difference between Jewish and Christian concepts of sin, both religions hold that sin is primarily and most importantly against God, and will be punished by God. For secular humanists and Islam alike, sin is primarily wrongs people do to other people. People will be judged by the balance of good and evil they have done in life. Both groups seem to have serious doubts whether people who do not endorse their beliefs are fit to inhabit this planet.

Now suppose that secular humanism and Islam were able to work together long enough to banish Christianity and Judaism from one country. Then the glaring differences between their beliefs would lead to total war between them. Anyone caret to predict who would win?

I’m starting to get all apocalyptic here. It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever get to that point. I’m just trying to point out what is happening in our world, and why it is happening Appeasement won’t work. May we beware of the temptation to buy peace through becoming useful idiots for either group.

The real answer is to unleash the power of the Christian faith. Jesus said “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” This is a power that transcends all political and military power. It is a power that works quietly and powerfully within the hearts of people to transform their lives. At this moment there are Muslims all over the world who are turning to faith in Jesus without the intermediary of organized missions.

The God who loves us

People who trust in pagan religions believe there are many gods. These gods spend so much time squabbling among themselves that people need to make great efforts to get their attention.

The religions of the native peoples of North America are much like that, but many of them have a creation account that sounds remarkably like the one in the book of Genesis. In most cases these people believe the Creator is not much interested in their daily lives. The Great Spirit is the one that they pray to. Some tribes believe the Great Spirit is the same as the Creator and wants to help them. Others believe the Great Spirit is a powerful spirit who might do them good, but is just as likely to trick them.

Islam teaches that there is only one god. Allah sent his angel to Mohammed to dictate the words of their holy book. Their holy book is called the Koran, or Qur’an, which means recite. The whole duty of man is to submit to the teachings of the Koran. Islam means submission. Allah is far away and does not give personal answers to prayer.

Judaism believes in the God who is revealed in the Old Testament, the God who loves His people and performed many miracles for them in ages past. Now they are waiting for Messiah to come and restore them to their rightful place of glory in the world.

Christians believe in the same God as the Jews, but the New Testament reveals aspects of God that were only hinted at in the Old Testament. God loves all mankind and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of all mankind. Now the way to heaven is open for anyone who will believe in Jesus. Not only that, but God has given the Holy Spirit to guide each believer through every day of his or her life.

The teaching that there is only one God, but He is three persons in order to better relate to us, is difficult to understand. Really, it is impossible for our human minds to understand just how it can be. But this is what the Bible teaches, and if we could understand everything about God, then we would think ourselves as great as He is.

The Trinity, the reality that God relates to us in three different ways, as three different persons, is what makes Christianity different than all other religions. It is what allows each one of us to know that God loves us personally, every day, wherever we are.

Freedom of religion

From the time that mankind began to form separate nation states it was the custom of each to have its own gods and for each to believe that their gods were superior to the gods of other nations. Thus, if any individual or family in a nation would choose to worship another god, that was treason and was usually punished by death. When one nation conquered another, that was taken as evidence of the superiority of its gods and the conquered people were required to abandon their old gods and worship the gods of those who had conquered them.

In theory, Israel and Judah were no different in this than other nations, except that their God commanded them not to make any visual representations of Him. But it was difficult for people to grasp how Yahweh, the unseen God, could be more powerful than a god that they could see. For hundreds of years they often succumbed to the desire make themselves gods that they could see, to the point of offering hideous sacrifices to these gods, even their own children.

Finally Yahweh allowed Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to conquer Judah and remove many of the people to Babylon. At first he took this as evidence that his god was greater than Yahweh. Then strange things began to happen; Nebuchadnezzar had a succession of vivid dreams, with dramatic consequences.

After the first dream was revealed and interpreted by Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar’s response was: “Of a truth that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of lords.” After the dramatic results following the second dream, the king said: “Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall ne made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.”

Thus Yahweh intervened in the affairs of a pagan nation to establish freedom of religion for His people. But He still wasn’t finished with the king of Babylon: after a third dream and a period of insanity, Nebuchadnezzar went beyond acknowledging Yahweh as the God of Daniel and his friends and said:”I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought towards me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”

Most of the Jewish captives in Babylon eventually returned to their homeland. They rebuilt the temple and seemed to have no more desire for visible gods. But they were never again a fully independent nation. There were pockets of Jews who stayed in Babylon, Egypt and other nations and were granted freedom of worship.

Christianity was never intended to be a religion confined to a single nation. The faith first spread among the people of the Jewish diaspora, but soon went far beyond them to include Gentiles of all description. The Christians were never a rival to the political power of nations, yet there was often persecution as nations struggled to maintain the primacy of their national gods.

It was not a step forward when Christianity was made the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire: it was a return to the bad old days. People who would not worship in the prescribed form in the prescribed places became enemies of the state. This included Christians who believed that state Christianity was no Christianity at all, plus Jews and later Muslims.

Someone who is forced to worship a state sponsored religion is not a true believer. Freedom of religion must include the freedom to change your religion. None of us want to see one of our own forsake our religion for something else. But forcing him to stay does not make him a believer. And if their is no freedom to leave, is there truly freedom for someone else to choose to unite with us?

This freedom is the cornerstone of all other freedoms, but it is under threat today from within and without.  Many people in our society feel pressured to acquiesce to the beliefs that are seen to be politically correct. Universities were supposed to be places for the free exchange of ideas; today it seems there is only one right way to think on most campuses.

Islam has never had a theology of freedom of religion. The fierce conflicts that are happening in Islamic nations are largely attempts by different Islamic factions to eliminate other factions that they deem heretical. We are inviting refugees from these horrors to come and settle in our country. Most of them simply want to escape the violence and live in peace. Yet it’s still not likely that the majority really get the concept of freedom of religion. It needs to be impressed upon them that Canada is a land of freedom in all ways, and that we will not look kindly on those who deem it necessary to kill someone who leaves their faith. Can Islam really adapt to living in such freedom?

God, jihad, crusades

“The Roman church had an unswerving belief in itself as the vessel of divine grace in the world and the source of all divine authority, ordained by God and founded by His Son Jesus Christ on the ministry of His disciple St Peter, the first Bishop of Rome. In such a mindset it was impossible to conceive of the Roman Church as doing wrong, or of Rome admitting any rival to an equality of authority. To maintain the power and to extend the sway of Roman Catholic Christianity in the service of the Prince of Peace, even warfare was permitted.”

-excerpt from the Introduction to A Brief History of The Crusades, © Geoffrey Hindley, 2003, published by Constable & Robinson Ltd., London

Of course, the representatives of Islam have the same solid convictions about their prophet and their role in the world. After the death of Muhammad in 632, the caliphs, the “Commanders of the Faithful,” embarked on a massive campaign of jihad to extend the reign of Islam throughout Arabia, North Africa and into Europe.

Representatives of Islam today say that it is a religion of peace and that jihad means to struggle in the way of God, primarily in the form of an internal spiritual struggle against injustice and for purification in order to attain to paradise.

The Roman Catholic tradition of pilgrimage had much the same purpose, to step aside from the ordinary cares of life and devote oneself to an activity that would cleanse the soul from guilt, and prepare for heaven. The first crusade of 1095 was proclaimed by Pope Urban II as a pilgrimage. Thousands of people set off on this new pilgrimage, pushed by a profound fear of judgment on their sins and the promise that participating in the pilgrimage would ensure the pardon of their sins and entry into heaven. If they happened to die along the way, or in battle against the unbelieving Muslims, their salvation was ensured.

So they set out with the sign of the cross on their banners. Cross in French is croix and the whole project came to be called a croisade, which led to the English word crusade. Thus began centuries of cruel bloodshed, each side motivated by the firm conviction that they were doing the will of their God and thereby earning their salvation.

I won’t enter into a discussion on the correct meaning of jihad, but I think I can safely say that the Crusades were a perversion of the Christian faith and the teachings of the New Testament. Not all the crusades were directed against the followers of Allah, some were directed against the true followers of Jesus Christ. The Albigensian Crusades were directed against people who sought only to live out their faith in peace and who had no ambition to enter into the realm of secular authority. This was considered an intolerable affront to the authority of the Church of Rome and led to particularly cruel and bloody persecution.

As a spiritual descendent of the Anabaptists, Albigenses, and whatever other name the peaceful Christians were given in past eras, I want to clearly state that the Crusades were not a valid manifestation of the true faith in Jesus Christ.  The mere fact that our spiritual forefathers repudiated the use of force in matters of faith was enough to make them hated by the perpetrators of the Crusades.

As a corollary of this, perhaps it would be well to avoid terms like evangelistic crusades or campaigns. Evangelism should not be carried out in a way that could be understood as an attempt o conquer others.

Our Muslim neighbours

In our worship service yesterday evening, a minister told us about a young couple living in an apartment building in New York City. There was a Muslim family living in the same building, with children the same age as the children of this couple. The children played together, became friends, and the parents also became friends, often visiting each other. The young man in this account had been feeling under the weather for a few days when the Muslim couple dropped in for a visit one evening. His Muslim friend advised him to just take the next day off work and he decided to do that. This man worked in an office in the twin towers and the next day was September 11, 2001. The point of this little story was that taking the day off saved his life.

As for the Muslim friends, they were never seen again. They left quietly and quickly with no forwarding address. This raises two possibilities: either the husband knew what was going to happen on 9/11 and wanted to warn his friend; or, he knew nothing at all about what was going to happen and was overcome by the fear that his friendly advice might bring him under suspicion.

This brings us to the present day where our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, refers to ISIS and other groups and individuals involved in terrorist activity as jihadists.  Muslim organizations are objecting quite strongly, saying the original meaning of jihad has nothing to do with terrorism and that all Muslims should not be stigmatized by referring to terrorists in this way. President Obama, on the other hand, will not make a connection between Islam and terrorism for fear of radicalizing all Muslims.

Who has it right? I don’t want to get political here, but the fact is that the terrorists refer to themselves as jihadists, and the stated goal of ISIS is to establish a Muslim Caliphate. I am quite willing to admit that most Muslims in our country are not in sympathy with the terrorists. Most have come here because they preferred the tolerance and stability of Canada to conditions in Islamic nations. I am happy to hear their leaders taking pains to dissociate themselves from the radicals and making real efforts to reach their young people with teachings of moderation and respect for others.

I also realize that the victims of these terrorist movements are mostly other Muslims. That brings up a point that needs to be made. Much of the hatred of radical Muslims toward Western society is based on memories of the Crusades, when supposedly Christian armies were sent out to drive back and subjugate the forces of Islam. There is no doubt that many atrocities against Muslims were perpetrated by the Crusaders. But were the Crusaders true representatives of Christianity?

I call myself an Anabaptist, a spiritual heir of a Christian movement that was also the victim of numerous Crusades, and the Inquisition. The plain fact of history is that for hundreds of years the same Roman Catholic Church that was responsible for the Crusades against Muslims also systematically hunted down, tortured and killed many thousands of Christians whose sole offense was that they did not want to be Roman Catholic.

There is nothing sinister about the word catholic, it was originally used to describe the Christian faith as being applicable to all people, of all nations, of all eras. But the Roman Catholic Church appropriated that word for themselves and in the minds of many brought such disrepute upon it that they refuse to use it today. That is not the fault of the word.

It seems to me that Muslims will have to get used to the fact that jihad has been appropriated by the terrorists and it is probably no longer possible to dissociate it from that in the public mind. I am quite willing to believe that most Muslims in our country have as much horror of terrorism as I do. I wish them well in their efforts to make a clear distinction between themselves and the extremists, in the minds of their own young people and in the minds of the general public.

France this week

Today is the release date in France of a new novel by Michel Houllebecq entitled “Soumission” (Submission). In the book, the French presidential election of 2022 pits the candidate of a new Muslim political party against the candidate of the Front National. The Muslim candidate wins, then goes on to transform the public schools into Islamic schools, bans women in the workplace and promotes polygamy. This improbable scenario is an attempt to capitalize on current fears and the book had a massive first printing.

Le Point, a weekly news magazine, has just published a special edition this month which promises to tell the real story of the personal  life of Mohamed.

This week, the front page of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satirical newspaper, carried the headline “Still no attacks in France.”  Beneath it was a cartoon of a jihadist saying “Just wait – we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s resolutions.”

Today, two men forced their way into an editorial meeting of Charlie Hebdo with Kalashnikovs and gunned down all those gathered there. Ten are dead, eleven more are in hospital. Two policemen are also dead. Other than shouting “Allahu Akbar!” they spoke impeccable French. They made their escape, but last reports say the driver of their car is now in custody.

What are we to make of all this?

First, it would appear that the Anglo-saxon malady of political correctness has not yet infected the French.

Secondly, the editors of Charlie Hebdo are on record as stating that humour and religion are incompatible. Islamists are in complete agreement with this, but their method of making their point is much more brutal.

Thirdly, those who found Charlie Hebdo’s brand of humour to be distasteful could simply ignore it. No one was compelled to buy it or read it. Radical Islamists do not want anyone to have freedom of choice.

Fourthly, as Christians we should mourn the deaths of fellow human beings, whether we agree with their philosophy or not. We should also mourn the twisted minds of those who believe they are doing service to God by killing others.

The only hope

A few days ago Montreal daily La Presse published a cartoon by Serge Chapleau, with two frames, entitled Teenage Crisis 2000 and Teenage Crisis 2014. Both frames picture a young man with a surly, vacant expression, wearing cargo pants that appear in imminent danger of descending to his ankles. In the first frame he is holding a skateboard; in the second he is holding a Kalishnikov and wearing an ammunition vest. It is an apt comment on the distemper of our times.

Young people are conscious that something is rotten in the state of our world. They feel an apprehension of a great conflagration that will sweep away the detritus of our corrupt world. Some opt to make as much money as they can before the fire reaches them, others opt to have as much fun as they can, and still others feel compelled to take an active part in bringing on the conflagration.

Several generations ago, communism was the great hope of those disenchanted with the emptiness of materialistic society. Communism promised the great hope of an intense class struggle which would be followed by a reborn humanity and a classless society. Alas, communism only produced more of the same envy, greed and class consciousness.

Now the same sort of disillusioned young people are turning to Islam as the great hope for righting the wrongs of our world. Eventually they will learn to their sorrow that Islam has no power to produce a better kind of person. The savagery and cruelty of the groups waging jihad should be sufficient evidence to show that jihad is not going to make the world a kinder, gentler place.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jeremiah identified the root of the problem – the depravity of the human heart. No philosophy, political ideal, or religion that does not admit this problem, has a hope of improving our world.

Ezekiel foretold the solution: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The birth of Jesus Christ was the first step in God’s plan to make it possible for mankind to be transformed from the inside out – one person at a time.

There are no shortcuts. Forced conversion makes no change to the depraved heart. Watering down the cost of redemption makes it ineffective. The depravity of the human heart could only be dealt with by the crucifixion of the only man whose heart was not depraved. The depravity of our own heart requires us to deny ourselves (the natural inclinations of our depraved heart), take up our cross daily (dying daily to those inclinations) and following Jesus. We must deal with our depraved heart to allow the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives and incline us to live as Jesus lived.

There is a very real danger that, after we have become a Christian and been set free from the compulsions of our depraved heart, we will begin to see ourselves as somehow superior to other people. This is part of the deceptiveness of our heart that Jeremiah spoke of. We cannot help anyone else find their way to freedom if we forget that we are no different than they are. The only difference is that we have washed in the blood of Jesus Christ and allowed the power of the Holy Spirit to govern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

The failure of communism and Islam to provide any real benefit to humanity should be evident by now. The world is waiting for something that does work. Many will find it too hard. The gate into the kingdom of God is narrow, but it is still the only real hope of mankind.

Living faith

It appears that many Muslims in Syria and Iraq are beginning to realize that the Wahabi branch of Islam is not their friend. As long as Wahabi-inspired terrorism seemed to be mainly directed at Jews, Christians, and Western civilization in general, they could cheer for supposed Islamic victories and overlook attacks against other Muslims. But now ISIS is aimed solely at other Muslims and people are rethinking their admiration for the teachings of the Wahabi movement.

Muslims like to claim that Christians are divided into many conflicting denominations and Muslims are all one. This ignores the fundamental differences between Sunnis and Shiites that are behind many Middle East conflicts. Then there are the Alawis, Druzes, Ahmadiyas and other smaller groups, regarded as heretics by both Sunnis and Shiites. The Wahabis are the hardline ultra-orthodox wing of the Sunnites and consider all the others to be apostate. This doesn’t sound much like unity to me.

The confusion of so many differing conflicting voices, all claiming to speak for the Christian faith is not a strong argument for Christianity. We will not improve matters by trying to paper over those differences and pretending to all get along, which would mean agreeing to not believe much of anything.

Is the only alternative to try and prove everybody else wrong and stridently drown out their voices? How do we seek the truth, take a stand for the truth, without being curmudgeons? How did Jesus do it?

Jesus used many uncomplimentary terms to describe the pharisees, such as “blind leaders of the blind.” But he never stooped to using personal insults. He was pointing out the disconnect between what they professed to believe and the way they conducted their lives. The gospels report that many of the pharisees believed in Him.

In all He said and did, Jesus was uncompromising in His denunciation of sin, yet sinners still felt His love. As Christians, we often claim to “hate the sin but love the sinner,” but do people living in sin really feel that from us? Or do they experience scorn and rejection?

It is not within our human ability to produce a genuine Christ-like attitude. It is when our lives are animated by the presence of the Holy Spirit that we can reject sin in all its forms without rejecting the people captured in those sins.

All the squabbling over truth does nothing to prove the truth of the Christian faith. Yet truth is important, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Truth in the abstract form can never set us free. Truth that transforms our lives and makes us more like Christ is the only real evidence of the reality of Christian faith.

Is there an antidote for extremism?

First a little background for those who may not be up on the news from Canada. There have been two incidents this week of what one newspaper writer calls “microterrrorism.” On Monday in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Québec an automobile driver struck two uniformed soldiers, killing one and injuring the other. Wednesday in Ottawa, a man shot a soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial, then ran through the hall of the Parliament building firing at random until he was shot and killed by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Both of the attackers were young Canadian-born men who had recently converted to Islam. In both cases police and security responded very quickly. There were no other injuries in the Parliament building and the first attacker didn’t get far before he was captured.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke today, calling for prayers of support for the families involved and said that Canada would not be intimidated. We must be vigilant, but we will continue to be a free, open and safe society.

A prominent Canadian Imam, Syed Soharwardy of Calgary, said today that imams should be investigating the backgrounds of new converts and those with recent problems with crime or drug abuse should not be allowed to convert. He also urged other imams to follow up with new converts to ensure they do not fall under the influence of radicals.

Mr. Soharwardy sounds like a moderate, yet some other things he has said leave room for doubt. The problem is that Islam has no doctrine of the separation of mosque and state. Living under the laws of a secular state is always second best. Living in a nation with religious freedom for all is second best.

I want to believe that there are moderate Muslims. I want to believe that the majority of Muslims who have come to this country have come to get away from religious intolerance and violence. But sometimes I find myself wondering if moderate Muslim is an oxymoron, at least at the organisational level.

Nevertheless, we will do far more harm than good if we treat all individual Muslims as suspect. We need to do our utmost to reach out to them and draw them into the fabric and tradition of our country and encourage them to leave behind the attitudes and suspicions they brought with them from their homelands.

Syed Soharwardy is quoted in one place as saying that 20 to 30 Canadians are converting to Islam every week. How many Canadian Muslims are converting to Christianity? It is happening in some places. What are we doing to give Muslim people an attractive and realistic picture of what Christianity is all about?

We need to realize that most Muslims are simply Muslims by birth and may not even have much grasp of the teachings of Islam. Most of them have been given an entirely unrealistic picture of Christianity. Let’s do all we can to bring the real picture into clearer focus.

%d bloggers like this: