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Showing posts with label muslims. Show all posts
Showing posts with label muslims. Show all posts

Monday, June 20, 2016

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?



Last December, a Wheaton College professor ignited a firestorm when she created a Facebook post including a statement that Muslims and Christians "worship the same God." This exposed a very interesting debate that has gone on within Christendom for some time with devote Christians and good thinkers coming down on both sides of the issue.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? The question may not be as easy as it first appears. Certainly, there are vast differences in the way each faith understands the nature and attributes of God. Jews and Christians hold to a God that is all-loving and who revealed himself through the Old Testament prophets and writings. Christians would go on to distinguish God as a Triune being, one who is three in persons but single in essence. Muslims would reject these descriptions.

However, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do share some beliefs about God. Each of the faiths are monotheistic in what can be termed a classically theistic way. That is, each understands God as a being who is eternal, self-existing, and necessary. There is no conceivable universe where God does not exist, for any possible universe must have its origin in God. Realize by defining God this way, one defines God as a unique being, distinct from everything else. There can only be one necessary being. So if each faith points to the necessary being as their God, doesn't that mean we worship the same God?

Getting God's Properties Wrong

Philosopher Francis Beckwith argues that we must be talking about the same being. At his blog, Beckwith argues that while Muslims may get many properties attributed to God wrong, that in itself doesn't invalidate the fact they are referring to the God recognized by Christians and Jews. He explains:
But doesn't Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn't this mean that they indeed worship different "Gods"? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of "being a father to several of SHs children." On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of "being a father to several of SHs children."

Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.1

Distorting God Beyond Recognition

I appreciate Beckwith's point. Are Christians willing to say that Abraham didn't worship the same God we do because he wouldn't have ascribed the property "Trinity" to him? Yet, I don't think his analogy is quite correct. The Trinity is not the only aspect of God where there is division. The points at which Fred and Bob disagree about Jefferson are not substantial to describing the third president one way or the other. However, if Fred held that TJ was born in Virginia in 1743 and wrote the Declaration of independence while Bob held that TJ was born in Chicago in 1920 and played a trumpet, then it is his assumption that he is speaking about the third president of the U.S. that is in error. There are too many points of difference between the descriptions.

Here's the problem. The Muslim conception of God reminds me of what you get out of a pressed penny machine at Disney land or some other tourist spot. You start with a penny, which is recognized as legal tender and must be recognized as payment debts in the U.S.2 If you owe a creditor $50, he is obligated to accept 5000 pennies as payment. However, let's say you ran all 5,000 pennies though the Disneyland penny press so they now look like the image at the top of this post. The press distorted the penny so much it can no longer be called a penny. It can no longer be used as legal tender; it's value is only measured by the price of  souvenir's copper bullion on the open market.3

This is exactly what Islam has done to the concept of God. While it began with the classically theist conception of God from the Jews and Christians, it has squished, stretched and distorted the description of God to the point where it has become unrecognizable by Christians or Jews. The Islamic God is capable of deception and evil (Surah 4.142, 14.4). He is not only non-Trinitarian, but anti-Trinitarian claiming that Christians are sentenced to hell (5.72). The Islamic god is not a father with whom one may develop a personal relationship (5.18).The Islamic God can and does change his mind, not in an anthropomorphized or conditional way, but a true change of intent. The God of Islam is actually capricious and not at all trustworthy.

When one looks at how the Allah is described in the Qur'an, it becomes clear that the properties he holds are not those of a necessary being. The descriptions don't fit; they're completely out of place and undermine the idea of a God who is the source of morality, love, and existence. To claim the Islamic God the same necessary being referred to by Christians like trying to use a pressed penny in a gumball machine. It simply doesn't fit.

References

1. Beckwith, Francis J. "Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?" The Catholic Thing. The Catholic Thing, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/12/17/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/.
2. "Legal Tender Status." Resource Center. United States Treasury, 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/legal-tender.aspx.
3. "Mutilated Currency and Bent or Partial Coin." Federal Reserve Bank Services. Federal Reserve Banks, 2016. Web. 20 June 2016. https://www.frbservices.org/operations/currency/mutilated_currency_and_coin.html.

Friday, February 06, 2015

What Were the Crusades? Busting Some Myths

Just what were the Crusades? In his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, President Obama likened the evil savagery that ISIS has been perpetrating in the name of Islam to Christianity and the Crusades. First, it makes no sense to with a wave of one's rhetorical hand dismiss one evil because of another. In logic, that is known as the tu quoque (Latin for "you too!") fallacy. Yet, there is another problem with the president's comparison: it's based on a very common, very popular, but very wrong misconception about what the Crusades were about and what actually happened historically.



I want to take a moment to play myth-buster and show why the modern assumptions are very much backwards and why the Crusades are not parallel with the ISIS killings we read in the headlines today.

What Were the Crusades? Myth – Christians Unilaterally Attacked Muslim Lands

This seems to be the foundational myth in misunderstanding what were the Crusades. Many believe  that Christians gathered their armies from the various parts of Europe to march into Muslim territory and conquer anyone believing in Islam. Usually, Christians are painted as religious bigots trying to stamp out the unbeliever through warfare and violence. In a supplemental text to the video game "Crusade of Kings, " R. Scott Peoples writes "The soldiers of the First Crusade appeared basically without warning, storming into the Holy Land with the avowed—literally—task of slaughtering unbelievers."This is a popular picture, but one that's dead wrong.

What Were the Crusades? Reality –Hundreds of Years of Muslim Aggression

Thomas F. Madden summarizes distinguished Crusades expert Dr. Jonathan Riley-Smith and writes, "All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction attacks against Christians or their Church."2 The Muslim aggression towards Christians in Christian lands had been recurring over hundreds of years. Muslim invaders had swept across Northern Africa in the seventh century while simultaneously conquering Christian areas in Palestine, up through Russia and southern Italy. For another three hundred years, they attacked Christian southwestern Europe and west Asia.

Scott Thong in his article "Christianity vs Islam – Who Started This Whole Mess?" presents a detailed timeline of all Muslim aggression prior to the Christian response, but I've reproduced a condensed version below:3
  • 634 A.D. Muslim invasion of Byzantine Christian Empire and Palestine
  • 650 A.D. Muslim invasion of Khazar (Ukraine and Russia), until 737 A.D.
  • 652 A.D. Muslims invade and occupy Christian Sicily and Italy, until 1091 A.D.
  • 700 A.D. Muslim invasion of Nubia
  • 711 A.D. Muslims attack, invade and occupy Christian Spain, Portugal, Andora and Gibraltar, and try to invade France but are soundly trashed in the Battle of Tours, until 975 A.D.
  • 846 A.D. Muslim Saracen sacking of Rome
  • 1064 A.D. Muslim invasion of West Asia - Turkish Muslims attack, invade and occupy Asia Minor and Syria, until 1308. However, later events cause them to remain under Muslim occupation today.
  • 1095 A.D. The First Crusade - First Crusade begins. Campaign is limited to retaking formerly Christian lands.
  • Today, all the territory reclaimed from Muslim occupiers during the Crusades has returned to Muslim occupation

What Were the Crusades? Reality - Christians Hoping to Save Their Brethren

Medieval Historian Paul F. Crawford in his article "Four Myths about the Crusades" sums it up by writing:
Far from being unprovoked, then, the crusades actually represent the first great western Christian counterattack against Muslim attacks which had taken place continually from the inception of Islam until the eleventh century, and which continued on thereafter, mostly unabated. Three of Christianity's five primary episcopal sees (Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria) had been captured in the seventh century; both of the others (Rome and Constantinople) had been attacked in the centuries before the crusades.4
Madden and Riley-Smith agree:
The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land. The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. The third was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.

In each case, the faithful went to war to defend Christians, to punish the attackers, and to right terrible wrongs. As Riley-Smith has written elsewhere, crusading was seen as an act of love—specifically the love of God and the love of neighbor. By pushing back Muslim aggression and restoring Eastern Christianity, the Crusaders were—at great peril to themselves—imitating the Good Samaritan.5
So, the comparison the president makes concerning the Crusades and ISIS aggression simply doesn't hold up. ISIS is continuing what Muslims have historically done, with the notable exception that they are seeking to take lands from other Muslims as well. It makes no sense to deflect such barbarism by trying to offer a poor historical comparison. It makes even less sense given the fact that people are dying right now because of ISIS. The threat is immediate and real; pointing to false stereotypes helps no one.

References

1. R. Scott Peoples, Crusade of Kings (Rockville, MD: Wildside, 2009), 7. Web. https://books.google.com/books?id=rdDyOiWYC6AC&lpg=PP1&dq=Crusade%20of%20Kings&pg=PA7#v=onepage&q&f=false
2. Madden, Thomas F. "Inventing the Crusades." First Things. First Things, June 2009. Web. 06 Feb. 2015. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/06/inventing-the-crusades.
3. Thong, Scott. "Christianity vs Islam - Who Started This Whole Mess?" Leading Malaysian Neocon. Scott Thong, 22 Apr. 2008. Web. 06 Feb. 2015. http://scottthong.wordpress.com/2008/04/23/christianity-vs-islam-who-started-this-whole-mess/.
4. Crawford, Paul F. "Four Myths About the Crusades." First Principles. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Spring 2011. Web. 06 Feb. 2015. http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1483.
5. Madden, 2009.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

What Islam Really Teaches About Images of Muhammad

The world is in shock at the grave tragedy in which twelve people were gunned down at Charlie Hebdo by Muslim extremists. The French satirical newspaper had published several cartoon caricatures of the Islamic prophet Muhammad over the years, many of them placing the prophet in scandalous or obscene positions.



Islamic activist and Sharia law lecturer Anjem Choudary seemed to justify the attack in a USAToday Opposing Views piece where he said that freedom of expression "comes with responsibilities" and explained that "the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike."1 He seems to place the emphasis on the satirical aspect of the portrayals rather than the fact that these were images of Muhammad. However, it's being reported that any depiction of Muhammad is banned in Islam. A CNN report entitled "Why Islam forbids images of Mohammed" wrote that "The prohibition again illustrating the Prophet Mohammed began as an attempt to ward off idol worship." They also note the prohibition extends to other prophets and noted that "some Muslim countries banned the films Noah and Exodus this year because their leading characters were Hebrew prophets."2

But that's not quite what Islam teaches.

No Images of Any Living Creature

To be clear, there is no prohibition whatsoever against images of the prophets in the Qur'an. The closest one gets is Sura 21:52 where Abraham rebukes the idol worship of his people with the question "What are these statues to which you are devoted?"3 However, it isn't only the Qur'an that informs the religion of Muslims. Muslims must also rely on the traditions of Muhammad, as recorded in a series of books known as the Hadith. There are different Hadith for different factions of Muslims, but most Muslims are Sunni by far and their Hadith bans not simply depictions of Muhammad or the prophets, but any visual representation of any person or animal is forbidden!

One such Hadith has Muhammad rebuking a woman who purchased a pillow for him to recline upon because it had images of people on it:
Narrated ‘Aisha: (the wife of the Prophet)

I bought a cushion having pictures on it. When Allah's Apostle saw it, he stopped at the gate and did not enter. I noticed the signs of hatred (for that) on his face! I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I turn to Allah and His Apostle in repentance! What sin have I committed?" He said, "What about this cushion?" I said, ‘I bought it for you to sit on and recline on." Allah's Apostle said, "The makers of these pictures will be punished (severely) on the Day of Resurrection and it will be said to them, ‘Make alive what you have created.'" He added, "Angels do not enter a house in which there are pictures." (Sahih Bukhari, Book 72, Number 844)4
Another Hadith has Muhammad stating, ""Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or there are pictures." (Sahih Bukhari, Book 72, Number 833)5 According to an article on Answering-Islam.com, Muslim scholars both ancient and recent have concluded that anyone making depictions of living creatures will be required by Allah to breathe life into them on the Day of Resurrection. When one cannot, that person will be punished for idolatry. 6 The article goes on to state that: "'No pictures' includes no photos (still or moving). ‘No pictures' might reduce idolatry, but the reason given is not that, but that Allah will torment all who have made pictures" and "No pictures in the home includes no television in the home."7

The prohibition on images in Islam is wide and sweeping. The Answering-Islam article notes that for some reason while images on a pillow are banned, Muhammad didn't have a problem with little girls playing with dolls.8 This makes little sense as the doll makers are certainly doing the same thing as sculptors or pillow manufacturers. Also, most Muslims today don't seem to ban television or cameras from their homes.

The ban on images is simply one more way to underscore the fragmented nature of the teachings of Islam. The press misunderstands the ban and in some ways helps justify the offense in the eyes of the west by limiting it to some kind of attack only on the holiest figures of the Islamic faith. That is a misrepresentation, since even a harmless depiction of an anonymous individual is not allowed. Choudary allowed the USAToday web site to publish his Op-Ed with images of people accompanying the piece. He also has his own web site that shows his picture.  Such actions show the hypocrisy of his stance.

References

1. Choudary, Anjem. "People Know the Consequences: Opposing View." USA Today. Gannett, 08 Jan. 2015. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/01/07/islam-allah-muslims-shariah-anjem-choudary-editorials-debates/21417461/.
2. Burke, Daniel. "Why Islam Forbids Images of Mohammed." CNN. Cable News Network, 8 Jan. 2015. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/07/living/islam-prophet-images/index.html.
3. "Surat Al-'Anbyā' (The Prophets) - سورة الأنبياء." Qur'an.com. Qur'an.com, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://quran.com/21/52.
4. Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 72, Number 844. Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. University of Southern California, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/072-sbt.php#007.072.844 .
5. Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 72, Number 833. Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. University of Southern California, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/bukhari/072-sbt.php#007.072.833 .
6. "Are Pictures of Muhammad Really Forbidden In Islam?" Answering Islam. Answering Islam, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. http://www.answering-islam.org/Muhammad/pictures.html.
7. Answering Islam, Ibid.
8. Answering Islam, Ibid.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

ISIS, Jihad, and the Model of Muhammad

CNN just published an interview with Secretary of State John Kerry commenting on the recent US response to the Islamic State's barbarism in Syria and Iraq. At the beginning of the interview, Kerry stressed that the US is heading a coalition of forces, including Muslim nations, in its fight against ISIS (although the New York Times reports that the idea of a coalition may be overstated.)  Kerry said the effort to involve nations such as Saudi Arabia was a "major effort to reclaim Islam by Muslims, by those to whom it belongs."1


Obviously as Secretary of State, Kerry's first goal is to create as much consensus with the nations of the Middle East as possible, even though most have done nothing to stop the carnage ISIS is creating in their own back yards. However, his claim (echoing President Obama) that the Islamic State is somehow not Muslim or a distortion of Islam needs to be reconsidered. The same claims have been offered since 9/11, with many making the comparison that ISIS or Al Qaeda is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity.

To be clear, I don't doubt that many Muslim groups have been shocked and horrified at the actions of ISIS.  It is also true that the vast majority of ISIS' targets have been Muslim.  And I believe the leaders of those sects of Islam that take a more moderate view of the Qur'an teach a form of Islam that would say the killing of civilians is wrong. However, that doesn't mean that these Muslims are the definitive version of Islam. The question actually is: "Whose interpretation of Islam is correct?"

The Problem of Context

When one looks at both Islam and Christianity, there are a couple of ways to establish whether the beliefs that one holds align with the teachings of the faith. The first is to look at the Scriptures of that faith itself and see how your actions line up. For example, the Bible contains passages such as Judges 19:22-29 where a Levite cut his concubine into twelve pieces after the men of Gibeah had raped her all night. But the context shows that neither the rape nor the response of sending the girl's dismembered body is approved in scripture. In fact, the refrain of "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" is replete throughout the text of Judges, and the writer here makes the actions of the Gibeonites parallel to the men of Sodom, which is a clear condemnation on them.

In the Qur'an there are many verses known as the "sword verses" that teach about fighting and conquering the enemy. Immediately, Sura 47:4-6 comes to mind:
Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost. Soon will He guide them and improve their condition, And admit them to the Garden which He has announced for them.2
The call to "smite at their necks" until the enemy is "subdued' (which many clerics read as "slaughtered") is completely natural from the text. More moderate Muslims would interpret these verses in a more poetic fashion, not calling on the actual beheading of unbelievers but as symbolic one. The problem is that unlike the Biblical books, the Qur'an isn't set up in a narrative style. Several verses may deal with one issue and the next set may switch topics completely. It's much more akin to reading the book of Proverbs than a historical narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. That means that either interpretation could be legitimately derived from the text.

The Model of Muhammad

Because context doesn't really answer the question of the meaning of Islam, one must look to another definitive source to get a better understanding of what the faith really teaches. The best way to do that is to look at the person that exemplifies that faith and see how he behaved and what he valued. For Christians, the model is Jesus Christ himself. Christians are to look at Jesus' life, see how he would sacrifice his own personal comfort for the benefit of others, and ultimately lay down his life for his friends.

In Islam, Muhammad is the model. In fact, the Qur'an teaches this as well.  Sura 33:21 reads, "Ye have indeed in the Apostle of God a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for anyone whose hope is in God and in the final day."3 So, we can glean more about Islam from the pattern of conduct of Muhammad himself. Looking there, we learn that Muhammad did in fact command beheadings. In fact, after Muhammad had taken control of Medina he still went out and beheaded the Jews who had resisted him there. He could have exiled them, but chose instead to kill all of the Jewish men and boys from around twelve and up. Realize that this was no small cohort, either, with estimates ranging from a low of 300 to possibly even 800 or 900 people. In the Muslim Hadith, which are holy books that recount the actions of Islam‘s prophet, one Jewish captive reports:
I was among the captives of Banu [tribe] Qurayzah. They (the Companions) examined us, and those who had begun to grow hair (pubes) were killed, and those who had not were not killed. I was among those who had not grown hair.4
Of course, this isn't the only record of Muhammad and his army. It is well known that Muhammad would lead raids on caravans heading toward Mecca, stealing whatever he wished and he ultimately marched his army into Mecca, conquering it with barely a fight. The Hadith of Abu Dawud explains, "The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: The best of the actions is to love for the sake of Allah and to hate for the sake of Allah."5

Who Models Islam More Closely?

Of course, ISIS has several other problems, such as killing Muslims, which is explicitly condemned in the Qur'an. But they would counter that because the moderates have reinterpreted the Qur'an and they have not followed the Islamic law on other issues, these should be considered unbelievers and therefore should be attacked accordingly.

All in all, it isn't fair to say that ISIS is the Muslim equivalent of the KKK. The Klan's actions are clearly the opposite of both the teachings and actions of Jesus, but ISIS is acting in ways that Muhammad himself acted when he faced his enemies. They may not believe other Muslims are faithful, and they would be wrong on that point, but they cannot be said to be a misrepresentation of Islam itself. They are simply being consistent with both their understanding of their scriptures and the model of their prophet.

References

1. Caldwell, Leigh Ann, Holly Yan, and Gul Tuysuz. "John Kerry: The Fight against ISIS Is 'going to Go On'" CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/24/politics/kerry-on-isis/index.html .
2. Sura 47:4-6. Holy Qur'an (Yusuf Ali translation.) Quran.com. http://quran.com/47
3. Sura 33:21. Holy Qur'an (Yusuf Ali translation.) Quran.com. http://quran.com/33
4. Abu-Dawud, Book 38, Number 4390."(Prescribed Punishments)" Partial translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud. University of Southern California Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. Sep 24, 2014. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/abudawud/038-sat.php#038.4390
5. Abu-Dawud, Book 40, Number 4=4582."(Prescribed Punishments)" Partial translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud. University of Southern California Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. Sep 24, 2014. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/abudawud/040-sat.php#040.4582

Monday, May 02, 2011

Should Christians Cheer the Death of bin Laden?

The web has once again been sent buzzing, this time by the announcement that U.S. Forces have killed Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks among others. Undoubtedly, bin Laden was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of people and the suffering of untold thousands more. But should Christians really revel in the death of anyone, even someone as wicked as bin Laden? Doesn't the Bible tell us to pray for those who persecute us? Did not Paul's command in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for those in power even include Nero, who persecuted the church mercilessly?



As you can see, there is much confusion on just how Christians should respond to such news. If we are to follow the command of Christ, we should love our enemies. However, we also need to reflect God's desire for justice in the world.

I think that in order to gain a better perspective on this issue we may need to look at the Bible a little more carefully than merely pulling our favorite proof text out for either side of the issue. Fortunately, there are many passages where these kinds of issues have already been explored by commentators. One such passage is Psalm 58:

   1Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods?
        Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?
   2No, in heart you work unrighteousness;
        On earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.
   3The wicked are estranged from the womb;
        These who speak lies go astray from birth.
   4They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
        Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
   5So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
        Or a skillful caster of spells.
   6O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth;
        Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD.
   7Let them flow away like water that runs off;
        When he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts.
   8Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along,
        Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.
   9Before your pots can feel the fire of thorns
        He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.
   10The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
        He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
   11And men will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
        Surely there is a God who judges on earth!"
Psalms such as Psalm 58 are known by theologians as imprecatory psalms, which basically means the Psalmist is calling a curse from God down onto his enemies. These psalms have been the subject of many debates as to their meaning since they seemingly contradict the commands to love our enemies noted above. But we know that all Scripture is inspired by God (II Tim 3:16) and that this Psalm's author, David, was said to be empowered by the Holy Spirit when writing his psalms (Acts 2:33-35). So much about bin Laden's reign of terror and his subsequent death is reflected in Psalm 58, I think we can gain a better understanding of how we should react by studying it more closely.

Imprecatory psalms have several elements that are unique to them:

1. None of these psalms should be read with the notion that the Psalmist is calling for revenge or individual retribution.

In all the imprecatory psalms, the psalmist is motivated by seeing God's justice served. David models this himself in other psalms that call for the destruction of his enemies. In Psalm 31 David writes "In your righteousness deliver me!" and in Psalm 109 he writes , "They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, And fought against me without cause. In return for my love they act as my accusers; But I am in prayer." He also modeled this both when Saul pursued him unjustly and when Absalom usurped his throne. Asking God that justice be done is not the same thing as carrying out an individual vendetta. Such distinctions are important.

2. God Hates Sin

Another thing the imprecatory psalms do is underline the notion that God hates sin. Sin is real, and it's truly offensive to our Father in heaven. Osama bin Laden was a murderer who took glee in snuffing out those made in the image of God. Sometimes as Christians we are so concerned with not offending anyone that we overlook this fact. However, Jesus used strong and condemning language to underscore sin's heinous nature. He took the Pharisees to task several times, going so far as to call them children of the devil and only seeking to do the devil's will (John 8:44). He said to the citizens of Capernaum that they would go straight to hell, since Sodom would have believed had they seen the miracles he performed (Matt 11:23). He took a whip and drove out the moneychangers from the temple (John 2:15). Sin provokes a pretty strong reaction from our Lord and it should also provoke one in us, too.

Note that sometimes the language in the psalms is hyperbole – meaning it uses overblown images to make a point. I don't think we should take the passage "shatter their teeth in their moths" literally any more than when David writes in Psalm 6 "Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears." Jewish poetic style uses hyperbole in this way, and we should understand it as such. It does, though, make a strong point about God's view of sin.

3. It is God's glory to provide justice.

Note the end of Psalm 58 where David writes, "The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges on earth!'" God's divine justice is served when evil doers are given their just due. The righteous can point to such actions and know that God will ultimately be a righteous judge and provide justice for His righteous ones. Unbelievers are given a witness of God's righteousness. And because Romans 13 claims that governing authorities can serve as God's servants, meting out His justice, we can be thankful that the action was done in an orderly way--not by wiping out entire sections of a foreign country, but through a surgical strike that respected those other people made in the image of God in Abbottabad. Reuters even reports that once dead, the U.S. handled his body in accord with Islamic customs.

So, how should we respond to the death of bin Laden? We should first lament the sin we see in the world, including our own. We should rejoice that God's justice was in fact carried out in this instance. We should grieve that the gospel hasn't penetrated the hearts of people like bin Laden and those who sincerely followed him. And we should, like David, pray for them. Pray that they would know the love of Christ. Pray that God's justice will ultimately be seen. And pray that no more would die in response to a lie. That would be truly loving one's enemies.

Image courtesy Hamid Mir and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What a New Testament Church REALLY Looks Like

I’ve listened to many pastors and church leaders talk about how they model their church after the early Christian churches.  They want “a church that looks like the church of the New Testament” they say. The idea that we are closely aligning ourselves to the model that James, Peter, Paul and others had of church is appealing to the modern mind, especially as a reaction to the formal, liturgical structure that had become prevalent for so many centuries.  Indeed, even cults like Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses make the same claims, following the Restoration Movement of the early 19th century.



There’s nothing wrong with trying to align ourselves with the teaching of the apostles as closely as possible; in fact I think it’s laudable.  But for all the talk about modeling ourselves after the early church, I don’t think many truly capture what those early Christians had to give up for their Lord.  A good example of that early Christians did face can be found in the story of Said Musa. Musa is a citizen of Afghanistan who converted the Christianity about eight years ago and is now sentenced to death for the “crime” of his conversion. While serving in the Afghan Army, he had one leg amputated, an experience which he then used to counsel other amputees while working for the Red Cross.

A recent National Review article paints his picture well:
He was forced to appear before a judge without any legal counsel and without knowledge of the charges against him. “Nobody [wanted to be my] defender before the court. When I said ‘I am a Christian man,’ he [a potential lawyer] immediately spat on me and abused me and mocked me. . . . I am alone between 400 [people with] terrible values in the jail, like a sheep.” He has been beaten, mocked, and subjected to sleep deprivation and sexual abuse while in prison. No Afghan lawyer will defend him and authorities denied him access to a foreign lawyer.

Any and every human being who is imprisoned, abused, or tortured for the free and peaceful expression of their faith deserves our support, but Musa is also a remarkable person and Christian. In a letter smuggled to the West, he says, “The authority and prisoners in jail did many bad behaviour with me about my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, they did sexual things with me, beat me by wood, by hands, by legs, put some things on my head.”

He added a thing much more important to him, that they “mocked me ‘he’s Jesus Christ,’ spat on me, nobody let me for sleep night and day. . . . Please, please, for the sake of Lord Jesus Christ help me.” (View the full letter here)

He has not, in fact, even appealed to be released, only to be transferred to another prison. He has also stated that he is willing to give his life for his faith. “Please, please you should transfer me from this jail to a jail that supervises the believers. . . . I also agree . . . to sacrifice my life in public [where] I will tell [about my] faith in Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, [so] other believers will take courage and be strong in their faith.”
To me, this is the true face of Christianity. Musa’s story reads like something right out of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. I laud him for his faith and his willingness to die for it, but it shouldn’t be this way.  You see, this is no longer the first century and Christians are no longer in the minority.  The United States is a nation built upon Christian principles and, given our presence and influence in Afghanistan now, WE should be able to help Said Musa.  But help doesn’t seem to be coming.  President Obama felt justified to personally step in when a single pastor threatened to burn some Qur’ans in Florida, but he remains silent on Said Musa –even after Musa pleaded with him directly in his letter. The U.S.is losing soldiers trying to help establish the Afghanistan government; and yet they insist on perpetrating this flagrant violation of human rights. Does this make sense at all?  Silence by our president in such an instance is atrocious.

Said Musa’s attitude in the face of martyrdom, like Stephen’s in the book of Acts, shows what true Christians look like who have given everything for their Lord. I wonder to what degree our own government will allow the persecution of Christians and Christian ideals to continue without comment before all Christian churches start to resemble the New Testament church in ways that we may not like.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Islam: Saudi Women Offer Their Breasts for a Bit of Freedom

How do we measure belief systems?  This question has been asked of me many times in one form or another, especially by those who would like to uphold a "tolerance" for all faiths, not judging any to be true or false.  However, as I've continued to say, ideas have consequences.  What you believe will determine how you approach the world and live within it. So, if a person is properly following his or her belief system (you never measure a belief system by those who violate its tenets), then you can see the outworking of that belief system and see how well it conforms to reality.



 That's why a story in yesterday's Los Angeles Times caught my eye.  Entitled "Women threaten to breastfeed drivers if they aren't allowed to drive", it shows the twists and permutations where wrong-thinking ideas lead when they are extended to their logical conclusion.

Saudi Arabia is the center of the Islamic world, a very strict nation ruled by Sharia law, and like most countries under Sharia, it subjugates its women.[1]  Women must have a male guardian at all times, they're not allowed to vote, must be covered from head to toe, legally cannot drive, and the sexes must be segregated, unless the company consists of immediate family members, such as mother and son or brother and sister.  The Saudi government says these restrictions are to comply with the laws taught in Islam which is the basis of the Saudi government.  As you can imagine, it becomes pretty hard to function when women and men cannot be in the same public place at the same time.

Given that Islam is a legalistic religion (your worthiness is judged by how well you perform against the requirements placed upon you), people have sought to study the laws and find "loopholes" to see if they can circumvent some of the consequences following from the law. One of the most interesting of these was a proclamation made by Saudi cleric Abdel Mohsen Obeikan, who on May 22 said that if a woman had breastfed a man, then she and the child would have a "maternal bond" and the grown man could be found with the woman, even if he is not a blood relation.  Obeikan did not invent this idea; it is stated clearly in the Islamic Hadith that Mohammad was the one who first taught the practice.[2]  So, any man who wants to avoid a charge of "illicit mixing" of sexes merely needs to drink the woman's breast milk, thereby creating that maternal bond. [3]

Saudi women who are now seeking the right to drive have now taken Obeikan's thoughts one step further.  According to the Times article, "if they're not granted the right to drive, the women are threatening to breastfeed their drivers to establish a symbolic maternal bond. ‘Is this is all that is left to us to do: to give our breasts to the foreign drivers?' a Saudi woman named Fatima Shammary was quoted as saying by Gulf News."

Although the statement seems ridiculous on its face, it follows naturally from the law and the cleric's previous reasoning. In order to maintain modesty and purity, women would have to allow strangers to suckle them so that they can get around if a family member isn't present. They cannot mix sexes in a car, and since all women cannot drive, there are no chauffeurs or taxis that would allow them transportation.

In looking at all this, the absurdities of the law become apparent.  Granted, the legal ban on driving is a reaction to a group of protesters some 20 years ago, but the traditional view was in place long before that. The fact that in Islam women are seen as the sole problem in men's sexual temptation, thus men must be shielded from their looks and their company at every turn, is at the root of all these issues. And to think that just by passing a bodily fluid, all that temptation is somehow dissipated is as ridiculous as the former concept.

The bigger reason I point to this story is simply to show how bad belief systems not only harm real people, but they also lead the oppressed to desperation.  When oppression mix with legalism the results are tragic and the fact that Saudi women would even threaten such a move shows the poverty of the Muslim viewpoint on women.

References:

  1. See Katherine Zoepf. "Talk of Women's Rights Divides Saudi Arabia." New York Times.  5/31/2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/world/middleeast/01iht-saudi.html?pagewanted=1&src=me
  2. The Isamic Hadith, Book 008, Number 3424 records this exchange between Mohammad and a follower who raised an adopted boy, who would be considered a stranger in her home.


    A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Sahla bint Suhail came to Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and said: Messengerof Allah, I see on the face of Abu Hudhaifa (signs of disgust) on entering of Salim (who is an ally) into (our house), whereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Suckle him. She said: How can I suckle him as he is a grown-up man? Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) smiled and said: I already know that he is a young man 'Amr has made this addition in his narration that he participated in the Battle of Badr and in the narration of Ibn 'Umar (the words are): Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) laughed.
    For the full text, see http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/hadith/muslim/008.smt.html
  3. Sandels , Alexandra "Cleric in hot seat after calling for women to give men breast milk to avoid illicit mixing." Los Angeles Times. 6/10/2010 http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/06/saudi-arabia-clerics-call-for-women-to-give-men-breastmilk-to-avoid-unislamic-mixing.html
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