WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT ISLAM?
By Paul Merkley.
Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of Man under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? [Hebrews 10: 28-29.]
Every day, it seems, our governments and our opinion elites take another step intended to soften our negative thoughts regarding Islam and tending towards submission (a tautology, as the very definition of “Islam” is “submission.”)
At the same time, there is nothing that we can do to fix Islam. Nothing has ever been accomplished either by direct irenic engagement or by polemical engagement with the ideas promoted by Islam. The beginning and the end of our responsibility in regard to the increasing menace from Islam is to stand up for the faith tradition to which Christians and Jews belong. That can only happen after nominal Christians (those who show up for the Christmas eve service) and the nominal Jews (those who show up for Yom Kippur) begin to be counted for every Sunday or Shabbat service.
Since this is a journal explicitly directed to a Christian audience, I will stay hereafter with the world of the Christians. Just think of this: if every adult person who ever stood up, in a public setting – perhaps during a confirmation ceremony or in course of his baptism, one day in his life, and declared that he was a Christian, were to show up next Sunday in church, the contest with Islam would be over. But the beginning and end of our quandary is that at present showing-up is too much to ask.
Now, think of this: All imams everywhere agree that if anyone who ever declared himself a Muslim – and that would include anyone who had ever attended a mosque and joined in the declaration of the faith (this was clearly the case of Barack Obama) (see, http://www.danielpipes.org/5354/confirmed-barack-obama-practiced-islam, January 7, 2008) – were now to say out loud that he is not a Muslim, he would be liable to immediate execution by the nearest faithful Muslim.
The trends which are weakening Christianity cannot be reversed by taking any kind of action against Islam. No one contemplates stopping Islam by force, even if there were the will to do so, as this would discredit our faith and the game would be lost morally. No responsible Christian voice calls for closing borders against Muslim immigrants, for example, or suggests taking discriminatory action against Muslims in employment or in access to public services, et cetera.
The affirmations of Islam can be fought successfully only by affirmation of our Christian belonging. But before there can be such affirmation there must be rediscovery of what our faith actually teaches. This task of rediscovery cannot begin until we turn our backs firmly on the dim-bulb, feel-good notion that what Christianity teaches is another variation on what all the religions teach, and therefore that it needs no special attention (see my essay, “A Seditious Cliché,” The Bayview Review, December 16, 2015.)
Islam has drawn attention to itself not because of its objective accomplishments in the world of thought or of science or of public order or the arts – think about that for a moment! — but essentially because violent men purporting to speak for it have filled our lives with constant terror – and so, in self-defense, everyone feels compelled to learn more about it!
The perverse fact is that it is Islam, not Christianity or any other of the religions, which is the principal beneficiary of the truly suicidal notion – That after all, we all worship the same God. Thus Islam – unexamined and unfamiliar to most – is raised up hypothetically in order to be examined as a religion like all others, while Christianity and Judaism, the religions in which most of us were raised, are lowered hypothetically, in order to be put under the cloud of disrepute that hangs over all “fundamentalist” religions.
Non-believers of goodwill (I will grudgingly posit that there are such) say that we believers should want the non-fundamentalist kind of religion – the benign, non-argumentative kind which draws from the common well of all true religion. Why can we not just dispel this “fundamentalist” curse by signing up all people of goodwill to the proposition that: After all, we all worship the same God? To accomplish this, attendance at church is not required; in fact, non-attendance serves the purpose much better.
But serious inquiry will prove to anyone capable of reading that the assertion, that Allah is “the same as” the LORD of the Old Testament, fails every test of logic, philosophy, historical record – in short, of truth. Still, it is always a winner in the goodwill stakes, where points are assigned in proportion to people’s willingness to pretend.
In light of the scandal of defection or abstention from our faith, what should nominal Christians expect from God?
This line of thought leads us to another key Christian concept: “Mercy.” Yusuf Ali (the widely-accredited English translator of the Qur’an, has a truly heart-stopping insight to offer us here. He begins with some reflection on the hazards of translation – which, he suggests, has had the effect of minimizing the distinctions which Muslims insist must be made between Christian and Muslim categories of thinking. For example: in several places in the Qur’an Allah is memorably referred to as Rahman and Rahim (Most Merciful) — a matter noted with satisfaction by the self-appointed theological bridge-builders in our midst. Yusuf Ali writes:
The fact is that it gives us a very limited idea of God’s Mercy when we only use the English word, “mercy”; the Quranic idea implies not only pity and forgiveness but the Grace which protects us and keeps us from sin, and indeed guides us to the light of His “Countenance.”
So far so good. But now this:
So the “forgiveness” of God is a thing totally different in quality from the forgiveness which a man can give to his brother man: the equation implied in “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive [the word in Arabic is gafara] those who trespass against us” is a misleading fallacy. [A. Yusuf Ali, THE HOLY QUR’AN: Translation and Commentary (Published by Amana Cor. Brentwood, MD, 1983,), Introductory “Commentaries,” ix.]
The words which Ali quotes – the words which give rise to “a misleading fallacy” — are Jesus’ words. The context is His gift of “the Lord’s Prayer,” which Christians use when they approach God daily for “forgiveness.” Jesus, having the authority of the Son of God, teaches us that we should ask our Father, Abba, to forgive us. He instructs us (Mt 6: 9-15.) to see in this prayer of approach to God the measure of the meaning of forgiveness in our own dealings with each other. We need this forgiveness to survive.
Because He is God incarnate, because He lived a human life among us, Jesus knows the meaning of human dealings of all the normal human kind. He experienced rejection by people who imagined that they had been offended by Him. But He forgave them – most notably, from the Cross (Lk 23: 34.)
If we give this up and subscribe, with Islam, to the dogma that Allah’s forgiveness is a thing totally different in quality from the forgiveness which a man can give to his brother man — we give up everything.
It is always said by those helpful souls who vouch for the interchangeability of the key concepts of The Three Abrahamic Faiths, that in Islam, as in Judaism and in Christianity, “God” (Allah) is first and foremost to be understood as “merciful” or “compassionate.” But, responsible Muslim interpreters are unanimous in teaching that the foremost quality of Allah is “righteousness”: Allah is first and last the judge of good and evil deeds. “Compassion” is a quality he shows exclusively towards those who are righteous. Compassion cannot possibly figure in his dealings with those who are unrighteous. And this latter category includes all who reject Islam.
Allah despises the unrighteous. That is why he instructs the believers to kill the unrighteous.
If we accept this Muslim understanding of mercy, we cannot cling to the Christian understanding of mercy.
If we accept this understanding of God, we cannot cling to the Christian understanding of God.
We certainly cannot split the difference.
The judgment of Pope John Paul II on this matter is as follows:
Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process by which it completely reduces Divine Revelation. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about Himself, first in the Old Testament through the Prophets, and then finally in the New Testament through His Son. In Islam all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside. Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but he is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of Redemption.” [John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (Toronto: Knopf, 1994), p.92. All emphasis in the original.]
Considering this whole world of difference between the teaching of Islam and the teaching of Christianity on the very matter which has always been at the heart of Christian hope, how can we explain the indifference to our religious fate that characterizes our generation? Do people want to trade Christianity for Islam?
The impression is abroad that there will always be the option of showing up some Sunday when one feels the need to be cheered up or validated. Meanwhile, the church and a pastor can always be hired on for a wedding, and then promptly dispelled from our lives until, perhaps, the thought of christening children occurs; then, the charade can be acted out again, as the new parents stand solemnly before a body full of church people whom they have not seen in years, since they were themselves children, and vow to teach the basics of the faith to the child and read the scriptures and raise the child in the church – the utter falsity of which is demonstrated immediately the next week when they are nowhere to be seen in the precincts. This demoralizes pastors, although most (to their discredit) go along with it.
The idea is abroad that an intrepid and very bored quorum of white-haired faithful keeps the church available to be dipped into as needed – for weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations or other one-time incursions. This is an irrational calculation. If present trends continue in the political and judicial arenas, there will come a moment when churches will lose their freedom to profess the irrational details of their creed. This moment will follow shortly upon the moment when they will have lost the right to exercise internal discipline in the many matters where there is a difference between what the Church has always taught and what enlightened public bodies can command through enforcement of current “human rights” standards. Long before most nominal Christians will have become aware of these trends, it will already be too late. The option of freely choosing to be a Christian will be gone.
But then, I am leaving out the matter of God’s grace. Perhaps God will forgive. Perhaps He is not Allah, a God who forgives only the righteous, but a God who forgives and offers again opportunity to turn to Him and repent. We had better hope so!