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Monday, June 04, 2007

Demonizing Islam

In today's post-9/11 world, one of the most popular ways for an American Christian leader to get attention is to demonize the Islamic religion. The standard way of doing this is usually to cite a few war-like passages in the Koran and then to say how 9/11 proves that Islam is a violent and evil religion. Part of the inspiration in writing my Good Muslim post, taken from the story of the Good Samaritan, came from a conversation I had with a friend who couldn't understand why I disagreed with his view that all Muslims have a propensity towards violence. For my friend, since the "spirit of Islam" itself is demonic, then it follows that Muslims themselves can not be trusted. Most of my moderate Christian friends would agree that we must judge individuals by the content of their character and not by their religious affiliation (which is one of the points that Jesus was making in the parable of the Good Samaritan), but I have to ask a further question, is it right to "demonize" Islam?

The first part of the question is theological. I've dealt with this issue in other posts, so I will not revise my arguments here, except to say that from a Biblical standpoint, there is a mixture of truth in error in other religious traditions outside of Biblical revelation. That is to say, both the grace of God and the deception of the devil are present in varying degrees depending on the tradition in question.

The second part of the question is a more practical one. Does it do any good for Christian leaders to demonize Islam by citing passages from the Koran? I say no and here is why. Pretend for a moment that I am an anti-Semitic fascist dictator (for some this might not be such a stretch, but humor me for a moment)and I want to make a case not simply against Jews, but against Judaism. All I would have to do is to point to the Old Testament and to show how God ordered the Jews to slaughter entire tribes (in some cases, they were ordered to leave nothing breathing alive, this would include women, children, and animals). I could then point to hundreds of verses to show how Jews are ordered to spread their religion around the world. For example, there are hundreds of verses that tell Jews to "proclaim his goodness among the nations" and there are numerous verses that speak of Israel's priestly role as light to the nations. I could talk about who Judaism teaches that Jews will one day rule the world (think about the Messianic passages in Isaiah) and make the conclusion that Judaism is a violent and evil religion seeking to take over the world.

And the conslusion would be wrong. Even though Orthodox Jews today continue to read the Old Testament, I have not met one Jew interested in establishing a world-wide theocracy. Much less, I've never met a Jew even remotely interested in converting non-Jews even through peaceful means. And yet, this is exactly what Jews are commanded to do in the Old Testament.

What does this mean? It means that somewhere, somehow, in the course of history the religion of Judaism liberalized. Jews found a way to interpret their Scriptures in a way that is compatible with societal norms. If Jews can do this with the Old Testament, which is every bit if not more violent than the Koran, then certainly Muslims should be allowed (and indeed encouraged) to interpret their holy book in a way that is compatible with today's world. Even if one believes that Islam is indeed violent and incompatible with the modern world, it still does no good to demonize the religion because this only drives moderate Muslims into the arms of the radicals. Do we really want to make Bin Laden's case for him?

1 comment:

Pete said...