Defining Religion By Our Willingness To Work With Those With Whom We Disagree Within Our Faith

           The more fundamental our faith becomes the more exclusively we treat our faith.  This causes conflict to arise.  This causes divisions within the faith.  Our Churches are like lawyers, get two together and you will get at least three opinions.  We cannot even agree with ourselves.  As troublesome as this is we need to be thankful that as verbally violent as our disagreements might be we do not resort to physical violence within our religion.

            Christianity is not, by definition or practice, a violent religion.  In fact, we are a religion of peace.  Not just in some slogan we pull out to help the public forget the latest homicide bomber, but in reality.  We condemn violence in the name of religion.  We are the religion of Christmas.

            Think about Christmas, even in its most secularized version Christmas brings peace and joy.  Form the poorest to the richest, from the most religious to the most secular; we all have a memory of joy from Christmas.  We all have a feeling that comes with the first sign of Christmas.  It might come with a Christmas song sung by Dean Martin, or Third Day, or Jars of Clay.  All of this separates Christianity from Islam and Judaism.

            Why is this important?  It is important simply because we are in a battle over the spiritual foundation of the West.  Why are we not discussing this in terms of Judaism?  As Christians we see our faith as the messianic fulfillment of Judaism.  We are different religions because when Judaism stood still at the life of Jesus, we—Christianity—were birthed through the life of Jesus.  Furthermore, Judaism is not on a violent quest to rule the world.  The Jewish faith has never been a missionary faith.

            Islam, also birthed from the loins of Abraham, is set apart.  And the setting apart is the violence of Islam against Islam.  There is no need to compare the treatment of Christianity to Islam or Islam to Christianity.  History is replete with the violence that mars this relationship.  There is no value, for the sake of this discussion, to look at mainstream Christianity or Islam.  This is best illustrated by looking at the edges of both of the faiths.

            Mainstream does not define a movement.  Any person can hold the faithful together.  The edges are the true definitions of a movement.  What do those who have heard, believed, and set their own path believe?  And how does the core respond to those on the fringe?  Does the core condemn the wrong, often violate, acts, the wrong beliefs?  Or does the core praise these fringe beliefs and acts?  Or does the core take the third way and approve of wrong beliefs, wrong actions, by failing to admonish the wrong?

            September 11, 2001 was a defining moment, not just a defining moment for America.  It was also a defining moment for Islam.  The silence from the leaders of “peaceful” Islam in America was deafening.  Their silence spoke the truth of the violence of Islam.  There was not the will, for weeks, to condemn such a ruthless, destructive act that denies the truth of God.

            This is one instance.  A better example is to look at the interactions of Islam with Islam.  The Shiites and the Sunnis in Iraq are a great example.  There are other examples of Islamic violence against Islam.  Why do they fight each other?  They fight because the base of their religion does not understand the essence of joy and peace.  Muslims feel they are right to defend God with acts of violence.  And the leadership condones through their silence or even encourages the acts of violence.

            Christianity, on the other hand, approaches such individual and small group violence exactly the opposite.  We do not encourage acts of violence.  If for no other reason, we encourage acts of mercy because we value life in this place at this time.  While we believe in the afterlife and a reward for believers and punishment for those who do not believe, we do not teach that we should cut short this lifetime in order to achieve the peace of the next.  Christianity is based on a healthy belief in the hereafter with a healthy respect for the life that is a gift from God our creator.

            We also believe that because the afterlife for nonbelievers is eternal and horrible that we have a duty to keep the nonbelievers from being condemned.  Rather than rejoicing at the death of the unrighteous, we mourn them.  This also is the root of the evangelistic nature of our religion.  The mercy of the Christian God compels us to bring in the lost.  Islam does not have this same compulsion.

            As a result, Christianity, at its mainstream core, cannot condone or ignore violence in the name of religion.  (This should not be confused with the belief that a government must take actions, sometimes involving violence to defend its people.)  Our Churches and leaders do not leave room for interfaith disagreements to be resolved with violence.

            Herein is the main outward difference between the two religions.  Left to spiral down, Christianity will never condone violence as a means of conversion or judgment.  In fact, the essence of Christianity is peacefulness.  Islam, on the other hand, if left to spiral down condones violence.  It either condones violence through words or deeds—deeds such as failing to speak out against violence.

            At its core Christianity values human life.  That is why the pro-life and pro-abolitionist movements were Christian at their base.  There is a value for human life, existing and pre-existing.

            At its core Islam does not have the same value for human life.  There is no savior sent to assure men that they have standing with God.  There is only the concept that God is in heaven judging man without any standard of love and compassion.  To the Muslim salvation is never assured.  To the Christian salvation is the central theme.  As a result of this, Christians have led the world in benevolent works—either orphanages, schools, shelters, feeding programs, etc.  No strings attached, the human is valuable enough to demand that we do something to help.

            In all fairness, there are Islamic orphanages and schools, feeding and education programs.  The difference is that Islamic helps require a conversion to Islam.  Politically, democracy is based on the belief that man is basically a being that has a redemptive side and can be trusted to set up a government system to better everyone. Islamic beliefs require a government that is dictatorial.  People cannot be expected to rule themselves.  Women must be suppressed and children must be indoctrinated in Sharia law.  There is no grace in the religion and therefore the worldviews are different at their core.

            We only need to look into Iraq and other areas of the Middle East where Islam has its stronghold to see the proof of the arguments being made.  Everyday brings news of another bombing of Muslims against Muslims.  Because they disagree on non-core theological matters it is okay to kill their enemies, even when the enemies are fellow Muslims.  The calls for peace are few and far between.  The celebration of death has never been so joyfully marked as it is by Islamic fundamentalists.  This is not matched by any modern religions.

           One step further in the analysis is to look at how Christianity and Islam treat the innocent that surround them.  Iraq is again a good example.  In Iraq America, which is arguably not a Christian nation, shows some respect for innocent noncombatant life.  Admittedly, we have killed a number of innocents in the war we have waged.  We have not, however, celebrated the loss of those innocent lives.  In fact, we have stayed after the destruction, at great cost to ourselves, to help rebuild the infrastructure that will save thousands, if not millions, of lives.

            Americans, again we are not a Christian nation, value human life partly because of the influence of Christianity on our moral code.  Like Christianity, we value human life as something to celebrate.  Death is something to be avoided.

            Islam, to the contrary, does not mourn the loss of innocent life—unless of course the loss is on their side.  They celebrate the taking of life as a legitimate means to an end.  The mistake we have made in the West is we have failed to ask the critical question of what is the end.

            The end is Islam for the whole world—whether you want it or not.  One only has to look at the lack of tolerance in the countries that are currently run by the Islamic clerics.  They are imprisoning Christians, they are killing Christians, and they have no tolerance for anything that stands in the face of their religious beliefs.

            America and the West, on the other hand, have cultures that accept the diversity of religious beliefs.  We even let those who would destroy us live in relative peace because we believe in religious freedom that strongly.  That is what Christianity has brought to the West.

            We are clearly in a clash of religious cultures.  One allows man to choose his own way.  The other only permits one way.

            The choice does not seem so difficult.


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Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

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