Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cooperation and Peace might Require Confrontation

Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at the Yale Divinity School, is a prophet of peace, forgiveness and love. He sees this as the Christian message, and I certainly agree with him there. However, he has some troubling recommendations in regards to our response to Islam. For one thing, he believes that it is very important to recognize our commonalities with Islam:

• If our understandings of God clash, it will be hard for us to live in peace…So exploring to what extent Christians and Muslims have similar conceptions of God is foundational to exploring whether we inhabit a common moral universe, within which there are some profound differences that can be negotiated, discussed, and adjudicated.

• We need to build on what is similar rather than simply bemoan what’s different. (Christianity Today, April 2011)

Of course, finding similarities tends to facilitate relationship. However, Christian love and forgiveness should never be predicated upon distorting reality. Jesus taught that God wants those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). There is never a Biblical hint that we should conceive of God or humankind in a more benign way than reality permits, even if it makes us feel better about the other. Instead, the Bible is ruthless about truth, and demands that we walk and talk the light. Rather than truth undermining relationship, it is the very basis for true and enduring connections. And this is the challenge of love – to love even when we don’t like what we see. This is what it means to love our enemies.

Last week, I admitted to a Muslim-background friend that for me, loving Muslims is difficult. On the subway, I had an altercation with a Muslim man from Iran who claimed that Israel intended to nuke Iran! I felt that, in love, I couldn’t allow that demonizing remark to pass. Consequently, the discussion became more animated. Most of the subway riders turned off their walkmen and were now ingesting what seemed to be superior entertainment. Afterwards, I thought that I should have offered my hand to my Islamic opponent and declared, “I love you anyway, my brother, even if our beliefs are miles apart.” Indeed, love is possible, but it’s difficult. Yet true friendship requires truth spoken in love. If others lack a stomach for this, we cannot control that.

Yes, we have a responsibility to love all, but I think that love shouldn’t require us to overlook significant differences with Islam – something about which Muslims are aware, even if they are unwilling to vocalize them.

The differences can be radical and threatening. Taqiyya authorizes Muslims to lie to promote Islam. The Koran forbids a Muslim to befriend the infidel other than for evangelization. Then there’s the violent side: violent jihad against the unbelievers, and death edicts against all those critical of Islam and even converts from Islam. Muslims are also required to institute Shariah law, which places all others into a subservient and often fearful status. And then there’s the Islamic unwillingness to endure scrutiny, as we all must.

Indulgence and silence aren’t the answers. God warned Ezekiel against the silent treatment:

"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.” (Ezekiel 33:7-8)

Silence speaks loudly. It tells the other person, “You’re OK! If you weren’t, I’d tell you so!” It communicates peace, when there isn’t peace. Meanwhile, indulgence has become enshrined in US policy towards Islam, even to the point of discrimination. Andrew C. McCarthy wrote:

Down at Gitmo, the Defense Department gives the Koran to each of the terrorists even though DoD knows they interpret it (not without reason) to command them to kill the people who gave it to them. To underscore our precious sensitivity to Muslims, standard procedure calls for the book to be handled only by Muslim military personnel. Sometimes, though, that is not possible for various reasons. If, as a last resort, one of our non-Muslim troops must handle or transport the book, he must wear white gloves, and he is further instructed primarily to use the right hand (indulging Muslim culture’s taboo about the sinister left hand). The book is to be conveyed to the prisoners in a “reverent manner” inside a “clean dry towel” … there is hypocrisy to consider: the Defense Department now piously condemning Koran burning is the same Defense Department that itself did not give a second thought to confiscating and burning bibles in Afghanistan. Quite consciously, U.S. commanders ordered this purge in deference to sharia proscriptions against the proselytism of faiths other than Islam. And … bibles, are torched or otherwise destroyed in Islamic countries every single day as a matter of standard operating procedure.

The differences raise concerns about Islam and its possible participation in egalitarian society. These can’t be addressed with indulgence, but rather with honesty. Problems can only be addressed if the problem can first be articulated, something that the West is reluctant to do. Perhaps reality might once again become the recognized place of meeting. Recently Angela Merkel of Germany, David Cameron of the UK, and Nicolas Sarkozy of France have all spoken despairingly of their venture into the world of religious pluralism. The benefits of Western culture have failed to bring about anything positive, let alone assimilation. Nor is there any indication that delivering the Koran to Muslim inmates in a “clean dry towel” with “white gloves” wins gratefulness rather than contempt.

Cooperation is predicated on facing our troubling differences, not denying their existence. Honesty shows respect. Besides, we may have many differences with Jews and Hindus, but their religious agendas do not require the subjugation of all others. We cannot ignore this reality.

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