In the aftermath of the latest tragedy perpetrated by Islamic terrorists in London, two important articles have been published, providing the kind of clarity which Western politicians seem unwilling or unable to grasp.
The first, by my old philosophy professor Jerry Walls, addresses the very real theological issue at the heart of the ongoing global conflict.
Many of the cultural conflicts, not only in America, but throughout the world, hinge not only on the issue of whether God exists, but also whether or not He has revealed objective moral truth that we are obligated to follow. Again, either way it goes, many people are wrong about something that is very important, and in which they are deeply and emotionally invested. That is why the moral and religious convictions of the owners of a modest little pizza shop in Indiana, or a county clerk in Kentucky can be flashpoints of national controversy.
The same sort of unyielding logical impossibilities are at the heart of the larger global conflict. Start with this fact. The central belief of Christian faith is that Jesus is Lord, that he is the very Son of God, and God’s highest, definitive revelation. What gave rise to such a remarkable doctrine? Well, to put it simply, the whole life of Jesus, including his remarkable claims about himself, and the miracles he is reported to have done. But the ultimate reason is the extraordinary claim that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, a claim that is rooted in impressive historical evidence.
Now the resurrection is the big explosion that gave shape to the core doctrines that are distinctive to Christianity. The belief that Jesus was raised from the dead grounds the claim that his death on the cross was not simply an act of martyrdom or a tragedy, but rather, that he died to atone for our sins. The belief that he was raised shows he was not a mere mortal, but rather divine, and this led to the belief that he is the very incarnate Son of God. And the belief that He is divine, but distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit, led to the doctrine of Trinity.
In short, who Jesus is, and whether or not He was raised from the dead has enormous implications for what is true about God. Now consider these logical alternatives and how they divide believers in the great theistic religions.
Either Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, or he did not.
Either Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, or he was not.
Either Jesus is the Son of God, or He is not.
Either Jesus is God’s final definitive revelation, or He is not.
Either God exists eternally in Three Persons, or He does not.
In each of these cases, one of these mutually exclusive alternatives is true, but both cannot be. Christians, of course, affirm the first of these alternatives in each case, whereas Jews and Muslims affirm the second alternative. (Indeed, Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the cross at all).
Islam, Walls says, is unique among non-Christian faiths because so many of its tenets are specifically aimed at refuting what Christianity believes about Jesus.
And here it is important to recognize that Islam is in a sense anti-Christian in its very nature in a way that other world religions are not. This is because it was founded centuries after Christianity, and its very emergence was premised on explicit rejection of core Christian doctrines in favor of a different account of the nature and will of God and the way of salvation.
It is equally important to be clear what Islam is rejecting in its affirmation of an alternative faith. The Christian faith is indelibly marked by a distinctively beautiful account of a God whose essential nature is holy love. The nature of God as love is intriguingly revealed in the Trinity, as an eternal dance of joyous, mutual loving and giving among the Three Persons. And that love was communicated to us in definitive fashion in the incarnation and death of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity. It is that very love that Christians are called to re-create in their love for one another. Jesus summed it up as follows: “As the Father loved me, so have I loved you….Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:9. 12).
Christians believe that among the dying words of the Son of God were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Whereas Muslims deny that Jesus died on the cross, Christians discern in the death of Christ on the cross the heart that moves Almighty Power. It is an inescapable reality that either Muslims or Christians are profoundly and tragically wrong in their beliefs about God’s definitive revelation.
And that is the hard rock that is firmly lodged at the heart of global conflict.
The second article, posted this morning at Archbishop Cranmer by British cleric Gavin Ashenden, addresses the uncomfortable truth about Islam which political and religious leaders in England (and, one might add, throughout the West) refuse to accept.
How is it possible that we can continue to keep up this pretence of patronising, intolerant duplicity where we pretend we know Islam better than those who live and practise it?
Why won’t Andy Burnham, the Dean of Westminster and the Prime Minster tell us the truth?
The answer is probably that if they did, they would be required to face a problem to which there is either no solution, or one that tests what is politically possible to the utmost limits.
The question they should really ask is the more interesting one which relates to those Muslims in Western society who have not turned to violence.
Why have so many Muslims who live amongst us not turned to violent Jihad? The answer may be that they simply don’t want to, or are not very observant Muslims, or at least not as observant and pious as those who do turn to violence.
Or it may be that they are kind and generous people who see much good in the first half of the Koran where Mohammed says generous things about Jews, Muslims and Christians being cousinly ‘People of the Book’.
Perhaps they prefer to commit a lesser sin against the principle of abrogation, which requires them to preference the violent and inhospitable passages mainly near the end of the Koran over the benign ones near the front.
It may also have something to do with expediency. When Muslims are a small minority of a population they accommodate themselves quietly and pragmatically to their host environment. To do anything else would be to risk their expulsion. But when their numbers reach a kind of critical mass, expulsion becomes unfeasible. The pragmatic accommodationism begins to give way to the ambitions that the Koran dictates all good Muslims should have, to pursue the conversion of their host society, by persuasion or by terror:
“I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them” (8:12).
If our politicians and religious leaders were to find the courage and integrity to do their primary duty by us and tell the truth about Islam, Islamists, Muslims, Jihad and accommodation, what would follow?
That is the very debate we have to have now in public.
Ashenden’s solutions are not for the faint of heart, but neither is this present conflict–a hard truth which those in positions of authority need to grasp forthwith.