Is Islam to be loved or feared?
Answers on a postcard, otherwise you will need to write a very long book to give a full, comprehensive answer to this challenging question. (The postcard, of course, might have the word "both" on it.)
I would love to say heaps here on the blog but time runneth out faster than the sand in an hourglass, but perhaps I could offer two observations:
- since 15 March 2019, every contact I have had with a Muslim in Christchurch has been a connection with a person full of love, compassion, and genuine commitment to peace, unity and community well-being.
- last week, not that far from NZ, in global terms, the Sultan of Brunei instituted the death penalty for homosexuals and adulterers, as an expression of his commitment to instituting Sharia, the somewhat tough edge of Islamic law.
Is Islam to be loved or feared?
The least we can say and do is to love Muslims!
The mass immigration of Muslims into the West is what islamophobes say that it is: the seed of a cultural pluralism that is different from the present one in which the pious and the godless argue over a bygone Christendom while tiny minorities from elsewhere look on from the sidelines. Some places have received a lot of immigrants, but the great increase will come from inter-marriage and conversion. Many rootless Westerners are open to conversion to Islam, and as Muslims adapt to Western societies they understandably feel a duty to save souls in them. Ironically, Islam seems to attract those of the authoritarian temperament that islamophobes and terrorists often have.
For Westerners, two big questions, still unanswerable, are these: who will switch, and will they deepen and transform some social division by doing so? Since the Great Sort, we here up yonder have motherly Democrats competing with paternal Republicans. Could religions also develop gender identities? I have known African-American families in which the women are Baptist or Methodist while the men practice an Islam they learned in prison. "I needed more daily discipline than I could find in Christianity."
Meanwhile Muslims in the *dar es salaam* should expect to meet some odd people at Mecca. Just as there is now a native Western Buddhism that differs in important ways from Buddhism on the ground in Asia, so there will also be a native Western Islam that stands out from the mosaic of old folk religions loosely bound together by the writings and memory of Mohammed. On what authority? Impartial access to all of those varied traditions, since mosques here tend to be rather cosmopolitan places. A more Western Islam, though we may like it, could raise cultural tensions from Morocco to Indonesia.
I think one possible answer to your conundrum here, Peter, is in the response of Pope Francis to the Islamic Leaders in Morocco. I have compared his eirenic message with that of the Sultan of Brunei in my most recent post on - kiwianglo -
Agape, Fr. Ron
Like any large global religion Islam is very diverse, so generalisations are dubious to say the least, just as generalisations about Christianity or Buddhism are dubious. So I don't think the "loved or feared" dichotomy is helpful. No religion is above reasonable, fact-based critique, especially when it comes to the treatment of women or sexual minorities.
Both it is!
The best insight I have gained is from books written by those raised Muslim who grew up actively practising Islam; including ‘Son of Hammas’ & ‘I dared to Call Him Father’ & ‘’Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”. As far as I can ascertain their are different varieties of Islam and different teachings or interpretations. There are concerning factors; teaching often contains under the surface an implicit support for the use of force/violence and to opt-out once joining Islam can have dire consequences; some countries where Islam is the main religion such as Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia etc actively penalise and persecute non-Muslims, and go as far as to kill those who leave Islam. So yes, some of Islam’s laws in their pure form are rather ‘scary’ from a kiwi viewpoint.
Personally I do not believe the god of Islam is the God our Father and I think it is unwise to believe Islam is a benign or passive religion. On the other side of the coin it is just as unwise to believe all individual Muslim’s (practicing or otherwise) are to be feared ... there are bad eggs and good eggs in all groups of people! So yes, I agree Peter, to love Muslim’s as we are to love our neighbours; while at the same time recognising to love does not require one to accept or accommodate without discernment a person or groups beliefs. (To be as peaceful as a dove and as wise as a serpent?)
Jean, "be ye wily as serpents but innocent as doves" has sometimes been my favourite commandment because it so clearly enjoins a thinking obedience to all the others.
Yes, all of us have both an outside and an inside. When other religions are difficult for us-- and we are difficult for other religions-- it is because one binocular vision integrating both the social faces and the inner processes of the Other is difficult. This is not even easy to do within oneself, as we see in positions that have piety or social engagement, but not both. So far as I can see, the difficulty is organic-- our amygdalas scan for threats while our prefrontal cortices probe for empathy-- and you can't consistently disavow one part of your brain for another. Becoming more like Jesus is learning from the Holy Spirit how to have a whole-brained mind that desires the Father's eternal will.
Just before I clicked over to ADU and saw your comment, I was-- for my Lenten project-- reading a scholar's paper about a C12 Persian Sufi's* commentary on the 99 names of God in the Quran. Now Sufism has several traditions of spiritual psychology that are at least as rich as those of eg Cistercians, Carmelites, Hesychasts, Puritans, etc. With some acquaintance with those, one can have some very rewarding spiritual conversations about divine love with Muslims who are Sufis. I've described to Bryden here a delightful conversation with Iran-leaning Islamists in Istanbul that was mostly an exploration of the unity of the Trinity.
In some places, that same Sufi spirituality of love inclines one to be a militant Islamist willing to break things and hurt people. The cup of coffee at my side is an aid to prayer, one invented long ago so that night sentries at desert outposts could stay awake, not only to watch for enemies in the dark, but also to meditate on those 99 names during the auspicious hours after midnight. For a millennium those sentries-- like our own doughty conservatives from St Augustine to the present-- have found love without the willingness to fight for the Beloved incomprehensible and inauthentic. It is only one measured step from the duty of defense to an ethos in which all, with more or less force, "command what is good and forbid what is evil."
God = The Creator of all to whom all worship is due.
Sufi = A Muslim who, especially under the guidance of a sheikh and tradition, practices prayer disciplines (eg dhikr) that are not explicitly required by standard Islam to achieve personal spiritual transformation.
Islamist = A Muslim who believes that Western influence is returning the lands of the old Islamic commonwealth (aka *Dar as-Salam*) to *jahiliyyah*.
No one comes to the Father except by me, said Jesus. Islam is, thus, a false religion. There many false religions and false belief systems.
That said, in New Zealand today - and perhaps even in European countries with much larger Muslim populations - aggressive secular liberalism is much more of a threat than Islam (not even thinking about terrorism, just about the impact of life, and on freedom). It isn't Islam that is responsible for, say, 500000 lawful killings of babies in utero in the last 40 years in NZ. It isn't Islam that poses the sort of threat to the freedom of traditional Christians identified Rod Dreher touched on in a post yesterday.
But is harder for most of us to see that issue/threat precisely because aggressive secular liberalism draws more recently from the same intellectual traditions formed in the Christian era, and because - in many cultural respects - most of the advocates are more "like us" (European-descent Christian) than most Muslims are.
"No one comes to the Father except by me, said Jesus."
Indeed he did, and the scriptures are true. But which does that mean?
(1) If and only if you give your allegiance explicitly to Jesus, then you can come to the Father.
(2) If you have truly come to the Father, then that must have been enabled by Jesus.
And how do we know which is true?
Speaking very broadly, those who read the Bible pietistically, as a sort of contract with terms and conditions for posthumous travel to heaven, tend to choose (1). They open the Bible expecting it to set conditions for humans to meet, and so they read St John xiv 6 as one such condition.
The resulting pietistic gospel to Muslims is: either avoid mosques and attend churches instead, or else you will travel posthumously to the fire that is never quenched and the worm that dieth not. The latter fate will glorify God by making you wretched and miserable for choosing the wrong sort of resistance to idolatry.
Meanwhile, those who read the Bible apocalyptically, as an account of how God is beginning the next aeon already in this one, tend to choose (2). They open the Bible expecting to find a story of God preparing the new heaven and the new earth, and St John xiv 6 supplies that.
The apocalyptic gospel to Muslims (and everyone else) is: “God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ, God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” So says T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, p 94.
Every so often in attending ‘church’ I hear something life-giving, feel lead, nay propelled towards a greater love of others, and find myself transformed in some small but important way. Last night at Holy Trinity Cathedral was one such occasion.
A panel of six young 20 somethings (I’m only coming to terms with the reality this is by comparison now what I consider young) were drawn up in seats before an assembled audience of around thirty people. The brief of the panel was to answer a series of set questions relating to the living of their faith in 21st century Auckland, New Zealand. The second half of the evening to answer questions from the floor written down at the intermission and facilitated through the organiser.
What struck me in the first section was how articulate and graceful the responses from the panel were. They communicated their conviction succinctly and with erudition. There was too, a unifying theme in the responses which was reiterated for me today in the Lectionary. Where do we look for our healing? What will be the source? The pool of healing in John’s Gospel, or the One who heals by His very word,“Get up and walk!”.
The panel described how at times journeying through adolescence when they had strayed from their faith, seeking after fulfillment, and contentment in the secular world, they had returned to the only true and living source. Their faith gave their lives purpose. Through Prayer, study, and discipline, their lives were transformed and set on transforming relationship with the world around them, those of other faiths, their own, and none.
The second half of the talk focused on the responses to the recent tragic events in Christchurch, the way they feel their faith either is/is not a barrier to the ‘other’, and how they viewed Aotearoa New Zealand, themselves, and other citizens in light of the response to the events.
Again, articulate and heartfelt responses where as Johnson would have us, not shun patriotism when standing on the plains of marathon, were made with respect their views on the wider New Zealand response. For all the necessary soul searching of the past three weeks, these six young men and women spoke of a national response of which they felt they and we could be justly proud.
There was an opportunity in this segment also for rejoinders on a range of contentious topics;
-the nature of the present bi-cultural relationship between indigenous Maori and later migrants to these lands,
-the place of women in the context of their faith tradition,
-religion having been in the past and present appropriated across the globe as a banner under which geo-political aspirations, and power struggles could rally. There was reference to medieval crusades, 20th century partition of, and 21st century bombing of democracy into the Middle East, ISIS, Brunei, etc.
Throughout this entire discussion there was respect. There was honesty. Grounded in lived experience there was a genuine desire to increase understanding and alleviate suffering.
It was quite something.
Finally, at the conclusion of the discussion the six panelists, with their 26 Muslim brothers and sisters who had made up most of the audience, and we the five Christians present at this “Creating Listening Space” event, went upstairs to the Bishop Selwyn Chapel and said Evening Prayer (ANZPB). Here, we five as the scattered few amidst the many, prayed the prayers with some new insight, some little prejudice challenged, and a hope for a continuing discussion and increase in understanding for the future.
I wish I could say something similar every time I returned from 'church'.
As with Christianity, it is how its followers practise Islam that determines the answer to that one.
BW. Re (2). John Macquarie castigated Karl Rahner’s “anonymous Christianity” as it has no existential force or authenticity. He’s correct!
Bryden, what are you saying about (2) as exegesis? Karl Rahner did not read the NT apocalyptically. T F Torrance did not teach Rahner's "anonymous Christianity."
Dear Bryden (and Jean), may I advise you to read the article in the following link, which discusses the latest book by Fr. Richard Ruhr, O.F.M., noted Catholic theologian, entitled 'The Universal Christ'. In the wake of our recent experience of the local empathy shown to the victims of the mosque tragedies in our city, many of us have come to the realisation that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we worship - as Jesus has said - may have 'Other sheep who are not of this fold', whom God, in God's perfect will for all creation, may want us to respect and allow to be themselves in their environment of life and worship - as we are privileged to exist and believe, in ours. We are not intended to selfishly claim the salvation of the Cosmic Christ for just ourselves.
Dear Bishop Peter, a'propos you heading of this thread, I find your welcoming paragraph to 'ALL' people to join in faith conversation in the Cathedral to be spot on:
"The outpouring of love and solidarity for the Muslim community shows that hope is breaking through, and that love is the most powerful agent of change there is.
The reinstated Christ Church Cathedral will be a place of welcome for all people, to gather, to connect, to build relationships, and to talk through the issues that affect humanity. It will welcome people of all faiths and none"
If the Incarnation of Jesus enabled us to share in Christ's divinity (an experience we Christians have gained through the sacrament of our Baptism into Him), we need to recognise the distinct possibility of the life of Christ in everyone - not only the baptized. Maybe in our association with 'others' God may bring about something of the reconciliation that Jesus brought with him through the virtue of his Cross and Ressurection life. After all, Jesus said that he would be known by the Love shown by his disciples. Hospitality to ALL is surely paramount in the work of true evangelism - at least for us who call ourselves 'Christians'.
(I shall be absent from your blog for the next few weeks. Have a wonderful Holy Week and Easter ALL.) God is Great. God is Merciful!
Well Bowman, a Tom Torrance is not a Richard Rohr. There’s a world of difference between them - literally! And a John Macquarrie helps us to discern that in the brief direction I nodded. That is to say, Rahner’s “anonymous Christianity” fails, lacking, to echo JMac, ‘authentic existential realisation’. Methinks TFT agrees.
All in all, perhaps we should be re-reading the last chapters of Lewis’s The Last Battle notably the fates of Rishda versus Emeth - all suitably expressed!
Bryden, I still do not see what you yourself are trying to say about (2) as exegesis of St John xiv 6. I have not mentioned Richard Rohr with respect to (2), and he does not read the NT apocalyptically either. Meanwhile, Douglas Campbell, an exemplar of those who do read the NT apocalyptically, acknowledges TFT himself as his principle theological motivation. What are you trying to say?
On Richard Rohr, Ian Paul has an interesting post on Rohr's 'Universal Christ': https://www.psephizo.com/reviews/is-richard-rohrs-universal-christ-christian/
Rohr does not come out well. Here is a quote:
"I can honestly say that I did not find a single biblical text which was cited with any plausibility; every single one was either misread, or taken out of context, or even cited with errors."
On the upRohr and downRohr about his Cosmic Christ, I only have time to say five fairly obvious things before Trinity:
(1) Rohr and his reviewers are happy warriors who love to fight, and for that reason do not see their blind spots. They appear to be polarised by their temperamental response to authoritarianism-- religion that is law, law, law, law, law, law... Catholics here who were appalled that the same bishops who hide pedophile priests wanted to investigate the theology of their woke nuns see Rohr as one of the last honest men in the room. Law and order Catholics who worry that feminism is unsettling social mores and moral judgment and believe that only a Department of Public Morals can save the world loathe him.
(2) Rohr is appealing to the imaginations of readers, and not to their erudition. Fact-checking Rohr is like fact-checking Trump-- it is not quite a waste of time, but only an alternate imaginary will move hearts and minds.
(3) Rohr's base, if you will, trusts him because he too distrusts religion that is complicit in the political corruption and social cruelty that is most obvious to persons temperamentally averse to authoritarianism. The deeply important question that his reviewers are so far ducking is: why are readers of Rohr not also reading and trusting any of several more scholarly theologians who see much or all that they do? Why Rohr and not Wright or Campbell?
(4) Rohr is a Roman Catholic who does not understand the Reformation or Protestantism or Evangelicalism at all well, and is proposing a reactionary alternative to the law-soaked imaginary of the West as a whole. His position implies that the Reformation and Protestantism and Evangelicalism have made an unbalanced understanding of God more bearable when that should have been rebalanced or replaced instead. Which is to further imply that those who are very comfortable with the Reformation and Protestantism and Evangelicalism may be cozy with something other than God. Fairly or not, critics who come out of that corner to fight with Rohr are at a disadvantage, and when they do not even try to overcome it, they lose.
(5) Persuasion in polarised times is more about building trust across the divide than about marshaling arguments that sound wonderful on only one side of it.
Dear Bowman; this is supposedly a conversation, not proof-texting exactly. FRS brought RR into the frame (and you have now further populated it - helpfully).
TFT and RR are worth comparing in relation to their respective ‘cosmic/universal’ tendencies. Into that mix, and in relation to how you take Jn 14:6 via (2), JMac’s strident critique (written before KR died in 84) is most insightful. Your TFT quote used the language of “repent and believe”, Mac uses typical existential language: the effectual outcome is very similar. Generally, “coming to the Father” any which way is a most deliberative, conscious process. Even CSL’s delightful dialogue I’ve mentioned seeks to portray that.
As for Jn 14:6 in situ - well; let’s just say that the Fourth Gospel is premised upon this One’s being the Singular Bearer of the Divine Name - YHWH in human flesh - such that he’s the Temple and the Lamb, the locus of any and all cultus (chs 2-12 + the Hour, 13-20), with perhaps ch.17 being the climax. Blessed Holy Week and Easter Octave! [From a west’s perspective]
Regretfully, Bryden, my time is constrained by another project until June 16. My few recent comments have been borrowed from past posting here or my process there.
I have no idea how MR expected St John xiv 6 to be helpful to Christchurch at this time. I leave it to those there to judge whether it was.
I read the text, as I think TFT did, as a straightforward statement about perichoresis, which is indeed deliberative and conscious. However only the STJ who followed Jesus knew it, and St Paul declines to dismiss the rest as a "false religion" devoid of truth. If we think that he would have viewed Muslims differently, how do we base that thought on his writing?
"TFT and RR are worth comparing in relation to their respective ‘cosmic/ universal’ tendencies." Yes, but I would much rather hear the critics of RR explain their resistance to TFT's cosmic/universal tendencies, or even NTW's. The question will not be avoided-- postmodernity has brought cosmology back from its modern eclipse, and if they have little to say about it then we have little to hear from them.
MR = Michael Reddell.
TFT = Thomas Forsyth Torrance.
STJ = Second Temple Jews.
RR = Richard Rohr. Not R.R. Reno.
NTW = N.T. (Nicholas Thomas "Tom") Wright.
To Bryden and to all at ADU, a blessed Holy Week and Easter!
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