Thursday, September 20, 2012
"What instigated the attack on the Twin Towers, Flight 93 and the Pentagon? And what drives today's 24/7 mosque/imam-planned acts of terror and horror? The koran, Mohammed's book of death for all infidels and Muslim domination of the world by any means. Muslims must clean up this book removing said passages admitting that they are based on the Gabriel myth and therefore obviously the hallucinations and/or lies of Mohammed. Then we can talk about the safety and location of mosques and what is taught therein. Until then, no Muslim can be trusted anytime or anywhere . . . "
This is, as I said, a sensitive issue, and Christian scholars who are friends disagree profoundly about it. Sometimes I find myself in the middle of the firefight. For instance, I found Don Richardson's Secrets of the Koran a bit over the top, but then wrote a long letter to Christianity Today defending Richardson against Warren Larson's critique in that magazine, which seemed even more over-the-top. And Miriam Adeney, who contributed a wonderful chapter on world religions to our new book, Faith Seeking Understanding, strongly disagrees with Don on this, too.
So let's examine McLaren's post with a view not to a muddle through the middle, nor even to resolve all conflicts -- we don't need to agree about everything -- but to at least frame the issues a little more reasonably.
By Brian McLaren, Special to CNN
I was raised as an evangelical Christian in America, and any discussion of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations around the world must include the phenomenon of American Islamophobia, for which large sectors of evangelical Christianity in America serve as a greenhouse.
Is fear a gas? And are we Christians, or some "sectors" of American Christianity, the plants that give off that gas? A strange and inelegant metaphor with which to begin.
At a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed over an offensive, adolescent and puerile film targeting Islam - beyond pathetic in its tawdriness – we must begin to own up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia.
Huh? Muslims are murdering people (allegedly) over a stupid film made by an Egyptian Copt with a criminal record, as indeed they have been murdering Copts centuries before films were invented. This is why American Christians should "own up" to our fear of Islam? One might think widespread murderous rampages would justify, rather than delegitimize, fear of the group that carries them out -- all things being equal.
At any rate, let us pause to note that despite all the New Agish cliches, fear is not inherently irrational. The world is, in fact, full of things for us vulnerable little carbo-hydrate based creatures to fear. Most liberals acknowledge that bad ideas can be among those fearsome things -- Nazism, for instance, or (in their view) unbridled capitalism. If fear can be rational, and if some ideologies are in fact fearsome, one cannot just assume that all manifestations of fear are intrinsically irrational, as McLaren seems to be doing, here.
Fear can be right and rational. One must therefore not glibly psychobabble this plain English monosyllable into the question-begging language of "phobias."
Many of my own relatives receive and forward pious-sounding and alarm-bell-ringing e-mails that trumpet (IN LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!) the evils of Islam, that call their fellow evangelicals and charismatics to prayer and “spiritual warfare” against those alleged evils, and that often - truth be told - contain lots of downright lies.
We certainly should oppose lies, and work to ensure that what we say is always the truth, including when we're praying. But let's see what "lies" McLaren will offer as examples.
For example, one recent e-mail claimed “Egyptian Christians in Grave Danger as Muslim Brotherhood Crucifies Opponents." Of course, that claim has been thoroughly debunked, but the sender’s website still (as of Friday) claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has “crucified those opposing" Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy "naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.”
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
That story may, indeed, be false, and if so, should be exposed as such.
But it is unfortunately true that hundreds of Copts have been murdered by fanatical Muslims in Egypt in recent years. Why doesn't McLaren mention that highly relevant detail? It is also true that Coptic Christians are systematically marginalized in Egypt. Is also turns out that a large percent of Muslims in Egypt believe it is not only OK, but laudible, to murder Muslims who convert to Christianity:
Returning to the death penalty for those who abandon Islam, called for by 84 percent of Egyptians, it must be pointed out that those who want it are men and women, old and young, educated and uneducated, without distinction.
In Jordan, the level of support for sentencing apostates to death rises all the way to 86 percent. It is only in Lebanon and Turkey that support is low, at 6 and 5 percent respectively.
If Egyptian Muslims justify murdering apostates, and if Copts are in fact frequently killed, the difference between the reality and the rumor lies merely in the gaudiness of the method of murder, not in the substantial fact of mass murders.
So what kind of shell game is McLaren playing? Does he think we're such fools that we don't even notice when he moves the shells around on the table?
And of course, Christians have been almost entirely driven out of other Middle Eastern countries, as they soon may be from Egypt, where they have lived for two thousand years. Outside the Arab world, sharia law has been adopted in northern Nigeria. One might describe Idi Amin's fanatical hatred of Christianity as an exception, but a converted Imam tells me before he converted, he would have defended killing converts from Islam on accepted legal grounds.
That's the problem. McLaren's intent seems to be to distract attention from that problem by a kind of relativism -- we're as bad as they are. But one should not lie, even to sound humble, or even to get published by CNN.
Many sincere and good-hearted evangelicals have never yet had a real Muslim friend, and now they probably never will because their minds have been so prejudiced by Islamophobic broadcasts on so-called Christian television and radio.
I have befriended Muslims, and Don Richardson has called for Christians to do the same. (See the end of our interview in Faith Seeking Understanding.) So it is possible to hold these two thoughts -- "Islam is dangerous" -- "Christ calls us to love our neighbors, even our enemies" -- in the mind at the same time.
And I think that kind of balance is what the Gospel calls for, and a healthy response to complex reality.
Janet Parshall, for example, a popular talk show host on the Moody Radio Network, frequently hosts Walid Shoebat, a Muslim-evangelical convert whose anti-Muslim claims, along with claims about his own biography, are frequently questioned. John Hagee, a popular televangelist, also hosts Shoebat as an expert on Islam, as does the 700 Club.
What is the point here? That Christians, unlike CNN (???) should only interview authorities whose views are never questioned? Or does McLaren want us to read "questioned" to mean "proven to be false?"
If the latter is his intent, he should say so clearly, and back up his claim.
Many Christian bookstores that (used to) sell my books, still sell books such as Paul Sperry’s "Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington" (Thomas Nelson, 2008). In so doing, they fuel conspiracy theories such as the ones U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, promoted earlier this year.
Again, no details to help us judge the matter. It does not seem intrinsically impossible that Muslim (or Russian, or Chinese) spies would want to influence power in Washington, D. C. Nor does it seem unlikely, given the trillions of Middle Eastern oil money wafting around, that they have indeed influenced people in Washington -- some names come to mind. If all that oil wealth had resulted in no power or influence at all (even though ex-presidents are often given large sums to speak in the Arab world), such surprising failure would reflect monumental incompetence.
So why is this question inherently wrong to ask? If McLaren simply thinks this book asks a good question, but makes some mistakes in answering it, why doesn't he point those mistakes out?
Or does he assume that his readers will note the faint whiff of implied "McCarthiism" here, and respond automatically, like Pavlov's dogs? (I bet my mere naming of the term caused emotional responses in some readers -- "Oh, no! Not that!")
In recent days, we’ve seen how irresponsible Muslim media outlets used the tawdry 13-minute video created by a tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists to create a disgusting caricature of all Christians - and all Americans - in Muslim minds. But too few Americans realize how frequently American Christian media personalities in the U.S. similarly prejudice their hearers’ minds with mirror-image stereotypes of Muslims.
No doubt this happens. Why, then, given the chance to write for CNN, haven't you given any concrete examples of what you're talking about?
Wouldn't it be great to find out, for instance, that a large majority of Egyptian Muslims really doesn't think converts to Christianity should be killed?
Meanwhile, many who are pastors and leaders in evangelicalism hide their heads in the current issue of Christianity Today or World Magazine, acting as if the kinds of people who host Islamophobic sentiments swim in a tiny sidestream, not in the mainstream, of our common heritage. I wish that were true.
Why? Again, McLaren has still not bothered to explain what "Islamophobia" is, or why it is wrong. I admit that I'm afraid of some communities, and some bodies of thought -- for instance, the Mafia, and the idea that it is a hilarious bit of physical comedy to place the head of a racehorse in the bed of someone you're angry at.
No doubt there are inappropriate fears, too, but McLaren seems content to merely allude to them, rather than point any out.
Movies that bash Christianity are made every week, and some are shown to millions. We don't burn down embassies in protest. Isn't McLaren being a tad bit patronizing to Muslims, to think Christians need to do all this soul-searching, because of a cheap little flick that no one saw, and none of us helped make?
The events of this past week, if we let them, could mark a turning point - a hitting bottom, if you will - in the complicity of evangelicalism in Islamophobia.
For which you have failed to demonstrate an iota of real evidence, sir.
If enough evangelicals watch or try to watch the film trailer that has sparked such outrage in the Middle East, they may move beyond the tipping point.
I tried to watch it, but I couldn’t make it halfway to the 13-minute mark. Everything about it was tawdry, pathetic, even pornographic. All but the most fundamentalist believers from my evangelical Christian tribe who watch that video will be appalled and ashamed to be associated with it.
Yes -- if I were associated with it. But I'm not. And neither is anyone else I know, in any way.
Anymore than I am associated with McLaren, despite his claim to belong to "my tribe." (Which is a useful trick for gaining access to mass media, let me hasten to add.)
You've heard of "Guilt by Association?" There's not even any association in this case -- except in Mr. McLaren's mind. Neither I, nor any evangelical anyone has named yet, seems to be associated with the production of this film. By contrast, real atheists do seem to have been associated with Bill Maher's hate flick, Religulous, which was produced by hundreds, and seen by millions. So shouldn't CNN be publishing soul-searching articles about how Gnus ought to be beating their breasts, instead?
In any case, in a free country, what troubles me is not a few idiots who make a junior-high level film that no one watches -- unless, say, people are abused in the making of the film, which does piss me off -- but the fact that crowds whom we support with taxpayer money, are torching our embassies, and our government has done too little to stop it. In fact, it troubles me that we are sending American tax dollars to an Egypt now ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Call me a fanata-phobic, if you will.
It is hate speech. It is no different from the anti-Semitic garbage that has been all too common in Western Christian history. It is sub-Christian - beneath the dignity of anyone with a functioning moral compass.
Yes, well, so is most of Hollywood.
Islamophobic evangelical Christians - and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late - must choose.
Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?
Amazing someone can write so much, even for CNN, without the trace of a real idea emerging from all his verbiage. And apparently his book is among the top 200 on Amazon.
I am hostile to Islam, I admit it. By that I mean I think Mohammed was a bad man, and his influence in the world has been more harmful than otherwise.
But I am not hostile to Islam in the sense of thinking all Muslims are evil, or that Islamic art lacks all aesthetic appeal, that Medieval Cordoba was a barren wasteland, or that it would be a bad thing to invite Muslims over for Christmas, or hiking, as I have done. This is a pretty fundamental Christian concept -- "love the sinner, hate the sin" -- that we Christians are called to apply to ourselves, even before our neighbors. But fine distinctions seem to have been lost on McLaren, along with aspects of his tribal identity.
If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety. No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate.
Again, one finds barely the trace of a coherent thought in all of this.
Jesus contrasted "God" with "mammon." The latter is a concrete object -- money -- which one can inordinately love.
By contrast, "greed," "fear," and "hate" are EMOTIONS. One does not "serve" emotions, though one may be "ruled" by them. Emotions may be called ordinate or inordinate to varying situational contexts: "I hate liver!" "I hate my Grandfather!" "I hate Illinois Nazis!" or "I hate injustice!" all involve "hatred," but in different ways, some of which are (or may be) more appropriate than others. Emotions are (as C. S. Lewis put it) like keyboards on a piano that one plays upon: now dinging this one, now that, some more frequently than others, but none simply "right" or "wrong" at all times and all places.
McLaren is talking in empty bromides and stale platitudes, apparently (despite his audience, or perhaps because of it) without really thinking at all.
One can, of course, serve God, and hate sin. Among the sins one can legitimately hate, are political oppression, murder of ambassadors, stoning of raped women, and the burning of Coptic churches. Of course we as Christians are told to take specks out of our own eyes, or planks, so we should also be on the lookout for them. But we don't need to wait until we're morally perfect, to stand up on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Muslim (or communist, this is a replay from an earlier movie) countries.
The broad highway of us-them thinking and the offense-outrage-revenge reaction cycle leads to self-destruction. There is a better way, the way of Christ who, when reviled, did not revile in return, who when insulted, did not insult in return, and who taught his followers to love even those who define themselves as enemies.
McLaren seems in danger here of running up against a real thought, now: the whole Just War tradition, the debate over the rights (and wrongs) of pacifism, perhaps a revisit of the debates over the Iraq War.
But he escapes the danger, and retreats into cliches, again:
Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own. But the way of Christ requires all who claim to be Christians to examine our own eyes for planks before trying to perform first aid on the eyes of others. We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected.
I do publicly repudiate all lies on behalf of Christ. I also publicly repudiate bad film-making. (Sorry again, Hollywood.)
I also repudiate relativism, that pretends an unknown hack film by a legally-challenged Copt is somehow equivalent to the millions who have been murdered on the borders of Islam in the past few decades in the name of militant and very serious and main-stream Islam.
People have free speech in America. Unfortunately, that means thousands of bad films are probably being made even as we speak.
Most of the Muslim world lacks freedom. Islamic culture encourages the murder of those who convert out. Saudi and Pakistani and Afghani cultures encourage the virtual imprisonment of women, for the crime of being female.
Those are real problems. Mild misinformation on obscure American talk shows,, too mild for McLaren to finger concretely (though I suspect he is just being lazy, surely concrete examples could be found) does not seem so dire a problem. Christ wants us to tell the truth. I think he also wants us to stand up for the oppressed, including our oppressed brothers and sisters within the Egyptian Coptic community -- who have come in for it already, and now will really be under the wheel.
Theological Angle: The on-going dust-up between the alleged "Islamophobes" and those who might (by analogy) be called "Islamophiles," reveals the need for a balanced and orthodox theology of religions, which I think is one of the great needs in the Church today. This is the burden of my doctoral dissertation, which has now been approved by the University of Wales as well as the examiners. Both "exclusivism" and "pluralism" seem simply too clumsy to help us model the actual complexity and nuance to be found in actual religious traditions. The Bible, by contrast, does I think provide a useful and enlightening model, faithful to God's call to love truth, wherever it can be found, beginning with the Truth Himself.
Perhaps I'll make some of this available here later. I'm also hoping (and expecting) that the dissertation will be published some time next year.