Dealing with the principle Christian complaint(s) about Islam

Muslim Leaders DecryWith every new forceful act by radical terrorists claiming to represent the interests of Islamic faith, the world waits for more moderate Muslims to call such actions to account.

If the headline of the Tribune’s Nation & World section is any indication, there is either a conspiracy to promote moderate Islam or the time has come where the voice of rational Muslims is finally being heard.

That seems to be the Christian’s world’s principle complaint about Islam: that it is a violent religion at its core. Certainly the headlines dominating the presentation of Muslims in the media don’t the help the public image any. In an arc that began with the spiteful terrorist attacks on 9/11 to the most recent murder of cartoonists in France, the influence and obvious intolerance of jihad has been on frequent display.

The Tribune story finally captures the frustration of those representing the sane aspects of Muslim faith. “Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim religious leader, Grand Mufti Abdul-Latif Derian, called on the country’s Muslims to renounce extremism if favor of tolerance,” the story stated. Then it quotes the leader: “The responsibility of all of us is to raise the voice against extremism. Against violence and terrorism. Against the confiscation of truth and righteousness, and the violation of rights and dignities,” Derian told a crowd.

Surely it is good to hear such advocacy for sanity in faith. But before those in the Christian world get too high and mighty about the struggles of Islam to find balance and promote peace, it is important to cast an eye back toward Christianity and its own forceful expression in the world.

Big words

We should not forget that George W. Bush allied himself closely with his Christian faith while in office. His public expressions of that faith were noble in many ways. But they did reveal a not-so-hidden determination to promulgate that faith on the world. When asked about his faith and his politics, Bush replied:

“Religion is an important part. I never want to impose my religion on anybody else. But when I make decisions I stand on principle. And the principles are derived from who I am. I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself. That’s manifested in public policy through the faith-based initiative where we’ve unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt. I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That’s what I believe. And that’s one part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. And I can’t tell you how encouraged how I am to see freedom on the march. And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me. And religion is a part of me.”

One cannot help but notice the inclination toward militaristic terminology when Bush spoke about his Christian faith. Christians often blame Muslims for wanting to invoke sharia law in nations where it either boasts a majority or seeks to convert people to its vision of the one true faith. And yet here we witnessed the leader of one of the world’s greatest nations stating in bold simplicity the fact that his faith drives his decisions.

How is the Muslim world supposed to read such language? Coupled with actions such as the invasion of Afghanistan, the overthrow of Iraq and pursuant torture of Iraqi citizens, there is no question why Muslims concerned about the power and influence of Christian faith in America’s actions.

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Core fears

At the very core of Islamic extremism is a fear that the United States is a corrupting, aggressive power in the world. The United States is considered an aggressor simply through export of its popular culture. In that regard the Christian faith is highly contradictory in its response to the expression of so-called American values. On one hand Americans decry the fact that some Muslim sects seem to oppress women with requirements of dress and behavior. At the same time American Christians struggle with the consistent objectification of women in sexualized ways.

Yet the Christian faith is embroiled in a similar struggle over control of women’s lives. The website Alternet documents the movement known as “Quiverfull” in which women are given a strict role in society. Author Carol Joyce explains this challenge over central doctrine and Christian faith:

“When Americans think of patriarchal societies, female submission, or extreme gender inequality based on religious teachings, visions of Muslim women in burkas or Hindus in poorly arranged marriages may come to mind. The reality, though, is that a growing number of American Christian fundamentalists also have rejected feminism and egalitarianism, embracing instead male dominance and what they call the “Quiverfull” belief system. Picture the Massachusetts Bay Colonies before Hester Prynne‘s day. The women in such communities live within a stringently enforced doctrine of wifely submission and male “headship,” including a selfless acceptance of possibly constant pregnancies and as many children under foot as God might bring. They reject not only “reproductive rights” of any kind, but also higher education and workforce participation for women.”

Critical thinking

The right to criticize or even question such practices is almost verboten in the Christian world, where calling fellow Christians to task somehow seems to be considered bad sport. Or, where there is criticism, Christians of many stripes seem to hide behind the flapping banner of persecution for their beliefs.

But let’s consider the issue of persecution in a full light. There is genuine persecution in which Christians are captured, killed or slaughtered in nations where the faith is not accepted. That is an undeniable challenge, exacerbated by the current fact that in many nations it is the so-called Christians still doing the killing. 

However the claims that Christians are being isolated for persecution may not be so accurate as some would lead us to believe. “I am very disappointed by the response of the U.S. government and State Department in the protection and advocacy for persecuted Christians,” he said. “The power and leadership vacuum within the United States has created a very dangerous situation in Iraq for Christians,” said Open Doors CEO David Curry to The Christian Post.

Okay, let’s examine that statement in its full context. American invaded Iraq on the very slim premise that there were weapons of mass destruction being produced by then-leader Saddam Hussein. We barely provided protection to the nation’s resources except for its oil, and then turned around and in the process of war, slaughtered thousands of Iraqis, openly tortured suspected terrorists (many of whom were innocent) and actually drew Islamic terrorists to the nation through these actions.

To turn around and complain that it is Christians who are being persecuted and that the Obama administration is responsible is so grandly false a contention it begs genuine criticism from within both Islam and Christianity. America as a nation is deeply conflicted by its own acts of aggression and the response of terrorists in return.

DSCN1904Soft yet poisonous

There is also a softer yet no less damaging claim of persecution that uses religious freedom as a form of shield against questions within the Christian faith community.Witness the reaction to Pope Francis by the likes of Fox News, which does not like the Pope’s politics or his faith. These hit pieces demonstrate the fact that Christianity has become a political tool for American conservatives. As the Fox News contentions demonstrate, American conservatives consider Pope Francis a “radical” for the simple fact that his views express the socially liberal aspects of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Fox News does not like liberalism in any form, including that of the faith’s leading modern representatives or its progenitor, the one and only Jesus Christ.

The effects of cloistered Christian faith are evident in public surveys showing that between 30-50% of American Christians do not believe in the scientific theory of evolution and thus refuse to grasp or understand even the basic science driving modern medicine, business and the ensuing effects of industrialization such as climate change.

These comprehensions are inherently linked to worldview, and Christians are the absolute worst at promoting the most basic appreciation for cause and effect. Many prefer instead the magic explanations of creationism and intelligent design, both of which are not science but elaborate confabulations of religious denial. They are complex as a defense mechanism against modernism, and that is all. But they poison the public dialogue and even America’s reputation in a world that has grown to value science as a great human equalizer in the fabric of international decisions. American conservative Christians advocate a worldview that is aggressively ignorant, stubborn and selfish. That makes the world hate us and leave Islam room to question whether Christianity really has its act together or not.

Internally conflicted

Thus the principle complaints against Islam by conservative Christians and their political allies display deep internal conflicts in the worldview collectively known as Christianity. Like Islamic terrorists married to the ideal of jihad as a means to change and control the world, politically conservative Christians fail to see their own contradictory visage as a threat to the world.

There is a sickness at the heart of Christian conservatism that has infested the heart of the faith all the way back to the people Jesus Christ fought for control of the narrative of the Judaic tradition. And by way of that mention, we should consider the persecution of Jews by so-called Christians over the ages as an example of the hypocrisy Christians like to claim in their complaints against Islam.

It is extremist religion in all cases that produces such grand horror in this world. To point a finger at another faith as the principle cause of such persecution and terror in the world is not just ironic or hypocritical. It is dangerous and wrong.

If Bill Nye the Science Guy debates Ken Ham over evolution and Genesis, things could get sticky as a spider web

By Christopher Cudworth

argiope6252a“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne’er come down again.”

It’s a classic tale of deceit for advantage.  The spider uses an inviting scenario to invite the fly to the table, when in fact the intent is to make the fly a meal.

So goes the proposed debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the leader of a group that calls itself “Answers In Genesis.”

We must start with the name of the organization to see how confusing this debate will likely be, or could become.

No Scientific Answers in Genesis

Evolution explains the structure and function of all living things. Genesis does not. It only deals with purpose.

Evolution explains the structure and function of all living things. Genesis does not. It only deals with purpose.

See, when it comes to science, there are no answers in the book of Genesis. None. The only references to the character and structure of living things are made in broad generalities, that various “kinds” of creatures walk, crawl and swim on the earth. It does not categorize them or describe them beyond a preschool level of understanding nature and all its workings.

So the supposition that Genesis somehow holds all the answers to the manner in which the world works and all its complexity is a bold farce.

People Walking With Dinosaurs

How bold? The Creation Museum that has been generated from the teachings of Answers in Genesis insists that people walked the earth at the same time as long-extinct forms of dinosaurs. Achingly sad attempts have been made to prove this fact, including the contention that fossilized dinosaur prints in a bed of Texas rock were actually made by humans. The explanation for the supposedly human footprints alongside the dinosaur tracks is found in the mere fact that mud collapses on its edges in many conditions. But the fantasy and appeal of humans and dinosaurs walking together was so strong that folks like the Answers In Genesis people tried to make a big deal out of it.

That is because there is a major clique of people who cannot see the world through anything other than an anachronistic lens in which the Bible is to be taken literally. This cabal is so desperate to find evidence to support their backwards-thinking theories of creationism and intelligent design, the merest conundrum of science sends them scurrying to catalog the fact that “science is wrong.”

The beauty of science is that makes right from many wrongs

Science is always wrong. That’s the beauty of it. Science is cannibalistic in its willingness to disprove theories and replace them with better ones. But that’s what makes science work in the world. If it cannot be repeatedly demonstrated through experimentation, or documented to be verifiable through supporting evidence, it does not stand up as science.

That’s a harsh reality. Science deals in harsh realities. It makes right from many wrongs, whereas religion takes the attitude that three wrongs can never make a right.

Different priorities

The harsh reality that Answers in Genesis emphasizes (and considers paramount and superior to the priorities of science) is the harsh reality of divine salvation.

Ken Ham may care deeply about your soul, and he may indeed worry that anything that appears to contradict the Word of God may prevent you from making that vital connection with God. But Ken Ham makes the rude assumption that only a literal take on the Bible has verity.

The priorities of Jesus

Jesus revealed spiritual truths by using organic symbols from nature as metaphors.

Jesus revealed spiritual truths by using organic symbols from nature as metaphors.

In fact in reading the Bible we find that Jesus himself taught by using metaphorical symbols from nature to convey spiritual principles that his audience might otherwise fail to grasp if they were not presented in a form that allowed them to conceive and visualize the truth he sought them to grasp. In my book The Genesis Fix, I call this method of teaching “organic fundamentalism,” and its practice is found not only in the parables of Jesus, but throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Here’s how it works:

True simplicity of faith comes in having the liberty and latitude to discover what scripture means to say rather than accepting a merely literal interpretation of a religious text. We might call this metaphorical tangibility; that is, approaching life and wisdom with an eye toward its unifying symbolism. This is the common denominator in biblical knowledge. Organic fundamentalism isn’t just a “here or there” phenomenon in the bible based on texts selected to make a case in favor of naturalism as a foundation for truth. Scriptural knowledge is consistently (even persistently) delivered to us through use of metonymy from nature to describe the abiding principles of God. Organic fundamentalism founded on observational naturalism is plainly the root source of biblical knowledge and the primary tool for understanding concepts of God. 

At odds with Christ

Ken Ham can't see the trees for the forest.

Ken Ham can’t see the trees for the forest.

So this raises the question of whether Ken Ham’s worldview has any verity at all if in fact his seemingly simple explanations of nature are in fact not in accordance with the teaching methods of Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus would have labeled Ken Ham another brand of Pharisee, someone so caught up in legalism and the hunger for power over the Word that he has lost sight of the forest for the trees. He is, in other words, a modern day zealot in search of a position in this life, not the Holy Man he claims to be.

A nasty web of religious words

When Billy Nye debates Ken Ham he will first have to sort through the many webs and fabrications of “fact” that Answers In Genesis has woven to ensnare scientists in a religious, not a scientific debate. The complicating factor is that when the version of religion is even wrong, you are in a very sticky situation. Bill Nye may well find himself having to correct Ken Ham on his religious facts in order to debate his ostensibly scientific contentions that creationism is real and true.

It isn’t, of course, and Jesus never would have demanded that it be so. Most certainly he would have appreciated the spider and the fly allegory in the poem that starts out this essay. Jesus often found himself in situations where supposedly scholarly religious leaders tried to entrap him with their words. Jesus usually deferred them by answering back with questions that were equally unanswerable and that illustrated the falsity of the original question.

This column of limestone in an Iowa forest perfectly illustrates the enormous timeline it took for oceans to lay down layers of silt that turned into stone, and the many years of hydrology and erosion it took to become a column before us.

This column of limestone in an Iowa forest perfectly illustrates the enormous timeline it took for oceans to lay down layers of silt that turned into stone, and the many years of hydrology and erosion it took to become a column before us.

Bill Nye the Science Guy could learn a few things from Jesus before he debates Ken Ham the Creation Guy. As he argues in favor of evolutionary theory, and how evolution explains the world, he may find himself mostly tugging away at the sticky questions Ken Ham throws at him about how science is frequently wrong. That would be missing the point entirely, because the point of this argument is that science actually works in a practical sense. It is the foundation of medicine and a thousand other practical applications without which the world could not operate.

So here’s the irony: Bill Nye would be wise to learn from Jesus about how to argue with a religious zealot if he doesn’t want to get stuck in a web of wordy deceit.

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