Privileged Status?

Early last Saturday morning, someone apparently tossed a small IED (improvised explosive device) through the window of an imam’s office at the Dar al-Farooq Mosque in Bloomington, MN. Fortunately, no one was injured, and damage from the explosion was minimal (it seems more damage was done by the sprinkler system triggered by the explosion than the explosion itself). minnesotamosqueThe timing seems curious. The attack occurred around 5:05, almost an hour before scheduled sunrise prayers. According to the imam, he would normally be at his desk in his office at that time, but for some reason was late on Saturday morning. It is possible that this attack was directed at harming the imam, or it may simply have been the most convenient window for the attacker’s purposes. Time will tell.

In any case, if the motive for this attack was to injure/murder the imam or to cause fear and insecurity (or worse) to the Muslim community, it must be roundly condemned. Both federal and state law enforcement agencies are committed to finding the perpetrator and exposing him/her to justice, which is as it should be.

In the meantime, various groups and political leaders have seized on this incident as evidence of rising Islamophobia, and have excoriated leaders who as of yet have not registered their hatred of Islamophobes. President Trump in particular has been the target of much ire from the Muslim and liberal activist communities for not even acknowledging this attack in the midst of his voluminous tweeting.

Less than 24 hours after this unprovoked attack on the Dar al-Farooq mosque, an even more heinous attack took place at a church during a Sunday morning worship service. Gunmen stormed into the sanctuary of the St. Philip’s Catholic Church during early morning mass attended by about 100 parishioners. St. Philips NigeriaThey opened fire indiscriminately and when the smoke had cleared and they had fled, over 50 people lay dead with many more seriously wounded. You probably didn’t read about this in US media reports because the massacre occurred in Nigeria.

Yet, human beings are human beings the world over.  On any scale of evil deeds, what happened last Sunday in Nigeria registers with immensely greater magnitude than the relatively minor mosque attack in MN, where thankfully there was no loss of life or personal injury. Yet to my knowledge, President Trump has not tweeted about this attack either.

One might justifiably argue that since he is President of the United States, he ought to be particularly concerned with attacks in this country rather than those committed elsewhere. And yet, US presidents have regularly spoken out when major tragedies or terrorist attacks have occurred in other parts of the world. Why has President Trump remained silent on these recent matters?

Perhaps the central reason is that in neither case has the perpetrator(s) been caught so we don’t yet clearly know the motivation behind the actions. If either or both of these turn out to be the fruit of terrorism, I suspect the condemnations will flow quickly. As of now, investigations are under way.

It is understandable that Muslim groups and Minnesota politicians would be clamoring for national attention to promote an anti-Islamophobia message, yet in the midst of all the extreme and apocalyptic fear-mongering I would plead for some balance in perspective. While any and all harassment and aggression is wrong no matter who the victim, let us remember that in our present age the vast number of perpetrators of religious hate/terrorism self-identify as Muslims acting in the name of their faith.

In America, where all residents are guaranteed freedom of religion and entitled to personal safety and security, we must unabashedly condemn physical or verbal attacks against Muslims and their places of worship, as we would and do condemn such attacks against any other individuals, groups or facilities. We must continue to work against bigotry and blind hatred, and to foster instead the appreciation or at least the tolerance of ethnic, social and religious diversity. Remarkably, as a free society of some 330 million people, the United States of America does a pretty decent job demonstrating tolerance and comity. Would that all other nations had the same aspirations.

Of course, freedom of religion falls under the larger umbrella of freedom of speech, which means that while we welcome and protect the right to worship as one chooses, we also welcome and protect the freedom to critique ideas and practices with which we disagree. In the public square of competing beliefs, no religion or philosophy or world view is accorded a blanket exemption from criticism. Our convictions as a society are that the application of civil discourse and debate leads us closer to truth and that the suppression of such discourse leads to darkness and ignorance.

As a result, we must make a clear distinction between legitimate criticism of ideas on the one hand and hate speech on the other. The latter appeals not to reason or evidence but to emotion and visceral prejudice. The former tests ideas and claims, pointing out their irrationality or undesirability regarding the common good.

Particularly with regard to Islam, there are some forces today seeking to ban any criticism of its beliefs or practices as hate speech. Instead of distinguishing between criticism of the actual teachings of Islam and perjoratives against its practitioners, such a ban would put Islam on a pedestal with preferred status, untouchable by competing beliefs. Such a move would sound the death knell for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, even freedom of thought.voltaire.jpg

So, let us work hard to protect the rights of all, including Muslims, to worship and live freely. But let us also guard against the privileging of one particular belief system, even under the misguided notion that it needs special protection from purported bigots.  Let the rival claims to truth continue to joust robustly in the public square of ideas, and may the best among them win!


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Fake News Headline #10: Muslims Love Jesus Just as Christians Do!

Back in the 1960s when I was growing up in Saudi Arabia, a local entrepreneur thought he could cash in on a void in the soft drink market left by the Saudi government ban on Coca-Cola, which had just opened a bottling plant in Israel and so become “Cola non grata” in the desert kingdom.

The replacement beverage was called Kaki-Cola, and looked very similar to the “Real Thing.” Kaki Cola.jpgThe difference became clear, however, upon opening a bottle and taking a swig. No one that I knew of who had ever tasted Coca-Cola became a fan of its intended replacement. Thankfully, in 1991, the ban was lifted, and since then Saudis have discovered that “things go better with Coke.”

This seems an apt illustration for the question at hand, “Do Muslims love Jesus just like Christians do? Muslims of course claim they do. They point to the fact that the Qur’an speaks often and highly of Jesus. He is one of Islam’s great messengers. He is recognized as the only sinless prophet (in the Qur’an, Allah commands Muhammad on three different occasions to repent of his sins!). He has more diverse miracles to his credit than any other man sent by Allah. He is the only human being conceived by and born to a virgin woman. He is a sign to the world of Allah’s mercy. Titles given to him surpass those accorded any other prophet: Word of Allah, a spirit from Allah, the Messiah, Word of truth, one highly esteemed here and in the hereafter, one who will be Witness on the Day of resurrection, the one who is blessed wherever he may be. On the basis of one passage in particular, which declares that Jesus is a sign of the (Last) Hour (43:61), most Muslims believe that Jesus, not Muhammad, is the one whom Allah will send back to earth at the end of the age. Even now, Muslim orthodoxy teaches, Jesus is alive in heaven; Muhammad is dead in his grave.

So far, so good. But Islam is a religion which can only justify its existence by denying the message of Christianity. After all, if the New Testament message encapsulated in Hebrews 1:1-3 is true, then Muhammad has become redundant, or even worse, stands out as a false prophet:

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.”

When God sends His very own Son as the fullness of His revelation, what could any mortal servant bring after the Son which could shed greater light? If Jesus is the One in whom the whole fullness of God dwells bodily (Col. 2:9), then any putative prophet who comes along later and points away from Jesus must be a counterfeit.

So, Muhammad found himself in a quandary. He needed to affirm the authority of the Bible in his preaching in order to establish his own standing among his listeners, but he also needed to reject the central message of the Bible in order to justify his existence as Allah’s spokesman. As a result, the Qur’an brings a schizophrenic message: It confirms all that God has previously revealed in the Old and New Testaments, but it denies the central teachings of the Bible which conflict with the message of Muhammad.

Thus, the Jesus of the Qur’an (who is renamed as ‘Isa rather than using the Arabic transliteration Yasu’a) has little of substance in common with the historical Jesus as revealed in the New Testament. He is a prophet, but only human. He is a slave of Allah, as are all human beings. He has no special, ontological union with God as his Father – He is no Son of God, only son of Mary. He was not “crucified, dead and buried,” but it only seemed that way to his enemies. Instead, Allah lifted him up to heaven so that he would avoid death, and now ‘Isa awaits orders to return to earth at the end of time to head up the worldwide Islamic community and bring all the globe under submission to Allah. He will break every cross (showing Christianity to be under Allah’s curse, kill all pigs (unclean animals acceptable only to Christians and pagans) and offer all non-Muslims (including Jews and Christians) a choice: convert to Islam or be executed. After his bloodbath is complete, he will rule over a subjugated world as Caliph until his natural death, where he will be buried in Medina next to the tomb of Muhammad. Then Allah will bring an end to this world with the Day of Judgment.

This is the Muslim ‘Isa. If he is the true Jesus, then Christianity is indeed a false religion. For if Jesus never really died, then there is no atonement and forgiveness of sins for those who follow him. If there is no atonement won by Christ’s sacrifice, then there is no saving grace – we are left with a religion of works, laboring with no confidence to win Allah’s inscrutable favor by our frantic obedience. gospel-pic-2.jpgIf the true Jesus never died, then of course there is no possibility of his historical resurrection, and thus no victory over death upon which we can depend for our futures. If this is the case, then as the apostle Paul says, “…we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19).

The Muslim ‘Isa is stripped of any divinity, he is no Savior of the world, he has no power over death. He is not the risen Lord, Head of the Church universal, Son of God seated at the right hand of the Father; he is not Love Incarnate; he is not coming on the clouds in glory and power to gather all humanity before the Throne where he will judge the living and the dead. He may initially look appealing, but he cannot deliver. Kaki-Cola.jpgIn short, he is not the Jesus of the New Testament.

He is the Kaki-Cola of messiahs compared to “the Real Thing.”

So when you hear the claim that Muslims love Jesus just like Christians do, remember that they are speaking of a pale imitation, one who can’t hold a candle to the real Jesus. Raised on Kaki-Cola Christology, they are oblivious to the captivating taste of reality, until they get their first swig of Coca-Cola Christology, meeting the real Jesus. Once that happens, they can never go back to the bland and unappetizingly cheap imitation.

It’s the calling of the followers of Jesus today to present humanity’s Lord and Savior to the followers of Islam with the same enthusiasm, wonder and devotion that the first century disciples of Jesus exhibited to the Greco-Roman world. As God used them to radically reorient a pagan empire toward the gospel message, so He can use His Church today to bring hundreds of millions of misled Muslims to the foot of the Cross. All it takes are hearts burning with love for Christ and committed to the extension of his glory. Jesus gave his life for Muslims, as well as for all others. Can we who love and follow him give any less?

(For further material on the difference between ‘Isa and Jesus, check out an earlier blog here.)

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Fake News Headline #9: Minorities Have Always Loved Living under Muslim Rule!

One common oft-repeated canard in the West today is that in the Golden Age of Islam (whenever that was), everyone loved living under Muslim rule. tolerance.jpgJews and Christians flourished, Zoroastrians and Buddhists, even Hindus and other polytheists, found safe harbor under the benevolent tolerance of their Muslim overlords.

And it must be said that there were indeed isolated periods of peace toward non-Muslim subjects during the vast stretches of time when the various Caliphates ruled much of Asia and North Africa. However, as the sayings go, these exceptions prove the rule.

It is estimated that from the time of Muhammad’s death (632) until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 some 270,000,000 (no, that is not a typo) human beings were killed by Muslim armies expanding their territories or by Caliphs and their subsidiaries strengthening their grip on restive subject peoples. That’s two hundred and seventy million non-Muslims who failed to show sufficient love to their benevolent, tolerant Muslim rulers.

One might argue that it is not fair to tar and feather a religion based on the proscribed excesses of some of its wayward leaders. One must look at that religion’s teachings to know the truth, not its faulty practitioners. Fair enough. So let’s take look at Muhammad and his tolerance of those with whom he differed. After all, according to Islamic doctrine, Muhammad is the insan al-kamil, the ideal human; according to the Qur’an, he is the best example of humanity (33:21), and all Muslims are obliged to model their lives upon his.

There are two extended periods in Muhammad’s career where he came as a minority into a group who did not intend to become his followers. If there is any time one might be expected to show tolerance of others, it is when you are the minority among people who see life differently from you. Yet, according to early Muslim sources writing about the behavior of their prophet, such was not the case.

The first occurred at Mecca in the period from 610-622 AD. Mecca was Muhammad’s hometown, and the citizens were mostly his large tribe, the Quraish. In 610, at the age of 40, Muhammad believed himself called as a prophet of Allah, the only God. By 613, Muhammad was openly preaching his message among his pagan relatives and associates. arabian-peninsula-divine-feminineAs polytheists, the Meccans were well-accustomed to accepting the worship of “new gods.” They were willing to tolerate Muhammad and his views until he apparently started to demean their gods and threaten them with hellfire. That got them riled up, but still they sought peaceful means to address their concerns. They appealed to Muhammad’s uncle and benefactor to muzzle him. They offered him money, honor, even civic power, if he would just leave them to their traditions. But Muhammad would not tolerate their polytheism. According to Ibn Ishaq, the eminent and earliest biographer of Muhammad:

When the apostle openly displayed Islam as God ordered him, his people [the Quraish] did not withdraw or turn against him, so far as I have heard, until he spoke disparagingly of their gods. (The Life of Muhammad, trans. by A. Guillaume, p. 118).

In their first appeal to Muhammad’s uncle, they urged:

“O Abu Talib, your nephew has cursed our gods, insulted our religion, mocked our way of life and accused our forefathers of error; either you must stop him or you must let us get at him…” (Ibid., p. 119)

Later Muslims asked those in the know how the pagan Quraish had mistreated Muhammad so as to earn his wrath. It was reported by ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin al-As [a purported, distant ancestor of mine]:

 “I was with them [the Quraish leaders] one day when the notables had gathered in the Hijr [area by the northwest wall around the Kaaba] and the apostle [Muhammad] was mentioned. They said they had never known anything like the trouble they had endured from this fellow; he had declared their mode of life foolish, insulted their forefathers, reviled their religion, divided the community, and cursed their gods. What they had borne was past all bearing, or words to that effect” (Ibid., 130-131).

As they were still talking, Muhammad appeared and began to circle the Kaaba [Mecca’s central shrine]. Kaaba.jpgEach time he passed them, they hurled insults at him. The third time this happened, he stopped and said, “Will you listen to me, O Quraish? By Him who holds my life in His hand I bring you slaughter.” That threat silenced them.

According to these early Muslim sources, the worst the Quraish did to Muhammad before he openly declared war on them was to crowd around him and seize him by his robe to shake and threaten him – but before this could happen, Muhammad’s well-respected friend and follower, Abu Bakr, stepped in and defused the matter. (Ibid., 131).

Sometime later, the leading men of every clan of the Quraish decided to try to negotiate with Muhammad. Ibn Ishaq reports:

They decided to send for Muhammad and to negotiate and argue with him so that they could not be held to blame on his account in the future…. When he came and sat down with them, they explained that they had sent for him on order that they could talk together. No Arab had ever treated his tribe as Muhammad had treated them, and they repeated the charges which have been mentioned on several occasions. If it was money he wanted, they would make him the richest of them all; if it was honour, he should be their prince; if it was sovereignty, they would make him king; if it was a spirit which had got possession of him…, then they would exhaust their means in finding medicine to cure him.  The apostle replied that he had no such intention” (Ibid., 133-134).

Muhammad rejects their generous offers, and repeats his message requiring them to submit to Allah or face eternal hellfire. They ask him for any number of miracles as a sign that he truly speaks for Allah. He replies that Allah has not sent him as a miracle worker. Finally, after more argument and accusations, Muhammad gets up and leaves.

After a number of years of fruitless preaching among the Meccans [it is estimated that by the time he left for Medina in 622, Muhammad had won fewer than 150 converts in 13 years], Muhammad found more success among pagan pilgrims from Medina, some 200 miles north of Mecca. As those numbers grew, Muhammad entered into a pact with them in 621 known as the Pledge of Aqaba. Muhammad in Mecca.jpgThe next year he intensified that pledge among his Medinan followers so that the second Pledge of Aqaba became known as “the Pledge of War.” It was when word of this got out to the Meccans that they finally decided they must take up arms against Muhammad. Ibn Ishaq records their deliberations:

“The discussion opened with the statement that now that Muhammad had gained adherents outside the tribe they were no longer safe against a sudden attack and the meeting was to determine the best course to pursue” (Ibid., 221).

All of this indicates that the pagan Meccans showed remarkable restraint and tolerance toward Muhammad until he aligned himself with outsiders intent on overthrowing Mecca. The-Islamic-State’s-Rules-for-its-Christian-Subjects1.jpgIf Muhammad could act with such little tolerance toward his own tribe, and he is the perfect example for his followers, why would we expect the Muslim world today to show more grace to the non-Muslim world around it?

The second example from Muhammad’s life centers on his rise to power in Medina. When Muhammad migrates there in 622, Medina is a city in conflict with two major Arab tribes and three Jewish tribes that don’t see eye to eye. Muhammad’s Medinan s convince their fellow citizens that perhaps Muhammad can lead them all and forge a lasting peace. They are willing to give it a try, and so enter into treaties with him and his community. The setting was ripe for the exercise of tolerance and acceptance of one another. Muhammad hoped to woo the Jewish tribes into recognizing him as a true prophet, but within a short time they make known their rejection of his claims. It doesn’t take long for Muhammad’s intolerance to erupt. Under the pretext of a breach of treaties, Muhammad orders the Qaynuqa and Nadir tribes in succession to vacate Medina quickly with only what they can carry of their possessions. The rest becomes the property of the Muslims. qurayza_beheadingsThe third tribe is accused of colluding with the Meccans to eliminate Muhammad, and as punishment he oversees the beheading of between 600 and 900 (according to early Muslim sources) Jewish men and pubescent boys and the enslaving of the remaining women and children. Within five years of Muhammad’s arrival in Medina, there are no more Jews in Medina.

If this is the tolerance that Islam is supposed to be famous for, we are in big trouble.

One last matter to consider. After making a slaughter of Jews from the town of Khaibar in 629, Muhammad discovered something more profitable than extermination and plunder. He realized that by sparing the lives of some, he could offer them life under the laws of Islam as a third class community, provided they paid a substantial annual head tax (known as jizya) and agreed to debasing restrictions which would drive home the inferiority of their religion and culture compared to that of Muslims. The spirit of that approach became codified in a later document known as the Pact of Umar, which while not dating back to the second Caliph for whom it is named nonetheless captures the humiliation imposed upon the conquered. [For an imaginative exercise in how such a “pact” might be applied in a totally non-Muslim context, see here.] These unfortunates became known as “dhimmi,” which means “protected ones”. The Islamic caliphate promises to protect them if they pay up and toe the line. Who are the dhimmi being protected from? From the caliphate, which promises death to them if they step out of line or stop paying the jizya. Does that kind of remind you of the Mafia and “protection money”? Same idea.

Let me reiterate: There were the odd times when Islamic rule eased up on the oppression of minorities in its midst, yet such minorities were never accorded equal status as a group with the Muslim citizens around them. But since the religion of Islam is suffused with the example of Muhammad and his god, who declared that Muslims are the best of all peoples (Qur’an 3:110) and that Jews, Christians and pagans (i.e., the rest of the world) are the worst of all creatures (Qur’an 98:6), the supremacist ideology of Islam encourages harshness toward its opponents, not tolerance, much less kindness. Indeed, Allah immortalizes this approach in his scripture: “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves” (48:29).

In light of all this, do you really think that Jews, Christians and other minorities who lived as dhimmis under Muslim rule raved with effusive praise over the tolerance and kindness of their supremacist captors? Given what you now know about Muhammad and his relationship with non-Muslims in Mecca and Medina, would you want your fate to rest upon his tolerance? I didn’t think so.

Neither would I.


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An Inconvenient Sequel: The Climate Needs a Believable Spokesman

do as I say.jpgAll of us who know something of the depth of our own sinfulness are willing to overlook in others those instances where we see clearly that their actions don’t line up with their words. We know the same could be said of us. It’s the “Do as I say, not as I do” reality. In everyday life, we all fall short. That’s why we so desperately need the forgiveness of sins which God offers freely through the death of His Son.

But our hackles tend to rise when we see public figures crusading in the limelight for a particular cause and castigating others for failing to toe the line, and then in private living in ways that belie their public “passion.”

Al Gore is such a figure. Recently I viewed part of an interview he did with CNN’s Anderson Cooper during a town hall session dealing with the “climate crisis.” Mr. Gore continues to act as America’s apocalyptic prophet, warning of the impending doom facing our planet unless we take drastic steps immediately to change our energy-grubbing, global warming, CO2 belching behaviors. He also happens to be hawking his new movie coming out after the original An Inconvenient Truth, this one entitled, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not a fan of Mr. Gore’s views on energy usage and global warming, even though I am in favor of conservation and renewable energy opportunities. Even less do I appreciate his “Chicken Little” approach to solving the “climate crisis” with which he seems obsessed. But to each his own.

What I cannot get past, however, is his brazen hypocrisy on this subject. One might imagine that someone so concerned about the planet that he is willing to lead the charge and “speak truth to power,” even taking hits for the cause, would himself demonstrate the authenticity of his views by a changed lifestyle. After all, it’s our planet we’re talking about.

2017-08-01-cnn-climate-change-town-hall-with-algore-3.pngMr. Gore in this CNN interview made clear that he is passionate about seeing this crusade through. He compared it to the Civil Rights Movement, acknowledging that it took persistence until finally the movement caught on and things changed. The same will be true, he believes, with the climate crisis movement:

When I was a boy growing up a lot of the time in the south, I remember when the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum. I’ll tell you the resistance to Civil Rights laws was just as fierce if not more so than the resistance to solving is the climate crisis. Ultimately, we crossed a political tipping point and people realized oh, it’s just really a question of right and wrong.

If it really is just a question of right and wrong, and Mr. Gore is on the side of “right,” then it would seem a natural consequence that he would adjust his lifestyle to fit in with what he knows to be right in the face of this dire cataclysm approaching humanity. However, in the 11 years since he first started sounding the global warming foghorns, his lifestyle has not changed from the energy-hogging ways of his unenlightened past.

Back in 2007, Mr. Gore’s main 20 room mansion in Nashville suburbia with its heated swimming pool and attendant pool house, electric gates and natural gas lampposts was consuming energy like there was no tomorrow. al-gores-home-in-nashville.jpgAccording to an investigation by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, the Gore’s consumed almost 221,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours) at this property in 2006, more than 20 times that of the average household in America. This of course doesn’t include the two other properties owned by Mr. Gore, a penthouse in San Francisco and a farmhouse in Carthage, TN. When this inconvenient news came to light in 2007, Mr. Gore vowed to change his ways. His spokesperson, Kalee Kreider, was quick to reassure the public that the Gores’ energy use would decline:

“They bought an older home and they’re in the process of upgrading the home. Unfortunately that means an increase in energy use in order to have an overall decrease in energy use down the road.”

Now, after having spent a quarter of a million dollars to make the house more energy-efficient, the verdict is in for 2016. A decade after his consumption of 220,000 kWh, Mr. Gore’s total energy usage for his Nashville mansion in 2016 was 230,899 kWh, roughly the equivalent of 23 average U.S. households. Add to that the unknown consumption of energy at his other two (at least) properties, his use of a private jet to whisk him around the world, his predilection for ground travel by SUV, and we are left with the portrait of an energy superhog. energy hog.jpg

Personally, I would not care about the levels of Mr. Gore’s energy consumption were he simply a private citizen enjoying his materialistic empire. But once he dons the mantle of a doomsday prophet threatening us with destruction should we ignore his jeremiads, then the hypocrisy of his private behaviors become fair game. Can one really believe the message he preaches with such passion and then live with such bald-faced insouciance as an energy porker?

Let me return to Al Gore’s interview analogy that fighting this climate crisis battle is much like the Civil Rights conflict of the 1960s. If that is the case, Mr. Gore would seem to play a role not unlike a civil rights pioneer out on the front lines of marches, speaking to large crowds at rallies, lobbying Capitol Hill stentoriously for the equal rights of minorities, before retiring exhausted to his plantation so as to be waited on hand and foot by his black servants. plantation.jpg

“Do as I say, not as I do” is never an attractive manifesto, but it becomes downright repulsive when those who claim the rarefied air of social righteousness are discovered to be sloshing in the sties of self-inflated hypocrisy.

Our world may indeed be facing a climate crisis. One would never know that by viewing Al Gore’s habits. Perhaps he should step aside and let a true believer take up the mantle. The medicine would be a bit easier to swallow.


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A Parable of Life (Just for Fun, But Based on Experience…)


A certain householder went to a far country with his family for an extended vacation. Upon his return, he discovered his beautiful lawn had become a jungle, without form and void. So he said, “Let there be the sound of a Briggs and Stratton engine, and it was so. After much labor, going to and fro in checkerboard fashion, he looked at what he had done, and behold, it was very good. Just then, his dear wife opened the back door so the master’s two yellow labs, whom he loved very much, could frolic on the new paradise he had painstakingly cleared and beautified. As he opened his arms to welcome them, they both stopped on the magnificently cut grass and proceeded to despoil his pristine work with their skubala (check out Philippians 3:8 in the Greek, if you need a reference, or just Google it). The householder waxed angry with a white hot wrath at their defilement of his paradise, wishing they had instead merely taken a bite from a low-hanging apple on the tree at the edge of the garden, even as they trotted over to him with wagging tails. Yet he loved them with an everlasting love, and so with a sigh he went to get his shovel and pail, reconciled to the fact that love in this sullied world will always be a messy affair. And his dogs followed after him with singleness of heart, contented in the security of his affection.


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Fake News Headline #8: Islam Is the World’s Fastest Growing Religion — Therefore It Must Be True!

There are two claims in this headline, which while related are separate. Let’s look at them in turn.

“Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion.” How is this ascertained? Has Pew been individually polling seven billion people annually to determine their religious allegiances? Hardly. Such conclusions are reached largely on the basis of statistical analysis of populations, country by country, and changes in their demographics. fastest growing religion.jpgThe largest factor by far in these statistical analyses is population growth by birthrate. The assumption is that if a country’s population is 100 million, and it is 80% Muslim, and the population grows by 1.5% each year, that must mean that in a year’s time the Muslim population has grown by 1,200,000 (100,000,000 x .015 = 1,500,000 x .8 = 1,200,000), since all children born to Muslim parents are automatically Muslims according to Shari’a law. While these kinds of calculations may look good in a book of statistics on world religions, they are highly misleading, for multiple reasons.

First, they assume authentic religious convictions among the massive numbers bandied about. They make no room for apostasy from the faith, assuming that one born as a Muslim will remain a Muslim till death. (In the last few decades, as Muslims have increasingly rubbed elbows with the West and discovered there are other, more life-giving belief systems one may follow, we see widespread defections from the Islamic fold. Yet even these public defections are just the tip of the iceberg, for Islam is the only major religion that prescribes the penalty of death for those who leave it, and so many in the grip of Islamic governments quietly defect in place in order to keep their heads attached to their necks. These numbers, of course, are hard to track, since those who leave Islam, even in the non-Muslim world, remain under threat of death and are not enthusiastic about flaunting their apostasy. Hence, statistical analyses rarely factor this into their numbers.

Second, there is no question that the largest segment of  the “30 and under” population may be found in the parts of the world designated as Muslim (Hindus also, but they are a much smaller slice of the total world population). This means that in terms of future population growth, their potential reproductive power easily outstrips that of other groups whose populations are skewed toward the older end of the life cycle. Muslim family.jpgAdd to that the fact that Muslim parents (especially in polygamous marriages, where up to four wives are allowed per husband in Islam) tend to have larger families than non-Muslim families, even in places where large families are part and parcel of the culture, and it is not hard to see why prognosticators predict that by the year 2075, Islam will overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religion.

Pew Research Center estimates that by the year 2060, while the world’s total population will increase by 32%, the population of Muslims will increase by 70%, reflecting the huge differential in birth rates between Muslim and non-Muslim groups.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that these figures are accurate, and that all those born to Muslim parents will themselves identify as Muslims. What does this tell us, other than that Muslims are more intent on reproducing than are non-Muslims? What do we make of the argument that since Islam is the fastest growing religion, it must be true?

Well, let’s ask a few questions. Why should the rate of growth demonstrate the truth or falsehood of a system of beliefs? In the late Zhou and Han dynasties of China, when Confucianism was the fastest growing faith among the largest people groups of the world, would it have rightful claim to be the true religion above all others? From the time of Constantine onward, when Christianity became the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire, dwarfing all rival faiths, did that make it the true religion? When Muhammad came along and founded Islam, while it was still tiny compared to the growing Christian and Persian empires around it, was it therefore a false religion? In other words, when in the past the religion of Islam was not the fastest growing of the world’s religions, was it then false? Has it become “true” because now it is growing faster than other religions around it? How can truth or falsehood depend on the vagaries of religious fashion?

What if we were to argue instead that the religion with the most adherents worldwide must be the true religion? Since statistically speaking that is Christianity, not Islam, we would have to embrace the conclusion that Islam is not the truth. But, if the statistical visionaries are correct, in 2075 Islam will become the largest religion, and suddenly on the basis of that fact, it will move from being a false religion to the true faith.  Such an argument is patently nonsensical.

Far more important than sexual procreation, the manner by which adherents come to their convictions speaks boatloads about the relative value of the truth claims of one religion over another. If a religion counsels the use of the sword to compel people to submit to its authority and to keep them from deserting its ranks (as Islam does), it shows itself to be decidedly inferior to a faith which invites people to voluntarily commit themselves to a life of response to the call of a loving God (as Christianity does), without threat of violence to those who might wish to leave.

Totalitarian movements can always quote impressive statistics of allegiance as long as their iron grip remains strong around the necks of their victims. religion-king.jpgThe Nazi Party in 1930s Europe seemed to be the wave of the future, until the Allies at great cost brought an end to the Third Reich and restored its captives to freedom. Stalin rose quickly on the graves of millions of Russians, Ukrainians and others, extending his despotism over tens of millions, until the oppressive system he put in place finally crumbled before the basic human urge for freedom from tyranny. No one today would argue for the rightness of Nazism or Stalinism on the basis of the large number of those enslaved by the system. Similarly for the system of Islam, no one can claim that all those under its sway freely entered its ranks, and that all remain because they freely wish to do so. Until Islam gives up the deeply-rooted doctrine of jihad (mandating the use of force against any and all who refuse to submit to its demands) as well as the Shari’a-enforced death penalty for all who apostatize, it may claim to be the fastest-growing religion in the world, but it will have no claim to Truth.  Truth stands on its own, even when all worldly power is arrayed against it. As the saying goes, “in the end, truth will out,” and falsehood will be laid in the dust.

Jesus, indeed, seemed to argue in the Sermon on the Mount that success in terms of numbers is actually a misleading sign as to Truth. In Matthew 7:13-14, he says:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

We are wise to be careful in identifying the true path with that which the masses are following. God’s way, according to Jesus, is “the road less traveled.”

So, Islam may or may not be the world’s fastest-growing religion, but this boast alone tells us nothing about Islam’s claim to be the “true religion.” To weigh that assertion, one must know the Muhammad of orthodoxy and the teachings he claimed were divinely revealed to him. I encourage you to take up such a study, and predict that your conclusion will not be long in coming.


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Fake News Headline #7: “Hey, Allah, God, Yahweh, Brahma — They’re All the Same Anyway! There’s Only One God, After All. (Part 2)

(See Part 1 here)

  • Salvation – Getting “right with God” in Islam means showing one’s submission to the laws and decrees of the God the Qur’an as revealed through Muhammad’s words and deeds. Paradise is promised to those who have been obedient enough to please God. Concept-of-Paradise-in-Islam.jpgOf course, one can never know in this life if he/she has done enough to merit God’s approval, even though the Hadith traditions depict Muhammad as teaching all sorts of “short cuts” for those who memorize the right Qur’anic texts or recite extra prayers or do certain particular good deeds. In the end it’s the same for all works-based soteriological systems created for sinners. One can never have sufficient assurance that one’s good deeds have outweighed one’s evil deeds, or that one will make the grade even if God grades on the curve. The God of the Bible, on the other hand, declares that no human being can be justified before Him by one’s own good works, but only by taking refuge by faith in the salvation wrought by His sinless, incarnate Son through his crucifixion and resurrection. Divine salvation is assured for those who follow Jesus Christ, and good works become the outflow of a redeemed life rather than the entry ticket to heaven.
  • The Indwelling God – it is unthinkable in Islam that the transcendent God would condescend to directly interact with human beings, much less that He would actually indwell them with the purpose of transforming them into His perfect image. Human beings do not have fallen natures, according to Islamic anthropology, and so do not need saving transformation. According to the Bible, on the other hand, human nature is infected with sin and enslaved to fallen appetites, from which no mortal can extricate himself. Salvation means not simply a rescue from the penalty of our wrong actions but the impartation of a new nature, reflecting the perfections of Jesus, the New Adam. My Heart Christ's Home.jpgTo accomplish this, God pours His Spirit into the lives of those who give their allegiance to His Son, and the Spirit engages in the work of transforming us from slaves of sin to children of God. All three members of the Trinity are actively involved in the work of salvation, with the Father condescending to our weakness by refraining from wrath, the Son condescending to our fallenness by taking on human flesh, the Spirit condescending to our need by taking up residence within our sin-ridden souls. The biblical God shows a gracious humility for which the God of Islam has no taste.
  • Plan for reaching the world – did God decide to reach the world with His grace and mercy through developing a unique relationship with one man (Abraham) and the nation formed of his descendants (see Genesis 12:1-3), through whose lineage ultimately God would introduce His Son into the world as Messiah and Lord, or was it His plan to reach the world by sending 124,000 prophets to every people group with the same simple message: Submit to God’s law, keep His requirements as best you can, and hope that in the Day of Judgment to come you will be spared hell and be rewarded with heaven. Though Islam claims linkage to Abraham through Ishmael, the God of the Qur’an seems woefully ignorant of much of Old Testament history (even to the point of getting biblical stories wrong in the retelling), and shows little interest in the Jewish people except to excoriate them as objects of God’s special and eternal wrath. The God of the Bible, on the other hand, though He punishes Israel often through history for her waywardness nevertheless never forgets the covenant of grace which He has entered with her. Even in New Testament times, when many Jews were rejecting the message that their Messiah had come in Jesus, Paul proclaims that “…concerning God’s electing purposes, the Jews are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29). The God of the Bible is faithful to, even constrained by, His promises. The God of the Qur’an is so sovereign that nothing, even His own prior promises, can bind Him to any course of action. In the Bible, all of God’s promises lead to the coming of Jesus as divine fulfillment (see 2 Cor 1:20). He is the key to all of God’s plans throughout the Old Testament. In the Qur’an, Jesus (known there as ‘Isa) is merely one in a long line of prophets – a great one, no doubt, but by no means the key linchpin in God’s purposes for the world. This leads to my final point concerning the God of the Bible and the God of the Qur’an.
  • What God thinks of Jesus – the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus and God share a unique, eternal relationship best described in human language as Son to Father. In Matthew 11:27, Jesus captures the one-of-a-kind nature of this relationship: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Twice, God publicly declares His orientation toward Jesus: first at his baptism to inaugurate his ministry (“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”); and secondly at his Transfiguration (“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”). In this mutual relationship of love, the Son does only what the Father wills. His lives for the honor of his Father. The Father in turn glorifies His Son and exalts his name. Their relationship is so symbiotic that the way a person relates to One will dictate the way that person relates to the Other. So Jesus says to his opponents, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). Or, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him (John 5:23). Or, “He who hates me hates my Father also” (John 15:23). When his opponents claim to have “one Father, even God,” Jesus counters, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but He sent me” (John 8:42). He sums up his divine mission in John 12:44-47 with these words, “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in Him who sent me…. I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness…for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” According to the New Testament, God sent His Son into the world, not merely as a prophet but as its Savior. To those who love the Son, God the Father promises eternal life, grounded in His love. As we read in 1 John 2:23, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also.”

    The Qur’an, on the other hand, declares that God will curse to destruction any who claim that Jesus is His Son, for they are completely deluded (9:30; see also 2:116; 19:34-36; 5:116; 4:171). One short but entire sura (chapter) is devoted to denying the Father-Son claims of the New Testament:

Say: He is Allah the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him. (112:1-4)

For the God of Islam, Jesus is only a human being like all others, with no special ontological status. He is but a slave, called to be a messenger for the people of Israel. WhatDoMuslimsThinkOfChristianity.jpgHis message to them, according to the Qur’an, was the same message as that of all previous prophets and that of Muhammad as well – the message of submission to Allah. Those who believe in the Jesus of the New Testament are committing Islam’s unforgivable sin, that of associating anything in the creation with the glory and uniqueness of God. As such, they fall under the curse of God’s eternal wrath.

This lays an ax to the proverbial root of the claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God (as the Qur’an claims in 29:46). How can the same God exalt Jesus as His Son and commend him to the world as its Savior, promising to bless those who follow him, and then six hundred years later deny the Sonship of Jesus and curse to eternal destruction any who make Jesus their Lord and Savior? For a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever, this is an impossibility.

Therefore, on the basis of all the above points, but especially this last one, I have come to the conclusion that Christians and Muslims are not talking about the same God. As a Christian who believes that biblical revelation accurately portrays the self-revelation of the one, true God, I must conclude that the God of Islam, while mirroring some of the qualities of that true God, nonetheless fails at crucial points to align itself with the God of the Bible, and so in the end must be considered an imitation or counterfeit of the real thing. Christians and Muslims, if they are following their own respective Scriptures, do not worship the same God.

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