A God Who Suffers vs. a God Who Inflicts Suffering — Which Would You Follow?


James and John, the disciples of Jesus, would have made good Muslims, if Jesus hadn’t gotten ahold of their hearts. Rough and tumble fishermen, there was something about them which led Jesus to give them the nickname Boanerges when he called them to join his band of twelve (Mark 3:17). The Aramaic term translates to English as “Sons of Thunder,” and implies that Jesus saw something dramatic in the character of these two brothers.sons-of-thunder-dlg.png

Certainly, “Sons of Thunder” aptly describes James and John in a later event involving Jesus, who by this time has determined he must leave the relative safety of Galilee and make his way toward Jerusalem to fulfill his calling as a crucified Messiah (see Luke 9:51-55). As Jesus and his band head south, they pass through Samaria (between whose people and the Jews there was no love lost). Jesus sends messengers ahead of him seeking hospitality as he approaches a Samaritan village, but then the residents learn that he is on his way to Jerusalem (capital of the Jews), they refuse to receive him. Reacting to this brazen insult, James and John with thunderous indignation on behalf of their master ask him, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus’ rebuke is swift and unambiguous: “You don’t understand the Spirit to which you belong; the Son of Man did not come to destroy human beings but to rescue them.”

Jesus was willing to endure from human beings all manner of insults and mockery, and ultimately crucifixion, because his heart mirrored that of His Father, “who so loved the world that He sent His Son (to die for it) so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Jesus was willing to endure humiliation, as ordained by His Father, out of divine love for a rebellious race, in order to reconcile them to heaven and procure their salvation.

This stands in stark contrast to the life of Muhammad and the behavior of Allah on the prophet’s behalf. Yesterday, I was reading in the earliest, authoritative biography of the founder of Islam (The Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, translated by A. Guillaume; OUP, 1955), and came across this account of Muhammad and his protector, the angel Gabriel. jibril.jpgFive respected leaders in Mecca have been insulting and mocking Muhammad, and he has returned the favor, cursing one of them with the words, “O Allah, blind him and bereave him of his son!” When the pagan mockers refuse to relent, Allah reveals the following to Muhammad (which becomes part of the Qur’an later: 15:94-96) – “Proclaim what you have been ordered and turn away from the polytheists. We will surely protect you against the mockers who put another god beside Allah. In the end they will know.”

It didn’t take long for these five to “know” the vengeance of Allah against any who insult his prophet. One day, as these mockers in Mecca are making their way in worship around the Kaaba (still a pagan temple at that time), the angel Gabriel comes to Muhammad, who is seated and keeping watch. This is how the story unfolds:

[Gabriel] stood up and the apostle stood at his side; and as al-Aswad b. al-Muttalib passed, Gabriel threw a green leaf in his face and he became blind. Then al-Aswad b. ‘Abdu Yaghuth passed and he pointed at his belly which swelled so that he died of dropsy. Next al-Walid passed by. He pointed at an old scar on the bottom of his ankle (the result of a wound he received some years earlier as he was trailing his gown when he passed by a man of Khuza’a who was feathering an arrow, and the arrowhead caught in his wrapper and scratched his foot – a mere nothing). But the wound opened again and he died of it. Al-‘As, passed. He pointed to his instep, and he went off on his ass making for al-Ta’if [a nearby oasis town]. He tied the animal to a thorny tree and a thorn entered his foot and he died of it. Lastly al-Harith passed. He pointed at his head. It immediately filled with pus and killed him (page 187).

So it is in Islam today that if anyone mocks or insults the Arabian prophet, Allah has decreed the penalty of death. You don’t mess with Allah or his messenger. Non-Muslims might wish that Muhammad would have had thicker skin….behead-insult-islam-mohammed.jpg

Jesus Christ, however, even in his risen and exalted state as Lord and Savior of humanity, seated at the right hand of his Father on the throne of heaven, still bearing insults and rejection from a recalcitrant humanity, shows forbearance rather than a heart of vengeance toward us, “…not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Remember the Sons of Thunder? What happens to them after being with Jesus for three years and being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? Do they pick up swords and begin punishing all who conspired to kill Jesus? Do they call down fire out of heaven against the pagan world? No, actually, according to the Book of Acts, James becomes the first apostle to lay his life down to bring the message of Jesus to the Jews. John, if he is the same one who wrote the famous Gospel and Epistles we have in the NT, became known as the Apostle of love, living and teaching about the love of God into his old age.

Had they been under Muhammad’s tutelage, on the other hand, they no doubt would have become stand-out warriors whose deeds of ruthless conquest would still be recounted by Muslims today with pride and longing.

A suffering Savior vs. a prickly prophet. A God who draws sinners to His forgiving and transforming love, vs. a god who threatens extermination of those who fail to salute on command. Which example seems more heaven-sent to you? Which kind of follower would you rather be?

 

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Solar Eclipse — a Fearful Omen from God?


Muhammad thought so.

According to authoritative Islamic traditions, a full solar eclipse occurred during Muhammad’s life, coinciding with the death of his infant son Ibrahim who at the time of his death in early 632 AD was a year and a half old.  Whispering quickly began to circulate among the Muslims that the sun was eclipsed over nature’s sadness at the demise of the prophet’s son.eclipse-300x185.jpg

To his credit, Muhammad quelled this rumor quickly, after completing prayers prompted by the celestial sign:

Narrated Abu Bakra: Allah’s Apostle said: “the sun and the moon are two signs amongst the signs of Allah and they do not eclipse because of the death of someone but Allah frightens His devotees with them” (Sahih Bukhari, 2.18.157).

However, in setting the record straight that the eclipse had no connection with his son’s death, Muhammad taught that this event in the sky was nonetheless a sign from Allah meant to frighten His people — presumably as a reminder that the Day of Judgment was nigh. According to other authoritative traditions, the occurrence of this eclipse brought fear into the prophet’s own heart:

Narrated Numan bin Bashir: “The sun was eclipsed at the time of the Messenger of Allah, and he came out alarmed, dragging his lower garment, until he reached the mosque. He continued to perform prayer until the eclipse was over, then he said: ‘Some people claim that the sun and moon only become eclipsed because of the death of a great leader. That is not so. The sun and the moon do not become eclipsed for the death or birth of anyone. When Allah manifests Himself to anything in His creation, it humbles itself before Him’” (Sunan Ibn Majah, 7.1262).

Muhammad’s fear is seen in his haste (dragging his lower garment) and alarm to get to the mosque as the eclipse is unfolding, and then by continuing in leading ritual prayers until all signs of the eclipse have passed. This personal fear concerning the solar eclipse as an omen of the impending Day of Judgment becomes even more clear in the following tradition:

Narrated Abu Musa: The sun eclipsed and the Prophet got up, being afraid that it might be the Hour (i.e. Day of Judgment). He went to the Mosque and offered the prayer with the longest Qiyam [standing], bowing and prostration that I had ever seen him doing. Then he said, “These signs which Allah sends do not occur because of the life or death of somebody, but Allah makes His worshipers afraid by them. So when you see anything thereof, proceed to remember Allah, invoke Him and ask for His forgiveness” (Sahih Bukhari, 2.18.167).

Clearly, Muhammad linked this natural event with the coming judgment of Allah, and wanted to be found praying should Allah be ushering in the End Times, so he continued with the “longest” prayers (standing, bowing, prostrating) that anyone had ever seen, until the eclipse had ended. In his mind, an eclipse is a divine sign meant to instill fear in the hearts of believers.wolves chasing the mooon.png

Now, Muhammad was a man of his times, and it was a common understanding in such days that rare events in the heavens were portents from the gods (or Allah). An eclipse was not a natural, mathematically-calculable event in which the orbit of the moon around the earth perfectly lined up with the angle of the earth to the sun such that it blotted out the sun briefly as it continued its orbital pattern around the earth. No, it was a supernatural act by which divine forces revealed their displeasure with humans or at least reminded them of a coming time of punishment and destruction.ancient eclipse.jpg

Muhammad as a natural man cannot be faulted for giving an unusual event some supernatural meaning, even if scientists today can predict to the second when such an event will take place and in what part of the world it will be visible.

But Muhammad as a prophet of God and as the ideal man teaching all humanity how to act to please God? Would a true prophet “cut and run” over a natural event, no matter how unusual? Would his god not inform him that this was no supernatural sign of impending judgment? Would personal fear be the appropriate knee-jerk response of a true prophet to something he was convinced was an act of his god? If his behaviors are the perfect model of how believers should live, then should Muslims live in fear today as a total eclipse occurs, and spend their hours in a local mosque until the event has ended?

Or should we conclude that Muhammad was acting in response to superstitions, like his contemporaries, and was as clueless as others of his day that eclipses are a natural, predictable event in the skies, in and of themselves no omen from the heavens of judgment or destruction?

To be separated from the sun for a few hours is no big deal. To be separated from the Son, however, that’s another story.

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Why Do We Hate So Much?


One of the enduring lessons of human history seems to be that it is much easier to hate than to love. We human beings seem to have a hard time swinging to the rhythm of our better angels, finding it much easier to march to the martial beat of belligerent animal spirits.

It seems our world is presently dancing to the tune of these latter demons, and many societies worldwide are experiencing hateful movements which justify themselves both by a smug self-supremacy and by a demonization of the “enemy.” Last weekend in Charlottesville, VA, a group describing itself as white supremacists gathered for a “Unite the Right” rally to protest (as was their right, having legally secured a permit) the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee authorized by the city council. charlottesville.jpgAs the rally time approached, counterdemonstrators also began to amass, and in a hate-charged climate insults and slurs began to fly, followed soon by fists and improvised weapons. The boiling enmity of the white nationalists was met by an equally torrid antipathy of radical leftists, and in the end, driven by such hate, a young white supremacist rammed his speeding car intentionally into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32 year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

In the aftermath, many in the world of the political and social left have pronounced their unmitigated condemnation of everything the white nationalists, neo-Nazis and KKK adherents stand for, and have started a movement to tear down every statue and reminder of the Confederate South and the institution of slavery which it championed and fought our Civil War over.

Then, yesterday, in a seemingly unrelated incident in Barcelona, Spain, and its surroundings, a Muslim terrorist cell (claimed by ISIS) carried out two vehicular jihadi attacks, and was responsible the night before for the massive explosion of a house, caused apparently by the accidental ignition of 20 canisters of gas seemingly intended by the terror cell for an upcoming attack. So far, 14 innocents are confirmed dead with another 130 plus injured.

Now, today, reports are coming from Turku, Finland (until today relatively untouched by terrorism) that a man with a large knife ran through the city center stabbing people and, according to witnesses, shouting “Allahu akbar.” He was shot by police and detained, but not before killing two and injuring eight others. Police have not released any information about the perpetrator, and declare that his motive is unknown so it’s too early to call this a terrorist attack. [Update: The attacker has now been identified as an 18 year-old Muslim male asylum-seeker from Morocco, and authorities are now open to the possibility that this was terror-related.]

Do these attacks share anything in common? I believe so. The Charlottesville melee was kindled by the explosive friction of two supremacist groups seeing each other as the enemy. The white supremacists view themselves as part of the privileged master race, wanting to cleanse this country of all genetic inferiors and any white people who side with them. The hard left liberals, with smug certainty that their views are true on, well, everything, have demonstrated on college campuses, in public buildings, on Wall Street and elsewhere, that to get their way they are willing to shout others down, destroy property, threaten personal bodily harm against any who refuse to bow to their demands. What happens when two supremacist groups face off, convinced that those on the other side are not worthy to be treated with respect? Violence.

In Spain and apparently now in Finland, we again are dealing with a supremacist movement, this time the religion of Islam. While not all Muslims by any means march in lockstep with its supremacist teachings, those who do believe unreservedly that their infallible prophet relayed Allah’s words that the Muslim community was the best of all peoples to ever exist (Qur’an 3:110), and that those refusing Islam are the vilest of creatures in all the world (98:6).  True believers have been drafted by Allah into his army to spread his rule to the ends of the earth, installing Shari’a as the divine law under which all humanity will bow in submission. Those who do so voluntarily (without becoming Muslims) will grudgingly be allowed to live under severe limitations. Those who refuse to submit will be put to the sword.

To accomplish this goal, particularly when the Muslim community is weaker than the surrounding nations, those compliant with core Islam employ terrorism in order to weaken their opponents psychologically if not physically. The Qur’an encourages this mentality by revealing Allah to be the primary terrorist of his enemies:

“[Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip. That is because they opposed Allah and His Messenger. And whoever opposes Allah and His Messenger – indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.” (8:12-13)

“We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve for what they have associated with Allah of which He had not sent down [any] authority. And their refuge will be the Fire, and wretched is the residence of the wrongdoers.” (3:151)

“And He [Allah] brought down those who supported them among the People of the Scripture [Jewish tribes in Medina] from their fortresses and cast terror into their hearts [so that] a party you [the Muslims in Medina] killed, and you took captive a party” (33:26; see also 59:2 for another reference to the same event).

The most authoritative traditions of Islam have no problem portraying Muhammad as embracing terrorism for the advancement of Islam:

“I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror (cast in the hearts of the enemy)…” (Sahih Bukhari, 4.52.220).

While only Islam employs terrorism with divine warrant, all totalitarian movements are willing to use intimidation and violence to cow the masses into submission so as to advance their agenda of domination. So we see the extreme left and the extreme right in our country turning to such tactics as they vie to implement their visions upon our society.

There is one other way these movements reveal their commonality. Whatever stands against their cause must be removed not only from their presence but expunged from history, if possible. In Islam, Muhammad taught that the age before his revelation came was to be known as jahiliyya (ignorance). Now that Islam has come, all cultural practices and artifacts that smack of such ignorance (religious idols, strong pre-Islamic cultural memories and holidays, etc.) are to be eradicated from the people’s memory as Shari’a law is implemented and hegemonic Islamic government is implemented over conquered territory. [For a taste of what this might mean in an “Islamic State of America, see here.] As Islam spread across the world, it eradicated native cultures with varying degrees of success such that today in many parts of the Islamic world, societies do not remember any significant parts of their pre-Islamic heritage. bamiyan buddhas.jpgThe Taliban in Afghanistan are remembered for their religious fervor in destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas by using them for artillery target practice. ISIS in both Iraq and Syria have blown up ancient archaeological sites and decimated museums with ancient (pre-Islamic) relics precisely in order to wipe out any memory of the “age of ignorance” in their conquered territories.

Likewise, the extreme right white nationalists want to rid this country of any mixture of races by deporting, killing or forcing to flee all those whose racial “purity” doesn’t meet their standards. racial-purityThey would like to purge our Constitution of any extension of equal rights to minorities, and eliminate any celebrations of our civil rights advances or cultural heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks or Thurgood Marshall.

The radical Left also have their campaign against ideological jahiliyya. For them, the ignorance is must of what the radical Right stands for. We see in the recent drive to remove all signs of the Confederacy from public view this same attempt to impose controls on what is acceptable thinking. From the banning of the Confederate flag wherever possible, the tearing down of statues erected in memory of Civil War heroes in the South, the hope of the Leftists is that any memories of slavery will be expunged from national consciousness – by force, if necessary.confederate symbol.jpg

In each of these cases (radical Right, radical Left, core Islam), these similar attitudes and behaviors are due in large measure to the fundamental error of trivializing human beings by seeing them only according to one all-important calculus. For white nationalists, it’s whether one has the right genetic make-up or not; for the Leftists, it’s whether one has the correct social activist credentials or not; for core Muslims, it’s whether one is willing to submit to orthodox Islam or not. Human beings in their totality are judged by which side they fall on the all-important line of demarcation.

So, statues and memorials of historically prominent individuals must be destroyed if it can be ascertained that they were slave-owners. It makes no difference if they had any redeeming qualities or accomplishments in other areas of their life. The matter of slavery is the only one that counts, and they stand on the wrong side of that line, so their memory must be erased from public consciousness. This is problematic, not just for our national memory – not only Robert E. Lee and Confederate heroes were slave-owners, but also founding fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson (on the face of our $20 bill), Benjamin Franklin (on the face of our $100 bill), John Jay (first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and so on. The fact is, prior to the anti-slavery movement in the West in the 1700s, slavery was an accepted practice in almost every major society in history. If possession of slaves is the determining factor in whether we embrace or reject an historical figure, then today we must demonize people like the philosopher Plato, Demosthenes, Cicero, Ptolemy the Great and his successors, Julius Caesar, Montezuma, Christopher Columbus, Ulysses S. Grant, Simon Bolivar (the “Great Liberator” of Latin America), and even Muhammad, the founder of Islam, who not only bought, sold and possessed slaves, but made slavery an approved practice of Islam, which has enslaved more human beings than any movement in history.

When we trivialize people, reducing their lives to one issue, we can so easily dismiss anything positive about them. Already today there are increasing calls for demolishing the Jefferson Memorial, because Thomas Jefferson was an unrepentant slave-owner. But, if we retain the same trivializing tendency and change the issue, we might eradicate any and all statues and monuments related to flawed human beings. Indeed, I read this morning that women who have claimed sexual abuse by Bill Clinton are clamoring that a statue of him in Rapid City, SD, be destroyed so as not to honor an “abhorrent and morally deficient president.”

What is the antidote to this? We must see all human beings through more than a one-dimensional lens. For those who depend upon biblical wisdom, that means:

  • viewing human beings as equally created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-28), thereby being equally worthy of dignity and honor.
  • recognizing that all human beings are flawed, lost souls whom the Son of God came to find and redeem:
    • “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10)
    • “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)
  • caring for the outsider: “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).
  • the Church is meant to be a microcosm of God’s new humanity, reconciled to Him and to one another through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit now indwelling us:
    • “For he himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14).
    • “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28)
  • Heaven will feature the united family of God, with people of all ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic histories standing as one body around the throne of God, marked by the transforming power of God’s forgiving and redeeming grace.

Instead of trivializing, devaluing and even demonizing those who seem so different, even wrong, to us, we must recapture a deeper, more profound understand of the human nature which unites us, common humanity.jpgand retrain ourselves to grasp the conviction that what unites us in a common humanity is much greater than that which divides. This is one of the fundamental building blocks of a biblical worldview. Perhaps it is a great place to start.

 

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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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