The Norway Killings: What’s the Truth about Islam, Christianity and Violence?

While it may come as a surprise to many,  the mass murderer  Anders Breivick claims to have been inspired by Islamophobic  fundamentalist Christians in America.   And indeed, his 1500 page rant of a manifesto does indeed show considerable influence from jingoistic Americans who have wrongly equated terrorism with the faithful practice of Islam in general.  This is like equating Christianity with the violent actions of  Anders Breivick himself.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Are both Islam and Christianity religions that inherently incite violence because of the violence referred to and depicted in their Holy Books?   What should we think about these sorts of things?  And is ‘Western multi-culturalism’ really the enemy of ‘true Christianity’ that people like Anders Breivick think it is?

Now that we have had a chance to catch our collective breaths, pray for the bereaved families in Norway, and process some of the ranting of Breivick and those who inspired him, it is also time to take a good hard look at the sort of questions this kind of mass murdering raises, especially when it is done in the name of God or religion, whatever religion that might be.   The truth of the matter is that fearful, hate-filled, unbalanced people have often used religion, and their particularly twisted interpretations of their own religion to justify genocides of all sorts— whether against Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or secular humanists.   And the very same logic is used to justify killings supposedly undertaken on behalf of the cherished religion.   What all such actions really have in common is a failure to live by the core teachings of their own religion, and instead privileging certain questionable interpretations of peripheral teachings which allow individuals to justify their own racist and violent tendencies  which they had quite apart from their own religion’s teachings.

For example,  the most essential and reiterated theological and ethical teachings of all three monotheistic religions— Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have to do with love— loving God and loving one’s neighbor as self.   They do not have to do with cultural imperialism or opposition to cultural change, or opposition to multi-culturalism in general.   Indeed, if there ever was a religion that involved an inherent call to multi-culturalism in the sense of respect and love for all kinds of people of all different cultural backgrounds it is Christianity.

As Gal. 3.28 says in Christ there is no Jew or Greek.  That also means there is no American or Iraqi.   Christianity is a religion, which unlike some, does not baptize a particular ethnic group, or set of cultural practices and calls them Biblical.  On the contrary, Christianity can be and has been incarnated in all sorts of different kinds of cultures— both democratic and feudalistic,  in both monarchial and republican cultures.  Furthermore, particular forms of dress, habits of eating, artistic or musical expressions are not sine qua nons of true Christianity.   Christianity was born as an Middle Eastern Jewish form of religion something clearly manifested in the Bible both in its descriptive and prescriptive passages, and should not be equated  with Western or American cultural preferences whether political, economic, or more broadly cultural.

Yes, Christianity influenced Western culture in many ways, but it certainly should not be equated with that culture.  Take for instance the issue of democracy.  You will look in vain for an endorsement of democracy in the Bible.  If the Bible endorses any form of human government, it is hierarchial and monarchial in character.  On the other hand,  Christianity is no friend of absolute relativism, the notion that all religions are equally true, valid, and valuable, or universalism, the notion that all religions are one, or alternately all religions are equally valid means of salvation and all person will inevitably be saved, come what may, believe what they will.

One of the places where the notion that “devotion to Islam inherently involves violence against the West, or Christianity, or both” goes most wrong is a failure to actually understand the theology of Islam.  If one thing is clear about Islamic belief in the one God of the Bible, it is that God is great, God is sovereign, and the Koran would add, God is in absolute control of all that happens in the world.  Whether you call it fatalism, determinism, or simply God’s sovereignty, Muslims believe that God has determined all things in advance.  When they are consistent, they are more Calvinistic than the Calvinists.

And with such a system of belief,  there is no reason or rationale to engage in terrorism at all.  If you truly believe God is great and God is good, and all that happens is in God’s hands, then this includes taking care of one’s enemies, and the issues of injustice.   One has no need to take matters or weapons into one’s own hands, if all is Allah’s will and it cannot be otherwise.    Furthermore,  many scholars of Islam will tell you that the whole concept of jihad in the Koran has to do with the struggle or battle against sin in any and every life, and against Satan. It does not have to do with killing other human beings.

Thus while many Americans, who know little or nothing about Islam and have never read the Koran,  are often derisive when they hear Muslim teachers claiming their religion is a religion of peace and love,  this in part reflects sheer ignorance of the core teachings of that religion.  One might just as well claim that the call in Ephesians 6 to fight the good fight against Evil and the powers of darkness is an invitation to violence against other human beings.    Terrorism in the name of religion is the practice of myopic,  bigoted people who have been misled or bamboozled about the essential teachings of their own religion, or have privileged questionable interpretations of some of their sacred texts.

Think for a moment about the all too common remark made by militaristic Christians in the West that the ‘OT justifies violence and war under certain circumstances’.   What they fail to tell you is that the only circumstances and political systems in which one could reasonably argue that that is true is if we are dealing with a direct rule by God, called a theocracy (see the Book of Joshua),  or with a monarchy (see David and the Philistines).  In no case, could such passages be simply transferred and applied to the situation in modern democracies as a justification for violence against our fellow human beings.   Such logic is all the more questionable in an age where our military weapons are much more lethal than those of the Biblical era and more likely to make impossible the fulfillment of the commandment to love our enemies  and overcome evil with good.

Terrorism and mass murdering should be seen for what it is— not the practice of some religion, but rather the absolute violation of the core teachings of all the major world religions, including Christianity and Islam.   Terrorism doesn’t deserve to be called a religious act.  It is an act that involves the antithesis of all that is true and good and loving.  It involves the antithesis of the very character of God which is holy love and all that is highest and best, especially the highest and best aspects of the world’s monotheistic religions.

It is time for Jews, and Christians and Muslims to agree together to call terrorism and mass murdering  what is— an act of cowardice by hate filled bigots who sometimes wrongly think their religion justifies their actions, or even inspires it.   They are wrong— their religion is opposed to their actions.  Acts of terror are not one way tickets to Paradise or heaven no matter who says so, they are one way tickets to Hell.    On the door of my office is a picture of nuns with guns.  The subtext says,  “These are not the virgins Osama expected when he was entering the afterlife”.    The afterlife will prove a surprise to many zealous bigots.  Enough said.

  • Graham Veale

    I can detect “demonic inspiration” behind the “Holy Death” cult in Mexico, or HP Lovecraft inspired horror films and novels. I can detect it in the cult and occult (although sometimes I wonder if the demons themselves do not wonder at the human appetite for chaos and cruelty.)

    I find the subject of demonic manifestations disturbing and horrifying. I feel that the accusation of “demonic activity” is thrown around too freely. Yet we fail to recogise more subtle spiritual powers at work. That suits the human appetite for sensationalism, but it lacks all wisdom.
    This conversation is not spiritually healthy, for me at least, so if you do not mind, I will not address this charge against Islam again.

    Graham

  • Graham Veale

    Finally James
    Putting the demonic to one side

    With the best will in the world, if you think that Karsh is politically correct, or a revisionist, it is time to revisit the library. Any historical reconstruction of this period is difficult. Many texts are post hoc justifications of previous military activity. You are engaged in bad historical practice and it results in a caricature.
    I feel that your mind is made up on this issue James. No amount of evidence will dissuade you. I have no idea – no idea – how you can construe my views as being politically correct or revisionist, given that I have cited problems with Islam’s foundational texts. Sura 3 :140 and Sura 4 : 34 are obvious examples.
    I have also criticised the dream of an Islamic society, and an important contemporary statement on human rights. I have criticised “Tawhid”, which is central to Islam, as ethically problematic.
    If that is political correctness, what on earth do I have do believe to be conservative?!! I’ve debated anti-jihadists on the W4 blog (as much as I love, admire and respect Lydia McGrew, and agree with her moral conservatism, I think she goes off -course on this topic) but I have never had to defend Islam from the charge of being diabolical!
    I just don’t know where to go from here…so I’ll draw this exchange to a close. Which is a shame as I liked your sense of humour.

    Graham

  • James Mace

    Graham,

    I’ll briefly inform you that there were several encounters of Muhammad with pseudo-Jibril, not just one. The falsity of the monadic, unitarian, overtly and repetitively anti-Trinitarian content of the Oneness of Allah which you assert is perfectly godly shows it is not. Please consider the meaning that is poured into terms and not just rest on similarity of terms that have more than one definition, like “monotheism.” Trinitarian Christians are classed in the Qur’an and elsewhere as polytheists and idolaters, so your concept of identical meaning for “oneness” is false. The Islamic assertion of the unity of God is certainly false and, given the various broader contexts, likely demonic.

    I thought that your quote from Karsh was not representative of the majority view and am right. I’ll give a little more on this. You said, quoting Karsh, that the first Muslim conquests were “first and foremost a quintessential expansionist feat by a rising imperial power, in which Islam provided a moral sanction and unifying battle cry, rather than a driving force.” I found this on page 22.

    Recognizing this as a recent modernist view discounting spiritual realities, I looked up the preceding context to this erroneous assertion. We see the weakness of Karsh’s dismissal:

    “What were the causes of this extraordinary burst of energy [rapid imperialist expansion] and the sources of its success? To traditional Islamic historians the answer is clear and straightforward: religious zeal and selfless exertion ‘in the path of Allah.’ The problem with this view is that the Arab conquerors were far less interested in the mass conversion of the vanquished peoples than in securing their tribute. Not until the second and the third Islamic centuries did the bulk of these populations embrace the religion of their latest imperial masters, and even this process emanated from below in an attempt to escape paying tribute and [21-22] to remove social barriers, with the conquering ruling classes doing their utmost to slow it down”(21-22).

    Karsh’s objection is weak and fails to appreciate the inherent long-term plan of dhimmitude, the system of oppression of the non-Muslim subject class (akin to apartheid or a sort of slavery) leading to eventual conversion by slow attrition in their attempt to escape such subjection and enter the higher class of Muslim masters. Just because Karsh thinks that massive, immediate convert-or-die programs on a universal scale would prove religious motivation does not mean that religious motivation was lacking simply because another, slower method of conversion was used. Just because the Muslims were supremacist and abused lower classes does not mean they were not motivated by Islam (in fact quite the opposite—it is consistent with Islam). Just because they wanted to keep the power in the hands of fewer numbers does not mean they were not motivated by Islam. Karsh is on shaky ground in throwing out the universal self-understanding of Muslim historians that Islamic imperialism is religiously motivated, a fact Karsh concedes before dismissing it. He admits he is a revisionist on the page before the quote you used, and it is a bit dim to say I am wrong to recognize it.

    I see your insistence that Islam exercises no negative force inciting global conquest as denying what Muhammad prescribed (e.g., in his farewell address), what the earliest Muslims said about their own motivations, and what many who are not religio-politically correct still say today. Please join the club.

    I’m rather surprised you have never considered the demonic component of Muhammadanism. There is a great deal more to support my basic assertion.

    I otherwise appreciate a great deal in your views and am sorry you now retreat even though I have a good sense of humour! :-) I’m sure we can happily discuss other things in future, brother.

    Agapao, James (or Seamus Monaghan, to use my Irish name)

  • Ruth

    I now believe that Islam is merely a heretical version of Christianity.

  • Moose

    Hi Ben,

    Unfortunately, there’s no email that I can find, otherwise I’d have used it! I like your article, terrorism and mass murder are indeed acts of cowardice by hate filled bigots who sometimes think their religion justifies or inspires their actions.

    Having said that, there’s one point I don’t think Muslims would relate to easily. I hope I’m either missing the point or am able to provide another viewpoint succinctly.

    Disclaimer: I’m no scholar! I apologise in advance if I’m talking rubbish!

    “And with such a system of belief, there is no reason or rationale to engage in terrorism at all. If you truly believe God is great and God is good, and all that happens is in God’s hands, then this includes taking care of one’s enemies, and the issues of injustice.”

    Appeals to Allah in the Koran generally take the form “send us a protector” – i.e. one sent from Allah to fight on their behalf. In other words, I don’t think Muslims relate to Allah through circumstaces as well as a ‘Body of Christ’ style doctrine.

    This is a minor, probably nonexistant, point within a whole, and I don’t intend to miss the wood for the trees. Thanks for this article.

    Every Blessing,

    Moose,
    London

  • Graham Veale
  • Graham Veale

    If the comment gets lost in moderation please google “Tariq Jahan”.

    He might have just saved England from descending into complete chaos and anarchy.

    Graham

  • James Mace

    Yes, I googled as suggested and conclude it is indeed sad that such actions are viewed as unusually extraordinary for Muslims.

    “i am not familiar with the medal system of UK…but this amazing guy, who played his part in establishing peace during riots, who showed restraint & preached tolerance even after losing a son, deserves to be knighted…(or any other medal of appreciation from the queen)” (http://londonmuslims.blogspot.com/2011/08/tariq-jahan-father-of-murdered.html).

    This unusual behaviour is contrasted with normal Muslim attitudes: “Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Muslim and Sikh youths in Birmingham were vowing revenge” (http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpps/news/father-of-murdered-son-helps-ease-tension-in-birmingham-dpgonc-20110811-ch_14533068#ixzz1UlIoc3ee).

    At the very moment while Jahan was showing his extraordinary attitude,
    “On nearby doorsteps, young men offered vivid and brutal predictions of what should happen next.

    “We’ll hunt down these black men, cut off their heads and feed them to our dogs,” said Amir Hawid, 20, who lives near the Dudley Road scene of the killing and trained in the same amateur boxing club as Jahan’s son. ‘With Allah you can run but you can’t hide.”” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20110811/eu-britain-riots-muslims-killed/).

    We must continue to pray, working for Jahan’s attitude to become usual and ordinary for Muslims. The question is the best way to do so, and I believe it is not by denying historic Islam in favour of falsely historicizing liberalized versions but by speaking theological and historical truth to lead Muslims to repudiate the aboriginal Muhammadan cult.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/TheSavioursServant melvinvines@hotmail.co.uk
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  • ecks why

    informed rational freedom loving people have all the reasons in the world to fear islam…

    the twin fogs of political correctness & ignorance must be dispersed before western society better understands this menace. even a brief review of islamic theology & history quickly exposes the deadly roots of this evil ideology.

    Mohamhead was a 7th century murdering warlord who rose to power on a river of blood surrounded by thugs and gangsters using intimidation, violence, deception and trickery to expand their criminal empire while mercilessly suppressing and killing their opponents and enriching themselves on stolen booty.

    The evil koran is a collection of sayings and speeches by this diabolical madman claiming divine guidance from some mythical sky-god which has inspired generations of crazed fanatics to abhorrent behavior resulting in historys worst ever crimes against humanity starting 1400 years ago and still continuing even today.

    Islam is just another fascist totalitarian ideology used by power hungry fanatics on yet another quest for worldwide domination and includes all the usual human rights abuses & suppression of freedoms.

    and a snappy graphics version, great for emailing…

    http://img256.imageshack.us/img256/1479/dangermoko.jpg


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