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.

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