Whether a criminal converts to Islam or Christianity

James Holmes, who dressed up like the Joker and killed 12 people at the Batman movie (and who faces the death penalty if he is convicted), has converted to Islam.  Robert Spencer explores what that means as opposed to a conversion to Christianity:

The debate over James Holmes’s sanity has raged hotly ever since he murdered twelve people and wounded 58 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in July 2012. But now the controversy can be laid to rest: Holmes is sane. The clearest indication of his sanity came last week, when the Daily Mail reported that he had converted to Islam.

The Mail reported that Holmes is apparently quite devout: he has grown a lavish beard, eats only halal food, prays the obligatory five daily prayers, and studies the Qur’an for hours every day.

Holmes’s conversion reveals that instead of being unaware of what he did, or utterly remorseless, as one might expect of a psychotic or a sociopath, the murders must trouble him a great deal. For it is souls that are troubled — intellectually, morally, spiritually, psychologically — who cast about for some solution to what troubles them, and often find it in religious conversion.

But it is what Holmes converted to that is significant. Had Holmes converted to Christianity, he might have found relief for any remorse he might be feeling for the massacre in the proposition that in Christ his sins, no matter how great, were forgiven; if he had explored Buddhism, he might have focused upon developing right intention, right speech, and right action, and eradicating the illusions that led him to kill in the first place.

Instead, Holmes chose Islam. A prison source noted: “He has brainwashed himself into believing he was on his own personal jihad and that his victims were infidels.”

This suggests that Holmes’s conversion is a defensive action against any regret that he may be feeling. But instead of meeting that regret with repentance, he has found a way to justify his actions. Instead of acknowledging his wrongdoing, he chose a belief system that justifies violence in certain circumstances, and has attempted to cleanse himself of any wrongdoing by seeing his murders in light of that belief system.

Jihad may take the form of indiscriminate mass murder of infidels, as we saw on 9/11, and 7/7, and in Beslan and Mumbai and Fort Hood and in so very, very many other places. Unfortunately for Holmes, however, jihad is not retroactive. If Holmes was an infidel at the time of the murders, then it doesn’t make his actions jihad to convert to Islam afterward.

Nonetheless, his conversion illustrates yet again why Islamic supremacist groups make such a concerted effort to make converts in prison. They know that men who are already in many cases notably aggressive and violent, and who have a grievance against society, are perfect fits for a religion that contains teachings that are themselves aggressive and violent, and that sets itself against infidel society. Islamic proselytizers in prisons hope to channel that aggression by sanctifying and thereby justifying it – as Holmes seems to be trying to justify his murders by affecting Islamic piety now.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fjsteve

    Or perhaps his crimes were even too gruesome for the White Supremacists so he had to look elsewhere for protection. Prison is very much segregated along racial lines but the mostly black Muslims might welcome a convert who could demonstrate rehabilitation from the white imperialist culture that created such a monster.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2013/04/whether-a-criminal-converts-to-islam-or-christianity/ James

    ”jihad may take the form of indiscriminate mass murder of infidels” holy cr@p
    JIHAD means struggle! not to kill innocent people. Study ISLAM.

  • Tom Hering

    But infidels, by definition (“ones without faith”), aren’t innocent people. Right?

  • kerner

    I’m no big friend of Islam, but is this really being fair? If this guy had converted to Christianity, many would say that he was just looking for forgiveness after the fact (as I have seen jailhouse converts do at their sentencing hearings), but a lot of us would put the best construction on the convert’s motives for conversion.

    Why should we doubt the sincerity of the conversion (to a religion I believe to be false) of this man without more evidence than we have in this article?

    P.S.
    Thank you for installing a spell check feature. :D

  • Gene Veith

    Well, I don’t doubt his sincerity. The point the article makes has to do with the attitude to the sin. Conversion to Christianity involves repentance for what one has done. In this case, the Joker-killer is using his new religion to justify what he has done, which he now interprets as waging holy war against infidels.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    Seems like a natural fit …

  • SKPeterson

    James @ 2 – note the qualify “may”. However, also note that the “may” in relation to jihad often results in violence as the default option. Some Muslims may follow the jihad = struggle as being a struggle against the self a la the Sufis. For many though jihad is the struggle of Islam against Non-Islam, and for quite a few of those, it is the struggle for a particular brand of Islam (Wahhabi, Salafi, Shi’a 7′ers) against all comers and that struggle usually devolves into a crass violence against any and all justified as devotion to God. Nothing more than the usual attempts at human self-justification when faced with the enormity of sin. Truly pathetic in the end and doomed to ultimate failure.

  • Kirk

    @6

    Is that the best you’ve got? No “religion of peace” joke? Come on!

  • Joe

    Here is the real proof that he is completely sane. He offered to plead guilty and accept life in prison in exchange for the prosecutor not seeking the death penalty. The prosecutor decline, but Holmes offer is a completely rational, thinking, cost benefit analysis driven attempt to compromise in order to live.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    @2
    Yes Jihad means struggle. And the struggle can take on many different forms some of that depending on the particular sect of Islam you belong to. However, the historical record of Islam shows that Jihad most often and in its truest form means war. Mohammed wasn’t able to convert Medina without terrorist tactics, he wasn’t able to convert Mecca without war.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Retroactive Jihad this has potential… The author doesn’t think this works, or that an act of senseless violence can later be considered an act of Jihad within Islam. I don’t think there is any historical precedent for it, but I don’t think that would stop an Imam from considering it so. Been a while since I read the Koran, but I can’t think of anything in there that would say this is impossible. And like most religions, conversion more or less offers you a clean slate for anything you did before hand. So within that framework I imagine you are free to reinterpret them too. Before it was acting out a fantasy. Now, looking back at the event you can see it as a manifestation of your own personal Jihad that finally brought you to see the truth of Islam. Even the concept of Allah and determinism that you find in Islam would work into this, as ultimately Allah determines everything you do anyway even if you are an infidel. So there is nothing to stop Allah from carrying out his Jihad against the infidel while using an infidel. His subsequent conversion to Islam being evidence that it was in fact Allah’s will for them to see this as Jihad.

  • Steve Bauer

    Isn’t the legal question whether he was sane or not “at the time of the murders”? That he is acting sanely now (or has lawyers who are acting sanely on his behalf) is a somewhat moot point, although I suppose it makes it a little harder for the defense to create reasonable doubt that he was sane then.

  • fjsteve

    SKP @ 7,

    Good distinction. Although, I’m curious about your inclusion of the Seveners. First, I wasn’t aware the Sevener sect of Ismailis were of any great number. Second, aren’t Ismailis, as a whole, a more tolerant branch of Islam? I know that Nizaris pride themselves on their moderate and inclusive views.

  • http://www.gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    May I be cynical enough to suggest that he may have calculated that converting to Islam means that he is less apt to receive the death penalty? The powers that be don’t mind executing avowed Christians. But executing a Muslim may make them squeamish.

  • SKPeterson

    fjsteve @ 13 – the Ismaili’s have moderated over the centuries. When they started they were extremely violent and engaged in all sorts of terrorism and political assassination, especially the Nizaris. In fact the Nizaris waged a massive “internal” jihad against the Mustalis. (The Mustalis actually began using the term “assassin” as a pejorative against the Nizaris, though this is disputed by the Nizaris). Then there are the Druze.

  • fjsteve

    SKP, thanks. I figured you were referring to the time of the Assassins but in the modern world of Islamic radicalism, it’s the Twelvers who have the most to answer for–being the sect that brought us the Iranian Revolution and the Hezbollah. Indeed, it’s in the Twelver mosques that one hears the chants “Death to Israel, Death to America” on a fairly regular basis even today.

  • David O.

    The repentance door is open in Islam until you die. And only God can forgive you, no one else. And only god can truly know your intention of good or conversion. I see lots of people are talking nonsense and talking about Islam when they do not know anything about. Most did not even bother to read the Holy book Quran. Jihad was never a Holy war as western media portrays. (see more. http://www.religioustolerance.org/isl_jihad.htm). Personal Jihad: This is the most important form. This type of jihad, called the Jihadun-Nafs, is the intimate struggle to purify one’s soul of evil influences — both subtle and overt. It is the struggle to cleanse one’s spirit of sin. In a brochure, the Institute of Islamic Information & Education describes several different contexts in which The Qur’an (the Islamic Holy Book) and the Hadith (the collected sayings of Muhammad) use the word “jihad” to refer to personal struggles:
    Putting “Allah ahead of our loved ones, our wealth, our worldly ambitions and our own lives.”
    Resisting pressure of parents, peers and society; strive against “the rejecters of faith…” (Quran 25:52)
    “…strive and struggle to live as true Muslims…”
    “Striving for righteous deeds.”
    Spreading the message of Islam. “The (true) believers are only those who believe in Allah and his messenger and afterward doubt not, but strive with their wealth and their selves for the cause of Allah. Such are the truthful.” (Quran, 49:15)

  • tODD

    I don’t the point of articles like this. I mean, it’s Pajamas Media, so I guess I do: play up the Culture War, and make Muslims look bad and Christians look good, presumably to the end of provoking (yet another) real war. Cherry-pick the evidence as necessary. Publish.

    But why do people play these games? Are they unaware they’re doing it? Here’s how the game is played: simply, when you talk about your own faith, you ignore any and all historical things said or done by people who also claimed to share your faith, such that you are the sole arbiter of what Your Side stands for. You also skip over any bits of your scripture that an outsider might interpret differently than you do (if you interpret them at all). And then you also claim to act as sole arbiter for the Bad People’s faith as well, except you focus solely on the bits of their scripture that make them look bad, as well as the historical acts that do the same. Voila, Your Side wins.

    Look, I’m not in any way denying the heresy of Islam, or that salvation is by faith alone in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. But can we use the same metrics here?

    Instead of acknowledging his wrongdoing, he chose a belief system that justifies violence in certain circumstances…

    Like this. Have you read the Bible? Christianity also justifies violence in certain circumstances. Really, it does. And yes, against the unbelievers. Without even taking into consideration the myriad unjustified acts of violence undertaken in the name of Jesus.

    I suppose some rabid, Culture Warrior (but bizarro-world) author of a Pajislamas Media article would claim that those Biblical passages are “why Christian supremacist groups make such a concerted effort to make converts in prison,” even though you and I would claim that’s not what Christian prison outreach is about at all.

  • tODD

    Pastor (@14), I’m cynical enough to question whether there’s any actual evidence informing your claim, or if you just wanted to play the Persecution Card.

  • Joe

    Steve @ 12 – yes the moment in time that matters most is the moment of his actions, but in this case a temporary insanity argument is a non-starter because of the all of the planning that went into his attack.

    His only shot is to demonstrate that he has a mental defect that makes it impossible for him to distinguish between right and wrong or that makes it impossible for him to control his impulse to do something that he does know is wrong.

    And, it is also important to remember that this does not actually lead to a not guilty verdict. Instead, such defective people are held to be “not accountable to the law” and sent to a secure mental hospital. If the mental defect is treated to the point where the person is able to tell right from wrong, they go to prison for the rest of the sentence.

    Not sure about Colorado, but in other death penalty states, he would have to remain mentally defective to avoid the chair. If he gets well enough to be able to tell right from wrong, the state can execute him. Its the old heal ‘em, so we can kill ‘em routine.

  • fjsteve

    David O. @ 18,

    Yes, perhaps Westerners lack understanding of the historic context and distinctions of the term “jihad”. But to say jihad was never a Holy war is just absurd. In that claim, your issue is not with Western media but with people like the Ayatollah Khomeini who called for jihad against the West, or with Osama bin Laden who called for jihad against the US and Saudi Arabia, or with the myriad of extremist groups who use the word jihad in their names.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Given what this guy did (allegedly, had to put that in there to be legally correct) – I am not sure speculating on why he did or didn’t do anything is worthwhile. That’s a mind that’s a bag full of cats on meth….

  • SKPeterson

    From the broad sweep of Islam, David O. is advocating a fairly narrow view of jihad which is that espoused by the Sufis. It is not, NOT, part of the active Sunni Islam embraced and exported globally by the Wahhabs of Saudi Arabia.

    And, while I agree that Todd has a point about ascribing rationale to this individual and besmirching all of Islam, that is a separate issue from the concept and implementation of jihad historically. There is this version: http://www.al-islam.org/al-serat/jihad-nasr.htm and then there is this version: http://web.archive.org/web/20030607202630/http://islam.org.au/articles/26/jihad.htm.

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