Philip Yancey on the differences, and similarities, of Christian and Islamic cultures

“The Lure of Theocracy,” a new column by Philip Yancey at Christianity Today.

Hearing firsthand about Islamic culture increased my understanding, but it also made me nervous about my own society. The very things we resist in Islam, some Christians find tempting. We, too, seek political power and a legal code that reflects revealed morality. We, too, share a concern about raising our children in a climate of moral decadence. We, too, tend to see others (including Muslims) as a stereotyped community, rather than as individuals. Will we turn toward our own version of the harsh fundamentalism sweeping Islam today?

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  • stephen

    I vividly remember seeing it on Election Day 1988 (Bush v. Dukakis). Saw it in a rundown mall cinema (since demolished), but the inferior surroundings couldn’t dim the power of the experience for a relatively new U2 fan.

  • Len

    I remember seeing it while in college as a Student Government event, so it was free and it was a theater full of college students and U2 fans. The closest I’ve ever been to attending a U2 concert. Oh and I bought the DVD out of some discount rack for $5, they didn’t like it but I still do.

  • Tompaul

    Looks like I’m coming late to this conversation, but tf, Patrick Henry never said that. See, for example,

  • e.c.

    One more thing that I would like to add, by way of clarification:

    the foundations of the US are strongly rooted in Judeo-Christian morality. If there is theocracy, there is little choice.

    That is part of the reason that Roger Williams was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He included religious freedom as a must in Rhode Island’s charter. Touro – the oldest synagogue in the US – is in Newport, RI. Founded by Sephardic Jews (who fled from Spain & Portugal to a Dutch colony in what is now Brazil, then here), it is one of the few colonies that was not only willing to accept Jewish immigrants, but to welcome them. They chose Rhode Island, not Virgina, Maryland or the Mass. Bay Colony. It’s not difficult to figure out the “whys” of that decision.

  • Anonymous

    Although I deeply appreciate Yancey’s main point (and agree with him), the history he cites (of jihad being the only reason, or primary reason for the Arab conquest of various nations) seems pretty oversimplified.

    An excellent book (from the apologestics standpoint, also from an undertanding of Arab Muslim societies) is Kenneth Cragg’s The Call of the Minaret. Cragg and other missions/missiology people who have worked extensively with Muslims seem to have a much better grasp of how Islam “works.” Current “fundamentalist” movements aside, the history of Islamic belief is anything but monolithic. Our media do a great disservice to people from predominantly Muslim countries by showing a 1-dimensional picture of those countries and the people who live in them (as well as those who leave them).


  • Tom Harmon

    One can look at it the way the first commenter looks at it, or one can say, “See, we have at least these things in common with our Muslim brothers and sisters.” We can say this without embracing the bad things we can see in Islamic societies.

  • Tim Frankovich

    The difference is… our laws and government are based on Christianity, which, at its core, is based on CHOICE. As Patrick Henry said, “It cannot be emphasized too often or too strongly that this nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religion but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is for this very reason that people of other faiths have been afforded prosperity, asylum, and freedom of worship.”

    Thus, those who truly understand Christianity, while complaining about moral decline and so on (which is perfectly valid), understand that no one can be COERCED into trusting Christ.

    Islam, on the other hand, is enforced by the governments that were founded upon it. To leave Islam is a capital crime in many of those nations.

  • Thom

    I was thinking about this the other day. I was reading an article with quotes from Islamic Jihadists. They spoke of the culture war, complained about the influences of Hollywood, complained about moral decline and so on. It was chilling to see how much their words reflected the words I have seen from Christians in the U.S.