Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God and a disseminator of enlightened opinion every Wednesday for the New York Times, actually manages to blame Christians for their persecution in Muslim nations around the world. He specifically mentions Nigeria, where hundreds of Christians have been slain recently in the vicinity of the village of Jos.
In case you’ve missed it, the events near the city of Jos played out as a gruesome variation on the shibboleth story in the Bible. Nigeria is split roughly evenly between Muslims and Christians, and Jos lies on the “religious fault line” between them. Muslim Fulani tribesmen approached a village in the middle of the night and started firing their guns and setting houses aflame. Those who were not hacked down in their homes were herded toward other men waiting with machetes. Asked to identify themselves in Fulani, a language most of the Christians do not speak, those who failed to answer properly were butchered. Among them were many women and children. (You can watch a video report from CNN.)
Some local media described this as retaliation for Christian killing of Muslims in January, but apparently this is fallacious. Muslims attacked Christians in January, and some Muslims were killed in the fight that ensued. A member of Britain’s House of Lords reported that Christian bodies were being dragged to mosques and photographed as evidence of Christian killing of Muslims. There was fresh killing of Christians even today.
My point presently is not to condemn Muslims for these attacks. There are religious clashes and tribal clashes all over the world, and unfortunately the blood runs in many directions. My point is…how can a member of the publishing illuminati blame Christians for their own murders? What are Christians doing to bring on their own wanton slaughter?
Answer: they’re sharing the gospel. “Cultural aggression,” you see. And apparently cultural aggression is considered a sufficient explanation for murderous physical aggression. Not only does this dehumanize the Muslims themselves — are we being asked to assume that they have no agency, no capacity for restraint in the face of “cultural aggression,” no other means of response but murder? — but it is absurd to blame the victims when they doing, peacefully and respectfully, what their faith calls them to do.
Wright describes how Christians have sought to identify and establish common ground with Muslims by noting areas in which their beliefs overlap. Christians and Jews who spoke Arabic referred to God as “Allah” before the Koran was written; so Christians are on solid ground when they say that Allah was simply a different name given to the Judeo-Christian God. That Muhammad rejected Trinitarianism and the outright divinity of Christ (though he considered him “The Word” and the greatest of the prophets), there is indeed much common ground to start with. For more, see Peter Kreeft’s Between Allah and Jesus, or read Kreeft’s brilliant piece of exegesis here. Indeed, says Wright, some Christian missionaries, in the manner of Jesuit missionaries to China, adopted local customs such as growing beards and abstaining from pork.
If this hardly sounds like something that merits murder, well, you simply do not understand. When Christians interact in these ways with Muslims, their efforts are “precision-engineered to undermine their allegiance to Islam.” He calls it “disingenuous.” He refers to missionaries as “perpetrators,” and to Muslims as those who “feel they are victims of cultural aggression.” This is “unprovoked aggression, since [Muslims] are not generally inclined to proselytize, and serious aggression, since in many Muslim cultures it’s a grave thing for a believer to stray from the fold.”
This kind of loaded language — loaded all in one direction, mind you — is absurd and prejudicial. Islam and Christianity are both expansionist faiths, just in different ways. And, to be sure, there are ways of sharing the gospel that are culturally insensitive and not helpful. Christians have not always done a good job of representing themselves and their intentions forthrightly. In Muslim nations, this is often because Christianity is forbidden or oppressed, and, as Wright notes, those who convert can be subject to penalty, imprisonment or even death. This would seem to be a stronger judgment on those nations that will not permit freedom of religious thought and expression, however, and less a judgment on Christians who sincerely believe that the eternal destiny of millions is at stake.
But the ridiculousness of Wright’s column becomes evident here:
“Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Suppose you were a Christian parent in America and you heard that someone who called himself a Christian had bonded with your son via genial Bible talk and then tried to convert him to Islam. That would be annoying, right? Might even lead to some blowback?”
First of all, Wright has to change the context so that we’re talking about the conversion of children to make it even remotely plausible that Christians would get very upset. But even so, does anyone think that this would inspire American Christians to round up their machetes, march out in the middle of the night and start murdering Muslims? Of course not. At most, the Muslims who sought to convert Christian children would be criticized for approaching children. They would not be condemned for trying to proselytize, and certainly not for trying to establish common ground as a means of building a case; they would be criticized for trying to convert children who are being raised in another faith. Are Christians themselves sometimes guilty of this? Yes. Are they criticized for it? Yes. And that’s what would happen: some Christians would be critical. There would be no torching of villages and murder of women and children.
Wright is vaguely Pat Robertsonesque in his penchant for blaming the victims. Robertson is a Christian who blamed the victim, and he received nearly universal condemnation, including from Christians. Will Wright be condemned for blaming Christian missionary activity for Muslim attacks on Christians? I’m not holding my breath.