Why do Islamic fundamentalists sound so much like Christian ones?

Why do Islamic fundamentalists sound so much like Christian ones? May 14, 2014

Today I stumbled across a blog post written by a Malaysian Muslim named Farouk defending the concept of “human rights” which Malaysian prime minster Najib Razak accused of being “against Islam” in a recent speech. One of the reasons that the Islamic fundamentalists condemn “human rights” is because the actual phrase for “human rights,” huquq an-naas in Arabic, doesn’t appear in the Koran. So Farouk’s argument in defense of human rights involves making a derivative case from overarching themes in the Koran, reminding me very much of the arguments I often make about Biblical teachings, which always fall flat before fundamentalists who take a “word search” approach to Biblical proof-texting.

One paragraph in Farouk’s blog in particular caught my eye because it sounded exactly like the logic that gets deployed in the Christian culture war debates:

Islamofascists who speak out against human rights, liberalism, humanism and secularism always claim that these are ‘man-made’ ideologies based on reason and desires and must therefore be rejected by Muslims since they have ‘divine teachings’. This is simply a convenient maneuver to forget the reality of interpretation. Sharia law is very much a human product. Even its proponents cannot agree on its sources, let alone its provisions. What they are protecting by condemning these ideologies is their own right to dominate and rule. Najib mentioned Human Rights-ism follows desires but one must ask, what about an ideology which refuses to give women even the right to travel by herself? Isn’t that feeding into the desire of men to control women? That is what Sharia law teaches yet its proponents claim it’s divine.

It makes me wonder if every religion in the world involves the same jockeying with which a religion’s fundamentalists try to claim that they are immune to “man-made ideologies” and are simply dispassionately following “divine teachings.” Often the most vociferous opponents of compromise with the secular world are completely swept up in secular values that are completely off the radar because they don’t have to do with the token issues around which they’ve defined morality.

It’s interesting that one of the damning qualities of “human rights-ism” according to the Malaysian prime minister is that it “follows desires.” It’s the exact same one-up-man-ship move that Christian fundamentalists make. People who follow their desires are shallow, morally vacuous libertines. If you go against your desires, that means you’re disciplined and you deserve to be in charge. So if your desire is to have power and control others, then create a moral system that looks sufficiently austere and difficult to follow so that you can buy power with the currency of your “sacrifice” of your “desires.”

I wonder to what degree “sacrifice” is the basic power-play universal to all religions. In a recent argument, a fellow Methodist pastor wrote: “Jesus taught that there is a narrow way which is hard but leads to life and a broad way, which is crowded and leads to death. He never mentioned a middle way.” This is a perfect example of the currency of “sacrifice” in action. When you can claim the higher moral ground of a “narrow, hard” way, that gives you the right to give yourself power and demand obedience from others.

Of course, I would contend that Jesus is the solution to the universal religious power-play of “sacrifice.” He not only says, “I desire mercy not sacrifice,” but his cross is the means of repudiating the entire sacrifice game since it puts us all before God equally illegitimate and completely dependent on his mercy. But our Christian fundamentalists would rather be gatekeepers of their own fortresses of “orthodoxy” than groundskeepers in the strange, uncontrollable garden of God’s grace. In that sense, there is little that distinguishes them from the fundamentalists of Islam or any other faith.

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  • Morgan, if you are going to quote me why not at least give me credit?

    You lost me here: “People who follow their desires are shallow, morally vacuous libertines. If you go against your desires, that means you’re disciplined and you deserve to be in charge.” This isn’t the case at all. There are godly desires, and there are sinful desires. Scripture is quite clear on this. Augustine said that the problem we are all born into is one of “disordered loves.” Without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and the ongoing work of sanctification in the believers life, we love things the wrong things and even love the right things wrongly.

    Desire in and of itself is not evil. But as we grow in Christ our desires ought to become increasingly holy. We have know way of knowing what those desires are without the bible, which is sufficient for training us in godliness and righteousness.

    I stand by my quote above about there being no “middle way.” The way of Jesus is hard, as he said so, clearly. If you wish to debate that, you’ll have to take it up with him.

    • MorganGuyton

      “If you wish to debate that, you’ll have to take it up with him.” Ah another stock move of fundamentalism. You don’t have a position; you’re just Jesus’ position. You really are a walking reenactment of so many bad conversations I had as a Southern Baptist. The way of Jesus is hard but for a different reason than you’re claiming it is. Just because you can keep your hands out of your pants doesn’t mean that you’re fully sanctified. You’ve got a long way to go buddy.

      • Morgan, whatever it is that I or conservatives have done to hurt you I hope you can find a way to forgive us.

        Peace to you.

        • MorganGuyton

          By the way, the only reason I used the word “desire” without qualification was in in following the particular language of the blog post I was commenting on. I am quite familiar with St. Augustine and his teachings which have been very helpful to me. This post really didn’t have anything to do with homosexuality. I just thought it was uncanny to see that the same basic rhetorical moves Christian fundamentalists use are deployed by Islamic fundamentalists as well. That’s pretty much it. You haven’t done anything to hurt me in case what you wrote wasn’t just rhetorical posturing but an expression of genuine concern. No, the source of our conflict is that I’ve been given a word to preach just like you have and the gospel that has liberated me clashes with the gospel that has apparently liberated you. I don’t know what to do with that. It’s fair to say that it threatens me and freaks me out, but God is allowed to speak to you differently than he has to me. I recognize that I’ve been an ass to you and I’m sorry for that. I sense that you’ve got thick skin, so I’m mostly sorry to God for letting my temper make it easy to discredit the truth I’m supposed to share faithfully. It’s against his truth that my greatest sin lies when I act like a jerk.

          • summers-lad

            A Bible verse that has been bothering me for a while is Galatians 1:6-7: “… you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel …” It looks like there are many gospels around, which all claim to have Biblical basis and to be the gospel of Christ, and some have barely any resemblance to others. As I said in my comment above, I like what you say, “God is allowed to speak to you differently than he has to me.” I know that God speaks to us through our varied life experiences. And I’m glad that we don’t have to have perfect theology to enter God’s kingdom! I don’t want uniformity. But I struggle with how believers in Christ can come to almost diametrically opposed positions on our understanding of the gospel. I’m not saying you and Chad are doing that, but your debate prompted me to put down these thoughts which have been bouncing around for a while.

      • summers-lad

        I once came across someone who wrote that “when you say something is self-evident it shows that you haven’t considered the alternatives”. It was a long time ago so I can’t track it down, and it was in a secular context, but I think there’s more than a grain of truth in it.
        I mention it here because it seems to parallel, in some ways, “You don’t have a position; you’re just Jesus’ position”. Of course there are many people who have consciously, either dramatically or over a period of time, to finding faith in Jesus and following his teaching, along with recognising that at one time they followed another way. That is obviously awareness of the alternatives. But there are others who believe without ever having had reason to question it, that Jesus’ position is the position of their church (whatever that might be). Philip Yancey has written of how in the church of his youth, he was brought up a racist. Many have found their faith undermined as their beliefs were challenged. Others will testify how their church upbringing has held them in good stead and protected them from many evils. My point is that for the great majority, they have held their beliefs, held to their perceived “Jesus’ position” in total sincerity. They have a genuine conviction that they are in the truth. And that is faith.
        Your comment below, “God is allowed to speak to you differently than he has to me” is right. On some things, Jesus does indeed have a single position. (Forgive those who sin against you; forgive seventy times seven.) On others, he seems to be less concerned than we often are about diverse beliefs.

  • One more thought. It’s obvious you are talking about homosexuality here (or what else do you mean by “desire” here?). I find it sad that you would compare your entire tradition, 3000+ years of Jewish and Christian teaching on the matter, to radical Islamic fundamentalists. Equally troubling is that you assign motive to the entire lot of us when you say: “When you can claim the higher moral ground of a “narrow, hard” way, that gives you the right to give yourself power and demand obedience from others.”

    How do you know the motives of everyone throughout our tradition who have been consistent in teaching that certain desires are not in line with God’s commands? Are Ben Witherington, NT Wright, Richard Hays (to name just a few), the majority of Methodists around the world, and 2000 years of Christians all power-hungry monsters on par with Islamic radicals? Was Jesus a power-monger when he demanded obedience from those who would call themselves his disciples, or told them to count the cost, or die to themselves, or warned that the way is narrow and hard and few find it?

    It would be better, perhaps, if you attacked the arguments of those who, like you, believe they are faithfully submitting to God’s holy word, rather than attacking their motives, as though you could judge such things.

  • “I find it sad that you would compare your entire tradition [of the subjugation of women — both in the home and the church — and the ‘biblical motif’ of patriarchy], 3000+ years of Jewish and Christian teaching on the matter, to radical Islamic fundamentalists.”

    Using Chad’s words here, we could certainly substitute homosexuality for those issues which “an entire tradition, 3000+ years of either Jewish or Christian teaching” no longer find their relevance or acceptation in our egalitarian, equality-oriented culture.

    More than the homosexual debate, however, I see Morgan’s post as being the type of arguing and agenda among conservatives and fundamentalists rather than than an overt finger-pointing over merely one issue — i.e., homosexuality.

    The “middle way” reference I find a bit intriguing, since usually the conservatives and/or fundamentalists typically get to decide what accounts for the “narrow, hard” way. Meanwhile, many of them end up thinking, speaking and behaving like the religious right of Jesus’ day — the Pharisees.

    I liked this post, and I Tweeted it.

    • Credendum, as I hear this post it’s about suppressing desire, and those who call people to abandon their desires are similar to radical Islamists. I would call patriarchy and the lording over another, male or female, a sinful desire, and one that should also be abandoned and aligned to God’s word, such as Ephesians 5:21 (mutual submission to one another). As I said, there are good desires, and sinful desires. How do we know which is which? I say the Bible. If “contending for the faith” which has been passed down to us makes us all Pharisees, then I suppose we are all in trouble.

      • “How do we know which is which? I say the Bible.”

        I might say “the Bible” as well, but I had better ask myself whether what I’m imposing on others is not *my interpretation* of the Bible; and I think that’s one of the major problems conservatives and fundamentalists are experiencing in our culture — confusing at times their interpretations for “what the Bible says,” which is what we call eisogesis, and is derived from the errors of naive realism.

        “If ‘contending for the faith’ which has been passed down to us makes us all Pharisees, then I suppose we are all in trouble.”

        If Morgan *is* referencing homosexuality here, and doing so within the framework of desire (homosexual desire), then are you suggesting that one’s views regarding homosexuality and the Bible (say, from a progressive view) is tantamount to “contending for the faith”? Is the gospel or the Christian faith supported by one’s sexual ethics on this subject?

        I’m eager for Morgan to address your comments.

        • I think the word “imposing” is harsh, and inadequately describes what is going on. I doubt you would say I was “imposing” my power-hungry views on a church when I preach that gossip is sin (which I do, often). Or would you?

          I’m merely saying that rather than attack motive (as Morgan is doing), attack the biblical argument. It is simply untrue to claim that conservatives such as myself believe that “people who follow their desires are shallow…” That’s a straw-man. He would first need to establish that those of us who support the traditional (and I’d argue, biblical) of marriage are completely opposed to all desire or that we call all desire sinful. We do not. I believe the bible is clear on what desires are holy and which are not. As for same-sex sex, I believe the bible is clear. He, or anyone, is of course free to disagree with that, but please don’t presume to know my motives for believing as I do.

          • One definition granted to “impose” is: “To apply or make prevail by or as if by authority.” That is what you and other conservative and fundamentalistist preachers do — yes. I certainly didn’t mean impose by force, since you don’t have that power. When you preach that gossip is sin, you are authoritatively making an insistence; and those who look to you for guidance on biblical issues, many of whom would not question what you say — as so many believers rely totally on what the preacher says — then I think my word choice was appropriate, actually.

            I disagree with you that Morgan was attacking motive — I know you view it that way, but I don’t, so we can await for Morgan’s reply.

            I’m going to make an observation, and do so without questioning your motives in the slightest.

            Reading you, and through your words on-line watching you evolve over the last couple of years, has been at times disconcerting. I realize that you now view your progressive views within a context unrelated to Jesus and His salvation, since you are under the impression that you actually “got saved” during the bout of repentance you experienced a bit ago. Perhaps you did, I don’t know, or perhaps you merely experienced a new level of sanctification. Can any of us know that with certainty? Perhaps not.

            Since then, your pendulum took a swing in the complete opposite direction, seemingly overnight, and many people were left scratching their heads. Is it that you now view the “conservative,” “traditional” worldview to be that of Jesus? Does it make you feel safe, like a true, faithful Christian?

            Why I’m asking is because I have been through that, and it was frightening. I felt that to be a faithful Christian was to be a conservative (religious right) believer — that progressives were not saved, did not love the Bible or the Lord, and were deceived. That in itself took quite some time to overcome. Years of dogma and fear tactics took their toll within me. I suppose that I’m having a very difficult time understanding how you could so very quickly abandon your former views and replace them with these very conservative views.

          • Preaching ought to be with some authority, so I agree with you on that then. Thanks for clarifying what you meant. I would say Morgan is “imposing” his authority when he teaches full inclusion or when he compares conservatives to Islamist radicals. Nothing is more boring or less convincing than a preacher who doesn’t believe his or her message.

            As for the rest of your comment, I don’t know who you are, and since you don’t really know me, you’ll have to just take my word for it I suppose when I say your wrong. The only thing that should really be important is that I met Jesus when I most needed him and he saved my life. I only wish to follow him and honor him in all things. I don’t get it right all the time, but I’m trying. And I love seeing people set free from the bondage of sin by the power of the gospel, and I have a passion for calling others to faithfulness to a holy, loving, awesome God whose word is true – always. If that makes me a Jihadist/conservative/fundy/whatever in the eyes of people like Morgan, I’m perfectly OK with that.

          • I’ll let it be, then.

  • Alex Churchill

    I’m a bit cautious of trying to argue that sacrifice has nothing to do with the Christian life. I think a lot of what Jesus calls us to is going to look like sacrifice to us, even if it’s not making sacrifices as a way to earn our way into God’s kingdom. When Jesus calls us to take up our cross, that sounds pretty much like he’s saying some sacrifice will be needed as part of following him.

    Or were you contrasting sacrifice with “sacrifice”? I wasn’t quite clear on that.

    • MorganGuyton

      Good point. I do think we have to make sacrifices for the sake of gaining the heart of Christ, but too many people put themselves through contrived hardship as a means of earning spiritual currency.