Christian Leaders, Hamas, and Fundamentalist Islam

Christian Leaders, Hamas, and Fundamentalist Islam December 14, 2023

The comparative study of religions replaced the study of theology in western universities.  No doubt a number of factors accounted for its rise.  The increasingly secular nature of universities precluded the discussion of theological matters.  The Enlightenment promised scholars that religion could be parsed in analytical terms.  Academics felt obligated to account for religion, because it figured as one of the more prominent features of human behavior.  And – at the same time – the academic enterprise required that those who study religion define what it is and distinguish it from other human activities.

There were undoubtedly advantages to this undertaking.  The comparative study of religion gave scholars a reputedly neutral instrument for the study of religion.  It made it possible to compare and contrast religions.  And it offered a language and logic for the description of religious behavior.

But – over time – other agendas and assumptions surfaced, which had a profound impact on the understanding of religion in general and specific religions in particular – driven in some case by well meaning ecumenism.  Some used the comparative study of religion to discredit religious belief, surrendering to the argument that religion could be completely explained as a function of psychological, sociological, or political categories.  Others attempted to describe religions in categories that sublimated their particularity in a fashion that made them all appear to be quasi-philosophical endeavors – all of which ended up looking strangely western, even when many of them were anything but western in their origin.  And still others used the comparative study of religion to argue make the case that all religions are – ultimately – all about the same thing or even the same god.

The problematic nature of these assumptions is apparent in a world in which religion is having such a profound impact, particularly in the Middle East and the conflict in Israel-Gaza.  The discussion about the murderous behavior of Hamas has been reduced to political categories or a conversation about religion that considers all religious differences to be “all about the same thing”, and they are not.  The significance of radical, fundamentalist Shiite convictions that drove the attack on Israel on October 7 cannot be ignored or sublimated.

As Haviv Rettig Gur and others have noted, the murderous behavior of Hamas is predicated on a centuries long battle to curb the influence of Sunni Muslim; the broad, fundamentalist Muslim movement that holds that the world will not be right until Allah is god in every home; and the assumption that the next life, not this life is the only one of value, which Hama leverages in its war against Israelis, using civilians and hostages. Each of these assumptions are religious in nature and any conversation about October 7 and the aftermath of those events makes very little sense unless they are taken seriously.

There are others, including Haviv Rettig Gur, who can speak with more authority to the implications of the religious nature of Hamas for the future in Gaza.  But I can speak to the religious and theological issues and this needs to be said:

Christian leaders do little good when they allow the misguided principles of ecumenical dialogue to sublimate the very real differences between religions and the poisonous character of fundamentalism – and, in this case, Muslim fundamentalism.  They fail in their responsibility when they do not call out and condemn it.  They obfuscate the true nature of the conflict in the Middle East by failing to name it.  Worst of all, calls for peace that fail to take these realities into account are ingenuine.  They discredit the contribution that Christian leaders can make and ironically they isolate moderate Muslims who, as Rob Asghar notes, are reticent to call out the fundamentalists in their own faith.

Christian leaders owe the world a better informed, more nuanced message and a full-throated rejection of a murderous ideology.


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