Materialism Handicaps National Debate on Torture

Enhanced DeprivationA Western culture that separates the relevance of spiritual and material realities as aggressively as it separates church and state handicaps itself at defining torture and interrogating terrorists. Here is how.

Our first of four sons was born in 1984, and in 1985 Dr. James Dobson wrote his classic book on raising “strong willed children.” His advice on “shaping the will without wounding the spirit” became a common sense guideline that my wife and I used for discipline. It fits with the way that God treats us. He often sends trials and tribulations to break down our rebellion and build up our faith and character. It is part of the way that he loves us.

I don’t think I was torturing my four boys when discipline sometimes included depriving them of comforts or causing them some physical pain or threatening them with either pain or deprivation. And don’t think my Army Ranger instructors were torturing me when they made me hungry and sleepy and uncomfortable in order to prepare me for surviving on the battlefield.

However, because many Americans have no category in their thinking for an eternal human spirit, they can’t differentiate the human will and the human spirit. As a result, the breaking of one appears no different than the destruction of the other. Ironically, this cultural blindness results in absolutist pronouncements, cookbook procedures, and rigid legalism masquerading as the “higher moral standard.” Situationally tailored enhanced interrogation that preserves human dignity requires differentiating the will and spirit.

This cultural blindness also results in the double standard that it’s moral to “drone” terrorists to death when they are in hiding, but it’s immoral to interrogate them in enhanced ways when they are in captivity. Principles of self-defense permit killing enemy combatants who are even in hiding, but killing enemies after they are captured is not self-defense and is not moral. Without the ability to differentiate will and spirit, destroying the will of captured enemies appears to be as immoral as killing them.

However, when the will and spirit can be differentiated, deprivation, humiliation, pain, discomfort, and threats of these conditions become neutral tools that can be used for either moral or immoral ends. What makes these tools for interrogation right or wrong isn’t what they intrinsically are, but how they are used. Are they used for a good purpose or for an evil one? Are they applied while preserving an attitude of love for the detainee or in an attitude of hate and vengeance?

The principles of just warfare, that are used to guide morality in war, can also guide morality for treating and interrogating detainees. Bombs and guns are not inherently evil. What makes them good or bad is how and with what motives they are used. Yes, sometimes the ends really do justify a means. Just as some things like faith and freedom are worth dying for, and other things like self-defense and restoring peace are worth fighting for, so these same things are worth interrogating for.

Just like spanking a child should not be done in anger, interrogations should be done in compassion and with self control. They should seek to break down the will without destroying the spirit. And they should situationally follow just war principles rather than rigid cookbook procedures and politically expedient formulas. As in just warfare, the degrees and means of confrontation must be tailored to morally fit each presenting situation.

An interrogation that avoids torture will, therefore, be just in its cause (jus ad bellum) and just in its means (jus in bello).

In just war tradition, being just in cause implies it will be the following:

  • A response to imminent threat in order to either
    • protect oneself (national self defense)
    • protect innocent life (law enforcement)
  • Chosen and executed by a competent authority (i.e. a legitimate government)
  • Chosen formally with clear intentions that are
    • to restore peace, not destroy the detainee
    • not from vengeance, cruelty, hatred, jealousy, or power
    • in accordance with national consensus
  • Chosen as last resort after all other options ruled out (not necessarily all other options tried)
  • Reasonably able to succeed
  • Preventing more evil than it causes

And in just war tradition being just in means implies the following constraints:

  • Proportionality – using the minimum force necessary to succeed
  • Safeguards uninvolved personnel (i.e. not harming relatives of the detainee)
  • Respects the sanctity of life
    • recognizes interrogator and detainee as morally equal
    • accepts similar treatment for oneself given reversed circumstances

These principles show how in some circumstances even light treatment can become torture, while in other situations very heavy treatment is morally proper.

Our western culture, which separates the relevance of spiritual and material realities as aggressively as it separates church and state, handicaps us in defining torture just as it handicaps us in spanking children. Because many Americans cannot differentiate will from spirit, the breaking of one appears no different than destroying the other. Ironically, this materialistic cultural blindness results in absolutist pronouncements, cookbook procedures, and moral ultimatums more typically attributed to legalistic religious fundamentalists than to supposedly sophisticated relativistic and tolerant post-modern progressives. Counter-intuitively, it is religion rather than materialism that undergirds sophistication, tolerance, and relativism when it comes to interrogating terrorists.

Three Reactions to Terrorism and “Islamic State” Resurgence

US Soldiers in IraqBoko Haram, the Islamic State, Hamas, and other fundamentalist Muslim entities calculate their terrorism to inspire fear. Fear clouds judgement. Most people react in one of two ways, but a few people pursue a more productive third option. The three reactions are:

  1. Flight (includes Freeze)
  2. Fight
  3. Spiritual Engagement

1. Flight (& Freeze) – “Islam and Muslims are both good”

The “flight” reaction takes the form of denial. It misses how terrorism transcends politics and economics. It can’t see differences between Muslim fundamentalists and other kinds of fundamentalists. Most people in the US State Department, in academia, in the entertainment industry, in the global news media, and in the current American presidential administration are slaves to this emotional reaction. People in “flight” from their fear of terrorism behave according to a conviction that “Islam and Muslims are both equally essentially good.” A great blog by Mark Durie on theological illiteracy shows how their proposed political, economic, and sometimes military “solutions” flee from theological realities and end up undermining security. For example, the popular mantra that the Islamic State does not represent a form of Islam energizes the radicals and absolves the moderates of responsibility for defeating them.

2. Fight  – “Islam and Muslims are both bad”

The “fight” reaction advocates a multi-faceted counter-offensive against Muslims who are trying to “take over the world.” Brigitte Gabriel is a spokesperson for this approach. People in “fight” mode behave according to a conviction that “Islam and Muslims are both equally dangerous.” They don’t just strive to diminish Islam, but many of their proposed “solutions” would end up oppressing Muslims. For example, suspending Muslim immigration or preventing the building of mosques infringes on religious liberties.

3. Spiritual Engagement  – “Islam is bad but not Muslims”

A third reaction is neither “fight” nor “flight” but an engagement based upon an understanding of Islam and compassion for Muslims. This balance of judgement and mercy transcends normal reactions. Evangelical outreaches to Muslims like “Jesus for Muslims,” “Act Beyond,” “Crescent Project,” “COMMA Network,” and “Adopt a Terrorist For Prayer” behave according to a conviction that “Islam is bad but not Muslims.” They understand how even the “peaceful” moderate Muslim majority is in bondage to an oppressive theology. That theology, even when peacefully expressed, opposes freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom for women at its fundamental core. It is deeply rooted in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that are beyond the reach of either military or civic interventions. Therefore, the lasting solution to acts of terror in the name of Islam is not military, economic, or political, but theological. Spiritual changes precede material ones. Meeting the suicidal zeal for an Islamic state with a comparable Pauline zeal for evangelism among Muslims will facilitate those spiritual changes.

Post Script

These three responses, explained above, are not exclusive or exhaustive, and they are descriptive rather than prescriptive. My recommendation of Spiritual Engagement as “a” pathway to “lasting solution” does not exclude supporting secular (military, political, and economic) engagements that are theologically literate and help to free Muslims from Islam. However, secular engagements without spiritual ones don’t address underlying causes and won’t likely create lasting change.

The Great Commission during Service and after Separation

Christmas Eve Service in IraqMilitaries of the world have always been at the leading edge of intercultural relations and security remains one of America’s most significant exports. If professional exposure to some of the neediest parts of the world creates ministry opportunities, then no segment of the Church in America is more strategically positioned for advancing the Great Commission than Christians who are in the U.S. military.

But what is the Great Commission?

The imperative command in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is the word for “disciple.” It is the only imperative verb in the Great Commission. The word commonly translated into English as “go” is not an imperative command. It is a modifying participle, otherwise known in English as an “-ing” word.

The Great Commission has three modifying “-ing” words. These words modify the imperative. They describe how to “disciple.” They are the words “going,” “teaching,” and “baptizing.” Jesus tells his followers to “disciple” by “going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching.”

The verb “disciple” is transitive. That means it takes a direct object. That object is commonly translated into English as “all nations.” So the question becomes, “What does it mean to disciple a nation?”

The actual Greek words translated into “nation” are “panta ta ethne” from which the English word “ethnic” comes. So a better translation of the verb with its object is, “Disciple all ethnolinguistic groups!”

Curiously, the grammatical object to be discipled is not individuals but entities. And significantly, the subject commanded isn’t individuals but the whole group of Jesus’ followers. It includes you and me, but not just you and me as individuals but also you and me as members of the entire group – the Church.

So how do you and I use our lives and our unique set of talents and enthusiasms to participate in the Church’s mission to insure “all peoples” get discipled?

I think we pursue what we love to do and what God has uniquely inspired us to do in a way that serves and grows the dominion and prestige of Jesus Christ (the Kingdom of God) into new ethnolinguistic territory. That to me is the essence of obeying the Great Commission.

So how does this practically integrate service and life after service?

  1. First, it means that every endeavor from career to hobby and family life coordinates with deliberate efforts to “disciple” entire “ethnolinguistic groups.”
  2. Second, it means we do not act alone. Imperfect as they are (because we are not perfect), we must join with others in organizations or associations that intend to strategically impact entire ethnolinguistic entities.
  3. Third, it means we engage or support those engaging ethnolinguistic groups that do not yet have any discipling happening among them. Cross-cultural testimony has got to happen, and it will, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Jesus said that the “end” will not come until the “gospel of the Kingdom” is “proclaimed” in every ethnolinguistic entity (Matthew 24:14). See my article “Who Are Unreached Peoples” for a definition of this frontier.

Discipling cross culturally takes capacity in at least four areas:

  1. Bible, ecclesiology, and targeted cultural anthropology. “Discipling a nation” requires a robust knowledge of the Bible and a firm understanding of what the Church of Jesus Christ is and what it is not in various cultural contexts. Choosing partners and participating in activities that advance the Kingdom of God in new contexts without cultural baggage take capacity in Bible, ecclesiology, and cultural anthropology.
  2. Language and cultural adjustment. To understand and have a sphere of influence takes fluency and comfort, not just with language but also with different roles and values around which people organize and govern their lives. This requires being a learner before becoming a teacher. Language school, Rosetta Stone or a LAMP immersion program are good tools. An introductory course on the science of linguistics can really help with self directed study.
  3. Marriage and family enrichment. This is the most easily overlooked yet often the most significant preparation for endurance on the gospel’s frontier. Cultural and spiritual stress on families is exponentially higher in cross-cultural outreach situations. Organizations like PREPMissionary Training International, and Link Care can facilitate self-directed study in this area.
  4. Secular entry skill. Christians can rarely get among “unreached peoples” (except among refugees and international students) as full-time Christian workers. Working among them requires a valid and respected role. Often it is possible to be in both a secular organization and a mission agency. A secular skill provides a platform for operating among “unreached peoples,” and missionary agencies strategically coordinate and assure spiritual capacity.

Here are some agencies that embrace and place secular skill sets:

What do Muslims and Christians Believe Differently About Divine Revelation?

(Seventh in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)

Both Christianity and Islam believe in angels and prophets and in a God who communicates through holy scriptures, but their prophets and scriptures are very different.

Based on the thesis that people become like what they worship, and relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God, in this series, I have compared and contrasted social implications of Muslim and Christian beliefs about God, man, nature, salvation, and the future. This last post in this series addresses the social implications of Muslim and Christian beliefs about divine revelation.

the Qur'anIn Muslim theology, the Qur’an is a verbatim incarnation of God’s word. It is an extension of divine essence and a part of eternity. In Christian theology, Jesus fulfills that role. While to most Christians the Bible is divinely inspired and miraculously without error, it is not an extension of God’s essence. The Bible quotes God, but it is not word for word in every word a direct quote from the mouth of God.

Christians believe that Jesus is divine (John 10:30-33), so that every word of Jesus is a word straight from the mouth of God. That is how Muslims view the Qur’an. Christians believe that the Bible is divinely provided and protected in order to show us Jesus (John 5:39). Muslims believe that about Muhammad. They believe Muhammad was divinely provided and protected in order to give us the Qur’an.

As a result, in Muslim theology, burning a Qur’an would be like crucifying Christ or desecrating the Eucharist. Burning a Qur’an is exponentially more explosive than burning a Bible. In Indonesia, I saw a man die in a hospital from a beating after he’d been arrested for allegedly burning some verses of the Qur’an that were supposedly mixed in with some magic charms that he was burning. In Christian theology, burning the Bible is like burning a valuable and special book, but it is nothing to Christians like burning a Qur’an is to Muslims. Functionally, for their respective groups, the Bible and the Qur’an are different, so the responses of the respective groups are different as well.

Functionally, the Muslim equivalent to the Christian Bible is Muhammad as he is known through their hadith and sunnah.

The hadith are written records of the sayings and actions of Muhammad. The sunnah is the “way” of Muhammad that the hadith reveals. Without knowing the “way” of Muhammad, there can be no authoritative application of the Qur’an. Similarly, without the Bible, there can be no authoritative knowledge of Christ.

Muslims do not study the Qur’an devotionally the way that Christians study the Bible. Rather, what Muslims study devotionally is the life of Muhammad. Muslims find life lessons in the way that Muhammad conversed, ate, drank, slept, washed, and even had sex. Muhammad is devotionally equivalent to the Bible, not the Qur’an.

Muslim clerics are legal scholars as well as theological ones. Muslim people leave interpreting the Qur’an to trained clerics the way that Americans leave interpreting the Constitution to trained lawyers. Muslims often memorize large portions of the Qur’an. But memorizing the Qur’an does not give one authority to interpret and apply it any more than memorizing the U.S. Constitution gives one credentials for practicing constitutional law.

Jesus at the last supperFor Christians, their ruler is Jesus. Though he rules a heavenly rather than an earthly kingdom, he still rules. Christians call Jesus their Lord as well as their Savior. The Muslim equivalent to Jesus is the Qur’an. Muslims are devoted to the Qur’an the way that Christians are devoted to Jesus, and they treat it legally the way that Americans treat the U.S. Constitution. The Qur’an is a Muslim’s highest sovereign in the same way that Jesus is a Christian’s highest sovereign.

This post has been about the form that God uses to communicate with people. Both Christianity and Islam have prophets and scriptures; however, those prophets and scriptures don’t correlate with one another. Christians revere the man Jesus as the essence of God, whom they receive and understand through the Bible. Muslims revere the Qur’an as an essence of god, which they receive and understand through their prophet Muhammad. Functionally Muhammad correlates to the Bible and the Qur’an correlates to Jesus. Correlating Jesus with Muhammad and the Bible with the Qur’an is a mistake for Muslims trying to understand Christianity and for Christians trying to understand Islam.

That concludes this blog series comparing the implications of Muslim and Christian beliefs on God, man, nature, salvation, the future, and revelation. Many more comparisons could be made. The two religions are very different from each other.

It’s important for Christians not to fall into the popular trap of allowing people who have no religious affiliation to treat Christianity and Islam as if they were the same. If Christianity and Islam are essentially the same, then their fundamentalists are the same as well. One of the biggest challenges to religious freedom for Evangelicals in America comes not from Muslims, but from people with no religious affiliation, who will inevitably treat Evangelicals as if they were the same threat to civic order as extremist Muslims.

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What Do Muslims and Christians Believe Differently About the Future?

(Sixth in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)

Islam teaches that Muhammad established an ideal society under Muslim law when he ran the government in Medina and eventually in Mecca. Most Muslims desire to return to that ideal by implementing Muslim law as closely as possible to the way that Muhammad would apply it under conditions that exist today.

Christianity teaches, on the other hand that, since the rebellion of mankind against God by Adam and Eve in the long-gone Garden of Eden, ideal civilization is impossible unless God establishes it himself. Christians believe Jesus is God, and they believe that Jesus will return to earth from heaven some day. Therefore, Christianity teaches that God will establish the ideal society on earth through Jesus. Christian waiting for Jesus is patient but not idle. Christians believe, that while Jesus is gone they should do the best at what they think Jesus would do, but they do not believe it is possible to have an ideal society without Jesus.

countries with a state religionThese different visions for the future lead to different ways that Christians and Muslims engage in politics. Christians try to influence government and politics, but they no longer try to establish a theocratic government as the Byzantine emperors attempted from the fourth to the eleventh centuries. Jesus taught that his dominion was spiritual and non-material. He told the Roman governor who ordered his crucifixion, that if his kingdom had been of this world his followers would have been fighting for him (John 18:36). He told the Jewish leaders who wanted to rebel against Rome to pay their Roman taxes. He said “give to Caesar what is Caesars’ and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:17-21). This teaching from Jesus establishes the concept in Christian theology for of a separation of powers between church and state.

Muslim theology has no such church-state separation paradigm. The Muslim ideal strives for uniting political and religious power rather than separating those powers.

Nation states and empires are inevitably violent. Governments arm policemen, field armies, and produce weapons, not priests and imams or mosques and churches. And governments use those armies and weapons to violently defend or advance their ideologies. The United States of America defends and advances democracy with great violence.

When Christians have been violent (as in the Crusades, the Inquisition, and today’s “war on terror”), it is for political rather than religious reasons. But today’s violent Muslim non-state actors are violent precisely because they are attempting to establish a Muslim state. It’s not Islam as a religion that is violent, but Islam as a political system. And because the Muslim ideal is a Muslim state, Islam will always be violent, because states will always be violent.

Christianity grew and thrived for over three centuries as a persecuted religion in both Roman and Persian empires. But, as Bernard Lewis writes in his book What Went Wrong (published by Oxford University Press in 2002),

What Went Wrong Book“Muhammad achieved victory and triumph in his own lifetime. He conquered his promised land, and created his own state, of which he himself was supreme sovereign. As such, he promulgated laws, dispensed justice, levied taxes, raised armies, made war, and made peace. In a word, he ruled, and the story of his decisions and actions as ruler is sanctified in Muslim scripture and amplified in Muslim tradition” (p. 101).

Lewis also notes,

“The idea that any group or persons, any kind of activities, any part of human life is in any sense outside the scope of religious law and jurisdiction is alien to Muslim thought. There is, for example, no distinction between cannon law and civil law, between the law of the church and the law of the state, crucial in Christian history. There is only a single law, shari’a, accepted by Muslims as of divine origin and regulating all aspects of human life: civil, commercial, criminal, constitutional, as well as matters more specifically concerned with religion in the limited, Christian sense of that word” (p. 100).

This post has covered differences between Muslim and Christian beliefs about future world civilization. Both Christianity and Islam are idealistic and triumphal, however, Christians believe that only Jesus can establish an ideal society while Muslims strive for an ideal civilization on the earth through Muslim government and law. The results of these theological differences play out everywhere on the world stage. Politicians and diplomats ignore or minimize these differences to their peril. The next post in this series will explore Muslim and Christian differences in beliefs about divine revelation.

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What do Muslims and Christians Believe Differently about Salvation?

(Fifth in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)

My last post covered implications of the differences between Islam and Christianity over how mankind relates to nature. This post will cover implications of the differences over how mankind relates to God.

For God so loved the worldIn both Christianity and Islam salvation depends upon an exclusive faith-based identity. Muslims believe that forgiveness comes exclusively through Islam, and Christians believe that forgiveness comes exclusively through Jesus (John 14:6). The similarity stops there. Muslims believe in two angels (the two kiraman katibin) who record good and bad deeds, words, feelings, and thoughts. Going to heaven instead of hell depends upon being a Muslim and upon God’s mercy in evaluating the record of one’s good and bad deeds and intentions.

In Christianity, people cannot mitigate their own sin with good words and deeds. Only God can mitigate sin. Theologians call the process “atonement.” It happens through the historical sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. God forgives sins, people repent, and a broken relationship with God gets restored. Repentance for Christians involves confessing and taking responsibility for sins, and then turning away from sin through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Christians call this “salvation by grace through faith not of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It means salvation is not affected by good deeds but is a free gift to all who reconcile with God through a faith allegiance to the identity and work of Jesus Christ. Because forgiveness starts with God and is guaranteed by God, Christians have assurance that God won’t punish them when they confess their sins (1 John 1:9). From a relational point of view, forgiveness is not yet a relationship. Forgiveness merely forgoes the right to demand justice, punishment, or restitution. It’s half of reconciliation. The other half is repentance.

relating to God and manThe concept that people relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God is part of Christian tradition. Jesus taught his followers that they were to forgive one another just as graciously as their heavenly Father had forgiven them (Matthew 6:12-15). People in societies following the pattern for reconciliation set by God in Jesus Christ, expect to be forgiven when they repent – when they take responsibility and promise to change. They expect mitigated consequences when they sincerely apologize.

People in Muslim societies rarely apologize as an initial step towards reconciliation. Rather, the offender will usually work on restitution and try to reestablish relationship first. Think about it. If forgiveness from god is affected by merit, then forgiveness from one’s neighbor will be too. The more responsibility one accepts for an offense, then the higher the price of restitution. Muslims will often ask for forgiveness without admitting responsibility. Muslims who want to be in relationship will often mutually blame uncontrollable circumstances, someone else, or even god as a way to reduce the price for restoring the balance of good and bad deeds between them.

Based upon these patterns, apologizing for accidentally burning Qur’ans or for the existence of videos and cartoons that insult Muhammad is a mistake. So is apologizing for past offenses like the Crusades or Colonialism. It’s like a doctor apologizing for accidentally sewing his scissors into a patient after removing an appendix. It just increases liability and the cost of settlement. Islam is a legal system as well as a religion. Forgiveness is earned. It may or may not follow restitution. Apologizing admits responsibility, so the more abject the apology, the greater the admission of responsibility, and the greater the responsibility, then the costlier the settlement.

Also, among Muslims, potential for reconciliation is higher for insiders than for outsiders. In Christian theology of salvation, people reconcile with God first, and then they become “true” Christians. In Muslim salvation, people become “true” Muslims first, and then they can be reconciled with god. The Christian God treats everyone the same. He offers forgiveness to everyone, whether Christian or non-Christian. The Muslim god treats Muslims and non-Muslims differently. Like their god, Muslims treat insiders and outsiders differently.

Maaf lahir batinActually, Muslims often ask each other for forgiveness. In fact, requesting forgiveness from friends and relatives is an important component of Muslim holiday celebrations. In Muslim cultures, however, maturity and good character don’t require admitting faults or taking personal responsibility for mistakes. Offenses are often forgiven without anyone ever admitting guilt. It’s like a legal settlement in court or no-fault insurance where money changes hands but no one admits that they were wrong.

From a Muslim perspective, it is the Christian pattern for reconciliation that miscarries justice. It requires that the offended party be ready and willing to forgive once a sincere apology is offered. It means you don’t actually need to do anything in order to be forgiven. It means that even the wickedest person can reconcile with God and have absolute certainty of eternal salvation. And it puts the offender rather than the offended in control. Ultimately, it appears to turn justice and divine sovereignty upside down.

This post has covered differences between Muslim and Christian beliefs about salvation. Christians believe that salvation to eternal life flows from a restored relationship with God through forgiveness and repentance that makes one a Christian. Muslims believe salvation into paradise happens only for Muslims as God mercifully considers their good and bad deeds. These differences profoundly influence human relationships resulting in different behaviors and social structures. In interpersonal relationships, Christians are expected to grant forgiveness for sincere apologies while Muslims grant forgiveness when it is earned.

The next post in this series will explore Muslim and Christian differences in beliefs about the future.

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What do Muslims and Christians believe differently about nature?

(Fourth in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)

My last post compared and contrasted Muslim and Christian beliefs about man. This post will show how different beliefs about man result in different beliefs about man’s relationship to nature.

In the Christian Scriptures it is written that on the sixth day of creation God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). In Christian thought, this Scripture teaches that God wants man be his steward of creation.

Furthermore, in the Christian gospels it is written that Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and calmed the storm (Acts 2:22). Now, for Christians, Jesus is the behavior (way), character (truth), and will (life) of God incarnated into human flesh (John 14:6). Jesus demonstrates the will of God for mankind (John 20:21). Therefore, Christians believe that fighting against sickness, death, and natural disasters is fighting against evil and is according to the will of God. As a result, Western civilization has a rich heritage of struggling to improve and prolong human life with medical care, emergency services, community development, and disaster relief.

Most of the world, and particularly most of the Muslim world, does not share this passion for excellence and constant improvement in medical care, emergency services, community development, and disaster relief. A natural disaster anywhere in the Muslim world almost always kills far more people than an equivalent disaster somewhere in the Western world.

pool in Padang, IndonesiaWhen I was living among Muslims in Indonesia, I saved a man from drowning by performing mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration on him. The lifeguards at the pool had been performing the long discredited back-pressure-arm-lift method of resuscitation. I got him breathing again but not back to full consciousness, so he had to be taken to the hospital where the doctors and nurses thought that I had sucked the water out of his lungs in order to revive him. An article in the paper the next day said that fortunately for the young man a foreigner happened to be there to give him assisted breathing while removing the water that he had swallowed.

While serving among embedded military advisors in Iraq, I observed that it was very difficult for American advisors to persuade Iraqi soldiers and military leaders to wear protective equipment, like eye protection, body armor, and helmets during combat operations. The Iraqi response was always, “Insyallah,” which means “if God wills.” They seemed to be saying that whether they lived or died was God’s will so that they did not need to bother with wearing protective equipment.

military advisors in IraqThe word “Islam” comes from the Arabic root word “Salema” which means peace, purity, submission and obedience. At its essence, Islam is submission to the will of God and obedience to His law.

From the Muslim perspective, every phenomenon in the world, other than man, is administered totally by God-made laws. All of nature obeys God and submits to his will. It is said to be in the “State of Islam.”

That is different than the Christian view. The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that all of creation is in bondage to decay and waits patiently for restoration through the ones who are becoming children of God (Romans 8:20-22).

If nature is in a state of submission to the will of God, then that means that sickness, death, and natural disasters are according to his will. According to Muslim thinking, only human beings have the capacity to rebel against the will of God. Mankind is invited to submit to the will of god and to obey god’s law through the religion of Islam. Muslims believe that submission to the good will of god, together with obedience to his beneficial law is the best safeguard for man’s peace and harmony.

The logical extrapolation of this thinking is that resisting forces of nature that manifest themselves in sickness, death, and natural disaster is equivalent to resisting the will of God. Wearing protective equipment or being skilled in the latest techniques for resuscitating drowning victims reveals a lack of spirituality and a lack of submission to God’s will.

In the Christian view, nature itself has been disturbed by evil, and one of God’s purposes for humanity is not only to struggle against evil in oneself, but also to struggle against evil in nature. In the Muslim view, however, God completely controls all of nature.

Islam does call upon humanity to struggle. The word for struggle is “jihad.” Muslims are called to jihad against everything that sets itself up against the will and law of god. Jihad can be an internal personal struggle against sin, and it can be an external communal defense of Islam. But Muslims are not called to jihad against death, sickness, and natural disasters the way that Christians are. Nature, for the Muslim, is still under the control and will of God.

This blog has covered differences between Muslim and Christian beliefs about the nature of creation and man’s relationship to it. The next in this series will explore differences in beliefs about man’s relationship to God.

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What do Muslims and Christians believe differently about Man?

(Third in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)

theology-of-manIn my last post, I compared Muslim and Christian beliefs about tawhid and trinity. I mentioned that tawhid had implications for the nature of man as well as the nature of god. Tahwid means not only that there is one God, but also that nothing in creation can be associated with god and that god cannot associate himself with anything in creation. It means that the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is metaphysically impossible for the Muslim god. It also means that there can be no image of god in human beings.

Since the Christian God is a trinity with eternal relational moral attributes like integrity and love, when God bestows those attributes upon part of his creation, then that part of creation becomes “made in the image of God.” But the Muslim god, as a singularity without eternal relational attributes, cannot bestow moral attributes upon any creatures as any portion of his own nature.

image of God in manIn Christian anthropology, the moral attributes of human beings participate in the infinite and eternal qualities of God. It makes all human life equally sacred and valuable. God is infinite, so likeness of God in mankind is also infinite. Compared to the infinity of God’s likeness in mankind, other differences between people (like gender, race, status, intelligence, disability, or religious affiliation) disappear into relative insignificance when compared to infinity. Compared to infinity, anything else that is not also infinite resolves to zero. Therefore, before God all people are not only equal, but are also infinitely significant because they participate in infinity. If human beings are “made in the image of God,” then laws against discrimination based on race, religion, disability, or gender, are rationally and objectively rooted in the eternal nature of God as opposed to arbitrarily rooted in how things were created.

Muslim treatment of womenBut in Muslim theology of mankind, nothing in man can be anything like god. Therefore, the moral attributes of human beings cannot be anything like the attributes of god. Therefore mankind’s worth and moral attributes are arbitrarily part of creation and not intrinsically part of god and eternity. No part of human essence is either divinely sacred or joined to infinity in a way that by comparison eclipses physical and social differences. Islam does teach that God has created human beings with equal dignity that is higher than the rest of creation (Quran 17:70). However, differences in gender and religious affiliation are legally significant in Islam. A man’s testimony has more weight than a woman’s, and non-Muslims have different status than Muslims in Muslim law. Furthermore,  only non-Muslims have freedom of religion under Muslim law. Non-Muslims are free to convert to any faith they choose, but Muslims are not free to leave Islam.

Because of tahwid, in Islam, human dignity flows arbitrarily from the way that people are created rather than from the innate infinite likeness of God in mankind. As a practical result, human rights vary depending upon physical characteristics, behaviors, and social affiliations.

Because of the trinity, in Christianity, human dignity flows from an innate infinite likeness to God in each person rather than from arbitrarily created characteristics or chosen behaviors and affiliations. As a practical result, human rights are the same for all people whatever their differences or affiliations. Men, women, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians are all the same before God and the law.

The image of God in man makes people different from everything else that God created, and it results in a divine expectation for people to be stewards of the rest of creation. I will address the implications on caring for creation in my next post.

People become like what they worship, and they relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God. Gender, race, and interfaith relations are a challenge in all societies, but gender, race, and religious discrimination are bigger problems in Muslim majority societies than in Christian majority ones because of different beliefs about the image of God in man.

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What do Muslims and Christians believe differently about God?

(Second in a series comparing the social impact of theological differences between Christianity and Islam)

Based on the thesis that people become like what they worship, and people relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God, in this blog series I intend to compare and contrast the social impact of Muslim and Christian beliefs about God, man, nature, salvation, end times, and revelation. This entry compares and contrasts the social impact of Muslim and Christian beliefs about God.

the Christian TrinityThe Christian God is three persons in one essence, while the Muslim god is a single autonomous unity. The English technical term for the three-in-one Christian God is “trinity.” The Arabic technical term for solitary singularity of divine essence is tawhid.

the Muslim TawhidMuslim scholars claim that tawhid is the most important article of Muslim faith and that all other Muslim doctrine springs from it. Tahwid means not only that there is only one God, but also that nothing in creation can be associated with God and that God cannot associate himself with anything in creation. We’ll explore the implications of divine non-association in my next post on the theology of man, but for now let’s consider the implications for society and civic structures if God is a singularity rather than a trinity.

In chapter one of He Is There and He Is Not Silent Francis Schaefer writes,

The Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other and loved each other before the creation of the world…. This is not only an answer to the acute philosophic need of unity in diversity, but of personal unity and diversity. The unity and diversity cannot exist before God or be behind God, because whatever is farthest back is God. But with the doctrine of the Trinity, the unity and diversity is God Himself — three Persons, yet one God. That is what the Trinity is, and nothing less than this

Honor, glory, love, integrity, morality, and truth demand relationships. These moral qualities cannot exist within a singularity. However, these moral qualities can exist in eternity past within a trinity. If God is a trinity, then glory, honor, and love are eternal. That eternity for glory, honor, and love is possible because the persons of the trinity have been glorifying, honoring, and loving each other for eternity. Also, if God is a trinity, then integrity, morality and truth are also eternal. That eternity for moral qualities is possible because the persons of the trinity have been holding each other accountable to standards of integrity, morality, and truth for eternity.

But if God is a singularity, then there are no interpersonal relationships within God. If there are no interpersonal relationships within God, then there is no eternal basis within God for honor, glory, love, integrity, morality, and truth. If there is no basis in eternal reality for God’s glory and honor, then God’s glory and honor are not eternally innate to him but depend on his relationship with creation. Also, if God is a singularity, then God can do nothing to shame himself. If God has no innate honor, then he can never potentially have innate shame. He can only be shamed by his creation. If God can do nothing to potentially shame himself, then his behavior has no moral boundaries. He can lie, cheat, and steal with impunity because God is only accountable to himself. If there are no relationships within God, then God has no accountability.

In Christian society, because God is a trinity, nothing and no one can embarrass or dishonor God. God’s honor and glory are part of his eternal essence and depend on nothing other than God himself. Nothing in creation can ever change or diminish God’s honor and glory — even if God becomes a man and dies a humiliating death on a cross. Only God himself can potentially shame himself, because a trinity has accountability within itself.

insulting islam shames GodBut in Muslim society, because god is a singularity, the society must guard and protect his glory. Nowhere on earth and at no time in history do we find Christians violently protesting in the streets when people insult God, his prophet, or his holy books. People in Christian societies know that God does not need his honor protected. But Muslims around the world throughout history are paranoid about the glory of their god. “Allah Akhbar,” the Arabic words for “God is Great,” are constantly on their lips. Insulting the prophet receives a death penalty in many Muslim countries. Defiling a Qur’an instigates violent protests and even murders around the world.

People become like what they worship and relate to one another based upon the way that they relate to God. In Christian societies, God’s honor is certain and his integrity is an innate attribute. Christian doctrine holds that God’s integrity constrains his behavior so that he cannot lie. If God were to lie, then he would shame himself. Therefore, in Christian societies, integrity is more important than honor, and society expects people to tell the truth even if it means embarrassing themselves, their families, their business, or their leaders.

Crucifying Jesus shames himBut the relative esteem for integrity and honor are reversed in Muslim societies. According to Muslim doctrine and according to the Qur’an itself, “Allah is the best deceiver.” In Islam, god’s honor depends upon how creation treats him, and integrity is not an innate part of his eternal essence. Power, as an attribute, can be independent of relationships, and it is the most vaunted attribute of the Muslim god. As a result, in Muslim societies, honor is more desirable than integrity, and people are expected to deceive in order to protect themselves, their families, their businesses, or their leaders from shame. Among Muslims, the notion that God would stoop to become a man and suffer at the hands of men is one of the most offensive blasphemies to comprehend.

Because of tahwid the Muslim god can only be dishonored by his creation, and he cannot dishonor himself. However, because of the trinity the Christian God can only be dishonored by himself and cannot be dishonored by creation. As a result, Christian societies do not worry about protecting God’s honor and care more about truth than honor, but Muslim societies are paranoid about god’s honor and care more about honor than truth.

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