War, Peace, Islam and the Pope

LutherPunk and First Things, among many others, have opined about the Pope’s recent comments and the response in the Islamic world (LutherPunk here, First Things here).

As was mentioned at First Things recently, this response was entirely predictable.  I don’t really care what his intention was in using the quote (a rhetorical usage to discuss the relationship between violence and religion, I understand) – by using the whole quote without qualification The Pope set himself up for strong Muslim public outrage response and yes, even a little bit of violence (and I say a "little bit," for the murder of a nun and the firebombing of a church – while reprehensible, irresponsible and otherwise condemnable – are isolated acts of violence that could just as easily have taken place in my fair City of Brotherly Love last evening).

Does the Muslim World need to step up and prove that it is a religion of peace worthy of sitting at the great table of world religions, as both LutherPunk and First Things suggest?  No, I don’t think so.  No scholar or sociologist or armchair world observer worth their credentials could fault Islam for what are the failed policies of dictatorships and the economic realities of the third world (by the way, we purchase oil from Saudi Arabia and Iran, don’t we?).  In Columbia – a Roman Catholic nation – terrorists routinely kidnap and kill public officials and common citizens.  That they don’t do so in the name of Jesus is only window dressing.  Such violence and unrest is a function of failed states and economies, not failed religion.  (Also, the fighting between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland had more to do with politics than it did religion, even though religion was a flag that the combatants waved.)

Our brother Martin Luther, who lived and preached at the dawn of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, had some wicked things to say about Muslims and Jews.  Was that Christianity speaking?  Were his words the words of Christ?  No.  Rather, he was a product of his time and place – it’s economy, politics and world view.  Our culture and religion needed to mature in order to see that such violent rhetoric was of the Devil rather than the Divine.  We must always remember that religion comes dressed in cultural clothing and is never naked or pure.

Furthermore, Islam does not have the "benefit" of a hierarchical structure akin to the Roman Catholic Church or a Western corporation.  From what I understand, it is somewhat "congregational" – for lack of a better term – and thus does not speak with a unified, coherent and clear voice.  Think of our Evangelical brothers and sisters, whose churches have a congregational polity – though most Evangelicals share a common heritage and set of values, they are very diverse and divided in practice and belief (think George W. Bush, Brian McLaren, and Rick Warren).  No one voice speaks for the whole Evangelical tradition.  So too with Islam.  I have heard enough Muslim scholars and leaders tell me that theirs is a tradition and religion of peace to satisfy any doubts I may have.

And finally . . . . Let’s look at the political reality on the ground.  For many Muslim clerics and ordinary Muslims, the war in Iraq, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Palestine, and the West’s penchant for gratuitous violence and sex are moral outrages of the highest degree.  Add to that outrage the economic/political reality of living in third world dictatorships and you have a few factors that contribute to the general public’s sympathy with violence-waging radicals.  (Sympathy with their cause and outrage, but not outright support.)  That the voice of moderate, peaceful Islam might be tempered (or not spoken into a CNN microphone) doesn’t bother me.  In fact, it makes perfect sense to me.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

3 thoughts on “War, Peace, Islam and the Pope

  1. Good point about the violence not representing all of Islam. I would hope that Christianity as a whole isn’t judged based on the likes of Fred Phelps, Jerry Falwell, John Hagee, et al.

  2. Does the Muslim World need to step up and prove that it is a religion of peace worthy of sitting at the great table of world religions, as both LutherPunk and First Things suggest?
    Actually, that is not what I suggested. What I suggest is that unless moderate practitioners of Islam step up and make their voices heard, most of the Western world will only see the violence. It is not a question of the inherent worth of the religion.
    And there are numerous moderate Muslims, including most of my Turkish in-laws. My own wife, a Christian convert from Islam, was threatened after 9/11. Her car and home were both egged…you know the drill and have heard similair stories. So it is not like I speaking about these things with no context.
    The difference, it seems to me, is that Christians regularly decry the extremism that is present in our own faith. When Robertson said we should assasinate Chavez, there was a huge outcry. Even evangelical and fundamentalist leaders distanced themselves from him. Religious leaders from multiple denominations and world communions protested the war in Iraq.
    As I stated in my original post, I KNOW (not suspect) that Islam is inherently a religion of peace. I have spent enough time around clerics and practitioners to know this is true. So when I see the type of violence that I chronicled on my blog, there is a sense of disconnect or dissonance.
    If PB Hanson were to make a comment like, “We should eradicate Islam from the world”, don’t you think that there would be a huge outcry from Christians? Yes, Martin Luther said some disgusting things, and what have most Lutherans done? Distanced themselves. I don’t think we are seeing that from the broader Islamic community, and it is in fact a problem for everyone.

  3. LP, how do you know they don’t speak out? Because I hear the same thing from non-religious people about Christians: “Why don’t those other Christians speak out about Pat Robertson?” So apparently these people aren’t hearing the same things you’re hearing.
    I always point out to them that our media is really short-sighted and uses Robertson, Falwell, et al. as their go-to guys on questions of religion, even though they only represent a slice of the spectrum of Christian thought. Have you ever seen Bishop Hanson on CNN? I sure haven’t. Couldn’t that be the case with Muslims, as well?

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