Monday, August 30, 2010


I've been asked what I think of Islam.

St. John of Damascus lived in Damascus and held high office under the Muslim Caliph in the 8th century, and he regarded Islam as a Christian heresy, not as a separate religion. That was certainly the view of the Christian king of Ethiopia, with whom the early Muslims found refuge, and I agree. I think it's clear that the animosity, which has always been far more prevalent on the Christian side, is a Pepsi-Coke thing. It's the bitter rivalry of those that are alike. Christians have historically hated Muslims and Jews far more than Hindus or Buddhists, for instance, because they are most like us.

Muslims, as I first found in the Muqaddima, believe that Jesus Christ will judge the world on the last day. He is called the Spirit from God and also the Word of God. He rose from the dead.

Historically, I think it's pretty obvious that Islam may be best understood as the eastern Mediterranean version of the Reformation that took place later in Western Europe. These two took different paths for various reasons - for instance, the Catholics didn't collapse in the face of Reformers as the Byzantine empire did before Islam, so that the stalemate of the religious wars in Europe led eventually to both sides losing credibility and giving ground to secularism. That attrition didn't happen in the east, because the Muslims conquered quickly and easily and didn't persecute the Christians. Indeed the Christians were glad to see them, because they were tired of being persecuted by the Byzantines over subtle differences in Christian doctrine, much as a secular Croatian state looks a lot better to Eastern Orthodox Christians than the Roman Catholic Ustashe regime that killed 250,000 of them during World War 2.

Just as the Roman Catholics and the Protestants caricatured each other's doctrines and became more extreme themselves in reaction, the same happened with Islam.

For instance, Islam is horrified by the idea that God might have a son, because the notion of God having sex with a woman and begetting a child on her is an abhorrent notion fit only for the idols of Greek mythology - and it looks like that's where Christians got that idea. Christian doctrine agrees with Islam on that, but the notion of the perpetual virginity of Mary, which has no biblical support, is frequently argued from the premise that Mary became God's wife. This false argument clearly provoked the Muslim response. God does beget sons, but it's not a sexual thing in any way. It is the the divine nature engendered in people who hear and believe God's word, who begot Jesus in Mary through the word of faith that she received from the angel.

That the word of the one God which brought into being the worlds and raises the dead can engender God's nature in those who hear God obediently is not so foreign to at least some variations of Islam. Arabic actually makes all this much more clear than English does, in that walad refers to a son born of sexual union, whereas ibn (related to Hebrew ben) need not. Ibn falistin (son of Palestine), or ibn California, do not suggest that a man was sexually begotten by Palestine or California.

Some Muslims reject the notion that Jesus was actually killed on the cross, based on Surah 4:157, which says, "But they killed him not, nor crucified him." However, the Qu'ran states elsewhere that he certainly did die and was raised, and in fact the mystery is quite easily resolved when we consider what Jesus said himself. "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again" ( John 10:17-18).

We have a similar history of such controversies in Western European Christianity, for instance the controversy over salvation by faith alone, or the nature of the eucharist. It's evident when we look at the scriptures that both sides are right in different ways, which become obvious if we actually examine the scriptures in context. These are what Paul calls stupid controversies, so it should not surprise us that similar stupid controversies arose in the east, as such things do when the parties are aiming to prove themselves right and the other wrong, rather than to learn the truth.

The present Muslim-hating rage in the United States is quite obviously a manifestation of the kind of pre-genocidal hatred that led to Russian pogroms and the Nazi annihilation of the Jews. It is not surprising in a nation with a Crusader mentality, that wants to bring its gospel to the world with bomb and missile. But it remains shocking that people who claim to be disciples of Jesus should have anything to do with it, and still worse that they should even take the lead in such wickedness.

And since it's no new thing, but the kind of hatred and love of persecuting that we've seen in professing Christians against the Jews and others for the past 1800 years or so, we need to consider that it isn't just Muslims or Jews that are radically mistaken about some things, but Christians too. Jesus said that the tree is known by its fruit. When we look at the fruit these past centuries, considering the record of murder, persecution, robbery, and genocide that Christians have regularly participated in, don't we need to go to Doctor Jesus and get thoroughly and correctly diagnosed and cured before we have anything to say to Jews or Muslims?

The proverb says, "Who can say, 'my doctrine is pure; I am free from my sin?'" That's pretty clear. The way we know our doctrine is pure is when we're free from sin, so if we're not free from sin, something is wrong with our doctrine. The Bible knows nothing of right doctrine and wrong behavior. "The tree is known by its fruit." Our wrong behavior is God's temperature gauge warning us that we have him wrong somehow. Our emphasis on bullet items like the Trinity, baptism, and all the rest - even though it's good to get these right - is our way to kid ourselves that we don't need to heed that gauge. But Jesus says we do.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Bible on why Christians are last to understand

Curt has posed a number of great points deserving an answer. I'll address one of his comments here.

He remarked concerning my Hiroshima-Nagasaki post, and the apostasy and worldliness of Christians that condone this deed, that even an atheist can say these things. Indeed, the theological issues are that obvious, so that only professing Christians seem unable to understand them. And back in the day only "Christian" Europe thought it was appropriate to persecute the Jews for not believing in Jesus. Did Jesus ever do that? The Muslims, the Chinese, the Indians - pretty much everyone else had more sense than "Christian" Europe.

The Bible makes it clear that the professing people of God can easily be a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:9), that the church ("among you") can easily be where Satan's throne is (Revelation 2:13), and that Jesus may well be outside the church and knocking on the door, close to puking (Revelation 3:14-20). That last, Laodicea, is especially pertinent, since the problem there is that God reproves and chastens those he loves, and so they need to be zealous to receive that correction in order that they might repent - and that's exactly what they want none of.

American Christians are zealous for a lot of things, but not for the reproof and chastening of God, often delivered through such disfavored instruments as Muslims, homosexuals, the ACLU, Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Afghan resistance (Deuteronomy 32:20-21), who have in common only that they have things to tell us that should prompt repentance - and who are hated for exactly that reason, whatever other pretexts are devised.

When people are not zealous for the things that bring about their own repentance, they generally become zealous for things that enable them not to. And as in the case of Saul the son of Kish, or Paul before he met Jesus, or David's general Joab, such zeal generally means killing other people for God's sake.

Hence the unusual eagerness of American Christians to drop bombs on people, to invade them, to imprison and torture them - and all the polls show that "Christians" are more eager than the rest of the American population to do all these things - is revealed in the Bible to be the manifestation of their Laodicean spirit, their hatred of the spirit of repentance. Which is to say, their hatred of the Holy Spirit, which explains why in our abundance of religious zeal, holiness is almost unheard of.

Monday, August 09, 2010

What a free country looks like

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Hiroshima, Nagasaki - and the wussiness of American Christians

65 years ago the United States dropped nuclear bombs on the civilian population of Hiroshima on August 6 and on Nagasaki on the 9th, three days later. Americans generally approve, although the rest of the world feels differently.

There are some remarkable theological implications in some of the details.

The Christian churches these past 1600 years or so have celebrated August 6, celebrated by the US with the Hiroshima bomb, as the Feast of the Transfiguration, when Jesus was transfigured before his apostles and was too bright to look at. The Nagasaki bomb on August 9 targeted Saint Mary's Cathedral, built by the city's Christians in 1917 after the end of 250 years of persecution. The first bomb, exploded the month before in the New Mexico desert called Jornada del Muerte ("Journey of the Dead"), was named Trinity.

These guys were certainly not afraid to identify themselves and their works with God himself, even destroying Hiroshima on the very day that commemorates the brilliance of Jesus - making their new toy equal to it.

The common excuse for this deed, which was clearly meant to show something to Stalin, is the lives saved by avoiding an invasion. There are several objections to this argument, many noted at the time, and well understood by men like Dwight Eisenhower.

In the first place, no invasion was going to be necessary. Like all others at the time, the Japanese armed forces ran on petroleum, which they could count on not getting. Without petroleum, tanks don't roll, artillery can't be positioned, and soldiers don't get around. You go around them, as MacArthur did to the Japanese garrison at New Britain, and they can do nothing about it. MacArthur had already proven in the Pacific campaign how to defeat Japanese forces with very low casualties, although other commanders at Iwo Jima and Okinawa proved that they could still make it very expensive by not doing it MacArthur's way.

Moreoever, the Japanese were most afraid of the Soviet Union coming into the war, especially since the Red Army had given them a severe thrashing in 1939 and had become far more capable since. That happened on August 8, 90 days after the German surrender, just as the Soviet Union had agreed, and on the day before the Americans bombed Nagasaki.

This pattern of justifying abominable conduct with foolish fears has persisted. They killed 3 million Vietnamese on the basis that the Communists were going to take over the world if they conquered South Vietnam. They have murdered over a million Iraqis and driven several million more from their homes based on various lies, and on fantastic speculations that Saddam Hussein was going to send drones and nuclear bombs into the United States. They continue and expand a war in Afghanistan based on similarly false and deceitful national security arguments, as though bankrupting our own nation in order to invade and oppress others so that they must resist as we would will somehow make us safer. What part of "crime does not pay" do the American people not understand? Why don't Christians realize that this love of being lied to is evidence of deep spiritual depravity and alienation from the life of God?

And then there is the now well developed habit of nuclear war without explosions that the United States has made routine over the years since Hiroshima. The Hiroshima bomb used 140 pounds of uranium. The United States has used many thousands of tons of depleted uranium in Iraq, burned to fine powder so that people breathe it in. So should we be surprised that the cancers and ghastly birth defects in Fallujah since the Marines trashed the city in 2004 occur at a far higher rate than they did in Hiroshima after the bombing?

For Christians, who know that the nations do what they do, none of this is especially shocking in itself. The Assyrians, and often the Romans, often behaved even more abominably. Our problem is that professing Christians are foremost in excusing these abominations and worshiping the empire that does them. Instead of being the light of the world, so-called Christians are foremost in advocating such violence, fulfilling in our day what is written, "From the prophets of Jerusalem uncleanness has gone forth into all the earth," and again, "The name of God is blasphemed among the nations because of you."

Jesus has called those who follow him the light of the world. Instead, we have arrogantly boasted of being so these past 400 years while being utterly in love with this world so as to identify with the worst of its abominations. Is that following Jesus, being his disciples? If we swallow with delight the camels of mass murder, plunder, and cruel oppression that the world around us has routinely committed since the massacre of the Pequots in 1637 and the enslavement of African slaves at the same time, and worship the flag that waves over such deeds, is it any marvel that such throats easily accommodate the gnats of sexual immorality and other acts of personal worldliness that Christians are so faithfully conformed to, even as our knickers are constantly in a twist over them? If we love the cruelty and domination of aggressive war, can we expect to resist the same cruelty and domination in pornography? Should we be amazed that the immune systems of evangelical Christian men resemble those of AIDS patients, when it comes to pornography?

Can anyone imagine Jesus or the prophets putting their hands on their hearts and affirming the nobility and sinlessness of any nation state in their own days, pledging allegiance to them, as American Christians do to one of the most bombastic and licentious nations that the world has ever seen? Is it Jeremiah that such Christians resemble, or the false prophets that called him a traitor and kept telling the kings and people of Judah how God was on their side no matter what they did?

If we live in such darkness, so full of zeal for Jesus and so full of contempt for what he says in our Bibles, then Jesus says, "How great is that darkness!" If this is how we live and think, why shouldn't the world around us be in ever deeper darkness, and why should that change if we won't?