Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Judeo-Christian response to Jihad

Over at Bookworm Room they are having a discussion of what the Christian or Jewish God might say about fighting jihadists in a holy war. The question and comments piqued me and I got sucked into leaving such a long comment there that afterwards I thought I would reproduce it here on my own blog too (re-edited a little). The question posed was: "What do you think the Judeo-Christian God thinks about the holy war declared on His people by the Islamist extremists and His people’s reactions to it?"

My rambling response:

I was born into a Christian family and culture, and today I believe in God as I am personally (and imperfectly) able to understand Him, following a prolonged period of youthful atheism, years of both pleasant and hard learning experiences, and ongoing study of human nature, philosophy, history, psychology, religions and the Bible and its context. I cherish my Judeo-Christian heritage more the older I get and the more I learn. My former atheism seems to me now to have been a youthful backwater based on very incomplete and immaturely limited understanding. Now I can accept there are things beyond my understanding that are nevertheless important to deal with as best I can; religion provides a rudimentary vocabulary to enter into that realm.

I have learned that being humble does not necessarily mean being humiliated, and I have consented to shift myself out of the center of my universe and put God there. Thanks to people I have met and things I have learned, my personal concept of God as I understand Him is now quite different than the capricious Santa/Father figure surrounded by unpleasant acolytes and unintelligible mumbo-jumbo which many visualize as a child. As a thinking, adult Christian, I follow the teachings of Jesus and am free and able to have a personal concept of and relationship with God.

I understand this freedom and personal view of God is very different from the Muslim faith, unless I am mistaken.

I do not presume to push my faith on other people who have been predisposed not to see the positives in it that I do. Jesus is my model: he merely talked with people; he brought good news and comfort to people who needed and wanted it and took it, and he moved on from those who didn’t. Each individual has free will to make faith choices and use his God-given brains, in the Christian religion as I understand it.

Not so in Islam, unless I am mistaken.

Despite lots of current talk about the scary theocracy and the frightening “Religious Right” in America, it seems to me that believing in God as Jesus taught us to do, and ordering one’s life around that, results in a net positive for oneself, one’s family, one’s community, one’s nation, and the world. It brings life lived abundantly. And yes, I am not discounting all the bad things done in the name of religion by flawed people that have gotten it wrong. All of this, in a Judeo-Christian Western culture, is worthy of continuing discussion. In fact, I believe the openness and the seeking and the discussing among equals is a legacy of Judeo-Christian values and their veneration of the individual’s worth.

No so in Islamic cultures, unless I am mistaken.

I lean heavily on the Protestant freedom to read the Bible and find a very personal path to "the way, the truth and the life" as Jesus showed and taught us. Life on this earth is not perfect, logical, simple, or kind, but I see spiritual progress in human values, over all, over history, led by the Judeo-Christian beliefs, including the Golden Rule of the Greeks that Jesus also taught.

Now, what would God say about a holy war, you ask?

First of all, I don’t presume to speak for God; the Bible relates what He has reportedly said and what Jesus said about Him. Anyone with a serious interest is free to study it and draw his/her own conclusions. Beyond that:

It seems to me this nation was founded very largely and primarily on Christian values, beliefs, and inspiration; as many have recognized, this experiment in self-government depended on the Christian and Judeo-Christian morality of the populace to succeed, and it did. Many through our history believed God was furthering the success and existence of this nation against terrible odds, and prayed for exactly that. The Pilgrims and Abraham Lincoln were among them, to mention only two examples. I believe that the more people in our nation who sincerely and humbly believe this and live by it, the better off our nation will be.

It is not so much a question of begging alms from a celestial despot, as it is recognizing our realities and limitations and humbly calling upon and tapping into a source for inspiration, strength, good will, and moral guidance that is bigger than ourselves. You can even pose this process in sheerly psychological terms if you wish. Whatever it is, it has succeeded amazingly since our nation’s founding. Among the stories of our history, miracles abound. Read 1776 by David McCullough, for just one such story.

We have been blessed by many individual Christians (all of them human, none of them perfect) who forged our nation humbly and who keenly felt their human weaknesses and limitations and appealed to divine providence for strength, guidance, mercy. They gave God credit for the glory and there was much glory and divinely inspired prosperity and success. They felt–and I think I am convinced too–that man alone operating for his own self-interest could not accomplish what was done here without divine help. It takes humble people recognizing this and God’s role to be able to tap into that powerful force for good. It will take humble people to recognize the gift they’ve been given and to cherish it and take care of it in the future.

There are many grey areas where values and actions can be debated, but some clear ones where we know and will know what to do, individually and as a community. I don’t know if God loves the pacifist Quakers or the isolationist Amish more than He loves the soldiers fighting to defend the innocent and maintain human rights, law and order, and justice. I am pretty sure He forgives every individual with a humble and penitent heart who seeks to know Him and asks for His forgiveness for their human flaws and mistakes.

Unless I am mistaken, none of this pertains to Islam. The differences between Christian and Muslim believers are stark, and will have huge consequences even if we are unable to definitively answer such rhetorical questions as “What would God say about a holy war?”

I think on my very grumpiest days I do in fact consider Muslims to be infidels, blasphemers, and idolators, by the definition of old Judeo-Christian precepts. The important difference here is, my religion does not bid me to kill them or even to bother them for this, as theirs bids them to literally kill me and my friends and neighbors. I am quite comfortable, living in this country of individual rights, to accept that they are free to worship and live in peace as they choose, as long as they break no laws. I can love these neighbors as myself, and consider them also children of my God, who have yet to know Him.

I have a hunch the Christian response to holy war in this era (like or unlike the Crusades?) would be heavy on the individual conscience, each one searching his/her own heart for what God’s will for him/her would be and what the right action to take should be. There will be pacifists, missionaries, Christlike martyrs, warriors, prophets, and exhorters, divinely inspired courage and human cowardice and vice. There will be an acknowledegement that each soul, each life is precious. There will be a search for justice, and a righteous anger to defend the innocent. Perhaps in this way, doing God's will is fighting for the sake of the Judeo-Christian God. But no, Christians will no longer fight to mainly or merely convert infidels to their own beliefs.

Come the jihad (or anything else) I don’t think atheists and secularists will be able to tap into anything greater than themselves, which isn’t much of a force. But Christians fighting for the love and the will of God to prevail on earth as they understand it prevails in Heaven can be a mighty counteraction to anything a jihad of robotic, misogynistic killers angling for 72 virgins could dream up.

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