The events in France this week have challenged us all to make sense of troubling events.
Many conclusions will be drawn, frequently according to our preconceptions.
“Don’t trust Muslims”,
“Don’t demonise Muslims”,
“To hell with all faith”,
“Close the borders”
“Repent of our foreign policy”
“Redistribute more wealth”
“Send in the diversity co-ordinators”
Never has a problem had so many seemingly obvious causes or instant solutions.
The more Brother Ivo has listened, the more convinced he has become that there are two important areas for Christians to address..
The first is the need for us to have a deeper, prolonged and more honest faith dialogue with our Muslim neighbours. It will not be easy.
It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.
The second is that it is both foolish and dangerous to regard Islam and Chritianity as comparable religions in relation to the wider Society.
If we accept that there is a distinction between those Muslims who follow the Abu Hamza’s of this world and the everyday folk we meet in the shops, schools, hospitals and streets of Britain, then we will all need to better understand what lies within that faith. We are unlikely to advance our understanding however if we think we can view it with the same mindset and cultural assumptions of secular Liberal Britain as most of our politicians and media do.
Those of us who can view these matters from a literate religious perspective have an advantage in getting to grips with the problems and so can -and should – make a special contribution. We will need intellectual courage and integrity to do so, It will not make us popular.
Consider for a moment, the High Wycombe Muslim interviewed on Radio 4 yesterday, who proclaimed that Muslims love their Prophet more than they love their wives or children. Such a statement would be almost incomprehensible to the average Briton, though those with longer memories, might have noted a similarity to Golda Meir’s famous observation that there will be no peace between her people and their neighbours until Arabs learn to love their children more than they hate the Jews.
Later in the day, as the French Special Forces showed their great skill and bravery, we saw young child hostages being carried out of the Parisian supermarket by the rescuers.
Christians can state with confidence that Christ was unequivocal about such matters.
He punctured the pomposity of those who claimed to love God, whom they have never seen, whilst not showing equal love for those about us who we can know 1 John 4:20. Jesus plainly taught that love of God and love of Man were to be seen as two sides of the same coin without being in competition one with the other.
Following an affirmative answer to His question, “Peter, do you love me” he answered ” Feed my lambs” – not ” Take them hostage”.
Rather than seeing children as hostage material or subordinate family member Jesus saw them as models of behaviour for all who would enter the Kingdom. Matthew 18.3
He warned those who harmed children that it would be better for them to have a millstone tied round their neck and to be cast into the sea. Luke 17:2
It is hard to consider these teachings as in anyway congruent with the actions and attitudes of the more florid adherents of Islam.
Christianity can handle such inhumanity in clear theological terms; perhaps Islam can too, but all too often we are too polite or fearful to ask.
Yet ask we must.
Those who assert that such fanatics cannot be defeated by force often foolishly and wrongly suggest that the solution to the problem lies in social or economic change. It does not. Such bigotry must be defeated theologically and that can only be done by understanding the faith claims, principles and – let’s be blunt, its weaknesses.
Brother Ivo has not yet heard kindly responsible Muslim Imams and scholars asked by our media to identify with clarity the texts, traditions and authorities which enable them to accept criticism of the faith by secularists like those of Charlie Hebdo without recourse to violence.
One assumes that their peaceful response is not simply founded on lack of weapons: if they have faith inhibitors of intemperate action, this needs to be made more widely known, not least to the hot headed young.
Christians, and particularly those with religious studies skills, are best placed to ask such questions and lead such dialogue from the perspective of the non-Muslim majority. By knowing how to ask the right questions, appreciate alternatives, explore complementary ways of interpreting text and how to challenge assertions, we can make an important and distinctive contribution.
Yet too often we find clergy either disinclined or incapable of standing their ground, or identifying those questions.
It is not, of course, Christians who ridicule Islam.
We suffer far more insult at the hands of our National Broadcaster than Islam which has secretly benefitted from policies such as the recently publicised kid glove approach embodied in the BBC guidelines on what can and cannot be said and portrayed.
Christians are well placed to explain how to demonstrate dignified patient responses.
Too often, however we collude with the notion that the man Mohammed perfected God’s revelation to humankind, rather than His Son. We also collude with the idea that Islam suffers more at the hands of militant secularists; they do not. The harsh cartoons against Christ and his Church has spawned no concern on the Left of incipient ” Christo-phobia”.
When all faith is portrayed as threatening, intolerant, divisive and excluding, Christians need to be equipped to speak of our unique “selling points”. We need to explain this both to Islam and to the wider secular community.
We need to recognise and speak our truths plainly
Our God is imminent, not remote.
Jesus washes our feet and commands us to offer service rather than demand submission.
God is not too proud to enbrace the humiliation of crucifixion if that is what it takes to lead us back to Him.
We do not have to earn God’s love because it has already been given.
Unlike Mohammed, Jesus responded to insult by turning the other cheek; He did not sanction the death of those who insulted him.
The societies created by Islamic values, and Christian values are accordingly very different.
Such differences matter.
If we do not assist by identifying explaining and publicising such differences, how can secular society and Islam understand each other better? Christianity has an important interpretive role.
Above all, a primary distinction between Christianity and Islam in modern Britain is that Churches are not incubating hundreds if not thousands of angry isolated young men admiring the Parisian attackers.
Amongst the messages to communicate to our Islamic neighbours are:-
Muslims seem to be happiest and most free within in the western societies than in the Middle Eastern Islamic homelands.
The biggest killers of Mulims in the world today are other Muslims
The most persecuted religion in the whorl is Christianity
We can call these inconvenient truths.
It may dent Islamic pride, but Christians and Jews are not clamouring to enter Islamic societies. Our harshes Muslim critics fight in the Courts to avoid being returned to more Islamic societies.
These truths need to be said.
Even so, Christians are best placed to engage with Imams and scholars to encourage them to diagnose and address the disease of terrorism within their mosques. We must not shirk the responsibility for doing this.
We need to explain to the public the religious and theological difficulties which such Imams face. Brother Ivo has identified some of these in earlier posts.
We need to understand, publicise and praise both the fact, and detail of how many peaceful Muslims are standing with us against such terrorism which has been imported from less tolerant societies. The press is not good at giving credit where it is due.
This honest reconciliation of sincere difference and its communication to the wider public is difficult work, not least because of the flabby assumption that Chistanity and Islam are really very similar and can be treated alike by modern secular society.
They are not
If you are in any doubt about that, compare the body count.