Archive for the ‘Christian-Muslim relations’ Category
I recently ran across the following quote from 20th-century Christian author, C. S. Lewis in his book, The Abolition of Man. These remarks preface an assemblage of quotes that relate to what Lewis termed Natural Law, which he more or less equated with ancient Chinese term, the Tao:
The idea of collecting independent testimonies presupposes that ‘civilizations’ have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful. It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history.
This is a very important point to remember. Sometimes we act as if Christian culture and Muslim culture are two different things. In truth, they are not distinct. This might be true concerning some (but by no means all) of their religious doctrines, but it is most definitely not true of their religious cultures, broadly defined.
Take but one example. Christians prefer certain postures of prayer, and Muslims prefer others. In Hinduism and Buddhism still others are to be found. Are these postures efficacious only for a particular religion? Or are these postures collectively the proper spiritual heritage of all humankind? The latter seems far more plausible.
But if that is so, should we not study each others religious cultures, and freely borrow from one another. Do not mistake that for syncretism, the mistaken notion of producing a bland, watered down world religion which glosses over doctrinal differences. Our concern here is rather with practices, not doctrines. And the model is a more complex one. The suggestion is that the spiritual practices of our most ancient ancestors, say those of the ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Indians, are now found scattered throughout the modern religions of the world, each retaining a subset. We are then not seeking to produce a new religious culture, as much as to reclaim an old one.
As I write this, the Muslim children are playing ball outside in the pool of Anspach fountain, drained for the winter, in St. Catherine’s place. Their teacher, leading the play, is a young Belgian woman, scarcely more than a girl herself. I do not speculate on the significance of this, except to vaguely consider that it has <i>some</i> meaning. It has happened; it is part of the Tao, and is worthy of comment on that basis alone, and for this reason: I planned originally to write something else — in fact, to quote a poem by the Sufi poet, Rumi, for the express purpose of participating in a mingling of cultures, and by that simple action, to further it. Here is the poem, chosen before the events outside my window began:
I used to be shy, you made me sing.
I used to abstain now I shout for more wine.
In somber dignity, I would sit on my mat and pray,
now children run through and make faces at me.
The children have not made faces at me, but they have enjoyed themselves playing as I wrote this.
Finally, here are two quotes cited by Lewis:
‘Men were brought into existence for the sake of men that they might do one another good.’ (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. vii)
This is obvious enough, and needs little comment. Another is this:
‘Man is man’s delight.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 47)
This simple statement speaks volumes. How many of modern misfortunes have come from our constant attempt to improve upon nature, and to seek something beyond what is already given to us. We imagine that one day in the future, when all problems have been solved, then humankind may have happiness. We seek to be rich, to have automobiles, and wide-screen televisions.
In truth, technology has already succeeded. We have beaten most of the diseases that afflict humankind. We are no longer at the mercy of the weather. We can feed everyone, if we simply try. Having conquered these enemies, who do we not enjoy the blessings that God has given us? Foremost among these is the gift of life itself. And second is the gift of others. God, in his kindness, has designed us so that little, if anything, on earth gives us more pleasure than to see the smile of another, to see the sparkle in their eyes. This is what truly makes us happy, and it is all free.
This blog entry is not as so rigidly organized as the others; consider it poetry, if you like, just writer’s notes.
On how the people in America and in Gaza are brothers and sisters
A logical proof:
1. I am an American currently living in the center of Brussels. Perhaps half of the dealings I have each day are with Muslims from countries like Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey, whose shops I visit and whose services I use. These are my neighbors, my colleagues, and my friends. If they are treated unfairly it is impossible for me to ignore that. Human beings are such that they are psychologically incapable of ignoring the suffering, unhappiness, or oppression of those around them. The natural instinct is to help others and to be concerned for their welfare.
Therefore the Muslims from these countries in Brussels are my brothers and sisters. It is impossible to think otherwise.
2. The European Muslims are brothers and sisters with the Muslims in their home countries, and in other Muslim countries, including Gaza.
3. Therefore if the European Muslims are my brothers and sisters, then so too are the Muslims in these other countries.
4. But I am still an American, and brother of the people there. That is hardly a bond that distance can abolish. Therefore, by this series of links (as if it were not apparent for other reasons), Americans and the people in Gaza are brothers and sisters.
So now I ask my younger brothers and sisters: please stop the quarreling. Americans: try harder to help the people in Gaza. At the very least, pray for them and take the time to learn of their difficulties. People of Gaza: stop sending missiles into Israel; re-examine the Hamas regime; work constructively to make your difficulties known, so that Americans and the rest of the world can help redress them.
Some entries in this blog are formal articles. Others, like this one, take more the form of working notes, outlines for later development, or ‘thinking out loud’. Some are complete, and some are just sketches. For now I will label such entries as ‘Notes’.
I am aware of and distressed by the current suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza. I am also deeply concerned by the terrorist tactics of the Hamas political regime. And, naturally, I am concerned about the threat of Muslim terrorism in general.
As a religious person who seeks to love and serve God and neighbor, I must try to act in some way to improve things. How? Naturally I must look to God first, that I may do His will in this and all things.
Sometimes God makes plain to us what we should do. Other times He allows us to use our reason to decide this. In the present case, reason informs me that God has given me certain skills, interests, or “talents.” Among these are philosophy. But that I mean not the lesser things — scholasticism and sophistry — which have perenially passed themselves off as philosophy, but true philosophy — philo-sophia, which means the love of God’s wisdom. I am also trained as a psychologist.
Let met then humbly devote my skills, such as they are, to address the current problem by means of a logical analysis or scholia. I present this as a series of short propositions and conclusions.
1. Many Muslim terrorists call America the Great Satan, or hold opinions similar to this. Some apparently hold similar views towards the state of Israel.
2. It is clear from these statements that these Muslim politicians and activists believe Satan exists, and makes war against the Muslim people.
3. If Satan exists and wars against Muslims, then surely he must also wage equally malicious war against the other spiritual children of Abraham, namely Christians and Jews.
4. History shows that a very effective means Satan has for warring against religion is by political oppression.
5. In the broadest sense, political oppression occurs both within a country and by means of one country oppressing another.
6. Just as Palestinians are oppressed internationally, the faithful religious of the United States and Israel are oppressed domestically by their own governments. In each case, People of the Book should recognize Satan at work.
7. When terrorists attack the United States, or when Hamas launches missiles or mortars into Israel, their destructive actions are indiscriminate: they harm the righteous and unrighteous citizens of those countries alike. If military jihad could be justified at all, then it would have to be directed exclusively against the agents of oppression, and not harm other innocent people — but this is not possible. This leads us to our first preliminary conclusion: that terrorism as military jihad is unjust, because it harms innocent people.
8. Further, the inevitable consequence of terrorist attacks is to strengthen the central government of the attacked countries. This leads to further oppression of the devout religious communities within the target countries. Moreover, the central governments of these countries, which are effectively machinelike, beyond human control, and, if one may be so bold as to say it outright, often tools of Satan — these governments use terrorist actions as an excuse for more oppression. This leads to our second preliminary conclusion: that terrorist jihad is counterproductive, because it leads to more, not less, suffering of God’s children.
9. People of the Book believe that Satan works in conjunction with an “army” of daemons. Scientifically, we do not know what daemons are. Whether they are disembodied entities, or something else, is not clear. At present, the word “daemon” is a placeholder term for a range of phenomena that we observe but to not fully understand. We use the word daemonic to describe states of mind in which a person is “seized”, and in which they act irrationally and impulsively, especially in a violent way. It is also characteristic of daemonic states that people cannot clearly scrutinize their own motives.
10. From all the preceding, points, it would appear that terrorist actions are daemonic, not holy. They do not reflect the wisdom of God, which comes from above, and which is recognized by qualities of peace, gentleness, patience, and insight.
We then conclude this: any logic by which people, through desperation, suffering, anger, or resentment, reach the conclusion that they must engage in a military jihad must be immediately recognized as false, and daemonic in origin. Yes, the suffering is unjust and unfair. It must stop! But to act violently is certain not to end the misery, but to continue it. Further, armed aggression does not harm the sources of oppression, but is displaced onto other innocent victims. Finally, we must recognize that as long as people respond to suffering with violence, then Satan will produce more suffering.
Even (or especially) the most fundamentlist Muslims, Christians, and Jews should admit that the real enemy is Satan. Then why not face the real enemy, and wield against him those weapons which he most dreads: holiness, peace, virtue, and trust in God? Do the young men who brandish machine guns and grenade launchers consider themselves courageous? That is not courage. Courage, the true way of jihad, is found in the battle to acquire virtue, and the struggle to follow the more difficult path of peace.
People in America — the awake and decent ones — want to see peace and justice for the Palestinian people. The people in Gaza need to understand that we are all suffering together, although in different ways. The corporate-dominated media do not tell Americans the truth. Americans are, in any case, beaten down by their own political system, and barely able to act to change things.
Despite all these difficulties, we have the one tool at our disposal which Satan cannot remove, namely prayer. Indeed, Christians believe — and I would be greatly surprised if Muslims did not also believe it — that prayers are rendered even stronger when made in the midst of suffering.
Comments on “A Common Word between Us”
In October of 2007, 138 Muslim leaders, clerics, and scholars published an open letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI titled, A Common Word between Us and You. The letter was unambiguously positive and well motivated. The summary of the letter states succinctly (and correctly): “The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.” Historians may well look back on the publication of this letter as a pivotal event in reconnecting Christian and Muslim cultures.
It is obvious that one benefit to be achieved by greater unity of Christians and Muslims is their cooperation in remedying injustice, poverty, violence, hatred and other social problems in the world. But in a more fundamental way (and one related to these other issues) there is an opportunity to join in “raising the consciousness” of humankind. As a Christian psychologist and philosopher, it is natural that I should direct my comments to this latter issue.
To remedy the critical problems that face us, there must emerge a new level of understanding of ourselves as human beings, individually and collectively. If we approach things optimistically (the only view consistent with the premise of an all-Good and Providential God) then we should expect to already see signs of this emergence. Several features in A Common Word that pertain to this are addressed below.
Surrender to God
The very word “religion”, derived from the Latin root, ligare, to bind, denotes the re- establishment or strengthening of bonds between man and God. At the psychological level what is sought is a radical transformation of the human mind. Concerning this St. Paul wrote:
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)
The mental transformation St. Paul refers to, this sine qua non of religious life, can be understood as a radical change from self-centeredness or egoism to God-directedness. Obviously, a fundamental tenet of Muslim religion is the need for surrender to the will and guidance of God — the very meaning of the word Islam. This basic reorientation of the human soul or personality away from egoism is also fundamental for Christians, who refer to it with terms like humility and poverty of spirit. This idea is emphasized throughout the Bible. In Proverbs it is written:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding./ In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5)
In the prayer that Jesus Christ taught, the Lord’s Prayer, Christians ask of God: Thy will be done (Matthew 6:10, Luke 11:2). In the biblical drama of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a central theme is the final submission of his will to that of the Father; at a symbolic level, the crucifixion signifies a death of personal willfulness which the individual Christian should emulate.
We may also note that the phrases, Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven, which appear prominently in the Gospels, could be interpreted to mean a state of mind in which one is ruled by the promptings of God — that is, to mean “being ruled by God” or “submitting to the reign of God.” The writings of Christian saints and Doctors attest again and again to humility as the foundation of Christian virtue.
All this leads to a conclusion that some may take as utterly bold but others as perfectly ordinary: that to be a true Christian implies that one is “Islam,” in the sense of the latter outlined above.
This inner state of humility or Islam, Christians and Muslims agree, is the natural, intended form of human psychological functioning. To the extent that we are not in this state, we are in a fallen condition. We cannot expect to make much progress in any sphere of life, personal or social, until it is corrected.
Jihad as Inner Struggle
There appears to be broad consensus by Muslim scholars that the main meaning of the term jihad in the Qur’an refers to an inner personal struggle to attain this state of surrender to God. The importance of this struggle is similarly recognized by Christians. St. Paul wrote:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places]. (Ephesians 6:12)
This spiritual warfare is a prominent feature of Christian life. To pursue the metaphor of warfare, to prevail against ones enemies one rightly ought to use all resources available, including, and perhaps especially, allies. Christians and Muslims, then, would appear to have much to gain by seeing themselves as allies in the inner jihad of personal spiritual development.
The Religious Meaning of Heart, Mind, and Soul
A Common Word refers to the Great Commandment of the New Testament:
Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: / And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this [is] the first commandment. / And the second [is] like, [namely] this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Mark 12:29-31)
Yet what are the heart, mind, and soul? It stands to reason that the better one understands these things, the better one can employ them in the love and service of God. Although these words appear frequently in the Bible and the Qur’an, we are hard-pressed to define or explain exactly what they mean.
For example, in the passage above, are the heart, mind, and soul presented as mutually exclusive parts of human nature, or do they overlap? How is it that, in various passages, the heart is referred to in a way that suggests it may not just feel and desire, but may also will, choose, think, and be illumined?
And what is the nature of the mind? Does it have different levels? Is there validity to the Platonic distinction between higher (noetic) and lower (dianoetic) levels of mind? What is the relationship of the mind to such subtle concepts as wisdom and conscience?
What is the nature of the soul itself? And what is the relationship of soul to spirit?
These are questions that vitally and profoundly affect us, and ought to stir our greatest interest. Yet, to judge from what has yet been written, we appear to know very little about them.
It therefore seems very significant that the authors of A Common Word chose to refer to this subject, with particular emphasis on the meaning of the heart, in their letter. Perhaps this is an opportunity for our two traditions to collaborate, drawing on their different perspectives and cultural heritages, on formulating a new and deeper understanding of human anthropology and psychology.
In previous eras, such as during the thriving of Muslim culture in Cordoba, Muslims, Christians, and Jews collaborated freely on philosophical, theological, and scientific research. Elsewhere in Europe, the great Christian theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, among others, borrowed much from Muslim philosophy and the works of Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina; Muslim scholars were viewed by Christians with great respect.
Doctrine and Revelation in Theology
Finally, we should consider how both Christians and Muslims have struggled throughout their histories to understand the proper relationship of doctrine and personal revelation in theology. Sometimes this is referred to as the issue of Faith vs. Reason, but, in truth, no terms we use exactly convey the nature of the tension or difficulty here. It is as if human beings have two levels or realms of knowledge — one associated with reasoning, and one with direct personal experience.
Few would disagree that the most important dimension of religion is experiential — words are as nothing compared to the direct encounter of the human soul with God. Yet at the same time we cannot entirely dispense with the need for systematic terminology and rational arguments in theology. Error may result from false experience, just as from false reasoning. The only acceptable conclusion is that both doctrine and personal experience are necessary in religion; but as yet we have not found an easy way to relate the two.
This, then, becomes a challenge for the present and future generations: how can we integrate the logical and experiential dimensions of our nature, so that we may love God with the totality of our being, and also more fully experience this life and God’s blessings here on earth.
A Common Word wisely downplayed the issue of doctrinal differences between Christianity and Islam. It is possible that, motivated by charity, believing in God’s Providence, and led by God’s Spirit, we may have new insights by which we discover some of these differences are not so great as has previously been supposed. In any case, while the extent of differences is not clear, it does seem apparent that our religions are far more in agreement than disagreement.
We are privileged to live in this time of great opportunity to serve God by effecting greater cultural harmony. Let us approach the future of Christian – Muslim dialogue optimistically, placing our trust in God to lead us. Meanwhile, let us pray together for peace, the alleviation of poverty, and the advancement of people of all nations, never doubting the efficacy of our prayers.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God. (Romans 8: 28 )
John S. Uebersax PhD
30 January 2008
On Religious Inclusivism and Exclusivism
John S. Uebersax
Here we make two main points:
- Religious inclusivism — the view that “all religions are but different paths to the same goal” — is often presented as a means to promote peace. However, if religions actually are true to varying degrees, then radical inclusivism merely tries to sweep genuine differences under the carpet; that might, in the end, promote more discord than peace.
- If different religions each wish to convert the other, the best way to do so to compete on setting an example of love, compassion, tolerance, peace, and good works. Positive examples would then cause members of the other religion to spontaneously convert. If approached in this way, religious competition could be seen as a positive thing.
Recently I did some reading on the subject of religious exclusivism. This issue concerns (a) whether one religion may be said to be true and others false, or (b) whether all the world’s religions are more-or-less co-equal alternatives. (A convenient review of the topic appears in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article titled “Religious Pluralism“, by David Basinger; among the more interesting of opinions expressed are those of Alvin Platinga, 1999.)
We are naturally motivated to study this question in view of the need to improve relations between the Christian and Muslim worlds
One view, which we may call radical inclusivism, is quite popular today. This opinion seeks to end religious conflict by suggesting that all faiths are merely different roads to the same goal.
While based on laudable intentions, this view unfortunately suffers from a subordination of truth to pragmatics. It reasons that, since it would be very convenient if all religions were equal, that this must be true. At least in its most naïve form, then, this view is simply wishful thinking.
If some religions are truer than others, we cannot deny this merely for expedience, nor would it likely achieve peace. Peace is not founded upon falsehoods: while outwardly people might assent to a lie, inwardly they would know it to be false, producing inner, and eventually outer, conflict. Stable and lasting peace must be founded upon truth and honesty. If members of one group really believe their religion is true and another is false, and if they love the others and genuinely wish for their welfare, then they should wish for the conversion of the others.
Therefore, for example, if Christians truly believe their religion is superior to Islam, and if (as Christianity teaches) they love Muslims, then they should wish for the conversion of Muslims. This is not achieved by an “all roads lead to the same place” view. Such radical inclusivism would instead seem to imply either disregard of Christian doctrine, tepidity of faith, or lack of love. This is why I am rather astonished to see legitimate Christian philosophers arguing for radical inclusivism, or at least (as in the case of the eminent philosopher John Hick) promoting it without even remotely addressing the issues raised above.
Now, logically, Christians should be prepared to accept that Muslims may feel the same way towards Christianity. Where, then, does this leave us? What hope is there if two great religions, Christianity and Islam, each lay claim to exclusivity?
We should not give up too easily. Here we have been careful to use words like “wish to see the other converted” rather than, say, “aggressively try to convert the other.” There is a reason for this distinction, and it is the gist of my argument here.
Suppose that members of one faith were compelled by conscience or duty to seek the conversion of another. If so, then since this would have to be seen as God’s work, one ought to pursue it by the most effective means possible. But, by far, the most effective means of changing another is by setting a good example. A good example is efficient — it simply involves acting in the same way that your religion teaches you to act for your own salvation; no additional ‘cost’ is involved. And it is immensely powerful: human beings are instinctively impelled to imitate any good example they see.
If you wish to convert another, then, demonstrate by your kindness and compassion the action of God’s grace upon you. Demonstrate that God works through you. Win the hearts, minds, and souls of others through your good works. Contrarily, if you treat others harshly, if you try to convert them with aggression or violence, you will succeed only in showing that you are not a person of God. You will make your religion seem less, not more attractive. This principle, in fact, is an explicit Scriptural tenet of Christianity, though insufficiently acknowledged or practiced.
This simple logic, something apparent even to a child, shows the way out of the exclusivism–inclusivism impasse. To have two exclusivist religions does not necessitate conflict. Rather, if two exclusivist religions were completely sincere, the stage would be set for a positive and productive competition. To have an ‘opponent’ is not necessarily a bad thing. Is it not true that positive competition spurs on the finest of human achievements? Let us, then, confound the professional philosophers who wish to make this issue more complicated than it really is, and state things simply: let Christians and Muslims engage in a friendly competition to see who can extend greater kindness to the other.
In summary, we have here refuted two popular myths prevalent in the current debate on religious pluralism:
- That radical inclusivism necessarily breeds peace
- That exclusivism necessarily breeds conflict
We have further suggested that maintaining some degree of exclusivism is ethical and appropriate if a religion truly considers itself superior. Having two exclusivist religions ought to lead to a positive competition, promoting love and tolerance, leading more directly to peace than an artificial or pretended inclusivism.
We hasten to add, so there is no misunderstanding, that the kind of moderate exclusivism envisaged here is one where a faith considers itself superior, but also allows for the possibility that members of the other faith may be saved without formal conversion. This view, which could as easily be called a position of moderate inclusivism, is or approximates the position of the Catholic Church towards Muslims.
Basinger, David. “Religious Pluralism“. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007. (Retr. Jan. 18, 2007).
Hick, John. “Islam and Christianity“. Lecture to the Iranian Institute of Philosophy, Tehran, March 2005.
Platinga, Alvin. Pluralism: A Defense of Religious Exclusivism”. In The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity (Philip L. Quinn & Kevin Meeker, eds). Oxford University Press, 1999. Reprinted from The Rationality of Belief and the Plurality of Faith (Thomas D. Senor, ed), Cornell University Press, 1995.