Friday, September 15, 2006

On the importance of saying the unwelcome truth

Now, let us turn our attention to why Paul spoke up in Fair Havens, even though it was probably predictable that he would not have been likely to have been heard, and may even have been made to sound as if he were an idiot speaking out of turn.

Perhaps, a contemporary parallel will help us see why it is sometimes important -- and even commanded by God -- to speak the unwelcome truth, even if you "lose the argument" in the short term. [Remember, mere facts and logical reasoning are usually the LEAST persuasive form of argument.]

For instance, if you have been listening to the BBC or the like over the past day or so, you will have heard how Pope Benedict XVI has offended many Muslims and others, in a recent lecture at Regensburg, in which he quoted the C14 Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologos, from a debate with a learned Persian.

As The Australian reports in a well-researched article:

"The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the Pope said. "He said, I quote: 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."' [NB: Cf Q 9:29 & 5 below.]

Clearly aware of the sensitivity of the issue, Benedict added "I quote" twice before pronouncing the phrases on Islam and described them as "brusque", while neither explicitly agreeing with nor repudiating them.
"The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable," Benedict said in the 32-minute lecture on the relationship between faith and reason. [You may wish to see my own notes on that here.]
"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," he said, issuing an open invitation to dialogue among cultures.
Reiterating his concerns about a modern world "deaf" to God, he warned that other religious cultures saw the West's exclusion of God "as an attack on their most profound convictions".
"A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures, " . . . .
Papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Benedict used Emperor Manuel's views on Islam only to help explain the issue and not to condemn all of the Muslim religion as violent.
"We know that inside Islam there are many different positions, violent and non-violent," he said. "The Pope does not want to give an interpretation of Islam that is violent."
Many Islamic leaders have denounced Muslim radicals for using violence, saying this perverts their faith, but a minority of extremists say the Koran commands them to use it.
Last week, the Pope said no one had the right to use religion to justify terrorism.
At an open-air mass on Monday, Benedict told about 260,000 faithful that Christians believed in a loving God whose name could not be used to justify hatred and fanaticism.

Notice how the wider context of the West's need to open up its conception of reasoning, by no longer conflating reason and naturalistic rationalism, has been lost in much of the reporting.

Also largely lost -- cf. the response from a Muslim cleric below -- is the subtle point that the Pope is underscoring the Catholic Church's turning away from the grave errors and indefensible evils that stemmed from its unbiblical advocacy of the crusades in an earlier era -- a point that has in recent years been publicly underscored by Pope John Paul II's apologies and prayers of penitence during his visits to sites of the crusades. [In short, the Roman Catholic Church has first sought to publicly take the beam out of its own eye, before addressing others correctively, as Jesus required in Matt 7:1 - 5.]

Then, too, it is unsurprising that in a time when Islamist terrorism and jihad are major issues that are yet to be frankly and fully discussed in light of the unfortunate facts of the Quran -- cf 9:5, 29 - 31 -- and of the militancy of Islam's founding era, the international media picked up the outcry. A telling case in point is from the leading Muslim Cleric in Turkey, Ali Bardakoglu, which the Pope is due to visit later this year -- his first planned visit as pope to an Islamic country. As AP reports:

Bardakoglu said Thursday that he expected an apology from the pope and said it was Christianity, not Islam, that popularized conversion by the sword.
"The church and the Western public, because they saw Islam as the enemy, went on crusades. They occupied Istanbul, they killed thousands of people. Orthodox Christians and Jews were killed and tortured," he said . . .

AP astutely amplifies: Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, was the capital of the Eastern Roman and Byzantine Christian empires before being conquered by Ottoman Muslims in 1453. Of course, before it was so-renamed by the conquering Ottoman Turks, it had been known as Constantinople, who among other things turned the leading church in Constantinople, the wonderful Hagia Sophia, into a Mosque. [The Attaturk regime turned it into a Museum.] Not to mention, in fact, the first several centuries of the Christian era were marked by Christians who bore peaceful witness to an unwelcome gospel, even at the expense of their lives.

(Also, in a subtle distractor from the Pope's point, the Islamic cleric adverts to the occasion where Venetian-led crusaders, deflected from their more normal focus on recapturing the Holy Land from its Muslim conquerers, attacked Constantinople. Unaddressed: the prior hundreds of years of jihad wars that for instance from 62os to the 730's took the domain of Islam forward by the sword, from Medina to India in the East and France in the West. It is impossible to make the case that that vast arc of conquest that created today's Muslim heartland largely at the expense of precisely the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire, was as a result of "defensive" actions.)

In short, part of the balancing context we should address - but which is of course missing from much of the news coverage, which instead has too often seemed to make the pope sound like an idiotic hypocrite -- is the unfortunate fact that Islam has in material part been spread by the sword, right from its founding era, and the further sad fact that that was justified by not only the example set by Mohammed and the four "rightly guided" Caliphs, as is encoded in the sharia law, but by Quranic passages such as:

9:29 Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued . . . .
9:5 But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. [This is the infamous Sword Verse.]

That these passages are often, and indeed historically have usually been, taken to mean just what they seem to say is an unfortunate fact of the current radical islamist movement. But also we can see it in the thought of a great many other more "moderate" muslims, e.g. the attitude of for instance Pakistan's Brigadier S. K. Malik, in the preface to his The Quranic Concept of War, as cited by Silas of

"But in Islam war is waged to establish supremacy of the Lord only when every other argument has failed to convince those who reject His Will and work against the every purpose of the creation of mankind."
"Many Western Scholars have pointed their accusing fingers at some of the above verses in the Quran to be able to contend that world of Islam is in a state of perpetual struggle against the non-Muslims. As to them it is a sufficient answer to make... that the defiance of God's authority by one who is His slaves exposes that slave to the risk of being held guilty of treason and as such a one, in the perspective of Islamic law, is indeed to be treated as a sort of that cancerous growth on that organism of humanity.... It thus becomes necessary to remove the cancerous malformation even if it be by surgical means, in order to save the rest of humanity."

There are of course simply no parallels to such a sentiment in the New Testament, the distinctively Christian Scriptures. Indeed, the specific "sword passage" in the NT, Rom 13:1 - 7, is in a context that immediately implies that the pagan Roman Emperor, Nero -- admittedly before he went quite insane -- was not only legitimate but God's Servant to do us good, in part by bearing the sword in defense of justice from evildoers!

But all of these nuances are liable to be lost in today's shouting, just as Paul's cautions were lost in the dismissive rhetoric of that fateful day in October 59: a prisoner arguing against the Ship's Owner and Pilot -- ridiculous!

So, then, why bother speak up when it is likely to be unwelcome? Should we not rather instead remember that while speech may be silver, silence is golden?

First and foremost, because if God tells us to speak up, and how, we should:

AM 3:7 Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants the prophets.

AM 3:8 The lion has roared--
who will not fear?
The Sovereign LORD has spoken--
who can but prophesy?

Second, such a prophetic caution is often a vital stage in the reformation to follow as the folly of rejecting godly wisdom soon enough manifests itself.

Then, there will be a dire need for a good man in the storm -- and having the courage to speak unwelcome truth and wisdom is often a qualification for such an important but thankless job. (Next time, we will see how that happened with Paul, and draw out lessons for our own situation.) END


Bart Nielsen (a.k.a. Cheesehead) said...

Hi Gordon,

Do you think there is a moderate element in Islam that can perhaps be somehow induced to renounce the violence of jihadists and preach a non-violent form of Islam? I would imagine that Wahhabis would consider such a Moslem to be apostate.

Of course ultimately as Christians our goal must be to share the good news of the Gospel with them and hope that they turn to God. But meanwhile it sure seems like any time in history that Moslems have had the means in hand, they have made heads roll.

Gordon said...

Hi Bart,

There is, as the Pope said, indeed a wide spectrum of opinions across Islam as a whole, many streams of which are far more irenic than say a UBL. [However, in far too many cases of "moderates," the "peaceableness" is more prudential and apparent than principled; i.e. they materially agree with UBL's analysis of the teachings of Islam, but think he has misread the suitability of these times for Islamist expansionism.]

The root problem, sadly, is that the foundational Islamic sources, as cited above in small part, and the associated early and subsequent history, are heavily on the side of the militant interpretations.

I wish the would-be reformers of Islam from within well, but know they face an uphill struggle.

But, there is a ray of hope: if one goes back 500 or so years,and looks at the claims to authority and effective infallibility made by the Roman Church, one would not have ever expected to see a pope speak as Pope Benedict has, just a few days ago.

That happened because a great many men stood their biblical ground, and went out and showed that liberation and responsible freedom worked. For that to happen, too many ended up as martyrs, and wars had to be fought, sometimes at awful price before an uneasy peace could be restored. But that firmess of purpose is what gave the chance for the success of freedom to demonstrate itself -- especially in America.

For, when repeated failure meets with sustained success, it is amazing how fast reform can displace the gloom of intransigence adn the rhetoric of trying to justify failure!

THAT gives me hope today as we confront islamism.


Bart Nielsen said...

OK, Gordon,

I agree that no one did or probably could have predicted the change in the papacy from 1500 to present. However I think the key point there is where you alluded to those whose insistence on standing on biblical ground were the ones who have changed the RC church for the better. It happened to some degree by these men confronting and interacting with RC teachings, but I think probably the biggest force for good in this regard is just having Bible believing Christians living in proximity to Catholics. As many Catholics have interacted with other Christians and seen things that they want in their own lives the RC church has had to move in that direction in order to survive.

All of which is a long-winded way of coming to the distinction between your example of the papacy and Islam. Can there really be any hope of a nonviolent, pluralistic strain of Islam arising from the source material they have to work with?

I'm afraid the only two paths out of jihadi style Islam are either having Moslems convert to other religions (for their sake let us pray that they come to the Lord), or having them apostasize in their own religion in much the same way as Christianity's liberals ultimately end up viewing the Bible and orthodoxy as fairy tales.

Like you say, let's wish the internal reformers well, but meanwhile I am not optimistic about their chances just as you seem not to be.

I suspect that you have studied Islamic history more than I have. I have the impression that all the supposed halcyon days of Islamic rule with toleration of non-Moslems and a flourishing of art, science, commerce and industry (e.g. al-Andalus) are not well grounded in historical fact.

Gordon said...


You are right that the jihadists and fellow-traveller theological purists view such would-be reformers as apostates [which is why the biggest circle of their terror victims is from their fellow muslims], and that in effect we are looking at a sort of liberalisation of Islam that would incorporate some sort of secularising influences.

I add to that, that the theological foundations of Islam are very vulnerable in fact:

1] The Quran was recalled and edited by Uthman, who is known to have suppressed significant materials in other early collections, so there is a suspect textual history [though the core message is plainly preserved]. This is by sharp contrast with the NT and Bible.

2] In the Q, there are many factual inaccuracies, e.g. their presentation of both Judaism and the Christian faith is materially distorted, e.g they sum up the trinity as a putting of Mary and Jesus alongside Allah as partners to be worshipped idolatrously, put the incarnation in crude biological terms, and outright deny the easily established fact of the Passion of Jesus, who was crucified by order of Pilate. [So, it is a logical question: if Allah could make such howlers on easily checked facts, where else is he in error? Is that compatible with Allah being the real God?]

3] We have already seen the violent streak in the foundational teachings and examples, thus the "justification" of islamism.

4] Islam is highl legalistic and so ends up inthe bondage of legalism -- frustrating those who seek to be at peace with God through adherence to its teachings. So, the liberating power of the gospel is very relevant.

And more . . .

Also, what with Jesus now even routinely appearing in dreams to muslims and directing them to Bibles and to Christian fellowship, there is a trend of conversion to the Gospel -- complete with persecution. [One of the recently headlined not-so-nice facts about Islam is that adult converts from Islam are viewed as traitors to the Umma, and are subject to the death penalty -- hence the exile of that Afghan convert and how the Apostasy Law was also used to rob him of his children.]

However, one of the implications of the rise of jihadism is that a lot of Muslims are better than the teachings and examples we see historically and from the current generation of jihadists. So, I believe that a wave of spiritual hunger for true spirituality is rippling across the Muslim world. One for prayer and for missionary response.

Further to this, we have another historical pattern: in times when Islam's militancy tendency has been in check by militarily superior powers, by and large muslims have been much more prone to irenic interpretations, and ways to accomodate to the facts on the ground have been found. [NB: One of the marks of this period of militancy, is that the radicals are co-opting the marxist and anticolonialist rhetoric for their own purposes, conveniently exploiting the general ignorance of their own 1400 year history of conquest and involvement with slavery and the slave trade. In short, it is Western and 3rd world ideological weakness and ignorance that are the root issues here.]

Thus, there are several points of hope in all of this. In particular, as the jihadists reveal the ugly underbelly of Islam, the door is being opened for a wave of Muslims hearing and heeding the call of Jesus.

Let us pray for them.


Bart Nielsen said...

Living in a very Western context, very often when someone becomes disillusioned with a cultish or abberant religion, instead of turning to Christ they conclude that all religions are hokum and become very secular in their outlook. Let's hope for better things for the people living in the darkness of Islam.

Any new developments with the volcano? I have been praying for the safety of you all on the island. How far do you live from the volcano?

Gordon said...


You are right that often people in the W who walk away from cults or the like then often want to blame God and walk away from him, or in other cases find themselves too hurt to think about religious matters. [They need healing.]

At the root of the snap to "godlessness" is in fact a conversion, where in having had one faith-point shatter in their hands, some have snapped to an easily available and vigorously promoted alternative in the W, namely atheism in one for or another. (Of course, atheism cannot hold water on serious examination [also cf here], but strong social support is often able to cover a multitude of sins against facts and good sense.)

In the ME, atheism is not a serious alternative, at least at present. The Christian Faith is -- and that may in part be why so many Muslims are quietly becoming Christian.

On Montserrat, since July last year we have had renewed dome growth [there was a pause after July 2003], with a major collapse May 20 this year and a new dome that has now moved to a very dangerous condition. We are at level 4 out of 5 on the alert scale, and have had 3 alarms and announcements last week. Salem, about 6 mi S of here, is at hazard, and notice to prepare to evacuate if necessary has been issued there. [I am about 8 - 9 mi from the mountain, to the N, behind the next major mountain.]

Where I am, in the N, is behind the Centre Hills, and is shielded by them. Apart from ashfall annoyances, there is little actual danger here.

Prayers are appreciated. Especially, for the wisdom of the authorities and scientists and the media who need to function as watchdog. Also, for prudence and courage to face reality on the part of our people. I think we need to repent under 2 Chron 7:14, relative to our so-often backslidden condition of heart and life.

You may wish to monitor here to see events and statements. Of course, as this is an official site, the information is, let's just say "filtered." There is also an online eGroup, which tends to be a bit optimistic.