Monday, April 26, 2010


by Rowan Forster and Rowland Croucher
The comments by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer about clergy ‘rushing for cheap headlines’ by getting involved in political statements, and the subsequent debate got us thinking…
Barney Zwartz, in his article on meddlesome priests (The Age, Opinion, 2/9), notes that the Judeo-Christian faith is not only about personal piety, but also social justice. Interfering clerics and prophets have, for 3000 years, been the bane of those who benefit from an unjust political system.
Take for instance that troublesome Baptist minister, Martin Luther King. He really should have kept his nose out of political issues, and kept his dream to himself. The duly elected Governors of Alabama and Mississippi were doing just fine until he came along. Why is religion getting mixed up with human rights?
Then there were those interfering archbishops, like Desmond Tutu in South Africa and Janani Luwum in Idi Amin’s Uganda. They should have left their political leaders alone, to govern as they saw fit. Same goes for Cardinal Jaime Sin in the Philippines under the enlightened rule of Ferdinand Marcos, and church leaders who opposed Pol Pot in Cambodia.
And what about Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador? If only he’d kept his mouth shut, he might still be alive. As for the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller in Nazi Germany, they should have stayed inside church cloisters instead of blundering into political activism.
Closer to home, meddlesome clerics like Tim Costello and Ray Cleary shouldn’t be shooting off their mouths about gambling and other social issues. Don’t they realise gambling addicts have a democratic right to sacrifice their homes and families and commit suicide if they want to, without interference from religious do-gooders?
And it’s not just clerics, either. Look at all those religiously minded laymen and women who have meddled in matters that don’t concern them. Like William Wilberforce dragging his Christian faith into the slavery issue, or the Earl of Shaftesbury interfering in the politics of child labor and other forms of exploitation. Or William and Catherine Booth meddling in issues of social and economic inequality, and founding the Salvation Army.
Then there’s Elizabeth Fry interfering in the field of prison reform; Florence Nightingale who founded the modern nursing movement; Cicely Saunders who founded the modern hospice movement; Henri Dunant who founded the Red Cross; and other meddlesome religious zealots who founded Alcoholics Anonymous, Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, Opportunity International, World Vision, TEAR Fund, and a host of other enterprises that can be traced back to a religious motivation.
Is a world without religious interference what we really need? The resultant welfare bill would send all governments flat broke. Expediency would be more likely to triumph over conscience, and brute force over moral persuasion. There’d be less of a check on the excesses of genocidal tyrants, murderous despots and ruthless pragmatists.
New Testament Christians, as Karl Barth pointed out, faced the dilemma of relating to Nero’s Rome, which in Romans 13 is a divinely-ordained institution to be obeyed, but in Revelation 13 is ‘the beast from the abyss’. When governments invoke order at the expense of freedom, tyranny usually results. But, yes, freedom without order is anarchy. The Christian social philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr used to say ‘There is no peace without power, and no justice with power.’ So a Christian has two responsibilities: to support legitimate law and order, but also to promote social justice.
Christians with a social conscience – whether clergy or not – have a biblical mandate to get involved in political debate. Pericles put it well: ‘We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics minds his own business. We say he has no business here at all.’

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Mark Durie, The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom (2010)

Critiquing Islam, some can be so "truthful" they come across as bigoted (one Christian politician wants "no more Muslim immigrants"); others are so "politically correct" they can be guilty of appeasement. Mark Durie, in this well-researched book, works hard to "speak the truth in love". An expert on the language and culture of the Acehnese, Dr Durie has published several books and many articles on Christian-Muslim relations.

Throughout Islamic history, conquered peoples could convert to Islam, die by the sword, or accept "dhimmi" (inferior) status and pay tribute under sharia law. A benign explanation of dhimmitude (like Wikipedia's) emphasizes "protection", "guarantee of minority peoples' rights" etc. Mark isn't so sure. Rather, these subjects – Christians, Jews and others - are often denied basic rights and personhood. Consider, for example, the two million lives lost - many of them Christians - in the Sudanese jihad; in Egypt or Turkey it's difficult (and in Saudi Arabia impossible) for Christians to get permission to build churches. Many other examples are cited.

Durie 'tells it like it is'. Example 1: Why do Muslims - one in twenty of Denmark's population - comprise the majority of the country's convicted rapists? 2. "Even in non-Muslim societies some Muslims can be aggressive and confrontational in pressing for their rights, and yet take offense when non-Muslims insist on theirs". 3. "The Muslim world has not to this day apologized to non-Muslims for jihad and dhimmitude. Muslims have not confronted their bitter past". 4. "The precedents for violence in Muhammad's life have absolutely no parallels in the life of Christ".

But what about the Old Testament? And the sometimes bloody history of Christianity - forced conversions, Crusades etc? I'd also have wished for more insights from Muslims living in Western countries (like the mysterious U.S.-based Turkish educator Fethullah Gulen, who asserts that "Terrorists are as bad as atheists, and both will go to hell”).

A fascinating chapter links historic Islamic psychology to episodes of rejection in Muhammad's life.

It's a great read: and I learned a lot from chasing many of the excellent footnotes on the Web.

Rowland Croucher

John Mark Ministries



Mark's response:

I have written elsewhere a comparison of violence in the Bible and the Quran, including the Old Testament, but Christian violence was not the subject of this book. The book is also not intended to be a comparison of Christianity and Islam. It would have grossly distorted its presentation to have gone in that direction. One of the problems of the current culture of political correctness and self-inculpation is that one is not allowed to analyse Islam without criticizing Christianity at the same time. Self-inculpation becomes a knee-jerk response. This is debilitating and illogical. Let us give Islam the respect it deserves, and treat it on its own terms. Christian crimes throw no insight on the problem of understanding the dhimma - they are quite irrelevant.

Yes, I could have dealt with the mythology of the crusades as an act of aggression against peaceful Muslims, and referred readers to e.g. Robert Spencer on this. However I already had material like this, e.g. in reference to the Andalusian 'golden age' mythology, and did not really wish to rehash the already widely-available material on the history of Islamic jihad.

In fairness, I did acknowledge the origins of some fo the dhimma laws in the Christian Byzantine legal treatment of the Jews. (I used that comparison with Jesus to help people understand Muhammad, not to try to make an comprehensive comparison of Christianity with Islam).

Fethullah Gulen is by no means a moderate, but a master of taqiyya. He is widely understood to be driving the Islamization of Turkey. I will send you a few articles. There are liberals in the Muslim world, and you are correct, I did not engage with their proposals. This is because of irrelevance. They tend to overlook or downplay the issue of dhimmitude and have little relevant to say about it. In some cases they just lie, for example Tantawi (recently deceased) has a commentary on 9:29 in which he claims past Muslim scholars have shown that dhimmis enjoy equal rights with Muslims. The scholars he cites actually say exactly the opposite. I could have used Tantawi - a 'moderate' of sorts, despite his anti-semitism - as an example of deception and denial, but I already had plenty of that.

In all fairness, I did cite some Muslims who are concerned about the treatment of non-Muslims and have been willing to speak up about it. I have written elsewhere on the issue of "reforming" Islam and the difficulty of achieving this. However the lived reality of non-Muslims under sharia law today shows a trend towards sharia implementation, not liberalization. There is no global liberal Islamic movement comparable, say, to Reform Judaism, only isolated individuals, whose voice is marginal and very existence is threatened.

Mark Durie


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