There are three worrying trends which make this book necessary. The first is the hatchet job on the term fundamentalism, which had quite a good meaning a century ago, but today has become a pejorative term, applied equally to any religious group that takes its faith seriously. Thus we hear of Islamic fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists in the same breath, even though there is a world of difference between the two.
The second is the interfaith movement, which is really the old ecumenical movement in new garb, which seeks to downplay theological differences and bring all religions together. Usually the first casualty of such an endeavour is the exclusive truth claims of Christianity.
The third is the simultaneous attack on Biblical Christianity, with a corresponding push to legitimise Islam. It seems that Western secularists and liberals are much more intent on bagging Christianity than they are to take on Islamic jihadists.
All three of these trends have resulted in clouded thinking about religion in general and the differences between Christianity and Islam in particular. Thus the need for such a book as this.
Robert Spencer is a keen observer of Islam, and has been quite prolific, turning out a number of excellent books warning us about the danger which militant Islam poses. As he and others are want to point out, while there may be many moderate and peaceful Muslims, the real question is, what about Islam itself? Is it indeed a religion of peace, or is it in fact a religion fully compatible with, and the theological ground for, Islamist violence?
And how does Islam compare with Christianity on a number of key points, such as the nature of democracy, the treatment of women, and freedom of conscience? In all these areas, Spencer demonstrates that there is a very wide gulf indeed between the two world religions.
Consider just one important difference: the broader issues of politics, democracy and freedom. Leftist, secular critics argue that both radical Islam and conservative Christianity seek to impose a theocracy on the free West. They are half right. The Islamists are absolutely dedicated to this aim. The imposition of sharia law over the entire globe is clearly at the forefront of the Islamist agenda.
Indeed, leading Muslims are quite unguarded about their intentions here. Spencer cites many of these leaders, and their clear aims to wage holy war against all unbelievers, until a universal Islamic caliphate is established on planet earth.
In contrast, where are the Christians calling for an end to democracy and the establishment of a theocracy? In response, the critics usually point to the Christian Reconstructionists. But what about them? They are for the most part few in number, and hardly mainstream in the Christian community.
They are mainly confined to the United States, and there are plenty of leading Christian groups which have distanced themselves from the Reconstructionists. And there certainly is no global movement to replace secular law with Biblical law. By contrast, Islamist jihad is an international movement, with activist elements working to achieve their aims around the globe.
Even if some Christians are arguing for a Christian America, they state that this is to be a voluntary outcome, achieved by Christian evangelisation and Christian persuasion. This is hardly at odds with the Constitution, as Spencer reminds us.
And for all the scare-mongering about the Christian Reconstruction movement, many associated with this group are really on about such harmless agendas as getting Christians to vote, and raise their voices in the public arena. This is clearly not an anti-democratic crusade.
And it was really Christianity that gave the modern world the notion of the separation of church and state. This goes straight back to the words of Jesus, when he said that we should render unto Caesar his due, and render to God his due. There has been a long Christian tradition of the concept of the two swords: the state and the church. Each is ordained by God, and each has its own sphere of authority and influence.
The fact that these two spheres may have become confused at times, or seen as one on occasion, does not minimise the basic Biblical position that the two are to remain separate, yet overlapping, authorities. This of course is quite the opposite of Islam. There is no separation of church and state in Islam. There is no secular sphere in Islam. All of life must come under sharia law and the will of Allah. That is why true democracy is hardly achievable in Muslim nations.
Even those Muslim states where democracy is more or less in place, such as Turkey or Indonesia, are a far cry from Western democratic nations. While Muslims enjoy the full range of rights and benefits in Western nations, Christians are at best second class citizens in so-called Islamic democracies. Persecution of Christians in Turkey and Indonesia is an ongoing problem, and their condition of dhimmitude, or servanthood, is well documented in such nations.
Spencer examines quite a few other major areas, and finds very clear differences between Islam and Christianity. In an age that seeks to minimise differences in the name of tolerance and getting along, this can only result in the denigration of Western democratic freedoms, and the blunting of a necessary criticism of Islamist jihadism.
There is a real war going on, and there is a real clash of civilisations occurring. Says Spencer, this clash between the Judeo-Christian worldview and that of Islam is about “two fundamentally opposed visions for society: one based on sharia – a true theocracy – and the other based on freedom”.
And Spencer reminds us that Islam means submission, and that all people are to be the slaves of Allah. Jesus made a radically different claim: “I no longer call you slaves … But I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)
Freedom and responsibility characterise the Judeo-Christian view of personhood. Servitude and tyranny are the inevitable results of the Islamic worldview. The two could not be further apart, and it is time that these distinctions are heralded, instead of being covered up by the Christophobes and the appeasers of Islam. As such this book deserves a wide reading.