CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Islamisation versus Christendom

Feb 13, 2008

There are plenty of theological differences between Islam and Christianity. But there are also some profound differences in terms of political and social life under both systems. While these distinctions are a matter of historical record, some ideologues refuse to see the distinctions, and instead seek to lump all religions together in their secular crusade. Such attempts are made quite often on my own website.

Indeed, one good thing about running a blog site is you get a lot of great illustrations about what you are writing about by various commentators. As an example, I had no sooner finished a piece on sloppy thinking regarding church-state relations when yet another atheist/secularist trotted out some tired old arguments in his comment about how Christian influence in the West is just as harmful as sharia law.

This is the myth of moral equivalence: the idea that all religions are equal, or at least equally bad. The inability – or unwillingness – to make a distinction between life under sharia law, and life in, say, “Christian England,” reflects not only sloppy thinking but the power of ideology to hide facts and distort truth.

These secularists and atheists who are happy to lump all religions together and characterise them all as theocratic and dangerous are simply blinded by their hatred of religion. That is why a good term for them is misotheists. They hate God and this hatred often blinds them to rational analysis. They may have a particular hatred toward Christianity, but if they have to criticise militant Islam, they will argue that Christianity is no better.

Thus it is worth examining the historical record in this regard. Let’s look at how Christianity and Islam compare on several key items. The first issue concerns the notion of equality and the origins of democracy. The second deals with the broad issue of the separation of church and state.

Equality and Democracy

This is not the place for an extended treatise on the origins and nature of democracy, or the development of political equality, but just a few brief yet salient points can be made.

The Judeo-Christian worldview has probably done more to contribute to the idea of political equality and democracy than any other influence.

Christianity of course cannot take all the credit for giving us democracy. There were other roots as well. Ancient Greece especially comes to mind here. But democracy was really quite limited there. As social historian Rodney Stark puts it:

“While the classical world did provide examples of democracy, these were not rooted in any general assumptions concerning equality beyond an equality of the elite. Even when they were ruled by elected bodies, the various Greek city-states and Rome were sustained by large numbers of slaves. And just as it was Christianity that eliminated the institution of slavery inherited from Greece and Rome, so too does Western democracy owe its essential intellectual origins and legitimacy to Christian ideals, not to any Greco-Roman legacy. It all began with the New Testament.”

The equality of all men was first given concrete expression in the Judeo-Christian concept that all people are made in God’s image and therefore are of equal worth and dignity. Jesus reinforced that idea, and thus helped lay the groundwork for genuine democracy.

There is no such legacy of democracy in Islam of course. That has been true for its 1400-year existence. Democracy mainly thrives today in countries which had a Judeo-Christian heritage. In contrast, consider the Islamic world today. Where do we find a thriving democracy there? Most Islamic states are profoundly undemocratic. That is because Islam does not provide a theological or ideological basis for democracy.

Mark Steyn provides some numbers: “In the 2005 rankings of Freedom House’s survey of personal liberty and democracy around the world, five of the eight countries with the lowest ‘freedom’ score were Muslim. Of the forty-six Muslim majority nations in the world, only three were free.”

Separation of Church and State

Related to this is the issue of separation of church and state in both Islam and Christianity. Simply put, such a distinction is inherent in Christianity, while the absence of such a distinction is inherent in Islam. Islam never saw the need for such a division, while Christianity always has. Indeed, many scholars have pointed out how New Testament Christianity paved the way for the separation of these two spheres.

As philosopher Roger Scruton puts it, “The separation of church and state was from the beginning an accepted doctrine of the church.” Jesus himself set the stage for this way of thinking. He made it clear that earthly rule and heavenly rule were not identical. He said that we should “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” He also said “my kingdom is not of this world”. The early church accepted, and elaborated on, this fundamental concept.

Augustine, for example, in his The City of God argued that Christians are citizens of two kingdoms. We live in two realms, the earthly city and the heavenly city. The Christian has obligations to both, but they are to be kept distinct.

Of course in practise this has not always been easy to achieve, and at times in Christian history the line has been blurred. But the line was always seen to be there. No such line exists in Islam. While Christianity has always recognised two separate and distinct authorities which have overlapped at times and been blurred at times, Islam has only recognised one authority.

Says orientalist Bernard Lewis of the church: “Throughout Christian history, and in almost all Christian lands, church and state continued to exist side by side as different institutions, each with its own laws and jurisdictions, its own hierarchy and chain of authority.”

When the church has overstepped its jurisdiction, or when the state has overstepped its jurisdiction, there has been trouble. And both sides have been guilty of this. But at least there is the recognition that these are to be distinct jurisdictions, even if they overlap and are confused at times. Thus crime is punished by the state, while sin is dealt with by the church. In Islam sin and crime are one and the same, and church and state are one and the same.

Indeed, in Islam it is almost heretical to even suggest that such a separation should exist. This is rooted in the history of Islam, the example of Muhammad, and the teachings of the Koran. Consider again the remarks of Lewis: “Muhammad was, so to speak, his own Constantine.”

Stark explains, “Muhammad was not only the Prophet, he was head of state. Consequently, Islam has always idealized the fusion of religion and political rule, and sultans have usually also held the title of caliph.” Or as Dinesh D’Souza says, “The prophet Muhammad was in his own day both a prophet and a Caesar who integrated the domains of church and state. Following his example, the rulers of the various Islamic empires, from the Umayyad to the ottoman, saw themselves as Allah’s viceregents on earth.”

Lewis reminds us of how profound a difference there is between the two religions: “In classical Arabic and in the other classical languages of Islam, there are no pairs of terms corresponding to ‘lay’ and ‘ecclesiastical,’ ‘spiritual’ and ‘temporal,’ ‘secular’ and ‘religious,’ because these pairs of words express a Christian dichotomy that has no equivalent in the world of Islam.”

Thus the call to implement sharia law is fully in accord with the Islamic worldview. Everyone is to submit to Allah, and there is to be no law except the law of Allah. Christendom by contrast acknowledges the role of the secular state and the role of the church. They are not one and the same, and both have their legitimate demands and spheres of authority.

Conclusion

As has been mentioned, the Christian church has not always gotten it right in these areas. At times it has overstepped its bounds. But these are the exceptions, not the rule. In contrast, it is the exception to the rule to see a secular state running in a Muslim nation. Even in nominally secular Islamic states such as Turkey, the Muslim majority discriminates against non-Muslim minorities. As Robert Spencer puts it, “In no country anywhere in the Islamic world do non-Muslims enjoy full equality of rights with Muslims.”

And it looks to stay this way for some time. As Ibn Warraq states, “Islam will never achieve democracy and human rights if it insists on the application of the sharia and as long as there is no separation of church and state.”

The secularists who seek to push a type of moral equivalence between Islam and Christianity are simply wrong. There is no comparison, certainly on these major issues. Freedom, equality and democracy can all be said to have largely – though not exclusively – flowed from the Judeo-Christian worldview. All three elements are largely lacking in Islamic nations.

Moral reasoning involves the ability to make distinctions and to recognise differences. Ideological secularists do not wish to make such distinctions, because their fury against God blinds them to such differences. But the historical record stands. Christianity, for all its faults, is in many respects far superior to Islam when it comes to the rule of law, equality, the promotion of democracy, and the elevation of freedom.

If the secularists still seek to argue that there is no difference, let them go live in Saudi Arabia or Iran for a while. They might discover that things there are a bit different than in the US, the UK, or Australia.

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6 Responses to Islamisation versus Christendom

  • Good argument Bill.
    I have been wrestling for some time with the question of church and state and the need for a religious foundation for society without slipping into Islamic style theocracy. Is the idea of a Christian nation coherent, for example? It’s the old tussle between, say, Reformed Christianity (e.g. recent Reconstructionists) and the Anabaptists. But reading recently about pressures for India to become a Hindu, not secular, country, makes me see the issue from a different perspective. It’s not only Islam that discriminates actively against Christians; on a recent trip to Myanmar, I encountered it from Buddhists.
    Jon Newton

  • Will those who wish to keep all semblance of the Judeo-Christian religion as proclaimed out of the public domain, please indicate how much theft, lying, adultery, killing, and self-serving, is desirable in the would be leaders of our Nation? Does relevant legislation before various State Parliaments give a clear indication of the answers?
    Arthur Hartwig

  • Great article Bill.

    Examples of the way that Muslims (not extremists, but everyday believers in Islamic countries) see this working in their lives and the lives of their families can be seen in the torture and mutilation of daughters by their fathers, or the beating, stoning and killing of sons when they turn from Islam, or sometimes simply for attending a Christian meeting.

    So many people who choose to disagree with Islam in these countries live in hiding, in fear of their lives being taken by the very people they’d expect to preserve them – their families and their religious leaders.

    http://www.opendoorsusa.org/content/view/449/
    http://www.opendoorsusa.org/content/view/426/21/

    When Akil’s Muslim father found out, he drove Akil into the desert with his brother and two bearded men in white robes. The men beat Akil harshly. Then they tied a rope around Akil’s legs and dragged him from the back of the car around the desert.

    Eventually the car stopped, and while the bearded men went to the trunk of the car, Akil’s brother cut the rope and said, “Run!” He had realized the men were getting their knives to kill his brother. So Akil gathered all his strength and ran for his life. Akil has been living in hiding ever since.

    There are many other examples of countries run by atheists, communists, etc. that do the same thing as Muslims to their citizens. North Korea, Columbia, Burma, Sudan, Angola etc. etc. the list goes on. With so many examples, I just don’t see how people can argue against the preservation of the Judeo-christian foundations of freedom and law that our Western nations have been built upon. They are living in ignorance of what happens outside our borders.

    http://www.opendoorsusa.org/content/view/447/

    If you want more proof of the violence and death visited upon people who live under Islam and other oppressive regimes please visit:

    http://www.opendoorsusa.org/
    http://www.persecutionblog.com/

    I just don’t understand why so many people in Western nations champion the cause of integration of the belief systems of other countries and religions. We seem to be falling over ourselves to apologise for everything that has made us great and free, while welcoming intruders in their struggle to take over our educational, legal and political systems with their extreme ideologies. Do they have have their eyes and ears closed to the horrors that continually occur worldwide in the nations where these Islamic intruders come from? Can they not see from fairly recent history the immense loss of life and damage that has been done in Russia, Germany, China etc. by humanist thinking? When will people wake up?

  • The Apostasy Fatwas and ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’
    By Mark Durie:

    “A Common Word Between Us and You is an open letter from the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought of Jordan. Dated 13 October 2007. It is addressed to the Pope, and other Christian leaders throughout the world, and is signed by 138 Muslims leaders from around the world. This letter invites Christians to agree together with Muslims on principles of love for God and one’s neighbour, emphasising justice and freedom of religion.”

    “These notes here document how the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute has several fatwas ‘legal verdicts or edicts’ posted on its website, which condemn people to death who have left Islam, specifically including Muslim-background Christians. If they are not killed, then these so-called ‘apostates’ are to be treated as legal non-persons, having no rights before the law. One of the fatwas identifies a Jordanian Christian man by name as an apostate.”

    “There is a contradiction in the actions of the Royal Aal al-Bayt’s. On the one hand the Institute is inviting Christians to come together with Muslims based on principles of love and mutual respect, but on the other hand it is condemning Christians to death simply because they have changed their religious beliefs away from Islam. This contradiction and lack of reciprocity should be pointed out by Christians in interfaith dialogue with Muslims; the Aal al-Bayt Institute should be requested to remove such hate-inciting statements from its website; and Christians who have signed letters welcoming the ‘Common Word’ letter without reservation should withdraw their signatures.”

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Another important difference between Christianity and Islam that is relevant regarding how each would govern a society, is that Christianity teaches non-compulsion in religious matters whereas Islam is to be spread by reason or force. So a society governed by sharia cannot have religious freedom but in a Christian society religious freedom is respected.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Dear Bill, The above article is very informative and I always learn a lot from all of them. After my Christmas crib was trashed I wrote to the local paper who replied promptly and came up to take a photo of the damage. I am hoping they will print my letter as well because in it I said that because of the false theory of indifferentism – the belief that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you do good – parents no longer bother to teach their children to honour sacred objects because they rarely see any. I said that Australia would one day pay for this sloppy attitude towards their own Christian Culture because widespread indifferentism, combined with the constant media undermining of Christianity and its clergy, immigration and the low birth rate would, probably in fifty years, leave Australia very vulnerable to Islamic influences.They will not always be a small minority as they have many children.They are also very devout and will proselytise amongst the unchurched. Islam is also a political system as well as a religion and their immans politicise their faithful. I said Islamic influences were already well advanced in Britain and Europe with converts to Islam from the indigenous populations simply because they have been brought up devoid of any kind of spirituality and seen Islam attractive as some of it undoubtedly would be to those brought up without anything. It will happen in time and I have to say it will have been deserved because most were not faithful to their own Christian culture. You can’t call singing carols once a year or becoming dewy eyed when the offspring takes part in being a shepherd or an angel once a year at a school nativity play – that is if they are allowed to have one – being a committed Christian. It has to be worked at. All the above I tell my friends and I hope they will ‘harden not [their] hearts’ if I keep plugging this message. God Bless always.
    Pat Halligan

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