What is known as the myth of moral equivalence refers to a tactic usually used by the Left which basically involves mixing apples with oranges. During the Cold War, for example, Leftist apologists for communism tried to argue that there was no moral difference between Marxist dictatorships and the free, democratic West.
Today this often comes in the form of arguing that there is no fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity. Islam may have some bad eggs, they argue, but so too does Christianity; therefore the two are really much of a muchness. End of story, so they think. But not so fast. Sloppy thinking and misleading comparisons such as these need to be challenged.
A good case in point of this kind of religious moral equivalence was found in newspaper accounts of the terror trial under way in Melbourne. The twelve men accused of plotting terrorist activities have been on trial lately, and the defence lawyer Remy van de Wiel QC, made some rather foolish moral equivalence remarks.
The newspaper account contains this interesting paragraph: “The QC said that there was a feeling of fear in the West following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA and it was in this climate that the trial was taking place. The ‘evil and terrible’ attacks were an enormous blow to America’s pride but many Muslims had also suffered as a result of it. ‘Don’t forget America has done evil things too,’ Mr van de Wiel told the jury.”
This is classic moral equivalence. It is also classic appeasement and intellectual nonsense. According to the good QC, killing over 3,000 innocent men, women and children was “evil and terrible” – please note: his words, not those of the twelve – but nonetheless, America effectively does just the same. It is equally guilty of such horrible acts. So we certainly cannot condemn Islamic terrorists, because America is just as evil. Such utter rubbish is standard pap from the secular left and the I-hate-America crowd.
The QC also said that the twelve defendants felt it was their duty as Muslims to engage in jihad if they came under attack. As the press account put it, “It was no different, Mr van de Wiel said, to a Christian saying that if a member of their religion was oppressed, or the religion was oppressed it was their duty to stand up and fight for them.”
There is only one small problem with such a statement. It is totally false. Yes, Muslims are enjoined to fight for their faith. Muhammad did this, his followers did it, and the Koran and hadiths fully support it. Christianity on the other hand totally condemns the use of force or violence in spreading of the faith, or withstanding religious challengers.
Recall that Jesus rebuked Peter for pulling out his sword to prevent Jesus from being taken away for trial. “Put your sword away” he exclaimed to Peter (John 17:10-11). Indeed, this was made crystal clear when Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
Paul could argue that the weapons of our warfare are not physical, but spiritual (2 Cor. 10:4). When he does speak of the sword, it is of course metaphorical: “Put on the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).
The story of Muhammad and the story of the expansion of Islam is the story of the sword, of the use of force, of bloodshed and slaughter. Muslims using the sword felt fully justified in doing so, based on the Islamic faith. If Christians have used the sword in the name of Christ, they have done so against the express teaching and example of Jesus, and the clear witness of the entire New Testament.
But wait, there’s more. The QC went on to argue that if the Koran had some questionable bits, well so too does the Bible. In fact, the bible is full of violence and bloodshed he told the jurors. The press account puts it this way:
“Mr van de Wiel said the Bible was full of violent language that called on Christians to put homosexuals and adulterers to death, to disregard heathen judges and threatened plagues on unbelievers. Women were commanded to cover their heads and remain silent in the Bible, he said.” Geesh! And this guy is a lawyer?
Evidently great intelligence or truth-telling are not prerequisites to being a legal eagle. Of course that is true of atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins as well. Both display an abysmal ignorance about Christianity, and/or a wilful distortion of the biblical record.
Let’s consider the first charge: Christians are commanded to put sexual sinners to death. Would the good QC care to provide chapter and verse for that in the New Testament? Of course he cannot, because there is no such verse.
Now there are some crimes in the Old Testament that warrant the death penalty, including adultery and homosexuality. But the learned QC is not aware, it seems, that the OT is the Jewish Bible, although Christians also regard it as part of revealed Scripture, along with the NT. But Christians of all stripes recognise that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments. While moral laws from the OT continue, the civil laws for a theocratic Israel do not.
What about his claims concerning disregarding “heathen judges” and threats of plagues on unbelievers? As to the latter, there is nothing of the sort in the NT. The only thing close in the OT might be the plagues on Pharaoh’s Egypt. But again, that has nothing to do with the marching orders of the church of Jesus Christ.
And what is this about heathen judges? The only thing that comes close in the NT is Paul’s warning to the Corinthians that they should not take in-house, church-related disputes and drag them into secular courts, suing one another. They should be able to settle these matters amongst themselves, he argues (1 Cor. 6). So what exactly does that have to do with committing religious jihad against one’s enemies?
The only thing that he gets remotely right about Christianity is the bit about women. But even there he mangles things big time. Female head covering was a cultural consideration, perhaps to keep believing women disassociated from sexually-loose women at the time. It is not a binding and universal prohibition for all believers.
As to keeping silence, the wise QC is again well out of his depth, and perhaps he is the one who should keep silent. In specific circumstances there is a limited place for not allowing certain quarrelsome women to speak, as Paul stated. That seems to be the specific background to that particular passage. But he made it clear elsewhere that in corporate worship, and other church activities, women can and should fully participate with men.
All this is a far cry not only from Koranic prohibitions against women, but Muslim faith and practice for 1400 years. As I wrote elsewhere, women do not fare very well under Islam. By contrast Jesus was the first real women’s liberationist, giving them an exalted position that they had never before enjoyed.
But given that the issue at hand is a group of men who seemed determined to commit acts of terrorism, what such theological moral equivalence has to do with it all is a bit hard to fathom.
Suffice it to say that the QC is no theologian. Neither, for that matter, are all the hard hitting atheists who have penned books and articles attacking Christianity. These atheists have been way out of their depth, and have proved to be an embarrassment, even to fellow atheists.
Thus it might be advised that the next time this QC wants to instruct us on the fine points of Christian teaching and practice, that he actually do a little homework first before he opens his mouth, betraying his woeful religious ignorance.