Religious threat to freedom
published: Sunday | October 15, 2006
Ian Boyne, Contributor
Many persons have been expressing genuine worry for my life now that I have taken a strong stand against Islamic fanaticism, with some Christians saying that they are praying for my safety. But some Christians have also been offended by what they see as my lumping together Christian fundamentalists with Islamic fundamentalists.
There is no moral equivalence between the two, they insist. And, of course, I never suggested that. But what I have maintained is that the Christians are also prone to bigotry, intolerance and the desire to impose their will on others just as the Islamic militants. The Christians have been more restrained in establishing their Kingdom of God on earth not because that desire has extinguished among them but because they live in secular states which have long disposed of the concept of the Divine Right of Kings and other theocratic notions.
Yet have no doubt that there are strong currents of theocracy among Christians, not the least among groups like the Moral Majority and other right-wing Christian groups in the United States. There is also a militant, activist group of Christians in America and other places who believe that secularism has too much of a hold over people and that it is time that the disciples of Christ rise up and establish the kingdom, taking back from the devil what he has stolen.
They are not willing to use violence as the Islamic militants and jihadists, but in their Christian hearts burns the same passion for righteousness and divine justice that well up in the hearts of the Wahabists. Some Christians have been saying on a website that I have been distorting history by ascribing to secularism the birth of the concept of freedom when that glory should rightly go to Christianity.
Missing the point
The Christians have missed the point I have made. The issue is not whether, as the people on the Kairos website point out, the concept of personal freedom came from early Christians or from Christian philosophy. Professor Orlando Patterson has, indeed, demonstrated in his book Freedom that Pauline Christianity did play a pivotal role in establishing the concept of personal and individual freedom. But Gordon Mullings, well-meaning but with a surfeit of zeal over knowledge, implies that there is a necessary conflation between theology and action.
The fact that Christian theology or philosophy posits something does not automatically translate into Christian practice. How do Gordon Mullings, Shirley Richards et al explain the fact that the Christian Church - for that's what it was, not some fringe group - carried out such dastardly acts in the Middle Ages? How do they explain the Crusades, the forcible Christianisation of nations, the brutal imposition of sectarian rule over people? Merely dismissing the dominant church as "the Biblically illiterate Christianity of the Middle Ages" (as Mullings does) is disingenuous and would leave the historically challenged with the view that one was referring to some fringe group in the Middle Ages.
Succumbing to the normal Protestant temptation - historical amnesia - Mullings glorifies "the world that resulted from having the Reformation sola scriptura principle" in putting the Bible in the hands of the ordinary man: liberation." Mullings does not mention - or does he not know? - that Luther and the early Reformers eventually became some of the biggest persecutors of other Christians who did not follow their particular version of Christianity. Luther spoke in the most contemptuous and vehement ways about his opponents, displaying a spirit of intolerance at the liberty exercised by others who had been reading the Bible differently. The fact is that despite the fact that the Bible does place - from Old to New Testament - a strong emphasis on individual liberty, if secular society did not place as strong an emphasis on pluralism and democracy, there are Christians, not just on the fringe, who would seek to establish their version of God's rule on the rest of us. The desire to establish a theocratic system is not just limited to evil Middle Ages Christians.
If the secularists and the forces of democracy were not as strong in America, people like Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson and James Dobson would set up a Fundamentalist Christian state in America that would suppress the freedoms of non-Christians. They read the same Bible which Gordon Mullings, Shirley Richards and others read as giving the blueprint for individual liberty, respect for individual conscience etc., but those passages would all be interpreted to suit their theocratic designs.
We must simply face up to the dangers and pitfalls of the fundamentalist mindset. This is not to suggest that fundamentalism is evil or even necessarily misguided. But it is to acknowledge that it is usually associated with narrow-mindedness, bigotry, intolerance and sometimes mean-spiritedness. And often with a persecution complex.
Shirley Richards is right that the struggle of some Christians against the dominant church and for respect for individual conscience was crucial in the struggle for freedom in the West. But remember, the Bible has been used by both the oppressor and the oppressed for their causes. Because of the pliable nature of the Bible -or the Bible's being used that way - it must be admitted by Christians freely that fellow believers are not immune to the temptation to establish a Christian state.
Would it be okay for a Christian Prime Minster to ban horseracing, the lotto and carnival on Sunday even if the majority population has no problem with such practices? I am a firm believer in pluralism and I believe that a secular state better protects freedom of conscience than any religious state. Whenever people hold totalist views-such as Marxism, Salafism, Christian Fundamentalism, Mormonism, old-style conservative Catholicism - there is always the temptation to minimise the freedom of people who are outside that ideology.
Castro still refuses to allow his people to hear broadcasts emanating from the United States; still disallows their free subscriptions to Western magazines and won't allow people absolute freedom to travel because he has a totalitarian ideology which assures him that scientific socialism is right and competing ideologies are non-scientific and, therefore, wrong.
Various Muslim Sheikhs hold to their rigid interpretation of the Koran and if they could get political power from the secularists who hold power in certain Muslim societies, they world impose their narrow view on the populace.
Sunnis have no problem imposing their rule on Shias and vice-versa.
Christians might have been in the forefront of early struggles to establish freedom, and the Protestant Reformation was certainly a catalyst but we cannot underplay the significance of secularist impulses in cementing the culture of freedom and democracy.
And those who write and talk glibly about Christians being necessarily worlds apart from the Muslims in terms of behaviour and ideology must remember that the history of Islam is not uniformly one of violence and mayhem. We must not do a disservice to history and truth by caricaturing Islam as being just coterminous with violence, terror and intolerance.
In his book What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (2002), the esteem historian Bernard Lewis reminds of the contributions of Islam to Western civilisation.
"For many centuries the world of Islam was in the forefront of human civilisation and achievement. In the Muslims' own perception, Islam was, indeed, coterminous with civilisation...It had achieved the highest level so far in human history in the arts and science of civilisation ... In most of the arts and sciences of civilisation, medieval Europe was a pupil and in a sense a dependent on the Islamic world, relying on Arabic versions even for many otherwise unknown Greek texts."
This is not known to many persons who only know about the terrorist actions and barbaric intolerance of rable rousers on the Arab streets-not representing all Muslims today.
A fascinating book which is a must-read for those ignorant of the Islamic contribution to Western civilisation and Western scholarship is Professor Richard Rubenstein's 2003 book Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages.
Says Rubenstein: "Aristotle's work, like the rest of Greek culture, had been lost in the centuries after the fall of Rome when the Greek language was forgotten. But in the Muslim world, the wisdom of the Greeks was never lost and contributed to the flowering of Islamic culture.
Then in the twelfth century in Toledo, Spain, groups of Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars collaborated on translating the ancient classics; and ideas long forgotten galvanised Europe, turning Western thinking away from the supernatural world and toward the world of nature".
Religions are capable of transforming themselves or of being corrupted by practitioners or adherents. In religion there is a vast difference between the ideal and the real. So making the point about what the ideology of Christianity advocates and the proclivities of living breathing Christians is not one and the same thing.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist.
The article is from here:
And this statement by gordy on one his websites removes any doubt about him being a biblical fundamentalist:
"That is, once the “anti-fundamentalism” rhetoric being promoted in our local media is put in context, it falls of its own weight and so exposes the fallacies embraced by those who view the traditional view of the Bible as a threat."