Islam’s Problem Has Nothing to do with Islam

I second John’s question and raise him a question. What am I missing about Islam that has so many people acting like Muslims are like United Methodists? I don’t mean to imply that all Muslims are terrorists any more than all Methodists follow John Wesley. But for Never Trumpers to argue about Islamophobia as if fears of Muslims are irrational — precisely forty years into various forms of Islamic terrorism, and while ISIS has been a major source of news coverage — is well nigh extraordinary.

Did anyone remember, for instance, when Graeme Wood wrote a piece not in the American Spectator but in Atlantic Monthly about ISIS’ Islamic convictions?

The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.

Now if you want to distance the Muslim Brotherhood from terrorism, fine. But that doesn’t get you the faculty of Harvard University:

It’s fine to think that the Muslim Brotherhood is bad, terrible, authoritarian, or illiberal (in my book on the Egyptian and Jordanian Brotherhoods from the 1980s till today, I highlight the group’s illiberal nature at length). Eric Trager, who I have disagreed with quite strongly on matters relating to the Brotherhood, has called it more akin to a “hate group.” But even he has written against designation. The Brotherhood’s badness, one way or the other, has no bearing on whether or not it is a terrorist organization. Being a terrorist organization involves, among other things, ordering your members to commit terrorist attacks, something no one argues the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is doing.

Even promotional copy for events featuring two of the most western friendly and thoughtful interpreters of Islam, Mustafa Akyol and Shadi Hamid, notice that Muslim societies are not places where Washington Post editors send their children for university:

Predominantly Muslim societies suffer from low levels of political, economic, and civil liberties. Authoritarian political regimes, rigid social structures, and radical religious movements that suppress human liberty in the name of God loom large in the Muslim world. Is this liberty deficit due to a “dark age” of Islam, which can be overcome with reform and a different religious interpretation? Can Islam make its peace with liberal democracy, as Christianity and other religions did after their own illiberal ages? Or is there something different about Islam, making it inherently incompatible with a secular government and a free society? Mustafa Akyol, a longtime defender of “Islamic liberalism,” is optimistic. Shadi Hamid is more pessimistic, arguing that Islam is “exceptional,” in the sense of being essentially resistant to liberalism.

Maybe you want to claim that it’s all a matter of interpretation — some truth there — but that still leaves you having to distinguish better from worse versions of Islam according western liberal standards, which in and of itself means Islam is not United Methodism.

For that reason, it’s a little rich when Michael Schulson writes as if the problems of perception that surround Islam are really the constructions of President Trump and his advisers:

It is difficult to think of a definition of religion that does not include Islam — an ancient tradition with practitioners who believe in one God, pray and try to live their lives in accordance with a scripture.

So why has this particular canard taken off?

Wajahat Ali, a writer, attorney, and the lead author of “Fear, Inc.,” a report on American Islamophobia, traces the idea’s recent surge to anti-Islam activists David Yerushalmi and Frank Gaffney. In 2010, Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy published a report, “Shariah: The Threat to America,” arguing that Muslim religious law, or sharia, was actually a dangerous political ideology that a cabal of Muslims hoped to impose on the United States.

“Though it certainly has spiritual elements, it would be a mistake to think of shariah as a ‘religious’ code in the Western sense,” the report argued. It also suggested banning “immigration of those who adhere to shariah … as was previously done with adherents to the seditious ideology of communism.”

“They misdefine sharia in a way which is not recognizable to any practicing Muslim,” Ali said. But the idea was influential. By the summer of 2011, more than two dozen states were considering anti-sharia legislation. More recently, Gaffney reportedly advised Trump’s transition team.

For many Americans, confusion about religious law, political ideology and sharia may reflect a distinctly Christian, and especially Protestant, way of thinking about the nature of religion.

“It’s hard to talk about this sometimes because there is no equivalent of sharia in the Christian tradition,” said Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World.” “Even when you’re talking to well-intentioned, well-meaning people who really want to understand, explaining sharia is very challenging because there’s nothing in Christianity that’s quite like it.”

Actually, Christianity does have its equivalent. The mainstream media has called them theocons and Damon Linker, who wrote a book by that title, copped the plea:

Bannon and the intellectuals Neuhaus regularly published in First Things share the conviction that, at a fundamental level, the United States is a Christian nation — not just in the sense that an overwhelming majority of Americans describe themselves as Christians, but also in the sense that the country’s highest ideals and convictions (above all, about individual rights and innate human dignity) derive from a Catholic-Christian inheritance the vitality of which must be actively fostered and promoted by the culture. The two groups also tend to view the threat posed by Islamic terrorism in terms of a civilizational clash between Islam and the Judeo-Christian West (or “Christendom”).

But that’s where the continuities end.

At their best, the original theocons followed a tradition of Christian political reflection that insisted on placing the nation under the guidance and judgment of a transcendent God (and his extra-political Church) that stands apart from all this-worldly communities. That was in fact the theme of Neuhaus’ final book, published shortly after his death from cancer in early 2009.

Bannon, by contrast, tends to treat religious affiliation wholly as a function of ethno-national identity: “We” in the West must affirm our Christian identity or we will be overrun by dangerous outsiders (Islamists) who will impose a different identity upon us. In this respect, Bannon’s position is closer to Eastern Orthodoxy (and Russian Orthodoxy in particular), with its sanctioning of an official ethno-national church that mediates between individual believers and the Godhead.

Yet, to Linker’s credit, he can tell the difference between a good theocon and a fear-inspiring one, unlike many social justice types who think the campus of Princeton University is just like Ferguson, Missouri. I do wonder, though, if he remembers how his editors at Doubleday trumped up his book?

Do you believe the Catholic Church should be actively intervening in American politics on the side of the Republican Party?

Do you believe the federal government should be channeling billions of tax dollars a year to churches and other religious organizations?

Do you believe a microscopic clump of cells in a petri dish possesses the same rights that you possess?

Do you believe a doctor who performs abortions — and a woman who chooses to have an abortion — should be arrested and charged with murder?

Do you believe the public schools should actively teach children to doubt the scientific theory of evolution?

Do you believe legally available contraception is producing a “culture of death” in the United States?

Do you believe that the United States should be a Christian nation?

Do you fear Christians because you don’t fear Muslims?

No reason to fear Islam, no not one. Just think professional boxing and the NBA:

Can we imagine an America without Muhammad Ali, who was born Cassius Clay in Louisville and gained national fame when he won a gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960 as a light heavyweight boxer? In 1964, Clay defeated Sonny Liston, becoming the world heavyweight boxing champion. A few years earlier, Clay had gone to Nation of Islam meetings. There, he met Malcolm X, who as a friend and advisor was part of Clay’s entourage for the Liston fight. Clay made his conversion public after the fight, and was renamed by Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad as Muhammad Ali.

When he was reclassified as eligible for induction into the draft for the Vietnam War, Ali refused on the grounds of his new Muslim religious beliefs. Famously, reflecting on the racism he had experienced in America, Ali said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong—no Viet Cong ever called me ni**er.” His conscientious objector status was rooted in the teachings of the Nation of Islam, as Elijah Muhammad had earlier been jailed for his refusal to enter the draft in the Second World War.

. . . Or think of my other great hero, another American Muslim, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The greatest basketball coach ever, the late John R. Wooden, thought that Kareem was the greatest basketball player ever. In his three years of eligibility under Coach Wooden at UCLA, Kareem was three-time player of the year, three-time finals MVP, and three-time NCAA champion. In other words, he had three perfect seasons while he earned his degree. He lost the same number of games at UCLA—two—that he did in high school.

Kareem converted to Islam in 1971, and excelled in the pros just as much as he did in college or high school. All in all, he won six NBA championships and six NBA MVP awards, was a nineteen-time all-star, and remains the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Combine that pro record with his three NCAA championships, and I don’t know how you can make the case for anyone else as the greatest basketball player of all time.

Another Golden Oldie

Thanks to Zrim, I remembered another internet intervention about 2k. This one was at Greenbaggins at the instigation of Reed DePace. It was a threepart series but here reproduced in one post.

Theological Affirmations

1) Affirmation: Jesus is Lord

Denial: Jesus is not Lord over everyone in the same way; he rules the covenant community differently than those outside the covenant.

2) Affirmation: the visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ

Denial: Outside the visible church is not part of the redemptive rule of Christ (even though Christ is still sovereign).

3) Affirmation: the Bible is the only rule for the visible church (in matters of conscience).

Denial: Scripture does not reveal everything but only that which is necessary for salvation.

4) Affirmation: Christ alone is lord of conscience

Denial: Christians have liberty where Scripture is silent.
Denial: the pious advice and opinions of Christians are not binding.

5) Affirmation: the visible church has real power (spiritual and moral, ministerial and declarative, the keys of the kingdom) in ministering the word of God.

Denial: the church may not bind consciences apart from Scripture.
Denial: the church may not bind consciences on the basis of one minister’s or believer’s interpretation but must do so corporately through the deliberations of sessions, presbyteries, and assemblies.

6) Affirmation: Christ’s righteousness alone satisfies God’s holy demands for righteousness, and believers receive this righteousness through faith alone (i.e., justification).

Denial: believer’s good works, much less unbelievers’ external obedience to the law, do not satisfy God’s holiness but are filthy rags.

Affirmations about Vocation

1) Affirmation: the church is called to gather and perfect saints through word, sacrament and discipline.

Denial: the church is not called to meddle in civil affairs.

2) Affirmation: the Christian family is called to nurture and oversee children in both religious and secular matters.

Denial: Christian families will not all look the same but have liberty to rear children according to Scripture and the light of nature.
Denial: non-Christian families do not rear children in godliness or holiness but still have legitimate responsibility for rearing their children.

3) Affirmation: the state is called to punish wickedness, reward goodness, and promote peace and order.

Denial: the state does not hold the keys of the kingdom.

4) Affirmation: A Christian is called to use his talents and gifts to serve God and assist his neighbor.

Denial: some Christians are not called to engage in civil affairs.
Denial: the responsibilities attending one Christian’s vocation may not be the standard for other Christians.

Affirmations on Ethics

1) Affirmation: Christians have an obligation to submit to God’s laws as they are found in general and special revelation.

Denial: persons cannot obey God’s law truly apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
Denial: non-Christians may not please God in their external observance of God’s law.
Denial: even if non-Christians may not please God, their civic virtue is crucial to a peaceful and orderly society.

2) Affirmation: Christians please God in their good works thanks to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Denial: the good works of Christians are not free from pollution (i.e. they are filthy rags).

3) Affirmation: the state and families have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.

Denial: the church does not have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.

4) Affirmation: church members have a duty to obey the laws of civil magistrates.

Denial: church members may not rebel against or disobey the magistrate.
Denial: church members must not obey the magistrate rather than God.

5) Affirmation: God has established a pluriformity of institutions (e.g. civil society) for the sake of social order.

Denial: the church has no calling to establish social order but will have an indirect influence on peace and order by encouraging godliness in her members.

Christendom or America

Mark Noll made me aware of Hugh McLeod’s definition of Christendom:

a society where there are close ties between leaders of the church and secular elites

the laws purport to be based on Christian principles

apart from some clearly defined outsider communities, everyone is assumed to be a Christian

Christianity provides a common language, shared alike by the devout and the religiously lukewarm

A 2ker has to wonder where any reader of the New Testament supposes this is the blueprint for society. The Roman Empire was pagan. The apostles knew that and sought to make the gospel known to those whom God foreknew as his people. They also expected seemingly a quick return by their ascended Lord.

If you want that kind of society from the pages of Scripture, you go to the Old Testament. Say hello to theonomy. But Christ and the apostles failed to measure up to Christendom on all these grounds:

They had bad relations with pagan elites. That’s why they were executed — hello.

They had no instruction about laws being based on the gospel (or even “Christian principles”).

Shouldn’t have to be said, but they did not — get this — assume everyone was a Christian. Nero? Hello.

They had a firm sense of the antithesis. The difference between believers and the world pervades the New Testament.

One could reasonably conclude that Christendom is not Christian.

That makes secular America Christian. Christians have bad relations with secular elites. 2kers at least don’t expect laws to be based on Christian principles (whatever that is). No Christian (not sure about some progressive Roman Catholics) assumes every American is Christian (mainline Protestants are equally progressive but they draw the Christian line to keep Trump voters out of the kingdom). And most serious Christians in the United States go through life recognizing a gap between Christian and American cultural norms — shops are open on Sunday.

In other words, 2kers live more in line with the teaching and experience of Christ and the apostles. Christendom-inspired critics of 2k use as their norm Christian developments after Constantine, not those after Christ. Indeed, the novos ordo seclorum of 1789 was a return to the kind of society Christ and the apostles lived and breathed in. They did not know Constantinianism or Christendom which America rejected.

That also means critics of 2k are anti-American. For shame!!!

But there’s hope for Christendom. Even as Norway secularizes it still has a national church:

On Jan. 1, the Scandinavian country cut some ties with its Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Norway, rewording the national constitution to change the denomination from “the state’s public religion” to “Norway’s national church.”

The change means the nation of just over 5 million people – about 82 percent of them Evangelical-Lutherans – will still fund the church but will no longer appoint its clergy, who will still be considered civil servants. . . .

Secularism has been on the rise in Western Europe since the 1960s, with church attendance declining and strict laws on public displays of religion in nations such as France. But the past decade has seen the rise of anti-secular groups and politicians in England, Germany and France.

Meanwhile, some Norwegians feel the divorce is not sharp enough. Kristin Mile, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Humanist Association, told The Local No, an English-language Norwegian news site, that the change only muddies the relationship between church and state.

“As long as the constitution says that the Church of Norway is Norway’s national church, and that it should be supported by the state, we still have a state church,” she said.

Is that what piners for Christendom want?

Is Donald Trump Mainstreaming Apostasy?

While Mike Horton zeroes in on the personalities associated with Word of Faith who will be speaking or praying (or speaking in tongues) and the presidential inaugural, not to be missed is the rest of the clergy assembled. Among them, Cardinal Timothy Dolan:

Dolan will be the first Catholic to take part in a presidential inauguration in 40 years, since President Jimmy Carter’s in 1977, the Religion News Service reports. Rabbi Marvin Hier will be the first Jewish clergy involved since Ronald Reagan’s in 1985.

His inclusion “may reflect, in part, homage to the Jewish faith of Trump’s daughter and son-in-law,” Black said. Eldest daughter Ivanka Trump, a convert to Orthodox Judaism, is moving to Washington and expected to serve as a stand-in to the First Lady.

The broad faith representation may also reveal a desire to please the American electorate, more pessimistic about the president-elect than any of his recent predecessors. According to the Pew Research Center, Trump’s overall campaign grade is the lowest among any presidential candidate—winning or losing—since it began collecting data in 1988.

White is the only pastor from Trump’s group of evangelical faith advisors scheduled to speak at the inauguration. The Mormon Tabernacle choir is slated to perform. Trump has downplayed the celebrity factor in his confirmed guest list. So far, Carter is the only former president expected to attend.

Horton puts his objection this way:

Thanks to the First Amendment, Christian orthodoxy has never been a test for public office. But it is striking that Trump has surrounded himself with cadre of prosperity evangelists who cheerfully attack basic Christian doctrines. The focus of this unity is a gospel that is about as diametrically opposed to the biblical one as you can imagine.

But is it fair to say “surrounded”? Kevin Kruse, who teaches at Princeton puts it this way:

“The traditional tasks of an inaugural—bringing the country together and setting an uplifting and unifying agenda for the future—are even more pressing for president-elect Trump,” said Kruse. “And that, I suspect, is why he’s enlisted a much larger lineup of clergy to speak at the inauguration than his predecessors. He knows he needs their help in elevating the tone and, in turn, elevating his presidency as well.”

Either way, a confessional Protestant could object to every religious figure scheduled for the inauguration. Especially in the year that Protestants commemorate the Reformation, shouldn’t Calvinists be up in arms about a Roman Catholic bishop at the event? Why single out Paula White? Looks too much like Megyn Kelly?

Could You Write this after 9-11?

David Koyzis tries to turn B. B. Warfield into a Kuyperian and quotes this:

For there shall be a new heaven, we are told, and a new earth. Under these new heavens, in this new earth, shall gather redeemed humanity, in the perfection of its idea, and in perfect harmony with its perfected environment. In the perfection of physical vigour: for what is sown in corruption shall have been raised in incorruption, what is sown in dishonour shall have been raised in glory, what is sown in weakness shall have been raised in power, what is sown in selfishness shall have been raised in spirituality. In the perfection of social organization and intercourse: for there shall be none to hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain, and all the people of the Lord shall have learned righteousness. In the perfection of spiritual communion with God: for then it is that the Lord shall make Himself known to His people and shall dwell with them, and they shall need no Temple to which men should require to repair in order to meet the Lord, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple thereof, and the grace of the Lord shall flow down the streets in a river of the water of Life washing into every nook and corner.

Such is the picture the Scriptures draw for us of the salvation of our God. And let us not fail to note that it is a picture of a saved world. As no sphere of human life is left untouched by it; as on its touch, every sphere of human life is transformed; so the completeness and the profundity of its renovation of man is matched by the wideness of its extension over man. It is the renewed heavens and the renewed earth that we are bidden to contemplate; and dwelling in them in endless bliss renewed humanity.

Hard not to think that with the British Empire chugging along, the Ottomans still in charge of an unruly part of the world, the Austro-Hungarians doing their part to keep order in the Balkans, and western dominance spreading around the globe, the world was getting better and that Christians (of a kind) had a large hand in that betterment. This quotation comes from a book published in 1913.

But when the world looks less stable and life less predictable, can any Reformed Protestant still be post-millennial? (And doesn’t Koyzis have a duty to protect Warfield’s good name?)

Christianity Framed Mencken

Andrew Ferguson wonders why Eerdmans would include an entry in its American religious biography series on H. L. Mencken:

The co-editor of the series, the church historian Mark A. Noll, raises the question in his foreword: “Whatever could have led Darryl Hart, himself the author of several worthy books patiently explaining the virtues of historical Calvinism, to think that any one at all could be interested in a religious biography of H.L. Mencken?”

A few pages later, the author himself wonders the same thing. After ticking off Mencken’s many admirable qualities—his productivity as a journalist, his fearlessness as a magazine editor, his unfailing humor, his tough-mindedness—Mr. Hart asks: “What does any of this have to do with religion? Why should Mencken qualify for entry in a series of religious biographies?”

I would like to report that the answer Mr. Hart gives to this question is an irrefutable and bold assertion about . . . something or other. But I can’t. For all the book’s virtues—it is charmingly written and comprehensive of its subject—the author struggles to explain why it should have been written at all.

But, for what is Mencken best remembered? The Scopes Trial. What about his attack on Puritanism (“the haunting idea, that someone, somewhere, may be happy”)? And what about his confrontation with the nation’s Protestant-inspired decency laws? Also, what to make of his withering critique of the moral idealism that Woodrow Wilson used to rally the United States to enter a war “to end all wars?”

The point is not that Christianity defined Mencken and that he ironically owed a debt to the believers who bemused him. Instead, taking account of his life makes little sense without noticing how his literary battles with Puritanism, his columns against Prohibition, his pointed coverage of the Scopes Trial, his protracted legal contest with Boston’s Watch and Ward Society, or the book he considered his most important, Treatise, set Mencken apart from his contemporaries, gave him a lot to say along with a large readership that wanted to listen. Christianity and its dominant position in American society was not responsible for producing Mencken. But it was a sufficiently large part of his experience and thought to justify a religious biography. (Damning Words, 4)

If Mencken is best remembered for his opposition to Christianity in its political, cultural, and moral dimensions, then isn’t religion a big part of his life even if he didn’t believe? Christianity framed Mencken. He would not be the man or writer he was without having been surrounded by and pondered Christianity. That makes a religious biography plausible.

If More Rod Drehers Read Machen

Once again, Rod explains the Benedict Option:

Do you think that is generally true about our society and our civilization — that people, whether they are conscious of it or not, and operating in a sauve qui peut (save who you can) panic? To be perfectly clear about the Ben Op: it is based on the idea that Christianity itself within the West is facing this state of affairs, and that believing Christians, therefore, have to build new structures and reinforce old ones to last through the religious crash that is already happening.

If Rod had read Machen and knew anything about the 1920s contest within U.S. Protestantism over modernism, he would know that some Christians were thinking the West faced a difficult set of affairs — wait for it — a century ago.

Should we really welcome someone who is so late to the party?