Monday, July 24, 2006

The problem with saying “God is love”

You hear this phrase all the time. Whether the speaker means that God is all loving, or that love itself is God, it’s a comforting sentiment. The kind of person who would say that is not the kind who would worship a vengeful God, a God who could condemn frail mankind to everlasting damnation- that’s why we hear it said at UU churches so often.

The problem is that the kind of person who would say that frequently cannot understand the type of person who worships the vengeful God. They cannot believe that anyone really, down deep, believes it. They all too often tend to think that a person espousing hatred in the name of God is only using religion for their own ends, that a true religion could not advocate violence. They are wrong. It’s gratifying that so many people cannot believe that sincere, profound religious faith could possibly lead to violence, mass murder, genocide, but they are wrong. This misunderstanding leads to mishandling any situation that involves it.

This misunderstanding caused the tragedy in Waco. The “experts” in the Justice Dept. advised Janet Reno that nobody could really believe that stuff- the gullible Branch Davidian followers, perhaps, but their leader couldn’t possibly actually believe it. They believed that David Koresh was just another religious scam artist, and if they hit them hard he would fold. Big mistake- one that resulted in a holocaust that cost a lot of innocent lives.

I hear the same misunderstanding frequently in any discussion of the troubles in the Middle East. When one points outs that the charter of Hamas calls for the obliteration of Israel, otherwise sensible people say “They don’t really mean that- they’re practical people; give them the right deal and they’ll accept it.” No, they won’t. Or rather, they will accept concessions, then go on killing anyway... because they really do believe it. They really do believe the existence of a Jewish state is an insult to Islam. The reason for the attacks is not the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, or the exact borders of Israel; the problem is the existence of Israel. They do not want a restoration of the 1967 borders, they want the 1947 borders.

There are other Muslims who believe in the World Caliphate. They call the United States “The Great Satan” not because the US supports Israel, or because of economic injustice, or because of environmental concerns; the oppose the U.S. because it is committed to secular government. To someone like Osama Bin Laden, the greatest tragedy in human history was when Turkey stripped the Caliphate of secular power and became a secular state. This is why Al Queida started targeting Iraqis instead of US soldiers after the elections; the concept of a secualar Iraq is anathema to them. They really do believe that there are only three things a Muslim can do when meeting an unbeliever: convert him, subjugate him, or kill him.

Yes, I hear you screaming at me, “Islam is a religion of peace! You’re misinterpreting those passages, it’s a bad translation!”. Fine, I believe you- but I’m not the one you have to convince. I’m not the one slowly sawing a man’s head off, drowning out his screams with shouts of “God is great!”. It’s not gentiles you must convince that Islam is a religion of peace- it’s Muslims who need to be convinced of that. And yes, it’s a minority of Muslims who believe in violence- but it’s a much larger minority than the “God is love” crowd believes it is. To field a soldier- any soldier, be it American, Israeli, or Hezbollah- a huge support staff is required. That soldier must be trained, equipped, fed, clothed, housed, and paid. His weapons must be paid for, maintenanced, stored in good condition. Heavy weapons, such as the Katyusha rockets Hezbollah is firing off at such a prodigious rate, require large crews, equally well trained. And when you have 13,000 such rockets, you also need a huge building and maintenance staff just to store them.

My point? If there are 100,000 terrorists worldwide, (remember that attacks aren’t limited to the ME; it occurs in Africa, India, Malaysia, Russia, the Philippines, other places), then there are millions of Muslims directly supporting them, and there are tens of millions more who know exactly what’s going on but will never tell the authorities. Still a minority of Islam, to be sure- but big enough to ensure that there will never be peace. And no solution can be found until everyone- Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Pagan or Atheist understands what the problem is. Until you understand that millions of people really do believe that God calls for innocent (in western eyes) men, women, and children to be killed on a daily basis, you are part of the problem.


Paul said...

Islam is a religion of peace? Okay I accept your opinion. Would you accept mine that some Muslims are not peaceful? In fact jihadists promote and commit violent acts and use their religion as an excuse.

Joel Monka said...

I'm sorry I didn't make myself clear to you. "Okay I accept your opinion. Would you accept mine that some Muslims are not peaceful?" I thought I had said exactly that when I said "Or rather, they will accept concessions, then go on killing anyway... because they really do believe it.", or "...really do believe that God calls for innocent (in western eyes) men, women, and children to be killed on a daily basis,..."

MauKatt said...

Fundamentalists are fundamentalists, whether they be Muslim, Hindu, Christian, or whatever. It's a shame that violence seems to be such an integral part of funamentalism.

But I read a book once that gave me one of those "aha!" moments -- we become like the God we worship. If we worship an angry, judgemental, easily-offended, and quick-to-sentence-to-death-or-the-fires-of-hell God, we become angry, judgemental, etc ourselves. Especially if we believe that we will be punished for not driving out the heretics/unbelievers/sinful influence/ etc, for "allowing an offense to God to dwell among us" or whatever phrase one uses.

Joel Monka said...

"Fundamentalists are fundamentalists, whether they be Muslim, Hindu, Christian, or whatever." I really don't believe that to be true. I have never seen a Hindu fundamentalist slowly saw a man's head off while shouting "God is great". I know Protestant fundamentalists who belive that the Catholic church is a Satanic organisation, leading millions to hell (see Jack Chick publications link), but their not bombing cathedrals.

Bill Baar said...

Fundamentalists are Protestant Christians. The term came from the book The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.

People now use it as a pejorative for any religion they don't particularly like.

That's fine except it obscures what it is about the other religion that they don't particularly like.

I avoid using it and just get to the bottom line, and that's I don't like the Salafi variation of Islam because, as Joel said, it seems to delight in sawing off people's heads.

Oddly, the Salafi's are often referred too in translation as Unitarians,

The teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi, that is, "following the forefathers of Islam." This branch of Islam is often referred to as "Wahhabi," a term that many adherents to this tradition do not use. Members of this form of Islam call themselves Muwahhidun ("Unitarians", or "unifiers of Islamic practice"). They use the Salafi Da'wa or Ahlul Sunna wal Jama'a. Wahhabism is a particular orientation within Salafism. Most puritanical groups in the Muslim world are Salafi in orientation, but not necessarily Wahhabi.

Stephen Schwartz has argued in The Weekly Standard that the correct translation for many headlines would be ...another Unitarian Saws off a Head in the Middle East instead of saying fundamentalists are doing it.

I believe the West has often cast it's lot with the traditional Sunni Arab leaders in the middle east in part because they've seemed more Protestant, more Unitarian, then the more emotional Shia, or mystical Sufi traditions; which seemed too similar to Catholicism.

Schwartz also quotes historian E. B. Kelly on our understanding of Salafi Islam here (way down in the responses).

Further, Kelly wrote that Aramco "constituted itself the interpreter of Saudi Arabia – its people, its history, its culture, and above all its ruling house – to the United States at large, and because there were no other sources of information about that country open to the American public, ARAMCO could put across its version of recent Arabian history and politics with almost insolent ease… Its propaganda was framed in a manner likely to strike a sympathetic response in the American people… Much emphasis was laid upon the spiritual nature of the Wahhabi movement, upon its puritanical aspects (with Riyad cast in the image of Salem [Mass.]), upon the felicitous alliance of religion with secular power, and upon the harmonious blend of piety and statecraft inherent in the person of the Saudi king-imam. To make the analogy more familiar, the term by which the Wahhabis distinguished themselves, muwahiddun ('believers in oneness'), was consistently rendered as 'Unitarians', a usage which must have puzzled the adherents of the American Unitarian Church… Naturally, little prominence was accorded in ARAMCO's publicity to the fanatical nature of Wahhabism, or to its dark and bloody past."