No, Jesus WASN’T a Pacifist: The Problem with the Muhammad vs. Jesus Comparisons

jesus vs muhammad

This is part 5-ii of the Understanding Jihad Series.  Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

Throughout his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), professional Islamophobe Robert Spencer misleads the reader by selectively comparing Muhammad to Jesus.  Muhammad is portrayed as a “warrior prophet” and contrasted with the (supposedly) non-violent Jesus.  Spencer argues on page four of his book that his “Muhammad vs. Jesus” comparisons are intended to “draw a distinction between the core principles that guide the faithful Muslim and Christian.”  We are told that Islam’s militancy stems from its founder, as Christianity’s peacefulness traces back to its earliest figure.  Although Robert Spencer is a fringe extremist, his sentiments are shared by many average Christians (and even non-Christians).  To the average Westerner, Muhammad was a man of violence, whereas Jesus was the quintessential pacifist.

Prof. Philip Jenkins explored a similar mindset when it came to the Koran and the Bible. Jenkinsexplained (emphasis added):

Unconsciously, perhaps, many Christians consider Islam to be a kind of dark shadow of their own faith, with the ugly words of the Koran standing in absolute contrast to the scriptures they themselves cherish. In the minds of ordinary Christians – and Jews – the Koran teaches savagery and warfare, while the Bible offers a message of love, forgiveness, and charity…

But in terms of ordering violence and bloodshed, any simplistic claim about the superiority of the Bible to the Koran would be wildly wrong. In fact, the Bible overflows with “texts of terror,” to borrow a phrase coined by the American theologian Phyllis Trible. The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery.  The Koran often urges believers to fight, yet it also commands that enemies be shown mercy when they surrender. Some frightful portions of the Bible, by contrast, go much further in ordering the total extermination of enemies, of whole families and races – of men, women, and children, and even their livestock, with no quarter granted.

I have extensively (and painfully) elaborated on this point earlier in this article series.

The comparisons between Muhammad “the warrior prophet” and Jesus “the pacifist” are equally faulty.  For one thing,  many were the “warrior prophets” in the Judeo-Christian tradition before Muhammad, including MosesJoshuaSamsonDavidSaul, and so many others.  Moses, the prototypical “warrior prophet”, was the key figure of Judaism–would these Islamophobes vilify Judaism as they do Islam?  (Nowadays it is often considered socially taboo to criticize Judaism but completely acceptable to malign Islam.  Why the double standard?)

For the record, these Biblical prophets and holy figures are just as much a part of Christianity as they are Judaism.  Christian theology holds these personalities in very high regard.  Therefore, to suddenly limit the discussion to Jesus alone is misleading.  Yet, this disingenuous tactic is critical to the Islamophobic rhetoric.  If Islam is to be deemed a violent faith based on the personality of Muhammad, then both Judaism and Christianity must similarly be designated as violent faiths based on the personalities of Moses, Joshua, and all the other myriad of figures in the Bible who engaged in acts of violence far more atrocious than anything Muhammad stands accused of.

Leaving aside this point, it ought to be noted that Jesus as a pacifist is pure fiction.  Prof. Reza Aslan recently published a book on Jesus, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which disproves the myth of the pacifist Jesus.  Although Aslan’s message may be news to some lay persons, it is in fact (as Reza Aslan himself points out) “old news” in scholarly circles.  Thanks to the viral Fox News interview and Aslan’s addictive writing style, Zealot became a best-seller.  Christian Islamophobes wrongfully assumed, without reading the book, that Aslan was attacking the character of Jesus.  In fact, however, Aslan reveres Jesus, even while he dispels many of the myths about the man.

One of the myths that Aslan dispels is the idea that Jesus was a pacifist.  Many Christians think of Jesus separately from the personalities of the Old Testament.  But, in fact, there is a great deal of continuity in the Biblical narrative.  According to the Bible, God rescued Moses and his people from Egypt and promised them the land of Canaan.  However, Canaan was occupied by pagans, so God commanded the Jews to completely annihilate the indigenous population.  This divinely sanctioned genocide helped establish a Jewish kingdom in the Promised Land.  After some time, however, the Jews were conquered by outside forces.  By the time of Jesus, the Jews were under imperial occupation by Rome.

What many Christians (and others) fail to realize was that Jesus was a Jew.  He was in fact one of many different Jews who claimed to be the Messiah.  The Messiah, it was believed, would be a conquering king sent down to liberate the Jewish people, “fight Hashem’s [God’s] wars” (Maimonides in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11:4), and then not only conquer but punish (with great vengeance) the enemies of Israel.  Jesus’s connection to the war heroes of the Bible is underscored by the fact that he is called “a Davidic king”–the same David who engaged in acts of war and genocide against the Philistines and Amalekites.  Aslan writes:

[A] fair consensus about who the messiah is supposed to be and what the messiah is supposed to do: he is the descendant of King David; he comes to restore Israel, to free the Jews from the yoke of occupation, and to establish God’s rule in Jerusalem.  To call Jesus the messiah, therefore, is to place him inexorably upon a path–already well trodden by a host of failed messiahs who came before him–toward conflict, revolution, and war against the prevailing powers.

This was the role Jesus was claiming for himself by saying he was the Messiah.  This is why the Romans crucified him.

In his book, Reza Aslan writes:

It was a direct commandment from a jealous God who tolerated no foreign presence in the land he had set aside for his chosen people. That is why, when the Jews first came to this land a thousand years earlier, God had decreed that they massacre every man, woman, and child they encountered, that they slaughter every ox, goat, and sheep they came across, that they burn every farm, every field, every crop, every living thing without exception so as to ensure that the land would belong solely to those who worshiped this one God and no other…

It was, the Bible claims, only after the Jewish armies had “utterly destroyed all that breathed”…only after every single inhabitant of this land was eradicated, “as the Lord God of Israel had commanded” (Joshua 10:28-42)–that the Jews were allowed to settle here.

And yet, a thousand years later, this same tribe that had shed so much blood to cleanse the Promised Land of every foreign element so as to rule it in the name of its God now found itself laboring under the boot of an imperial pagan power, forced to share the holy city with Gauls, Spaniards, Romans, Greeks, and Syrians–all of them foreigners, all of them heathens–obligated by law to make sacrifices in God’s own temple on behalf of a Roman idolater who lived more than a thousand kilometers away.

How would the heroes of old respond such humiliation and degradation? What would Joshua or Aaron or Phineas or Samuel do to the unbelievers who had defiled the land set aside by God for his chosen people?

They would drown the land in blood. They would smash the heads of the heathens and the gentiles, burn their idols to the ground, slaughter their wives and their children. They would slay the idolaters and bathe their feet in the blood of their enemies, just as the Lord commanded. They would call upon the God of Israel to burst forth from the heavens in his war chariot, to trample upon the sinful nations and to make the mountains writhe at this fury.

Jesus was crucified by the Romans before he could mete out vengeance on the enemies of Israel, but–as a I detail in my earlier article Jesus Loves His Enemies…and Then Kills Them All–he will fulfill this task during his Second Coming:

Jesus will “will release the fierce wrath of God” (19:15) on them, and “he shall execute the severest judgment on the opposers of his truth”.   Because of this, “every tribe on earth will mourn because of him” (Rev. 1:7), and they will “express the inward terror and horror of their minds, at his appearing; they will fear his resentment”.  Just as the people of Canaan were terrified by the Israelite war machine, so too would the unbelievers “look with trembling upon [Jesus]”.  This is repeated in the Gospels, that “the Son of man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn” (Matthew 24:30).  “All the nations of the world shall wail when he comes to judgment” and the enemies of Jesus “shall mourn at the great calamities coming upon them”.

Far from the meek prophet of the First Coming, Jesus on his return will command a very strong military force that will “destroy[] every ruler, authority, and power”.  Not only is this consistent with the legacy of conquests by the Biblical prophets, it is actually a fulfillment or completion of the task that Moses initiated: holy war and conquest in the name of God.  In First Corinthians (part of the New Testament) it is prophesied that instead of loving his enemies, Christ will subdue and humble them under his feet:

1 Corinthians 15:24 [Jesus] will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power.

15:25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet.

Reza Aslan concludes:

[T]he Jesus that emerges…[is] a zealous revolutionary swept up, as all Jews of the era were, in the religious and political turmoil of first-century Palestine–[which] bears little resemblance to the image of the gentle shepherd cultivated by the early Christian community.

Once Jesus is understood as a continuation and culmination of the Biblical narrative, it becomes clear that he was not a pacifist.  The Biblical war ethic that Jesus believed in was arguably more violent than the equivalent Koranic discourse Muhammad operated from.  (More on this in a future article.)  The only difference was that Jesus’s rebellion was cut short by his crucifixion, whereas Muhammad triumphed against his former tormentors.

It should be noted that Jesus, like Moses and Muhammad, was an enigmatic personality; nobody can know for certain who the real Jesus was.  People (including scholars) subconsciously project into Jesus their own self-image.  Remembering Jesus as a pacifist is a healthy option for the Christian believer, especially when it forms the basis of a peace-loving theology.  But, once that pacifist image is used by right-wing warmongers as a stick to bash Muslims over the head with, it’s time to call foul.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

Islamophobia, Left and Right

(h/t: Jason perkins)

Islamophobia, Left and Right

by JEFF SPARROW
‘Koran discovered with coffee cup stain on the front cover, US marines deployed to all Starbucks franchises.’

The quip, retweeted by celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins, exemplifies the belligerent incomprehension with which so many, including self-proclaimed liberals, have responded to protests against the film The Innocence of Muslims.

Rioting over a YouTube clip that offends the Muslim sky fairy? How tremendously foolish! How childish; how superstitious; how very, very silly!

Well, we’ve certainly seen ignorance paraded over the last few days but it’s as much by smug progressives as anyone else.

Consider a historical analogy.

In 1857, Bengali soldiers (known as ‘sepoys’) shot their British officers and marched upon Delhi. The Great Indian Rebellion became very violent, very quickly. The rebels massacred prisoners, including women and children; the British put down the revolt with a slaughter of unprecedented proportions.

Now, that rebellion began when the troops learned that their cartridges, designed to be torn open with their teeth, would be greased with beef and pork fat, an offence to the religious sensibilities of Hindus and Muslims alike. Had Twitter been an invention of the Victorian era, London sophisticates would, no doubt, have LOLed to each other (#sepoyrage!) about the credulity of dusky savages so worked up about a little beef tallow. Certainly, that was how the mouthpieces of the East India Company spun events: in impeccably Dawkinesque terms, they blamed ‘Hindoo prejudice’ for the descent of otherwise perfectly contented natives into rapine and slaughter.

But no serious historian today takes such apologetics seriously. Only the most determined ignoramus would discuss 1857 in isolation from the broader context of British occupation. In form, the struggle might have been religious; in content, it embodied a long-simmering opposition to colonial rule.

That’s why those who pretend the protests against The Innocence of Muslims came from nowhere merely reveal their own foolishness.

‘Today, many Americans are asking — indeed, I asked myself — how could this happen?’ said Hillary Clinton after the riots in Libya. ‘How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be.’

The echoes of George Bush’s infamous query ‘Why do they hate us when we’re so good?’ suggests nothing whatsoever has been learnt from the last decade and the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

For this is, of course, the same Hillary Clinton who, as recently as 2009, proclaimed Mubarak, Egypt’s torturer-in-chief, and his wife, ‘friends of my family’, acknowledging a relationship that exemplified the pally connections between the US elite and every dictator and despot in the region. Mubarak might have been crossed off the Clinton Christmas list but President Obama forges ever closer relations with the tyrants of Saudi Arabia, delivering the biggest ever arms deal in US history to fortify a reactionary and criminal government against its populace.

No, Hillary Clinton might not recall such matters. But the people of the Muslim world are considerably better informed – and that’s the context for their anger.

But what about the movie itself? Why should such a shoddy piece of amateur filmmaking become such a flashpoint?

Again, shift to a more familiar referent and the outrage becomes at once markedly less strange. The Protocols of Zion were, of course, also a bodged-up job, a childish forgery thrown together by racist cranks from the Tsarist secret service. But no-one’s surprised when Jews (and their anti-racist allies) mobilise against some fresh incarnation of that notorious document, since we all, quite correctly, recognise any new publication of the Protocols as a conscious and deliberate attempt to promote hatred.

The Innocence of Muslims should be understood in the same fashion. This is a film produced at a time in which, across Europe and the United States, the far right has developed an Islamophobic doctrine that replicates, almost exactly, the key tropes of traditional anti-Semitism.

Jews will not integrate. Jews are more fertile than Christians and are outbreeding them. Europe is becoming a province, a colony, of a Judaic entity. Europe will either be Judaicised or there will be a civil war. Most likely, Jews will resort to terrorism as part of their takeover. They are already spoiling for violence.

All of that sounds like the rantings of an old-school fascist. But replace ‘Jew’ with ‘Muslim’, and you’re left with a workaday opinion piece from any mainstream conservative paper.

The structural homology here is not accidental. Mattias Gardell notes how:

The tradition of Islamophobia is, like anti-Semitism, rooted in the medieval Christian hostility to the ‘enemies of God’, with these perceptions disseminated, expanded upon, restructured, rearticulated and reactivated in various social and political contexts, from the Turk scare in early modernity, via the colonial expansion, to the War on Terror.

Many stories told about Jews in medieval and early modern Europe were also spun around what were then termed Moors, Saracens or Red Jews: Muslims were devil-worshipping, sexually deviant, man-eating monsters; Muslims ritually defamed the cross and consumed the blood of ceremonially slaughtered Christian children in blasphemous communions. Church art portrayed Mohammed as the Antichrist, and Muslims as horned devils, Christ-killers, dogs or a hybrid race of dog-men. Lars Vilks – the Swedish artist who depicted Mohammed as a dog – may claim originality, but the dog motif goes back hundreds of years and is as old as the Judensau (the medieval depiction of Jews in obscene contact with a sow).

Elsewhere, the journalist Colm Ó Broin has produced a neat demonstration of the relationship between the old hate and the new hate, with a close comparison of the writings of the notorious Islamophobe Robert Spencer on Muslims alongside the propaganda of Julius Streicher, the editor of, Der Stuermer. Streicher, you’ll recall, went to the gallows at Nuremberg – but Spencer holds forth regularly on FOX News.

The labour leader August Bebel famously dubbed anti-Semitism the ‘socialism of fools’, since some supposed radicals subscribed to crackpot theories about Jewish finance. In a similar fashion, Islamophobia today often gets served up as an add lepated secularism by vulgar atheists, indifferent to how often their conversations about Muslim theology slide neatly into anguish about Muslim birthrates (an obvious giveaway of the racialised imagination and its biological concerns).

Should Muslims be worried about rising Islamophobia? Of course they should! As the recent report by the Institute of Race Relations, Pedlars of Hate, makes clear, anti-Islam bigotry is becoming a key element of the revival of the far Right – a Right that doesn’t merely slander Muslims but also takes action against them.

The Innocence of Muslims was, quite obviously, intended as a provocation, and many Muslims have argued that the minority of shrilljihadis who raised their sectarian and violent slogans at protests around the wold fell entirely into the intended trap.

Then, again, this too is familiar. Twentieth century race-baiters knew all about goading their victims into a certain response, and then using that response to justify a fresh pogrom. Not unexpectedly, German far-right extremists (who have some historical experience with this strategy) are now planning fresh screenings of the film.

Those who call themselves progressive might note that a certain Karl Marx followed the Great Indian Rebellion closely. While he acknowledged and decried the excesses of the rebels, he declared these were ‘only the reflex, in a concentrated form, of England’s own conduct in India.’

In other words, Marx, one of history’s more famous atheists, stood firmly with the ‘ignorant’ sepoys against their ‘enlightened’ opponents.

‘John Bull,’ he wrote, ‘is to be steeped in cries for revenge up to his very ears, to make him forget that his Government is responsible for the mischief hatched and the colossal dimensions it has been allowed to assume.’

Add ‘Uncle Sam’ to that sentence, and you have a remarkably apt assessment of what’s taking place today.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland magazine and the author of “Money Shot: A Journey into Porn and Censorship.

What I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Christian Just War Tradition (III): Saint Ambrose’s Holy War Against Infidels

Note: This article is page III of a series on the Christian just war tradition.  If you haven’t already, might I suggest that you first read page I (the introduction) and page II (about the early Church).

Saint Ambrose (Fourth Century)

The relationship between Christianity and imperialism traces itself all the way back to the early Church fathers who enlisted themselves as “prayer warriors” for the Roman armies (read page II: Was the Early Church Really Pacifist?).  However, even though they prayed for the success and preservation of the Pax Romana, the early Christians felt uncomfortable serving as soldiers in a largely pagan military.

This changed with the conversion to Christianity of Rome’s emperor, Constantine the Great (272-337 AD).  Wim Smit writes on p.108 of Just War and Terrorism:

With the reign of Constantine (306-337) and the acceptance of Christianity as the state religion, the attitude of most Christians towards military service changed. The question no longer was: can service to God be reconciled with service to the emperor, but what kind of conditions and rules should be satisfied during battle? This revolution in Christian thought started with Ambrose…and was later systematised by his pupil Augustine (354), who can be seen as the founder of the just war tradition.

Saint Ambrose (340-397 AD) served as a Roman imperial officer and sought to justify the Empire’s wars.  Prof. Christopher Tyerman writes on p.33 of God’s War:

The conversion of Constantine and the final recognition of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire in 381 prompted the emergence of a set of limited principles of Christian just war which, by virtue of being fought by the Faithful, could be regarded as holy. The identification of the Roman empire with the church of God allowed Christians to see in the secular state their protector, the pax Romana being synonymous with Christian Peace. For the state, to its temporal hostes were added enemies of the Faith, pagan barbarians and, more immediately dangerous, religious heretics within the empire. Eusebius of Caesarea, historian of Constantine’s conversion, in the early fourth century reconciled traditional Christian pacifism with the new duties of the Christian citizen by pointing to the distinction between the clergy, immune from military service, and the laity, now fully encouraged to wage the just wars for the Christian empire. Ambrose of Milan (d. 397), as befitted a former imperial official, consolidated this symbiosis of the Graeco-Roman and Christian: Rome and Christianity were indissolubly united, their fates inextricably linked. Thus the war of one was that of the other, all Rome’s wars were just in the same way that those of the Old Testament Israelites have been; even heresy could be depicted as treason. Ambrose’s version of the Christian empire and the wars to protect it which constituted perhaps the earliest formulation of Christian warfare was, therefore, based on the union of church and state; hatred of foreigners in the shape of barbarians and other external foes; and a sharp intolerance towards dissent and internal debate, religious and political.

The term “barbarian” comes from the Greek word barbaros, meaning “anyone who is not Greek.”  The Romans expanded the word to refer to anyone outside of the Greco-Roman world.  It was thought that the “civilized world” referred to the Roman Empire, which was surrounded by “barbarians.”  Prof. Glen Warren Bowersock writes on p.334 of Late Antiquity:

The term barbarian[ was] derived from Greek ideals of cultural “otherness”…The image of barbaricum began at the frontiers…There was the idea of a wall around the empire, separating Rome from the other gentes [nations]…Every “good” emperor set up inscriptions of himself as domitor gentium barbararum [conqueror of the barbarian nations]…Barbarians were contemptible, unworthy enemies…Many stereotypes were simply ethnocentric [racist]…Barbarians were natural slaves, animals, faithless, dishonest, treasonable, arrogant, drunken sots…

Christians were not detached from the construction of these images…Some, like Ambrose, projected barbarians as drunks and faithless savages…

The pax Romana had to be “defended” against these “barbarians,” something which was done by conquering their lands.  This imperial mentality was, from the very start, accepted by Christianity.  The early Church fathers, for example, believed that “God ordained the imperial powers” to “advanc[e] the gospel;” they appreciated “the value of a Pax Romana maintained by force.” The “barbarians” surrounding the Roman Empire threatened not just the state, but also the Church; their paganism and heresy was a threat against true belief.  Therefore, war against them had to be justified.  Who better to justify this than the former imperial officer Ambrose of Milan?  Prof. Frederick H. Russell writes on p.13 of The Just War in the Middle Ages:

The fuller development of a Christian just war theory was futhered in the writings of Ambrose, a new kind of Christian. Trained in imperial administration and the former prefect in Milan, Ambrose brought a Roman political orientation to his ministry…The courage of soldiers who defended the Empire against barbarians…was full of justice, and Ambrose prayed for the success of imperial armies.

Prof. Russell writes further:

To the Roman animosity toward the barbarian was added the element of religious animosity between believer and unbeliever, thus rendering the internal and external threats to the Pax Romana more politically explosive. To point the way out of this crisis Ambrose about 378 the De Fide Christiana for the Emperor Gratian, who was at the time attempting to consolidate Roman authority on the Danube after the defeat of the Arian Valens by the Visigoths. Ambrose assured Gratian of victory, for it had been foretold in the prophecies of Ezekiel and confirmed by Gratian’s faith. Ambrose even identified Gog, the wicked enemy of Ezekiel’s prophecies, with the contemporary Goths, who were thereby destined to destruction.

The just war theory was thus generated as a way “to point the way out of this crisis,” the crisis being the need “to consolidate Roman authority.”  More specifically, civil wars and rebellions within the Empire were to be forbidden, whereas Rome’s foreign wars to be justified.  Indeed, the emerging doctrine was to be applied to fellow Christians in order to prevent themselves from fighting each other when they could be fighting the infidel instead.  Prof. Alex J. Bellamy writes on p.24 of Just Wars:

Ambrose was the first thinker systematically to blend Christian teachings with Roman law and philosophy (Johnson 1987:54). He followed Cicero in acknowledging the possibility of justifiable wars and recognizing the difference between abhorrent civil wars and wars fought against barbarians (Swift 1970:533-4). Wars against barbarians, Ambrose argued, were legitimate because they protected both the empire and the Christian orthodoxy.

Ambrose, the first thinker behind the just war theory, justified his belief in two ways: (1) He was inspired by the wars in the Old Testament, and (2) He argued that Jesus’s non-violent teachings in the New Testament applied only to individuals but not to states.  Prof. Bellamy writes:

Ambrose argued that there were two grounds for justifying war. First, he found evidence in the Old Testament to support the view that not only was violence sometimes justified in order to protect others from harm, it was sometimes required on moral grounds or even directly commanded by God (Swift 1970:535). Second, Ambrose agreed dthat Jesus’ teaching forbade an individual from killing another in self-defence…Nevertheless he argued that whilst an individual may not kill to save himself, he must act in the defense of others…

Ambrose argued that “wars could only be fought in self-defense (broadly understood, as in the Roman tradition), when directly commanded by God, or in defence of religious orthodoxy”(Ibid.).  He ”demanded that the state should not tolerate any religion other than Christianity” (p.112 of Ralph Blumenau’s Philosophy and Living).  Heretics and pagans should be fought, both within and outside the Empire.

Ambrose melded the Church to the state’s powerful military.  ”Ambrose proposed that the incorporation of nails from the Cross into the imperial helmet and bridle symbolised Christianity’s support for enduring secular military authority” (p.77-78 of Prof. Michael Witby’s Rome at War).  He ”used Christianity to uphold imperial power” (Ibid.), but also used the imperial power to uphold Christianity.  The Church provided the state with the religious justification for war.  The Church, in return, benefited from these wars by using the state to enforce the faith and punish “barbarians” (pagans and heretics). Prof. Mary L. Foster writes on p.156 of Peace and War:

Ambrose, former praetorian prefect and then bishop of Milan (339-397)[ was] the first to formulate a “Christian ethic of war.” He drew upon the Stoics, particularly Cicero (106-43 B.C.), and legitimized the view by referring to holy wars spoken of in the Old Testament from Abraham and Moses to Maccaebus. Ambrose further justified the view by arguing that Christianity was, and must be, protected against the barbarians by the armed force of the Roman Empire. Both Augustine and Ambrose saw the Christian Empire as empowered to resist paganism and heresy.

For Ambrose, wars fought against pagans and heretics were, by definition, just: “if a Christian general fought a pagan army, he had a just cause” (Prof. Joseph F. Kelly on p.164 of The World of the Early Christians).  In fact, the machinery of the state should be used to conquer the world under the banner of Christianity.  Prof. Reinhard Bendix writes on p.244 of Embattled Reason:

Ambrose justified war against those who do not belong to the community of the faithful [pagans and heretics]…Warlike actions are justified [against the non-believer]…The goal of Ambrose was to establish a universal faith. All people should be brothers in the common, Christian faith, even if wars against non-believers were needed to accomplish this ideal…

Discrimination against pagans was justified in the eyes of Christian Fathers like Ambrose by the absolute belief in Christ as the only road to salvation. Accordingly, it is man’s religious duty to proclaim, and fight for, this truth in the whole world. Ambrose wrote his commentary decades after Christianity had become the dominant religion of the Roman world, recognized and supported publicly. With this support, Ambrose could presuppose a universal ethic based on a shared belief in [the Christian] God and on that basis fight in the name of the church against the heathens who were still the great majority [outside of the Roman Empire].

Ambrose declared an all-out war against paganism, and recruited the Roman emperors to do so.  ”No one was more determined to destroy paganism than Ambrose,” who was “a major influence upon both [Emperors] Gratian and Valentinian II” (Ted Byfield on p.92 of Darkness Descends).  In a letter addressed to the Roman emperor, Ambrose wrote:

Just as all men who live under Roman rule serve in the armies under you, the emperors and princes fo the world, so too do you serve as soldiers of almighty God and of our holy faith. For there is no sureness of salvation unless everyone worships in truth the true God, that is, the God of the Christians, under whose sway are all things. For he alone is the true God, who is to be worshiped from the bottom of the heart, ‘for the gods of the heathen,’ as Scripture says, ‘are devils.’ (Ibid., p.93)

Here, we see a reciprocal relationship emerging between the Church and Roman state.  The Church legitimated Roman wars to expand the Empire and protect its hegemony, so long as the state enforced the Christian religion by fighting against heretics and pagans.

Jews, for example, were infidels worthy of death.  James Carroll writes on p.104 of Jerusalem, Jerusalem that Ambrose “wanted to kill Jews (since, after all, Christian heretics were being killed for denying details of orthodoxy, while Jews rejected the whole of it).”

Prof. Madeleine P. Cosman writes on pp.262-263 of the Handbook to Life in the Medieval World (Vol.3):

The church’s attitude toward war would indelibly be changed by Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and the so-called Edict of Milan (313), which recognized Christianity as a religion that could be practiced openly; church and state could now be conjoined in the same cause. A momentous meeting in the year 397 of Saint Ambrose, the bishop of Milan (d. 397), and the emperor Gratian resulted in the declaration of Christianity as the official state religion and the concomitant outlawing of other “pagan superstitions.” Church leaders began to encourage rulers to wage a holy war on pagans for the sake of God and the church to defend the empire from heretical “traitors.”

There is much discussion, even in some scholarly circles, about “just war” vs. “holy war.”  I have read countless books where Western authors write of how it “was only during the Crusades that the Christians developed the concept of ‘holy war’ like the Islamic concept of jihad.”  These are all bogus discussions.  Quite clearly, the Christian just war tradition was the legitimization of “a holy war on pagans” from its very inception.  This is the case starting with the originator of the doctrine itself, Saint Ambrose, who harnessed imperial power to promote the Christian faith, a partnership that would outlast the Roman Empire itself.

*  *  *  *  *

Disclaimer:

None of this is meant to characterize Christianity as inherently violent.  Rather, it is meant to disabuse people of the notion that Christianity’s just war tradition has been any less troublesome than Islam’s jihad tradition.  This article is part of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series, which answers the question (answered incorrectly by most Americans): Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

What I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Christian Just War Tradition (II): Was the Early Church Really Pacifist?

Note: This article is page II of a series on the Christian just war tradition.  If you haven’t already, might I suggest that you first read page I (the introduction): What I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Christian Just War Tradition (I)

The First Three Centuries (0-313 A.D.)

It is often argued that Jesus Christ (7–2 BC to 30–36 AD) preached pacifism and that this was the stance of the early Church.  According to this standard narrative, the Church “fell from Grace” with the conversion of Constantine and it was only then that pacifism was abandoned.   Such conventional wisdom, however, is not very accurate.

As for Jesus of the Bible, a closer analysis shows that he was not opposed to violence (see: Jesus Loves His Enemies…And Then Kills Them All).  He was (basically) non-violent during his lifetime, all the way up until he was nailed to the cross.  At that time, Jesus was not in a position of authority, power, or capacity to do otherwise.  He was at the mercy of his enemies.

However, in the Bible itself Jesus promises to kill all his enemies when he returns.  At that point in time, he would no longer be a persecuted preacher but a “Warrior King” commanding large armies of both heavenly and earthly beings.  How can it then be said that Jesus of the Bible believed in pacifism?  His use of non-violent means was temporal and tactical, not principled and value-based.

It hardly matters what people do when they are not in a position to do otherwise.  It is once they are in a position of power and authority that what they do really matters.  Imagine, for instance, if the Dalai Lama practiced non-violence while his people were still under Chinese authority but at the same time he issued proclamations that he would wage war against the Chinese and kill all their leaders once his country is liberated.  Would anyone think of him as pacifist if this were the case?

As for the early Church, the characterization of it as pacifist is also problematic.  Modern scholarship has moved away from this outdated conception.  For example, Prof. James Turner Johnson, considered “one of the most influential contemporary interpreters of the [just war] tradition today,” notes that the “evidence presents a picture not of a single doctrine [within the early Church], but of plurality; not of universal rejection of war and military service, but of a mixture of acceptance and rejection of these phenomena in different sectors of the Christian world” (p.17 of Johnson’s The Quest for Peace).

There was no one view among early Church fathers with regard to war and military service.  Instead, the evidence suggests that there existed a multitude of views on this issue, a fact that “challenges the conventional view of the early church [as uniformly pacifist]” (Prof. J. Daryl Charles on p.108 of War, Peace, and Christianity).  Prof. James Turner Johnson, Prof. J. Daryl Charles, and many others have argued the point that even those Church fathers who were opposed to military service were so not because of a principled belief in pacifism but (1) because they believed the return of Jesus to be imminent and (2) because being a part of the pagan Roman military would involve idolatry.

Prof.  J. Daryl Charles notes that the early Church’s abstention from military service was due to “the predominance of a conspicuously otherworldly expectation–the expectation of the coming of Christ’s kingdom” and the “rejection of idolatrous practices within the Roman army” (Ibid., pp.109-110).  Neither reason could be used to support a principled belief in pacifism.  As for the first reason, this implies that the early Church was not opposed to the use of violence, only that they were waiting to use it upon Christ’s return (an event they believed would occur imminently, even in their own lifetimes).  If, for example, the Tamil Tigers abstained from violence until their leader was released from jail, would anyone believe this to be support for pacifism?

Furthermore, this “otherworldly” attitude applied not just to military service but to all “worldly matters.”  They were in a state of “praying continually, watching and fasting, preaching to all they could reach, paying no heed to worldly matters, as things with which they had nothing to do, only accepting from those whom they taught as much as was absolutely necessary for life” (p.86 of Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones’ The Church of England, Vol. 1).  They did not involve themselves in matters of state at all, including but not limited to military service.  One cannot equate this to a belief in pacifism any more than it would mean a rejection of governance.

In other words, just because early Christians did not believe that they themselves should not participate in such functions did not mean they thought it was wrong for others to do so.  For example, many Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel enroll in religious schools and are thus exempted from military service.  As religious students and rabbis, they believe that their lives should be dedicated to Jewish studies and many expect the rest of society to support them.  But even though they themselves refuse to serve in the military, many of them strongly support the Israeli military and indiscriminate violence against Palestinians.  When other Israelis criticize them as chickenhawks for refusing to serve in the military (even as they push Israel to perpetual war), the standard response by these Ultra-Orthodox Jews is that they serve the IDF in a religious capacity: they pray for the military’s success.  No rational person would have the temerity to say that these Ultra-Orthodox Jews are pacifist.  They might not want to go to war themselves, but they are certainly not opposed to it.

Likewise, the early Church was not opposed to war or the Roman military itself; they just didn’t want any “worldly” function in it themselves.  The Church fathers actually prayed for the success of the Roman military in its imperial wars against “barbarians.”  Here, we see the emergence of a theme that emerged with the early Church and sustained itself throughout Christian history:  the support for European imperialism.  Prof. Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez writes on p.78 of The Encyclopedia of Religion and War:

In fact, numerous Christian writers in the first three centuries already affirmed that God ordained the existing imperial powers, including their coercive functions, for maintaining order, restraining sin, and advancing the gospel. The injunction of Paul to “be subject to the governing authorities” whose authority has been “instituted by God” (Romans 13:1-7 NRSV; cf. 1 Peter 2:13-17) was echoed in the writings of Justin, Tertullian, and Origen (185?-254?). Each author acknowledged the benefits of Roman order as part of God’s plan and assured the authorities of Christian support and prayers.

Prof. Palmer-Fernandez goes on to say that “these early writers were also expressing appreciation for the value of a Pax Romana maintained by force.”

The Church fathers saw themselves very much in the same way that Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel see themselves, and as pagan Roman priests in that time also did.  Prof. Darrell Cole writes in a section entitled “Fighting Through Prayer” in his book When God Says War is Right:

The Christian pacifism movement claims Origen (A.D. 185-254) as a hero, but it’s hard to decide whether the term “pacifist” can truly and fairly be applied to him, at least in the way we think of it today. To modern ears, pacifism means the complete rejection of warfare as an inherently immoral practice. This was not Origen’s view, though he was certainly opposed to Christians becoming soldiers.

The only work where Origen was concerned with Christian participation in warfare is the polemical Contra Celsum written in response to a Roman philosopher named Celsus…[He argued] that all Christians should be give the same considerations as those in the pagan priesthood who were not required to give physical service in the military, but instead served the cause by praying for the emperor and the soldiers to triumph in battle.

[Origen wrote:] And, of course, in war time you do not enlist your priests. If this is a resonable procedure, how much more so is it for Christians to fight as priests and worshipers of God while others fight as soldiers. Though they keep their right hands clean, the Christians fight through their prayers to God on behalf of those doing battle in a just cause and on behalf of an emperor who is ruling justly in order that all opposition and hostility toward those who are acting rightly may be eliminated. (VIII.73)

Moreover, Origen added, Christians supplied an irreplaceable aid to the emperor. By overcoming in prayer the very demons that cause wars, Christians actually help more than soldiers. So even though Christians did not go on campaign with the emperor, they did go to battle for him “by raising a special army of piety through our petitions to God” (VIII.73).

This support and prayer for Rome’s military was at a time when the imperial armies were ever expanding the Empire’s borders.  During this time, the Roman Empire was involved in many wars: in the first three centuries A.D., Roman legions conquered lands in modern day Germany, Britain, Wales, Scotland, Romania, etc.   Also included in these conquests (and prayed for by the Church) was the conquest of parts of the Middle East.

The early Christians remained passive participants in the military effort not for long.  In fact, the “evidence…is fairly strong that from A.D. 170 onward there were significant members of Christians in the [Roman] army, and ‘the numbers of these Chrisitans began to grow, despite occassional efforts to purge Christians from the army [by the Romans], through the second and third centuries into the age of Constantine. We may estimate the number of Christian soldiers at the beginning of the fourth century in the tens of thousands’” (p.112 of Prof. J. Daryl Charles’ War, Peace, and Christianity; he is quoting Johnson’s The Quest for Peace).

Once Constantine converted to Christianity, the early Christians no longer faced the barrier to military service they once had: they no longer needed to fear indulging in the pagan practices of the military.  Furthermore, by this time, the Church had realized that Jesus Christ may not be coming back as soon as they thought.  As such, it is no surprise that soon afterward Christian theologians would formally tackle the issue of war.  Is this not a strong indication that it was the issue of paganism, not a principled adherence to pacifism, that compelled the early Church to be so uneasy with military participation?

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According to the “fall from Grace” theory, the Church suddenly changed its views about pacifism with the conversion of Constantine.  If this were really the case, then the question arises: of what relevance is early Christianity’s supposed pacifism during a time when it was not in a position of power?  What does it say about such a belief if, the moment Christianity assumed power, this “pacifism” was suddenly abandoned for a policy of imperialism?

The truth is that there wasn’t a sudden reversal of opinion, but rather a gradual development of an idea that had already taken root with the early Church.  With the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the West’s imperial power and Christianity would formally fuse together.  It would be, as we shall see, a bond that would endure the test of time.

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Disclaimer:

As I mentioned in the introduction, my intention is not to demonize the entire faith of Christianity.  There exists no shortage of Christians today who endorse pacifism and oppose America’s unjust wars in the Muslim world.  Such people have my utmost respect.  If some of them base their pacifism in their belief that the early Church was pacifist, I don’t see any reason to expend energy trying to set the record straight.  I only chose to address this issue since some anti-Muslim Christians forced my hand by continually arguing this point (the early Church was pacifist, look how peaceful our religion is compared to Islam, etc.).

Having said that, I don’t think pacifist Christians should think any of this should stand in the way of their pacifist beliefs.  As I mentioned earlier, the early Church fathers seemed to differ among themselves.  Anti-military views certainly existed, and even if one cannot find clearly principled pacifism, this is still a starting point that the modern-day Christian can draw on.

Furthermore, I think people of all religions–Jews, Christians, and Muslims–would be a whole lot better off if they didn’t feel the need to validate their beliefs by looking at how their religion was practiced in a mythical “golden age” of the past.  This very much limits freedom of thought and religious interpretation.  What is needed are new, more merciful and compassionate readings of the text.

By knowing the reality of one’s tradition, reformist believers will be better equipped to deal with the arguments raised by right-wing followers who will bring up a lot of the same points I brought up to justify their beliefs.  See, for instance, this article by none other than “Dr.” Robert Morey.  Reformist, liberal adherents of religion will be in a stronger theological position if they base their views in fact instead of myth.  Instead of always needing to validate your beliefs by citing some guy who lived hundreds of years ago, why not just use a much simpler line of argumentation like the following:

The early Church had a mixed view with regard to war, with a portion of them rejecting military service.  After reflecting on the issue myself, I tend to be on the pacifist side.  My own reasons might not be the exact same as those held by earlier Christians, but there is much overlap.  Furthermore, I don’t need to be 100% beholden to their views.

Simple.

To be continued…

What I Bet You Didn’t Know About the Christian Just War Tradition (I)

This article is part 11 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

It is common to hear comparisons between  the so-called “just war tradition” in Christianity and the jihad of Islam.  We are told that Jesus of the New Testament was non-violent and that the early Church was pacifist.  According to this standard narrative, it was only with Constantine that the Church “fell from Grace” and accepted a very limited concept of defensive war, one that sought to limit, restrain, and constrain war.  We are told that the violent acts committed by Christians throughout history were done in contradiction to this doctrine.

Many Westerners seem to be under the impression that we can draw a straight line from the ancient Greeks to St. Augustine to Thomas Aquinas to Hugo Grotius to modern international law.  This very selective, cursory, and incomplete understanding of history creates a very “generous” depiction of Christian tradition.  Once this mythical and fabricated history is created, it is compared to the jihad tradition of Islam.  No such “generous” depictions of Islamic tradition are harbored; if anything, the most cynical view possible is taken.

Such an unfair comparison–coupled with a completely Western perspective on contemporary world affairs–begs the question: why is Islam so violent?  Why is the Islamic tradition so much more warlike than the Christian one?

Many right-wing Christians and even secular people of the “Judeo-Christian tradition” exhibit a great deal of religious arrogance, especially when it comes to this subject.  Repeatedly, we are told to compare the supposedly peaceful Christian just war tradition with the allegedly brutal Islamic jihad tradition.

Occasionally, Christian polemicists have some level of shame and recognize that the history of Christianity has been marred by war and violence: the Crusades, the ethnic cleansing of the Americas, and the colonial enterprise come to mind.  We are assured, however, that these occurrences were “in direct contradiction” to official church doctrine.  This is what career Islamophobe Robert Spencer argues, for instance, in his book Islam Unveiled.  This is, we are told, completely unlike the Islamic offenses throughout history, which were supposedly in line with traditional Islamic thought.

In this article series, I will prove that this understanding of the Christian just war tradition is mythical, fanciful, and misleading.  Throughout history, there were serious shortcomings to the Christian understanding of just war–both in matters of jus ad bellum (the right to wage war) and jus in bello (right conduct during war).  Specifically, just war doctrine was restricted to Christians and Europeans.  Its constraints simply did not apply to “infidels”, “pagans”, “heathens”, “barbarians”, and “primitives”.  The Christian just war tradition was not just exclusivist but through-and-through racist.

One could reasonably argue that such a critique suffers from a modern bias: using contemporary standards to evaluate pre-modern societies is not something I generally encourage.  Yet, if we insist on critiquing historical Islam based on such standards, then surely we should be willing to apply the same to Christianity.

Additionally, this shortcoming–the lack of application of the just war principles to infidels–is hardly a tertiary issue.  Instead, it lies at the very heart of the comparison that is continually invoked between Christianity and Islam.  One could only imagine, for instance, the reaction of anti-Muslim critics if the dictates of war ethic in Islam were applicable to fellow Muslims only.  Had this been the case, such a thing would not be seen as a mere “shortcoming” but indicative of the “Islamic supremacist attitude.”  This wouldn’t be understood as something that could be relegated to a footnote or a few sentences buried somewhere deep in a huge text (which is the case with books talking about the Christian just war tradition).  Instead, pages and pages would be written about the injustices of the Islamic principles of war.

This double standard between believer and infidel, were it to exist in the Islamic tradition (and it does, to an extent), would become the focus of discussion.  But when it comes to the Judeo-Christian tradition, such things are relegated to “by the way” points that are minimized, ignored, or simply forgotten.  Western understandings of the Christian just war tradition create a narrative by cherry-picking views here and there to create a moral trajectory that is extremely generous to that tradition.  Meanwhile, Islamic and Eastern traditions are viewed with Orientalist lenses, focusing on the injustices and flaws (particularly with regard to religious minorities).  This of course may be a result of a primarily Eurocentric view of history: how did their war ethic affect people that were like me?

Yet, if we wanted to extrapolate an overarching theme of the Christian just war tradition, it would have to be this: the Christian just war tradition did not limit war (as is commonly argued) but instead, for the most part, served to justify the conquest and dispossession of indigenous populations. This was not merely a case of misapplying or exploiting doctrines.  Rather, the doctrines were themselves expounded in a way so as to facilitate such applications.  Many of history’s famous just war theorists were generating such theories to provide the moral arguments to justify colonial conquest.  The tradition was more about justifying wars than about limiting violence to just wars.  The Christian acts of violence throughout history were not in spite of Church doctrine; they were more often than not because of it.

Why is it that, even in some scholarly books, the Christian just war tradition towards fellow believers is compared to the Islamic attitudes towards war with unbelievers? Either the Christian treatment of Christians should be compared to the Islamic treatment of Muslims, or alternatively the Christian treatment of infidels should be compared to the Islamic treatment of the same.  It is the unfair comparison between apples and oranges that serves to reinforce this warped understanding of the matter.

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An error we must avoid is conflating the modern-day just war doctrine with the historical Christian just war tradition.  Although St. Augustine laid down some principles that, through a long process of evolution, found themselves in today’s doctrine, it should be noted that Augustine’s views of just war were, by today’s standards, extremely unjust.  One must compare this proto-doctrine with what was practiced in traditional Islam, instead of retroactively superimposing the modern concept of just war onto Augustine.

Indeed, “one of the most influential contemporary interpreters of the [just war] tradition today, James Turner Johnson, goes so far as to say that to all intents and purposes, ‘there is no just war doctrine, in the classic form as we know it today, in either Augustine or the theologians or canonists of the high Middle Ages. This doctrine in its classic form [as we know it today], including both a jus ad bellum…and a jus in bello…does not exist before the end of the middle ages. Conservatively, it is incorrect to speak of classic just war doctrine existing before about 1500″ (Prof. Nicholas Rengger on p.34 of War: Essays in Political Philosophy).

In other words, for 1500 years–roughly seventy-five percent of Christian history–there was no real just war doctrine. Shouldn’t this fact be stated when comparing Christian and Islamic traditions?  The just war doctrine–as we know it today–arose during a time when the Christian Church’s power was waning, hardly something for Christians to boast about.

And even after that–lest our opponents be tempted to use this fact to their advantage (that the Christian world distanced itself from the Church unlike in the Islamic world)–the just war doctrine that was established continued to be applied, from both a doctrinal standpoint and on-the-ground, to only Christians/Europeans.  This continued to be the case in the sixteenth century and all the way through the nineteenth century.

It was only for a fleeting moment in the twentieth century that just war doctrine became universal.  It is an irony that in no other century was just war theory so horrifically violated, and this by the Western world (with the United States dropping two atomic bombs on civilian populations).

This brings us to the situation today: Jewish and Christian neocons and extreme Zionists in the United States and Israel are leading the charge against the just war doctrine, trying to use legal means to change it to accommodate the War on of Terror.  Many of our opponents are the most vociferous proponents of doing away with such quaint principles as just war, at least when it comes to dealing with Muslims.

Is it this fleeting moment in Christian history, in which for a fraction of a second the just war doctrine really existed, that our opponents use to bash Muslims over the head with?

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The standard meme among Islamophobes–and wrongfully accepted by the majority of Americans–has been that Islam is exceptionally violent–certainly more violent than Judaism and Christianity.  When we look at the scriptural sources, however, this does not bear out: the Bible is far more violent than the Quran (see parts 123456-i6-ii6-iii6-iv789-i, and 9-ii of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.)

Among the many other “fall back” arguments used by our opponents, we are reassured that Judaism and Christianity have “interpretive traditions” that have moved away from literal, violent understandings of Biblical passages–altogether unlike Islam (so we are told).  Robert Spencer writes on p.31 of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

The Islamophobes then temporarily move away from quoting the scriptural sources but instead focus on comparing (1) the traditional interpretations of the canonical texts, and (2) the modern-day understandings of said texts.  In both respects, we are told, the Judeo-Christian tradition is more peaceful than the Islamic one.

In the previous article series (entitled Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?), I addressed the Jewish side of “the Judeo-Christian tradition.”  [Note: That article series is being modified before the last couple pages will be published.  I have decided to take reader input and mellow it out quite a bit, i.e. remove the images, change the title, etc.]  I proved that both traditional and contemporary Jewish understandings of the scriptural sources could hardly be used to justify the argument against Islam.

But when it comes to such matters, it might be more important to address the Christian side of the coin.  Considering that Christians are in the majority in this country, it is more common to hear right-wing Christians invoke bellicose comparisons between their faith and Islam.  Robert Spencer, an anti-Muslim Catholic polemicist, relies on this comparison routinely.

In order to shield himself from possible “counter-attack,” Spencer uses an interesting argument.  In a section entitled “Theological Equivalence” in his book Islam Unveiled, Spencer writes:

When confronted with this kind of evidence [about Islam’s violence], many Western commentators practice a theological version of “moral equivalence,” analogous to the geopolitical form which held that the Soviet Union and the United States were essentially equally free and equally oppressive.  ”Christians,” these commentators say, “have behaved the same way, and have used the Bible to justify violence.  Islam is no different: people can use it to wage war or to wage peace.”

I am one of these “Western commentators.”  Spencer cites ”the humanist Samuel Bradley” who noted that “Central America was savaged” because of “this country’s God.”  Bradley quoted “Spanish conquistador Pizarro” who slaughtered the indigenous population, by his own admission, only “by the grace of God.”

But, Spencer rejects such “theological equivalence,” arguing that Pizarro violated “the Just War principles of his own Roman Catholic Church.”  Spencer is not just arguing that the modern-day just war theory would prohibit the European conquest and dispossession of the Native Americans, but that even in the time of the conquest and dispossession itself the Church’s just war doctrine did.  He is arguing that the Christian acts of violence throughout history were “fundamentally different” than those committed by Muslims, since–according to him–the former were done against the just war doctrine of the Church, whereas the latter were endorsed by the Islamic religious establishment.

But, as I have argued above, this is patently false. The Christian just war tradition was used to justify the conquest and dispossession of the Native Americans, one of the greatest crimes in all of history.  In fact, these doctrines were formulated for that exact purpose in mind.

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Disclaimer:

Naturally, as was the case with the article series on Jewish law, there is the chance of offending well-meaning and good-hearted Christians.  Let it be known, again, that nowhere am I trying to paint the entire Christian faith or community with a broad brush.  There exists no shortage of Christians who oppose war (especially America’s current wars in the Muslim world) and who advocate peace, tolerance, and mutual respect.

Critically evaluating religious traditions can be uncomfortable, but the problems therein should not be ignored nor should we pretend they don’t exist.  Honest evaluations of the past can be the key to coming up with more tolerant answers for the present and future.

I have already discussed some of the problems with the Jewish tradition.  This article series deals with the Christian tradition.  Rest assured, however, that a future article series of mine will take a critical look at the Islamic tradition as well.  However, because Islamophobia has become so rampant and pervasive in our culture, I do not think that this should be done before we first look at the problems inherent in the Judeo-Christian tradition that our society is based on.  Once that is done, we can then look at the Islamic tradition from a more nuanced, balanced, and helpful perspective.  This is the purpose of this somewhat controversial article series.

To be continued…

Update I: A reader pointed out that I made many claims above but did not back them up with proof.  I should clarify that this page is just the introductory piece to the article series and simply states what I will prove.  It is just a statement of my thesis; the proof to back the thesis up is still to come–hence, the “to be continued…

My God is Better Than Yours (I): Christians Calling Muslims “Mohammedans” a Case of Pot Calling Kettle Black

This article is part 9 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

The anti-Muslim ideologues argue that the prophet of Islam was uniquely violent as compared to prophets of other religions, especially Judaism and Christianity; this is an argument furthered in chapter one of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  Further, they argue that the holy book of Islam is uniquely warlike as compared to scriptures of other faiths, especially the Bible; Spencer argues this in chapter two of his book.

These claims are not well-founded, and we’ve thoroughly refuted them (see parts 1234567, and 8 of the Understanding Jihad Series).  Clearly, the Biblical prophets (MosesJoshuaSamson,SaulDavid, etc.) were more violent than the Prophet Muhammad; even Jesus, who promised to kill all his enemies, was no exception.  Similarly, the Bible is more violent than the Quran.

There is one specific manner in which the Biblical prophets and the Bible are to be considered more violent than Muhammad and the Quran: they sanction(ed) the killing of innocent civilians: women and children.  Worse yet, they sanction(ed) what can only be described as genocide.  Nowhere in the Quran is targeting the life of a non-combatant, especially a woman or child, permitted; in fact, the Prophet Muhammad strictly forbade such a thing.

For all the obfuscation that the anti-Muslim polemicists will provide in response to this Series, keep this point in mind which cannot be reiterated enough: the most significant difference, and why the Biblical prophets and the Bible are to be considered more warlike than the Islamic prophet and holy book, is that they permit(ted) the killing of non-combatants, including women and children–even to the point of allowing genocide. The Islamophobes can copy-and-paste Quranic verses until they go blue in the face (even with the help of those ever so helpful ellipses), but they can never find a single verse in the Quran like that.

Do Muslims Worship the Same God as Jews and Christians?

In addition to Islam’s prophet and holy book, anti-Muslim ideologues (most of whom come from Judeo-Christian backgrounds) absolutely despise the God of Islam: Allah.  Too ignorant to realize that the word Allah just means “God” in Arabic (or technically, The God) and that the Arabic version of the Bible uses the word “Allah” in it for the Judeo-Christian God–and too ignorant to realize that Jewish and Christian Arabs call their god “Allah”–the anti-Muslim ideologues unload all sorts of invective against Allah.

The anti-Muslim argument has two parts to it: (1) the God that Muslims worship is different than the God of the Jews and Christians; (2) this other, different pagan god is warlike, blood-thirsty, and brutal.  In order to debunk this argument, therefore, it is important to refute each individual part.  First, is the God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims the same?  Second, what are the characteristics of the Muslim God as compared to the Jewish and Christian God?

Do Muslims Worship Muhammad?

The idea that Muslims don’t worship the same god as Jews and Christians dates back to at least the time of the Crusades: Crusader lore had it that the Muslims were “pagans” and that they worshiped the Prophet Muhammad instead of God.  In time, Muslims came to be known as Mahometans, and eventually Mohammedans. This misnomer was used by Orientalists, and continues to be employed by certain anti-Muslim elements today, including some Christians.

This is of course a fascinatingly ironic case of projection: by using this term, these anti-Muslim Christians are mocking Muslims for worshiping a man named Muhammad instead of God.  After all,who but a primitive pagan would worship a man-god? Yet, in actuality it is the Christian community that worships a “man-god”: Jesus Christ.

If Muslims are to be considered pagans for worshiping a man named Muhammad, should Christians be considered pagans for worshiping Jesus?  Even if Muhammad had claimed divinity, how would this have been any different from what Christians claim Jesus did?  Ironically, the pejorative term “Mohammedan” is to Muhammad what “Christian” is to Christ.

In any case, Muhammad never claimed divinity nor have Muslims ever believed such a thing.  In fact, the Quran instructed the Prophet Muhammad:

Say to them (O Muhammad): “I am only a human being like you.  It is revealed to me that your God is One God. So let him who hopes to meet his Lord do good deeds and let him associate no one else in the worship of his Lord.” (Quran, 18:110)

The Quran categorically declared that “Muhammad is no more than an apostle” who can die or even be killed (Quran, 3:144).  Indeed, when the Prophet Muhammad died, his successor Abu Bakr famously proclaimed:

Whoever worshiped Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad is dead.  But whoever worshiped God (Allah), let him know that God (Allah) lives and does not die. (Sahih al-Bukhari, 2:333)

It has even been part of the Islamic tradition to prohibit all imagery of the Prophet in order to prevent Muhammad from being “idolized” as Jesus was by Christians.  This precaution was based on the Prophet Muhammad’s fear of suffering a similar “fate” as Jesus.  Not only does the Quran repeatedly criticize the Christians for deifying Jesus, but Muhammad explicitly warned his followers:

Do not exaggerate in praising me as the Christians praised the son of Mary (Jesus), for I am only a slave.  So, call me the slave of God (Allah) and His Messenger. (Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:654)

It seems that Christians ought to be the absolute last people on earth to mock Muslims for worshiping Muhammad or calling them “Mohammedans.”  But alas, we will see a recurring pattern here: Christians criticizing Muslims for something that is present even more so in their own religion.

In any case, the Quran repeatedly warns against worshiping anyone or anything besides God (Allah):

Say: “Truly my prayer and my worship, my life and my death are all for God (Allah) alone, the Lord of the worlds.” (Quran, 6:162)

It would be very difficult to construct a case that Muslims actively worship Muhammad.  Unbelievably, however, this Crusader-era canard remains alive and well among some segments of anti-Muslim Christians.  Sam Shamoun, an anti-Muslim Christian polemicist, insists that Muslims do in fact worship Muhammad.  Shamoun uses several very weak arguments to “prove” this claim.  Fortunately, his arguments have been refuted here by Muslim apologist Bassam Zawadi.

For our intents and purposes, whether Muslims worship Muhammad or not is largely a theological debate between Muslims and Christians, one which is hardly relevant to our website.  However, it isrelevant to us insofar as this claim is related to the “slur” of “Mohammedan”–an epithet which is used by many Islamophobes today.  It is a vestige of age-old Western confusion about and propaganda against Islam, whereby Muslims are “Other-ized”: Muslims are understood as followers of some alien and strange faith, one which worships a man named Muhammad instead of God.

Lastly, the “Muslims worship Muhammad” canard, which has been used by Christians against Muslims for hundreds of years, gives us the proper backdrop to understand the “Muslims worship the moon-god” conspiracy theory, which has become very popular among Islamophobes today.  The former Crusader-era canard has been repackaged in the form of the moon-god theory and is now being fed to the masses, once again serving to provide the propaganda needed to sustain our wars, our modern-day crusades against the Islamic world.

The Islamophobes “Other-ize” the god Muslims worship, comparing the “God of Love” supposedly found in the Judeo-Christian tradition with the “war and moon god” supposedly found in the religion of Islam.  The stealthy tacking on of the word “war” to “moon god” makes the moon-god theory directly relevant to the topic of jihad.  It is this “theory” that we turn our attention to next.

The “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Cop-Out (II): How the Christian Right Interprets the Bible

The “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Cop-Out (II): How the Christian Right Interprets the Bible

Refer to page I of this article.

Any and all violence in the Quran “counts”.  Nothing violent in the Bible ever “counts”.

This is the axiom closely adhered to by anti-Muslim pro-Christian elements.  We are told that the Old Testament, which is clearly far more violent and warlike than the Quran (see 1234, and 6), simply “doesn’t count”.  The double-standards used to single out the Quran–and exonerate the Bible–have been exposed on page I of this article.

We proved that the most straightforward, intuitive, and obvious reading of the Bible would support the enduring and even eternal applicability of the Old Testament’s violence.  This does not mean that peaceful interpretations do not exist.  They most certainly do.  But if the anti-Muslim pro-Christian bigots will apply a standard of “well, your text clearly says XYZ” to the Quran, then this applies even more so to the Bible.

Some critics reassured us that we simply did not understand Christian theology–that we are just too ignorant or too stupid to interpret the Bible.  What we have provided, however, is not simply our own interpretation: right-wing Christians themselves interpret the Bible in this way.  They look to the Old Testament for guidance when it comes to matters of war and peace, quite the opposite of what is claimed in debates with Muslims (i.e. “but that’s just the Old Testament” and “the Old Testament doesn’t count!”)

The Christian Right, which singles out the Quran as being “uniquely violent”, is the same group that most often looks to the wars of the Old Testament for inspiration.  Case in point: professional Islamophobe Dr. Robert Morey, a Christian theologian and pastor.  A self-proclaimed “professional apologist” Morey runs a right-wing Christian group called Faith Defenders.  He is a highly regarded figure amongst the religious right, and “is recognized internationally as a professional philosopher and theologian whose careful scholarship and apologetic abilities establish him as one of Christianity’s top defenders.” According to his bio, his works were included in the Christian Booksellers Association list of The Best of the Good Books and he won Christianity Today’s Significant Books of the Year.

Dr. Morey’s Islamophobic works include Islam Unveiled (1991), The Islamic Invasion (1992), andWinning the War Against Radical Islam (2002).  Morey is one of the most recognizable faces in the in Christian vs. Muslim debates.  The influential far right-wing website WorldNetDaily, which is aligned with the religious right and in fact founded by Christian Evangelist Joseph Farah, published a plea requesting $1.2 million to fund Morey’s “crusade” against Islam.  (Robert Spencer also writes forWorldNetDaily.)

Morey’s site, FaithDefenders.com, supports Act for America, the hate organization run by Bridget Gabriel and associated with Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. Morey’s books are sold on Ali Sina’s website, the anti-Muslim Faith Freedom International, the same Ali Sina whose work is reproduced by Robert Spencer on JihadWatch.  Daniel Pipes, another one of their comrade-in-arms, also reviewed Morey’s book The Islamic Invasion.  The point is: Robert Morey is a well-known figure in anti-Muslim circles.

More importantly, Robert Morey’s book When Is It Right to Fight?–which has as its fundamental argument that wars of aggression are Biblically justified by the Old Testament–was met with acclaim by the religious right.  For example, John M. Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, effusively praised When Is It Right to Fight? as “one of the best books on the subject.”  Church pastor and famous Christian broadcaster  (“Hall-of-Famer” at the National Religious Broadcasters) D. James Kennedy strongly recommended Morey’s book to “all who love and defend liberty” (if, on the other hand, you don’t love liberty, this book may not be for you).

The Dallas Theological Seminary, a notable Evangelical seminry, called Morey’s book “stimulating, thought provoking and helpful.”  The Biblical Evangelist, a bi-monthly Evangelist magazine, not only loved the book (boasting that “Morey totally annihilates the position of pacifism”) but in fact raved about his books and scholarship in general (“[we have] been extremely pleased with all of them” and “Morey is a very scholarly writer”).  [All quotes above appear on the back of Morey’s book.]

Robert Morey’s book When Is It Right to Fight? can be considered a compendium of the Christian Right’s justifications for waging wars.  In this book, Morey justifies America’s many wars of aggression using none other than the Bible.  He responds to Christian pacifists who claim that we shouldn’t base our lives on the Old Testament, saying:

The unity of the Scriptures should not be broken simply because we don’t like what they say.  The New Testament authors did not hesitate to derive doctrine and ethics from principles contained in the Old Testament (2 Tim. 3:16-17) (p.136)

Far from rejecting the wars and warlike prophets of the Old Testament, Morey claims that “the patriarchs and prophets” are “models for us to follow today”:

Throughout the Old Testament, the patriarchs and prophets are pictured as real people struggling with the same kinds of problems we face today.  This is why they are listed in Hebrews 11 as models for us to follow today. In this biblical spirit, let us examine their lives and history for answers to our questions. (p.12)

Morey goes on (emphasis is ours):

Perhaps the best place to begin is with the book of beginnings, Genesis…Genesis opens with the revelation that warfare is going on between God and Satan…This cosmic war between God and Satan now involves the inhabitants of the earth as well as those of heaven.  God is called the “Lord of Hosts”, i.e. “the Lord of armies.”  He is the Lord of the armies of the heaven and on earth.

Throughout Scripture, earthly wars, where the conflict is clearly between good and evil, are viewed as manifestations of the spiritual conflict taking place in heaven.  For example, in Job 1:6-17, the Sabeans and the Chaldeans, as agents of Satan in his conflict with God, raided Job’s flocks and killed his servants.  The violence against Job was a reflection of the war between God and Satan.  Other Old Testament examples can be cited: 1 Chron. 21:1; 2 Kings 6:8-18; Dan. 10:7-14. (p.12)

Not only does Morey support using the Old Testament wars as “models for us to follow today” but notice also that he condones the concept of “holy war”: earthly wars are between “good and evil”, or more specifically, between the “agents of God” and the “agents of Satan”.  Assigning one side to God and the other to Satan almost ensures the idea of holy war.  Morey takes the concept to its logical conclusion, and permits the “agents of God” to use the same methods as God (“utter destruction”) against the “agents of Satan” on earth.

Morey says further:

The New Testament continues the tradition of depicting the course of human history as warfare between God and Satan, viewing it in terms of conflict between two kingdoms (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). (p.13)

Christian pacifists point out that Jesus will return to rid the world of wars.  Morey counters this by arguing that (1) Jesus will only accomplish this task through the use of force, conquering his opponents in war.  This, as we argued in a previous article in the Series, is a conquerer’s “peace”.  (2) The fact that Jesus said he will come back to end wars, instead of simply forbidding his followers from participating in the military or to wage wars, is an indication that wars will continue until the End Times.  Wars will end only after Jesus destroys the forces of evil altogether, and until then the “agents of God” must continue to wage war against the “agents of Satan” in order that the “tyranny of Satan” not reign supreme.  Says Morey (emphasis is ours):

Heavenly and earthly warfare will never be halted until Christ returns to earth to judge the wicked and establish his eternal kingdom (Isa. 65:17-25; Matt. 24:6-8)

The last battle which shall end wars will involve both heavenly and earthly armies(Rev. 12:7-9; 19:11-21).  This last battle is what the Bible calls Armageddon (Rev. 16:15, 16). (p.13)

This quote also refutes the earlier counter-argument raised by our opponents: when we argued that Jesus was not “peaceful” as portrayed by them and that he would wage brutal war when he returns to earth, they argued that during his Second Coming it would be “heavenly” and “celestial” beings that would do the killing–therefore, we couldn’t possibly use this example to compare to Muhammad’s wars which involved humans and “earthly” beings.  Yet, as Morey notes, the wars of Christ’s Second Coming will involve “both heavenly and earthly armies”, which the Bible itself attests to.  The killing will be inflicted by “celestial beings” and men.

Christian pacifists often cite Isaiah 2:4, in which it is said that Jesus will bring an end to wars.  Morey says:

But Isaiah is only saying that wars will cease after Christ returns and judges the wicked (Isa. 2:10-21).  Isaiah is describing the new earth where righteousness reigns (vs. 1-3).

In the New Testament, Jesus clearly indicated that wars will continue until the end of history (Matt. 24:6, 7) (p.13)

The argument goes: If Jesus will fight Evil when he returns, and we should follow his example, then shouldn’t we fight Evil as well?  Christian pacifists often ask “What Would Jesus Do?”, arguing that Jesus would love his enemies.  But in reality, he kills them.  Jesus will only stop fighting them when his enemies are killed or conquered.  So shouldn’t we kill or fight our enemies until they are dead or conquered?

Instead of merely indicating that he would bring an end to wars, why wouldn’t Jesus simply have forbidden war upon his followers?  Writes Morey:

In Matt. 24:6, Jesus clearly stated that wars would remain part of human experience until the end of the age.  If He were a pacifist, then this would have been a perfect opportunity to condemn all wars.  Jesus did not do so in this passage. (p.40)

Morey goes on:

God’s angelic armies do not use the techniques of nonresistance in their fight against Satan.  Instead, God’s army will forcefully cast them out of heaven at the final battle.  If pacifism does not work in heaven, neither will it work on earth. (pp.17-18)

The fact that Jesus promised to use force, violence, and war means that these cannot be viewed as something unchristianlike, for Jesus would never call for something unchristianlike.  Reasons Morey:

If the sinless Son of God is going to use force to destroy His enemies, then it is not possible to view the use of force as intrinsically wrong or immoral. (p.42)

Robert Morey argues:

If the Scriptures taught that the use of force is intrinsically wrong and immoral, how could it describe the return of Christ as Jesus waging a righteous war?

And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war (Rev. 19:11, NASB).

The fact that Jesus will return to punish the wicked with flaming fire reveals that the use of force is not intrinsically incompatible with love, justice, righteousness, or truth.  As long as the war to end all wars is righteous and true, lesser wars fought for the same reasons will always be righteous and true.  Once the righteousness of Armageddon is accepted, the principle of the just war is established. (pp.20-21)

Morey uses the term “just war”, but be not mistaken: his version of “just war” does not restrict warfare to self-defense only.  Once again, he uses the Old Testament to prove his case and argues that restricting war to self-defense runs contrary to the Bible:

It is assumed by some that only wars fought in self-defense are just.  It would be immoral for one nation to attack another nation unless that nation was attacked first.

The problem with the above theory is that Abraham’s use of force was not in self-defense.  Chedorlaomer was not attacking him.  Abraham was initiating the conflict by pursuing and attacking a tyrannical enemy.

In this light, it is clear that wars of aggression in which one strikes the first blow against tyrants can sometimes be viewed as perfectly just and righteous. (p.22)

Morey’s frightening justification for “wars of aggression” gives religious legitimization to an extremely right-wing, neoconservative foreign policy.  He writes (emphasis is ours):

It can also be legitimately deduced from Abraham’s example that it is perfectly just for the Free World to use force when necessary and practical to deliver captive nations everywhere (Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, East Germany, Angola, Cuba, Central America, etc.). (pp.22-23)

Morey’s book was first published in 1985, near the end of the Cold War.  If it could be argued that it is justified for the Free World (the Judeo-Christian West) to attack any country under the sway of ungodly Communism, then it is even more justified to wage war against the even more evil moon-god religion of Islam.  Surely, a government under Sharia Law is worse than one under Communism.

Indeed, not only has Morey since republished his book, he has smoothly transfered his wrath from Communism to Islam (a good right-wing Christian needs something to hate).  Not only should Muslim countries be attacked and occupied, but the war “will not be won until we bomb the Kabah in Mecca” and other Islamic holy sites, as he writes on his website:

First, as I wrote in my book, How to Win the War Against Radical Islam, the war against the Muslim Jihadists will be long and costly and will not be won until we bomb the Kabah in Mecca.  Islam is based on a brick and mortar building that can be destroyed. They pray to that building five times a day, make a pilgrimage to it, run around it, kiss a black rock on the wall, then run between two hills and finally throw rocks at a pillar. What if that building, the Kabah, was destroyed? They could not pray to it or make a pilgrimage to it. The old pagan temple of the moon-god, al-ilah, is the Achilles’ heel of Islam. Destroy it and you destroy Islam’s soul.

In fact, Morey wants to nuke Mecca (and Medina?), which seems to be somewhat of a common fantasy for right-wing Christians and neoconservatives.  (He also supports nuking Iran.)  Posted onMorey’s blog site was this gem:

In the end, just as it happened with Japan (Hirohsima/Nagasaki), Muslim holy sites will have to be destroyed…The qur’an promises Muslims that Allah will never allow these sites to be destroyed by the infidels. Without Mecca, Muslims will not be able to hold their ritualistic prayers on Fridays or anytime for that matter.

It may surprise Robert Morey to know that the Kaaba has been severely damaged and even destroyed numerous times in history, even in the time of the Prophet Muhammad himself.  Muslims believe that the Kaaba was destroyed in the time of Noah and rebuilt by Abraham.  From the time of Abraham to the time of Muhammad, it is said that the Kaaba sustained significant wear-and-tear and damage, periodically being repaired and restored.  Thereafter, the Kaaba sustained fire damage, flooding, and was even completely destroyed during a time of civil war.

To Morey’s complete amazement no doubt, the Kaaba was even demolished by one of the disciples of the Prophet Muhammad himself, in order to be reconstructed and expanded.  And another Caliph after this demolished the Kaaba yet again, rebuilding it to his desire.

Is it not a bit dangerous to offer such a solution–nuking Mecca to destroy the Kaaba–without actuallyknowing the religious views of Muslims?  Robert Morey seems to be under the impression that Muslims will simply throw in the towel should the Kaaba be destroyed: “Ok you guys got us, we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.”  Contrary to what Morey posits, Muslims will most definitely still be able to pray the five ritualistic prayers.  Islam won’t come to an end if the Kaaba is destroyed: Muslims will just rebuild it.  Perhaps Morey, the self-proclaimed “scholar on Islam”, should do some basic research first?  Even Wikipedia would be a good enough place to start for him.

Going back to the subject at hand, Morey finds nothing in the Bible that contradicts the use of nuclear weaponry.  And why should he, when the damage from a nuclear weapon would result in no more deaths than the genocidal wars waged by Moses,  Joshua,  Samson,  SaulDavid, etc. found in the Old Testament of the Bible–in which men, women, children, babies, animals, and “all that breathed” were killed?

But what about the the issue of Mutually Assured Destruction?  Shouldn’t we avoid nuclear war if not for our enemies but for ourselves?  Won’t the enemy retaliate with nuclear bombs and then there would be no life left on earth?  Morey assures us:

Christians need to understand that there is not conclusive evidence that all life would be destroyed on this planet if nuclear war broke out…Many scientists believe that nuclear war is not only survivable but winnable. (pp.130-131)

Furthermore, we should throw caution and restraint to the wind, since God has promised us that we can’t kill all life on earth, no matter how hard we try.  Therefore, feel free to nuke and kill all you want.  Writes Morey:

Another vital point, God’s Word guarantees that humanity will not be annihilated by wars of its own making.  Jesus said that the earth would continue to experience wars until He returned to judge the wicked.  (Matt. 24:6) (pp.131-132)

One suspects that a similarly callous attitude towards global warming can be taken, based on the same reasoning.

In any case, after Morey approves of “wars of aggression” based on Abraham’s example, he says:

If the West could only follow Abraham’s godly example, the Communists would soon abandon their program for world conquest. (p.23)

So, the Free World (the Judeo-Christian West) is to wage a war “everywhere”, but it’s the Communists who have the “program for world conquest”.  It would be interesting to note the Soviet Union’s own “fear” that the United States and the “Free World” had a desire to spread their ideology worldwide (“world conquest”) and would thus have a similar justification to conquer the world first.

Naturally, Robert Morey feels the same way about Muslims, who according to him want to conquer the world and impose Sharia on everyone.  Therefore, it is imperative for the “Free World” (the Judeo-Christian West) to occupy the lands of Islam in order to stop this from happening.  World conquest to prevent world conquest.

In our article entitled Jesus Loves His Enemies…And Then Kills Them All, we argued that the Bible merely prohibits “personal vengeance” by individual citizens and not war waged by governments against other nations.  We wrote then:

How then do we reconcile the seemingly peaceful and pacifist sayings of Jesus with the violent and warlike Second Coming of Christ?  There are numerous ways to do this, but perhaps the most convincing is that Jesus’ peaceful and pacifist sayings were directed towards a resident’s personal and local enemies–usually (but not always) referring to fellow co-religionists.  It did not refer to a government’s foreign adversaries, certainly not to heathen nations…

This is consistent with the ruling given by the Evangelical site GotQuestions.org, which permits governments to wage war whilst forbidding individuals from “personal vendettas”.

Morey agrees, saying:

The Scriptures recognize a fundamental difference between the use of just force and the exercise of personal violence. (p.24)

The peaceful verses in the New Testament are with regard to “personal violence” and have nothing to do with how governments behave, so argues Morey:

When the New Testament condemns acts of personal violence in such places as Rom. 12:19, it is merely quoting the Old Testament’s condemnation.  The Old Testament’s censure of personal violence in such places as Deut. 32:35 is not viewed as a condemnation of the just use of force elsewhere in the Old Testament.  It is clear that while acts of vindictive personal violence are never justified, the proper use of force [by governments] is justifiable. (p.25)

Robert Morey then moves from Genesis to Exodus, arguing that “If God wanted his people to be pacifists, this would have been an ideal time to establish this” (p.27). Instead, “Israel developed an army at God’s command” (p.27) and waged an aggressive war against the native inhabitants of Canaan.

From Numbers Morey goes to Joshua: “Joshua led his people to victory over the enemies of God and Israel” (p.28).  As we detailed in our article entitled Who was the Most Violent Prophet in History?, Joshua engaged in genocide and ethnic cleansing.  Far from seeing this as something despicable (“unlike Muslims who can never see anything wrong with Muhammad!”), Morey says that “Joshua’s leadership in military” matters is “a shining example” (p.28).

Morey then says that Joshua obtained peace through war: “peace was won and maintained by the use of force” (Josh. 21:44-45).  This is more proof that the Second Coming of Jesus will bring peace only in the sense that any conquerer brings “peace” once all resistance is put down.

Morey then discusses Judges, condoning the violent tactics of the Israelites (emphasis is ours):

These brave men and women used assassinations, terrorist acts, sabotage, guerrilla warfare, and open revolt by armed resistance, all under the blessing of God.  At no point in Judges are these freedom fighters condemned because they used force to destroy tyranny.  Let it also be noted that the authors of the New Testament do not hesitate to hold up these freedom fighters as examples of faith and courage for modern-day Christians to follow (Heb. 11:32-40).

If the New Testament taught pacifism, as some imagine, the freedom fighters described in Judges would never have been praised by the New Testament writers as examples to follow today. (pp.28-29)

Not only should “modern-day Christians” use “terroristic acts”–which would be “under the blessing of God”–but so too is the art of assassination to be embraced:

It should also be noted that use of assassination to remove tyrants is viewed in Scripture as thoroughly just and commendatory. Ehud’s assassination of Eglon or the other assassinations committed by freedom fighters to overthrow tyrants throughout biblical history are always praised in Scripture as legitimate and just means of force.  If one takes the biblical record seriously, assassination to remove a tyrant is not murder. (p.31)

Robert Morey then condones assassination of all the Soviet leaders (p.31), and even says that “the same is true for the oppressed peoples in all captive nations” (p.32)–and as he notes elsewhere, “captive nations” means “everywhere” except the Free World (the Judeo-Christian West).  Certainly this applies to the lands of Islam today, which are ruled by the worst tyrants of all.  Thus does Morey give Biblical justification for Ann Coulter’s statement:

We should invade their [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

Morey eventually transitions to the “imprecatory Psalms” [imprecatory: invoking evil upon].  Far from claiming “they are just songs!” as some of our opponents did, Morey uses them as a source for war doctrine.  He points out:

There is not a single psalm which teaches nonresistance to tyranny. (p.33)

Wrapping up his survey of the Old Testament, Robert Morey concludes:

In our survey of the Old Testament, we have found that from Genesis to Malachi, God views the use of force to deal with tyranny and crime as just, holy, and true. (p.34)

Morey reasons, quite reasonably, that the New Testament cannot view something (in this case, the “use of force”) as morally wrong if it was viewed as something morally right in the Old Testament.  He rhetorically asks:

Could the New Testament view something as morally wrong if it was viewed as morally right in the Old Testament? (pp.34-35)

Morey argues further that Jesus and his apostles almost never addressed the idea of war in the New Testament (p.37), and that the condemnations of violence here should be seen as only forbidding individuals from personal vengeance, not nation-states from going to war.  In fact, points out Morey (emphasis is ours):

At no point in Jesus’ ministry did He ever tell Israel or Rome that governments should disarm.  He never condemned the just use of force as taught in the Scriptures, nor did He ever condemn the police for using force to punish criminals.  Despite the clarity of the Old Testament in its divine approval of the use of force, Jesus never once preached against a nation having an army or the state maintaining a police force.

Logically, this can lead us to only one possible inference.  Jesus’ silence meant that He approved of and accepted Old Testament precedent of the valid use of force.  Whenever we study the Scriptures, a biblical and historical precedent stands until directly removed by divine revelation. (p.39)

The bolded part above is important: Morey is saying that it cannot be claimed that one part of the Bible “doesn’t count” unless another Biblical passage clearly proves this.  In the absence of a clear and unequivocal verse in the New Testament that condemns or at least abrogates the wars of the Old Testament, one simply cannot claim that these “don’t count”.  For example, circumcision is condoned in the Old Testament, but rejected in the New Testament.  Had the New Testament been silent on the issue of circumcision, no believer could say this is not necessary.  Morey argues:

The apostles sought to carry on the teaching of the law and the prophets as well as the teachings of Christ.  For them, the gospel was just as much an Old Testament truth as it was a New Testament revelation (Rom. 1:1-3, 1 Cor. 15:3, 4).  They looked to the Old Testament Scriptures for basic principles of doctrine and ethics.

The apostles were careful to point out when various aspects of the Old Testament ceremonial laws, for instance, were superseded by the finished work of Christ.  The book of Hebrews is a prime example of this.

Therefore, it is significant that nowhere in the Acts or the Epistles do the apostles ever deal with such issues as whether or not the state can maintain a military force or a national police force.  Why did the apostles never deal with such issues?

The Old Testament clearly taught that God leads armies and has established penal justice.  Christ never disapproved of that position in the Gospels.  If the apostles rejected the Old Testament position on war and now taught pacifism, this would have stirred as much controversy as the laying aside of circumcision. (p.51)

He goes on:

If the apostles had condemned the Old Testament teaching on the use of force, they would have generated a great deal of controversy with the Jews…The silence of the New Testament in this regard, coupled with the silence of the Mishnah and Talmud, clearly indicates that the apostolic church was not teaching pacifism in opposition to the teaching of the Old Testament.

When we survey the Epistles, we do not find a single place where the apostles exhorted Israel or Rome to disarm their military forces or where the apostles condemned war or a Christian’s participation in the military.  There is no indication that they taught anything different than what is found in the [Old Testament] law. (p.52)

Morey raises several arguments as to why it cannot be said that Jesus disapproved of the Old Testament war doctrine, including the fact that

when dealing with Roman or Jewish soldiers, Jesus never told them to leave the military or that it was morally wrong to be soldiers (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 6:15)…If He were a pacifist and opposed in principle any violence by anyone, He would not have failed to rebuke those who were in the military.  Jesus was not known for overlooking sin in the lives of those who sat under His teaching.  He denounced sin wherever and whomever He saw it. (p.40)

Morey is referring to several verses in the New Testament in which Christian soldiers are referred to, and there is no condemnation of them for being in the military profession.  This, even though the Roman Empire waged wars of aggression and imperial conquest.  This lends further credibility to the idea that nothing in the New Testament contradicts the Old Testament’s approval of wars of conquest.

Furthermore, the evidences used to prove the pacifism of Jesus are misinterpretations, reasons Robert Morey.  For example, “You have heard that it was said to people long ago…but I tell you…” was not a case of Jesus “rejecting the Old Testament, but the warped and twisted interpretation of the [Jewish] Pharisees…” (p.45)

Whenever Jesus is discussing peaceful coexistence, it is between neighbors, not nations:

Second, Jesus is clearly discussing personal ethics.  He is describing vital inner qualities of piety and the ways in which we should respond to our neighbors when they become sources of irritation.

That is why Jesus could talk about loving one’s neighbor, turning the other cheek and giving ones’ coat to someone.  At no point in the passage does Jesus discuss national or international ethics. (pp.45-46)

We dealt with the “turning the other cheek” issue in our earlier article:

As for the “turning the other cheek” passage, it is known that the slap on the cheek that was being referred to here was in that particular culture understood as an insult, not as assault.  The passage itself has to do with a person responding to a personal insult, and has nothing to do with pacifism.  In any case, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary clarifies:  “Of course, He applied this to personal insults, not to groups or nations.” [14]

Robert Morey agrees and points out that

the slap of the right cheek by the back of the left hand was a personal insult and not an act of violence done in the context of war…It was a personal insult, like spitting in someone’s face. (p.47)

As for the verse “blessed are the peacemakers”, Morey notes:

“Blessed are the peacemakers” (v 9).  The Greek word “peacemaker” was one of Caesar’s titles.  He was called “the peacemaker” because he won and maintained peace by the use of force.  The word does not mean “peaceable” or “pacifistic” or “peace at any price.”  The word meant “peace through strength.”  As such, it named the head of the Roman army without contradiction. (pp.47-48)

This, as we mentioned several times before in this Series, is the “peace” that the Bible speaks of: the conqueror’s “peace”.  It is the “peace” that Joshua brought: the Book of Joshua documents in great detail a lifetime of leading genocidal wars, and then–once the enemies are killed, run off, or subdued in the land–“the land had rest from war” (Joshua 11:23).  There was peace because nobody was left to fight.

The same is the case with Jesus during his Second Coming, as we noted before in Jesus Loves His Enemies…And Then Kills Them All.  Indeed, Robert Morey concludes that Jesus “was not in any way uncomfortable with the Old Testament teaching in this regard [i.e. war]” (p.48).

* * * *

What we are trying to prove–and have succeeded in doing so–is that the Bible can certainly and quite easily be interpreted by Christians to affirm the violence in the Old Testament.  Robert Morey, one of the leading anti-Muslim pro-Christian theologians in the nation, does exactly that.  The Christian Right interprets the Bible in this violent and warlike way.  And this is the most straightforward, intuitive, and obvious meaning of the Bible.

This certainly does not mean that all Christians, or even a majority, read the Bible in this manner.  What is clear, however, is that just as Christians can point to violent texts in the Quran, so too can Muslims point to (even more) violent texts in the Bible.  When Christians say the Quran can be (or even must be) interpreted in a violent way, then using the exact same logic Muslims can say the same of the Bible.

Lastly, it should be noted again that Robert Morey’s understanding of “just war” does not at all conform to the Just War Theory, and the reason it doesn’t is that the Bible itself does not.  The Bible is thus flawed with regard to jus ad bellum (the right to wage war) as it sanctions the right to wage “wars of aggression” (as Morey says on p.22: “In this light, it is clear that wars of aggression in which one strikes the first blow against tyrants can sometimes be viewed as perfectly just and righteous”); it is also flawed with regard to jus in bello (conduct in war) for it permits the killing of non-combatants, even “utter destruction” (which is why Morey does not find nuking Mecca to be problematic).  As we shall see in a future part in the Series, proper principles with regard to jus ad bellum and jus in bello are much easier to find in the Quran.

The “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Cop-Out

This article is part 8 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

We showcased violence in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) in parts 1234, and 6 of this Series.  Even though this list of Biblical verses was hardly exhaustive, it was more than enough to refute the claim–made by Islamophobes like Robert Spencer (and unfortunately accepted as fact by the majority of Americans)–that the Quran is more violent than the Bible.

In response, many Christians rely on a “fall back” argument: they claim that this “doesn’t count” since “it’s just the Old Testament!” and supposedly Jesus Christ rejected the violent legacy of the OT.  It is of course of paramount importance to the anti-Muslim Christians–as well as to “culturally Christian” atheists and your run-of-the-mill Islamophobes who need to prove the “uniquely” violent nature of Islam’s holy book–to neutralize the Old Testament.  After all, if the Old Testament “counts”, then it would be a case of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) to attack the Quran for its alleged violence: the Old Testament is by far the more violent book.

There are numerous reasons the “But It’s Just the Old Testament!” Defense doesn’t do the trick:

1) There is no explicit  or categorical textual proof from the New Testament that supports the idea that the Old Testament (or the Law) “doesn’t count”.  For every verse cited to prove such a claim, there is another that can be cited for the opposite view.  In fact, it seems that the textual proof for the opposite view is greater, even overwhelming.  For example, Jesus says in the Gospels:

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

5:18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

5:19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

And Jesus also said:

Luke 16:17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for one dot of the Law to become void.

There are other verses that similarly seem to affirm the importance of keeping the Law.  On the other hand, the evidences used to counter this view are less explicit and less direct.

2)  Both the Old and New Testament are considered by all mainstream branches of Christianity to be“just as inspired as the New Testament.” The New Testament itself affirms the accuracy of the Old Testament:

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

3:17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

“All Scripture – This properly refers to the Old Testament…it includes the whole of the Old Testament, and is the solemn testimony of Paul that it was all inspired.” More importantly, as Catholic.com says (emphasis is ours): “Scripture — all of Scripture — is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). This means that the Old Testament is just as inspired as the New Testament and thus an expression of the will of Christ.”

[Update I: A reader pointed out the following: Christians see Jesus as God. That means that he was also the God of the Old Testament. The same God who commanded all those killings and the author of all those violent and disgusting commands as listed in your previous articles. So the violence Jesus supports and predicts is not only evident in the New Testament, but he is supposedly also the author of said violent commands in the Old testament as well. Not only then is the Old Testament “an expression of the will of Christ”–it is Christ.]

Protestant Christianity, as seen on this popular Evangelical site, also agrees with this assessment:

Jesus is always in perfect agreement with the Father (John 10:30), so we cannot argue that war was only God’s will in the Old Testament. God does not change (Malachi 3:6James 1:17).

3)  On this note, Jesus Christ himself is depicted in the New Testament as being very violent during his Second Coming (see part 5).  Even if we completely sweep the Biblical prophets and the Old Testament under the rug (which is exactly what anti-Muslim Christians do in debates with Muslims), it doesn’t change the fact that Jesus in the New Testament is very violent: he promises to kill or subjugate all of his enemies, which includes those whose only crime is to refuse to believe in him.  So, even if we completely disregard the OT, this wouldn’t solve the “problem”.

More importantly, the fact that Jesus promised to kill his enemies (a promise he made during his First Coming)–even if he is yet to fulfill this promise–shows that Jesus did not reject the violent ways of the earlier Biblical prophets.  He simply was not in a position of authority or power to carry out these acts of unbridled violence.  He wouldn’t have promised violence if he truly rejected the OT’s violence.

When we published an article about the violent Second Coming of Christ, many critics cried “you can’t compare Jesus’ supposed violence in the future with what Muhammad actually already did!”  (How quickly anti-Muslim Christians can turn something they believe in with all their might and which they believe is central to their faith–the Second Coming of Christ–into a “supposed” event makes us wonder if this is not Christian taqiyya?)  Yet, it was during his First Coming that Jesus made the promise to kill all those who did not believe in him; the action–a violent threat to ruthlessly slaughter infidels (i.e. Luke 19:27)–has already been made.

4)  Christians not only routinely cite the Old Testament, but they specifically cite it with regard to Jesus.  Various prophecies in the OT are attributed to Jesus: these prophecies depict the Messiah as a violent conquering king who brutally vanquishes his enemies.  (Please read the section entitled “Christians Affirm Militant Old Testament Prophecies” in part 5 of the Understanding Jihad Series.)  This reinforces point #3 above: Jesus is seen as fulfilling, not rejecting, the violence of the Old Testament.  After all, the violence of the OT was “an expression of the will of Christ.”

5)  The official views of the Church itself do not endorse the idea of “tossing the Old Testament aside”: even when it comes to formulating a doctrine in regards to war, the OT must be taken into consideration.  It is argued that there is concordance, not dissonance, between the Old and New Testaments.  As the esteemed theologian Prof. Samuele R. Bacchiocchi concluded:

An attentive study shows that the NT complements, rather than contradicts the teachings of the OT regarding warfare…A balanced reading of the NT texts suggests that there is a basic agreement between the Old and New Testaments on their teaching on warfare.

The violent wars in the OT are reconciled by arguing that Biblical Israel was justified in its declarations of war and was only acting in self-defense: “At various times in the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to defend their nation by force of arms.” Of course, this is not supported by the facts: the Israelites were clearly the aggressors, annihilating and/or running off the indigenous populations of a land that they believed was divinely given to them.  They were only “defending themselves” insofar as any aggressive occupier will “resist” those they occupy.

6) The fact of the matter is that all mainstream Christian groups affirm both the Old and New Testament as canon.  The Church fought off any attempts to “throw away the Old Testament”.  In the second century of Christianity, Marcion of Sinope rejected the Old Testament because of the violence, war atrocities, and genocide contained therein.  He was denounced by the Church, and his views towards the Old Testament were officially damned as heresy.  Tertullian, the Father of Western Christianity, issued a rebuttal against Marcion.

We read:

Marcionism. Marcionism owed its existence to Marcion, an individual who gained popularity in Rome in 140-144. His theology was influenced heavily by the Gnostics, and he denied the power of the God of the Old Testament. He promulgated the use of a limited form of the New Testament, including Luke’s Gospel and Acts, and many of the Pauline epistles, the former since Luke was a Gentile and the latter since he was sent to preach to the Gentiles. He found the God of the Old Testament contradictory and inhumane. The “orthodox” Christianity of the time rejected his argumentation, upheld the value of the Old Testament, and dutifully began the work of canonization of the Old and New Testaments. The specter of Marcion loomed large enough so as to merit refutation by Tertullian at the end of the second century; nevertheless, Marcion’s movement mostly died out or assimilated into other Gnostic groups.

Marcionism died out, thanks to the Church and its insistence of the Old Testament’s validity.  The Catholic Encyclopedia calls the Marcionist sect “perhaps the most dangerous foe Christianity has ever known.”  Today, there are some modern-day believers, called New Testament Only Christians, who reject the Old Testament due to its inherent violence, war atrocities, and genocide.  This group is a very small minority, a “heretical” group that is at odds with the main body of Christianity.

So, unless you happen to be a New Testament Only Christian, the “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Defense simply doesn’t apply to you.  The existence of the New Testament Only Christians, however, is actually indicative of just how violent the Bible is: it couldn’t be reconciled, so more than half of it had to be jettisoned.

* * * *

None of this is to say that Christians must interpret the Bible in a violent manner.  But what we aresaying is that a softer reading of the Bible requires textual acrobatics, convoluted argumentation, and theological mind-bending.  The reasons given why the Old Testament Law are no longer in effect are far more complex to grasp then the simple, straight-forward understanding one gets from reading Jesus’ seemingly simple, straight-forward statements, such as:

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

5:18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

5:19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

This reinforces a point made in an earlier part of this Series:

Why is it that these anti-Muslim ideologues allow theological and textual acrobatics when it comes to the Bible, but meanwhile they forbid the contextualization of Quranic verses?  Certainly it is much easier to “constrain” the violent verses of the Quran than it is for the Bible, since the Quran itself almost always cushions these verses in between mitigating verses.  This contrasts quite considerably with the Bible, which has violent verses wrapped in violent passages.

Anti-Muslim Christians point to various verses of the Quran that they claim are intrinsically violent.  When it is pointed out to them that their own holy book is replete with violent passages, they respond by explaining why and how they interpret these Biblical passages in a peaceful manner.  In the same breath, however, they forbid Muslims from doing the same to the Quran.

Rejecting the Old Testament is a perfectly fine way for a Christian believer to theologically constrain the violence of the Bible, one that we wholeheartedly support.  But such a believer should know that his holy book requires such theological mechanisms to constrain its violence, and this should logically endow upon him some religious modesty when it comes to the holy books of others.

* * * *

7)  Perhaps the most important reason why the “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Defense doesn’t work is that it doesn’t do a damned thing for Jewish followers of the Hebrew Bible.  Jews don’t believe in the New Testament or Jesus.  In fact, their most holiest of books is the Torah, which is the first five books of the Old Testament (known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible to Jews).  These include Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy–some of the most violent books of the entire Bible, replete with holy war and divinely ordained genocide.  To Jews, the Torah and the Hebrew Bible are 100% active and applicable, with no New Testament to overrule or abrogate them.

When we published articles showcasing the violence of the Bible–especially after our article about“the Bible’s prescriptive, open-ended, and universal commandments to wage holy war and enslave infidels”–pro-Christian elements were quick to throw the Old Testament (and their Jewish comrades) under the bus: The God of the Old Testament was a god of war, whereas the New Testament is a god of love.

In order to prove their claim against Islam, the anti-Muslim ideologues must prove the “uniqueness” of the Quran’s violence.  Certainly, this is Robert Spencer’s clear-as-daylight argument on p.19 of his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

The Qur’an is unique among the sacred writings of the world in counseling its adherents to make war against unbelievers.

Short of proving the uniqueness of the Quran’s violence, Spencer et al. have failed in what they set out to do.  If it can only be proved that the Quran is only as violent as the Tanakh (or the Torah)–or that Islam is just as violent as Judaism–then what big deal is this?  If Spencer wants to fear-monger about Islam, and if–using the same standards–it can be proven that Judaism is just as violent as Islam (nay, more violent)–then will Spencer also fear-monger about Judaism?  Can we expect aJewWatch.com website coming soon?

In fact, such a site already exists, and it looks like JihadWatch, just against Jews instead of Muslims.  Indeed, if the same conclusions about Islam were applied to Judaism, then all this would be exposed for what it really is: wholesale bigotry.  But it is much easier to get away with bigotry against Muslims than it is against Jews.

How can Robert Spencer hide behind the “But That’s Just the Old Testament!” Defense when his comrade-in-arms is Jewish?  Pamela Geller of the Atlas Shrugs blog is a partner in crime with Spencer and company.  Clearly, the anti-Muslim Christian right is linked at the hip with Zionist Jews in their shared hatred of Muslims.  Why is one side of this unholy alliance willing to throw the other under the bus, and why is the other side ominously quiet when they hear arguments such as “But That’s Just the Old Testament”?

Our argument has never been that the Quran has no violence in it.  Rather, our argument is: all holy books, including the Quran but also the Bible, have violence in them; in fact, the Bible is far more violent than the Quran. This is in response to the question that most Americans answered incorrectly: is Islam more likely than other religions to encourage violence? Most importantly, this argument of ours is a response to a claim made by Robert Spencer.

This argument of ours is also based in our deeply held conviction that religions and religious scriptures are just what their readers make of them, as stated in the introduction of this Series:

The reader should not think that I believe that a certain religion or another is violent.  Rather, there exist peaceful and violent interpretations of religion.  I reject the view held by religious orthodoxy that the human mind is simply an empty receptacle that unthinkingly “obeys” the divine plan.  Hundreds of years after their prophets have died, believers (of all faiths) are forced (by virtue of not having a divine interlocutor) to exert their own minds and ethics to give life to texts, to render 3D realities from 2D texts.  Such an elastic idea–that a religion is whatever its believers make it into–is certainly anathema to orthodox adherents who simply desire a step-by-step instruction manual to produce human automatons.  But the truth is that even these orthodox adherents necessarily inject into the religious texts their own backgrounds, beliefs, and biases.

One can see why I do not think that simply showing a Biblical verse here or there would prove that Judaism or Christianity are violent faiths. There is a long journey from what is on the page to what is understood and put into practice.  And once this reality is comprehended, it is hoped that Jews and Christians will gain a larger perspective when they approach Muslims and their religion.

Opponents have claimed that this Series so far has just been a case of tu quoque fallacy: yet, this is fundamentally misunderstanding the purpose of this Series, which is certainly not designed to convert the readers to Islam, but rather to refute the commonly held notion that Islam is somehow more violent than other faiths, a view that the majoritarian group can easily hold (and demagogues like Robert Spencer can reinforce) unless dissenters like ourselves challenge it.

Majority of Americans Believe the Bible is Literally True and the Word of God

This article is part 7 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

Robert Spencer and other anti-Muslim bigots fear-monger about Islam and Muslims by demonizing the Quran, calling it a “book of violence and war.”  This, they argue, is quite unlike other religious scriptures, and is especially unlike the Bible, which is a book of love and good morals.

We threw cold water on this argument by reproducing oodles of violent passages found in the Bible (see parts12345 , and 6 of this Series), showing that the Bible is in fact way more more violent than the Quran.

Instead of defending their initial argument (the oft-repeated claim that the Quran is a uniquely violent holy book, far more violent than the Bible) or even their “fall back” argument (the claim that the violent Biblical passages are merely “descriptive” unlike the Quran’s violent passages that are supposedly “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal”–a claim that we refuted in part 6 of this Series), Islamophobes quickly move on to their next “fall back” argument:

Jews and Christians no longer believe in the inerrant nature of the Bible, unlike the Muslims who take the Quran as absolutely accurate. We are told that Jews and Christians have moved beyond the Bible (even “tossed it aside!”), whereas the primitive Muslims continue to follow their archaic holy book.  Therefore, the argument goes, invoking the Bible is hardly relevant, since “most Jews and Christians no longer give credence to it.”

This argument is not grounded in fact, however.  A poll by Rasmussen Reports found that a majority of all Americans (63%) believe the Bible is literally true and the Word of God, with less than a quarter (24%) disagreeing with this belief.  This is quite amazing when one considers that about 20% of Americans are neither Jewish or Christian! The percentage of those who believe in the literal meaning of the Bible jumps to 70% for Protestants, and becomes overwhelming (89%) for Evangelical Christians in specific.  Meanwhile, 77% of Republicans believe in the literal truth of the Bible.

Pew Research poll bore out fairly similar results, with 78% of Americans believing that the Bible is either the actual or inspired Word of God.  This view is held by 88% of Protestants, 82% of Catholics, and 91% of other Christian groups.  Contrary to the emerging scholarly consensus that the Biblical stories such as Exodus and Conquest are “best regarded as a myth”, only a minority of the public at large (19% of Americans, 11% of Protestants, 16% of Catholics, and 6% of other Christian groups) believe that the Bible is just “ancient fables, history, and legends.”

Quite the opposite of what our opponents claim, most Christian-Americans very much believe in the accuracy of their scriptural texts.  This explains, for instance, why only a minority of Christians in America believe in evolution, with “60 percent of Americans who call themselves Evangelical Christians…favor replacing evolution with creationism in schools altogether.”

Whether it’s evolution or abortion, Christian-Americans take the Bible very, very seriously.

* * * *

As always, our opponents will rely on a “fall back” argument and claim that the case of Europe is different, that the United States is far more religious than the “bastion of atheism” across the pond.  The Christians in Europe, we are told, aren’t that serious about their religion.

We will preempt this argument by pointing out that only a quarter of the world’s Christians are in Europe.  The other three-quarters are in North and South America, Africa, and Asia.  Latin America has as many Christians as Europe does, and they take their religion very seriously.  So too is the case in Christian Africa and Asia, which together accounts for far more Christians than in Europe.  It is a reasonable assumption that the Christians in Latin America, Africa, and Asia take the Bible very seriously.  Therefore, the “but Europe is different!” excuse is of limited utility.

The majority of Christians actually live in the developing world.  It is of course expected that our opponents will insist on comparing the minority of Christians in the First World to the Muslims in the Third World.

* * * *

The “official view” of the Church reinforces our assertion: “The Christian Church as a whole claims that the Bible is inspired and inerrant.” Both the Catholic Church and mainstream Protestantism (certainly Evangelical Christianity) view the Bible as accurate.  This is a doctrinal view that has always been held and continues to be held by “mainstream Christianity”.

Anti-Islam ideologues further misleading arguments when they exaggerate between the views about “inerrancy” between Christians and Muslims.  One “mainstream Christian view” posits that the Bible does have some “errors” in it.  The anti-Muslim ideologues shrug off the violent verses in the Bible by arguing that “well, we don’t believe that the Bible is without errors, unlike the Muslims!”  This deceptive argument implies that the Christians believe that those violent verses are erroneous/inaccurate.

Yet, this “mainstream Christian view” holds that the Bible is “98.5% textually pure” and “the 1.5% that is in question is mainly nothing more than spelling errors and occasional word omissions like the words ‘the,’ ‘but,’ etc.”  In fact, none of these errors “affect[] doctrinal truths.”  Certainly, these “errors” do not encompass the violent holy wars that are narrated about the Biblical prophets: “In fact, nothing in ancient history even comes close to the accuracy of the New Testament documents.”  Nor do they include the exhortations to violence (“prescriptive, open-ended, and universal” calls to holy war against infidels) found in the Book of Psalms.

What then is the relevance of this argument except to obfuscate the issue?  The fact is that only 6-16% of Christians in America recognize the Bible as “ancient fables, history, and legends.”  That having been established, we could care less about whether or not the word “the” should have been “a” or the other way around.

Neither is it relevant whether or not one believes the Bible is “literally” the Word of God or the “inspired” Word of God, as both amount to the same thing: a text that is considered accurate by its followers.  As one popular Evangelical site, GotQuestions.org, puts it: “Inspiration means the Bible truly is the Word of God…Because the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, we can conclude that they are also inerrant and authoritative…Without a doubt the Bible is what it claims to be—the undeniable, authoritative, Word of God to humanity.”

As long as the majority of Christians don’t believe that the Bible is just “ancient fables, history, and legends” (which they don’t), whether they consider the Bible the literal or inspired word of God is largely inconsequential to the argument at hand.

* * * *

Unfortunately, we could not locate any poll about Jewish views towards the accuracy of the Bible.  But as far as “official views” go, Orthodox Judaism (the only strand of Judaism recognized by the state of Israel) takes the Hebrew Bible very, very seriously.

* * * *

Lastly, it is rather quite telling that the Islamophobes have now fallen back on the argument that “Jews and Christians have tossed the Bible aside”: is this not a sign of surrender and an implicit admission that the Bible glorifies and exhorts violence and that there is no reasonable way of denying this?  The need to invoke the argument (or rather, to fall back on it) is an indirect  admission that the contrary could not be convincingly argued.

Compare this reaction to Muslims, who instead of needing to rely on the “but we don’t take the Quran seriously” defense, can reasonably argue–using the mitigating verses of the Quran–that the Quran calls for war in self-defense only (Just War Doctrine).  Worded another way: the Bible is so violent that it simply can’t be defended, at least not using the same standards the anti-Muslim ideologues employ against the Quran.

The Bible’s Prescriptive, Open-Ended, and Universal Commandments to Wage Holy War and Enslave Infidels (IV)

This is page IV of IV.  To return to page I, go here.  To return to page II, go here. To return to page III, go here.

Many Westerners continue to think of the Quran as a book of violence, which stands in sharp contrast to the Bible, a book of love.  In his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), Catholic apologist Robert Spencer (kingpin of the anti-Muslim cyber-world) feeds into this Orientalism-on-steroids view of Islam.  Spencer claims that the Quran is the single most violent religious scripture on earth.  He dismisses any comparison to the Bible, arguing that “there is nothing in the Bible that rivals the Qur’an’s exhortations to violence.”

We responded by producing oodles of violent Biblical passages (see parts 1234, and 5 of this Series), which are in fact way more violent than the Quran.  The Bible, unlike the Quran, sanctions the targeting and killing of civilians (including women, children, and even babies); it sanctions genocide.  No such thing can be found in the Quran.  One simply cannot find any verse in the Quran that calls to kill babies like the Bible explicitly does.

Spencer et al. respond to these passages by claiming that the Biblical passages are merely “descriptive”, unlike the Quran’s violent passages that are supposedly “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal.”  Anyone who follows such debates knows how crucial this counter-argument is to the anti-Muslim camp.  It has been the shield with which they protect their hypocrisy, insulating themselves from Mutually Assured Destruction in these My-Holy-Book-is-Better-Than-Yours Holy Wars.

In this article (see pages  III, and III), that counter-argument (so loved and cherished by Islamophobes) has finally been laid to rest: it has been shot dead like bin Ladin.  Clearly, there are verses in the Bible that condone violence–passages that are prescriptive, open-ended, and universal commandments to wage holy war against unbelievers and to enslave them–at least according to the standards and methodology employed by Robert Spencer et al. against the Quran.

The Islamophobes have immediately reacted by claiming that “you can’t possibly compare those Biblical passages with the Quranic verses!” and then focus on (and magnify) some perceived insignificant difference between the phrasing of the two books.  Yet, if we place the two texts side by side, there seems little reason to appreciate any significant difference at all (at least in a way that would benefit the Bible).  If we consider the Quranic verses to be “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal”, then certainly the Biblical passages (discussed on pages 1-3) are as well.  In fact, there is ample reason to consider them more so.

The Bible, for instance, says:

Psalms 149:5 Let godly people triumph in glory. Let them sing for joy on their beds.

149:6 Let the praises of God be in their mouths, and a two-edged sword in their hands,

149:7 to execute vengeance on the heathen and punishment on the people,

149:8 to bind their kings with chains, and their leaders with iron shackles.

The only way Robert Spencer and his minions can explain why these verses “don’t count” is by arguing that these were psalms attributed to King David and that therefore should not be understood as universal commandments; rather, these apply only to a specific person (David) in a specific time (thousands of years ago) in a specific scenario (the divinely sanctioned war with the inhabitants of Canaan).

Yet, if these Biblical verses “don’t count” because of this reason, then the Quranic verses he cited should also “not count” either since the same exact reasoning can be employed.  These were Quranic verses revealed to a specific person (Muhammad) in a specific time (1,400 years ago) in a specific scenario (the war against the enemy tribes of seventh century Arabia).

Once again, Spencer’s own selection of quotes is all the proof that is needed to refute him.  Spencer writes (emphasis is ours):

Islamic apologists more often tend to focus on several Old Testament passages:

* “When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you.  And when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them.  You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)

* “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace.  If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you.  However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it.  When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword.  Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you.  Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes” (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).

* “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately.  But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves” (Numbers 31:17-18).

Strong stuff, right?  Just as bad as “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” (Qur’an 9:5) and “Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers in fight, smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them” (Quran 47:4) and all the rest, right?

Wrong.  Unless you happen to be a Hittite, Girgashite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, or Jebusite, [the Seven Nations] these Biblical passages simply do not apply to you.  The Qur’an exhorts believers to fight unbelievers without specifying anywhere in the text that only certain unbelievers are to be fought, or only for a certain period of time, or some other distinction.  Taking the texts at face value, the command to make war against unbelievers is open-ended and universal.  The Old Testament, in contrast, records God’s commands to the Israelites to make war against particular people only.  This is jarring to modern sensibilities, to be sure, but it does not amount to the same thing.

Notice that he cites verse 9:5 as proof of the Quran’s “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal command to make war against unbelievers.”  Yet, on the very same page of his own book (p.29 ofThe Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades) Spencer quotes verse 9:13 of the Quran (just a few lines down from 9:5), which says:

“Will ye not fight a folk who broke their solemn pledges, and purposed to drive out the messenger and did attack you first?” [Qur’an 9:13]

You can read this verse at the top right hand corner on p.29 of Spencer’s own book (click the image below to view):

Clearly, the Quranic passage is not talking about any or all unbelievers for all time.  Rather, this Quranic passage was revealed with regard to a very specific situation and against a very specific group of “unbelievers”, namely those “who broke their solemn pledges [peace treaties]…and attacked you first”, and who even tried to “drive out the messenger” from the city.  Just as Spencer et al. argue that those Biblical verses apply only to nations that no longer exist, so too can Muslims today argue that this passage is only against those who “drove out the Messenger” (Muhammad).  Since the Prophet Muhammad is no longer alive, couldn’t it be said that there is no “folk” on earth who could drive him out, and therefore the passage does not apply to anyone any more?

Another key phrase in the passage is “they did attack you first”, which supports the idea that the Quran, quite unlike the Bible, endorses war in self-defense only.  This point will be explored in a future article in the Series.  But for now, we can safely say that the passage is–at least as much as the psalms are–speaking about a very specific situation and a very specific people: namely, “a folk who broke their solemn pledges, and purposed to drive out the messenger and did attack you first.”  If this explanation suffices for our opponents with regard to their own holy book, then why can’t Muslims also use it for their own scriptures?  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Robert Spencer has also relied on another common tactic of deception used by Islamophobes to convince the reader that the Quran contains “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal” commandments to wage holy war with infidels.  He quotes verse 9:5 as follows: “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them.”  By wrenching this verse out of context, the conspiratorial Islamophobe convinces the reader that the Quran instructs Muslims to kill non-Muslims wherever, anywhere–even at the gas station, the bookstore, or even at the local Walmart!  If you see a pious Muslim at Walmart, be very careful, because his holy book commands him to kill you “wherever”!  (The Muslim’s failure to do so is only a reflection of his taqiyya or his ignorance of his own religion!)

This phrase found in 9:5 (“slay the unbelievers wherever you find them”) is actually a repetition of an earlier verse (2:191), which also says: “slay them wherever you find them”.  This was not, however, an open license to wage war against all unbelievers anywhere, everywhere.  In fact, the verse is mitigated by what comes before and after it:

2:190 Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities! For God loves not aggressors.

2:191 And slay them wherever you find them, and drive them out of the places wherever they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter.  And do not fight them at the Sacred Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you there, then slay them.Such is the reward of disbelievers.

2:192 But if they cease, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

2:193 And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God.  But if they cease, let there be no hostility except towards those who practise oppression.

The word “wherever” was clarifying an issue that the early Muslims faced: was it permissible to fight in the Sacred Place (the environs of the Holy Kaaba)?  It was from this place that the pagans drove the Muslims out (and hence the command to “drive them out of the places wherever they drove you out”).

Many of the early Muslims felt uncomfortable fighting in the holy place where it was normally not permitted to do so.  According to Islamic belief, it is forbidden to hit anyone in the Sacred Place (the environs of the Holy Kaaba).  Even killing an insect within the Sacred Place is prohibited, so how could the Muslims fight and “slay” enemies therein?  To this, the Quran answers: “slay them wherever you find them”, i.e. even if it happens to be inside the Sacred Place.

The word “wherever” is not sanctioning violence everywhere; rather, it is permitting fighting in the Sacred Place if necessary.

Reading the entire passage altogether, it is impossible to conclude that this is an open-ended call for global warfare and unending aggression, especially since “God loves not aggressors.”  More importantly, the passage itself shows that it is about a very specific situation and against a particular people.

Spencer also cites  47:4, once again only partially reproducing the verse; here is Spencer’s rendition:

“Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers in fight, smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them” (Quran 47:4)

It becomes very obvious why Spencer chose to omit the rest of the verse, which in its entirety reads:

47:4 Therefore, when you meet the disbelievers in battle, smite at their necks, until you have defeated them, then firmly bind them (as prisoners).  Afterward, free them out of generosity or by ransom–until the toils of war end. Thus are you commanded.  God could have defeated them Himself if He had willed, but His purpose is to test some of you by means of others. As for those slain in the way of God, He will not let their deeds be for nothing.

The verse is hardly a “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal commandment to wage holy war against infidels”.  Instead, it is a command given to the early Muslims with regard to a particular battle they were involved in.  The Muslims were instructed to fight the enemy (“smite at their necks” in holy speak), take the enemy soldiers on the battlefield as prisoners, and then free them “out of generosity” (grant them their freedom of out of grace) or free them “by ransom” (exchanging them for Muslim prisoners of war or for a fee).

Compare the Quran’s treatment of prisoners of war in these verses (of Spencer’s own choosing!) with the Biblical verses quoted by Robert Spencer himself:

Deuteronomy 7:2 When the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them.  You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.

The Quran says that “[after] you have defeated them” and have taken them as prisoners, “free them”; on the other hand, the Bible says “[after] you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them”–which, as we have seen, in Bible talk means exactly that: ethnic cleansing and genocide.  The Quran says to free them out of generosity as a favor to them, whereas the Bible ominously warns: “show no favor to them”.

As can be seen, Spencer’s own selection of verses proves our assertion and what Prof. Philip Jenkins argued:

By the standards of the time, which is the 7th century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane. Then we turn to the Bible, and we actually find something that is for many people a real surprise. There is a specific kind of warfare laid down in the Bible which we can only call genocide.

Conclusion

As always, there is a need for an important disclaimer here.  Nowhere are we trying to say that Judaism/Christianity/Bible are violent, full stop.  Rather, what we are saying is that if we use the same methodology that Robert Spencer and the other Islamophobes employ against Islam/Quran, then in that case Judaism/Christianity/Bible are even more violent.  Therefore, any conclusions that follow should apply equally or more so.  Indeed, this becomes even more apparent when we expose the manipulation of texts, the misleading use of tactical ellipses, and the sleight of hand tricks employed by Robert Spencer et al.

There are many ways that moderate Jews and Christians “restrict” the violent verses of the Bible.  Insisting that Jews and Christians must understand their holy text in a certain way would not only be obtuse, it would be counterproductive.  Yet, why is it that these anti-Muslim ideologues allow theological and textual acrobatics when it comes to the Bible, but meanwhile they forbid the contextualization of Quranic verses?  Certainly it is much easier to “constrain” the violent verses of the Quran than it is for the Bible, since the Quran itself almost always cushions these verses in between mitigating verses.  This contrasts quite considerably with the Bible, which has violent verses wrapped in violent passages.

When we published pages I-III of this article, Islamophobes quickly responded by arguing that the Biblical passages we cited don’t actually call for open-ended and universal violence against heathens.  To “constrain” the meaning of these verses, they use various explanations and arguments: “these passages only refer to a specific situation, time, context, and people” or “that’s just the Old Testament”, etc. etc.  To bolster these claims, they look for proof in the Bible itself.

But the truth is that for every proof they provide for their argument, another can be found against it.  There is nothing in the Bible that clearly and unequivocally supports either of these or other such arguments.  Some would even say it’s “textual acrobatics”.  As we stated before, there is nothing wrong with mitigating the Bible’s violence in this way; it’s even quite laudable.  The question though is: why do these same people insist that absolutely no contextualization can be done with the violent-sounding Quranic verses?

Pound for pound, there is far more violence in the Bible than in the Quran.  Specifically, the Bible sanctions the killing of civilians (women, children, and even babies), and endorses wholesale genocide.  Moreover, there is more “explanation” necessitated and more textual acrobatics needed to mitigate these violent Biblical passages.  So why then focus on the Quran?  Here, an appropriate Biblical verse is applicable:

Matthew 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.