- From: "We are Muslims, and we are extremely proud of it." <born_to_be_muslim@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 29 Nov 2009 04:18:31 -0500
In the New Testament there are of course teachings that stress love and mercy. Thus Jesus is reported to have commanded Christians to love their enemies and to turn the other cheek when stricken on one. Also, he is reported to reduce the whole of the Law to loving God and to loving one's neighbor. He also reduces in the fourth gospel his commandments to the single commandment of loving one another. But all this was not able to save the natives of the Americas, Australia or New Zealand, or the Iraqis or Vietnamese or the Bosnians or Albanians, the millions massacred in Rwanda and earlier killed in the world wars or the sad little children who are tortured by their parents or the prisoners suffering tortures at the hands of the dictators. Why? The talk of love and peace in the New Testament, often repeated from the pulpits, is ineffective partly because of human weaknesses and partly because this is only one side of the Biblical message. The other side is seen in Biblical passages such as the following:
When my angel goes in front of you, and brings you to the Amorites ... you shall not bow down to their gods ... but utterly demolish them and break their pillars in pieces.
.... Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land (Ex 23:23-33; see also Ex 32:25-29, where the sin of making the golden calf by the Israelites leads to the command: "Each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor").
But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them - the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites ... - just as the Lord your God has commanded (Deut 20:16-17; see also Deut 7:2-16).
And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, "Shout! For the Lord has given you the city [Jericho]. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. .... Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys (Joshua 6:16-21; cf. Heb 11:30-33, where a New Testament writer condones such passages in the Old Testament).
Thus says the Lord of hosts, "... Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey" (1 Sam 15:2-3). (Saul did not carry this command fully in that he spared some cattle as booty. For this action God rejected Saul as king of Israel (verses 8-9, 13-15, 26), and gave the kingdom to David, although even David killed only men and women in the conquered lands of other nations and spared the cattle, 1 Sam 27:8-9, cf. 2 Sam 8:2).
They did battle against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and killed every male (Num 31:7).
These passages relate to the situation when the Israelites had power over some nations. But there are passages which were written about nations against whom they had no power. In these passages annihilation of other nations is of course not commanded but hoped for:
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock! (Psalms 137:8-9).
Such hopes can at times get associated with the messianic times:
For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste (Isa 60:12). And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom [of Israel which] ... shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever (Dan 2:44). Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel (Psalm 2:8-9). Arise and thresh, O daughter Zion, for I will make your horn iron and your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many nations ... (Micah 4:13). And among the nations the remnant of Jacob [=Israel], surrounded by many peoples, shall be like a lion among the animals of the forest, like the young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears to pieces, with no one to deliver (Micah 5:8).
Related with the above teachings of the Bible is the well-known belief of the Israelites in their being chosen children of God while the other nations are like dogs. Another related belief is that the salvation and revelation almost exclusively belong to the Israelites. All this creates certain insensitivity to other peoples, the goyim.
The Old Testament is not devoid of any reference to love and peace (see Ex 22:21, 34:6-7). But nationalism and exclusivism dominates it and this cannot be conducive to love and peace, as the passages quoted above show.
Christians may say that this is the attitude only of the Old Testament. There is, they will point out, growth and evolution in revelation from the Pentateuch to the psalms, then to the prophets, and finally to the gospels. With the coming of the gospels earlier teachings were replaced by the law of love. There is some truth to this view. Thus in the Pentateuch the possibility is not admitted that people from other nations may become worshippers of Yahweh. The division among people is strictly on national or ethnic lines and Yahweh is a national god who expects to be served by only his people. It is because of this that he commands the annihilation of other peoples and the towns inhabited by them are given only the choice of either submitting to forced labor or annihilation. The third choice of submitting to the worship of Yahweh is not even admitted. Later, in prophets like Isaiah there is an improvement of this conception. Yahweh is seen as the universal god and the possibility is admitted that other nations such as Egyptians and Assyrians may join with Israel in the worship of the God of Israel (Isa 19:18-25), although even then Israel is expected to rule other nations (Isa 60:12). But this idea of evolution does not justify the violence to other nations described in the Pentateuch. For there can be no stage in the evolution of divine revelation when killing "everything that breathes" including infants can be justified. Moreover, the idea that the nation of Israel is a chosen nation to which salvation and revelation exclusively belongs and which is destined to destroy or rule other nations with a rod of iron goes through the Bible, from the Pentateuch to the New Testament, like a thread. The passages quoted above from the Old Testament are from different parts of the Jewish scriptures, including from prophets like Isaiah. The New Testament also expresses similar sentiments.
Thus some stories in the gospels present the Gentiles as dogs, as compared to the Jews who are the children of God (Mark 7:24-30 and par). The exclusivism of the Jewish religion is also inherited by the gospels. The fourth gospel says that the salvation is of the Jews (4:22) and according to Paul the church is formed by grafting Gentiles who are like a wild olive on to the remnant of the Israelites who are like the root which sustains the grafted branches (Rom 11:17-18). Indeed, throughout the New Testament it is assumed that the savior had to come from the Jews because salvation is of the Jews. From this it follows that without this Jewish savior Jesus salvation is not possible. Hence the fourth gospel makes Jesus say that no one goes to the Father but through Jesus who is the way, the life and the truth (John 14:6). According to Paul even a different type of Christianity is not to be tolerated:
As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be cursed! (Galatians 1:9).
If in the New Testament Jesus sometimes appears like a lamb, this is so only during his first coming when he had no power. During his second advent when he will come with power and glory he will be like a lion (Rev 5:5, cf. Micah 5:8). The Old Testament hope of the restored kingdom of Israel, destroying or ruling other nations is transferred in the New Testament to Christians and Christ:
when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thess 1:7-8). [Christ will destroy] every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15:25).
But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to reign over them -- bring them here and slaughter them in my presence (Luke 19:27, not a saying of Jesus but of a character in a parable).
only hold fast to what you have until I come. To everyone who conquers (temptation to apostasy) and continues to do my works to the end, I will give authority over the nations; to rule them with an iron rod, as when clay pots are shattered -- even as I also received authority from my Father (Rev 2:25-27, cf. Psalm 2:8-9). And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron (Rev 12:5).
It is true that in Christianity the nationalism of the Old Testament and the exclusivism and violence connected with it is considerably toned down but because the New Testament largely affirms the Jewish nationalism, exclusivism, and the messianic hopes and because the Christians accept the Old Testament as word of God and therefore as sacred they are to some degree influenced by it. Indeed, it seems that the Christian nations often subconsciously put themselves in the position of the chosen Israelites while putting other nations in the place of the Amelikes, Hittites, Canaanites etc and feel justified in partially or totally destroying them with "a rod of iron" like a potter's vessel. Thus what the Catholics and other Western nations did to the natives in Americas, Australia and New Zealand etc or the way they treated the colonized lands as markets to be exploited with the accompanying attempt at the destruction of their cultures and languages or what they in this century assisted the Jews to do to the Palestinian people or what the Serbs almost did to people of Kosovo or what the Catholics did to the Muslims of Spain is very similar to what the Bible commands the Israelites to do to the Amelikes etc or prophesies that they will do to the other nations in messianic times. Even the Nazi holocaust is not too un-Biblical, for in the holocaust probably the Nazis simply turned the tables around: they put the Jews themselves in the position of the Amelikes while they became the New Israel. Thus the seeds of hatred and intolerance sown like weeds along with the wheat of divine revelation by the editors of the Bible came to bear their poisonous fruit that the Jews themselves were made to eat.
For Christians to act violently and aggressively against other nations under the influence of the Bible it is not required that they should have often read such passages as talk about the killing of men, women and children of nations like Amelikes. Such passages are simply a gross manifestation of nationalism, exclusivism, and a very negative view of other nations that is reflected everywhere in the Bible, which no one exposed to the Bible, either by direct reading or through the sermons of the priests and ministers, could possibly miss.
The best attitude that the Bible can show to other nations is that it allows them the benefits of revelation and salvation, of which they are otherwise deprived, through the Jews or a Jewish Messiah, although even that concession was fiercely opposed by some Jews and early Christians. In recent times the church is more willing to recognize truth and salvation in other traditions. But it is most revealing that many Christians still believe that any truth and salvation found in other traditions is the result of Christ acting anonymously in those traditions. This shows how difficult it is for the readers of the Bible, whether Jewish or Christian, to imagine that God might be loving, guiding and saving remnants of other nations independently of Jews or a Jewish Messiah.
Christians also point out that among them there have always been people who have renounced and denounced violence and spoken against the actions of their fellow Christians when they engage in war and violence. This is true. But such voices are almost always too few and too late. They have not been enough to prevent some of the Christian nations and individuals from becoming the most violent and aggressive in whole of human history. Also, they gain strength only after the destruction of other nations reaches a point of no return, that is, the interests of the Christian nations have been completely served or can no longer be served. Thus, far from opposing the colonial powers, an overwhelming majority of churchmen used colonialism to try to convert the people of the occupied countries. Some voices for the natives of North America, Australia and New Zealand are now heard, but the destruction of these natives is more or less complete now. Palestinians are sometimes supported by the Christians but they have already lost their country and are now in the process of loosing their nationhood.
A positive recent development. In the past thirty to fifty years there has been an unprecedented movement in the Western nations in the direction of a genuine tolerance, and even respect, for other groups and nations and hence towards love and peace. This movement cannot be attributed to the Bible or to Christianity, for it is inconceivable that the Bible and Christianity have started to do now what they could not do for the past two thousand years. The roots of this positive development lie in the interest in science and philosophy kindled in Europe by the Muslims through Spain and other areas of contact between the two civilizations. This interest eventually led to the creation of the institution of the University which provided a challenge and a check to the Church. It needed several centuries for the University to gain the sort of influence that could be compared to the influence of the Church. And in recent decades the University has reached a level of influence where it can make some fundamental changes in the thinking of the Western nations. In particular, there is a considerable rejection of exclusivism and nationalism, for the rational thought moves man towards genuine universalism. The terrible experience of the two world wars has also contributed to reduce nationalism in the West. Finally, increasing global trade and international business ties are helping to create a world culture with universal values. These developments are even forcing the Churches to revise their beliefs and practices. Very little credit, if any, is due to the Bible or to Christianity for the apologies that the popes have made in recent decades for the horrible acts of violence that the Catholic Church has committed since the days of Constantine when it gained power. For the Church is now bowing to the new trends whose source is primarily the University.
In the above observations we have used the term "Christian" in a loose sense without making any distinction between good or bad Christians. This is partly because of the difficulty of deciding who is good or bad Christian and partly because the fruits of a religion should be visible in the nations, groups, and/or civilizations that it builds or influences despite the fact that every group, nation or civilization is bound to include both good or bad elements. We can do some justice to the distinction between good and bad Christians by looking at not only the conduct of the Christian nations generally but also what Christians often present to be their ideal.
In view of the teaching of love in the Bible, especially the New Testament, this ideal seems to be a renunciation of almost all use of force. This ideal has inspired many individuals and some groups to devote their lives to helping the needy and to denounce and renounce violence. Saint Francis of Assisi, who was greatly influenced by the Muslim mystics (Sufis), the order he founded in 1209 and Jehovah's Witnesses provide examples. But such individuals and groups do not possess any political power and when you are not in a position to use force, it is easy to be non-violent, although violent men do not need much power to show their violence. In one passage, the Qur'an says that God has ordained love and compassion in the hearts of those who follow Jesus but that "most of them are rebellious transgressors" (57:27), a statement which takes into account both the existence of individuals and groups practicing charity and non-violence and the historical fact of the most horrible acts of violence committed by the Christian nations, as also the Christians' holding on to some doctrines in the face of clearest evidence that these doctrines depart from the teaching of Jesus.
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