|Lord Carey, Islam, The West and Christianity by David Holloway|
On 25 March 2004 [Lord] George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, gave an important address at the Gregorian University in Rome, entitled "Christianity and Islam: Collision or convergence?". In this he said: "a fight for the soul of Islam is going on. Why is it now associated with violence and terrorism?" Muslim reaction was hostile. When interviewed the following day on the BBC Dr Carey said that his remarks had been taken out of context. So what had he actually been saying? He asked four questions.
Islam, terrorism and death
The first was "what are the reasons for Islam's association with terrorism and death?" He answered historically, pointing out that from the 18th to 20th centuries Muslims failed to engage with the Industrial Revolution. This meant that by the middle of the 20th century many Westerners considered Islam "a backward looking faith associated with backward societies." Then came the 1967 Six Days War when Syria, Egypt and Jordan after mounting a surprise attack against Israel not only were defeated but lost vast tracts of Arab land, for example, Sinai, Gaza and the Golan Heights. Serious questioning followed.
"Many concluded that a return to the simplicity of the Islamic faith and wholehearted adherence to the Koran was necessary. To follow the West and to emulate its ways seemed to be the road to decadence and moral decline. From this period on reform and renewal movements begin to appear in Islam which in spite of different emphases have one common aim, that is, to restore greatness to Islam. Despising the political passivity of conservative Islam on the one hand, and the eagerness of modernist Muslims to embrace aspects of secularism on the other, radical movements are one in their desire to re-Islamize Muslim societies and fight the encroaching secularism and materialism that they see coming from the West."The next critical year was 1979. That was when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. "Muslims world-wide," said Dr Carey, "were outraged. As one Muslim friend put it to me, 'Russians were not merely infidels, they were worse - they were unbelieving infidels!'" This resulted in a jihad being called with mujahidin (warriors) fighting a war to the death. It also resulted in the emergence of a new young leader in Afghanistan, a Saudi influenced by the Saudi Wahhabi movement (a Muslim "Puritan" movement), who was able to use his wealth, supplemented by US aid and ammunition, to undermine the Russian invasion. His name was Osama bin Laden! Also that year (1979) Shiites overturned the secular regime in Iran to form the Iranian Islamic Republic. Ten years later there was a coup in the Sudan, when Col. Omar al-Bashir took over control, assisted by Hassan al-Turabi, a sophisticated Western education lawyer and intellectual. Al-Turabi had, said Dr Carey, "a clear and unambiguous vision to impose Islam on the whole world and make Sharia law mandatory - an imposition achieved, more or less in the Sudan." Five years later, in 1994 "a group of students living on the borders of Pakistan, called the Taliban, took control of Afghanistan claiming moral leadership and imposing an ultra-conservative form of Wahhabism." Then ...
"... in the year 2000, Osama bin Laden, now alienated from America and the West, announced the formation of a World Islamic Front for a jihad against Americans and Crusaders (a euphemism for Christians) ... On Sept 11th 2001 the World Islamic Front struck through dedicated young men who were prepared to die with the Koran at their side shouting 'Allah is great!' guiding huge planes to destroy the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. With them died many hundreds of others."Dr Carey concluded his catalogue of acts of jihad by listing the violent attack on a Chinese and Christian village in Indonesia a few days after "911" by 120 Muslim troops again "shouting 'Allah is great!'"; the killing of hundreds in Bali, Indonesia, a year later; and finally the "awful episode" in Madrid last month (March 2004).
The challenges to Islam, the West and Christianity
His second question was "what challenges does Islam itself face?" Dr Carey quoted the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mohammed Mahathir, who said: "I find it very hard to be optimistic about Muslims in the 21st century. Very few Muslims understand reality and they do not understand that coming to terms with globalization is one of the greatest challenges facing them." He then quoted former President Wahid of Indonesia who said: "The Muslim world is at a cross-roads. It may pursue a traditional static Islam or refashion it into a more dynamic and pluralistic world-view."
George Carey's solution is, first, "for Muslim societies to integrate their faith and practice in democratic institutions." Secondly, there needs to be social improvement: "giving power to the people in democratic governance is not sufficient if economic stability, universal education and human rights are not available and accessible." Thirdly, there needs to be a liberalization of theological Islam. And, fourthly, moderate Muslims are "to resist strongly the taking over of Islam by radical activists and to express strongly, on behalf of the many millions of their co-religionists, their abhorrence of violence done in the name of Allah ... Sadly, apart from a few courageous examples, very few Muslim leaders condemn, clearly and unconditionally, the evil of suicide bombers who kill innocent people."
The third question was, "what then is the challenge to the West in general and to Christians in particular?" President Khatami of Iran has said: "today's world democracies are suffering from a major vacuum which is the vacuum of spirituality." In response Dr Carey admitted that "greed. exploitation and corruption lurk in our advanced societies and shame our claim to conduct our communities in moral and wise ways. The degree of crime and delinquency, going hand in hand with a decline in moral standards and the collapse of such institutions as marriage and the family, are reasons why the West must be reticent in claiming the high moral ground." However, we should "strengthen western values, founded as undoubtedly the are on the Christian moral tradition and culture." He then said this:
"In spite of our shortcomings at least European and American civilisations are repositories of fairness and liberal values. Democracy, as an element of these, is a beautiful and fragile flower and we should support it, valueit and protect it. It allows for dissent, for freedom of expression and for rights for all. We should not give in to claims that Islamic countries are morally, spiritually and culturally superior to other civilizations and great cultures ... the West has still much to be proud of and we should say so strongly."So how should Christians relate to Muslims? Dr Carey says there is much to admire in Muslims, including "their commitment to traditional values, the family, children and peace."
He then went on to say:
"they have no respect for Christians who take the view that all religions are the same. They know they are not. They will always respect people who stand up for their faith and are prepared to talk about it naturally. Christians need to be more confident and argue their corner for reciprocity throughout the world. During my time as Archbishop this was my constant refrain - that the welcome we have given to Muslims in the West with the accompanying freedom to worship freely and build their mosques should be reciprocated in Muslims lands. However, that freedom is uneven. In some Muslim lands there are strong cordial relationships but in some others Christians have little freedom, are sometimes persecuted, are not able to build their churches, or only do so after much difficulty. Saudi Arabia will not allow Christian worship and Christian priests and ministers are not allowed to function as such in that land. Muslim leaders often tell Christians and Jews that 'there is no compulsion in religion'. This sadly is only half true. If non-Muslims are not compelled to become Muslim, Muslims are not free to choose another faith. There is, we find, some compulsion after all."
Collision, convergence and sexual immorality
So the fourth question is: "how may we move from collision to convergence in mutual understanding and respect?" Dr Carey is optimistic if there is, first, more "inter-faith co-operation and understanding" and a focusing "on root causes of unrest where religions clash" (the two causes he cites are social injustice and the problem of Israel). But, secondly, we must win "the battle of ideas" while stressing what we have in common with Islam. So he concludes:
"let us look forward to the day when we shall not talk about faiths colliding, but Islam and Christianity converging in a common desire to create a world of tolerance and peace and building communities on those shared values that make us human and capable of giving and receiving God's give of love."We must be grateful to George Carey for putting the debate regarding Islam onto the public agenda. My summary is just one quarter as long as the original address, but I have tried to be fair (you can download the whole text from http://bradford.anglican.org/newsbyte/040326carey.html. There are, indeed, vital issues at stake.
The issues at stake relate to the twin issues of violence and immorality; the nature of western liberal democracy that Muslims are now being asked to adopt; and the relationship of religion and government, or church and state.
George Carey has majored on violence in Islam. Nothing of what he has said can be refuted. There is, in some parts of extremist Islam, an evil terrorist agenda. I believe his historical analysis is generally correct. But I can imagine a senior Muslim cleric, who is trying genuinely to be fair and "liberal", reading Dr Carey's address, but then appealing to the principle of reciprocity. He might say something like this:
"I admit what you say about violence. But let me talk about immorality - sexual immorality and sexual immorality in the West and in the western churches. You ask for plain speaking. Let me give you some. We are appalled at bishops in the western Anglican churches who support immorality. We are appalled at the recent consecration as a bishop in the USA of Gene Robinson, a man who has left his wife and children for his male lover. We are appalled at the Bishops of Worcester, Newcastle and Manchester recently voting in the House of Lords to stop clergy and churches having freedom regarding transsexuals. You say that, 'sadly, apart from a few courageous examples, very few Muslim leaders condemn, clearly and unconditionally, the evil of suicide bombers.' But we say to you, sadly, apart from a few courageous examples, very few Christian leaders (and those leaders are rarely bishops in the Church of England) condemn, clearly and unconditionally, the evil of sexual immorality that destroys lifelong marriage and family life, ruins the life chances of children (as social scientists are now proving), and leads to disease and death. We note that the number of people who have died from AIDS is far in excess of the numbers who were killed at the Twin Towers or through suicide bombers or through those terrorist acts you catalogued. You speak about "root causes". We have to be honest. We see the root cause of the AIDS epidemic as sexual immorality; and we see liberal Christianity as validating this immorality. Please understand that we treat immorality like you treat violence."What would the former Archbishop of Canterbury say to that? We know that he advocates, as a solution to the problem of violence, western liberal democracy. But how will that solve the problem of sexual immorality? And what is western liberalism that is at the heart of western democracy?
Western liberal democracy
Dr Carey may not adequately recognize that there is not just "a fight for the soul of Islam". There is also a fight for the soul of the West. There is a critical conflict between those wanting the traditional Western liberal tradition and those wanting a new revised liberalism.
The traditional Western liberal tradition has accepted the dominance of the Christian or Judaeo-Christian world view, but has been tolerant of those with other beliefs or philosophies except where those views promote violence or sexual immorality. John Locke, the philosopher, was the god-father of this tradition with his famous Letter Concerning Toleration of 1689. In this letter he argued that belief cannot be forced by the power of the state. The "wars of religion" had assumed that the state, through such acts as "burning at the stake", could enforce religious conformity. This was now seen to be wrong. And so the age of "toleration" was born, with the Toleration Act of 1689 and John Locke's letter. But toleration is not indifferentism. You can only tolerate what you think is wrong! Nor does toleration mean you must keep silent about your views. Traditional liberalism means freedom of expression. So in 1694 Parliament refused to renew the Licensing Act. At a stroke, prepublication censorship came to an end. Macaulay described that as a greater contribution to liberty and civilization than either the Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights. You were now free to say what you like. But this freedom, as with all freedoms, was limited. Publications were still subject to the laws of the land regarding sedition, blasphemy, obscenity and libel. It was ideas that were free, yet they also (including religious ideas) were limited. According to Locke the magistrate must ban a religious group if it "should have a mind to sacrifice infants, or lustfully pollute themselves in promiscuous uncleanness, or practise any other such heinous enormities." All that is traditional Western liberalism.
But now there is a new revisionist liberalism. This has been pushed by a minority who have influence and huge power in the media, education, the therapeutic services and government. This new liberalism says that the public square has to be naked. It has no place for any dominant world view. It must be open to everyone and everything. The fundamental axiom is the necessity of a totally free and open society ("comprehensive" liberalism). This then must lead to constitutional freedoms for all ("political" liberalism). It sounds so good. But it is a defiance of the basic Western liberal tradition where liberty has always been less than absolute, witness the outlawing of Mormon polygamy. Islam, however, sees this new revisionist liberalism as becoming dominant. and it doesn't like what it sees. It sees that violence is still outlawed; but it sees immorality as now positively validated in the West as an option.
Church and state
How does the Bible encourage us to think about these things? Certainly there is no place for force in the spread of God's kingdom. By the time of Jesus "holy wars" are forbidden (cf Luke 9.54-55 and Matt 26.51-64). Jesus taught that God's way of salvation is not by the sword but by his death on the cross. The state alone has the right to use force - that is its essential distinctive. But the state is not the Church. Its primary duty is not to preach the gospel but to keep order. So Jesus said: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (Matt 22.21). This was, and is, so basic.
Paul fills out the meaning of those words in Romans 13, where "Caesar" (or the State) is shown to be able to use force as "God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer" (verse 4). Paul has explained in the previous chapter that it is not up to the individual to "take revenge". He or she is to "leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12.19). That wrath - or judgment - will be fully revealed on the judgment day. But in the meantime for the good of society and to restrain the worst effects of fallen human beings, God delegates some of his judicial functions to the state (with a just war being an extension of those judicial functions). But the state must not use force to enforce belief. The fearful doctrine of Hell underlines the importance of human freedom with regard to religious belief. If God give us the freedom to reject him, we must not force people to accept him. So the good government is not one that enforces belief but one where civil order is maintained, so "that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness" (1 Timothy 2.3).
But the government cannot be neutral. While it will allow freedom for religion, it inevitably will have some dominant value system. You cannot be totally open. To be "open" is itself a positive philosophical position and a very dangerous one. It pretends to be something it isn't. So, to take education as an example, people think that if a school is to be totally "open" to all beliefs, it will be absolutely neutral. It won't be. It will be subtly indoctrinating the children in the philosophy of secular humanism or "multifaithism". All sorts of nasty things will probably be creeping in. Once you lose the Fatherhood of God, you soon lose the brotherhood of man. Once you cease to hold Jesus Christ as not only the image of God but also the image of true human being - who do you have? Some, no doubt, would choose a fascist dictator!
The reality is that in the modern world the main options for beliefs or values are Christian, Muslim or secular humanist. To generalize, both Islam and secular humanism do not make the distinction between Caesar and God. Islam ideally would seek to abolish Caesar, which on recent evidence results in a theocratic state with draconian and brutal laws. Secular humanism ideally would seek to abolish God, which on recent evidence results in repressive and brutal totalitarianisms. True freedom comes from following the way of Christ and the Bible's teaching on the Church and state.
Unless there is a revival of Biblical Christianity in the West resulting in new public moral restraints, the prognosis is not good. So we must win our friends in the West for Jesus Christ - our friends who have bought into the false religion of secular humanism. But we also must seek to win (peacefully) Muslims to Christ for their sakes and not just for the resulting restraints on terrorism. They, as all of us, desperately need to hear the good news of Christ and the cross. Sadly, people who talk about Islam as an alternative way to God, fail to realize that Islam by-passes the Cross - the heart of the good news. Here is John Stott's summary of the Koran's teaching on the Cross:
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