EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article by Willis E. Elliott was rejected by the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog. It was a response to a question on Muslim-Christian relations posted by “On Faith’s” Elizabeth Tenety and still online here. Dr. Elliott had been publishing on that blog nearly weekly for over three years. This article was the first of his they rejected, with the exception of one other that entailed only a minor revision, according to the author. In our continuing interest in freedom of speech, Pajamas Media presents it here.
Elizabeth Tenety of the Post posted the following topic of discussion, still online here:
The Mutual Blasphemy of Christianity and Islam.
2011 began with some bleak news for Muslim-Christian relations around the world.
Recent attacks against churches in Iraq, Nigeria and Egypt have killed dozens of Christian worshippers. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is standing by the country’s controversial blasphemy law which critics say threatens religious minorities.
How should political and religious leaders in America and abroad deal with these challenges to interfaith relations?
Numerous religious leaders and experts contributed replies; here’s Elliott’s response, which ended up in the Post’s Memory Hole:
“Mutual blasphemers, love one another!” is the title of an essay I published many years ago. Now as then, the human project is to learn not only to live with, but to love, “the blasphemers” (meaning whichever of the two religions is not yours).
1. But the project, so defined, is not neutral. It is Christian and humanist. Christian: Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Islam, to the contrary, is essentially hostile to “the infidels.” Humanist: Calling evil good is bad news, but the worst news is violence done in the name of God (spelled out, for example, in Mohamed Atta’s theological justification for the attack he led, “9/11”).
2. Blasphemy (irreverent speech or action against a deity or religious person/belief/object) is currently in the news only when Muslims become violent, or threaten violence, when they feel offended: when we Christians feel offended, almost never do we become violent, and almost always we suffer the disrespect in silence.
In the New Testament (and other early Christian literature), much is said about nonviolence, never is violence commanded or even suggested; it is forbidden. Not so, early Muslim literature. The contrast is to be expected: Jesus was anti-violent, Muhammad was violent (a military leader as well as a religious leader).
3. Because Jesus was a failure and Muhammad a success, Christians from the start learned how to be a minority religion and survived Jesus’ failure only by the fact that he didn’t stay dead. Christians don’t know how to behave when they are in power (and, of course, have sometimes abused their power). But Islam was, from its start, majority-minded; and Muslims don’t know how to behave when they are not in power: it enrages them, makes them thin-skinned to “blasphemy,” drives them to achieve power and impose sharia, even motivates some of them to martyr-suicide in killing any they consider enemies of Allah.
4. Muslims are now more aggressive blasphemers against Christianity. In Muslim lands more than a half century ago, I heard no tour-guide blaspheme my religion. Not so my latest experience: the tour-guides went out of their way to insert the statement, “God has no son.” Since we Christians believe in the Holy Trinity, the One God as Father/Son/Holy Spirit, to attack the Holy Trinity is the height of blasphemy.
5. Americans don’t have to go to Muslim lands to hear our religion blasphemed by Muslims. In a Christian church in Portland, OR, I heard an imam (an immigrant from Yemen) say to the post-worship assemblage, “God has no son.” (Not, “We Muslims believe that God has no son.”) When I yelled, “Blasphemy!” the assemblage was shocked to silence and he was so unnerved that he initiated a handshake with me seven times before he left the church.
6. Teaching Islam among “The World’s Great Religions” in the University of Hawaii, I learned how profoundly ignorant of one another’s religion those Christians and Muslims were. And worse than ignorant: misinformed. Growing up to the realities of our shrinking globe is painful, and obscuring differences stunts this growth. I taught the similarities and differences, and rejoice in the increasing efforts toward interfaith understanding. But we can make no essential progress, religious or political, unless we honestly and courageously confront the reality that our two religions are essential enemies, antagonists each to the other’s essence, mutual blasphemers. Only with that realism can the mutual blasphemers begin to learn to get along with each other without violence.
7. Wouldn’t it help if Christians and Muslims stopped trying to convert each other? This understandable question is ignorant of the fact that among the world’s religions, these two are the most essentially missionary: sharing one’s world-view, one’s way of seeing and living in the world, is optional to neither. Muslims will continue to strive (jihad) for dar es salam (a peaceful world under Allah) in dar es harb (the “war” world, all the world not yet under Allah — especially where non-Muslim governments such as the state of Israel are in control of any part of the world that was once under Allah). And “the West” (with rootage in Christianity) will not cease pressing for religious freedom everywhere.