Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Worldview Comprehensive Exam - Question 3

NOTE: This is the final one of my comprehensive exam responses. Like the rest, it is unedited, was written in 80 minutes with no resources at hand. I placed this one last because, along with the first one, it serves as a framework for my own understanding of apologetics and my personal apologetic strategy. I hope you enjoy it, and as always, comments are welcome.

Question #3. Discuss and defend against major objections your view of the role of using evidences and presuppositions in apologetics.

My fundamental approach to apologetics, what I will ‘discuss and defend,’ is an “integrative classical apologetic” approach, illustrated most powerfully in the ministry of William Lane Craig ( I will defend an approach that begins with rational argumentation and demonstration of the probable truth of Christianity.

Apologetics rightfully begins as a personal encounter with another person. There are, of course, impersonal apologetic encounters – over the internet, through written works, etc. – but each of them presume a personal encounter at least on the intellectual sphere. More frequently, our apologetic encounters are truly personal – engagement with another person, a skeptic, seeker, or doubter on a personal, one-to-one (or small group) level.

As such, apologetics must recognize certain truths about the person we are engaging. First, they, like us, are created in the image of God. They are endowed with reason and intellect. They contain within themselves an inherent desire to know and worship God. They are endowed with the freedom to choose, the ability to make real, meaningful choices between good and evil.

Second, they are, like us, radically fallen. The fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden has consequences for all their offspring, which includes every human being. The fall has affected not only their relationship with God (which is irreparably broken), but also their religious and intellectual capacities. Thus, whereas pre-Fall our religious desire was oriented toward God, post-Fall our religious desire is opposed to God.

However, third, the results of the Fall do not result in a total and complete lack of common ground between believer and unbeliever. Christians and non-Christians share a great deal in common, and the common ground establishes the possibility of dialogue and discussion. In personal encounters, however, we will often have to identify the common ground that exists between us and our friend. It will not always be the same!

A. Awakening Religious Desire

A next step in apologetic encounters is awakening religious desire within our partner. Why ought they even to listen to appeals to consider Christianity? I am convinced that within our culture, people are spiritually hungry, but often do not even realize it. Thus, I begin with an account of my own religious experience of growing up a convinced, but empty atheist. The worldview without Christ, particularly the naturalistic modern worldview, is an empty, hopeless, meaningless, purposeless existence. I experienced it, and I felt its powerful nihilism.

However, most contemporary functional atheists do not consistently think through the consequences of their worldview. They see life without God, but seek to retain meaning and purpose within it. Like Loyal Rue, they embrace (or proclaim) a “Noble Lie,” something to retain a semblance of purpose even though it’s a myth. Or, like Richard Dawkins, they seek to proclaim that, despite the fundamental meaningless of life, we can construct something meaningful out of it. Or, like Camus and Sartre, they insist that we must simply act and existentially make life meaningful. But thinking it through, the naturalist must end in a Nietzschean nihilism. If there is no God, there is no eternal life, there is no ultimate purpose in life, there is no meaning in life. There is no hope. There is only bleak, hopeless, infinite darkness in the universe of man. What is man, in the absence of God? An insignificant and doomed member of an insignificant and doomed race on an insignificant and doomed planet within the immense scope of a boundless universe (which itself may then be but an insignificant and doomed member of an infinite multiverse).

But God has created us such that we are existentially incapable of living within that framework. Man matters, and we all know it. We all live that way, even if our worldview denies it. Thus, the Christian apologist will seek to uncover the presuppositions of the one he is engaging, demonstrating the logical end of their worldview. If they embrace a thorough materialistic naturalism, they end up with no purpose, no meaning, no life after death. Nothing of substance or hope. But they cannot live that way. Schaeffer calls this taking the roof off – removing the hedge of protection that people seek to erect to insulate them from the logical extensions of their worldview. Alternatively, he calls it identifying the point of tension within their worldview. Van Til calls it showing the irrationalism and unliveability of the non-Christian worldview. Each way of putting it is correct. Essentially, the apologist must uncover and explain the full nature and scope and consequence of the worldview presuppositions that our friends have and hold. While on its own, this seems (according to Schaeffer) a cruel and cold act, it is actually an act of self-giving love – bringing the other person to the point where they recognize the emptiness of their own worldview, and may consequently be open to considering the truth of the Christian worldview.

B. The Place of Evidences and Proofs

Having (hopefully) brought our apologetic referent to a place where they are willing to consider the faith that is within us, we can turn to demonstrating the truth of the Christian faith on the basis of theistic proofs and evidences.

For the modern naturalist, mere consideration of the existence of God may be a difficult intellectual step. Thus, utilizing the theistic proofs is helpful in showing the rationality of belief in basic theism. That is, before considering Christianity per se, it is often necessary to help people see the probability of the existence of God. Of these, the cosmological, moral, and experiential are the ones that I consider to be the most powerful and persuasive.

The cosmological argument for the existence of God stems from a basic argument: (P1) Everything that begins to exist has an external cause; (P2) The universe began to exist; (Conclusion) Therefore the universe has an external cause. The first premise has been historically unquestioned. It is self-evident that things which begin to exist have a cause outside of themselves. Some insist that contemporary quantum mechanics call this premise into question; however, the products of quantum vacuums are not the result of something coming from nothing. Rather, quantum vacuums themselves contain a rich structural environment which permits the production of quantum particles. The self-evident truth is that nothing comes from nothing, and nothing ever has or will.

The second premise has historically been rejected. Greeks and modernists alike posited the eternality of the universe in a steady state. If the universe had always existed, it did not have a beginning point as such; therefore, there is no need to posit and external cause (creator) for it. On logical grounds, medieval Islamic and Christian theologians argued that there could not be a literal infinite past to the universe – that it was logically incoherent. Examples like Hilbert’s Hotel help to illustrate the difficulties inherent within an actual infinite series.

However, it was not until the rise of Big Bang cosmology in the 20th century that Christian apologists came to take hold of the cosmological argument as a primary proof for the existence of God. Big Bang theory (derisively named by Hoyle) points to a singularity in the past, a point at which the density of the universe was infinitely high, and the space it occupied infinitesimally small, such that all known laws of physics break down at that point. The evidence provided by red shift, cosmic background radiation demonstrate that there is a beginning to the universe – a point at which the space-time continuum begins, exploding into existence out of, literally, nothing. The point is, the scientific evidence demonstrates that there is a beginning to the universe, or that, according to the second premise, “the universe began to exist.”

Granted, some physicists and astronomers seek to avoid the implications of Big Bang theory by positing an oscillating universe, or a Hawking-type imaginary time/no boundary condition; but these are attempts to avoid the obvious implications of what seems self-evident in Big Bang theory – the universe had a beginning, and therefore requires an external cause to bring it into existence.

The moral argument for God’s existence works from the innate moral consciousness of mankind, combined with our acknowledgment of our own failure to live up to our own moral standards, and argues that there must be an external law-maker who gives the moral law. C. S. Lewis nicely summarize the moral argument in his Mere Christianity; Timothy Keller explains it succinctly for a 21st-century audience in his Reasons for God. Man cannot live amorally. We all acknowledge the existence of a moral code. Yet the moral code cannot originate within ourselves (individually) or our society (as a collective), because in either case, the source of the moral code would be insufficient to ground a truly objective morality.

However, we all acknowledge not a particularistic morality, but rather a transcendent morality that applies to all people at all times, whether they like it or not and whether they admit it or not. Hence, Lewis famously argues that morality must be transcendent, otherwise there would be no point in having fought the Nazis. If Nazi morality was simply different than British, then why send all those Brits to France or Holland to die trying to eradicate Nazi morality? If the Holocaust was simply the expression of a different social contract, why react so viscerally and violently against it? Again, our inherent and innate crying out against the injustice and horrors of events like the Holocaust are evidence of a transcendent moral code which we expect all human beings in all times at all places to live up to.
Such a moral code cannot find a suitable foundation in either sociobiology or social contract theory – the two major alternatives to theistic ethics. If morality depends upon us, then it may change tomorrow. The Holocaust might be right tomorrow. Rape might be right tomorrow. Self-sacrificial love could be wrong tomorrow. Or, when we achieve our next “evolutionary step,” morality could change. Thus, perhaps the Nazis were more highly evolved than the rest of us, and we all wiped out the next manifestation of human evolution in World War II. Yet this approach is simply implausible and unliveable. That is not the way we approach ethics. The only sufficient grounding for objective morality is a transcendent moral source – something outside of human morality which grounds our ethics; namely, God.

The argument from religious experience is twofold. First, it points to the religious experience of billions of people throughout the ages, stating that the vast majority of human beings have been incurably religious. All those billions of spiritual human beings could not be wrong; but a naturalistic worldview requires them all to be wrong if there is no God. Second, it points to the unquenchable religious desires that exist within all of us – the drive to know and worship the divine, and the yearning for eternal life. Both these desires are evident from the dawn of human civilization; all human societies have had religious expression and the desire for eternal life. Again, if all there is is stuff, this is incomprehensible.

Critics of such classical / evidential apologetics will argue two things: (1) the cosmological (and moral and experiential) argument is not conclusive or certain; and (2) the cosmological argument does not establish Christianity itself, only a bare theism, or even deism. On both counts, they are right. However, their criticism is simply irrelevant, for the argument is not intended to be or do either. Theistic arguments and proofs are used when someone is open to the possibility of theism. Alternatively, they are useful when someone insists that it is irrational, stupid, or otherwise irresponsible to believe in the existence of God. In the first case, theistic proofs give people strong, persuasive (though admittedly not iron-clad) reasons that they ought to believe God exists. In the second case, theistic proofs show skeptics that there are rational demonstrations of our faith, that we are well within our epistemic rights in assenting to such proofs as the cosmological argument as rational support for our Christian faith.

In reply to the second criticism, I must again admit that they are absolutely correct. But the theistic proofs do not exist in a vacuum either. We use them as a tool in our toolbox; one part of a personal apologetic which is intended to also consider evidences related explicitly to the truth of the Christian faith. If we use the cosmological argument in isolation from everything else, then yes, the criticism is valid and telling. However, since we do not, but rather move on from such theistic proofs to consider the reliability of Scripture and the proofs of the resurrection of Jesus, the objection is muted.

The theistic arguments for theism can be helpfully supplemented by two things: (1) a response to the problem of evil (a defense or theodicy); and (2) a philosophical case for the possibility of miracles. Both are helpful, but are beyond the scope of this essay (and particularly the time I have remaining!).

Supplementing the theistic proofs and rational arguments, my apologetic approach moves on to consider specific evidences for the truth of Christianity. First, the defense of biblical reliability (outlined in answer to Question #2 above) is essential. Christianity is founded upon the inerrancy, inspiration, and authority of Scripture. Thus, we must be able to point to the reliability of Scripture as the source of our faith.

Of course, at this point, Van Til or some comparable presuppositional apologist will turn red in the face. “How can you argue FOR the reliability of Scripture?!?!?! You must begin with the authority of Scripture! It is not a conclusion of apologetic argument, but rather the beginning point.” However, a presuppositional apologist will need to make an argument for adopting Scripture as the starting point for apologetics himself. And on what basis do they do so? Often they insist (as does Van Til) that nothing makes sense unless we do accept Scripture as the starting point. That is, all other starting points for human thought and discourse end up providing insufficient basis for rationality. But why should this matter? Why is reason important? The presuppositionalist is simply acknowledging what the classical apologist uses as an essential starting point – we have to acknowledge the legitimacy of human reason in order to have an apologetic conversation at all! The presuppositionalist is concerned about elevating human reason to autonomous magisterial status – a legitimate concern, but not a flaw that the classical apologist is committed to falling into. I just think it is ironic that presuppositional apologetics object to the classicist’s use of reason, when their only method of establishing the sufficiency of Scripture as an apologetic starting point is, itself, reason.

Nonetheless, there is some merit in the presuppositionalist’s concern that we argue for, rather than from, the reliability (inerrancy, inspiration, and authority) of Scripture. However, their criticism misses some of the existential point of modern apologetics. The impact of higher biblical criticism over the past 300 years has been devastating, both within and without the church. The vast majority of non-Christians are avowedly convinced that the Bible is an unreliable, mythical, figment of early Christians’ imaginations. Many even within the church (Strauss, Reimarus, Schleiermacher, Crossan all think they are saving the church, not destroying the faith) have bought into the unreliability of Scripture. To approach the average nominal Christian or convinced non-Christian (e.g., the Muslim who thinks Scripture to be corrupted) and simply say they should believe this because the Bible says it is so, is insufficient to begin with. That is, we cannot legitimately use Scripture as our starting point, when the person we are conversing with disavows the reliability of Scripture. They simply will not listen to us. If that is our goal, then perhaps we can go ahead and speak to ears that are unhearing. But that is not the apologetic method we observe in the New Testament. Yes, Paul frequently gets frustrated with the Jews in the synagogue when they refuse to listen, refuse to repent, continue stridently in their opposition to the Gospel. But he continually begins with where people are at, and seeks to bring them to a rational acknowledgment of the truth of the Gospel. When evangelizing Jews (giving them the reason for the hope he has), he uses Scripture liberally and continually; when evangelizing Gentiles (giving them the reason for the hope he has), he does not refer to Scripture near so frequently, indeed often beginning with their own poets or religious expressions (e.g. Acts 17).

In short, before many of our contemporary skeptics and seekers will listen to what the Bible has to say, they need to be convinced of why they should listen to what the Bible has to say. Why is it trustworthy? How historically reliable is it? Once we have demonstrated that, we have removed rational obstacles to them considering the claims that the Gospel makes upon them.

From the argument for biblical reliability, it is essential to move on to two fundamental points: (1) the self-understanding of Jesus Christ; and (2) the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Again, both elements are crucial, but time prevents me from deep consideration of them herein.

The self-understanding of Christ is examined in order to demonstrate who Jesus thinks He is. The need is to show that Jesus cannot be considered just a prophet, just a teacher, or a wandering cynic (Crossan), or an eschatological prophet (Schweitzer), but rather that Jesus presents Himself as being God in the flesh. This is established on the basis of the titles used by Jesus to refer to Himself: (a) Son of Man (the divine figure of Daniel 7:13-14); (b) Messiah; and (c) Son of God (in unique intimate fellowship with God the Father in most un-Jewish fashion). It is further confirmed by Jesus’ actions, which assumed divine prerogatives: (a) forgiveness of the sins of others (e.g. Mark 2:1-12); (b) teaching with authority reserved for God (e.g. Matthew 5-7), even correcting rabbinic misunderstanding of Torah; (c) healing without regard for temple procedure or sacrifice; (d) claiming to determine men’s eternal destiny. The claims made through Jesus’ words and works is what ultimately gets Him crucified. The sissy Jesus of the Jesus Seminar and other liberal scholarship simply isn’t radical enough to bother with! Furthermore, the self-understanding of Jesus is confirmed through the understanding of the first generations of Christians, who immediately began to worship Jesus as equal to Yahweh (in most un-Jewish fashion). Why?

Because of the resurrection of Jesus on the third day after His crucifixion. The resurrection is unquestionably the pivotal historical event in the Christian faith, and (from a Christian perspective) in all of human history. Jesus Christ is crucified, but on the third day, so the Christian claims, was raised from the dead, and 40 days later ascended into heaven. The resurrection precipitates a radical change in the worldview of the 1st-century Jewish disciples of Jesus. They begin to worship Jesus as God; they begin worshiping not only on the Sabbath day (the seventh day of the week), but also on the Lord’s Day (the first day of the week); they no longer consider the temple the pre-eminent focal point of worship and faith.

The culmination of Christian apologetics, then, is pointing to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, Craig concludes his Reasonable Faith with a lengthy chapter on the truth of the resurrection; thus, I conclude apologetic arguments and series with the resurrection as well. If Jesus is raised from the dead, this is the crowning confirmation of the truth of Christianity. However, the resurrection is also highly doubted today, again, even within the Christian Church. In our generation, the scholarship and public appearances of John Dominic Crossan have been powerful in persuading many that the resurrection is a ‘metaphor,’ speaking of the continuing empowering presence of Jesus with his disciples community, rather than a literal concrete historical fact in space and time. The metaphor of resurrection is, in my view, the dominant understanding of the resurrection in Canada today, including in most segments of the Christian Church.

Thus, pointing to a historical argument in support of the historicity of the resurrection is crucial. Certain historical facts are crucial in making this argument.

(1) The crucifixion and death of Jesus. Not really doubted by anyone outside of Muslim circles. Nonetheless, it is good to be able to point to Gospel and secular sources which confirm that Jesus died by crucifixion.

(2) The burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea. Crossan disputes the burial, arguing that Mark invents Joseph and the other gospel-writers extrapolate from Mark’s invention. However, there is literally no documentary evidence in support of Crossan’s thesis, and no good reason to dispute the burial story.

(3) The discovery of the empty tomb by women on Easter Sunday. This is most frequently doubted, sometimes through a surface reading of 1 Corinthians 15:4, which does not explicitly mention the discovery of an empty tomb. However, as that passage goes on to discuss the appearances of the risen, physical, Jesus to many witnesses, the empty tomb is clearly presumed.

(4) The appearance of Jesus to many, including the skeptic James and the opponent Paul and a large group of about 500 people. The appearances demonstrate that the resurrection was not a hallucination (hallucinations don’t happen to large groups at the same time). The conversion of James demonstrates that Jesus appeared not only to friends, but also to doubters. And Paul’s conversion is instrumental.

(5) The transformation of the disciples, from fearful cowards into bold proclaimers.

(6) The early preaching of the resurrection in Jerusalem, the very place where the crucifixion occurred. It is striking that there is absolutely no historical record of anyone denying the existence of the empty tomb, despite the early preaching of the resurrection in Jerusalem.

N. T. Wright concludes (rightly) that the birth and growth of the Christian Church in the first century is entirely inexplicable unless Jesus Christ truly was raised from the dead. He is correct. However, it is a fact that many people, despite knowing the arguments and acknowledging the evidence, deny the conclusion. Why?

This is where presuppositions come into play. After examining the theistic proofs and considering the evidences for the truth of the Christian faith, if our conversation partner does not acknowledge the truth of Christianity, it is necessary to consider the impact of their worldview presuppositions. Van Til and other presuppositionalists rightly emphasize the role of worldview in preventing people from being able to consider and embrace the truth of Christianity. Once we work through our apologetic, and demonstrate that Christianity is fully rational and embraceable, we can turn and show someone the reasons why they personally find it difficult or impossible to accept it. Here, the presuppositional insight into the noetic effects of sin, and man’s desire to be autonomous, is helpful and essential.
Thus, in a well-rounded, comprehensive apologetic strategy, it is essential to emphasize the use of reason and evidences. However, it will also become necessary to consider presuppositions, and expose the faulty presuppositions of people who will not accept the evidence for the faith.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

World Religions Comprehensive Exam - Question #3

NOTE: This is the final of my three world religions comprehensive exam questions. Early next week I will post the third of my worldview & apologetics exam questions. As a reminder, these are unmodified versions of essay exam responses - I had 80 minutes for each question, with no resources at hand. This one was fun to work through - hope you enjoy it!

QUESTION C. A few scholars and any number of anti-cult activists see parallels between Islam and the LDS Church. Compare and contrast the rise and development of these two movements and then evaluate the potential of the LDS as a “new Islam”.

About a month ago, I talked to a friend in Edmonton who is now the youth pastor at a small Baptist church. Years ago he led a student mission trip to Utah, and has engaged in significant research into the history and doctrine of the LDS Church. I mentioned to him that I was researching the comparisons between Islam and Mormonism. His response was immediate: “Oh yeah, there are such close parallels; it’s so obvious!”

Two days ago, I had a conversation with a neighbor who is studying at the seminary, and mentioned that I was preparing to write on the parallels between Islam and the LDS Church. His response was just as immediate: “I don’t see it; what are you talking about?”

Is there a legitimate parallel? In this essay, I will argue that there are a number of historical and theological parallels between Islam and the LDS Church, both in their origins and development. However, I will conclude that the discontinuities are greater than the parallels, and that the LDS actually has the potential to be a stronger, more influential Islam.

I. Historical Context

Islam and Mormonism both arose in a context of significant religious turmoil. Mohammad’s Arabia had been dominated by polytheism for centuries; small communities of monotheistic Jews and Christians were present, but relatively unimportant on the Arabian peninsula. There was also, however, a smattering of emerging Arabic monotheists. The global Christian community during Mohammad’s day was fractured and divided – Nestorians, Monophysites, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholics viewed each other with considerable suspicion. The powerful Empires persecuted the Nestorian and Monophysite ‘heresies’. It also seems that the form of Christianity with which Mohammad was most familiar was some unknown perversion of the faith, which worshiped God the Father, Mary his sexual consort, and Jesus his biological offspring (a distinctly unorthodox trinity, to be sure).

Joseph Smith’s American context was similarly embroiled in religious upheaval. Christian monotheism was the unquestioned truth of the day, but Protestant America was divided and fragmented. The Restoration movements (Campbellites) were getting underway, and millenarianism (resulting eventually in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church) was strong as well. Yet there was considerable spiritual hunger in both historical contexts: monasticism and mysticism were powerful in 7th-century Arabia; spiritism and superstition in 19th-century America.

II. Founding Prophet & Revelation

The similarities between the founding prophet and revelation of Islam and the LDS are quite striking. Both men receive messages from angelic visitors – the angel Gabriel for Mohammad, the angel Moroni for Smith. On the other hand, Mohammad is a mature man of 40 at the time of his first revelation, while Smith is a youth of 14. Angelic visitations continue for both men, eventually leading to divine revelations.

Here the differences begin to emerge. Mohammad, who tradition holds was illiterate, receives divine revelation in distinctly oral form – the Qur’an is a command to ‘recite’, a recitation. God’s Word is dictated to and through Mohammad, and is later written down. Smith, on the other hand, is guided to uncover buried golden tablets, which contain the written Word of God preserved for him. Smith is then led to translate the divine revelation through the use of special glasses. God’s Word is already written down for Smith; he only needs to translate it.

Nonetheless, for both Mohammad and Smith, the angelic visitations and divine revelations are the beginning of something new, but simultaneously the recovery of something old and lost. Mohammad held that he was restoring Abrahamic monotheism, which had been revealed through the previous Scriptures, but was then corrupted and violated by later generations of Jews and Christians. Smith held that he was restoring primitive Christianity, which had been revealed through the New Testament, but was then compromised and corrupted by philosophical Greek Christians (Platonic Christianity).

Both Mohammad and Smith, then, viewed the former Scriptures as valuable but corrupted. Hence, the former Scriptures were now being supervened through God’s further revelations. The precise words of divine revelation were crucial in both cases – being particularly revealed through recitation to Mohammad and through inscribed translation to Smith.

A significant difference exists, however. Smith’s Book of Mormon (the golden tablets translated with the glasses) was a one-time revelation, which Smith transcribed and translated and then kept. Mohammad’s Qur’an was revealed over the remainder of his life (610 – 632 A.D.), one Sura (chapter) at a time. Smith did receive further divine revelations during the remainder of his life as well – they were recorded in additional books, particularly the Doctrine & Covenants.

Significantly, however, Muslims hold firmly that divine revelation ceased with the death of Mohammad. The revelations he received from the angel Gabriel were divinely-inspired and sanctioned; but there is no continued revelation through other prophets. Smith, on the other hand, insisted that he was not alone within the Mormon community in receiving divine revelation. Indeed, he emphasized that other Mormon leaders would continue to receive divine revelation after his death. Revelation, in LDS theology, is an ongoing process; revelation, in Muslim doctrine, is complete. This difference cannot be overstated – it represents a chasm between Islam and the LDS Church which cannot be bridged. The parallels have their limits, at which point the discontinuities rise up and outstrip them.

Scholars and (particularly) anti-cult activists often focus on the place of polygamy as a central parallel between Islam and the LDS Church. Indeed, both religions, in their early years, permitted polygamy. But even here there are strong differences. In the first place, Islam did not command polygamy; it merely permitted it within certain restraints and guidelines. It was not considered the norm. Early Mormonism, however, actively promoted polygamy as the rightful natural family relationship. Furthermore, Islam was always open with regards to its permission of polygamy (although many now argue that the Qur’an implicitly tells Muslims that they ought not to engage in such practice). Smith, on the other hand, clandestinely instituted polygamy within the Mormon community, and even denied that it was practiced for a time. Polygamy was viewed in 19th-century America as a bane of devilish intent, and open admission of polygamous practice would have been the death knell for early Mormonism. Finally, the LDS adherence to the doctrine of continuing revelation allowed the Church to outlaw polygamy in the 1890s in order to avoid extinction at the hands of the United States army. Islam never had the resources or the need to eradicate polygamy from its scriptures. To sum up: Islamic polygamy was the exception to the rule, not normative, always open and never denied; Mormon polygamy was hidden and denied at the beginning, then promoted as normative and spiritually healthy, and finally banned by further divine revelation. If this were the sole (or even primary) parallel between Islam and the LDS Church, I would insist that the parallel is so weak as to be meaningless in the end.

A final discontinuity with regards to the founding prophet and revelation of Islam and the LDS Church is with regards to the issue of succession. Mohammad quite clearly did not designate a means of secure succession. He did, apparently, appoint his immediate successor; but beyond that it was entrusted to the wisdom of the umma as a whole to determine future leaders. Smith, on the other hand, developed an elaborate hierarchy of priests and leaders from which future leaders would emerge quite naturally. The consequences of this difference is evident down to the contemporary situation, where LDS leadership is strongly institutionalized and organized, while Islamic leadership is fairly diffuse and localized.

III. Rise and Development

Both Islam and the LDS Church spread and grew rapidly. The political growth of Islam is well-marked through their conquests of Persia, Byzantium, and North Africa. The numerical growth of the LDS Church has been similarly remarkable. From inauspicious beginnings, the LDS Church has emerged as a major religious force in the world – what Rodney Stark calls the most recent successful New Religious Movement. There are evident parallels between the growth and development of Islam and the LDS Church; but again there are also significant discontinuities that throw the significance of the parallels into question. I will look first at the historical development, then at the theological development, of Islam and Mormonism.

A. Historical Development

Islam and the LDS Church began with a common perspective on the nature of the faith. Both desired to integrate faith with a full economic, political, and social system. Mohammad viewed the Islamic umma as the integrated, unified people of God; Smith viewed the LDS Church as the purified church who would live corporately in obedience to His revealed commands. Mohammad and Smith shared a vision of a comprehensive, cohesive, this-worldly faith. Their faith provided all that was needed for the political, economic, and social leadership of a corporate body.
Both Mohammad and Smith pursued the implementation of that corporate vision. Both initially met with considerable opposition from the established powers that be – the polytheistic pagans of Mecca and the unsympathetic Protestants of America. Both then fled to perceived safer havens – the hijra to Medina and the Mormon establishment of Nauvoo. Muslims mark their calendars by the hijra (A.H. – after hijra), because that is when Islam was able to take full effect upon a corporate body. The Mormon flight was a little more elaborate. Nauvoo proved to be vulnerable to external opposition as well, and after Smith’s death the LDS community began a long trek to present-day Utah. The Mormon calendar is marked by that trek – July 24 being the day that the Great Salt Lake came into the view of the pilgrims. There is certainly a strong parallel between the LDS and Islam with regards to the founding corporate vision, and the commitment to move to a place where that vision could be pursued and actualized.

But the parallel ends with the Mormon trek to Utah. Mohammad’s Muslim community immediately engaged in aggressive warfare with the polytheistic powers of Mecca and the Arabian peninsula, and emerged victorious. After solidifying their hold on Arabia, Muslim armies swept out of Arabia and conquered the tired armies of Persia, Byzantium, and North Africa. The LDS Church has no parallel for the Muslim conquests. Instead, the geopolitical circumstances that the young LDS Church encountered was not that of a decadent, declining world empire; but rather that of a strong, vibrant American nation flush with manifest destiny. When gold was discovered in the west, Utah became of significant interest to the American government. The Mormons were not left alone to achieve their utopian religious vision; federal troops interfered. After the conclusion of the civil war, the federal government turned its full attention to Utah, and the LDS Church found itself under siege, particularly due to the now-open practice of polygamy. Under intense pressure, and the threat of financial and corporate extinction, president Woodruff (?name?) ‘received’ a further ‘revelation’ that the time for polygamy within the LDS Church was now past. Polygamy was renounced and ‘abandoned’, at least officially (unofficial polygamy persisted for some years).

Thus, while the budding Islamic empire established its pre-eminence in its homeland and burst forth from there to expand a unified political-religious empire; the fledgling LDS Church withdrew to Utah, where it was besieged and eventually had to capitulate to the dominant federal government. In other words, Islam achieved its vision of a unified church-state; Mormonism failed to do so.

B. Theological Development

(1) Theology: The Muslim and Mormon conceptions of God are not only discontinuous, they are contradictory. The only parallel they have is heterodoxy with regards to traditional Christianity. The Muslim God is absolutely unitary, and fundamentally transcendent. The Mormon God is definitely triune, and fundamentally immanent. Allah created man; the Mormon God began as a man, and progressed to divinity. Muslims cannot intimately know God (setting aside the Sufi quest for the time being); Mormons can not only know God, they can become God themselves.

(2) Revelation: The Muslim and Mormon conceptions of divine revelation differ in a similar fashion. To Muslims, God’s revelation is complete and final. There is no need of further revelation, since God’s revelation through the Qur’an is complete. What is needed now is obedience and right practice. To Mormons, however, God’s revelation is continuous. God continues to speak to the elders and prophets within the LDS Church, and the body of Scripture thus continues to grow – this is anathema to Muslims! Furthermore, Mormons (like Christians) believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to believers to provide immediate divine guidance throughout daily life. Again, to Muslims, this is blasphemous.

(3) Founding Figures: Speaking ill of Mohammad is a capital offense in many Muslim countries. The prophet is held in high reverence. Indeed, the shahadah (declaration of faith) is not solely “There is one God, Allah,” but also, “and Mohammad is his messenger.” A Muslim will not smile upon reviling the name of Allah; but a Muslim will not tolerate reviling the name of Mohammad. Through the development of the hadith and sunna (the traditions of the further teachings and practices of Mohammad), the example of the prophet is held up as the perfect Islamic ideal. Mohammad never claimed to be sinless, but later Muslims make that claim for him. The situation is considerably different within the LDS Church. When apologists like Stephen Robinson try to emphasize the similarities of Mormonism and evangelicalism, they tend to avoid speaking of Joseph Smith at any length. Smith is not rejected or renounced; he is merely ignored and downplayed. He certainly does not hold the pre-eminent place in contemporary Mormonism that Mohammad continues to hold in contemporary Islam. (Indeed, I hear that the status of Joseph Smith has been removed from the main floor of the temple in Salt Lake City, and placed in hidden recesses of the basement.) Furthermore, Mormons emphasize that Smith admitted his own sinfulness and imperfection, a contrast to Islamic idealization of the prophet Mohammad.

(4) Priesthood: A final discontinuity in theological development has already been alluded to. Mohammad never established a priesthood, or a body of learned followers which would perpetuate the leadership of the Islamic umma. Smith, on the other hand, established orders of priesthood that would continue after his own death. Mormon hierarchy reaches its apex in the Order of the Twelve Apostles, who must have obtained to the highest level of priesthood (Melchizadek?) – it is from the Twelve Apostles that the future president of the LDS Church must arise. Succession in the LDS Church is organized and established; not so in Islam – hence the early split between Sunni and Shi’a over succession to Ali (the 4th caliph). Along the same lines, the LDS Church is a highly-structured, highly-institutionalized faith – a radical difference from the diffuse nature of worldwide Islam.

IV. The LDS Church as a New Islam?

Christian apologists and anti-cult activists are often strongly influenced by the relationship of Islam and the LDS Church to evangelical Christianity. From an orthodox Christian viewpoint, there are undeniable parallels between Islam and the LDS Church.

(1) Both arise in contexts where we can bemoan the failure of the Church to be the Church of Christ. The fragmentation, disunity, and disputation within Christianity in 7th-century Byzantium and 19th-century America is a blight upon the reputation of Christ’s Church, and fed the rise of new religious movements in Islam and Mormonism.

(2) Both faiths begin with male prophets who receive angelic visitations leading to new divine scriptures.

(3) Both faiths repudiate the corruptions within and deviations of contemporary Christianity.

(4) Both faiths contain misunderstandings of, or misrepresentations of, orthodox Christian belief.

(5) Both faiths represent ‘Christian heresies’.

(6) Both faiths grew with incredible rapidity, becoming worldwide faiths within 100-150 years.

(7) Fundamentally, both faiths are rejections of biblical Christianity, and are thus part of the ‘broad road’ of Matthew 7.

It is this last parallel which often dominates the mindset of Christian apologists – both Islam and the LDS Church draw people away from saving faith in Jesus Christ and into the false hope of a false religion.

If we get past those similarities and parallels, however, we discover (as I hope I have shown) that the discontinuities (and even contradictions) are far greater than the parallels.

What is the potential of the LDS Church as a ‘new Islam’? I think it is evident that there is no hope for the LDS Church to become a new Islam. Islam was, from the very beginning to the current day, a drive for a unified expression of religion, politics, and society. Islam is a way of life which governs an entire society. Islam expanded its reach through military conquest. Mormonism has not done any of that, nor is there any hope or expectation of its doing so in the future. The LDS Church has grown in the 20th century and beyond through evangelistic means. The dream of a utopian Mormon society has been replaced by the drive for a sanctified Mormon community within society.

From that perspective, however, the potential of the LDS Church in the contemporary world is perhaps even greater than that of Islam (aside from the incredible inferiority of numbers). The LDS Church is well-suited to accommodate itself to the reigning political philosophy of the society in which it exists. The emerging patriotism and political activism of Mormons in America is astounding, especially in comparison to the anti-American rhetoric of Mormonism in its first 50 years. The LDS Church can exist contentedly as a distinct minority in whatever context, seeking to grow through persuasion and evangelism, and not expecting to take political control or power. It remains to be seen whether Islam can do the same.

Is Mormonism a new Islam? No. There are undeniable parallels; but the discontinuities far outweigh them.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Philosophy Comprehensive Exam - Question #2

NOTE: Again, these are unedited responses from comprehensive exams, answers given with no resources or materials at hand. This one was an exhilerating experience for me ... a topic I do not always have opportunity to address.

QUESTION 2. Apply the Ten Commandments to environmental ethics. Which commandments apply – and how, and why?

Scarcely a single secular ethics textbook is written today which does not include a lengthy discussion of environmental ethics or ecology responsibility. On the other hand, many lengthy treatises on Christian ethics avoid or minimize discussion of the same topics (thus, for example, Oliver O’Donovan’s Resurrection and the Moral Order contains no discussion whatsoever, while John Frame’s 930-page Doctrine of the Christian Life contains a mere two page discussion). I find this exceedingly strange, as I believe that Christians should be at the forefront of the movement toward environmental responsibility and ethics. In this essay, I will argue for the necessity of a vibrant Christian environmental ethic, based primarily upon the Ten Commandments, but supplemented by the doctrine of creation and the cultural mandate of Genesis 1. First, I will address the continued applicability of the Ten Commandments within Christian ethical discussion. Second, I will observe the intertwined nature of the Ten Commandments. Third, I will address environmental ethics from the foundational framework of the doctrine of creation and mankind’s cultural mandate. Finally, I will demonstrate how and why seven of the Ten Commandments relate, directly or indirectly, to a Christian environmental ethic.

I. The Continued Applicability of the Ten Commandments in Christian Ethics

At the outset, it is necessary to address the applicability of the Ten Commandments. While some Christians question whether the entire breadth of God’s law revealed in the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy) continues to inform and direct Christian ethics, the continued applicability of the Ten Commandments is almost unquestioned amongst Christian theologians. The sole exception is the fourth commandment – the Sabbath. On this front, many Christians argue that the command to respect the Sabbath day as a day of rest and worship has been abrogated by the new covenant in Christ and the institution of the Lord’s Day as the proper day of Christian worship. There is, however, no mention in the New Testament of any of the Ten Commandments (or other aspects of the Mosaic law) being abrogated or replaced – indeed, Jesus insists (Matthew 5:17ff) that he has not come to abolish the law. Aspects of the Old Testament law are indeed fulfilled in Christ, but it is difficult to see how the Sabbath commandment (or any of the other Ten Commandments) is fulfilled in Christ and therefore no longer binding. It is easier to note that commandments regarding the appropriate temple sacrifices and offerings have been fulfilled through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ – the book of Hebrews makes this quite clear. Thus, we no longer bring doves or bulls or goats or grain offerings or drink offerings or wave offerings to church on Sunday mornings – although I must admit that it would certainly enliven our contemporary worship services if we did! Furthermore, some of the ritual cleanliness laws regarding the appropriate measures to take before approaching the presence of God in the tabernacle or synagogue or temple have been fulfilled in Christ.

Regarding the Sabbath commandment, however, I do not see how Christ has fulfilled what was commanded, thereby removing the obligation to honor the fourth commandment (observe the Sabbath Day – in six days you shall do your work, the seventh day is to be a day of rest, holy to the Lord your God; for in six days he made the heavens and the earth, and rested on the seventh day). Jesus certainly does make it clear that some of the Sabbath regulations that had been built up through the rabbinic tradition were not particularly honoring to God; he also insists that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” But nowhere does he insist or even insinuate that the Sabbath is somehow abrogated through his life, death, and resurrection. Quite the contrary. I agree with John Frame, who argues that the Sabbath is a ‘creation ordinance’ – presented by God as a commandment not just through the Decalogue of Exodus 20, but even implicitly commanded in the beginning of Genesis 2. “Thus, in six days the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array; on the seventh day God rested. He looked at all he had made, and behold, it was very good.” [rough paraphrase; please forgive inaccuracies of transmission!] As a creation ordinance, the Sabbath is something which will never be abrogated; thus, it remains incumbent upon Christians today to consider how the Sabbath ordinance applies to them. This will become important as we consider the application of the Ten Commandments specifically to the question of environmental ethics. For now, however, it is sufficient to note that the Ten Commandments do indeed continue to apply to Christians. They are a part of God’s Old Testament law, an expression of His holy character and moral nature, and a binding part of our covenant with the Lord God Almighty.

II. The Nature of the Ten Commandments

When asked for his opinion of the most important of God’s laws, Jesus sums up the Ten Commandments: “The first is this: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second is like it: to love your neighbor as yourself.” Christian theologians have long noted that the Ten Commandments can be effectively, though imprecisely, summed up by designating commandments one through four as “love God,” and commandments five through ten as “love your neighbor.”

However, it is essential to note that the separation, helpful and effective as it may be, is entirely artificial. We cannot separate love of God from love of neighbor. Note the question that Jesus is answering when he gives the ‘two’ greatest commandments: “Teacher, which one is the most important of God’s laws?” Jesus is being asked for a single commandment which sums up or epitomizes God’s law. Instead, he provides what looks like two commandments: love God AND love your neighbor. He does so because there is and can be no distinction between the two. The Apostle John writes that he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot truly love God, whom he has not seen (1 John 3). Furthermore, John writes that people will know that we love God by observing the love that we have for one another (John 13?). The clear correlation is that a sincere and vibrant love for God will necessarily result in a sincere and vibrant love for our neighbor; on the flip side, a life that demonstrates a lack of love for our neighbor is a clear indication that we lack a sincere and authentic love for God.

Thus, we should not artificially distinguish the Ten Commandments, thinking that we can somehow be in faithful obedience to nine of them, yet be lacking in one. As the apostle James writes, one who fails to keep the law at one point, fails to keep the entire law (James 2). Faithfulness to God’s law is a complete package. Each of the Ten Commandments has a bearing upon the other nine. This, again, will be of importance when we come to consider the implications of the Ten Commandments for a Christian environmental ethic.

Another helpful distinction regarding the Ten Commandments is what the Reformed tradition (e.g. the Westminster Confession) calls the broad vs. the narrow implications of each commandment. Each of the Ten Commandments (particularly numbers 6 through 9) has, on the surface, a very specific application. For example, we are commandment (#6) “Do not murder.” That is, do not exercise unauthorized lethal action upon another human being. If I am mad at my brother Abel because he offers a better sacrifice than me, I cannot express that anger by striking out and killing Abel. Doing so is a violation of the sixth commandment. That is the specific, narrow, implication of the sixth commandment. However, the broad extrapolation of the sixth commandment uses the initial principle, that of respecting and honoring the life that God has breathed into our fellow man, and their creation in the image of God; and applies it to further circumstances. Thus, the Westminster Confession also urges us to refrain from speaking slanderously against our neighbor or against our enemy, as doing so expresses our contempt for a fellow creature of God.

John Frame supplies a helpful matrix through which to apply the Ten Commandments in both their broad and their narrow contexts. He argues for a tri-perspectival approach, which seeks to uncover the normative principles contained within God’s inspired Word (the normative approach), understand the contemporary circumstances to which those principles apply (the situational approach), and elucidate how God desires for us to respond in obedience (the existential approach). The normative-situational-existential approach to ethics reminds us that God’s Word does indeed provide all of the normative principles that we require to engage in a robust Christian ethic, that we must apply Christ’s wisdom in understanding how those principles apply to our situation, and that the indwelling Holy Spirit guides us into faithful obedience in our ethical lives. Again, this tri-perspectival approach will be helpful when we apply the Ten Commandments specifically to environmental ethics.

III. Environmental Ethics, the Doctrine of Creation, and the Cultural Mandate

Before considering the impact of the Ten Commandments themselves upon Christian environmental ethics, it is necessary to begin at the beginning. A Christian environmental ethic must start with a doctrine of Creation. The universe is God’s, and everything within it. Genesis 1 speaks clearly of God creating the heavens and the earth ex nihilo – out of nothingness (a creation account which, incidentally, coheres quite closely with contemporary astrophysical models of the origins of the universe). Whereas other Ancient Near Eastern creation myths involve the gods taking pre-existent matter and forming or shaping it, the Hebrew creation account uniquely insists that Yahweh made the stuff itself. All of Christian ethics must begin here, with a firm doctrine of God as the Creator and sustainer of all that is; but it is particularly important than environmental ethics begins at this point. When we talk about ‘sustaining’ the earth, or ‘protecting’ the environment, we need to acknowledge that we are not seeking to maintain something which we have created, or something which is just randomly here, or something which is itself the lifeforce of the universe. Rather, we are seeking to protect, sustain, or maintain something which is the unique and special creation of the Lord God Almighty.

Indeed, we endeavor to do so because God has commanded us to do so. In Genesis 1:28, after creating human beings, God commands them to: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue (or control) it. Rule over (or reign over) the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the creatures that walk along the ground . . .’ [again, forgive the rough paraphrase]. This passage is often designated as “the cultural mandate,” and involves a multifold imperative given to mankind. (1) Be fruitful and multiply – enjoy the sexual reproductive capacities that God has endowed you with. (2) Fill the earth – it is not a bad thing to have many children. (3) Subdue or control the earth – we are not only permitted, but even commanded, to take charge, and to actively subdue the earth. This has immense implications for environmental ethics. Many people are inherently opposed to the building of dams on rivers, as it impedes the migratory path of spawning fish, and affects sedimentary buildup in the riverbeds. I sympathize with the concerns (more on that shortly), but must also insist that the cultural mandate suggests that the building of dams, which reduce the frequency and destructiveness of flooding along major river systems, is generally pursued in accordance with the cultural mandate. (4) Rule over (reign over) the fish of the sea, etc. Man is not simply to control or subdue the earth; man is to exercise sovereign leadership over all of creation.
Secular environmentalists often insist that Christian theology gives a carte blanche to environmental degradation and destruction, because of the cultural mandate. After all, they argue, Genesis 1 gives us permission to “rule over” the rest of creation. First off, let me acknowledge that they are entirely right – Scripture not only gives us permission to rule over the rest of creation, but explicitly commands us to do so. However, the understanding of sovereignty or lordship which secular environmentalists have in mind is (or at least ought to be) fundamentally different from a biblical understanding of lordship. What does it mean to rule over creation, from a biblical perspective? What is our theology of Lordship?

(1) First and foremost, our lordship over creation is not absolute, but is rather derivative. We are not the absolute sovereigns of the earth. Our sovereignty is given to us by God, and He is the ultimate ruler of all that is. We are underlords, not overlords.

(2) Second, biblical lordship is not destructive or self-oriented. Jesus provides us with the picture of biblical lordship in John (10?), contrasting a Godly model of leadership with the model of leadership followed by fallen man. ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; not so with you. Rather, he who desires to be the greatest must be the servant of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is the ultimate example of biblical lordship; and his lordship is not oriented towards himself or his own needs. Rather, it is a self-sacrificing, self-giving, other-oriented leadership. Sadly, the effects of mankind’s fall into sin (Genesis 3) has a powerfully destructive effect, not just upon our relationship with God, but also upon our relationship with fellow human beings and with the created order itself. Thus, the exercise of authority within the fallen human order is often selfish and destructive. Examples of totalitarian political regimes have proliferated throughout human history, but the 20th century saw the rise of perhaps the most destructive totalitarian regimes ever witnessed – Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, and Maoist China. Other totalitarian regimes have presided over injustices and oppression in central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia. For many contemporary proponents of secular environmentalism, therefore, the notion of ‘lordship’ or ‘ruling’ over creation brings to mind purely negative connotations. They perceive authority through the negative framework of fallen human political structures. Thus, we need to recover and promote a biblical meaning of lordship in order to stress that the cultural mandate of mankind as a ruler over creation is not a mandate to pillage, rape, and destroy.

(3) Third, Biblical lordship is nurturing and other-oriented. God is Lord over the lives of Christians, but we understand that God does not rule over us in order to oppress us, or to prevent us from achieving our own good. Rather, we acknowledge that God has our best interests at heart, and indeed He alone knows what is best for us. Thus, God rules over us, commanding us in the ways that will lead to life, and forbidding us from paths that lead to destruction. God’s lordship is a loving sovereignty, and provides the model for biblical human authority and rule. The kings of Israel were commanded to have the best interests of the people at heart, and not to rule selfishly. They didn’t work that out very obediently, for the most part; but the ideal was clear and evident to them. When we seek to construct a Christian environmental ethic, we must insist that our cultural mandate is enunciated along those same lines. We do not have the right to degrade God’s created order for our own selfish purposes. Rather, we have the responsibility to exercise stewardship over what God has created and graciously entrusted to our care. Yes, we are commanded to subdue and control the earth, and to rule over it. But that is not a green light to pursue our selfish interests at any environmental cost. Quite the contrary.

(4) Finally, the cultural mandate commands us to respect the environment as God’s creation, and to sustain and preserve it. Just as a biblical husband is to exercise authority within the home, but not in a domineering, abusive, or selfish manner; so too humanity corporately is to exercise authority over creation, but not in a domineering, abusive, or selfish manner. Husbands are to love their wives; mankind is to love creation. Husbands are to nurture their wives; mankind is to nurture creation. Wives are not the property of their husbands; creation is not owned by mankind.

With the framework of a robust doctrine of creation and an appreciation of the cultural mandate in hand, it is time to turn to the Ten Commandments themselves, and assess how they apply to environmental ethics.

IV. Environmental Ethics and the Ten Commandments

It is important to keep in mind that the Ten Commandments are strongly intertwined, and have a bearing upon one another. Nonetheless, my discussion of environmental ethics will focus on the first and tenth commandments, with brief discussions of others.

A. Avoiding the Excesses of Contemporary Environmentalism: The First Commandment

The first commandment states simply: “You shall have no other gods besides (or before) me.” In Matthew 6:24, Jesus reminds his audience that no man can serve two masters. Bruce Thornton, an irreverent and contrarian agnostic, argues (in Plagues of the Mind) that the ecological movement has become explicitly religious. He is certainly not alone in making that observation. The avowed atheist, Carl Sagan, regularly spoke of nature with the divine capital letter (“Nature”); primary school textbooks regularly talk about the importance of cherishing and protecting “Mother Earth.” The influence of native American religious traditions has been powerful in urging contemporary environmentalists towards a spiritual understanding of rocks, trees, animals, and the rest of the created order. Even when talking about the weather in casual conversation, people will often comment on the ‘mood’ of ‘mother nature’ or ‘nature’, as if nature were personified.

Certainly, a lot of such talk is innocuous and innocent, and bereft of explicit theological undertones. However, it must be acknowledged that in many circles, such talk has explicit religious meaning. Panentheism (God in everything) and pantheism (God is everything) are prominent worldviews within contemporary culture, but are nowhere so evident as in environmental activist groups. As Christians, we share with environmentalists a dedication to exercising caring stewardship over creation; but we must part ways when it comes to our understanding of what it is that we are caring for!

The first commandment concerns the nature of God, and hence also addresses the nature of nature itself. Nature is not God. There is a qualitative distinction between Creator and Creation. God is not contained within what He has made. When we exercise environmental stewardship, we are not taking care of God Himself; rather, we are caring for what God has made and entrusted to us, in obedience to His cultural mandate to us.

Thus, we must be careful as engaged Christians in how we talk about our environmental goals and pursuits. We must not allow the unbiblical worldview of non-Christian environmentalism to affect us; we must keep in our conscious mind the sharp distinction between God and Creation. This includes the obvious narrow implication of refusing to worship Creation. But it also involves a broader extrapolation from the first commandment and the third commandment (‘Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.’). The third commandment prohibits us from using God’s name in vain. This would include, I would argue, speaking of things other than God with terms we ought to use only for God.

What words do we use to refer to our environmental concerns? What terminology do we utilize? From my observations, we often fall into the contemporary default of referring to ‘the environment’, ‘nature’, ‘the earth’, ‘ecology’, or even ‘mother earth’. All of these terms, I would argue, are either explicitly or implicitly governed by the assumptions and definitions provided by panentheism and pantheism. Hence, we should not regularly use those terms. Instead, we should consciously use the more appropriate Christian terms: ‘creation’, ‘created order’, ‘God’s world’. Even in expression the goals of our environmental ethics, we should consciously differentiate our position from secular or pantheist ecologists, by talking explicitly about ‘stewardship’ or ‘lordship’ rather than simply ‘protection’ or ‘maintenance’. Ideally, our ‘Christian environmental ethics’ should not be called that at all – rather, we should talk about being engaged in ‘Creation stewardship’. Yes, this will require a regular definition of our terminology, but is that such a bad thing? After all, it will ensure that we are being faithful to God’s commandments (we are honoring His name, and not referring to His things in irreverent ways) and will offer opportunities to explain our deepest Christian convictions (we are stewards, caretakers, of what God has made). Thus, precision in our terminology can open the door to Christian witness, and helps us resist the temptation to slide into casual secular conversational terminology.

B. The Implications of the 4th, 6th, and 8th Commandments

My focus in this essay is upon the first and tenth commandments. However, each of the Ten Commandments has a bearing upon Christian environmental ethics, and it is worthwhile to note how three commandments in particular apply.

The fourth commandment has been discussed briefly earlier in this essay – “Honor the Sabbath Day. For six days you shall labor and do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” The Sabbath commandment is an ordinance of God’s created order, given originally in implicit form at the beginning of Genesis 2, and expanded considerably in God’s covenant with Israel. The Sabbath is connected to God’s act of creation, and his resting on the seventh day; it is also connected to God’s bringing the Israelites out of Egypt in the Passover event. The notion of ‘rest’ is crucial to the Sabbath – completing our work in six days, and engaging in a holy rest on the seventh day. Of course, the Sabbath anticipates the eschatological Sabbath, wherein our earthly labors will be complete and we will enter our eternal rest prepared for us by God. But our exercise of Sabbath here and now is not merely an anticipation of the eschatological Sabbath; it is also integral to how God has created us and the rest of the created order.

A part of the larger extrapolation of the Sabbath was a Sabbath for the land. God commanded the Israelites to practice ‘crop rotation’ – to grow crops on their land for six years, but on the seventh year to allow the land to ‘rest’ from its labors. Modern agricultural practice has acknowledged the inherent wisdom of the Sabbath approach, and crop rotation is a common practice in most Western nations today. Sadly, crop rotation is not practiced in many developing countries, where the pressures to produce crops now compels subsistence farmers to clear land, plant crops, and continue to grow crops until the soil is no longer capable of sustaining plants. Lack of crop rotation leads to soil exhaustion and environmental degradation. This is not only an environmental catastrophe; it is also a violation of the 4th commandment. A robust Christian ‘Creation stewardship’ ethic will include the notion of environmental Sabbath – something which can apply not only to crop rotation, but also to fishing and hunting.

The 6th commandment is fairly straightforward in its narrow application – ‘Do not murder.’ John Frame argues that the prohibition against murder does not preclude the taking of another human life in all circumstances, noting that (1) the very next chapters in Exodus include specific case studies of an Israelite killing an intruder, and (2) the Old Testament is replete with discussions of warfare, wherein Israelite soldiers kill enemies without apparently violating the 6th commandment. I appreciate the Anabaptist commitment to pacifism and avoidance of taking others’ lives even in warfare (as exemplified, e.g., by Stanley Hauerwas); nonetheless, I must admit that Frame’s analysis is correct. There are (very rare) times when individual humans are authorized to (regrettably and regretfully) take the life of another person, and there are also (more frequent) times when human authorities (governments, judiciaries) are authorized (regrettably and regretfully) to take the life of others.

Nonetheless, the Reformed and Anabaptist traditions are agreed that the 6th commandment involves a radical call to the preservation of life. We are to respect the life of others, for human beings are made in the image of God, and are created and loved by God. We are to do all we can to avoid taking a life. This extrapolation of the 6th commandment applies to Creation stewardship ethics in two ways.

First, we are to acknowledge that certain human actions have negative environmental consequences which may (possibly or probably) result in the death of others. For example, clear-cutting the entire forest cover of the Canadian Rockies would almost certainly result in a proliferation of floods and mudslides in both the mountains and the foothills, as the land would be far less capable of absorbing large amounts of precipitation. Those floods and mudslides would most likely result in a large loss of property and of life. Hence, a respect for the 6th commandment, which compels us to avoid causing the death of others to the greatest extent possible, requires us to acknowledge the sinfulness of total or widespread clearcutting. The Christian argument is not simply that clearcutting is ugly (though it is that), that it is economically unsustainable in the long run (though it is that) – rather, the practice is an actual violation of God’s express command to protect and nurture life.

Second, the commandment to respect, cherish, and protect life extends beyond our fellow human beings to the other living creatures which God has made. The creation mandate of Genesis 1 calls upon us to rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, etc. While Christians certainly do not believe that animals have rational souls capable of sinning against God and experiencing redemption through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ; we nonetheless acknowledge animals as fellow members of God’s Created order. Moreover, we acknowledge that we are their stewards, their sovereign lords. Just as political ‘lords’ are biblically intended to rule in the best interests of their human subjects, so too we as ‘Creation stewards’ are to rule in the best interests of the animals that are entrusted to our care. Thus, many Christians are committed to a vegetarian lifestyle out of principled conviction. Others avoid eating meat because they are appalled at the way that animals are treated in chicken farms or large cattle operations. It is easy to abuse or misunderstand this aspect of the 6th commandment, but we must acknowledge (with Hauerwas) that sometimes vegetarianism will be an authentic act of obedience to the 6th commandment.

The 8th commandment prohibits stealing from our neighbor. As time and space are running short, I must limit my observations of this commandment to the following: to what extent do our economic and environmental practices ‘steal’ from current and future generations of human beings? If British Columbia were to build further dams and reservoirs on the Columbia River, diverting its waters before it can flow into the United States, I argue that we would be ‘robbing’ our southern neighbors of their water supply. Similarly with the Jordan River in the Middle East. As fresh water becomes more scarce and precious, disputes over the flow and control of rivers will become increasingly contentious. We must acknowledge that the 8th commandment has a strong statement upon our responsibility.

C. The Heart of Creation Stewardship: The Tenth Commandment

The tenth commandment might seem an odd one to label as the heart of Creation stewardship (environmental ethics). “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife or oxen, . . .” However, I argue that the prohibition of covetousness actually strikes at the heart of the major cause of environmental degradation today – materialism and consumerism. The prohibition against coveting our neighbor’s possessions does not merely forbid our actively seeking to take what rightfully belongs to our neighbor (as in the moving of boundary stones or using false weights). Rather, as the Westminster Confession notes, it involves further things. When Jesus applies the Ten Commandments to his audience in Matthew 5, he always brings the outward commands to bear upon the inward state of our heart. “Do not murder … I tell you do not be angry with your brother without cause. … Do not commit adultery … I tell you that he who lusts after a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The Ten Commandments are not just speaking to outward obedience to the letter of the law. Rather, they speak to the condition of our heart, and the source of the outward obedience (or lack thereof). Thus, the Westminster Confession acknowledges that the 10th Commandment speaks to the primary motivations of covetousness: greed and envy. In common parlance, the problem is that of ‘wanting’ – not just wanting to have what belongs to somebody else, but always wanting more. I remember reading of a major CEO, I believe it was either Iacocca or a Rockefeller, who was asked by a journalist (concerning their incredible wealth), “How much money will be enough?” His response: “Always just a little bit more.” This nicely encapsulates the fundamental sin of the human heart – covetousness; always wanting a little bit more than we have right now. The newer car; the newest electronic gadgets; the newest fashion lines; the bigger house; the bigger car; the vacation home.

The excess of human ‘wanting’ has wreaked havoc upon God’s created order. We now possess the technological capacity to extract more resources from Creation, and produce more consumable goods, than ever before. The positive consequence of this has been a steady and remarkable rise in the living standards of most people around the world – a lower proportion of the world’s population lives at a subsistence level today than ever before. The negative consequence has been a steady degradation of God’s Creation. Fisheries around the world are exhausted, depleted by unconscientious fishing strategies and policies. Several species of birds, reptiles, and mammals have been hunted to extinction, their feathers or hides or fur being coveted for fashion accessories (or innards being valued for medicinal or superstitional benefits). Human agricultural has been pushed out to the margins of arable land, using techniques that have exhausted the soil and resulted in increasing desertification. The root cause of much environmental degradation, in a word, is materialism. Human greed, the constant ‘wanting’ for more, has serious environmental side-effects. I am not ignorant of the positive contributions of that same human technological advance; here I merely point out the consequences it has had upon God's creation.

The cultural mandate to be faithful stewards of God’s creation commands us as Christians to live differently, and to consume differently. Do we really need Al Gore’s 6000 square foot home? Can we responsibly justify the consumption of energy and resources that it requires? We are neither commanded nor permitted to ‘want, want, want’. Indeed, the biblical mandate is twofold: (1) Be content with what you have, whether little or much; and (2) Do not let the love of money (stuff) become a snare. Regrettably, many in the Western church have been consumed by consumerism; materialism has such a strong sway over us. Creation stewardship requires us to renounce the ways of the world, including the drive to accumulate and consume more, in favor of a simpler, more contented lifestyle.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

World Religions Comprehensive Exam - Question #2

NOTE: This is another unedited reproduction of an essay answer given on my comprehensive exams last week. Essay answers were given in 80 minutes, with no resources at hand; that will show a times!

QUESTION B. Describe the rise of Islam in the Modern West and evaluate the potential of Islam as a major player in the religious life and thought of the West in the 21st century.

The relationship between Islam and the West has been marked by mutual misunderstanding, suspicion, and hostility. Nonetheless, the latter half of the 20th century saw an increasing presence of Islam in Western (Christian) nations, both in the form of individual Muslims and Islamic organizations.

Earlier this week, I received an email from my uncle, which contained a forwarded 9-minute video clip. I cannot remember the name of the organization which produced the video (except insofar as it was a Catholic organization), but the video expressed what has become a common theme (a common fear, perhaps) amongst Westerners – Islam is poised to become the dominant force in Western Europe and North America, and by 2100 the West will no longer be ‘Christian’, but rather ‘Islamic’. The video was accompanied by ominous music, and was narrated in somber, funeral-home tones. Yet the facts expressed therein were undeniably true. Islamic presence in the West is certainly growing, and if trends continued unabated, there will be more Muslims than Christians in many Western nations within 50 years.

In this essay, I will seek to uncover the complex relationship between Western Christianity and Islam through the pre-modern and modern periods. I will briefly discuss the place of Islam in pre-modern Western Christianity, focusing upon the origin and spread of Islam and the Christian ‘Crusades’. I will then examine the relationship between western nations and Islamic states from 1400-1900, focusing on the Ottoman Turks, the Spanish Moors, and European colonialism. I will look at the 20th-century changes wrought by immigration and reconstruction, and survey the contemporary place of Muslims and Islamic institutions in Europe and North America. Finally, I will turn to evaluate the potential of Islam as a religious player in the West in the 21st century. I will outline the positions of strength, as well as noting some areas of vulnerability and weakness. I will conclude that Islam is well-positioned to be a significant force in the west, but that there are a number of vital questions that must be answered first.

I. Pre-Modern History

Islam was embroiled in controversy with Christianity from its very beginnings. Mohammad was certainly familiar with at least some form of Christianity (although it seems to be a heterodox Christianity which worshiped a perverse trinity of God, Mary, and Jesus), and initially expected Christians (like Jews) to embrace his prophetic message and join the new Islamic umma.

As the Muslim community grew, it expanded northward out of Arabia, and entered into military contest with the Zoroastrian Persian Empire as well as the Christian (Greek Orthodox) Byzantine Empire. The Persians and Byzantines had been continually at war with one another for centuries, and had been exhausted by their struggles. Both were ripe for the picking, and the Muslim armies swept through them quite quickly. The ‘Holy Land’ was conquered by the Muslims, and Islamic empires advanced towards the city of Constantinople. Muslim armies also swept through North Africa, which had been a bastion of Christianity, and pushed up across the Mediterranean into Spain until Charlemagne turned them back. As Muslim armies advanced, and Christendom assumed a defensive posture, the western Christian attitude became one of fear, resentment, and hostility toward Islam.

The Crusaders were launched a few centuries later with the professed goal of recapturing the Holy Lands for Christ. The conduct of the Crusaders was, by most accounts, appalling (not universally, but generally). Treaties with Muslim rulers were broken, civilians were slaughtered, cities were pillaged. The legacy of the Crusades still sits bitterly in the Muslim mindset. Muslims perceived the Christian West with suspicion and hostility and resentment.

Thus, by the outset of the modern period (arbitrarily designated about 1400 herein), Muslims and Christians had embraced mutual hostility for one another. There was misunderstanding, fear, resentment, and mistrust from both sides toward one another. Indeed, the legacy of that mindset is still evident in many westerners and Muslims alike today.

II. 1400-1900

During the modern period, the interaction of Islamdom and Christendom increased exponentially, but the presence of Christians in Muslim territories and Muslims in the West remained insignificant.

The Ottoman Empire (Turkish) expanded through the Balkans and into Eastern Europe. Constantinople was sacked in 1452, marking the Ottoman entrance into Europe proper. Vienna was besieged. Muslims were on the very doorstep of Europe, instilling further fear into western Christian minds.

Meanwhile, the Moors in Spain (Spanish Muslims) had been present for hundreds of years, but were driven out when Ferdinand consolidated his position in the late 1400s. At the same time, Europe began to gain control of the world’s shipping lanes, and commercial power began to come into European (instead of Muslim) hands.
As European military and commercial power increased throughout the 15th through 19th centuries, the presence of European colonialism increase accordingly. Colonial powers made their presence felt in traditionally Islamic territories. Unchecked centuries of Muslim expansion and dominance came to a screeching halt. Western Christendom felt vindicated; Muslims felt humiliated. The balance of power had shifted. But the pre-modern mindsets remained entrenched. Westerners continued to fear and resent Islam and Muslims, though now they could look down upon them as well. Muslims continued to mistrust and resent western ‘Christians’, but now had to bemoan their subjugated status as well. European colonialism did increase the presence of westerners in Islamic territories, and the presence of Muslims in the West. Western rulers went to the territories they governed, and had to interact with the local Muslims accordingly.

III. The Twentieth Century: Increasing Intermingling

Immigration from Islamdom to the west became a significant trend in the 20th century. Prior to 1900, there had been small waves of immigration from Muslim territories to various western nations. But generally these were few in number and significance. That changed dramatically in the 1900s.

Prior to World War I, a wave of economic immigrants flowed to the United States, Britain, and France from various Muslim countries. While these immigrants generally retained their Muslim status and beliefs, they did not generally form vibrant and vigorous Muslim communities. A few mosques dotted the landscape, but the Muslim immigrants were generally content simply to be here and left relatively alone.

Between the two World Wars, the flow of immigrants remained relatively light – particularly after the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. Again, immigration was primarily economic, with the added element of family reunification. Immigrants remained somewhat isolated, not forming strong distinct communities. The mindset of Muslim immigrants and their immigrant communities was affected by the geopolitical situation: Muslim territories around the world were being dominated by European (Christian) colonial masters, and the Muslim psyche was somewhat fragile and humiliated. Hence, Muslim communities in the West suffered from an inferiority complex of sorts. They were content to live and let live, and to quietly live Muslim lives amidst Christian majority populations.

After World War II, however, the trickle of immigrants became a flood. Western Europe had been devastated by the war, and significant reconstruction was necessary. With the death of a significant portion of their young adult population, however, manpower was lacking, and economic immigrants were actively recruited. Germany recruited large numbers of Turkish Muslims, North African Muslims flowed across the Mediterranean into France, while Indo-Pakistani Muslims were brought to Britain. Diverse groups of Muslims from those and other countries came to the United States and Canada to settle. The numbers of immigrants continued to increase as European colonialism came to an end and former colonies gained independence. Civil wars wracked many former colonial territories, resulting in a second wave of immigrants: refugees entering western Europe and North America.

IV. The Contemporary Situation

Today, Islam is the 2nd-largest religion in virtually every western nation – the only possible exception being the Jewish faith in America, which seemingly remains slightly larger than the Muslim population. Various aspects of the contemporary presence of Islam in the modern West need to be emphasized: (1) numbers; (2) institutions; (3) visibility; (4) confidence; and (5) public prominence.

First, numerically Islam in the west has grown to the 2nd or 3rd largest faith community in each country. Germany is home to more than 3 million Muslims; there are close to 6 million Muslims in America. The numbers are large, and growing through both biological reproduction and evangelistic expansion (da’wah).

Second, Islamic institutions have proliferated in the west. Prior to World War II, western nations may have had a handful of mosques; now, mosques are a fixture in every large city, many towns, and even the rural countryside. Indeed, Canada’s public television network sponsored a show called ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie,’ the pluralist Canadian version of the American classic. Besides mosques, organizations such as CARE promote Muslim interests in America. Muslim student ministries are active in every large university in Canada – Friday prayers are attended by hundreds of Muslim students at the University of Alberta, and even their noon-hour prayers during the rest of the week are strongly-attended. Paramosque organizations work diligently to spread the Muslim faith and strengthen the faith of the next generation of Muslims.

Third, Muslims are becoming ever more visible in western society. The wearing of the hijab (head-covering) by Muslim women has been an issue in many western nations (including Canada), but represents a greater willingness of Muslims to be publicly identifiable by their faith. One hundred years ago, Muslims in the west tended to want to blend in; now they desire to be known by their faith.

Fourth, Muslims are increasingly confident, both individually and corporately. Part of the newfound Muslim swagger is due to the demise of western colonialism and the perceived decay and decadence of many western nations. Britain and France are no longer perceived as superpowers; their hold over international affairs has ceased. Muslim confidence is also due to the rise of Islamic nations in power and prestige. Arab oil has had a large part to play, as Saudi Arabia and other countries exert greater influence over world affairs than they could under the colonial system.

But Muslim confidence also stems from changes within the immigrant Muslim community. Muslim families who have been here for multiple generations have become wealthy and influential. Many recent immigrants are well-educated professionals. No longer are Muslim immigrants happy just to be quietly unnoticed in their day-labor jobs. They are confident in their education, abilities, and faith alike.

Fifth, along with their increased confidence has come an increase in public prominence. Canada now has multiple Muslim Members of Parliament, as well as elected Muslim representatives at the provincial and municipal levels. Muslim individuals and communities are also increasingly outspoken is seeking public accommodation to the requirements of their faith – halal meats in schools and public cafeterias, allowances for noon prayers at work and in schools, segregated physical education for schoolchildren, etc. Three generations ago Muslim Americans would not have dreamed of agitating for such changes and accommodations; the Muslim community today has the confidence and institutional resources to engage in public appeals.

At the same time, as the video I received from my uncle demonstrates, there remains a great deal of Western fear and mistrust toward Islam and Muslims. Doubtless, the after-effects of 9/11 play an important role in contemporary fears. However, even before the attacks, there was widespread public fear of Islamic incursions into the west. Islam and Muslims remain misunderstood by most Westerners, and that misunderstanding easily generates fear and mistrust.

V. The Potential for Islam in the 21st-Century West

What, then, is the potential for Islam as a major player in the religious life and thought of the western world in the 21st century?

A. Positions of Strength

First, it needs to be noted that Islam is in a position of strength, and that strength is only increasing. Western Christianity continues its slow decline, rending the religious fabric of western culture. Islam is stepping into that confused religious climate as a self-confident, assertive faith, unhesitatingly promoting the need to submit to Allah. Muslims engage in avid evangelism, both through literature and personal contact. The growth of Islam in the west is not due, as the video I was sent suggests explicitly, solely to biological growth (large Islamic families are almost always mentioned as the driving force behind Muslim expansion) – evangelistic growth also figures prominently.

The influence of Islam within the African American community in the 20th century needs also to be noted. The Nation of Islam began as a heterodox semi-Islamic sect, but has moved toward the Islamic mainstream in the latter half of the century. African-American resentment toward white ‘Christian’ America remains strong, and that feeds the strength and vitality of many Muslims’ faith.

Second, western guilt over the injustices of the Crusades and colonialism has fostered an environment which is very positive for the growth and entrenchment of Islam in the West. Westerners are (rightfully) apologetic over past treatment of Muslim peoples and territories [although we wait in vain for Muslim apologies over the conquest of North Africa, Judea, Constantinople, etc.], and want to somehow ‘make amends’ with current generations of Muslims.

Third, the reigning religious pluralism and tolerance within western culture provides a friendly atmosphere in which Muslims can successfully agitate for cultural, social, and economic accommodations. Schools a hundred years ago, with a dominant Protestant mainstream, would never have even entertained a Muslim plea for special privileges; today, schools are eager to accommodate the special needs of other religious and cultural groups. I am certainly not saying this is a negative thing, and that schools ought not make such accommodations – I am merely pointing out that this is something new in the west; a situation newly amenable to the growing influence of Islam in the west.

Fourth, as Christianity declines in the West, the religious landscape cries out to be filled by something. Mankind is incurably and unquenchably religious. God has created us for intimate relationship with Himself, and we have a religious desire within us to know and be in relationship with the divine. When Christianity is not considered a viable option (as it is not for many people in Western culture today), something else will inevitably take the place of Jesus Christ as the object of our worship. Hence, Westerners are spiritually hungry, they are thirsting for spiritual communion. There is a spiritual void in the soul of many western nations; and Islam is ready and willing to step into that void.

Finally, from a pragmatic and political perspective, Islam is well positioned to ally with the ‘religious right’ in America (particularly) as a champion of ‘family values’ and conservative issues. While Christians and Muslims certainly do not agree on every theological issue, they share a repulsion at the moral degradation of Western society and culture. Thus, Islam is able to cooperate on many political issues with other religious conservatives, and to gain public prominence and acceptance on that score (not unlike has happened with Mormonism in some ways).

B. Vulnerabilities / Positions of Weakness

Nonetheless, Islam faces some distinct vulnerabilities in its desire to be a major player in the west in the 21st century.

First, there remains a deep mutual misunderstanding and mistrust between the west and Islam. For Muslims, the West is viewed as corrupt, degraded, decadent, untrustworthy. For Westerners, Islam is viewed as devaluing, violent, aggressive, and hateful. There is mutual antipathy and antagonism. Again, this is not universally true, but it is general and widespread. For Islam to become a major player in Western society, Western misunderstandings need to be appeased and resolved.

Second, media caricatures of Islam and Muslims remain predominantly negative. Notwithstanding the relatively unpopular Little Mosque on the Prairie’s positive depiction of Islam, most media representations are highly unflattering. Of course, evangelical Christians can make the same complaint!

Some of the antipathy from the West toward Islam does not stem from misunderstanding, but rather from an accurate understanding of Islamic precepts. This results in a series of questions that need to be asked of Islam, seeking to unveil whether or not Islam is capable of playing a major role in the 21st-century West.

(1) Can Islam embrace religious plurality and tolerance? The growing visibility and influence of Islam in the West is due largely to the religious tolerance which it has enjoyed in those nations. However, Islamic nations tend not to embrace such religious plurality. Rather, Islam itself understands that no rational person could deny the truth and power of Islam. Anyone who is not a sinner will embrace Islam. To paraphrase Richard Dawkins, anyone who remains not a Muslim is either “ignorant, stupid, or wicked (but I’d rather not consider that).”

(2) Can Islam allow others the same right to evangelize that they demand and receive? Yvonne Haddad celebrates the religious tolerance of America, in permitting free practice of Islamic da’wah (evangelism). Carol Anway similarly shares stories of Muslim women who have come to faith through the active evangelistic efforts of American Muslims. However, Haddad also decries the attempts of evangelical Christians to convert Muslims away from Islam. I am not sure how that tension is resolved within her, as she seems entirely oblivious of the contradiction. However, it remains that, if Muslims desire to share their faith with others and see Americans convert to Islam; they must similarly be willing to allow Christians to share their faith with others, and see Muslims convert to Christ.

(3) Similarly: Can Muslims (sadly) recognize that some of their youth may convert away from the Islamic faith? I have two close friends who are active in ministry to Muslims in Canada. Both converted to Christ between the ages of 18 and 21. Both were disowned by their families. One had a bounty put on his head by his father, and had to flee for his life. Again, Carol Anway celebrates the stories of American women who convert to Islam, and sadly notes that many of their families have difficulty accepting their new faith. Christmas becomes awkward, family reunions are somewhat tense: but in no cases did she observe families disowning their children, or seeking to have them killed. Even within relatively modern American Muslims like Yvonne Haddad, there is a strident opposition to having children be converted away from Islam. However, if Islam desires to become a major player in the contemporary West, it will have to accept that this is going to happen.

(4) Can Muslims (sadly) acknowledge that denigration of the prophet and Qur’an are inevitable in a land with freedom of speech and expression? No one expects Muslims to celebrate when infidels revile Mohammad or mock the Qur’an – any more than I celebrate when people desecrate the name of my Savior and Lord in word and deed. However, the response to the Rushdie affair and the Danish cartoons by Western Muslims was questionable. Muslims have to acknowledge that the freedoms they enjoy within the religiously tolerant west are the very same freedoms that allow people to insult their prophet. It would also help if they acknowledge that some of their beliefs about Christianity are somewhat insulting to committed Christians (Jesus is so much more than a prophet; and the Qur’anic suggestion that the Christian Trinity is Father, Consort, and Sexual Offspring is offensive).

(5) Finally, can Muslims eschew their historical commitment to the union of church and state? The Islamic ideal is a community, umma, which combines faith, economics, politics, and social structure in one. The hijra to Medina marked the beginning of the Muslim faith, because Mohammad had political power and influence there. Islam inherently seeks to unify faith with politics and sociology.

Ultimately, I suspect that the answers to many of those questions is no – particularly the last one. The situation of Muslim in the modern West is an anomaly in Islamic history. Never before have large numbers of Muslims willingly lived as a distinct minority under the rule of non-Muslims. It remains to be seen whether Muslims can moderate (change) their faith such that they are willing to be minorities, willing to allow others to evangelize their members, and willing to allow the separation of church and state.