In the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing I’m seeing a lot of commentators demanding we call a spade a spade and identify Islam as the global problem of our time.
Several of them claim we’ve been pandering to Muslim extremists by downplaying the danger they represent. Enough of all this political correctness, they say, we should be bold enough to use the words “Islam” and “terrorism” in the same sentence.
In fact, they say, by refusing to lay responsibility for global terrorism firmly at the feet of Islam we’re setting ourselves up as sitting ducks.
One columnist, Miranda Devine started her piece this way:
“We can’t keep our children safe. Every concert, every train ride, every walk across a bridge, every gap year trip to Europe, every cafe visit is fraught with fear. And that is exactly how the Muslim fanatics want it, the inadequate, baselessly arrogant fans of Islamic State with hearts full of scorn and hatred for the free societies which have taken their families in, nurtured them, and offered them every freedom. They kill our children on purpose. They maim deliberately with nail bombs to rip through soft flesh, mutilate pretty faces, butcher young limbs.”
Aside from the misinformation about the likelihood of death by terror attack (you’re more likely to die of the flu or choking on food), there’s a holier-than-thou attitude expressed by many of these commentators.
White Christians seem quick to identify Islam as the problem as though our history of death-dealing never existed.
In fact, we’re not living in a unique age of terrorism today. People were in much greater danger of terror attack in Britain in the 1970s and 80s at the hands of the (white Christian) IRA.
In the US, there were exponentially more terror attacks – bombings, assassinations, violent bank robberies – perpetrated by armed radical underground cells in the 1960s and 70s (by such groups at the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army), than there are home-grown Islamic terror attacks on US soil today.
And, yeah, sure, a lot of those guys weren’t claiming to be Christians, but can we really claim that Christianity doesn’t kill its enemies?
Didn’t Martin Luther advocate the execution of Jews and Anabaptists?
Weren’t we responsible for the Crusades? And the Inquisition. And the burning of heretics, and reformers, and suspected witches. And the Ku Klux Klan.
Let’s face it, us Christians have reigned in terror more than once throughout history.
But even if you want to dismiss all that as long ago, and say it was perpetrated by people who weren’t real Christians, remember this.
We stand on soil stolen from First Nations people. Our churches are built on the ground from which they were driven, either by disease or at the muzzle of a gun. We benefit from a system that was forged by slavery and the theft of indigenous children from their families. Our forebears inflicted terror upon them and our economic system is built on their suffering.
Can we really say Islam is the problem any more than Christendom or communism or colonialism or any other religion or ideology?
It seems to me that human beings are the problem. Broken people of whatever religion, ideology or cultural background are capable of devastating evil. Blaming Islam seems like the easy option. It’s much more difficult and confronting to take a good hard look at ourselves and our capacity for violence and cruelty.
But what Jesus actually taught – not the system of Christendom – that’s another story. As theologian Stanley Hauerwas describes it, Jesus came to show us an entirely new way to be human, a vision of entry into a new, redeemed society of transformed humanity. He writes,
“When he called his society together Jesus gave its members a new way of life to live.
He gave them a new way to deal with offenders – by forgiving them.
He gave them a new way to deal with violence – by suffering.
He gave them a new way to deal with money – by sharing it.
He gave them a new way to deal with problems of leadership – by drawing upon the gift of every member, even the most humble.
He gave them a new way to deal with a corrupt society – by building a new order, not smashing the old.
He gave them a new pattern of relationship between man and woman, between parent and child, between master and slave, in which was made concrete a radical new vision of what it means to be a human person.”
It seems to me that in embracing this remarkable vision of a new kind of human society we need to be humble enough to admit the myriad ways Christendom has fallen way short over the past 2000 years. Islam is not the answer. Neither is Maoism or Marxism or secular humanism. They’re all broken systems. But so too is Christendom.
But as for the way of Jesus, I’m inclined to agree with GK Chesterton in saying that it “hasn’t been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried”.