A cartoon in Europe causes riots and deaths. A film trailer causes the death of an American ambassador and threatens U.S. embassies all throughout the Middle East. Though it’s dumb to try and “catch a tiger by the tail” one has to ask what it is about the muslim Middle East that sparks such outrage and violence.
I’ve many friends who live in that dangerous part of the world and I can attest that many of the people there are very sweet and kind. But then again, many of my friends have been killed simply for believing in Someone different. If ever there was a case against “mob rule”, surely this is it. Perhaps the reason for knowing every person is responsible to God for their own decision to follow is that mobs are often very, very wrong. Your culture can’t (and shouldn’t) save you. It can help or hurt. But it can’t save.
I first thought I might draft a political response. I do think that especially for cultures in that part of the world its politically smarter for the U.S. to be cunning and strong. Generous and warm aren’t necessarily the best indicators of what’s actually going on. Remember that people in that part of the world will have their enemies over to dinner before killing them after dessert. In this way, they can be ‘religious’ (read: hospitable to others as a good practitioner of Islam) and still be powerful. Cunning is a cultural value in high esteem. Political genuineness isn’t.
But I think a far better response is a spiritual one. So I’m going to comment on the recent Middle Eastern killings from two perspectives: systemic and individual.
On a systemic level, there’s something wrong with a global culture that believes its perfectly okay to dip a cross in a jar of urine and call it “high art” (as in the United States) and yet is genuinely frightened of renegade, rogue filmmakers who put out a garbage film and trailer on Islam. I’m not asking for fairness (I’d hardly expect anyone to be fair to a religious belief). I’m not even asking for tolerance. I’m merely making the observation that when someone denigrates Islam the outrage is violent. When someone denigrates Christianity the outrage is muted or political. When someone denigrates Scientology the outrage is on Entertainment Tonight.
There’s something seriously wrong here.
On a systemic level, not all religious beliefs are the same. I happen to believe the insurrection that was Christ-like became a religion by Constantine. And religions are seldom good for society (just look at the Crusades or ask the Protestant-Catholic divide among the Irish). But as Christianity and society have detached, it seems that Christians can handle those who mock them. We’re still offended. But grace has a way of fostering grace with others.
I certainly wouldn’t confuse Judaism as a religion with Islam or Moses with Muhammad. And it’s a little surprising to me that more people aren’t asking why the persistent result of an Islam offended is violence. It’s not like Muhammad is obscured by history. He lived around the same time as Gregory the Great (the first pope) of Rome.
Offend a Christian and they turn the other cheek. Offend a Jew and they strike the other cheek. Offend a Buddhist and they’ll chant away the offense. Offend a Muslim and they’ll put together an angry mob.
At some point you recognize something by its fruits.
On a systemic level, there is a very real spiritual war happening. Perhaps the greatest case for an active spiritual war are the moments when violence erupts around belief. Years ago I heard Ravi Zacharias put it this way, “People look at religions and say that on the surface they all may appear different, but underneath they are very much the same. This is nonsense. On the surface they appear the same but underneath they have very different roots.” I concur. Roots are exposed in times of crisis. On a good day, we all talk about how every religion loves their neighbors. On a bad day, we see how they treat their neighbors.
Or ambassadors. Or artists. Or opinions that violently disagree with their own.
Some would say that we should eliminate beliefs. Atheists would point out a more peaceful world if religion didn’t exist. Ahem. Every country in the history of the world who has made that attempt (more recently Communist Russia and China) have created more oppressive worlds as a result of disbelief. The issue at stake is not whether or not one should belief, but rather, exactly which beliefs actually drives ones actions.
Systemically, the answer here is simple. This is a spiritual war. For the Christian, the only response is this: lost people act like lost people. Some are more violent than others. Some are more delusional than others. But my response is to wage war against the spiritual forces at work and to love the lost who are caught up in those forces. It doesn’t mean we respond stupidly (you don’t feed ingratitude, you starve it). We are to be wise. But we are also to recognize the difference between the people and real forces at work.
Individually, our response should be to pray for the Middle East. Some place their hopes there. Others place their fears there. I can’t help but think that Christ died and rose again there. This means that the Gospel is also accessible to the Middle East. Don’t spend time wrapped up in hateful speech or rhetoric. Don’t hate the people or their misguided beliefs.
Let’s introduce them to a Gospel that can free them from a system that rewards violence as a means to holiness.