Archives For Islam

Although American Political Scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain didn’t consider herself a theologian, there’s a good chance that anyone willing to exhaust an enquiry into her eligibility for the title, would conclude that she, in fact, was.

Theology forms part of the hidden backbone in the majority of her work.

Elshtain’s broad and consistent conversation partners include St. Augustine, Albert Camus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel, and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). This also includes some small contact with theologians Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Elshtain considered herself a layperson when it came to theological matters.  Adding theologian to her list of accomplishments may have handicapped her from being the proverbial, voice-in-the-leftist-academic-wilderness, that she was.

It’s likely that Elshtain benefited from not having been assigned the title of a theologian. Resulting in her being more able to navigate dishonest rhetorical tactics, like reckless labelling, selective outrage, guilt by association, negative preempting and agenda driven ridicule. All the things associated with predominantly modern leftist institutions.

Elshtain follows the example of Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, and Karl Barth, who are credited, among others, as being careful and critical, when it came to allowing themselves to profiled in political terms; and/or  placed into rigid theological, philosophical or sociological categories. They weren’t looking for disciples or to create a school of thought.

It’s long, but here’s an excellent example of some of her work. In a critique of the assumption that Christianity is a universal ethic of niceness, Elshtain argues for a better understanding of Just War theory, post-September 11, 2001. In her sights are some Western theologians and philosophers, such as Mark Taylor [i] and Noam Chomsky [ii]:

Misunderstandings of Christian teachings are rife. Christianity is not an exalted or mystical form of utilitarianism. Jesus preached no doctrine of universal benevolence. He showed anger and issued condemnations.
These dimensions of Christ’s life and words tend to be overlooked nowadays as Christians concentrate on God’s love rather than God’s justice. That love is sometimes reduced to a diffuse benignity that is then enjoined on believers.
This kind of faith descends into sentimentalism fast. But how do believers translate the message of the Christian Savior into an ethic of worldly engagement if an ethic of universal niceness misses the point? Because Christianity is far and away the dominant faith of Americans, these are exigent matters of concern to all citizens, believer or no[…]
For Christians living in historic time and before the end of time, the pervasiveness of conflict must be faced.
One may aspire to perfection, but living perfectly is not possible. To believe one is without sin is to commit the sin of pride and to become ever more boastful in the conviction that a human being can sustain a perfectionist ethic.
For St. Augustine, for Martin Luther, and for the anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the harsh demands of necessity as well as the command of love require that one may have to commit oneself to the use of force under certain limited conditions, and with certain intentions. [iii]
(Elshtain, Just War Against Terror, 2008, p.100-101)

For Christians, just resistance is in the same category as falsehood. To answer the question, when is it just to “lie”? We have to compartmentalise the subject. Martin Luther held the view that there were four types of lies. The humorous, the helpful, the harmful, and the blasphemous. The first two are are ‘praiseworthy, since they do no harm. The last two are intolerable because they offend both man and God’ (Table Talk #33).

For example: Telling a ‘necessary lie‘ (Martin Luther [iv]) would always be grounded in God’s definition of what is good. If there is a greater good at stake, than there might be justification for the use of a helpful falsehood, such as to stop another human being legitimately harmed.

In 1 Samuel 18 & 19, Michal misled her father, who was King Saul. She did this in order to save her husband, David, from her father’s jealousy of David and his God-approved ascendancy to the throne. Corrie Ten Boom did the same in order to protect the Jews from Nazis. Being grounded in God’s definition of what is good means that there are core restraints; or clear rules of engagement. In other words, boundaries. As with falsehood, we don’t make an absolute of war. War is only ever an absolute last resort.

Just war is one specific example of many, which shows that Christianity is not, and can never be reduced to an ethic of universal niceness.  Just War is not the equivalent of Islamic jihad (as understood as war against the infidel). If the West is to respond to its enemies, and follow its Judeo-Christian heritage, the West must respond in love. This doesn’t mean that the West should surrender to its enemies. It means that the West is  free to engage on behalf of the vulnerable, only by way of restrained defence. Not cowering away from having the courage to say a loving “no” to those determined to see the West as an enemy.

Ridiculed, labelled a warmonger, and considered too old to be relevant, Churchill critically questioned the Nazi movement, long before it became a bloody necessity to reject it. Blind acquiescence and what C.S Lewis called ‘the tyranny of good intentions’, resulted in the catastrophic ambivalence, and indifference of the West throughout the 1930’s.

To do the same is to ignore reality, whitewash conflict and allow tyrants to thrive. This is an unloving abdication of responsibility, in favour of appeasement.

History has never forgotten British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s well intentioned declaration, “Peace For Our Time”. A declaration that was brutally shattered by the sound of falling shells, broken lives, screeching stukas and Nazi blitzkriegs.

Reagan was right, when in 1964, he said:

‘There’s no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace—and you can have it in the next second—surrender.
Admittedly, there’s a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the spectre our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face—that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand—the ultimatum.
You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance. This is the meaning of peace through strength.”
(A Time For Choosing)

Elshtain is right, viewing Christianity as an ethic of universal niceness and attributing it to Jesus Christis an aberration of Christianity. It misses the point.

To veil Christ and Christian action behind the fabric of an ethic of universal niceness, is to repeat the past. This unloving abdication of responsibility, in favour of appeasement, leaves the West embracing a false security. One that is further masqueraded by the ignorance of the past, the dangers of positive optimism, and a flawed understanding of Biblical Christian theology.


References:

[i] Mark Taylor, “The Way of the Cross as Theatric of Counter-Terror,” paper presented at a conference on justice and mercy, University of Chicago (Spring 2002), cited by Elshtain in Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed (p.82)

[ii] Chomsky, N. 9-11 cited by Elshtain, (JWAT, p. 226)

[iii] Elshtain, J. 2008, Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed. (p. 100-101).

[iv] Luther, M. Conversations With Luther: Selections From Table Talk, 1915, The Pilgrim Press

(Originally published, 12th January 2015)

©Rod Lampard, 2018

 

Amazon’s ‘Jack Ryan’ is a fresh creative take on Tom Clancy’s, ‘Jack Ryan’ brand. The story has a standard structure. The plot is revealed as characters move from one crisis to the next. Each episode adds to the next, leading to the narrative’s conclusion.

Casting was on point. Actor John Krasinski (Jack Ryan) plays alongside Australian actress, Abbie Cornish (Doctor Cathy Mueller who takes up a “casual” romantic relationship with Ryan). Wendell Pierce (Robert Zane in Suits’) plays the role of James Greer. All three add to the series and its fresh creative take on Tom Clancy’s, ‘Jack Ryan’ brand. Amazon has been consistent in the temperaments of key personalities, making a deliberate emphasis on Ryan’s, Sherlock-like, ability to see what others don’t, his by-the-book-ethic, and the sage-know-to-pick-your-battles no nonsense Greer.

While Jack Ryan is still a CIA analyst, he’s only an entry level desk jockey. The witty discourse and gracious tension between Ryan and James Greer, has been retained. However, there’s a big difference in tone and the nature of each character’s back story. James Greer is no longer an Admiral. He is fluent in Arabic, and is a backslidden Muslim (he converted to Islam in order to marry his now estranged wife). In addition, Jack Ryan is a scar ridden Marine vet, who wrestles with post traumatic stress and deep regret.

One of the most interesting themes raised within the series is the use of drones against belligerent Islamists. Through a subplot the script writers insert an introspective narrative that is isolated from the main storyline. This subplot explores the relationship and impact of drone strikes on pilots, and their targets. The subplot screenplay is exaggerated in order to make a point. Nevertheless, it presents an interesting talking point about the cost and justification for drone warfare; the unpredictable presence of drones and how that compares to the unpredictable presence of suicide bombers. The threat of a drone attack, anywhere and everywhere, might be a necessary deterrent to people who make the West their enemy[1].

One of the most noticeable aspects of Amazon’s ‘Jack Ryan’ series is the transformation of James Greer. Greer has been politically sanitized. Rewriting Greer as a convert to Islam and removing him from his key role in the United States Navy “liberates” him from the American military industrial complex. Add to this the noticeable anti-American statements in the dialogue of both protagonists and antagonists; the anti-American lens is visible and provocative. The take away impression is that Greer is a disgruntled CIA officer, who’s patriotism is first to himself, and secondly to Islam.

While many may applaud the subtle promotion of Islam as “the religion of peace”, some may take issue with how the screenwriters have not just demoted, but removed a beloved African-American character from his position in Ryan lore. Greer, no longer being an Admiral, is one of the major drawbacks of the series, and is, in my opinion, a serious flaw in the redesigning of the ‘Jack Ryan’ universe. Though, Wendell Pierce plays Greer well, his task isn’t easy. Greer has been robbed of his cautious patriotism, pro-American dedication and high position of authority, as drawn out by James Earl Jones in ‘Hunt for Red October’, ‘Patriot Games’ and ‘Clear & Present Danger’.

The less generous and more astute Western viewer wouldn’t be entirely wrong to see Amazon’s remake as outright propaganda against an alleged Islamophobia in the West. If standing against fundamentalism and prejudice was one the hidden aims of the ‘Jack Ryan’ series, this revision of Greer raises questions about what Amazon was thinking when it decided on fundamentally changing James Greer. If “racism” was a core issue being discussed, why was an African-American character removed from his privileged and respected position within the ‘Jack Ryan’ universe? Was Tom Clancy’s, Greer not worthy enough, or simply not minority enough?[2]

On the whole, Amazon Prime’s ‘Jack Ryan’ has the makings of a decent series. The cast is on point and the crux of Clancy’s brand remains intact. The storyline is engaging and for the more discerning, the ideological lens can be easily filtered out. Audiences are patient and will be generous in how the series takes Greer from a sharp minded naval veteran and Western patriot to a conflicted, weary American, who is committed to himself first and Islam second. Unfortunately, the compromises and revisionism may sabotage the shows future as it further alienates an audience, already growing tired of being bullied and misrepresented by Hollywood. An audience fed up with being force-fed conformism, through Hollywood’s self-styled piety, anti-Trumpism, appeasement of modern liberalism, and the sugar-coated half-truths and lies which tend to go along with it.

Furthermore Amazon’s ‘Jack Ryan’ seems to provide further proof that parts of the West are funding their own cultural suicide[3]. The series tip toes around serious concerns of many in the West. This is displayed in one episode, when those concerns are dismissed and discounted as “racism” by Greer. It’s for this reason that season one comes across as apologetic towards Islam, and in parts, hostile towards the West. The series stumbles drunkenly between speaking truthfully about Islam and promoting popular myths, such as perpetuating the idea that Islam is a race, that Islam is completely compatible with healthy Western values, that Islam is “the religion of peace”, and that the fault with Islam lies with fundamentalists (both external and internal), who are out to taint, abuse or misuse its ideology.

I’m keen for the next series, love the cast, but was disappointed and frustrated at what can only be described as Amazon’s (if not the screen writer’s) own strange case of Stockholm syndrome. While the crux of Clancy’s brand remains intact, Tom Clancy’s, ‘Jack Ryan’ has been rebranded by Amazon to be more palate worthy to an oppressive politically correct culture. Season one is pro-Islam, and in parts anti-American. It’s narrative and dialogue may only alienate a large majority of Clancy’s fan, forcing them to tune out and become entrenched in the very thing the show’s creators may have been trying to address. Season two looks set to involve Russia. Given the political climate in Hollywood since November,  2016, one can only hope that when it comes to the screen play, plot and storyline, cooler heads will prevail.

 


Notes:

[1] Just as society doesn’t know where or when a fifth column of Islamists might blow themselves or others up, Islamists don’t know where a drone will pop up next to them

[2] Has Amazon sold James Greer off; using the character to sell an idea of Islam that differs from the reality?

[3] Season one comes across as too anti-American. The screenwriters seem to have done their best to be sympathetic towards Islam, for fear of offending Muslims, while being inconsiderate of its Western audience. Islam is treated like a victim of oppression from fundamentalists[3] in the West and fundamentalists within its own ranks. There’s an impression that the screen writers are seeking to lull people into a false sense of security in its pointless attempt to separate political Islam and Islamic ideology from “the religion of peace”.

Jesus among other gods_Ravi Zacharias_Blogpost 15th Nov 2015 PicI’ve just completed Indian-born Canadian, Ravi Zacharias’ 2002, book, ‘Jesus Among Other Gods’.

It wasn’t what I was expecting. Initially, I anticipated there being more of an in-depth academic analysis of the history and differences between Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Western Ideological Progressivism and Christianity. Although an analysis exists, it’s often short. Because of this, at times, it seemed as though Zacharias was too brief and ended his discussions far too quickly.

This doesn’t hinder the potency of the text as a useful resource for deep thinkers. It’s full of take away points worthy of further consideration. His focus is squarely on presenting the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and how that fact is a relevant challenge to the dominant philosophical and religious apparatus’ that permeate both East and West. Zacharias is aware of his audience and subject; presenting blunt, to-the-point facts and conclusions, drawn from experience and research.

For example:  ‘post-modernism best represents a mood (a potentially dangerous state-of-mind) where reason can be crushed under the weight of feeling.’[i]  It’s a good summary, buttressed by Zacharias’ own admission that

‘the difficulty [in writing the book] was not in knowing what to say, but in knowing what not to say. We are living in a time when sensitivities are at the surface, often vented with cutting words…Philosophically and morally, you can believe anything so long as you do not claim it to be true or a “better” way. Religiously you can hold to anything, so long as you do not bring Jesus Christ into it.’[ii]

Consider the well orchestrated neo-tolerant slogan, “religion of peace” vs. the popular rejection of those who authentically (read:humbly) follow the Prince of Peace (Isaiah’s prophetic reference for Jesus Christ – Is.9:6).We live in a fractured and noisy world, Zacharias, in his approach, seeks to move through it.

‘The denial of Christ has less to do with facts and more to do with the bent of what a person is prejudiced to conclude. After years of wrestling with such issues in academia, I have seen this proven time and again.’[iii]

The strength of ‘Jesus Among Other Gods’ is that it is succinct, well indexed and in parts, personal. Zacharias is thorough. Yet, his approach is simple. Jargon is clarified and not carried too far. What exists is an easy discussion on complex topics, close to the heart of someone who has a long history of experience sharing Christian faith and thought, in a mixture of sometimes hostile, cultural and ideological settings.

‘I  [at the age of 17, encountered Jesus Christ] amid the thunderous cries of a culture that has three hundred and thirty million deities.’[iv]

Zacharias makes well-informed assertions only someone raised in an Eastern culture can [v].  With that a unique challenge is placed before Western readers.

‘the concept of “many ways [to God]” was absorbed subliminally in my life as a youngster. I was conditioned into that way of thinking before I found out its smuggled prejudices. It took years to find out that the cry for openness is never what it purports to be. What the person means by saying, “You must be open to everything” is really, “You must be open to everything that I am open to, and anything that I disagree with, you must disagree with too.” Indian culture has that veneer of openness, but it is highly critical of anything that hints at a challenge to it. It is no accident that within that so-called tolerant culture was birthed the caste system. All-inclusive philosophies can only come at the cost of truth.’[vi]

If you’re looking for a strict fact-comparison dictionary of religions and Christianity, this isn’t it. If, on the other hand you’re looking for a good introduction, or to expand on the stark contrast between Jesus Christ and world religions, ‘Jesus Among Other Gods’ is a great place to start.


Notes:

Zacharias, R. 2000 Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of The Christian Message,  Thomas Nelson

[i] Located in the introduction

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] p.50

[iv] p.6

[v] See page 27: ‘I made the assertion earlier that in the East, the home is the defining cultural indicator. Everything that determines who you are and what your future bodes is tied into your heritage and your social standing. Absolutely everything.’

[vi] p.7

Jules Verne BrittanicaDespite what might be a popular conception for those of us, raised in, by, and with pop-culture, author, Jules Verne (1828-1905) was neither American nor British.

Verne, the author of ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ and ‘Around The World in 80 Days,’ was French.

He wasn’t a curious atheist or even a fierce agnostic. Not that being an atheist or agnostic disqualifies anyone from having anything of value to say.

It’s just worth noting that there is a distinction between the man and any perpetuated assumptions that deconstructionism, selectively-applied-to-support-an-agenda might create. (Through, say, it’s presumed, superior grasp of authorial intent?)

By which, I mean, the inadvertent creation of a long-winded meaning, in order to explain a meaning, but which ends up having nothing to do with the author’s actual, original and intended meaning.[i]

Verne was, according to common belief, a deist.  An unorthodox Christian belief that became popular in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.

Evidenced by the concept that, ‘God helps those who first help themselves’.[ii]

Or as is understood by our Muslim neighbours in the Quran as,

‘Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.’[iii]

More precisely, deism is

‘a movement of rationalistic thought that acquires knowledge of God solely by the use of reason as opposed to knowledge gained through revelation (God’s making himself known; Jesus Christ) or church teaching.’[iv]

With some amount of caution about oversimplifying deism, it is, in a sentence, Christianity without Christ. It has little to nothing to do with grace, gospel or the relationship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has chosen to establish, rescue and then secure, with humanity.

The five points of deism are:

  1. ‘the belief in a supreme being
  2. the obligation to worship
  3. the obligation of ethical conduct
  4. the need for repentance of sins
  5. divine rewards and punishments in this life and the next’[v]

It could be argued that deism is syncretism, landing somewhere in the middle of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Their similarities fused together in a way that allows for the possibility of an absolute reason-in-unison between the three. Not quite universalism.

It’s easy to see why deism was attractive. It advocates an easy tolerance.  Appearing to be justified by reason it’s seen as a useful tool for mediation, one that ignores differences. Conveniently, God’s relationship with us is reduced to a utilitarian, religious checklist that is then imposed back onto Him.

Effectively, God’s reconciliationMaritime steampunk in the uniqueness of Christ is displaced. He is reassigned to the role of under-Lord who exists to meet the desires, wants, progressive goals and universal happiness of His human-overlords.

The outcome being totalised subservient coexistence.

Held out at a distance God is detached. His transcendence over-emphasised, He is thought to be unmoved until we choose to move.

Consequently, God’s free act in Christ is stolen. Like the prodigal son’s father, God’s decision to move before we do is overlooked. His reach and run towards us rejected as foolish, embarrassing and undignified.

Driven by hypocritical intolerance, this empowers a push towards the slow annihilation of the Christian. God is enslaved, Christ subsumed. In its place is established the quintessential, dysfunctional kingdom of man or woman. The unexpected result being the embodiment of terror; power held in place by the tyranny of suspicion and the misuse of appearances to manipulate reality in order to maintain such power.

In truth this easy tolerance is a ruse. At best it’s only an uneasy truce between those in the West who seek to displace Christianity and elements of fascist ideology that, in part, still marches on through the desert sands of the Middle East and the halls of Western academia.

As for Verne, perhaps his later works are an enquiry into this. Perhaps they are a judgement on humanity about what can happen when progressive optimism turns into human arrogance.

The caution and detail within Verne’s tales show that he was a keen observer, not a prophet. His words are a reminder to the over-confident, self-assured and tenured wise.

Not a lot of accessible contemporary debate[vi] appears to exist about how much his theism was influenced by deism, and how heavily or not, deism or theism might have influenced his work.

Most commentators seem to settle comfortably on the point that Verne rarely mentions Jesus Christ, so his deism is considered unquestionable.

On the surface they appear right. However, doubt about their conclusions is justified. For example: Verne had apparent fascination with Mormonism.[vii]

In the relatively unknown, 1871, publication ‘A Floating City’, Verne, in response to the sails of the Great Eastern being drawn out of respect for a Sunday Church service at sea, writes:

‘I thought myself very fortunate that the screw-propeller was allowed to continue its work, and when I inquired of a fierce Puritan the reason for this tolerance, “Sir,” said he to me, “that which comes directly from God must be respected; the wind is in His hand, the steam is in the power of man.” I was willing to content myself with this reason, and in the meantime observed what was going on, on board.’[viii]

In addition, certain parts of ‘A Floating City’, ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ and ‘Around the World in Eighty days’ provide us wit evidence of Verne’s respect for traditional Christian devotion, it’s place in society mixed with a healthy criticism of the church-as-institution.

For now, outside quick token mentions of deism, those details are left to trivia and the footnotes of historians.

Yet, without real enquiry, or interest in it, any debate about Verne’s faith and theology will remain locked in speculation.Relegated to the rubric of opinion. Any conclusions will remain quietly hidden within the realms of mysticism, cool steampunk fashion and science-fiction that Verne is all too easily assigned.

 

“Static objects mustn’t be confused with dynamic ones, or we’ll be open to serious error.” – Nemo [ix]

 


Source:

[i] Wordy, I know, but…it makes sense when you think about it.

[ii]  A quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, this is, however, more than likely a proverb which originated in Classical Greece.

[iii] Quran 13:11

[iv] Mcdonald, M.H in Elwell, W.A (Ed.) 2001 Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. Baker House Publishing Company (p.329)

[v] Ibid.

[vi] It’s difficult to find any.

[vii] Verne mentions it with an air of fascination in both A Floating City, and Around the World in Eighty Days.

[viii] Verne, J. 1871 A Floating City (Illustrated) Kindle Ed. (p.45)

[ix] Verne, J. 1869 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, BookRix GmbH, Kindle Ed. (p.29)

Images:

1. Jules Verne, Brittanica.com

2. Photo of an old divining suit I took in Ballina, NSW. Filtered using picmonkey.