Archives For Islam

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.

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

Theology permeates her work. Forming the backbone of the majority of it.

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.  Having added theologian to her list of accomplishments may have meant weighing in on an area where her insight and much-needed centrist voice may not have been as keenly heard.

For example: other than walking through some legitimate claims against Christians being hypocrites there is, also, the very real issue of being recklessly labelled as ‘unchristian”, “unloving”, “bigoted” or “unChristlike”, when debating sociopolitical issues or the strengths and limitations of something like just-war theory and practice.

It’s likely, then,  that Elshtain benefited from not having been assigned the title of a theologian. Resulting in her successfully navigating institutional prejudice, reductionist reversals, aversions and distractions. Such as underhanded rhetorical tactics like name calling, selective outrage, cross-examination, inferring ignorance by association, negative preempting and agenda driven ridicule. {to name a few}

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 cult-like categories. They weren’t looking for disciples.

It’s long, but one example is her assessment of the government and God distinction, which followed her critique of some Western theologians and philosophers, such as Mark Taylor [i] and Noam Chomsky [ii] post-September 11, 2001:

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 a minority of believers, worldly engagement already marks a capitulation. But the vast majority of Christians, both now and in the past, have sorted things out in more nuanced and complicated ways.
Richard Niebuhr delineates five “Christs,” by which he means five characteristic models of how Christians have engaged the world: the Christ against culture; the Christ of culture; the Christ above culture; Christ and culture in paradox; and Christ as transformer of culture. Believers have occupied each of these positions historically, sometimes more than one at a time.
An example would be the great Thomas Aquinas, who was faithful as a monk to his vows “against” the culture—poverty, celibacy, and obedience—even as he belonged to a church that had “achieved or accepted full social responsibility for all great institutions” and that had “become the guardian of culture, the fosterer of learning, the judge of nations, the protector of the family, the governor of social religion.”
For Aquinas, Christianity is, among other things, a structure of practical wisdom “planted among the streets and marketplaces, the houses, palaces, and universities that represent human culture.” This kind of believer neither despises the world nor retreats from it.
Rather, this believer engages the world, sustains it, and seeks to transform it—all at the same time. Ordinary vocations are the responsibility of believers. They should not shirk their vocations, including political vocations like soldiering or judging. Such vocations are necessary to sustain a common life. This Christian believer undertakes the tasks of vocation as an act of service and performs them in humility and with a strong commitment to their often tragic, sometimes joyful nature.
Tension, even paradox, emerges in situations when “what is required of man in his service of others is the use of instruments of wrath for the sake of protecting them against the wrathful.” This point is made most vividly by Luther, with his insistence that there is a “time of the sword,” but it has been widely, if not universally, shared in the historic Church.
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.[ii]

This analysis is Elshtain at her absolute best. It’s passionate, clear and thorough. It might not win her admission into the theologians hall of fame, but written in 2002, her words stand today as a pertinent warning. Calling us to question what it is that we are being sold and why.

Here Elshtain is pushing beyond the ”Just-War Against Terror” topic, assessing the real reasons for it in the first place; at the same time not willing to join the call to arms by right-wing fanatical patriots, or accepting at face value the manipulation of facts, oversight and simplifying of arguments by the Left, which tends to blame the West for Islamic terrorism and animosity towards the West in the Middle East.

If we don’t listen carefully, look past the careless labels, false appearances, hypocritical accusations of prejudice and fear mongering about fear mongering; double standards and confusion (sadly, the list can go on). It is possible, that once this fog clears we will only discover the brutal cost of inaction caused by self-doubt; the paralysing fear of prejudice and an anachronistic contempt that uses an exhausted mistrust of “The West” from unhappy cynics who live freely and prosperously in it.

History speaks.

Labelled a warmonger, ridiculed 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 something that C.S Lewis called ‘the tyranny of good intentions’, resulted in the catastrophic ambivalence and indifference of the West in the 1930’s.

Positive optimism (or any ethic of universal niceness that is falsely attributed to Jesus Christ) doesn’t resolve conflict, it ignores conflict and allows tyrants to thrive. In the 1930’s such optimism ended in Prime Minister Chamberlain’s, now haunting words “Peace For Our Time’….which was shattered by the sound of falling shells, screeching stukas and the blitzkrieg that hit the World not long after it.

Reagan rightly said:  ‘the greater lessons of history tell us that the greater risk lies in appeasement.’

An even greater risk, is a ‘house divided against itself.’ (Jesus Christ, Matthew, 12:25)

It stands to reason. If even some of our Muslim neighbours, are as outspoken as Elshtain, like Tarek Fatah (43min – 46min) who is making similar observations of the response so far, Elshtain’s words are not to be ignored.

 


Source:

[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, (ibid, 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).