Riddle: If you walk into an ice cream shop and order a vanilla milkshake, and I follow you in and order a chocolate cone, how many ice cream shops have we entered?
Does it change your answer if I email my order in ahead of time, or if you order in Spanish?
I would still answer "one," arguing that differing choices in frozen comestibles, ordered in different fashions, does not demand that we be in different shops.
But then, I am not a Christian theologian.
I received plenty of emails reacting to my column last Monday on Wheaton College sociology professor Larycia Hawkins being suspended for trying to show support for our beleaguered Muslim-American fellow citizens by wearing a headscarf and quoting the pope claiming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
What struck me was the genius the replies showed for vigorously missing the point.
Take this typical example, from Chris Northrop:
Wheaton College has sent students and staff all over the world to help people in many ways . Even the Mideast. Maybe you remember these words " let's roll". Deeds speak louder then words at Wheaton College.That sort of thing was easy enough to answer. I replied:
You must have read today's column to mean that nobody from Wheaton College ever did anything good, since that seems to be the argument you're making. That wasn't what I was saying at all. My point is that they're failing now, in this case, as they so often have in the past. If you believe that a Wheaton College graduate having done something good at some point in history excuses the college from honoring those who take uncomfortable moral stands in the face of unarguable evil now, well, I would suggest you revisit that opinion. Thanks for writing.I'd not bother to post any of it here — the joy of my job is that I get to move on, a luxury not enjoyed by everybody. Then the Moody Bible Institute weighed in. Founded in 1886 by Dwight Lyman Moody, the institute has long inveighed against what it perceives as the evils of secular Chicago, and I was thrilled to be added to a long list that includes dancing, gin, jazz and desegregation. I was Exhibit A of an otherwise unnamed crew of critics who "shifted into overdrive" to criticize Wheaton College.
"The school is being castigated for Islamophobia, hatred, discrimination, and intolerance," wrote Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, the senior pastor at Moody, in an essay posted on the Moody Church online newsletter on Dec. 22.
At first I thought he was agreeing with me. Then I realized that this was merely an example of the "venom" that Wheaton College has had to endure from those such as myself who labor under "only a superficial understanding of both Islam and Christianity."
When Hawkins, quoting the pope, says that "Christians and Muslims worship the same God," she appears to have no understanding of the radical difference and contradictions between the two faiths. Christianity affirms the Trinity, a doctrine which lies at the heart of biblical teaching, and the entire concept of redemption. The Christian teaching is that in Christ, God Himself redeemed us; the Son, in agreement with the Father, made atonement for our sins. God Himself supplies the Redeemer we need.
In Islam, Allah does not supply a redeemer; humans themselves pay for their own sins by trying to have their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, always unsure of how to keep score. In Islam, God is capricious and does not have fellowship with human beings. No Muslim would ever call God "Father."Notice how deftly Lutzer has moved from what Hawkins, and myself, were saying—both faiths worship the same God—to what he chooses to rebut, the idea that both faiths are the same. His bringing up the "differences and contradictions" in the two faiths is, to return to our ice cream shop analogy, my laboriously explaining the differences between a milkshake and an ice cream cone. "One shop? A milkshake isn't even ice cream at all. It isn't solid! And chocolate is a vastly different flavor than vanilla. We're ordering completely different desserts!"
Having gone to great lengths to establish that Christianity and Islam are indeed different religions, though no one suggests otherwise, Lutzer then pretends he's proved his point, concluding, tellingly:
...we can befriend Muslims and show them hospitality, respectfully sharing our beliefs and traditions, and learning from one another. Perhaps in God's good timing, we can share with them that while Muhammad claimed to be a prophet, Jesus claims—and had the credentials to prove—that He is actually the Savior of the world, able to take away our sin and bring us all the way to the Heavenly Father.
We can be good and helpful neighbors without sacrificing the very truths that bring sinners into the presence of God. Jesus affirmed, "Love your neighbor," but He did not say that we had to agree with them doctrinally.Let's take a step back and put the situation in plain English:
The world is filled with religions. Each worship in its own particular way. (See Dr. Lutzer? Not so ignorant after all). For centuries, each thought they would eventually overcome the rest. Now, in modern times, we know that the only hope for peace and survival is to imagine a multi-cultural world where people of varying faiths, races, nationalities and sexual orientations deserve respect and can dwell in harmony.
Some chose not to believe that. ISIS is one. Wheaton College is another, and if they find the comparison unfair, I would suggest they ponder the company they keep. It's their choice. Nothing in Christian doctrine forbids a woman from wearing a scarf in solidarity with her neighbors. Nothing in Christian doctrine excommunicates you if you suggest Muslims believe in God. Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church—not an institution known for its nimble shifts in doctrine—somehow managed the task.
The sticking point is that Wheaton, and Moody, and Lutzer, don't believe it. They hold out that the sect they were born into is the only true and legitimate mode of existence. Which is their right, let me be quick to point out, before they collapse to the ground, proclaiming themselves the victims here. Their right, until they try to put that attitude into operation in the public sphere, and their tolerance is revealed to be a false face, a mask worn until, as Lutzer slips in, "we can share with them that ... [Jesus] is actually the Savior of the world."
Jesus ain't the savior of the world. Certainly not the savior of my world and, to drag out an inconvenient fact, not the savior of the vast majority of people in the world. Never was, never will be. Which is why I care about this issue. Muslims are now getting the crap that used to be saved for Jews, and in some quarters (including, alas, many Muslim ones) still is. Muslims are being abused for the same reason anybody gets abused; because the abusers feel the need and think they can get away with it.
They're wrong. Jesus is not the savior of most people's worlds. Tolerance is. We must all live together. A Wheaton College professor, under the illusion that she lives in America in 2015, took a mild symbolic stand in favor of tolerance. The small school she works for — or did, before they showed her the gate — chose to view it as a violation of their dogma, and punish her. And fellow Bible thumpers at Moody chimed in their approval not realizing that the whip being used on Muslims today could be used on them tomorrow.
Not just blind, but hypocritical too. They're the first to cry religious tolerance when it's their religion compelling them to do something out of the mainstream, like harass gay people. Then we all are ordered to cough into our fists and ignore the demands of human decency so they can serve their Lord in the way they've convinced themselves He wants to be served. Then a religious moral stand is a beautiful thing. Not for Prof. Hawkins though. Because she's suggesting the two faiths share a sense of the divine when, viewed through the keyhole of Christian fundamentalism, only one deserves God's favor.
The odd thing is, they are in harmony with the my-way-or-the-highway extremism of radical Islam. Not killing people, of course. Not anymore. They stopped that a couple hundred years ago. But the same small, shameful, selfish, hostile, blindered quality that does nobody any good, especially not them.
Despite the "differences and contradictions" Lutzer points to, the problem here is that the approach to religion taken by fundamentalist Christianity and radical Islam is the same. Just as radical Muslims lash out at differences, tarnishing their faith in the eyes of many, so does Wheaton College and, as they leap to point out, the Moody Bible Institute. They insist that they are at odds with heterogenous modern life and the people in it. Not just science, but the fabric of society itself, which they consider a necessary evil that must be endured until that happy day when they can completely get their way. A reminder that the reason religion is dying out so quickly in this country is not due to venomous secularists like myself, but because the pious stewards trusted with its survival are killing it.