Monday, December 28, 2015

The Moody Bible Institute finds me venomous

    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.


  1. as a high school student now some 40 years ago i learned that discussions of theological considerations with even my closest of friends was to be one of low expectations. as a fallen away catholic with a cursory interest in eastern philosophy trying to question any aspect of christian religous doctrine with my soon to be seminary student friend leonard. logical discussion felt thwarted at every turn.the discussions have continued on through his ordination but my expectation of any type of satisfactory resolution has all but disapeared. how can you argue with people who present jesus as having
    "the credentials to prove" he is the savior of the world. what pray tell would these documents be and where would he have procured them . arrggh! one god. all people of the book. all eating ice creme? i prefer the gelato

  2. Good grief.

    Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all Abrahamic faiths! It's not just that they worship a monotheistic faith, but they all worship the same God of Abraham!

    Denying that is living in a "truthiness" world and calling facts "venom".

  3. It is encouraging to hear the Pope speak of tolerance, and to recognize a common thread connecting all faiths, as it is equally disheartening to be reminded that most religious leaders feel compelled to defend any particular difference that divides us.
    The teacher was not trying to "Convert" Christians to Islam, just show some level to solidarity with people she felt were being targeted, the fact the Christian college felt threatened by a message of compassion does not speak well for the school.

  4. Dr. Lutzer asserts that no Muslim would ever call God "Father." He would be interested to learn that in Sufi poetry, God-as-Father appears frequently. As does God-as-Mother and God-as-Beloved and God-as-other-things-besides.

  5. Pope Francis gets it, and is taking measures to preserve the Catholic Church with increased tolerance and inclusion of others without giving up basic tenets. It's not complete acceptance for some, but he probably understands his Church cannot survive through discrimination and exclusion of all but their definition of the righteous. (Let's hope other hard line Catholics in this country adapt as well.)

    Evangelicals and other protestants refusing tolerance for anyone not compatible with their bigoted beliefs (including sympathizers of the unaccepted) need only to face a mirror to see what a "Radical Islamist" looks like.

  6. I have raised the ire of quite a few friends when I suggested that, short of the murdering thing, the radicals on both sides are one in the same. Thanks for putting it so succinctly.

    1. Neil, thought you would have a column in the Paper today.

      We have another blog here on those nasty Christians. How about one on certain other religious zealots?

      Born a Golfer, do you think the Christian zealots(not a fan)in the present day are as dangerous as certain other religious zealots?

    2. The ISIS leader also used the recording to project strength and taunt the group's numerous adversaries.

      -Al Baghdadi

      "Crusaders and Jews don't dare to come on the ground because they were defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said, the Telegraph reported. "Be confident that God will grant victory to those who worship him, and hear the good news that our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets."

    3. Bloody Christmas in Philippines as Muslim guerrillas kill 10

      Muslim guerrillas killed 10 civilians in the majority Catholic Philippines over Christmas, the military said Sunday, with some Christians in the affected areas now too scared to sleep in their homes. Guerillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters

  7. Bravo, to NS and all the commenters above. My Christian faith has long been shaken to the core, especially since my church is Lutheran Evangelical, among the "radical" Christian dogmas. It is a dilemma, not wanting to give it up but not wanting to be a hypocrite, so, I handle it by attending twice a year (Christmas and Easter) enjoying the festivity and fellowship of the services. Taking communion is worrisome; I enjoy it out of habit but feel somewhat guilty. Still, I'm grateful I can compartmentalize with the best of them, taking comfort in Christianity's basic goodness and leaving the other stuff behind.


    1. I was taught that the ONLY way to believe in god or get to heaven was through the "One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic religion". As a third grader during my 12 years in a catholic institution, I thought my public school friends were out of luck. This guy from Wheaton school can not get to heaven, according to the catholic belief system. They each think they have the patent on religion, as do followers of Islam.

    2. To fundamentalist, evangelical born again fanatics, even Catholics and Mainline Protestants "are not saved" unless the person is baptized as a grown person.

    3. "In Islam...humans pay for their sins by trying to have their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds." Sounds like a sensible idea. As a Presbyterian, I must believe in predestination, which says God decides whether I'll end up in Heaven or Hell, and there's nothing I can do to change his mind. A goofy idea, but I'm not tempted to convert to Islam. My knees couldn't handle all the kneeling. And I like the hymns.

      Tom Evans

    4. It seems to me we humans are slave to particular religious rituals intended to bring divine determination. Your rituals damn me, may cause me harm, but mine will not allow you access to heaven? Rituals invented by men, not the gods.

  8. Wheaton College is responsible for inflicting that wretched Billy Graham on the world.
    It wasn't until Graham had retired that we found out he was also an anti-Semite.
    And now we have his even more rotten son Franklin imposing his bullshit upon us, although it appears he's limited himself to just the USA.
    Aren't we lucky?

    1. Well, I don't know about that. He went to school there. But I have a sense that Graham would have found a way to jam himself in the public eye, wherever he attended.

  9. Trollope's Miss Mackenzie has a deft take on religious zealotry and its application to those not so inclined.


  10. Neil - if I understand you correctly, you are saying that fundamentalists of whatever stripe they be - secular or religious - share the same approach.

  11. As an orthodox atheist, I feel nothing but contempt for religious stridency. That said, I also don't get very indignant when an institution like Wheaton College decides to go after one of its own faculty members for heresy or errancy or whatever the hell it's called. As long as they're not, say, influencing laws that I have to obey, I don't really care what religious fanatics do to each other. When you take a job at a place like Wheaton College, you have to take the craziness that goes along with it.

    Bitter Scribe

  12. I hate anyone who believes a different set of fairy tales than the ones I was taught to believe in since birth. No, not really. I grew up and recognised them all for what they are. I no longer have a dog in that fight. I find myself a bit bemused by those still arguing over such silliness, but having been there myself, I can't simply dismiss them as stupid, they are not necessarily stupid at all... just sleepwalking.

  13. Woman and Man Brutally Caned in Public in Indonesia For Crime of Affectionate Contact


    glad they don't do sharia law at Moody, etc

    . A woman who was accused of being too friendly with a man she is not married to, as well as the man himself, were caned at a mosque in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Monday.

    According to the Jakarta Post, the caning took place before a yelling crowd at Baiturrahim Mosque in Banda Aceh after the couple was sentenced according to the city’s Sharia bylaws, which criminalize “khalwat (affectionate contact by an unmarried couple).”

  14. "NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — Christian leaders hailed Muslims for their bravery and selflessness Tuesday after they shielded Christians from suspected al-Shabab gunmen who attacked a passenger bus.

    The gunmen sprayed the bus with bullets Monday, killing two. But when they asked the Muslim passengers to help identify the Christian passengers, they told the militants to kill everyone or leave. The Associated Press reported Muslims also helped dress non-Muslim passengers in scarfs to try to conceal their identity.

    Defeated, the militants left hurriedly, according to witnesses.

    The gesture is uniting Christians and Muslims in the county, which lies in the country’s north along the border with Somalia.

    “I think it’s an act of bravery for the Muslims who risked their lives to protect the Christians,” said Anglican Bishopshop Julius Kalu of Mombasa.'This is the true meaning of religion, and we congratulate them.' "

  15. Coey: You're my favorite today. Lovely riposte.

  16. Good for you Neil! I worked with them in my mid-teens and only now wish I had the words you used here.


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