What sense do we make of the world we live in is to a large extend a question of curiosity. Of course external factors also influence what we notice and shape what we assume to be normal. But without a mentality of raising questions we are less prone to discern answers or to examine what we finally accept. Questions arise from early childhood on, but then are easily discouraged in one or the other social and religious/cultural setting.
Without continuing curiosity we easily fall in line with others on a common road. That gives a measure of security and comfort from the sheer weight of numbers. Everyone believes or does the same thing. My parents, who never accepted the standards of others without further consideration, raised us to not just follow Johnny. "Would you jump out of the window just because others do it," was the retort we came to expect and laughed about knowingly after the first words. They found themselves often alone in taking a stand of inquiry, moral rectitude and historical perspective. Throughout the Nazi years they were able to resist the fervor of nationalism and the false promises of ideology.
If there is not a person in the world that does not go through waves of curiosity many cultural contexts discourage and then oppress such awakening. Curiosity is what made Greece distinct. It is at the heart of all science and art. It blossomed with the rebirth, or 'Renaissance', of Man after the relative Dark Ages resulting from the legal and social chaos following Rome's demise. No otherworldly and spiritual focus of religion in the mediaeval church could redress it. Scandals in the church, access to wise, though pagan Greek and Roman texts, competing loyalties between distant Rome and local rulers as well as trade on a wider market opened the world to be discovered. It turned out to be more divers, more interesting and more challenging than what had been proclaimed and threatened from the pulpits.
The Reformation brought a renewed interest in curiosity and discovery, in calling and education, in work and civil responsibility. It achieved this by means of both Scripture's teaching and a shift of mentality. The Bible gave Man again a place of nobility in the realm of thought and work. The price of Christ's finished work for our redemption represented the value God saw in the redeemable person. Furthermore the text revealed the distance of God to a fallen creation, which liberated Man from having to believe that all events in life are always the will of God or a deserved judgment. Now the world could be seen as unfair, abnormal and full of problems that required effort, imagination and enterprise to correct.
For, the Good News does not start with Jesus, but with the proclamation of God's existence. The second Good News is that we now live in a fallen world, where death reigns and unfairness is the norm. The third element reveals what God was willing to do about the problem of sin and death through Jesus Christ. Now the Bible, not events in history or the formulations of the church, was once again seen as the revelation of God. Too often sickness, poor harvests, neglect from the hand of evil rulers and early death had been related to what a person deserved under the justice of God. Consequently, they had rarely been opposed, questioned and corrected under the Roman church or pagan cults.
In our own day curiosity is nurtured by exposure to much more information, travel and trade. These get even thrown at people who, hidden by their geography or subject to their ideology would never start looking for them. From all around the world ideas, people and things come to what used to be a local market.
Before that opening insistence on submission, repetition and conformity was a common way to get rid of the annoying questioner. Most religions prescribe doctrines, patterns of behavior and rituals for unified affirmations, remembrances and celebrations. Many include dress and eating habits and create a basically repetitive social reality. This has the advantage of preventing any surprise or doubt, for you can expect what the neighbor does and believes. It removes areas from insecurity and explains what to expect, what you can count on. United by song and uniform we find a measure of stability in an unstable world. "Only the enemy is different and easily identified."
The Jewish and Christian view nurtures a very different practice. True that among believers at times conformity is valued more than wisdom or intellectual integrity. But overall the text demands neither extreme of blind conformity or an irrational embrace of novelty.
This tension exists in the old philosophical question about unity and diversity, about the one and the many, about form and freedom. The Bible makes the tension to work in a dynamic history. We are not stuck in the mud, in cycles and repetitions. Much of what is familiar to us expresses a living concern for truth and life as a result of Christianity, from childcare to education, social services, democracy, inventions and an independent judiciary. They all express the need for form and freedom, independence and responsibility, novelty and acknowledgment of the limits in the real world.
Our assumptions about life respond to our realization of the puzzle of life. We can figure out many facts and details, but not enough about meaning and morals. These lie outside of our passing experiences. They are given an ideological frame, when I choose to establish purpose, links and aims. But that remains all very relative and what we now call 'cultural'. Or meaning comes from revelation, if there is someone there who gave it all a purpose from the beginning. Then we still have to decide whether we agree with or oppose that purpose. For the 'god of revelation' may be evil, sovereign and powerful without recourse or evidence of love and kindness.
That has to be discerned by means of careful reading, analysis and comparison with experienced reality. It will result either in blind obedience, becoming part of what is imposed. Islam is like that, as was Marxism and Manifest Destiny. Or we reject it all and impose our individual purposes. Or again we recognize in word, deed and explanation a loving, caring and engaged God who speaks and acts into a dark history after the fall of Adam.
Revelation is needed when we realize how late we appear in the world already made. We enter the play without a script in the middle of the dialogue and are glad when we get to consult it before our roll is called up and we live on the stage. I was always amused when Russian, having rejected Christianity, asked me about life on other planets, from where we could get directives on how to live on our messy one.
The Bible admonishes us not to fail in passing on answers to the questions of life from one generation to the next. It should not take the form of repetitions enforced by authoritarian power. The teaching of the Bible at all times answers, but also raises questions. It is not only a dialogue between generations; it is also propositional from God, to shed light into our situation.
The Bible relates to history in facts and events, in places and discourse, all wrapped into a sense of the continuity of truth. Centrally both Judaism and Christianity are historical in that God created a real world in space and time and acted, and continues to act, into it from the beginning in space and time situations. He has never left it alone since. Prophetic words and acts of God are continuous from the beginning, but after the fall they have become less visible and come with interruptions.
These answers are not a collection of sayings or verses to be gleaned from among a broader text. God gives us the whole text, through which we know about Him, the real world and us until we shall see him in the Second Coming. We should confidently study the text and with its help bridge some of the gaps between what is declared and what we today experience. The text nurtures love, faith and hope in the measure in which it makes sense of all reality.
The text is not a quarry of favorite sayings. If we look for that we find them perhaps in "Proverbs." However "Proverbs" lend themselves much more to Wisdom than to doctrinal foundations or existential clarity.
Texts become a quarry when they are read as verses or stories outside of their context. In the BBC series "Seaside Parish" a Priest without any real clue about Christianity uses the story of the Three Wise Men to have the parishioners imagine what would have happened if instead three wise women has come to Bethlehem. "They would have swept out the stable, changed the diapers, etc." The imagination runs wild, nurtured on the need for fun with the text and feminist improvements on events. In fact it is immaterial whether the Wise Men ever got there. History has become a story that only serves to trigger your imagination, creating pictures in your mind and emotions in your heart rather than being a report of what took place. In fact your imagination now is the truth!
Verses also leap up as well when we need them to still our present very subjective curiosity. They may answer our puzzling questions about what to do next or how to respond to a bewildering experience. Our personal or cultural setting may color what we see, like and apply. Without recourse to a broader consideration we often come to curious conclusions.
"Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared and was still" (Ps 76:8) for centuries was read to mean that the earth was the center of the universe, that all the heavens revolved around this "still" earth. A verse was understood without being checked against reality, much the same way many people today would look at reality without checking it against Scripture. Or then again, many would deny all together that there is such a thing as reality, including revelation, out there!
"My thoughts are not your thoughts"(Is 55:8) has nothing to do with God thinking differently, seemingly to us without rhyme or reason, full of mystery and irrationalities. Instead it confirms the extraordinary generosity of God to offer salvation according to the covenant promised to David (55:3). Where we have lost all grounds for hope God has a way for our salvation through the substitutionary death of Jesus, the Son of David. God's word will not return empty (vs. 11). This is not odd, but makes perfect sense.
"I count all things a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things" (Phil 3:8) has nothing to do with giving up things, wearing but one suit of clothes or not enjoying the opera or French wine. Paul argues that no religious rules will provide salvation, no title will bring fame, no family lineage will be a bargain to bend God's favor. These he gives up, not his mind, his skill, his right to be paid. For, salvation is through the free gift of Christ's death and resurrection, not an accomplishment or entitlement. Things are part of God's good creation and to be enjoyed with thanksgiving (1st Corinthians 10:31).
"A woman with her head uncovered dishonors her head…A woman is the glory of man (1st Cor 11: 5-7) is not a dress code to indicate submission. The text stands in Paul's long discussion of disorders, strife and divisions in a local church. The Bible's freedom for women to be equal with men had broken up the Greek system of women's inferiority. But now the sense of freedom had gained dominance over form, individualism over community, one over many. First Paul reminds the believers that we are all under authority (11:3). None is free, isolated and unaccountable. God is even the head of Christ. Then he tells them that we are all linked, mirrors of one another. Man is the glory of God in the sense that we bear his image, continue his creativity, express dominion over nature, resist evil in history. We are human, not animal or plant. We have no personal neighbor in nature. Our glory reflects God's glory on earth.
Woman reflects the glory of man, including the glory of God in man. She was made from and for man, but there would be no man unless woman gave birth to children! (11:11,12) Thus man and woman are equal, belong together and should in the life of the church and society not go their own way into individualism, fragmentation and irresponsibility.
That is what Paul is saying here in an effort to lean against the partitions, competitions and rivalries found as real problems in the church. He is not saying anything primarily about clothes, submissions and dependencies. Only taking the verses out of the context would lead one to conclude that woman are to be silent in church, unquestioningly submit to all male authority and wear a token covering in church.
Instead woman should speak and teach in God's interest (11:5,13) in an orderly (14:26 - 33) gathering of the church, but not chatter or produce chaos (14:34), just as men should not. Attending the service of Yom Kippur in the Lausanne synagogue this year brought this to mind when during almost the whole 2 hour service members chatted, exchanged words and stories that made them laugh and looked around to wave at friends. Or you will notice in Renaissance paintings of church interiors with people standing in the back, their dogs on a leash, in conversation with others.
1st Timothy 2:11 addresses questions about elders and their responsibility of teaching and discipline in the church. It does not address questions of authority, teaching in general or the place of women. A different kind of confusion is to be avoided among the elders than in the church at large.
Texts always require an understanding, not merely its repetition. The meaning is accessible, but not always readily obvious. Inspiration from God does not mean that grammar is unimportant or that no effort is required to understand it. The Bible gives what God wanted us to know. Some of it is a conversation with God, not an imposed formula. Other parts are truthfully telling us what lies people spread, what false theologies they embraced. Style and content, who is addressed what is being said and "is that true?" are questions we must always keep in mind.
Think how much we would have missed about God if Job had just accepted the counsel of his friends! With friends like these, who needs enemies? Instead, Job stands out as righteous. He is one man who makes God declare Himself and in the process to straighten out the clouds of nebulous spirituality of Job's friends.
The Bible is so different in this from the Koran for instance, which was delivered as a finished product without need for translation from heaven. It calls for (blind) obedience, not a discovery of meaning.
The response to the headscarf ban in France may illustrate the two very different views about the way a text is understood. The Christian and Jew would say, "Too bad that a secular society does not allow religious symbols, but so what?" For Christians and Jews the wearing of a covering is symbolic for an attitude of mutuality and respect, not an external obligation. Externals do not determine our relationship to God and neighbor. Muslims find it a conflict with a religious command. It splits his loyalty and violates his religious obligations. The text is to be strictly followed from religious obedience rather than the meaning practiced.
When religious obligations contradict reality they become highly problematic. Mormons had to abandon their teaching about polygamy before Utah was able to join the Union in the 19th century. Headscarves in France express more often a humiliation of Muslim women under the power of men, father, brother and husband. Numerous published records exist of girls being raped, beaten and even killed when they wore western clothes in public. Scarves also make it impossible to get accurate photo identification, a requirement in an open and free society.
No such conflicts between Biblical truth and the truth of reality exist in my mind.
The Bible wants and needs to be understood. It addresses our mind. We need to read it with comprehension, not a belief that we already know what it says. It uses words, grammar and syntax to explain things, and explains these in a variety of settings.
The Bible is always apologetic, never a text dropped out of the sky into a vacuum. It always gives an explanation in the immediate or wider context of the text itself or in the reality the text relates to. God always addresses fallen Man and his needs. As such it engages us in our situation as human beings in need of revelation and discernment.
There is no way to rightly understand the text except as it relates to real human historic situations. I must start with these and then discover what God tells me about himself, my place, my moral and intellectual obligations. I am not free to bend the meaning by taking it out of context and applying it where I like it to fit in my personal need.
The Bible gives us no doctrine abstracted from reality, no moral command that does not relate to the shape of creation, the nature of man and the character of God. The Bible is fully reasonable; the commands make sense and confirm the shape of the universe. "Do this, because that is the real world, as is plainly seen."
Paul reminds us in Galatians that the Law came because of added transgression (3:26). It has a purifying effect. Moses received the law to wash away the Egyptian influences and thought forms and to prepare the worldview of the people before entering the Promised Land. It is not an introduction to secrets or initiatory mysteries. Faithfulness involves an understanding that acknowledges God and creation, man and beast, sin and glory from day to day.
The Koran, in contrast, demands obedience without translation into the situation or our own words. It is a finished product, repeated, cited and obeyed without debate from curiosity about its meaning. It is in Arabic, which you may not even understand. Yet any "meaning" question requires translation. There is none of the Koran into any language. There are only interpretations, which then distort its divine meaning.
There is perhaps a parallel (or continuity) in all this with our understanding of creation. God created a real world in six days, however long they were, and then gave continuing mandates to men and women, made in his image. The one creation is subject to continuing change. Nothing is totally finished, neither history nor creation, nor our understanding of God and neighbor, nor our love and service. Some things we do often, but new things and situations come into being as well. We live in linear history, not in a cyclical repetition. Here, too, we discover form and freedom.
Consequently we should rather hesitate before assuming too quickly that we understood a text's meaning. Fitting into our personal needs, wishes or our social agenda of the time is not the first criteria. Terrible things have been declared as Biblical when the context was disregarded. The history of the church is not only glorious, but also at times shameful. Efforts to restrain the freedoms of Hippy and Jesus movements by enforcing 'apostolic' rules in churches made a spiritual exercise out of submission to elders. Youth conflicts were 'solved' largely by making youth and parents less able to think for themselves.
No, the Gospel of Christ challenges us to become more human, to reflect more, not less, to struggle more sincerely, to address life with greater sensitivity and to long for righteousness, which is always more than being in the right.
The admission of possible of error and doubt has not detracted, but contributed so much to a clearer understanding of things. Ideological or ecclesiological prisons have so often prevented truth from being discerned. Not until doubt, curiosity and the corollaries trial and error were admitted through Jewish and Biblical thinking, free from doctrinaire insistence, did education become important and economic and political development take off. Muslim societies are still mired in false certainties and spiritual slavery.
Whether so intended or not there is a certain symbolism in the rejection of this Biblical view of things and people, of God and life when Chechnyan fighters in one week attacked places where people experience the reality of a larger view of life. (Political reasons and justified rage against excessive and cruel military violence by Russia, past and present, have also provoked hostilities.)
Blowing up airplanes is a statement against the freedom to connect and travel. The bomb in the subway station market is a statement against free trade and social relations. The Reslan hostage murders make a horrible and powerful assertion against education, family and security in the city. Likewise, the insurgents in Iraq do not want an open society, no security to work and love, no market of ideas and business, no challenge from women in public to mind and body, no occasions to choose goodness. Their stance is against any freedom of even a very distorted form of rational Man, to be truly human and to make choices for himself.
When a restaurant owner up the road from us went on holidays recently he posted his "Closed for Vacations" sign with the addition that he was looking for a place where one could ship George W. Bush to free the world from this dangerous man. Such a-priori cynicism is widespread, a desire to doubt from the outset that anything good can come out of Galilee, or Washington, these days. The world has become far more dangerous than we thought after the end of the Soviet Union. It is too easy to blame Bush and America for all of it.
This view denies any tension from the other side. The war in Iraq, the fight against terrorists and Israel's wall and fence to protect itself against homicide bombers are provocations that incite rage. If we just left things alone, did not insist on imposing our standards on the world, we could trade to our heart's content and live in peace with all. From time to time we could even get together for a cup of tea with the Islamists.
Admittedly, grave mistakes have been made on our side. I have often stated my fears and reservations, though agreeing that something forceful had to be done to stop the slaughter and to prevent a marriage of evil partners, whether between countries, dictators or ideologues. It was naïve to assume parallels between WW2 and Iraq. One must not discard the weight of ideas and religion in people's lives about realms as divers as government and work, the mind and human relationships. While Christianity is for us a personal religion with room for unbelievers, that is not the case in Islam. It is a public religion without room for questioning or even infidels.
Riding in on an anti-Clinton wind was not a good thing. Florida's election machinery was a mess. We failed to explain that Kyoto was an impractical model for climate change, that an International Court of Justice is a farce when justice is not defined (Clinton had signed on during the last two weeks of his presidency too late for a Congressional vote to hand Bush a hot potato, which he then dropped immediately). The recent judgment against Israel's protective and efficient wall bears up the reasons why the Court is as much a farce as Sudan's membership in the UN human rights commission.
Startling is how much this cynicism of much of the world is based on feeling, not reflection. Drinking tea with Islamists will not remove their long - term goal to destroy the threat, lure and challenge to the claims of Islam from Western life and ideas, including Europe's. It did, after all, not start with 9/11. Lebanon, Somalia, Bosnia and Afghanistan are beads on the chain of rising Islamic nationalism, resentment about past colonialism and a rise of despair and spreading poverty among the masses. There has been no answer in the Arab street to the question why Islam with its claim of divine purity, and oil as a primary and scarce resource on the world market, and past Islamic intellectual achievements, have not combined to make Islamic societies the admired vision of the world. Instead America and the West are more productive, more appealing, more successful, including in their eyes, more decadent.
Drinking tea together is a form of benign neglect when nothing is done to change the way society functions. It is a relationship on somewhat like the "yes, dear" of guests at an English tea. Belief in the value of such contact is possible only when terrorism is not seen as an expression of an ideology, but as criminal activity of a few. Most people I meet are not realistic about the threat of Islamic ideology ever since its inception/revelation. New is merely the use of terror as a tool by a few. No nation is the aggressor, no army stands in battle, no borders delineate friend and foe. Therefore it is a matter of the police to limit the damage.
Yet there is a nation that transcends national borders in the teaching of Islam. The flag is green and the weapons are those furnished by us in the form of past material help, media publicity and admission to democratic procedures to claim violations of religious rights. Yet there are no religious rights in Islamic countries for Christians or Jews.
An Arab member of the Israeli Knesset spoke about what Israel must do before the homicide bombings will stop and violent groups in Palestine can be curbed. He left out much of the past history of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. (20% of Israel's citizens, not merely residents, are Arab with full rights and representation).
He said that Israelis had inflicted violence in recent years and that Palestinians are innocent victims. According to his view Arafat and the people are the helpless victims of Israeli occupation and atrocities. Overlooked in his arguments are any mention of the Intefada during the past three years following the refusal by Arafat of the Clinton-brokered deal for a Palestinian state, or the link between Saddam and Arafat since at least before the 1991 war, the Iraqi payments for families of suicide bombers, the interception of Iranian arms shipments to Palestinian forces.
Left out also is the history of Palestinians kept deliberately in refugee camps to be able to ferment hate of Israel as a foreign imposition, a colonial ruler. Neglected is the fact that more than half of Israelis come from North Africa and Near-Eastern countries like Egypt, Iraq and Iran. The constant use of the term "occupied territories" belies the fact that it is land lost in the fourth of a series of wars all started by Arab countries to eradicate a state of Israel on territory given by a UN resolution in 1948.
It is as if Germany claimed Polish-occupied Silesia and French-occupied Loraine. Do the Spanish occupy the Basque area and Sweden the Western parts of Finland? Do Americans occupy lands of earlier Mongol migrants to North America? While we are at it we should not neglect the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and China's annexation of Tibet. Where else but under Arafat do you have third and fourth generation refugees?
The situation is tragic, there are no lily-white shirts and fairness is a distant concept. But what should not be forgotten is that Syria, Egypt, Tunesia and Algeria have all dealt violent blows to their own Islamic extremists in the recent past and are unwilling to integrate Palestinians. Jordan kicked out Arafat and his regime twenty years ago. These countries now exploit in varying degrees the storm, frustration and violence against Israel to let off steam among their own frustrated populations and to keep alive the promise of return.
The repeated focus on Israel's problems with a Palestinian Authority that denies Israel's right to exist, and Washington's support, these countries and others like Saudi Arabia and Iran can appear to be so caring, so concerned about justice, so justified in the humiliating treatment of their own impoverished populations. These governments and their autocratic rulers, the poor social programs and the appeal to an Islamic society hide their own failures in human rights behind the convenient identification of Israel and the West as enemies of God.
Cynicism in Europe against the motives and practices of the West, including Israel, also covers a multitude of actions, failings and frustrations at home, which in fact are often rooted in envy and embarrassment. Popular European attempts to "understand" the Near East undermine our determined rejection of Islamic political and religious intentions. Yet it is all quite cynical. For the ban of headscarf and any ostentatious religious symbol in French schools recognizes Islamic attempts to impose its power.
Cynicism leads to intellectual blindness when a professor from Canberra's National University in Australia wrote in the IHT about the rising dangerous influence of Muslim, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists around the world. The American right, Islamic radicals and Israel's insistence on its right to exist and to defend itself are singled out as sources of all evil. Sanity is found only in the UN. Lumping religions all together reveals a surprising ignorance about Islam, Christianity and the recent history of Israel since 1948. It is too easy to name the supposed beast, but tragic when it is done so superficially.
What about the fundamentalists in the UN who from their own choice of national interests (China's interest in oil from Sudan, France's commercial friendship with Saddam's Iraq) refuse to address and deal with issues of real human suffering? Where was the UN in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq or Afghanistan? The UN has its own convinced fundamentalists who debate without addressing the important issues of how dictatorships, tribal rulers and religious fanatics hinder the peace and life of normal human beings.
It was not the UN that brought relief from Islamic rulers to Muslim women and children. Again it was not the UN that facilitated Libya to acknowledge a dreadful weapons' program. Iran now allows some UN inspections of its hidden nuclear program, Syria releases hundreds of political opponents and Pakistan admits sale of nuclear technology for no reasons related to UN pressures, its own good will or repentance of these countries, but rather because an Anglo-Saxon world still closer tied to Christianity and its worldview has the courage to engage and at times condemn those parts of Islam and its society that breed inhumanity, poverty and an oppression of spirit. Just too bad we have not done that more consistently instead of aiding and abetting their own national goals when it served us.
A piece recently printed in the half-official Cairo newspaper suggested that Saddam's arrest was a time of Arab humiliation. Arabs themselves, not Americans imposed this humiliation. Arabs had tolerated a man like this to rule over real human beings, to kill hundreds of thousands of his people and accepted him among all the Islamic countries. With such pieces in official papers there may yet be results in the area. They also show how immoral and simplistic the view is in Europe and elsewhere that assumes people in the street are justified in their anger because of Western dominance, past exploitation and the support of Israel's right to exist.
The UN Development Report 2003, chaired by an Egyptian diplomat, faults Islamic societies for their own failures. Lack of education, a low view of women, little infrastructure investments make the area under Islamic law about as productive as sub-Saharan Africa. Handouts from oil money and investments do not contribute to peoples' intellectual and social development. They are like an opiate to the people and keep them in their dependency and ignorance.
Perhaps the willingness of the Anglo-Saxon world to take on the enormous task of cultural change in Islamic countries through various means, including military pressure against verbal, military and terrorist attack expresses still a more Christian view of spreading something of human dignity, freedom and opportunity to others. European countries in which dictatorships were a recent experience show sympathy for this as well. Other countries live in denial. Their complacency may have roots in the enlightenment idea that religion is of no public interest and that Islam is only a cultural phenomenon without political, commercial and moral/cultural consequences.
European rationalists have rejected Vinet's famous proposition that "Christianity is around the world the only seed for true freedom." They assume instead that it is all a matter of time, trade and tolerance: Don't mention religion, establish market shares and in time everyone will awaken and do well. So they lie low and pick an occasional fight only when their idea is confronted with the reality of fanatic people. The decision of Spain to negotiate with hostage takers makes all of us hostage to increasing violence.
Sympathy in European public opinion with the Palestinian Authority reveals an enormous spiritual, cultural and historic blindness. A genuine concern about Palestinians as people would not support the corrupt leadership with its stated admiration for Hitler, Stalin and even Saddam or their political goals and methods couched in Islamic terms of conquest.
Many believe that the condemnation of the world outside Islam as "the great devil" is but local religious language, oriental story telling and a way to establish an identity formerly denied by colonial powers. It has not sunk in that Islamic nationalism does not have a local, but a universal focus. Europe is as much under threat of conquest and terrorism as is America. For the moment it includes demographic means; but also terrorism, hostage taking and something Westerners do not have: time. 'Time' as in the remembrance of the loss of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella; time as in planning ahead to continue the gradual conversion of Europe into an Islamic society.
Trade, the Internet and travel in an open world threatens Islam. They will cause turmoil and fanatic reactions among the young, the open and the interested. Yet religion, traditions and a mentality of submission weigh heavily at the same time. Like socialism Islam's appeal lies in the care from cradle to grave. In a global world with many mixed signals and unresolved challenges Islam gives order and purpose. People will rather give up their individuality to gain security, whether in terms of public safety or in terms of an intellectual, national and spiritual community.
Ernesto Galli Della Loggia, member of Italy's parliament, recently raised the question, "Why the western world is shocked more by the torture in the Abu-Ghraib prison than by the slaughter of Nicholas Berg" and other hostages. One does not excuse or explain the other. Each must stand on its own demerit. Yet are they the same, similar in historical/cultural significance? Torture happens because it is effective at times and handy when it can be hidden from public. Slaughter is different: it inflicts pain without any possible benefit from the slaughtered. It is more like Nazi crimes on certain types of people.Slaughter is killing of people in a manner that dehumanizes the victim: cutting the throat turns him into a sacrificed lamb, an insect; he is exposed to public via TV with a loss of any respect.
What is scary is the absence of any complaint about the slaughters from anyone in the Arab world. Instead there was jubilation or silence, while there were endless complaints, meetings, parades against the torture in the West and Arab countries.
Torture revealed and our response to it shows that what some Americans have done stands in opposition to our culture. The slaughter shows what a culture could be like, for it found no opposition among its own. Our judgment then is not only over murderers, but also over any culture that does not oppose it. Yet we have decided that any value judgment is considered illegitimate. We judge our own barbarism, but are not allowed to do it elsewhere. The Bible's admonition is not against judging others, but reminds us to use the same standards across the board. There is a speck in the other's eye, even when there is a beam in our own.
We must not be afraid to suggest that the pictures of slaughtered hostages give us insight into the horrible practices in that culture.
On another note that relates to some of the things I discuss in "The Market - Driven Church" (Crossway Publishers, Wheaton, 2004) I wonder whether you have ever noticed how little the writers of the New Testament talk about their personal experiences. Their message is from God, not from their own lives. They declare what is true, not how they see or experienced it. They 'shared', if that word applies at all, what they understood and knew. The good news for them was not their salvation or prayer life, but the fact of God's favor to offer salvation freely to anyone who believes. Their affirmation was about God being there, acting in history, keeping his promises and explaining the context of a tragic human history after the fall of Adam.
We do not hear Paul talk about his Damascus road experience except in two court settings to defend his ministry to Jews and Romans. Acts 9 talks about the historic event itself. In Acts 22 we find Paul defending himself as a Jew against the accusation that he was an Egyptian and had brought Greek into the Temple in Jerusalem. In Acts 26 he defends himself against the accusation that he had taught new things rather than the hope promised by God to the patriarchs of Israel. "I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen"(vs. 23).
Neither do we hear Peter mentioning such personal experiences as his mother-in-law being healed from a fever as evidence of God's grace. Peter's eyewitness experience on the Mt. of Transfiguration is put on a lower level than the more reliable word of the Prophets, who wrote as the Holy Spirit bore (carried) them to give a more sure word (2nd Peter 1).
We find nothing in James about his personal life as the brother of the Lord. We hear nothing from John about the times he spent taking care of Mary, the mother of Jesus, after the crucifixion.
All this to suggest that the truth is more important than any subjective experience of it in the life of the early church. The subjective experience matters as a historic record involving real people and events. As history they are reported. But their importance lies only in their revealing something more objective about God's desire to be known and loved and worshipped.
We have melted into a pattern in which the anecdotal, personal and immediate are considered revelations. CNN brings us such revelations from the heartland. Success in exercise plans and slimming programs receive as much 'ahs' and 'ohs' as foreign travel experiences, won law cases and religious insights. We are a culture hungry for personal experiences and immediate gratification. There is much fascination with life as a reality show.
But confidence, certainty and trust come from the 'more sure' base of God's word and acts in history. Moses and the prophets speak of Christ, the apostles were eyewitnesses. They, more than the neighbors' experiences, are the foundation for our faith.
Udo W. Middelmann, The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation
100 Hardscrabble Road; Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510
Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development http://www.truespirituality.org/