James White had a recent discussion of how Christians should view Muslims. Well worth viewing:
It raises a number of issues I'd like to interact with. I'm going to summarize or paraphrase his position, because I'm interpreting his statements.
1. He alluded to Donald Trump's recent suggestion that there ought to be a database to track Muslims in our country, we should require religious ID for Muslims, we should deport Muslims, we should monitor mosques, or simply shut them down.
There's some dispute about what Trump actually said or meant. But we can bracket that since White is simply using his comments to illustrate a point of principle.
i) White objected on the grounds that such a policy would empower a secular gov't that's already hostile to religion. Our gov't would use the same tactics to suppress Christian freedom of expression.
ii) I think that's a valid concern. At the same time, we need to avoid sending the message that all religions should be treated alike because all religious are alike.
If, say, devotees of Santeria began to practice human sacrifice, gov't ought to move against that! Likewise, gov't ought to crack down on Muslim practices like pederasty, honor killings, female genital mutilation, &c. And it's not as if the First Amendment was ever intended to protect religious practices like that.
We need to avoid staking out the defensive posture that any official attack on any religion is an attack on every religion. For one thing, even if Christians stick up for Muslims, they won't return the favor.
In addition, we're certainly entitled to disassociate ourselves from the actions of another religion's followers. Expressing solidity can be counterproductive. Atheists are only too happy to lump us all together. We reserve the right to distance ourselves from the behavior of Muslims, not just on pragmatic grounds, but because there really are fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam.
iii) This goes to the underlying problem: it's a mistake to invite people into your country that you need to monitor. If you think they pose a security risk that justifies surveillance, then don't invite them to come here in the first place.
Likewise, we can't have a situation where the Bill of Rights is selectively applied to some American citizens rather than others. If some naturalized citizens pose a security risk, they shouldn't be naturalized in the first place.
2. White also made the point that some members ISIS do horrific things, not because they are religious, but because they are sociopathic. They are sociopaths who happen to be religious rather than religionists who happen to be sociopathic.
i) And it's true that some movements are a magnet for sociopaths. Their religious identity is incidental. Sociopaths are on the lookout for opportunities to commit murder and mahem with impunity. Oftentimes, war gives them that opportunity.
In their case, the relationship between religion and terrorism is adventitious. Religion gives them cover, gives them a pretext, to do what they were spoiling to do all along.
Depending on when and where they live, if they weren't Muslim sociopaths, they'd be Nazi sociopaths, or Khmer Rouge sociopaths, or Bolshevik sociopaths, or Shining Path sociopaths, &c.
ii) That said, sometimes it's the other way around. You can have a culture whose social mores foster a sociopathic outlook. Cultures that inculcate vice rather than virtue. Social conditioning can be a force for good or evil. And many Muslim societies are factories of psychopathology.
3. I'd also like to make a point about "moderate Muslims." At one level, I'm sympathetic to the plight of moderate Muslims. They maintain a low profile because they're understandably afraid to speak out against militant Muslims. If they stick their neck out, it will be chopped off–literally! So I appreciate why they keep their head down–figuratively as well as literally.
But I'd like to compare that to how Columbia dealt with the Medellín cartel. It was taking over. The drug lords bribed police and gov't officials. Those they couldn't bribe they murdered. If a politician opposed them, he was putting a bullseye on his back, and putting his own family at risk.
Yet there came a tipping point when the gov't understood that this situation was simply intolerable. It was us or them. The gov't waged all-out war against the Medellín cartel, and broke the cartel.
That was extremely risky, but sometimes you have to take the risk. Muslims in authority need to do the same thing.
4. White raised the issue of whether Christians have a double standard. "Who speaks for Christianity?" We distinguish between the true faith and heretical cults. If a professing Christian commits a terrorist act, many Christians will either say he's not a true Christian, and/or say that his action doesn't represent the Christian faith. Indeed, is contrary to the Christian faith. Yet we don't make the same allowance for Muslims.
To what degree should we let religionists to define what their faith-tradition represents? To what degree should we defer to their self-identification? This isn't confined to Islam. Catholicism is another good example.
That's a good question, but a complicated question, because I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer:
i) Some religionists are deceptive propagandists. They intentionally misrepresent their faith to outsiders. Take CAIR.
ii) What about sincere religionists? Suppose an adherent explains me what he believes. How he views his religion.
That self-identification is valid in the sense that it tells me what he stands for. What it means to him.
And in friendship evangelism, it's good to listen to people explain to you what they believe and why they believe it.
That's a valid self-representation. How an individual understands his own faith-tradition. It would be a mistake to impute to him beliefs that he doesn't affirm.
iii) That, however, is different from whether he's a good representative of the faith he claims to embrace. Many religionists are ignorant about their faith-tradition. Deeply confused.
They are too uninformed to define what their faith-tradition stands for. They are poor spokesmen, poor representatives, in that objective sense.
iv) Indeed, Christian apologists may use that as a wedge tactic. Pointing out the disconnect between what they believe and what they are supposed to believe, if they were true to the faith-tradition they claim to espouse.
v) There's an asymmetry between truth and falsehood. Which faction represents the authentic successor to Joseph Smith: the LDS or RLDS? Was Ali the true successor to Muhammad? Is Francis a pope or antipope?
This generates a certain paradox. If the founder was a false prophet, then is there any meaningful distinction between a true and false successor? In that context, the illegitimate founder delegitimates any successor. These are all just variations of error. What is needed is to make a clean break with the past. Make a U-turn.
If, by contrast, the Christian faith has a foundation in truth (e.g. Jesus, the apostles, the Bible), then we can and should distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate developments, between true and false interpretations. There's a disanalogy between the true religion and false religions, on the one hand, and divisions within a false religion or between false religions, on the other. In that respect, it's not a double standard when Christians make allowances for their own faith which they disallow for adherents of a false religion.
Of course, Muslims would say that begs the question in favor of Christianity. But right now I'm not attempting to make the case for Christianity. I'm just making a point of principle.
5. In the video, White repeatedly refers to his Muslim "friends." That raises an interesting issue. We could say there are two kinds of friendship: one-sided and two-sided. Suppose I befriend somebody because he needs a friend. I don't befriend him on condition that he reciprocate my friendship. I simply do it for his own benefit, expecting nothing in return.
That's a very pure, disinterested form of friendship. And it has a very significant place in Christian ethics and evangelism.
By contrast, a two-sided friendship is like a mutual defense pact: you have my back and I have yours.
Insofar as possible, a Christian can and ought to be a friend to Muslims; but whether they can be a friend to him is a different question. There's the problem of divided loyalties and ultimate loyalties. If push comes to shove, won't they break in the direction of their coreligionists? Isn't their final identity bound up with the Muslim community? If push comes to shove, do they have your back or do they have a knife in your back?
That isn't hypothetical. Consider the number of Muslim American soldiers who've murdered their comrades.
6. White mentions diversity in Islam. There are, of course, many competing viewpoints in Islam, past and present. The question is the degree to which these share a common core respecting their shared belief in the prophethood of Muhammed and the Koran as the Word of Allah.
7. White mentions the need for Islam to reform itself. But, of course, that's a conundrum. There's a fundamental sense in which Islam is irreformable. The problem goes right down to the foundations. Short of repudiating the prophethood of Muhammed, there's only so much that can be done, and that's not nearly enough. Muslims must cease to be Muslim. And I doubt White would disagree.
White himself referenced al-Waqidi's massive chronicle (580 pages) on the military campaigns of Muhammad. That can't be domesticated. Either Muhammed is a good role model or a child of his times.
In theory, Muslims could make all the same moves as liberal Jews and "progressive Christians." Indeed, Islamic modernism has been kicking around since the 19C. The Iranian Revolution was, in part, a reaction to Shiite modernism.
But it suffers from the intractable inner tensions of religious modernism in general. An unstable intellectual compromise.