Sunday, April 25, 2004

Jihad or holy war?

I notice that in debates between Christian and Muslim spokesmen, when the Christian notes that Jihad is a tradition going all the way back to the Koran, the Muslim will parry this charge by saying that the OT teaches holy war.

And I also notice that the Christians I've heard don't have a very good reply to this comparison. They say something to the effect that that was then, but this is now. That, however, is hardly a satisfactory reply. For one thing, it leaves the moral status of OT holy war indeterminate. Is the drift of this reply to the effect that what was once right is now wrong, or that we've somehow outgrown the "low" morality of the OT? Either way, this reply flirts with moral relativism and the old Marcionite heresy, viz., an OT God of law and judgment v. an NT God of love and mercy.

For another thing, although not unrelated to the first point, it assumes, without any real argument, that OT ethics generally, and holy war in particular, has no possible application to the church age. But even though there are discontinuities between the OT and NT dispensations, such a blanket dismissal is, at best, much too glib—for there are major continuities as well. The NT relates to the OT by fulfilling, and not by abrogating, the OT. And a lot of NT morality is directly carried over from the OT.

So a Christian does need to know how to address this comparison, for it strikes at the heart of his own rule of faith.

It should be said at the outset that no answer will satisfy everyone. If your opponent doesn't accept the inspiration of the Bible or the Biblical value system, then there may be insufficient common ground to persuade him of both the justice of OT holy war and the injustice of Jihad. The exercise will strike him as special-pleading.

It should also be pointed out that the comparison is an old debater's trick. Instead of directly addressing or rebutting the charge, the debater changes the subject by putting his opponent on the defensive. This is a bluff rather than a refutation, designed to silence rather than rebut: "Don't you dare raise that objection, because it cuts both ways!"

But even if the comparison held firm across the board, this hardly disproves the original charge or warrants the practice at issue. In alleging that the OT "also" incites violence against the infidel, is the Muslim spokesmen conceding that the Koran does the same?

Moving to the substance of the comparison, what are the differences between Jihad and OT holy war?

1. There is a basic difference between warfare in the furtherance of a true and just cause, and warfare in the furtherance of a false and unjust cause. Both the Nazis and the Allies were using much the same methods, but the cause made all the difference.

The institution of democracy has fostered the facile notion that if I have the right to do something, then you have the right to do the same thing. But equality only applies "all other things" being equal.

The fact that I have a right to sleep in my own bed doesn't imply that a house burglar has the same right to sleep in my bed. I own it, he doesn't.

Likewise, the fact that the true faith sometimes entitled to wage war on a false faith (e.g., Yahwism v. Baalism) doesn't imply that a false faith is sometimes entitled to wage war on the true faith.

Islam has the moral status of a squatter, a house burger. Islam is a Christian heresy. Like a false prophet who falsely speaks in the name of the true God, the fact that Islam apes some of the imperatives of SCripture scarcely serves to establish moral equivalence, but rather, makes a good case for plagiarism.

This is, of course, a provocative reply, and will ignite the usual flurry of feigned indignation and howls of intolerance. But it is just a matter of applying Muhammad's own criteria to his own claims. What could be fairer?

2. Neither in principle nor practice was OT holy war ever a policy of worldwide conquest or conversion. It was very narrowly targeted in its geographical scope and identification of the enemy.

And this isn't due to the limited manpower of Israel. For the success of holy war depended as much or more on the miraculous intervention of God —of a God who could as easily defeat the armies of the superpowers (Egypt, Assyria), and, on occasion, did so.

3. One prerequisite of OT holy war was the extreme depravity of the enemy. They were under divine indictment for committing child sacrifice and other abominations (Deut 18:9-14). Does Jihad satisfy this condition? Is Muslim culture morally superior to the societies it subjugates? Is a culture that practices or promotes polygamy, concubinage, child-marriage, drug-use (e.g., hashish, opium), slavery, and a sexual double-standard of justice any less decadent than the Western world or Christian countries and cultures?

(N.B. You have slavery in the OT, but it takes the form of indentured service to make restitution for property crimes.)

4. Another precondition of OT holy war was the impossibility of peaceful coexistence (Num 10:9). The Canaanites would not allow the Israelites to live in peace. Does Jihad meet this condition? Don't Muslims habitually engage in unprovoked wars of aggression?

5. The OT resorted to force where necessary, but force was not its only or primary resort. The OT also employs persuasion. For example, the prophet Isaiah, in his polemic against idolatry (Isa 40-48), mounts a reasoned case against idolatry as inadequate to account for creation and providence. And this reasoned appeal is continued in the NT. (Cf. F. F. Bruce, The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament [Eerdmans, 1984]).

But I see little or no appeal to reason, argument and evidence in the Muslim concept of conversion. Islam seems to define conversion in terms of outward conformity to the faith, imposed by force. Where is there anything to compare with the vast literature in the field of Christian apologetics? Why is Islam's standard operating procedure, "Do it our way or die, period!"

6. This difference is due, I think, to another underlying difference. OT piety does not define true faith in terms of mere external compliance, but in relation to spiritual renewal and the inner assent of heart and mind (e.g., Deut 6:5; 10:12-22; 30:6; Ps 51:10; Jer 4:4; Ezk 36:26-27).

7. And this difference is owing, in turn, to the fact that Christian theology has a doctrine of original sin and its complementary doctrine of the new birth. In Christian theology, there is a categorical difference between a true and a nominal believer, but in Islam, this is—at most—a difference of degree rather than kind. And that is why mass conversion and coercion characterize Islamic foreign policy and the policing of social mores.


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