Friday, January 05, 2018

The lantern of the soul

Craig fields a question comparing ISIS to OT holy war:

I though Craig did a fairly good job in 3 1/2 minutes. I'll add a few observations of my own. I've discussed this general issue before, but not in reference to ISIS. And I won't repeat everything I've said about OT holy war. 

i) Some people object that if it weren't in the Bible, Christians wouldn't defend OT holy war. That may well be true, although I don't think that's a damning admission. If I weren't a Christian, I'd have lots of shallow, unexamined, unjustified beliefs. And it's not as if an atheist has a superior position. 

ii) If I were making a case against Islam, I wouldn't begin with jihad. Both the Bible and the primary sources of Islam have religiously-sanctioned violence. That's not what distinguishes Christianity from Islam. 

iii) Mind you, that comparison only works at a very abstract level of generality. Violence can be identical in some respects, but morally different. Take a murderer who shoots someone to death and executing a murderer by firing squad. In one respect their identical, but that overlooks fundamental moral differences.

Or compare a schoolyard sniper with a human shield situation. In both cases, innocent children may die, but those are not morally equivalent situations.

Likewise, in war, both sides may use the same weaponry, yet one side may be fighting for a just case while the other side is fighting for an unjust cause. It's not primarily a question of the kind of violence or the objects of violence, but the rationale. A Martian observer, just watching the battle, might think both sides are interchangeable, but that's undiscerning. 

iv) ISIS deliberately practices the most excruciating ways of killing that their fiendish imagination can devise. Exultant sadism. A religious pretext to be get in touch with their inner psychopath.

By contrast, the OT holy war doesn't torture the enemy to death. Although OT holy war is brutal, it doesn't practice cruelty for cruelty's sake.

v) In addition, OT holy war doesn't use violence to spread the faith. This goes to two radically divergent views of conversion.

In Islam, conversion is conformity. It's not a change of belief. When someone converts at gunpoint, they have the same beliefs and attitudes after conversion as they had before conversion. The only change is a different public facade. They feign reverence for the new faith. They say and do whatever is necessary to survive or thrive. 

It's very revealing that Islam values such a thin, perfunctory piety. Just say the right things and do the right things with no corresponding assent.

Compare that to OT piety, with its stress on circumcision of the heart. Or prophetic denunciations of mechanical ritualism. 

In biblical piety, faith is conviction first, and profession second. Not profession without conviction.

In biblical piety, conversion involves a transformation in the convert's entire outlook. A spiritual rebirth. A new heart. Loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.  

vi) That's why the Judeo-Christian faith can never endorse mass conversion, in that externalistic sense. That's why, even though Christianity is a missionary religion, a global religion by design, it is not a religion of world conquest, in the sense of using violence as an evangelistic tool. Coercion is an an instrument of submission, not persuasion. You can't force someone to believe against their will. At best, you can force them to pretend to agree with you. Like extracting a confession under torture. 

Biblical faith abhors mock piety. Abhors pious playacting. In biblical piety, faith proceeds from the inside out. God lights the lantern of the soul, which then radiates outward. 

vii) All these OT cultures were warrior cultures. They practiced military conquest. The Israelites weren't doing anything to the Canaanites that the Canaanites weren't doing to their neighbors, and vice versa. Indeed, the OT laws of warfare are quite restrictive. It's about securing a particular territory, with clearly-defined borders. That's it. 

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