You are hereScapegoating Christian Zionism for the Sins of Islam
Scapegoating Christian Zionism for the Sins of Islam
by John Evans
As a relative newcomer to the preterist movement who arrived here from the very secularized world of mainstream academia, I tend to have a quite different worldview from many who came to preterism from a more religiously conservative background. Having spent much time in an environment where many people are either hostile toward or indifferent to Christianity and many others are affiliated with Christian denominations that lean decidedly toward the theologically liberal side, I tend to regard the greatest obstacle to the advancement of preterism to be getting such people—call them “liberals” for short—to take the Bible seriously. As a relative newcomer to the preterist movement who arrived here from the very secularized world of mainstream academia, I tend to have a quite different worldview from many who came to preterism from a more religiously conservative background. Having spent much time in an environment where many people are either hostile toward or indifferent to Christianity and many others are affiliated with Christian denominations that lean decidedly toward the theologically liberal side, I tend to regard the greatest obstacle to the advancement of preterism to be getting such people—call them “liberals” for short—to take the Bible seriously. Numerous other preterists seem to take quite a different view of the obstacles to the growth of our movement. As my understanding of the different worldviews held by preterists has improved, I have become increasingly aware of the fact that many in our movement who arrived here after spending some time in the lands of dispensationalism evidently regard futurists, particularly dispensationalists, as the greatest obstacle to the growth of our movement. There even appear to be some among us who seem to regard dispensationalism as the greatest threat to civilization! Preterists with such views often demonstrate an easy familiarity with the Bible that I envy, though I find some of them to be overly eager to quote Scripture in support of whatever position they may take on a controversial topic. I am convinced that preterists who tend to view dispensationalism as public enemy number one vastly overrate the threat posed both to our movement and to the world at large by futurism in general and by dispensationalism in particular. Maybe I’m wrong, but I consider dispensationalism to be a spent force whose loss of vitality will become ever more obvious in the years ahead as more and more Christians come to the realization that it simply lacks scriptural support.
Nowhere is the preterist abhorrence of dispensationalism and other futurist theologies more evident than in the stress that some preterists place upon the nefarious influence of “Christian Zionism.” To illustrate what I have in mind, I shall refer to a recent article posted by Ward Fenley on his New Creation Ministries International website entitled “Christian Zionism, the Enmity of the Muslim World, and the Theology of Mercy.” I hasten to insert that I have examined one or two articles posted on the Net by Ward Fenley in the past without having my personal alarm bells go off, and I am sure that he is a fine Christian gentleman. This time, however, the alarm bells are ringing at maximum volume.
After informing us in his opening paragraph that “Whenever my ‘spiritual’ senses grow dull, God, in His miraculous way, directs my heart to find His Son in all the Scriptures” and that his mind is then “redirected to heavenly things,” Fenley tells us that he then becomes “free to find beauty in literally everything.” In the next paragraph, however, he makes it starkly clear that he finds no beauty whatsoever in Christian Zionism, a “repulsive and racist theology” that “is not only bringing shame to Christianity” but is also “bringing death to thousands of Muslims, Jews, and Christians all over the world.”
Fenley lays the fundamental blame for all of our problems in the Middle East at the feet of Christian Zionism. In his third paragraph, he states that if only “some bold politicians” were able to grasp the nature of Christian Zionism and America would then apologize to Arab nations and acknowledge to them that the creation of “the imagined state of Israel at the expense of Palestinians was wrong and even unbiblical,” this “would no doubt cause Arabs to stop their own evil in retaliation against the British-American-Israeli alliance, the true ‘axis of evil’.” Next comes this incredible sentence: “Communism, Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, and other terrorist nations are simply retaliating against this initial axis of evil.” Returning evil for evil is wrong, he concedes, but the world’s great problems must be understood as fundamentally flowing from the re-creation of Israel. “God destroyed Israel for her apostasy and blasphemy in killing the Lord of glory,” writes Fenley, but we have allowed Christian Zionists to reestablish this apostate nation. “This,” he asserts, “is monumentally the worst thing Christians have done throughout the history of Christianity,” and we must reverse this error, gain humility, and hope that the Arabs will forgive us.
Fenley begins his final and longest paragraph by observing that Jesus stated that “others would know his disciples by their love for one another.” He next suggests that people will know that Jesus is the Lord” when “preterists” stop attacking each other and Christian Zionists end their support for the slaughtering of Palestinians. Next comes a lengthy admonition to infuse truth with love and mercy until “Muslims begin to see this and desire the truth we have come to see so that spiritual peace may dwell in their hearts and literal peace may dwell on American and Middle-Eastern soil.”
While Fenley is clearly a dedicated and well-intentioned Christian, I find his line of argument, with its misapplication of Rodney King philosophy (“Can’t we all just get along?”), to be appallingly wrong. I agree that we need to infuse our search for truth with love and mercy, but I cannot accept that our quest for these virtues must blind us to what the truth is. I hold no brief for Christian Zionism, but to make it the fundamental cause of all the problems of the Middle East is a blatant example of what can happen when extreme anti-dispensationalism is combined with a generous infusion of postmodern guilt psychology.
I share with Fenley the belief that “God destroyed Israel for her apostasy,” but I cannot accept the claim that the reestablishment of Israel, which he evidently feels was solely in response to pressure from Christian Zionists, was “monumentally the worst thing Christians have done throughout the history of Christianity.” The destruction of the system of worship centered on the Temple of Jerusalem in the first century was both a punishment of apostate Judaism and a necessary prelude to the emergence of Christianity as the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. In the intervening twenty centuries, Christianity has endured many threats to its existence, one of them indeed being dispensationalism, but it has not been threatened by a resurgence of the apostate Judaism of the first century. It is true that great damage has been inflicted upon Christianity by secularists of Jewish heritage—people like Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, and Carl Sagan—but it is also true that Christianity has been enriched again and again by individuals from that heritage who have embraced Jesus as the Messiah and become devout Christians.
Although Fenley regards the violence committed by Muslims in the Middle East as being retaliation caused by the creation of the apostate nation of Israel under pressure from Christian Zionists, the truth is quite different. Violence by Muslims against Jews and Christians—and against fellow Muslims—has a long history that goes all the way back to the seventh century, the century of Islam’s founding. Although Christianity had become the dominant religion within the Roman Empire well before the collapse of the empire’s western portion in the fifth century and was also able to establish itself firmly in Armenia and to a lesser extent in Mesopotamia, its penetration of the Arabian heartland to the east and south of Judea was quite limited. With its emphasis upon such concepts as humility, monogamy, the Ten Commandments of Moses, and Jesus’ command to “do to others as you would have them do to you,” Christianity was a very “hard sell” in the harsh and brutal desert environment of Arabia. Much more attuned to Arab tastes was the religion devised by Mohammed, which sanctioned wars of aggression and acts of pillage under certain conditions and promised their perpetrators heavenly rewards in unending abundance.
Within a remarkably short time, the religion invented by Mohammed established itself as the dominant faith in a huge stretch of territory running from Spain through North Africa and as far east as Afghanistan. It then spread into the vast stretches of land to the north and east of Persia and Afghanistan that were inhabited by largely nomadic groups of Turks and other Central Asians who, like the Arabs, found it easy to accept a religion that exhorted you to conquer your neighbor instead of applying the Golden Rule to infidels. Simultaneously, it began spreading into the Indian Subcontinent; and over the course of several centuries, most of India was subdued, with many millions of Hindus being slaughtered in the process. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Turks eventually captured Constantinople (in 1453) and penetrated deeply into Europe. While all this was going on, Muslims developed a thriving slave trade in blacks taken from sub-Saharan Africa. Incidentally, it was standard practice for captured black male slaves to be castrated before being taken north.
In general, the treatment of “the people of the book”; i.e. Jews, Christians, and even Zoroastrians, in lands that came under Muslim domination was far less harsh than that accorded to Hindus and pagan Africans, but the former were still subjected to sharia law and its multiple forms of discrimination. As an illustration of the oppression of these “dhimmis,” I shall mention the formation of the janissaries under the Ottoman Turks, who were an elite military corps that long consisted primarily of men who were taken as boys from Christian homes in the Balkans and forcibly converted to Islam while having all of their family ties severed. Admittedly, however, the severity of the discriminatory treatment of dhimmis varied from time to time and place to place.
Of course, it is argued in rebuttal that Muslims were more tolerant of religious minorities in the countries under their control than Christians were in their domain. After all, Ferdinand and Isabela expelled Jews and Muslims from Spain if they refused to accept conversion to Catholicism; and elsewhere in Europe, the rulers long sought—with great success—to enforce religious uniformity among their subjects. We now recognize, however, that Christ and His Apostles did not teach that people of other faiths should be forcibly converted to the faith of the New Covenant or prevented from practicing their own faith. In Islam, however, discrimination against infidels is sanctioned by the underlying scriptures, and the Holy Quran is presented as the Word of God for all time, not the understanding of God’s Word as transmitted through some earthly intermediary that sometimes must be interpreted in light of the conditions existing at the time the transmission occurred. Since, for example, God told Mohammed that apostasy is punishable by death, many Muslims continue to believe that apostasy is still punishable by death.
I believe that in all countries today in which a majority of the citizens are Christians, religious freedom prevails. Muslims in these countries frequently complain about their treatment, but they are allowed to freely practice their faith and to build mosques. Compare this situation with the treatment of Christians in Muslim countries, including the land under Palestinian control. The persecution of Christians by Muslims has worsened in recent years, and one can reasonably infer that this turn of events owes something to the dispute over the control of what I prefer to call the Holy Land rather than Palestine. This, however, does not change the fact that harsh discrimination against dhimmis is a longstanding Muslim tradition sanctioned by Islamic scripture.
I argue that the primary reason that Muslims were generally more tolerant of religious minorities than Christians were in the lands that they controlled is that the Muslims arrived as conquerors. Like the conquerors of earlier times who settled in areas where they were outnumbered, they needed someone to do the work and pay the taxes. Many of the conquered soon found it to their advantage to convert to Islam, which was easily done. Their conversion eliminated the ability of their rulers to exploit them economically on religious grounds. Moreover, because Islam, at least as practiced until now, is inimical to economic development (for reasons that I shall be glad to explain at a future date), the Islamicization process undermined the capacity for cultural change and economic growth.
Although Christian nations were long characterized by massive intolerance of religious minorities, including dissident Christian groups, the rulers of Christendom generally had the good sense to allow the Jews to continue to practice their faith. No doubt there were theological reasons for this, but there were practical reasons as well. In part because they were forced into urban ghettos, the Jews greatly aided the development of financial practices, including “usury,” that Christian rulers and incipient capitalists found extremely useful to them. As a consequence, the rulers resisted pressure from such religious leaders as Martin Luther (whom I otherwise admire) to expel the Jews from their territories.
Given this historical setting, it is ludicrous to assign the fundamental blame for the problems of the Middle East—and the rest of the Islamic world as well—to people like Tim LaHaye and Pat Robertson. Of course we should apologize to Arabs—or to anyone else—for actual wrongs that we have committed. I think, for example, that we owe Muslims an apology for our long-term support of the Saudi monarchy, which, among other things, has allied itself with Wahhabism and supported its doctrines of intolerance wherever possible, thereby helping to undermine whatever chances may exist for an Islamic Reformation. Such a reformation will be difficult to accomplish in any event, but at least it’s worth a try.
I do not think, however, that we owe the Arab world an apology for the establishment of the state of Israel. Given the long history of Jewish association with the Middle East, the shorter but still lengthy history of Islamic oppression of Jews, the fact that this oppression continues to this day for those few Jews still living in lands controlled by Muslims, the discriminatory treatment accorded to Christians in the Middle East in the last century, and the historic importance to Christians of the Holy Land and Jerusalem, I am inclined to believe that even the Palestinians should be able to dip deeply enough into the well of collective guilt to be able tolerate Israel’s existence in return for a sizable share of the Holy Land (Sorry, Pat Robertson.). I also believe that the Palestinians could have reached a mutually beneficial accommodation with Israel decades ago had they not succumbed to “charms” of Yasser Arafat, Islamic militancy, and the psychology of victimization. By the way, if the Israelis behaved like Muslims, can anyone believe that the Dome of the Rock would still be standing?
We also, I suppose, should apologize to Muslims for the colonial imperialism of earlier years that resulted in such acts of exploitation as the building of the Suez Canal, the development of the Islamic world’s petroleum production, and the engineering and architectural know-how that allowed the construction of modern cities. We should not forget, however, that along with that imperialism came the modern sanitation and health care that has allowed the population explosion in Islamic countries to occur. Hmm, maybe we should also apologize for that while we’re at it.
Despite the sarcasm of the last paragraph, I acknowledge that the United States has made mistakes in dealing with the Islamic world and should acknowledge having done so. But why should the apologies be unidirectional? Objectively speaking, Islam has a great deal to apologize for to the rest of the world, going all the way back to the seventh century. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that such a reverse flow of apologies will occur anytime soon. A widespread sense of victimization prevails in the Islamic world, and most Muslims have little, if any, sense of guilt regarding the discriminatory treatment of infidels. After all, that treatment is an integral feature of their religion. Moreover, having perceived the ideological softness and moral relativism of the West and the pervasiveness of the guilt feelings that circulate among Western liberals and even some conservatives, why should they apologize? Who is asking them to do so, and what is there in their religion that compels them to do so? These questions answer themselves.
All this said, I acknowledge that there is a Rodney King aspect to Christianity, by which I mean that we are obligated to try to get along with other people if it is possible to do so without violating our Christian heritage and without denying the truth. I am in favor of extending the hand of friendship—and even some money—to the Muslim world, including the Palestinians, in return for the widespread acknowledgement by Muslims that they have problems of their own making that they badly need to deal with. Among these are the use of Islamic scriptures to justify terrorism, the rampant persecution of religious minorities in Islamic nations, and the oppression by Sudanese Arabs of black Christians in the south and black Muslims in Darfur.
The Islamic world is currently experiencing a crisis of huge proportions, and I do not believe that we can be certain just how it will turn out. The central problems of Islam are how to accommodate Islamic theology to the modern world and how to deal with the facts regarding the life of its founder. I am not an authority on Quran and the Hadiths, and neither am I an authority on the life of Mohammed, but I have enough confidence in what I have read on these matters by people who are authorities so that I do not hesitate to offer opinions about what is the truth about Islam and its history. Admittedly, the sources upon which I rely are highly critical of both Mohammed and the religion that he founded, but I have confidence in their scholarly integrity and accuracy.
As far as Islam itself is concerned, I return to a problem that I mentioned earlier, namely that devout Muslims regard the Quran as the very word of God and resist the idea that their holy scriptures should be reinterpreted in light of modern circumstances. This resistance explains, for example, how esteemed clerics can lecture the faithful about the proper conditions under which a husband can beat his wife—or one of his wives—and just how he should proceed to beat her. Another example—from a cornucopia of possibilities—is that a literal reading of the Quran indicates that in legal cases, the testimony of a woman is generally to receive half the weight accorded to that of a man. Quranic apologists have tried to wiggle out of this one, incidentally, by arguing that the relevant passage pertains to controversies over debt; and since it is common knowledge that women are not as good at math as men, the passage should be understood in that light. In reply, I suggest that if Muslim males considered the education of women to be more important than they generally do, there would be no valid reason to pay attention to the half the weight rule. And then there is the little problem of dealing with the fact that the Quran most definitely indicates that a Muslim can gain admittance to Paradise by sacrificing his life in order to kill unbelievers.
In all fairness, there are clearly many Muslims, generally among those who are relatively well-educated, who realize that an Islamic Reformation is in order that will have to be far more drastic than the Protestant Reformation that began about five centuries ago if Islam to be reconciled with modernity. It is difficult to see, however, just how this reformation can take place. Martin Luther could invoke sola scriptura, but a would-be Islamic reformer cannot do the Islamic equivalent. This is because the problems of Islam derive from following its scriptures, not ignoring them. If Islam is to be reformed, its scriptures will have to be ignored in many instances, but how can you abrogate the very Word of God? Moreover, when would-be reformers of Islam speak out on such matters, they may be putting their lives at risk, and they are subject to verbal or physical abuse and severe punishment if they speak out too boldly and/or too publicly. Yet, while the challenge facing would-be reformers is clearly enormous, perhaps it is not impossible. In any event, reform is worth a try.
Even if Islamic scriptures can be effectively amended and revised through reinterpretation, there remains the problem of dealing with the life of Mohammed, who, according to David Wood of answeringinfidels.com, is regarded by Muslims as perhaps “the greatest moral example of all time.” Wood next adds: “Perpetuating this fraud has been, in my opinion, the most stupendous deception in history.” Then, in the course of developing a brilliant article that I urge readers of this article to download, Wood explains that while Mohammed did undoubtedly have some admirable qualities, he was also a robber, a murderer, an advocate of slavery, a misogynist, and a pedophile whose mental stability is highly questionable. Wood closes his article with the observation that: “things have changed. Now many people are interested in Islam, and Muslims aren’t able to silence everyone. Moreover, with the advent of the Internet, it is now impossible to keep Muhammad’s life a secret. . . . In the end, Islam will fall, for the entire structure is built upon the belief that Muhammad was the greatest moral example in history, and this belief is demonstrably false.”
While I believe that Islam will ultimately collapse, I make no claim to knowing just when the collapse will occur. I still believe, however, that giving encouragement to would-be reformers of Islam is the right thing to do, and I wish them success. I even hope, with Ward Fenley, that by infusing truth with love and mercy, we shall succeed in helping violence-prone Muslims to realize the spiritual peace that will lead to literal peace. I also insist, however, that the road to peace should be viewed as a two-way road which needs to be very wide on the other side in order to accommodate the potential traffic there. And finally, I believe that assigning the fundamental responsibility for the problems of the Middle East to the actions of Christian Zionists diverts attention from the region’s truly fundamental problems and only delays reaching a solution to them.
http://newcreationministries.tv/Articles/TheologyofMercy.htm. I became aware of this article through a link to it posted on preteristcosmos.com.
David Wood, “Islam Beheaded,” http://www.answeringinfidels.com/content/view/58/42/. The article can also be found at http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=20936, where it was picked up on January 19, 2006.