Theological Equivalence

In the New York Times last Saturday, Nicholas Kristof discovers what he considers to be a disturbing counterpoint to calls by Islamic radicals to wage war against Christians and Jews: the Left Behind books. Quoting some lurid passages from the latest in the series, The Glorious Appearing, he sees a dark implication of the fact that these books are bestsellers: “ordinary Americans joined in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in part because of a lack of empathy for the prisoners. It’s harder to feel empathy for such people if we regard them as infidels and expect Jesus to dissolve their tongues and eyes any day now.” He evidently missed what Christianity says about empathy.

I am not a Christian fundamentalist and do not believe in the theology that the Left Behind series expresses, but Kristof has missed a fundamental distinction: a depiction of Jesus killing people at the Last Judgment, no matter how glorious a reader may find it, is not even remotely equivalent to an explicit and repeated call for believers to wage war against unbelievers.

Calls like that go out from mosques worldwide with numbing regularity. One would be hard pressed to find a church making the same kind of call on the other side. No one who reads Left Behind is going to kill you because of it. He might be waiting for Jesus to do it, but that is not a call to action.

Traditional Christianity and traditional Islam both believe in Judgment and Hell. Mr. Kristof’s analysis suggests that if you believe that those things exist, you must want to kill people. He completely ignores the fact that the two religions actually have quite developed teachings about how to behave in this world that don’t depend at all on their eschatologies (that is, their respective teachings about the end of the world.).

Mr. Kristof either has no clue or doesn’t care that Christianity doesn’t have and never has had a doctrine mandating warfare against non-Christians. Islam, on the other hand, has now and has always had a doctrine mandating warfare against non-Muslims. See, just to name a few, Qur’an 9:29 (“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day ??¢â???¬ ¦ (even if they are) of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the Jizya [the special tax on non-Muslims] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued”) and hundreds of other verses; Sahih Muslim 4294 (Muhammad says: “Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war”); a legal manual endorsed by the closest thing to a Vatican that Sunni Islam has, Al-Azhar University: ‘Umdat al-Salik o.9.8 (“??¢â???¬ ¦ [make] war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians . . . until they become Muslim or pay the non-Muslim poll tax”); plus the writings of all the major Islamic jurists.

I am not saying that Christians have never behaved in a beastly manner. I am saying that they didn’t do it because of their ideas of what was going to happen at the end of the world — or, for that matter, because of the teachings of Jesus. Whatever you can say about the Crusades and the Inquisition, you will never find a New Testament verse commanding that Christians go out and kill people. But jihadists who kill today are doing so because of teachings of Islam to which I referred above, and others. Muslims who do not kill don’t have different teachings; they just ignore these.

This is, of course, the one thing that people like Nicholas Kristof can never and will never admit, because it would explode the foggy multiculturalism and relativism that passes for a world view in their minds. But it is simply a fact. Prove me wrong.

For Mr. Kristof to term this set of novels “militant Christianity,” which is somehow equivalent or becoming equivalent to militant Islam, shows that he has not the remotest idea of what the jihadists are really saying, why they are saying it, and how it differs from what Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are saying. This kind of theological equivalence is the idiot stepchild of the moral equivalence that the learned pundits used to preach regarding the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

And just as moral equivalence played into the bloody hands of the Communists, so theological equivalence plays into the hands of the jihadists, attempting as it does to blunt the force of the moral argument against them. Yeah, sure, they preach murder, but hey, look at these novels!