not peace but a sword

July 27, 2013

Cutting through Theological Confusion: Robert Spencer’s Not Peace but a Sword Distinctly Divides Christianity from Islam

(Photo Credit Spero News)

By Andrew E. Harrod

Any student of the world’s largest monotheistic religions must read the Bible, the Koran, and Not Peace but a Sword:  The Great Chasm between Christianity and Islam by Robert Spencer.  Spencer’s comprehensive understanding of his Christian faith and Islam along with lucidly insightful writing give lie to his international notoriety as a bigoted “Islamophobe,” most recently manifested in his denial of entry into the United KingdomNot Peace but a Sword masterfully validates the title-giving verse in Matthew 10:34 with Jesus’ indication that His message will bring not a politically correct, multicultural theological universalism, but division.

“It is a peculiar, albeit common, misconception of our age,” Spencer initially observes, “to think that dispensing with the truth can be an act of charity.”  Indeed, “one of the oddities of contemporary ‘interfaith dialogue’ is that all too often, out of overzealous irenicism, it glosses over, or ignores altogether, the disagreements between religious traditions.”  This “may make for a pleasant afternoon coffee, but as a basis for lasting cooperation or partnership it is fraught with hazards.”

Modern political struggles sometimes encourage such outlooks among Spencer’s fellow Catholics (and other Christians, it should be added to his focus on Catholicism).  These American and European Catholics call for “common cause on life issues, and other areas of apparently shared moral concern, with Muslims” in what the leading Catholic thinker and Spencer debate partner Peter Kreeft calls an “ecumenical jihad.”  “After all,” Spencer writes, “both Catholics and Muslims face the same radical secularist foe; it’s time, or so the contention goes, for a common front of believers to defend the theistic worldview against ever more intrusive, arrogant, and assertive unbelievers.”  Yet Spencer dashes such hopes, writing that the “impulse to wage a new war of all religions united against secularism is coming largely from Christians, without significant interest from” Muslims.  Rather, an “escalating global Islamic jihad against Christians” gives “much more evidence of Muslim hatred and contempt for Christians” than “Muslim interest in a common front.”

Study of Muslim teachings about Christians shows why.  Spencer quotes the Qur’an’s first chapter or sura (1:6-7), the Fatihah:  “Guide us in the straight path, the path of those whom Thou has blest, not of those against whom Thou art wrathful, nor of those who are astray.”  Islam’s “most mainstream and widely understood understanding” of this “most frequently repeated prayer in Islamic tradition and day-to-day piety” views Islam as the “straight path,” the Jews as “those against whom Thou art wrathful,” and Christians as “those who are astray.”

While the Qur’an has an “attitude towards Jews that would bring a blush to the cheeks of the most hardened anti-Semite,” Islam treats Christianity as a “deliberately twisted version of the original message of their prophet Jesus.”  Thus Muslims view Christians “as at best ignorant, at worst deliberately rebellious” in accord with the Qur’an’s (98:6) condemnation of nonbelievers as the “vilest of creatures.”  Muslims should not even be friendly with non-Muslim family members (Qur’an 9:23-24) or even pray for them (9:113).  While “individual Muslims may accord Christians…respect…it is respect that springs from their common humanity, not from the teachings of Islam.”

In fact, the “extreme religious chauvinism of Muslims makes genuine dialogue as equals essentially impossible.”  Rather, “virtually all attempts at Muslim outreach to Christian are actually thinly veiled invitations to accept Islam.”  The international 2007 Common Word dialogue proposed by Muslim leaders to Christians, for example, entails in its invocation of Qur’an 3:64 that Christians deny their understanding of a triune God and “essentially become Muslims.”

Islam’s scripture, the Qur’an, differs significantly from the Bible, even though both “appear, superficially, to breathe the same religious atmosphere” and the “similarities between the Bible and the Qur’an are a staple of the presentations of Muslim apologists.”  The Qur’an, for example, mentions Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God, but never actually cites them.  Nor “does the Qur’an tell the story of our first parents” Adam and Eve “whole and entire, from beginning to end; instead it is interspersed throughout the Muslim holy book.”

Beyond 3:64, the “Qur’an, several times, explicitly denies the Trinity, although it never actually states the Christian doctrine accurately.”  Rather, Muslim conceptions of the Trinity “seem to stem from assumptions that Christians believe that God had taken Mary as his wife and begotten a son, Jesus, after the manner of the old pagan gods.”  This is part of the Qur’an’s “Jesus Smorgasbord” of beliefs conforming to and deviating from Christian doctrine.  While the Qur’an recounts a virgin birth for Jesus, this “miracle is given no greater significance in Islamic tradition than any of the other signs of the divine power.”  Curiously, the Qur’an recounts miracles in Jesus’ life but not Muhammad’s, something “left unexplained in Islamic tradition” and betraying “undigested bits of Christianity.”

Critically and profoundly distinct are the Christian and Muslim conceptions of God, even as Arab Christians and Muslims both use Allah for God, with the exception of Egypt’s Copts who use Raab (Lord), “[p]ossibly due to centuries of Muslim harassment and persecution.”  Islam’s man, for instance, does not bear the image of God and is “in essence merely Allah’s slave.”  Accordingly, Islam’s “God is not a father to human beings.  To a pious Muslim, a prayer like the Our Father is utterly alien.”

As an “absolute monarch,” Islam’s God is “not fettered by consistency or by anything else” such as “being always good and true.”  Indeed, “in Islam, God is the source of evil” and places both good and evil in human beings, some of whom are divinely predestined for damnation.  Therefore “not only is Allah not a father, he is a slave master, and one so cruel he creates beings for hell.”  As a result, Christianity’s God “is almost diametrically opposed to the lone, capricious Allah of Islam.  The God of Islam is not love, the God of Islam is will:  absolute, untrammeled, unlimited will.”

Islamic belief in a chaotic Creation reflecting an arbitrary Allah’s “absolute and unfettered sovereignty” has, additionally, “doomed the Islamic world to over a millennium of intellectual stagnation and anti-intellectualism.”  Islam’s “recurring idea” is that everything outside of the faith “is either superfluous or heretical.”  Paradigmatic hereby is the Incoherence of the Philosophers by the Muslim theologian Al-Ghazali (1058-1111).  Among other things, this outlook “made sure that scientific exploration in the Islamic world would be stillborn.”  Islam, meanwhile, “lacks a rational theology:  The divine fiat is all.”

Allah’s arbitrariness also has deeply disturbing implications for morality.  Unlike Adam and Eve in the Bible who obtain knowledge of good and evil in their fall from grace in Eden, the Qur’an’s Adam and Eve obtain no such knowledge when they sin there.  Accordingly, man “must obey Allah’s commands purely as a matter of fiat.”  “Islam’s only functional moral absolute” is that “any moral law can be set aside for the good of Muslims.”

Among other things, “Islamic law expressly forbids” the giving of zakat alms to non-Muslims as charity.  Some Catholics and other Christians, meanwhile, might look to Muslims as allies in upholding sexual morality with respect to issues like marriage and abortion, although “Islamic law…contrary to widespread belief, does not forbid abortion in every case.”  Yet Spencer notes that immoral practices in Islam such as child marriage, polygamy, temporary marriage, and sexual enslavement of nonbelievers make Catholic-Muslim moral sexual “similarities…void of meaning.”  In light of Islam’s moral system it is little wonder then that there “has arisen no Muslim Mother Teresa, no Muslim St. Francis Assisi, no Muslim who has ever won renown for his charity or humility.”

Even as Islam recognizes no objective morality, Qur’an 3:110 ironically proclaims Muslims the “best of people,” although “they fall short now and again,” as Spencer describes.  Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden according to the Qur’an, moreover, is a singular event establishing no corrupt human nature.  Thus “alien to Islam is the idea that it is impossible to establish the Kingdom of God on earth” in what Spencer describes as a coercive “empire of fear” containing, for example, a death penalty for apostasy justified by Qur’an 4:88-89.  Qur’an 2:256, oft-quoted for its “no compulsion in religion” phrasing, Spencer dismisses as having “so many caveats” in Islam as to be “effectively meaningless.”  “Muslims who believe in a peaceful, pluralistic society cannot,” Spencer concludes, cannot draw upon the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad.

Complementing an authoritarian domestic order is Islamic religious aggression.  Spencer discusses several Qur’an verses advocating the use of military force in the name of faith, including the noted Verse of the Sword (9:5).  Even isolated references in the Qur’an opposing aggression such as 2:190, often cited for the claim that Islam supports only defensive warfare, can be deceptive, for “[s]ome schools of Islamic jurisprudence…teach that non-belief in Islam is itself an act of aggression.”  Qur’an 2:193, moreover, calls for fighting until all religion is “for Allah,” that is to say, Islam.  Thus Spencer concluded in a November 4, 2010, debate with Kreeft reprinted in the book that “to encourage Islamic piety is only to encourage, ultimately, the cutting of our own throat.”

In the end, soothing, often popular conceptions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam sharing roots in a common patriarch Abraham leave Spencer cold.  “Although it is clear that Islam emerges from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition,” Spencer determines, “it so radically recasts that tradition as to render the value of any common-ground appeals dubious at best.”  Although Spencer does not reject dialogue and cooperation with Muslims, he tells his fellow Catholics in particular that “we must do so with our eyes open.”

In such interaction Spencer indicates that devout seekers of God among Muslims can develop a closer relationship with Christianity despite Islam’s canonical condemnations and contrasts.  The Qur’an’s “undigested bits of Christianity” previously cited, for example, “remain as hints of a greater truth that over the centuries have led many a Muslim to discover a far greater truth than Islam encompasses.”  Even without actual Christian conversion, invocation of a previously noted “common humanity” with its common moral graces should prompt Muslims to consider God’s true nature and man’s resulting duty to universal human dignity.  Why, for instance, particularly if Muslims claim an interest in interfaith harmony, should the charity of zakat alms only encompass Muslims?

Christians cannot hope for a false theological peace with Islam, but rather must follow Apostle Paul’s invocation in Ephesians 6 to “[p]ut on the full armor of God” for a “struggle…not against flesh and blood.”  As Spencer has so skillfully done, they must wield Jesus’ “sword of the Spirit,” cited by Spencer, “which is the word of God,” along with other words.  As was the case with Jesus, such conversation expressed in love is the only true guide to human cooperation in general and Christian conversion in particular.

 


Topic:
Tagged with:
 
  • Curtis Wilson

    Robert Spencer is the most informed source on the differences between Christianity and Islam bar none. Your review of his work is a daunting task. I enjoyed your review and just ordered his book. I wished I could get an audio version. I cannot say enough good things about Robert as a scholar, debater and human being.

  • Dan Trabue

    What are Spencer’s credentials? Why should we consider him a more informed “expert” on Islam than, say, a Muslim imam?

    I don’t know anything about Spencer, but I’m always wary of anyone hostile to a religion claiming to have the “true” understanding of the holy texts that they are opposed to. Sort of like atheists who claim an expertise on Bible studies and, lo and behold, their “expertise” confirms that Christianity is a hoax or immoral, even when Christian scholars wouldn’t agree with the interpretations of the atheist “scholars.”

    So, I think it’s a reasonable question to ask what Spencer’s qualifications are.

    How many years has he spent learning from Muslim imams? Does he have a degree in Islamic Studies? Has he been published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications?

    • KingJefferson

      Spencer is a member of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Uniat offshoot of the ancient Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch.[4][5] It is a rite of the Catholic Church whose adherents are, according to Spencer, “mostly concentrated in Lebanon and Syria, also in Jordan and the Palestinian territories.”[1] His grandparents were forced to emigrate from an area that is now part of Turkey because they were Christians.[1] According to a 2010 interview in New York magazine, Spencer’s father worked for the Voice of America during the Cold War, and in his younger days, Spencer himself worked at Revolution Books, a Communist bookstore in New York City founded by Robert Avakian.[6]
      Spencer received a B.A. in 1983 and an M.A. in 1986 in religious studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His masters thesis was on Catholic history.[7] He has said he has been studying Islamic theology, law, and history on his own since 1980.[1][8] He worked in think tanks for more than 20 years,[6] and in 2002–2003 did a stint as an adjunct fellow with the Free Congress Foundation, an arm of the Heritage Foundation.[9][10] Spencer named Paul Weyrich, also a Melkite Catholic, as a mentor of his writings on Islam. Spencer writes, “Paul Weyrich taught me a great deal, by word and by example – about how to deal both personally and professionally with the slanders and smears that are a daily aspect of this work.”[10] Spencer’s first book on Islam was published in 2002.

    • Harry

      Dan. You can find Robert Spencer’s background and experience easily on Wikipedia. He has been studying this religion since 1980. He’s got a BA and MA in religious studies from University of Northern Carolina. He parents also emigrated from Turkey because of the persecution they were under.

      So he has some credibility.

  • gray man

    “I don’t know anything about Spencer”, and yet you make accusations.
    “I don’t know anything about Spencer”, that is your problem, do some research.

  • eib

    Quote:
    Why should we consider him a more informed “expert” on Islam than, say, a Muslim imam?
    end

    Well, Dan, a “Muslim imam” has a serious agenda to follow, since he is a stranger among us who carries the objective of imperialism and colonization.
    Read V.S. Naipaul if you want to understand the differences between the colonization of Islam and that of Westerners. We never dominated our colonial possessions in the same sense that Muslims did, and we never demanded the things Muslims demand of us.
    Do you really think the world is that fair?
    Are you having trouble with the reality of cultural difference and conflict?
    Grow up.

  • Dan Trabue

    I am striving to grow up, thanks. And I try to get information from informed sources, not from someone with an agenda. Given his history with some very negative experiences with some Muslim extremists, it seems reasonable to me that he’d be very prejudiced against Muslims, it would be understandable.

    Doesn’t rationally make him an objective and informed Muslim scholar.

    Here’s my point: You have one group of people with negative opinions of Muslims and they claim that they “know” best what “real” Islam is about.

    Then you have another group of actual Muslims – people who’ve grown up with Islam, actual Muslim scholars who’ve attended schools to better learn their holy texts, etc – who say, “This man does not represent Islam…”

    Does it seem reasonable that we take the non-muslim’s word that THEY have the right interpretation and the Muslims don’t?

    Would you give the same credence to an atheist “scholar” with no formal schooling in Bible study who claimed to know better about Christianity than Christian scholars?

    That would seem irrational to me. Perhaps, even, a bit childish.

  • Dan Trabue

    eib…

    Dan, a “Muslim imam” has a serious agenda to follow, since he is a stranger among us who carries the objective of imperialism and colonization.

    Is this true of “Christian apologists” – do they have a “serious agenda,” meaning they can’t be trusted to speak for their own religion?

    Seems like you have an agenda of your own and as if you’re not willing to do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.

    I am no expert, but I have dear friends – Christian ministers and teachers – who live in Muslim-dominated Morrocco. They assure me that these sorts of fellas are just what they appear to be: people prejudiced against Islam with an agenda against Islam.

  • Johan Aslim

    I believe that anyone who reads a couple of articles on “Halal Monk”, a website that collects the conversations of a Christian theologian with influential spiritual leaders and important artists of the Muslim world, would quickly think that Robert Spencer’s conclusions are quite debatable.

    • Pudentiana

      When you learn arablic and read the Quran, then you will know the difference.

  • Jordan

    Spencer is no expert. He’s fearmongerer.

    Check out my piece: “What an Islam expert isn’t,” http://bit.ly/1830wzQ

  • Cara Sholat

    This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah, Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them, And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith]. (al-baqarah:2-3)http://goo.gl/895Eks