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Bad Neighbors


Camassia recently used my post, Salvation by the Sword, to springboard into an interesting discussion. Being that I don’t know Camassia, I was a little surprised to discover myself being quoted and commented upon. I guess all’s fair in love and blogging. 

Camassia makes some excellent points, but to bottom-line it, objects to the denunciation of Islam and feels it hinders the Christian cause.

This is yet another chapter in the long-running debate about whether Islam as a whole is a good religion or a bad one. I’ve seen arguments both pro and con, and don’t really have an opinion about it. But one thing I do have an opinion about is that to Christians, it shouldn’t actually matter.

First of all, the only really relevant question about any religion is whether or not it’s true. If forced conversions actually please God, complaining about them isn’t going to help. I realize that Mike and others are objecting against a certain pluralist theory of religion, but it actually seems to be ceding too much ground to the pluralists to judge religions not by their truth, but by whether you’d want one as your next-door neighbor or not. “Good” believers keep to themselves, abide by the laws and don’t bother anyone; “bad” religions make themselves pains in the butt.

By those standards Christianity may come off better than Islam, but it would certainly come off worse than some other religions…

In one sense, I agree that “the only really relevant question about any religion is whether or not it’s true.” Of course, how one determines “true religion” is a matter of debate. Scripture’s pretty clear in that regard. But alas, Scripture is seldom the primary rule of measurement for most folks, which often leaves the debate muddy. 

Camassia suggests that we’re “ceding too much ground to the pluralists to judge religions not by their truth, but by whether you’d want one as your next-door neighbor or not.” While I’m all for judging religions by their truth, I think it’s also wise to keep a good eye on your next door neighbor. Especially if that neighbor has it out for you. 

Being a “good Christian” means a lot of things. But most — even opponents of Christianity — would agree, that being a good Christian does not mean blowing one’s self up in pizza parlors, beheading infidels, and forcing conversion at gunpoint. However, there is a split within Islam exactly along these lines! What does it mean to be a “good Muslim”? The answer is not nearly as clear cut. Why?

I’d suggest it’s intrinsic to Islam. It may not be a “bad religion” in the sense that it serves no utilitarian, societal good. But at this point, it is not a very safe religion. Whereas bad Christians might be noisy / arrogant / indifferent / rude neighbors, bad Muslims might want your head on a platter.

Let’s face it: A bad Christian potentially makes a way better (and safer) next door neighbor than a bad Muslim.

This is where most objectors play the “Christian evils” card. “Christians have their share of extremists and evil,” they growl. “Just look at the witch hunts and the Crusades!” Ah, the Crusades. Yet there is a fundemental difference between the Crusades and the modern jihad movement. The Crusades were an illogical outworking of the teaching of Christ. Jihad, on the other hand, is a logical outworking of the life and teaching of Muhammed. Unlike Jesus, the founder of Islam was a man of the sword. Therefore, contemplation of the lives and spirit of these two leaders inevitably sends folk off into different trajectories. Christians and Catholics typically distance themselves from the atrocities of the Crusades, and admit it was a misguided missile. However Muslims, for the most part, do not actively denounce the rhetoric and violence exhibited by their “fringe.” Violence and war can be legitimately extrapolated from the history and teachings of Islam.

While I agree that Christians should view Muslims as any other “unsaved” group – we should love, serve and exhibit a Christ-like spirit — it still begs the question. If large segments of this religion are so avowedly violent, blatantly anti-west, indifferent toward the slaughter of human life, and resistant to reform, and the leaders within said religion do little to curb the “extremism” of their bretheren, what the hell does it matter if they’re a “true religion”? They are bad neighbors.

Yes, I am called to pray for my enemies and turn the other cheek. I must live alongside atheists, alcoholics, and adulterers. I must tolerate loud parties, uncut grass and dogs that crap in my yard. Moving may be an option. But I must never stop loving. Yet what if my neighbor has more insidious plans — if they want to hold a gun to my head and force me to convert, or detonate a bomb in my presence, or get me on a plane where they can ignite an exploding shoe? At that point, I’m more worried about protecting my family than showing charity or validating their religion. And if it comes to that, perhaps the best witness is a closed door.


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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • janet September 13, 2006, 12:36 PM

    I’m with you, Mike. Even the things I used to admire about Islam (their faithful five-times-a-day prayers, their charitable acts, etc.) don’t impress me much now that I understand that it is all done out of fear of Hell. How much better to be be motivated by a loving God! It’ll never make sense to me how the world wants to stick up for a violent religion, but will crucify anyone who wants to talk about Jesus at Christmas.

  • Jules Quincy Stephens September 13, 2006, 8:08 PM

    Amen, Mike.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller September 13, 2006, 8:32 PM

    Interesting points, Mike. I have two responses. First, Who is my neighbor?

    To that question, Jesus told a story about a mugging. About the response to a mugging, really. The guys who refused to help the victim–why’d they hold back? Presumably to protect themselves.

    And the guy who helped? The one who risked the most with the least amount of potential gain. He KNEW he was hated,that if it was a trap, he was the target, that no one would thank him or repay him. That his own life was at risk. That nothing about his belief system required him to act.

    Jesus’s story turned the question on end. It became, Who will you be a neighbor to?

    My second response has more to do with the specifics of your discussion. I think Truth matters a great deal. If the Islamists have truth, then they are right to kill infidels. It is the exact thing God told the Jews to do when they took possession of their land.

    The thing is, Islam is not True. It does not honor God as He revealed Himself in Scripture. Jesus makes it clear that He alone shows us the Father.

    We could do a comparative study of religions, examine the Bible vs. the Koran, and so on. But what no other religion has is a God who forgives. Who can be good without being forgiving?

    I think your point about the Crusades is excellent. The abuse of Christianity has led to extremes, without a doubt. But a person living in the forgiveness of Christ? The natural consequence should be to love our neighbors as oursleves, because we should forgive in the same way we have been forgiven.


  • Ame September 14, 2006, 5:56 AM

    I find it interesting that Jesus had boundaries … there were things He allowed and things He didn’t … and He was very clear about those things. He even told His disciples to shake the dust off their sandals when not wanted and to move on.

    God never shoves Himself on anyone. To be a good neighbor and to help one who needs help is to be a good neighbor. To be a “good neighbor” and allow you and your family to purposefully be put at the mercy of merciless people for no valid reason is not being a good man, husband, or father.

    God instructed Joseph to move Mary and Jesus when they were in danger, not to stay and remain in danger. There are times in the Bible when God allowed His people to remain in danger, but He never took His hand from them; and He never did it to hurt them – God always draws people to Him in love. God has always had boundaries as to “how far” He will allow Satan to “go.”

    Are we, as Christians, free from the same boundaries God holds Himself to? Absolutely not. God loves and protects His own … even pulling Lot and his family out of “hell” before He burned it – people and all; even pulling Noah and his family out of the wake of burrial waters.

    And yes, God’s boundaries mean that people do get hurt and even killed. God placed the boundary on Himself to allow man to make his own choices, good and bad; and God allows man to make his own choices. You know, only God can stick to that boundary … for if I know my child will seriously be hurt, I’ll break every boundary I have. But God doesn’t. Yet, even when people are hurt by those who have chosen evil, God never leaves the one being hurt … never … God is ALWAYS with us, loving us, speaking to us, drawing us unto Him. There is NO other god who can do that.

    The God of Christians, of Believers in Jesus Christ the living son of the living God, is a God of love beyond our imagination … and His motive is ALWAYS in our best interest and within His boundaries all at the same time. There is NO other god who loves unconditionally, who gives without running out, and who makes choices in the best interest of those who choose to follow him.

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