When Atheists and Secularists Quote Scripture

posted at 12:10 pm on September 18, 2006 by Bryan

I probably shouldn’t wade into this, but it does dovetail with something I’ve been pondering lately. Namely, that an essentially post-Christian West comes to the battle with Islamism, Islamofascism, caliphascism, or whatever you want to call the demon that animates al Qaeda and apparently millions of Muslims across the globe to hate the West and work toward our destruction, ill-equipped to understand and confront the foe. This inability to get into the enemy’s head and heart makes it harder for us to win. Yes, for all our weapons and the superiority of our forces versus theirs, we are ill-equipped to fight because we’re increasingly incapable of understanding what motivates them and therefore are less likely to find the means of removing that animator. Those who say the Islamists can’t defeat us militarily miss the point entirely, and those who throw out a quote from Leviticus to counter quotes from the Koran miss the point even more. And the point is this: If a holy writ holds sway in the life of an enemy, then that writ and its authority need to be understood on their own terms by us or we won’t formulate an adequate response to it.

The basis of the title of this post is that it’s consistently atheists and adamant secularists who understand the Islamist enemy the least, yet they’re also the quickest to slam or argue against anyone who does quote the Koran on its own terms to argue that it is animating violence. They are also the quickest to equate Christianity with the villain du jour, because Christianity is to them just one among many faiths that they may think they understand, but ultimately don’t. Here’s one example; here’s another. Follow the thread from that second link and you’ll see atheist Andrew Stuttaford missing the point that Andrew McCarthy is making, that point being that Islamists are animated to violence by their own beliefs as laid down in the Koran. And now I’m going to explain why he (and Bill over at INDC Journal) miss the point. I’m not doing this to be mean or snarky, but to illuminate one of the many difficulties we have when dealing with an enemy who’s ruthlessness is matched only by his religious zeal, a zeal that animates his ruthlessness and is based on his understanding of his faith’s holy writ. In making the following arguments I won’t pretend to be an actual theologian. Any misunderstandings in any of the following either result from having to condense technical arguments down to their essence or to my own imperfections. So here goes.

In the life of a religious believer, regardless of the sect, faith or creed, some writing or another or a set of writings hold some position of moral authority. The degree of authority held depends on several factors, including the degree of an individual’s belief and the position of a given writing with respect to other writings that the faith holds dear. Some writings hold more sway than others in any faith. That’s just a fact. And it’s one easily misunderstood by those who hold no faith at all, and therefore assume that all scriptures held sacred by a given faith hold equal weight.

For instance, secularists typically use parts of Leviticus, an Old Testament book, to argue that just because a scripture contains violent language or instruction is no reason in and of itself enough to assume that the faith based in part on that scripture will be violent. Fair enough, but that actually doesn’t tell us much because Christianity isn’t based on Leviticus per se. It tells us even less about Islam, for reasons I’ll get to later.

Leviticus forms part of what’s known as the Law (along with Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), and in the Christian way of thinking the civil and ceremonial components of the Law hold no command on our behavior today because the purpose of the Law was fulfilled in Christ. Christians are not bound by the legal commands of the Law, and we do eat pork and do lots of other things that the Law forbids, and likewise we don’t do many things the civil and ceremonial Law commands us to do. I don’t want to get too esoteric here for the non-believers to be able to follow me, but essentially, those parts of the Law are no longer authoritative over the behavior of the Christian believer. They have been abrogated by later acts and writings. That doesn’t mean those five books are without value; far from it. They’re incredibly valuable for many, many reasons. But the civil and ceremonial Law belongs to a set place and time and was abrogated by, among other things, Christ’s death and resurrection and Peter’s vision in Acts 10. The Law’s overall purpose–making humans presentable to a holy God–was fulfilled in Christ. I won’t pretend to speak for Jews as to the authority of Leviticus today, but I suspect they would say much the same thing: It’s an early part of scripture that has been abrogated by later scripture.

For a better and more authoritative view of the Law than mine, see the Westminster Confession. Good stuff. The 1689 Confession is another personal favorite, but non-Baptists may find things to quibble about there–Calvinism rears its difficult and divisive head. The point is, in the Law there are moral, civil and ceremonial commands, but through the work of Christ the latter two have been abrogated while the first remains in force. So Leviticus is no weapon useful for smiting a Christian, something secularists are ill-equipped to understand. They should look for violent language in the New Testament if they want to argue that Christianity promotes violence. They will look in vain if they do that, though. The most common misunderstanding of the New Testament is to read it as pacifist, not violent.

By contrast, the Islamic Suras quoted by Robert Spencer and others that promote violence by Muslims against non-Muslims come from the second half of the Koran. They have not been abrogated by later scripture, because there is no later scripture. Spencer’s argument is that if any Koranic verses have abrogated any others, then the weight has to be given to the later verses–and they’re the violent ones. But if you don’t understand the principle of abrogation or the fact that not all scriptures hold equal weight in any faith, and it’s clear those who don’t hold to any faith at all probably don’t since they keep quoting Old Testament civil Law to slam Christians, then you’re ill-equipped to make the distinctions that mark Leviticus less authoritative on behavior than the Gospels for the Christian, and earlier verses less authoritative than later ones for the Muslim. The position of the violent Suras in the Koran is both a fact and a problem, one Spencer attempts to engage on its own terms, and one secularists consistently misunderstand because they don’t understand how a given text relates to a given faith and to other texts within that faith.

That said, what are the chances of an Islamic Reformation sweeping the violent segments of Islam aside? That’s probably a subject that should be treated in a book instead of a blog post, but suffice it to say that in my opinion conditions and assumptions in Christianity which could foster Luther’s Reformation do not exist in Islam. In Luther’s day, Christianity in the West was centralized around the papacy and the Church’s doctrines were the only ones that existed and therefore made for one large, rather than many small, targets to attack. Islam is decentralized, its sectarian arguments largely focused on lineages instead of doctrine, and therefore is too diffuse for a Luther to attack and thereby reform it. And secondarily, reformations are attempts to better understand and therefore get closer to foundational doctrines. In Luther’s case, it was the church’s emphasis on works and deeds as earning salvation–which was not what the New Testament actually taught–that motivated him to revolt and reform. He was sparked to reform by actually reading the New Testament for himself rather than just accepting what the other priests and pope told him it said. He wanted to get closer to the New Testament’s teachings on grace through faith, not works alone, and his Reformation did that. Over time, Christianity became less sectarian and less violent, in part because of the passage of time but also in part because the concept of grace as understood by Paul and passed through Luther sunk in. That concept leaves no room for the true Christian to look at himself as better than anyone else, because he isn’t–he knows he has been saved not through any goodness of his own, but because God is gracious and merciful. It’s a concept that has taken centuries to sink in, and is in fact still working its way through the church. And the Christian church is less prone to violence now than it was a century ago, or two or three, in spite of what Rosie O’Donnell thinks. For what it’s worth, the concept of grace is not taught and does not exist in Islam. Islam is works- and ritual-based. The foundational assumptions of Christianity and Islam with respect to the personality of God not only don’t agree, they’re near polar opposites. Even a cursory understanding of the New Testament vice the Koran reveals that much. Because of this, a reformation in one should not be expected to produce the same results as a reformation in the other. You might as well expect an apple tree to produce bacon.

Additionally, an Islamic reformation would most likely be an attempt to get Muslims closer to the text and teachings of the Koran if the dynamics of religious reformation hold, and there’s no reason to believe that they wouldn’t. An Islamic reformation would be an attempt to take Muslims closer to the more authoritative teachings in the Koran, which based on position and logic would be the ones toward the end of the Koran unless there is some logical reason to believe otherwise.

I believe that we are living in the midst of an attempt to reform Islam, which has been going on since the 18th century. That Wahhabi reformation is in large part producing the war that we are fighting.

Update: Dean Esmay thinks this post is both “silly” and “pretentious.” This is what passes for argument in Dean’s World:

Bryan: I grew up Christian, and studied theology for many years. I’m a secularist now but you’re just being silly if you think I and other secularists don’t understand your cheap Sunday School homilies about some some scriptures abrogating others. You think you’re dispensing wisdom here? I understood simple concepts like that before I even made it through my Presbyterian Confirmation classes when I was 13. Yeesh.

Then why does Leviticus keep coming up in these discussions? Indeed, why do any Old Testament verses get thrown at Christians if all secularists understand abrogation? Maybe you understand it Dean, but it’s more than obvious that many don’t, and I’m addressing them. If you have an actual argument against what I wrote, let’s see it.

Waiting…. And waiting…. Alright, moving along.

Dean then goes on to the next cheap shot and grades this post (it rates an F, by the way) and trashes it. And then cherry-picks the Koran to make it sound more peaceful than it is. For instance, Dean says:

There is absolutely nothing anywhere in the Koran which says that it’s okay to kill civilians in the name of Jihad.

Have you ever actually read any of the Koran, Dean? If you haven’t, Sura 9 ought to be food for thought. Don’t cherry pick it–read the whole thing, as we like to say in the blogosphere. It’s all about killin’ and taxin’ without much distinction between civilians and non-civilians. True, it doesn’t explicitly mention “jihad,” but if that’s Dean’s out it’s an awfully Clintonian one. Dean makes another point regarding whether later Koranic writings supercede earlier ones. If you don’t think that’s the case, Dean, make an argument. Insisting that they don’t, from your perspective as an outsider, is not an argument. It’s an assertion, and it doesn’t fly.

Finally, Dean suggests that we make too much of Mohammed’s life as a warrior in assessing Islam and its tendency or not toward violence. That’s nonsense. Muslims set Mohammed on a pedestal and look to him as an inspiration for everything. That’s why they name their missiles “Khaibar“–to commemorate Mohammed’s victory over a Jewish settlement. That history may not be relevant to you, Dean, but it’s sure relevant to the Iranians who made those missiles and the Hezbollah (meaning: Party of Allah) terrorists who fired them at Jews living in Israel. They’re pinching Mohammed’s wars to justify their own, and they have a lot of support for doing that.

Dean once again grafts an American understanding of things onto the Middle East. To most Americans, history is just history. To most in the Middle East, history is fightin’ words. Don’t take my word for that, Dean, just peruse the offerings at MEMRI. Set aside a day or two–there’s quite a bit there. MEMRI doesn’t make any of that stuff up, and the folks they catch on tape aren’t making it up either. So what’s their source material? History and the Koran, that’s what. Well, according them anyway.

Finally, I don’t ignore the moderate Muslims of the world as Dean insists that I do. I’d love it if the entire Islamic world was full of them. But it’s not, or Abdul Rahman wouldn’t have had to move to Italy and a nun wouldn’t have been murdered in Somalia and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories wouldn’t dominate Islamic media. I have lauded Ayaan Hirsi Ali and I helped write the Vent about the courageous women of this war because I am always on the lookout for Muslim spokemen and women who can help us deal with the radicals. I just can’t find enough of them who are willing to take on the radicals, because they fear that the radicals will kill them. And that is at the heart of the problem. One link to one voice doesn’t change that, Dean. Find a thousand of them, and you’re still looking at a minority until they change that. As for the threat these ideas can pose to us here, look at the streets of London right now. Those people argue that the Koran justifies their call to kill the Pope because they misunderstood what he said as an insult to Islam, and they’re saying so right outside Westminster Abbey. Suppose a local priest were to confront them, how long do you think he’d last? In any case, take up your argument with them, not me, Dean. Those rioters saying the same thing across the Islamic world? They’re getting this “behead anyone who insults Islam” stuff from somewhere. Where, Dean? Where did they get that idea? Did they all magically invent it, on their own, simultaneously?

My point isn’t to take a whack at Dean per se. Well, ok, it is–don’t call me silly when I lay down a post like this that attempts to grasp with what is obviously a hideously violent problem that threatens our freedoms here with riots halfway around the world and serious threats to our people and freedoms everywhere. If you want to take on the ideas in this post, take them on–but leave the childish ad hominems aside and don’t think for a second that bland assertions will win. This subject is too important to be handled so flippantly.

This war is at its base an ideological one with religious roots, and there are too many Dean Esmay’s who are too self-assured in their secularism and too in love with the quick quip who just. don’t. get it. I hope they do, before it’s too late to matter.

Another Update: Bill at INDC Journal responds. My initial reaction: This is how you form an argument. Take notes, Dean.

My second initial reaction: My argument above is much more general than Bill seems to think, and from that flows his disagreement with it. We agree more than not, actually, and as long as he gets the point I’m making and stops tossing out Leviticus for evidence either against Christians or for Muslims vis a vis violence in religion we’ll be fine. If he trots that line out again, though, I’ll kindly bring out the abrogation principle and we’ll do this all over again. Maybe it’ll work at some point. The underlying thesis remains, secularists have a harder time getting at the motivator of violent jihadists and many Muslims who flip that switch than non-secularists. They prove that frequently.

And I don’t oppose the Pope’s strategy of engaging the Islamic world through dialogue. I wish him all the success in the world. I just don’t think it will work, and the irrational reaction to his proposal across the Islamic world is at least a hint that I’m right. It’s both a hint that that part of the world is too easily swayed by nonsensical, emotional reactions, and a hint that underneath those reactions is belief. If the imam hadn’t layed down a groundwork of violence against non-Muslims for decades, this particular call probably wouldn’t be as successful as it is. I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong and see the grand dialogue of civilizations drop the semtex veneer, though. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for it.

None of the above should be misread, by the way, as me thinking there aren’t Muslims who abhor violence or who won’t secularise or otherwise knock it off. Of course there are. It seems at times as though they all live here in the US, though, where we have yet to experience anything like the chilling demonstrations in London. The question is which Muslim has the upper hand, both in theology and in raw numbers. I’ve discussed this with at least one moderate Muslim, and what I heard did not comfort me.

One Last Update: Robert Spencer weighs in. Dean’s not gonna like it–Robert uses quotes and history and, you know, facts. Lots of them.

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Good job and nice read…

Some would argue that only a ‘satan’ would create scripts to keep the Christian away – there will be no room for discussion. It seems that Communism and some sects of Islam did/do this well.

Btw, it’s always hilarious to hear a secularist attempt to explain anything Christian.

ar_basin on September 18, 2006 at 12:40 PM

Insightful Bryan. Excellent post.

I’m no Theologist, but on the other hand, while Muslims around the world are rioting, protesting and destroying property and lives.

Why is it that we don’t see that here in this hemisphere?

Do you suppose that reformation is moving away from Wahhabism or creeping it’s way into our part of the world?

Has assimilation into the western culture affected passions within the Muslim community?

It’s a lot to digest and I don’t understand it at all.

Kini on September 18, 2006 at 12:53 PM

And I now wait, with great anticipation, the coming death threats, and condemnation by CAIR…

Good post, and well thought out. The problem today is that most have never bothered to READ the Koran, and understand that the later verses supercede the earlier…. thus making the ORDER of things very important.

Islam is not the religion of Peace, its the religion of submission… somthing we in the West have fought for 4 or 5 hundred years now… and we need to understand that without a revision of the Koran, which is basicaly impossible, the Moslem religion MUST be in conflict with the West….

Romeo13 on September 18, 2006 at 1:00 PM

We do see it in London. The last few photos in today’s Vent, including the “Behead” shot, were taken on the streets of London.

Why don’t we see it as much in the US? Beats me. I suspect that we have been better at assimilating Muslims than Europe, in large part because we’re less of a welfare magnet and we do offer more opportunities for individual success without regard to national origin or anything else. For that reason and some others, the US may attract more assimilable Muslims on average than Europe does. But that’s just a guess and could be entirely wrong.

Bryan on September 18, 2006 at 1:01 PM

Interesting idea, Bryan. I’ve always assumed that an Islamic “Reformation” was unlikely simply because they knew how the Protestant one turned out, and would fight with extreme vigor to snuff out any reforms in the bud.
But as you point out, while the Western mind equates ‘reform’ with ‘lessening/modernizing’ the actual effect is to reform the faith to a closer literal understanding of the text, and that is indeed what we’ve been seeing in Islam this century.

Mr. Bingley on September 18, 2006 at 1:01 PM

Here’s the New York Times interpretation of what you just said (very eloquently, I might add).

You might as well expect an apple tree to produce bacon.

Right wing Christian blogger insensitivly likens Muslims to pork products.

CrankyNeocon on September 18, 2006 at 1:07 PM

Excellent. As to why there is no “violence” here in the USA, Kini, it because, as Bill O’Reilly said this morning on his radio show, they will prosecuted and sentenced to death or life in prison. The people like those in CAIR understand that and that is the reason they have been trying to undermine the law through legal efforts and the ACLU for the past twenty years or so. Until the majority of Americans understand this and are willing to fight for our right just to be, they will continue to come for us.

I also agree with what Bill said this a.m., take away any/all aid or support for any country that will not confront these fanatics. No ifs, no ands, no buts. And, for me that includes all of world, not just Islamic countries. Cut imports from China by 10% only and they will begin to listen as an example.

We need to get our MSM to get on the same page as well as the anti-war fanatics. Maybe if the MSM actually showed the average American what is actually happening daily as Hot Air does and other blogs, the average American might actually listen.

sharinlite on September 18, 2006 at 1:09 PM

I mentioned it before but will again… In undergrad I took a World Religions course and witnessed a heat debate, battle.

The professor was Asian of some 50 years of age and one Christian student was appoximately 40 years old. The semester progressed and then we touched on the subject of Islam.

Mid-semester the concept of Jihad was being discussed. The student referenced a bomb that went off during a ‘Japanese?’ Flight killing one man. The bomb was placed under the seat; I believe this may have been one of Ramzi Binalshibh timed devices.

The student called this act murder in the name of Islam. The professor, a outwardly sane guy, differed and stated that it was not murder. I don’t recall that he gave it a name other than briefly mentioning that it’s jihad and not murder. The two battled it out for some 15 minutes. For a 20 year old not completely exposed to terrorism this was quite a treat.

The sad thing, even more sad than the professors mindless rants, was the reaction by the remainder of the class.

Talk about stupid masses, the students were upset, not with the professor, but rather the Christian student that was bring up topics not on the exam. The christian then tried to explain to the class his case – they shouted him down. I stood there in shock at both the idiot students and the professor.

Btw, some of those university students are teaching your children in public school. Good luck, you and your kids need it.

ar_basin on September 18, 2006 at 1:32 PM

bryan said:

Why don’t we see it as much in the US? Beats me. I suspect that we have been better at assimilating Muslims than Europe,

It might have something to do with that right to keep and bear arms that our founding fathers thought important enough to include in the Constitution. I found it amusing when Katami was speaking at Harvard that he began his speech out by saying that America had gone downhill because we had deserted our Puritanical roots that our nation had been founded on. It was these same Christian believing men who felt necesary to stop the slave trade of the Barbary coast pirates, who just happened to be Muslim when Thomas Jefferson sent the navy with a few good Marines to make his point.
There is so much BS coming out of the Islamic world nowadays that even with a scorecard you can’t keep up. The one constant is Submit or Die, everything else is just white noise.

LakeRuins on September 18, 2006 at 1:38 PM

The odd behavior of the Islamo-lib alliance to rationalize the behavior of modern day Islam by comparing it to something that used to happen or has the potential to happen with other religions is easily exposed as foolishness by asking those people:

“If Christians started to burn atheists at the stake again and most Christians approved of it, could one rationalize this behavior by pointing out that other religions have done similar things to their non-believers or would it be grounds for going to war against the Christians?”

Of course they don’t need such a basis, they are already at war with Christians.

I guess Mein Kampf could have been rationalized in 1940 by making the point that it’s no more inflammatory toward the Jews than the Koran is.

Perchant on September 18, 2006 at 1:41 PM

This inability to get into the enemy’s head and heart makes it harder for us to win.

It’s not that we are incapable. It is that what we find in their heads is not what we want to see. So we ignore it, and come up with any number of inane excuses to believe what we want to believe. Regardless of the truth. We all do it. Muslims do the same thing about whatever it is they want to believe.

That said, what are the chances of an Islamic Reformation sweeping the violent segments of Islam aside?

I hate to point this out, but we very much are witnessing an Islamic Reformation.

Unfortunately for us, their current reformation is going in the opposite direction from what we hope for. But it is none-the-less a reformation from their perspective.

Lawrence on September 18, 2006 at 1:53 PM

For those interested in more information about the differences between Christianity and Islam, I highly recommend the writings of Dr. Ergun Caner, the President of Liberty University and a former Muslim. His site at http://www.erguncaner.com is a great resource and his books on Islam are quite eye opening.

Centurion68 on September 18, 2006 at 2:02 PM


excellent post, full of logic and insight…thanks for a great read

sola gratia,

mbredmond on September 18, 2006 at 2:06 PM

I may be in love with you now. That was the most interesting, engaging, thought-provoking piece I’ve read in a long time. Excellent points. Very clear. Thanks for spending so much time on it.

Leiren on September 18, 2006 at 2:18 PM

Excellent piece Bryan.
You make me think a lot harder and deeper than I really want to about this subject. And it keeps boiling down to this:

That said, what are the chances of an Islamic Reformation sweeping the violent segments of Islam aside? That’s probably a subject that should be treated in a book instead of a blog post, but suffice it to say that in my opinion conditions and assumptions in Christianity which could foster Luther’s Reformation do not exist in Islam.

I just simply dont think there can be any “reform” in Islam. Either they adapt and go the “jihad” is a peaceful inner struggle to be good OR “jihad” means CONQUER. Frankly, it looks a whole lot like the majority are going down Path #2.

labwrs on September 18, 2006 at 2:32 PM

Excellent post,Bryan!

donna91 on September 18, 2006 at 3:10 PM

Great job, Bryan. I’ve had several arguments with atheists along the same theme. Now I have a link to point them to. Thanks.

mikeyboss on September 18, 2006 at 3:40 PM

Hmmm…. been thinking on this a bit today…

I recently heard someone say that me saying the cause of this being Islam was “distasteful”…

Now, stay with me here… the basis of OUR society here in America is Freedom…. freedom of speech, association, and freedom of religion…

Now, we have a religion which is threatening us, BUT, we believe in freedom of religion as a core belief. So, its distastefull to talk about it, because we WILL have to limit Freedom of Religion IF the religion is the cause of the problem.

And even deeper, if one part of our core beliefs are incorrect, than does it cast doubt on the others?

This I think is the disconnect… not that we can’t believe they do it for religious reasons, but that we can’t, under our own belief system, do anything about it…

Romeo13 on September 18, 2006 at 4:17 PM

Bryan, I may be in love with you now…

Leiren on September 18, 2006 at 2:18 PM

For the overt record, I’ve always been in love with you Bryan, strictly in a Platonic way, of course :)

Seriously, though, I love your writings on very special and deep subjects. This, in no way, diminishes my interest and appreciation for the work of all your colleagues, vents or written posts.

On this topic, the Muslims name their ‘struggle’ jihad. Why is it so difficult, self included, to find the correct name of what we are fighting? The iteration of varying names makes it difficult for us to define, understand and fight. If we can’t name it, how can we fight it, I ask all of us, self too?

Maybe we should run a post just on this subject…

I liked your post, best of all the lamentation that Islam will not reform soon, if ever.

If the women in Saudi Arabia insist that it’s great to be covered and chauffeured, and the women in Pakistan protest in favor of the status quo on rape laws, and the women and elitists in the rest of the world are almost completeley silent, then there isn’t much hope for us and for them.

Entelechy on September 18, 2006 at 4:56 PM

And even deeper, if one part of our core beliefs are incorrect, than does it cast doubt on the others?

This I think is the disconnect… not that we can’t believe they do it for religious reasons, but that we can’t, under our own belief system, do anything about it…

Romeo13 on September 18, 2006 at 4:17 PM

Good question Romeo13, and good points.

This also may beg the question, what is true vs. false religion? We can answer this, and address your last statement, by stating that any given religion is true and therefore anathema doctrine is false.

Both sides can thereby claim Freedom of True religion, while fighting against beliefs they view as false.

But this isn’t exactly what is happening. Both sides are fighting for different reasons. While Muslims are fighting to advance their religion and killing is a way to do that, the other side isn’t fighting so much for religion as for simply fighting to avoid being killed.

There is a significant difference between these two positions.

Lawrence on September 18, 2006 at 4:57 PM

Romeo,I think perhaps the separation of church and state ( although a false concept,I know) is waht may help us out here as Islam is both a faux religion and a political movement.

bbz123 on September 18, 2006 at 5:38 PM

Nice job Bryan. I just finished reading an article in The Christian Research Journal (http://www.equip.org/journal/) on Sayyid Qutb, the father of modern Islamic fundamentalism. He was a great influence on bin Laden. Bin Laden’s outlook is a combination of Wahhabism and Qutbism.

Bic on September 18, 2006 at 5:41 PM

Strong faith does not equate to adequate understanding of those who have a strong faith of a different variety, nor does a lack of faith preclude one from adequately understanding either. Cultural understanding comes from proper use of history, reason, experiences, insight, and debate with informed colleagues, not from slavish rereading of some holy book whose chapters were voted in by committee.

Perhaps in some churches those conditions exist for understanding one’s own peculiar brand of faith and ideology, but I think that churches and coffee shops with popular news magazines are equally bankrupt in teaching sociology, theology, history, or political science. Maybe mandatory liberal arts instruction in schools, colleges, and universities scratches the surface, but mine only met the minimum. I learned far more actually talking to people. You don’t talk to people from other faiths in church all that much, unless you’re attending a mixed wedding.

shirgall on September 18, 2006 at 5:50 PM

It is often said—and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate—that Islam is not capable of a Reformation.

C. Hitchens in today’s Slate…

Entelechy on September 18, 2006 at 5:56 PM

Excellent Insight, Thanks!

Now let us find the courage in our hearts to confront and defeat our enemies. There is no substitute for victory in this war.

MarkB on September 18, 2006 at 6:06 PM


Speaking as a Catholic, the reformation was less about theological issues and more about resentment of Papal authority. The “faith v. works” debate is really a discussion about language and the meaning of words. If you really want to wade into it, you’ll find that there is little distinction between the Protestant and Catholic views on the subject. I want to make clear that your post seems to automatically assume that the Reformation was good because the Catholic view was automatically wrong. The Reformation was a disaster (splintering of Christian culture and various wars over religion are never good), the Counter-Reformation was good because it healed the Catholic Church and stopped local abuses that Luther was primarily ticked off about.

Sydney Carton on September 18, 2006 at 6:08 PM

Sydney, this isn’t the place to debate the Reformation, but suffice it to say that Catholic and Protestant understandings of grace still differ more than you let on, and the extent to which they are close is because Luther helped foster the re-introduction of grace into a church that taught the likes of indulgences and other corruptions and emphasized deeds over the redemptive power of grace. The Roman church got a little closer to its roots after the Reformation because of Luther. So yes, I do assume the Reformation was good. Because it was. But that’s a subject for another time.

The point being made here is that the dynamics of reformation aren’t about “modernizing” or any of the like. They’re usually about getting back to the faith, unplugged, and getting the more worldly stuff out of the teachings. That’s what the Wahhabis are all about.

Bryan on September 18, 2006 at 6:20 PM

I would like to suggest that what is confusing everyone is the issue of Religion. Rather than blaming Religious belief, you should first think ‘gangster thug’; Al Capone, MS-13, or your favorite gang of prohibition, or the Irish gangs of early Boston. If you need a non-American gang, select your African, or Pakistani tribe of choice waring against its neighbors. Then disguise that gangster mentality, tribal mentality, warlord/clan politics with your Religion of choice.

Thus arguing religious issues misses the point. Religion is used by the tribal leaders to motivate, inspire his warrior army.

Lawrence has it correct:
” Both sides are fighting for different reasons. While Muslims are fighting to advance their religion and killing is a way to do that, the other side isn’t fighting so much for religion as for simply fighting to avoid being killed.”

I would suggest we fight to avoid being conquered by tyrants.

rockhauler on September 18, 2006 at 6:24 PM

Like most who write on this subject, I am in no way qualified as an expert but I would like to make an observation.

Judaism in the 1st Century was divided between those who thought the Torah required a specific cultural context in order for obedience, the pharisees, and those Hellenistic Jews who tried to adapt to the larger culture of the times. These Hellenistic Jews translated the Old Testament into Greek, the Septuiagent, making it possible for Paul to discuss the Messiah with the Mediterranean cultures. Christianity was initially divided along the same sorts of lines. The Judiazers that fought with Paul felt that the new Christian faith could only be lived out in the cultural context of Judaism. But Paul (Galatians) and Peter (Acts 10 and 11) saw that Christianity could be authentic in almost any cultural setting.
Islam, it seems to me, requires commitment to a particular culture. Language and culture are linked together. You can only study the Koran in Arabic. Converts to Islam adapt to a particular culture through dress and diet. These cultural restrictions mean that Moslems are uncomfortable with any ambiguity.
So now we move to the modern world. Modernity, if it is anything, is ambiguous. The response of Islam is not to open conversations, like Benedict XVI just did, on the relationship between faith and reason. Their response is a rejection of modernity. Modernity with all of its problems is incompatible with their narrow cultural view and must therefore be destroyed.
Bryan, you did a great job in summarizing the situation. I also do not see any hope for an Islamic reformation. Keep the conversation going!

mkstach on September 18, 2006 at 6:29 PM

Good stuff Bryan.

I’ve been saying much the same stuff for thirty years since my first few ‘up close and personal’ encounters with islamists thirty years or so ago, when they first getting started on their global terrorist campaigns (sponsored by the Soviets, by the way).

But you said it better than I have ever been able.

LegendHasIt on September 18, 2006 at 6:47 PM

Dear Brian,
I loved your post Brilliant. However, there are many things both about Islam AND Christianity that you fail to understand and thereby come to the wrong conclusion, i.e, that a “reformation” is possible for ISLAM. It is not.
From your quoting of all of the Catholics who led the “reformation” I now see the problem. The problem is that the CATHOLIC church WASN’T FOLLOWING THE BIBLE IN THE FIRST PLACE! Catholic means “liberal” or “general” and the Catholic church was formed by those who “liberalized” the Doctrine of Christ as it was given to His Apostles. I say this not to be mean but I thought that this site was dedicated to truth. It is beyond doubt that the Catholics changed the most fundamental aspects of Christianity in order to avoid persecution. They changed without instruction from Christ, HOW PEOPLE SHOULD BE BAPTIZED and HOW ONE RECEIVES THE HOLY SPIRIT. Certainly two “BIGGIES”, since together they encapsulate the purpose for which Christ came! In Acts 5 you will see that Peter and John are only persecuted by the priests because they were warned “not to preach in this man’s (Jesus’) name”.

ACTS 5:28
Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. ( this is why they (catholics) stopped baptizing in the name of JESUS CHRIST, preferring the non-controversial, “father son and holy ghost”. Which Jesus explained to Peter in John 14.)

Once the Apostles had all died or been killed, those who the Apostles warned AGAINST, took over or “Hi-Jacked” the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the most stern warning came from the Lord’s half brother according to the flesh.

3. Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. ( Note that Jude exhorts those he was writing to, to “contend” for the faith athat was once for ALL entrusted to the Saints, who were not dead people as the Catholic church claims, see Rom 1:7,)
4. For certain men whose condemnation was written about[b] long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. ( Even BEFORE the Apostles died there were people sent by the Devil to pervert the Doctrine of Jesus. )
5. Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord[c] delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.
6. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.
7. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. ( MANY of the “Christians” on this site, pilloried me for mentioning that the Bible is BASED on the concept that God punishes NATIONS for sin. The piled on Rev Falwell for similar remarks if you recall. What Christianity are you practicing where an Apostle can tell you something and your church do or teach otherwise?)

2Thessalonians 2:1-3 is where Paul had to combat fake epistles sent from ministers of satan pretending to be Apostles, don’t believe it? Read this…2 Co 11:13-15) So the “hi-jacking” was underway towards the end of the lives of the Apostles yet couldn’t be complete until they were out of the way. There are more warnings in the New Testament given by the Apostles, AGAINST LISTENING TO FALSE TEACHERS, than any other single subject in the N.T. Well, my friend, the Catholic church was prophesied to be the false church by Paul In the book of Timothy, as they are clearly the ONLY CHRISTIAN DENOMINATION to ever command people to “abstain from certain foods” and to “forbid to marry”.
1 Timothy 4:1-4
1. The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
2. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
3. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. ( who but the Catholic church has done BOTH of these things?)
4. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,

No meat on friday and priests and nuns must be “celibate” contrary to scripture which demands that…
1 Timothy 3:2
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

So those that you have followed, were in fact those you were warned against on many many occasions. What you fail to understand is that those who authored the “Crusades” or any other imposition of Christianity by violence were NEVER following Jesus, who said this about your treatment of those who disagree with you …
Matt 10:14.
14. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

NOWHERE does it say , “start a crusade”. The Pope can’t even read the bible correctly much less interpret ancient passages about ISLAM! Or else he certainly wouldn’t be blaspheming by forcing YOU to call him, “Holy Father” or priests in general “Father”, completely contrary to the expressed will of Jesus Christ as it regards how you address church leaders!!
MATTHEW 23:8-10
8. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
9. And call no man your FATHER upon the earth: for one is your FATHER, which is in heaven. ( The fact that they can read this and do otherwise proves that Paul was right about who they’ve been “heeding”. (1Timothy 4:1-4)
10. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

Is the pope a man? Are priests men? Then it is contrary to the will of Christ for them to be called “Father”. See, the reason you pray for “reform” in Islam is because the religion YOU learned was “watered down”, long before you got to it! There is only ONE CHRISTIAN faith, the APOSTOLIC FAITH, meaning the following of the doctrine of Christ as it WAS GIVEN TO HIS APOSTLES FOR DISTRIBUTION! There were NEVER supposed to be “Denominations”, the very idea is ANATHEMA to the revealed will of Jesus!

1 Corinthians 1:10
10. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (obviously the Catholic church came to different ‘judgement” regarding the method of salvation and the meaning of the SECOND commandment which forbids the making of statues for worship and the THIRD commandment which FORBIDS PRAYING TO SAID STATUES or anyone other than JESUS CHRIST!)

Clearly the APOSTLES wouldn’t have “tolerated” you being baptised any which way you feel or receiving the Holy Spirit in an allegedly different manner ((they spoke in tongues, most today DON’T, in fact, further proving the whole, ” heeding the doctrine of devils” thing, most of your “Denominations” SCOOF at TONGUES!) When Peter clearly declared it to be your “Salvation”. Acts 2:15-17
15. For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. ( They were “mocking” the Apostles speaking in tongues like many of you “Christians” do today!)
16. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; (Joel 2:32-)
17. And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: ( So the tongues that they were mocking was actually the manifestation of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost)

The reason you think that reform is possible for Islam, is because, all you know AS faith is a “watered down compromise”. You have no reference point for dealing with people who actually FOLLOW their faith. There is no such thing as different Christian “denomination” in the WORD, if your faith isn’t as it was given to the Apostles, it is NOT Christianity, no matter how you “feel” about it.

Ephesians 4:5

Clearly, catholics do NOT claim One Lord, they claim some amalgam of Three as do many misled evangelicals, Clearly they differ on their FAITH since they do not observe the ONE BAPTISM, which is ONLY in the name of JESUS CHRIST in your bible. There is not ONE SINGLE PERSON in the ENTIRE NEW TESTAMENT, Baptized in the (titles, not names) of , “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” the very act of naming these empty titles in Baptism shows a complete lack of understanding as to who Jesus even was! John 14:7-10.
Jesus had already told his followers that he in fact was ‘FATHER SON AND HOLY SPIRIT” in an earthly body (colossians 2:8-9) and that these three are one NOT three. The problem is that the perverters of the doctrine mistook the relationship between the “Spirit the Water and the Blood” which AGREE in ONE, with the relationship between the Father, the WORD (John 1:1-14) and the Holy Ghost which ARE ONE~! John 10:30. Different from being “in AGREEMENT as one! 1JOHN 5:6-8.
Rom 8:9
9. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (yet your church teaches that there is no evidence for having the Holy Spirit)

IF you were told that WITHOUT the Holy Ghost you DO NOT BELONG TO CHRIST, then contrary to the lies of some, there must be EVIDENCE that you DO have it. There is. (Acts 2:1-4, 33, 38)

Your entire world view has been framed by faith which was compromised. I showed the above differences between the Bible and Catholicism, to make that point. Islam labors under no such delusions, the devil didn’t have to pervert it, it came directly from him, read Salmon Rushdies book! These savages follow THEIR BOOK in ways that most of US don’t! AND they kill those who change the book because their book says that’s the best way to fight, “REFORM”.

The only good muslim…..is a non-observant Muslim.

[9.29] FIGHT THOSE WHO DO NOT BELIEVE IN ALLAH, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.

Soothsayer on September 18, 2006 at 7:12 PM

The only possibility of Reform in Islam is the Arabic language itself.

Since every word in that tongue is open to interpretation by the lack of fixed vowels (as in Hebrew), any mix of consonant sounds (e.g.: KML, etc.), of course, has a “generally-accepted” understanding, thanks to centuries of exegesis and explanation and extrapolation by “Islamic scholars”.

But there is really no reason why a new understanding of the al-Qur’an could not be suggested by new “scholars” of the root Koranic language in the 6,666 verses (suras).

Who is to really say that “KML” has to mean ONLY “Kamal“? Who is to say that it could not be any variation, with different vowels, and a completely opposite meaning? It is all stupendously arbitrary, based on “tradition”, and “intuition”, not “revelation” or “certainty”.

Islam is ALL “received tradition“‘s understanding of the Koran’s sense.

The tendency toward violence might be a typographical error.

A group of Muslim reformers could argue that the traditionally-accepted and always-interpolated “vowels” were simply WRONG.

There is no other avenue to a non-violent Islamic future.

And, without reform, Islam has no future.

profitsbeard on September 18, 2006 at 7:19 PM

Excellent, excellent, excellent.

Nice job, Bryan!

Bob's Kid on September 18, 2006 at 7:20 PM

As an atheist, I completely understand the nature of the threat and have ever since my first reading of the Koran. In the teachings of the Koran, it’s laid out quite clearly that they see the Christian, Judaeic and Muslim God-constructs as the same entity. The Muslims believe that Christians and Jews are just simply wrong in their interpretation of the nature of God, and the hierarchy of the prophets God sent. To the Muslim, the Jews and Christians are “wrong”, and they must be corrected, or brought to or under Islam.

For we atheists however, Islam has something special in store for us, for you see we commit a greater offense than merely being wrong about the nature of God, we deny that God exists. For us, there is no path to conversion, an atheist cannot become a Muslim according to the Koran, we, the atheists, must instead be destroyed.

At least the Christians and Jews who don’t wish to convert have the option of dhimmitude, atheists are not even allowed that, we get the sword and nothing else.

I would suggest that most of these atheists that the blogosphere is up in arms about today (talk about tranferrence) are not really atheists at all but rather reactionaries against religion (namely Christianity).

I may be the minority among atheists, but I don’t think so. Almost every atheist I know fully understands the threat, and the greater threat that befalls us particularly. Most true atheists I know also have a deep appreciation for reformed Christianity because without the reforms of Catholicism we’d still be getting burned at the stake by the Christians and having our heads lopped off by Islamists. As an atheist, I consider the Christians and Jews to be on my team to a great extent because we are united against a common enemy that wishes our destruction.

Yes, I fully understand the actions of Newdow and the other “well-known” atheist’s who would like to make this whole deal another condemnation of Christianity, but I’d suggest that their likes aren’t true atheists any more than Jim Jones was a true Christian.


JasonColeman on September 18, 2006 at 7:27 PM


Excellent dissertation. I think it serves as much to explain the misunderstanding of Christians by the likes of Rosie, et al, as it does to throw light on the core nature of Islam. I’ve never wanted to kill anyone in the name of my God. However, freedom, civilization and the future of my daughters might be another story.

SailorDave on September 18, 2006 at 7:33 PM

OK, What IF we are too close minded about this whole ‘Islam is too crazy to understand in todays world’? My point, and I’m no expert, but I believe that many of the muslims around the world fully believe the part of the Koran that teaches ‘go spread Isalm, by persuasion, coercion, whatever it takes’. And then ‘If that doesn’t work? Kill them.’
This reaction to the Pope’s comments are NOT JUST a riotous bunch of Jihadists condemning a few words, it’s the whole of Islam doing what they think they must do…RECRUITING. With the near absolute media control in most muslim regions, the already extreme bias in their favor, these outbursts are their way of persuading the moderate muslims to jump on board. Supported by Koran text, they pressure ALL muslims anywhere near them to fight, to join, to give allegiance to mohammed (pissbeuponhim-headtofoot). These are the TOOLS of MUSLIMS, of ISLAM. Use someone’s words against islam to fight, and RECRUIT. They dont give a damn what we think or do, as long as they can control and hide most of it from millions of muslims, they can then manipulate the ‘event’ to recruit. Muslims do this, all the time.
Stop and think about it, that IS what they do to recruit and/or kill. If we controlled the media, we could put out a very one sided message as well, and get many followers… but they actually do this day in and day out.
Its not a deep question of right and wrong, or of religions, or anything deep in thought.
Its controlled environment recruiting.

shooter on September 18, 2006 at 7:54 PM

The saddest ones to me are the atheists that claim to know all about christianity because they grew up in a family that belonged to a church. Generally they know just enough to be dangerous to themselves and others they try to inform on the subject. Having never accepted Christ themselves they have no real knowledge or understanding of what any of it is about. All they seem capable of pulling from their memories is instances of church members that left a bad impression on them.

I’ve spent time on various message boards trying to correct people like that but it’s tiresome and never goes anywhere worthwhile.

Benaiah on September 18, 2006 at 8:00 PM

Islam, it seems to me, requires commitment to a particular culture.

One of my very best girlfriends is a muslim, what I suppose I would call a ‘moderate’ muslim. We have had many discussions about this very thing. She feels that modern Christians have truly lost their roots by adjusting to contemporary culture. She sees my wearing shorts and baring my shoulders in the summertime as against what a modest woman should be doing. She maintains most vehemently that culture should have NO impact on what your religion tells you to do and is very fundamental about skin showing and hair and such.

She feels islam is superior to Christianity in that it has kept more ‘true’ to it’s bronze-age Middle Eastern roots. She constantly points to the young girls at the school where we both work as bad examples of being Christian (as she assumes they are) in the way they dress, associate with boys, indulge in casual sexual relationships, etc. She claims that the muslim girls don’t have those problems, which is in itself ludicrous, but it makes her feel very superior.

But on the other hand, she certainly benefits from freedoms living in a Western nation gives her (she was born in Uganda)–she’s educated, self-sufficient financially, and wears jeans. She swears like Jeff Goldstein and can be as raunchy as you can imagine when around other women. But she does not see the disconnect between what she has the freedom to be here in the US and what she would have the freedom to be if she were in SA or some other fundamental islamic theocracy. She pretends that all muslim women have the same freedoms, and when I try to point out otherwise she tells me that all I know is what I read in the biased Western media.

Okay, whatever. But islam is different, and holding it to a modern Christian or Jewish standard will not work. It’s the apples and oranges thing.

Bob's Kid on September 18, 2006 at 8:01 PM

Excellent points. Your message is very important, I think. This is an ideological war with religious roots. We, the West, insist on imposing Western ideas and belief systems onto the actions and words of the muslims. So much so that we aren’t hearing them at all.

They say they will destroy us and we hear that they are upset about their living conditions and send them more money. The secularists quote scripture to us telling us to be more civil while the muslims are rioting in the streets and shooting nuns in the back.

bluestarchronicles on September 18, 2006 at 8:16 PM

Great threads here today. You guys are smart! My 2 cents: We in the West have learned to fight our theological battles with words only on this side of heaven, and we let God sort out the details on the other side. The Muslims just want to kill you if they disagree with you or they sit back and do nothing while the “practicing” Muslims commit acts of murder and mayhem on behalf of the moon god of Arabia, aka Allah. Bush nailed it when he said that this is not a war OF civilizations but a war FOR civilization.

Mojave Mark on September 18, 2006 at 9:16 PM

Thoughtful post. But religious or not-

Rotten fruit = rotten root

Valiant on September 18, 2006 at 9:18 PM

Very excellent essay, Bryan.

As to the question about why we don’t have the violence and chaos in this country that even UK does, my theory would be that due to the higher assimilation here, Muslims are in closer proximity to our culture – not separated into government subsidised clusters – and it’s harder to kill people you KNOW. To most of the Middle East, we are a stereotype – a faceless nation of evil blasphemers. Here, muslims are mixed into the culture and know us on personal levels. So, they know us, benefit from our freedoms, and realize that we are NOT what they’ve been taught we are.

Unfortunately, there are more OUT THERE than in the country, so our problem still lies in the fact that they will not KNOW us before trying to kill us.

tickleddragon on September 18, 2006 at 9:22 PM

Why don’t we have the same level of violence in America? Probably because the level of Moslem immigration is much lower and there is much more immigration from other cultures, like Latin America, that dilutes the effect.

Compared to Europe America is in a much better position both in terms of the resilience of our traditional communities, unlike Europe’s demographic death spiral, and in terms of our ability to attract other cultures such as the Latin or Asian, which strengthens us. Of course being better at assimilating helps but multiculturalism is eroding our abilities there. That weakness is painfully obvious in the decline of our public education system that once was an engine of integration.

The long term trends are still problematic even if we have more time than the Europeans do.

LifeofTheMind on September 18, 2006 at 9:59 PM

Bryan, Bravp! Keep it up!

IMHO atheists and rabid secularists have a hard time using the root source of Western Civilization, the Bible,to defend Western Civilization because they consider it a snarkey piece of drivel.

They dig for hypocrisy in the Old Testament to discredit the lessons leaving out historical context.

Shall we burn witches, as mentioned in the old testament? Why should we accept the Ten Commandments and skip the witch burnings? Never mind that the same cherry pickers have created a patch-work Jesus for themselves.

While synthetic Jesus suits their arguments for gay marriage or easy sex, they accuse believers of creating synthetic patriarchs out of phonies.

When you cherry-pick the evidence it is hard to present a convincing case to a jury.

Atheist/secularists do the same thing with our nation’s Founders who are painted as hypocrites for having slaves, when the attacker wishes to win some constitutional point, but geniuses when needed to accelerate the suffocation of the Church by the State.

In the Bible, and the American Revolution, there is historical context of the world and mindset into which these people were born, in which great Revelations happened, often despite great historical baggage.

The hollow men cannot see the triumph of values over history because they need to control all values.

It is like having the Fox argue why animals should not eat Chickens. Mr. Fox doesn’t have his heart in it.

Mohammed was a warrior who codified detailed rules of war and bounty. He was a materialist focused on wealth and concubines. He focused on hate. He used coercion. Salvation was not guranteed, it was not equal to all.

Christ was not a warrior, but he set men into great spiritual battle and physical suffering. He did not linger on the material.

“Why take ye thought for raiment [clothing]? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” –Sermon on the Mount
Christ had no time for concubines, harims or piles of gold. He focused on love. He demanded free will confession and promised salvation to all equally.

This defines mindsets embedded into the children of the two civilizations. You cannot expect these two worlds to come to the same conclusions with the same evidence. unless you are an atheist dunce who believes neither.

Here is a very interesting secularist site by former muslims with all kinds of articles about that faith

entagor on September 18, 2006 at 10:55 PM

PS Bryan, I am going to have to start archiving your essays. They are worth saving

entagor on September 18, 2006 at 11:02 PM

I am sorry for posting three comments in a row. I want to apologize for using the description ‘atheist/secularists’.

That is not the right term and unfair to Jason, above. I don’t know the right title to use: Bible hating secular-leftists? Anti-Christians? Pumpkin heads?

ALso, I don’t think we have a Reformation. The current trend in Islam seems more like a ‘Revival’, in Christian vocabulary. Except with bombs.

entagor on September 18, 2006 at 11:28 PM

In making the following arguments I won’t pretend to be an actual theologian. Any misunderstandings in any of the following either result from having to condense technical arguments down to their essence or to my own imperfections.

I would hope that would also temper your opinion on the chances of an Islamic Reformation. It’s difficult enough to become an expert on Christianity with a Christian upbringing in a mostly Christian nation.

Now Bill from INDC has repeatedly argued against a view generally described as “Islam is evil”, a statement on the perceived irreedemability of Islam, which leads to a host of unpalatable policy options, and negative consequences for the War on Terror. It’s difficult to make the case that you support moderate Muslims when you seem to be simultaneously making the case that the closer you adhere to the Koran, the more terroristic you become. It puts those Muslims who could be our allies in a difficult spot. It’s not a case of us arguing that there is no religious component to terrorism, we just think overly broad claims on a subject as complex as religion that hurt us in the War On Terror are unwise, and should require a little more intellectual humility. I can’t speak for Andrew Stuttaford but I doubt he denies any connection between the terrorists and religion. I don’t think it’s fair to lump us in with those who would make cheap shots against Christianity. Our positions really aren’t different from those of Daniel Pipes or Bernard Lewis. I would have a hard time describing either as being inable to get into the enemy’s head.

dorkafork on September 18, 2006 at 11:39 PM

As Christians we are also warned about casting pearls in front of swine.

The hardened heart is the hardened heart.


The Machine on September 18, 2006 at 11:59 PM

Seems the biggest sin (unforgivable?) in Islam is to ascribe “partners” with god-ala jesus. Seems then that Islam was deliberately created to contradict christianity. The second biggest sin is to not pray. Muslim reformation will have to be to agree to respectfully disagree.

splashtc on September 19, 2006 at 12:40 AM

It’s difficult to make the case that you support moderate Muslims when you seem to be simultaneously making the case that the closer you adhere to the Koran, the more terroristic you become. It puts those Muslims who could be our allies in a difficult spot.
dorkafork on September 18, 2006 at 11:39 PM

What part of “the Koran expressely CALLS FOR MUSLIMS TO KILL THE GODDAMNED INFIDELS”, do you fail to understand?

Soothsayer on September 19, 2006 at 12:53 AM

My opinion of Islamic reformation doesn’t actually mean much in the face of the facts, and the fact is, there are more countries that practice some form of sharia law now than there were 35 or 40 years ago. Sharia is old school Islamic law, not a modernizing or moderating of Islamic law. There’s a full blown Islamic Republic where there used to be a secular state in Iran, Pakistan practices sharia and sharia is spreading across northern Africa and even into Europe. An effort to introduce sharia into Canada was beaten back not too long ago, but it had the support of some Canadian Liberals. It’s enshrined in Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s constitutions even after their liberations by us, because that’s what the people of those countries wanted.

Try to square that with Bill’s point about beer drinking Iraqis–both are true, but what do they mean and which is a more important indicator of where things are headed? I don’t know, but I don’t like the sharia trend line. I’d love to see an Islamic reformation go in the direction of Bill’s Baywatching Iraqi troops, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. If it is, then faster, please.

Bryan on September 19, 2006 at 12:55 AM

Are you advocating that Muslims IGNORE the Koran, watch it, there’s a death penalty attached to that! GROW up. The world is not a fairy tale where “we all get along in the end”. Muslims are evil because their religion is evil, their religion is BASED ON KILLING AND CONQUERING. I realize this shakes the faggy little world you live in but jeez, buy a vowel and get a clue will you? The only place you see Muslims TALKING AGAINST TERROR IS ON U.S SOIL! The place they’re least likely to be BEHEADED~! In the Madrassas, they learn from childhood THE ENTIRE KORAN FROM MEMORY, not like you so called Christians who have to look at the appendix to find Ephesians! The so-called moderate LIARS you are listening to, know damned well that their ENTIRE RELIGION IS BASED ON YOUR DEATH. They even get permission from Mohammed to lie to you about that, he said and I quote, “WAR IS DECEIT”.

Soothsayer on September 19, 2006 at 1:03 AM

Well, you’ve received quite a few plaudits already, but I want to add mine as well. Excellent post. Well written. Important topic. And I think you’re right on with the Islamic reformation assesment.

Sociologist of religion Rodney Stark says that people are constantly desiring a “more authentic” religious experience. Among Christians, this usually translates into attempts to get back to “the way it was” in the 1st century. This was true of the “fundamentalists” in the 1920s and it is often a sort of unspoken goal of many evangelical churches today.

I believe the same principles are operating in Islam. There is a need to find a more authentic and intense faith. That is why most of the hijackers on 9/11 were well-educated and relatively well off. They were drawn to Jihad specifically because they had experienced and rejected a materialist lifestyle as unsatisfying.

So you really get back to the question of “What is the authentic, original faith?” With Christianity that was a faith of martyrs, i.e. those who were slain for their beliefs starting with Jesus and continuing on and off for three centuries.

By contrast, authentic Islam of the 7th century was a series of wars of conquest designed to spread the new faith by the sword. Therefore and Islmaic reformation is bound to produce those elements. That’s exactly what we’re seeing.

John on September 19, 2006 at 2:51 AM


Its difficult to make the case that you support moderate Muslims when you seem to be simultaneously making the case that the closer you adhere to the Koran, the more terroristic you become. It puts those Muslims who could be our allies in a difficult spot.

The only way to win using this argument is for moderate muslims to put down the rabid dogs making off with their religion. “Islam is evil” is a proposition which can only be demonstrated as false by Muslims. And before yoou wank about presumption of innocence, consider this–The terrorists are being tried by a jury of their peers–moderate muslims. So far, the moderate muslims find the terrorists innocent, which means that they are all guilty. You are correct that this is an ugly and regrettable conclusion, but it is not the victims of Islamic terrorism who are proving the proposition.

haakondahl on September 19, 2006 at 3:42 AM

The word you are all looking for is RESTORATION. What seems to be occurring (I am no expert) is a restoration of Islam in the social, political, geopolitical, and religious realms. We here in the West (I, at any rate) cannot differentiate between the religious and political aspects of a political-religious-economic system based upon superiority and expansion, slavery and tribute, intimidation and mass murder. I am NOT claiming that those are the goals of Islam, but they are most definitely the means. Any time Islam was successful, it was bloody and subjugating–that’s how it works. And it is being RESTORED to its former condition.

haakondahl on September 19, 2006 at 3:46 AM

If a holy writ holds sway in the life of an enemy, then that writ and its authority need to be understood on their own terms by us or we won’t formulate an adequate response to it.

The things they are doing that make them our enemies… namely: murder of innocent civilians and suicide attacks are forbidden in the Qu’ran.

How will analysis of the Qu’ran help us know our enemy if our enemy is getting religious teaching from some other source? These are extremists, not radicals.

Your bit about the Protestant Schism being instrumental in pacifying Christianity is a laugh. It caused hundreds of years of civil wars, persecution (both ways) and strife. It wasn’t the schism and subsequent reformation that saved Christianity and the West… it was The Enlightenment — the Age of Reason.

Reformation (whether one to its roots or the currently witnessed scripturally divergent reformation) won’t save Islam… it needs an Enlightenment. It needs an Age of Reason. It needs an understanding similar to the understanding that Christians have: “even though you believe in sola fides and I believe in fides et opera, we can still co-exist amicably.”

I don’t know how that’s going to happen exactly, but I’d wager that characterizing murderous jihad as authentic, “reformed” Islam won’t help (John, talking to you). That’s just going to anger the moderate Muslims who will likely be instrumental in such an enlightenment.

Mark Jaquith on September 19, 2006 at 3:51 AM

Been thinkin’ about this for a while. Of course.

I was a Methodist as a child, then a loud-mouthed indignant atheist as a teenager, and am agnostic as an adult. Mazel Tov!

Scientifically speaking, I have no business making pronouncements about the nature of the unknowable, and that pretty much sums up my thoughts on that. I do think about it a lot, but like a long continued fraction, the answer is easier than the problem.

The reason I rush to the banner of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the missing ingredient in Islam: REDEMPTION. Jews believe in redemption as a principle, Christians believe they are redeemed through Christ, and the American tradition is based on the idea that people can improve even after failing. Leave aside technical notions of mortal sins and death-penalty offenses–the fact is that the Republic, Capitalism, and Judeo-Christian values (including, yes, the religions themselves) have wrought mankind’s finest achievement: twentieth-century Western culture.

The key asset of REDEMPTION is why. Even an agnostic can see that. And Islam doesn’t have any. Doesn’t want any.

haakondahl on September 19, 2006 at 4:00 AM

The basis of the title of this post is that it’s consistently atheists and adamant secularists who understand the Islamist enemy the least

It’s an overal good article but I really disagree with that statement from my own personal prespective. I view Theology, Communism, and Socialism falling under the same root causes. The inability to take responsibility for being a human being. A thinking human being. None of the groups are capable of identifying the basis of reality. The all submit to a greater cause than the human individual and never feel responsible for it. All of the inventions and creations made by individuals are seen as works of God, The State, of the Collective. Even Aliens are seen as a replacement for the position of dominance humankind have undertaken.

This time this conflict is not about religion. We already had that war. It’s not about Communism. We already had that war. It’s not about socialism of facsism. We already had that war also. It’s all of them them combined this time. All of the previous enemies are comming together under a unified principal. Without getting into debate or deep discussions at this time. I’ll leave you with a little postscript of mine.

Two Worlds, Two Towers.
One world believed in the freedom and bravery of men, deeming mankind worthy then errected them.

The other world full of selfhatred and fear, ordained mankind unworthy and wrecked them.

Choose your world.

Egfrow on September 19, 2006 at 9:11 AM

“The Reformation was a disaster (splintering of Christian culture and various wars over religion are never good), the Counter-Reformation was good because it healed the Catholic Church and stopped local abuses that Luther was primarily ticked off about.” As a former Protestant now Catholic, I say Sydney is right. Though on the whole Bryan’s piece is very good, he gives merely the standard, stereotypical, and distorted Protestant version of the “Reformation”, which substituted the authority of the individual supposedly guided by the Holy Spirit for the authority of the Church that was established by Christ. Instead of the faith once handed over to the saints, whole and entire, we get Bible butchery like that of Soothsayer.

ELCore on September 19, 2006 at 9:39 AM

Whoah whoah, careful with that term “abrogation” here.

The Koran is full of abrogation because it was written by a man–an idiot to boot. Of course there were contradictions, so he introduced some verse that said “Don’t you know I can change my mind? For I am Allah!” or something, effectively declaring that the latest scripture in the Koran abrogated any contradicting older scripture.

As for abrogation in the Bible, it’s simply not in there. Christ fulfilled the scripture, he didn’t make it go away. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18) The law is no longer necessary for salvation, but it is still righteous in God’s eyes. Christ’s “modification” of the law (i.e. eye for an eye becomes turn the other cheek) spoke of love of the law and selflessness trumping law as necessity.

The Old Testament was indeed violent and Mosaic law included a great deal of capital punishment, but Christ did not somehow make it all go away.

Otherwise, good essay, keep up the good work!

JamesVersusEveryone on September 19, 2006 at 9:46 AM

Bill at INDC talks of

the realistic solutions to terrorism that have to come from shared humanistic values – indc

Dorkafork takes INDC’s view:

Now Bill from INDC has repeatedly argued against a view generally described as “Islam is evil”, a statement on the perceived irreedemability of Islam, which leads to a host of unpalatable policy options, and negative consequences for the War on Terror – dorkafork

Try substituting ‘Nazi’ above. Calling nazis evil certainly reduced the chances of dialogue with the moderate nazis.

FDR decided there was no such animal as a moderate nazi and proceeded accordingly.

Islam is completely defined by the prophet mohammed. To make a moderate muslim, you have to eliminate the part of mohammed that killed the infidel, took captive females for personal use, distributed spoils of war, cursed the Jew, created a tiered system of rights for believer and unbeliever, chopped hands and heads, staked trangressors in the dessert with hot metal in their eyeballs, approved of false witness and hatred of enemies.

If I was asked to believe that except for a system of unequal rights, head chopping, torture, rape, conquest, false witness, and hate based logic, a philosophical system was intrinsically decent, I would reply “Your Mama!”

I give Bran credit for attempting to scale the walls of the moral equivalence fortress.

haakondahl makes a good point:

the fact is that the Republic, Capitalism, and Judeo-Christian values (including, yes, the religions themselves) have wrought mankind’s finest achievement: twentieth-century Western culture.

The key asset of REDEMPTION is why. Even an agnostic can see that. And Islam doesn’t have any. Doesn’t want any.


Redemption is a great incentive. Islam has a system of earned points. A convert who left islam after a divorce said she was so occupied trying to meet all the requirements there was no time to think.

example are the point system related to dogs

Whoever keeps a dog, except a dog that is trained for hunting or a dog for herding livestock, his reward will decrease each day by two qeeraats.’” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5059; Muslim, 2941; according to another version narrated by them both, “one qeeraat”).

The word qeeraat refers to a large amount of reward; if a person’s reward decreases by one qeeraat, that means that he is sinning, for losing reward is like earning sin, both indicate that something is haraam because of the consequences it leads to.

The impurity of dogs is the greatest of animal impurities. The impurity of a dog can only be removed by washing seven times, one of which should be with earth. Even pigs, which the Qur’aan states are haraam and describes as an abomination (rijs) are not naajis (impure) to such an extent.

How much room is there to maneuver in such a system?

Redemption is not a given,even for the prophet. Meeting the point system is a serious scramble to avoid the wrath of god. Infidels mess up your chances to get a good score. On the website for former muslims, one man said you never knew if you accumulated enough good points to outweigh the bad.

Does this not give rise to a terrible semantic gulf between East and West?

Even as you politely disagree, the islamists watches his point-meter fluctuate as his faith is insulted by someone daring to disagree, and points are lost for allowing an insult to the faith to go by unpunished.

entagor on September 19, 2006 at 10:26 AM

It doesn’t matter. Liberal democrat toadies are already in the media trying to push the agenda that ALL “extremist religions” are the problem. After all, they can’t single out just Islam and still be politically correct, and after all, the practicing Muslims can’t be ALL bad since they hate christians and George W Bush, just like the “radical” democrats do.

No, watch for the call from the left on the national media to start being something like “we should strive for secularism in this Country so as to avoid the wars that religions bring”. It’s the new Godless mantra I hear.

NRA4Freedom on September 19, 2006 at 10:49 AM

NRA4Freedom you are right.

There is moral equivalence for all moralities except the moralities of the West: Christianity and Judaism

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others –
from Animal Farm by George Orwell

entagor on September 19, 2006 at 11:19 AM

Try substituting ‘Nazi’ above. Calling nazis evil certainly reduced the chances of dialogue with the moderate nazis.

Who the hell ever talked about “moderate nazis”? And such a substitution would really make Bryan’s post look bad. “Finally, I don’t ignore the moderate (Nazis) of the world as Dean insists that I do. I’d love it if the entire (Nazi) world was full of them… I have lauded (Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS) and I helped write the Vent about the courageous women of this war because I am always on the lookout for (Nazi) spokemen and women who can help us deal with the radicals.”

Do you intend to de-Muslimify the Middle East like we de-Nazified Germany?

What part of “the Koran expressely CALLS FOR MUSLIMS TO KILL THE GODDAMNED INFIDELS”, do you fail to understand?

What part of the Koran that expressly forbids killing civilians don’t you understand? There are contradictory statements in the Koran on this, and I don’t understand why so many in the West are willing to carry the terrorists’ water and make theological arguments that Islam calls for the murder of civilians, when an argument can be made the other way.

dorkafork on September 19, 2006 at 11:45 AM

Stop the preachers that preach hatred and you solve the problem.

Through use of law courts or other means, do it now.

If no one listens, no one learns.

tormod on September 19, 2006 at 12:03 PM

I can’t make my point clearer than I did in my first comment.

I’d love to see an Islamic reformation go in the direction of Bill’s Baywatching Iraqi troops, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. If it is, then faster, please.

I would hope you would then use arguments and rhetoric that allow for the possibility of an Islamic reformation. Because arguing that the Koran doesn’t allow for it is not going to help, it will help strangle a reformation in its crib.

dorkafork on September 19, 2006 at 12:09 PM

If the ACLU convinces America to totally separate our Church from our State, the State will be weakened so that we will be easy pickings for any threat. Not only were Christian principles in evidence at the creation of our country, but those same Christian principles keep us strong today.
They will never succeed in getting Christianity out of Government until they root Christianity out of “We, The People”. May that never haoppen.

Doug on September 19, 2006 at 2:03 PM

Bravo! that is the point that people aren’t getting about this long war. Clear and cogent writing. well done!

JazzBass on September 19, 2006 at 7:07 PM

Bryan, excellent essay. I wish more people tackled this idea with as much thought and clarity as you. One thing I would add, though, regarding Christianity and the Bible. Too many people mistake the Bible for a ‘handbook’ on how to be a Christian and what a Christian is. From what I’ve read, either directly or indirectly, other religious texts are directives for followers of the faith, telling them how to act, what to do or not to do.

Now, while there is much of that in the Bible, you have to take the work as a whole to get at what it really is. It’s God’s Word! Even better, in the Bible God tells us that Christ paid the price for our sins. Sorry Soothsayer, but you’re dead wrong. The reason God punished nations is because they refused to turn to him. This is in keeping with Jesus’ statement that the only unforgivable sin is to reject God. The Bible is based on God’s redeeming Grace, not his wrath.

In addition, James is right above that Christ fulfilled the scriptures. The Law and commandments didn’t change, he makes this clear when he tells the Pharisees that the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. The second greatest commandment is Love your neighbor as yourself.” Sorry if I can’t remember the exact verse, but that’s in the New testament a couple of times. If you look closely, that statement is about as neat a summary of the Ten commandments as you can get.

Sorry for going off on a bit of a tangent, but I believe Bryan is correct that too many people critizize Christians without actually understanding the Bible.

Jezla on September 19, 2006 at 9:19 PM