Reflections on Global Problems and Change

As part of the Global Problems and Change course, we have to reflect on the course readings for each section.  Here’s part 1:

Globalization is nothing new.  As Karl Marx once said, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great historic world facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice.  He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”  But despite all of the excitement about globalization in all of its glory, we don’t realize how little it differs from what Marx himself was describing in his Communist Manifesto: replace “bourgeoisie” with “global capital” and it offers a fairly accurate picture of today.  Of course, the people who ran with Marx’s teachings on communism didn’t fare too well either; I recently read an interview in which Fidel Castro said, in a rather offhand manner, that Cuba’s communist organization doesn’t even work in Cuba anymore.  But communism is another matter.  The point here is that there is nothing new under the sun, not even globalization.  What’s different in globalization is that our technology allows the new bourgeoisie to dominate the rest of the world at unprecedented rates and to unprecedented degrees.

One of the shocking things about the way that globalization allows the rich to dominate the poor is the sheer number of ways that we (being the rich West) benefit from it.  We not only benefit from our domination of the poor, but we actually benefit from their poverty.  In international trade, for example, nations make trade agreements that play to their strengths: poor countries are counselled to maximize their market of cheap labour.  That is to say, poor countries are given incentives by the international market to keep their people poor, because if their people get a fair wage and rise up out of poverty, Nike will move its sweatshops to a poorer country that demands less, in order to keep their costs down and maximize profits for their Western shareholders.  But that’s only the most direct way in which we benefit from the rest of the world being poor.  A less obvious benefit is that it gives us a reason to be charitable: if coffee growers in Central America weren’t so poor, I wouldn’t feel so darn good about buying a “fairly-traded” coffee from Starbucks.  So whether I buy an ultra-cheap coffee from Tim Horton’s, or an ultra-expensive coffee from Starbucks so I can feel good about myself, both of these options are made possible because the people who grow that coffee are in horrible poverty.  Coffee is never just coffee (and it’s bad for you besides, but that’s another post ;).

So what can we do about it?  Do social movements ever really work?  Thousands of people around the world protested the war in Iraq, but it went ahead anyway.  For that matter, thousands of people around the world protested the war in Vietnam, and we still not only had that war continue for far too long, but we had a war in Iraq in the first place.  Has the long history of anti-war activism had any affect on the way we think about war?  Activism does have an affect, but never the affect that activists want.  Social movements draw attention to issues that ultimately requires that leaders and policy-makers think things through more carefully; over time, this becomes change.  The move of a few inches on an issue today can mean a few metres the next time the issue comes up.  Most activists want more radical change, seeking to move the issue a mile down the road, and see their movement of a few inches as a failure.  In the long term, it might not move as far as they want, but it might move even farther.  Also, it might end up moving in a completely different direction.  But whether or not it works out the way we want it to, our actions really do have an effect.

One action that draws attention to an issue is Non-violent Direct Action, or protesting.  Martin Luther King Jr. was a champion of activism that challenged the authorities, the status quo, and individuals’ consciences.  He pointed out that when something is wrong, many times people will let it continue because change is messy and difficult, and those who have the power to change often fail to notice a tension that sits just beneath the surface of society.  We don’t like protests because we think that they create tension; King says that they simply reveal the tension that already exists underneath, and call our attention to social realities that we don’t want to face.  There exists a noble history of non-violent direct action, stretching back through MLK, Ghandi, and even Jesus himself, and even to other Jewish rebels in his day and before.  Sometimes it works: though King never saw it, it wasn’t too long after his death that segregation ended.  Sometimes it doesn’t: the Macabbean rebels were slaughtered by the Greeks, and eventually only won their freedom through force of arms.  Other times, the answer is less clear: Jesus challenged the authority of the Temple, the King, and even Caesar himself, and to their eyes he lost, killed as a rebel.  We know, however, that Jesus was also challenging the authority of sin and death, and his death on the cross was not his defeat at the hands of the Romans or the Jews, but it was his victory over death itself – and act that also had profound effects on the way that the Roman and Jewish authorities held power over the common people.  Looking to the cross, people once dominated by Jewish Law and Roman law lived free.  Had Jesus used violence in his rebellion against the authorities, his death would have been just and changed little or nothing.  It was not Nelson Mandela’s bombings that launched a movement to end the aparthied system of South Africa, it was his unjust prison sentence.  Because what we really do when we protest is point to injustice.  When our nonviolent protests cost us dearly, we point to Christ.  And when Christ is revealed in a situation, injustice is revealed in all of its hideous opposition to Christ, and becomes indefensible – and people change.

Christ was not just a spiritual teacher, he was also a social activist.  His actions and his teachings change people’s lives, and he left behind a living monument to changed lives, his Church.  Christian Smith pointed out in an essay that religious institutions are ideally formed for social activism, already possessing all of the structures and motivating factors that drive social movements.  What he spent several pages expounding seemed self-evident to me.  Of course the Church is ideal for launching social movements: it IS a social movement!  Christ is alive in his people, and where Christ goes, people change.  The Church is a society that lives in light of the reality of Jesus Christ; we live in a different narrative than the rest of the world, and we make a point of telling others about it.  It’s who we are, and what we do. 

In his speech to a graduating class at Knox College in Toronto, award-winning journalist Brian Stewart told story after story that proved his main point, that everywhere he’s been to report on human suffering and get the word out, the Church is already there.  Whether that means that Christians were the first to respond to human need, or that Christians were already there responding to human need long before the catastrophe occurred, Christians are always ahead of the story.  “Even here,” in the worst of places, in the most crowded places, in the most remote places, Christians are caring for people and pointing to Christ.

That’s not to say that the Church is perfect, or that Christians don’t have our own problems.  For every Christian on the front lines, ahead of the story, there are dozens, or hundreds, warming pews and doing nothing.  In my previous post I talked about a false dichotomy that we’ve created between the spiritual and the physical/social, and how many Evangelical Christians are more concerned about preaching to people than they are about feeding them.  Our view of this world is that it is secular, fallen, and destined for the fire; only souls will make it to the new world, we say, so if a person has a choice between physical salvation and spiritual salvation, spiritual is obviously better.  This butchered view of scripture cuts a ragged gap through the middle not only of doctrine but of the Church, and we are torn between believing and following, when Jesus required both.  If the few Christians who are mobilized today were joined by the rest of us who have remained in compliance with the powers that be, there would be no place on earth that we could not say “Even here” and have it refer not just to a few people caring for the many, but refer to systemic change that gets to the roots of evil rather than simply hacking at the leaves and treating the symptoms.  “Even here” would mean not just a few changed lives in the midst of injustice and bondage, but justice and freedom.  Wherever we go, we would see justice and mercy, and say “wow, Even Here.”

Maybe I’m naive and ambitious, but I’ve heard more than once about how the social power of the Church is far less than our numbers should suggest.  We, especially we in the West, who benefit from the systemic evils of our society, have complied with the powers and principalities that hold our world in bondage.  We make token gestures, buying Starbucks coffee rather than Tim’s, buying Tom’s shoes so that they’ll send one pair to Africa in our name, all the while funnelling our “charity” through the system that caused the poverty we’re acting against in the first place, the market.  It is said that you cannot solve a problem by thinking on the same level that created it, but we give and take away with the same hand.  We point to the one who brings change, and even quote his teachings to those in bondage, yet fail to do anything about that bondage ourselves.  We are worse than the scribes and pharisees, white-washed tombs (with corporate logos) full of dead men’s bones, travelling thousands of miles to make a convert and then making him ten times the son of Satan as we are because we’re in compliance with a system that steals, dominates, and kills.  Isaiah 58:1-10 describes us perfectly here in North America: eager to worship, but continuing to support systemic injustice without even thinking.

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Spiritual/Physical: A False Dichotomy?

It struck me yesterday that there exists a false dichotomy in Christianity.  Well, there are several, and not in Christianity per se but certainly in the Church in North America, particularly among Evangelicals.  Specifically, I saw three dichotomies: we see salvation as spiritual rather than physical; we see it as personal/individual rather than corporate; and we see Christianity as a spiritual movement rather than a social movement.

The first two sort of go together, so I’ll address them together.  We evangelicals see salvation as a personal, spiritual thing, but this does not necessarily reflect scripture very well.  In the Old Testament, there was not even a developed doctrine of resurrection, and teachings on Sheol are usually a bit vague but you can bet that they didn’t have our same hope of spending eternity in heaven with God.  When they spoke of salvation it was not salvation from sin or eternal punishment, it was about being saved from the enemies of Israel.  The central image of salvation in the OT is the exodus, in which Israel was delivered from physical captivity and slavery when they left Egypt, and saved from Pharaoh’s armies when they crossed the Reed Sea.  We like to spiritualize it and talk about how that physical salvation serves as a symbol of our spiritual journey, but as apt of an image as that might be, it wasn’t what they were talking about in the Old Testament.  Further, there is nothing about personal salvation in the story.  Yes, there were individual people who were killed because of their personal sin, but the reason they were killed for it was entirely because their sin affected everyone in the camp – that is, personal sin is not personal when you live in community.  Achan’s sin put all of Israel at risk, and I believe the phrase God described his execution with was “you must purge the evil from among you.”  Sin in the camp interfered with their physical, corporate salvation.  Even judgment is always seen in physical, corporate terms: the Assyrian invasion did not weed out the sinners from among Israel, and it was not just an image to represent a spiritual exile!

In the New Testament it gets a little more personal/individual, but not nearly so much as we may think.  Jesus’ message divides families and nations, with everyone having to make a choice for themselves about him, but that doesn’t mean that we’re suddenly all seen as individuals; those who believe and follow him formed a new family that was unified across the nations.  In the Church, individuality was even less of an issue than before, as all dividing lines disappeared (with no division between Jew and Gentile, male and female, etc).  The New Testament also gets more spiritual, but we need not think that means that it neglects the physical: Jesus’ miracles all expressed serious concern for the physical wellbeing of people, and when he told someone that his sins were forgiven it was to announce that person’s physical healing.  After all, which is easier to say: take up your mat and walk, or your sins are forgiven?  Should we dismiss the man’s physical healing just because Jesus said “your sins are forgiven”, or should we recognize that salvation is not separated into physical and spiritual categories?  Jesus’ declaration of forgiven sins when he healed the paralytic shows a holistic salvation.

Holman Publishing proudly proclaims in advertisements that they give Bibles to people who can’t even afford shoes, over an image of a shoeless child in the streets.  An article in “The Onion” talks about a church in Texas that worked hard and fundraised diligently in order to bring Bibles to the starving people of Niger, and several people I know didn’t realize that the article was a fake – because this kind of Christian ignorance is believable.  After all, in response to the earthquake and humanitarian crisis in Haiti, one church in the US sent thousands of solar-powered audio Bibles.  I guess the solar-powered option shows that they were sensitive to the lack of a working power grid in the decimated earthquake zone; I wonder if they thought to make sure the audio was in French?

This brings me to another dichotomy, pointed out in this month’s issue of Faith Today by Donald Posterski: we see Christianity as a spiritual movement, rather than a social movement.  Glen Beck (a mormon, apparently) was recently quoted as saying “If your church says anything about social justice, run; that’s code for communism.”  Implicit in my conservative evangelical schooling was the notion that the Social Gospel movement is actually a bad thing, because it puts people’s physical needs ahead of their spiritual needs.  Evangelical soup kitchens only serve homeless people who sit through a sermon first.  I used to work at one every week, and saw the same people every week staring blankly through the sermon they ignored just so they could get a hot meal.  A few years later I worked at a different downtown ministry, and saw the same people there that I saw at the first, listening to the gospel while they waited in line for food.  I met some truly wonderful people there, often even quite open to the gospel, but they sure weren’t in that lineup because they needed Jesus.  They did, and they recognized that, but just believing (as we often emphasize) did not get them off of drugs, or out of abusive relationships, or away from their pimp.   We evangelicals criticize the Social Gospel movement because they have watery doctrine, which is to some extent true: rather than taking a stand on orthodoxy, social gospel movements focused on bringing actual change to the lives of the poor.  They still include the gospel, but they just might give the meal first.  We all agree that people need Jesus and people need food, but we argue among ourselves about which of those has priority rather than recognizing that it’s yet another both/and situation.  To portray Jesus as nothing more than a social activist is blasphemy, but it equally misrepresents him (and ignores even more scripture) to say that he was not a social activist at all.

Ultimately, a fourth dichotomy comes into play here as well: faith/works.  Being a good protestant, I can say with Paul and Martin Luther that salvation is by grace through faith, not by works, lest any man should boast.  We apply that to…well, to everything.  Entire churches are terrified to make a difference in the world, for fear that they would find themselves relying on their “good works”.  We look down on Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who try to earn merit by spreading the gospel and helping the poor; we scorn them for doing the right thing for the wrong reason, and meanwhile we don’t do the right thing at all for fear of doing it for the wrong reason.  Who is more justified, the ignorant person who obeys in their ignorance, or the knowledgeable person who does nothing?  Woe to us who do nothing.  We must recognize that Paul talked about not earning salvation through works in explicit reference to the Law, or Torah: salvation comes through Christ, not observance of the Law.  But what did Christ tell those who asked him what they must do to be saved?  “Sell everything you own and give it to the poor; then come and follow me” as he went about healing the sick, casting out demons, and challenging unjust social structures and institutions.  We cannot forget that context!  Luther had a context when he said it, too: in his day, sin was absolved through penance and indulgences, not through supplication to Christ.  Grace had been replaced by punishment, or bought through a system that extorted money from the poor by offering them their very salvation.  Grace and salvation were held by the Church, to be dispensed by the Church; they were no longer known to be free gifts from Christ available to all.  We cannot forget Luther’s context!

All of these false dichotomies work together to tear apart the Gospel and nullify the impact of the Church.  They bring division within the Church, and send different groups of us off to cover half of the gospel.  The evangelical gospel is that Jesus, who is God, wants to save them personally from a future torment that they’ve never seen, which will be inflicted by God unless they repent of their sins.  Meanwhile, we recognize God’s heart for the poor and deliver this gospel message primarily to them; but they’re already living in hell, usually as the victims of unjust social institutions that we in the first world support without even thinking about it.  Who cares about a future, spiritual Hell when every day is a physical hell right here and now, for themselves and their families?  The poor will listen to any sermon, and commit themselves to Jesus a thousand times, if it will feed their families.  In Luther’s time, the Church offered spiritual salvation to those who gave up their bread money and bought an indulgence; today, we withhold bread from the poor until they hear the gospel from us.  They starved people for salvation; we try to feed spiritual salvation to the starving.  Why can’t we get it together?

Theology in Relation to Other Disciplines

So I’ve been concerned, as my thesis approaches, that I’ve been drifting too close to sociology in my possible topics; but I can’t seem to help it.  Theology is not just theory, it must be enacted and lived, not only in the regular rehearsal of the Church but in every aspect of life.  As Bonhoeffer would say, the universe is itself already reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, and it is the essence of Christian Ethics to live in accordance with that reality – that is, to live as human beings before God, acknowledging the reality of our own reconciliation with God.

So if theology inevitably leads to ethics, where does ethics lead?  If I acknowledge that God cares for the widow and the orphan, that God is upset with systemic evil in the world, then how can I ignore the injustices of our society?  Thus, ethics leads inevitably to responding to social problems – a subject studied in-depth by the field of sociology.  It seems that no matter which topic I try to choose for my systematic theology thesis, it turns inevitably to a sociology paper!  Which has me thinking…what’s the relationship between these disciplines?  Do they interact, overlap, or oppose each other?

I’ve never read any John Milbank, but it was mentioned in one of my classes that he disagrees with even having sociology as a discipline.  To his mind, sociology is a competing metanarrative (metanarrative meaning “grand story” – i.e. a story of everything) to Christianity, and any valid insights that it can offer are already covered by systematic theology.  Therefore, in his mind, it shouldn’t even exist.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a (relatively) large sociology program at the Christian University I live at that sees no problem with sociology describing the way human beings interact with each other, the world, and even God.

One of the sociology profs here wrote a very good essay about the interaction between disciplines.  Typically, he notes, practitioners of different disciplines tend to give their own discipline priority over others, and treat interaction between the disciplines as either appropriating relevant insights from other fields, colonizing them by projecting their own field upon the other, or outright opposition.  In order for there to be dialogue, he notes, there must be a recognition of both parties equally; as long as each field gives themselves priority or sees themselves as superior, true dialogue cannot occur.

Thinking more about this, I started to draw.  Sometimes I find it helpful to make diagrams to see relationships.  The first diagram helped me get my ideas out, but having run it by the sociology prof and philosophy prof here, as well as my friend Joel, I’ve made a few changes.  Then I broke it down into stages (which I poorly drew in Paint) so I can show it to you:

If it’s too small to see properly, here’s the description:  The large circle represents God, and for the sake of this diagram we’ll say that this is also reality.  I don’t have the space to get into a philosophical discussion about whether and how God differs from reality; for now let’s just say that “in Him we live and move and have our being.”  God and reality are inseparable because reality is within God and held in a state of being by God.  The smaller circle represents “what we know” – the accumulation of human knowledge of reality and God.  Everything human beings have ever known is in the tiny little circle, which is much smaller than everything there is to know about God and reality – after all, we really don’t know very much compared to all there is to know.  The actual proportions are probably much, much different; I bet we know a lot less than we think we do, and even most of the stuff we think we know is probably wrong (and thus not pictured here).  Even so, we have our two circles: reality, and the little tiny bit that we really know about it.  Next picture:

Now, the little circle of “what we know” is now surrounded by four different disciplines.  For the sake of this diagram I chose Natural Sciences, Philosophy, Social Sciences, and Biblical Theology, but it’s really just to show different disciplines that often seem to butt heads or overlap.  Each of the disciplines here are contributing to the little circle of “what we know”, and each of them can do so equally from their own unique perspectives.  In my original diagram I was able to show that each of these disciplines describes reality (and God) as they see it through either the World (the natural world) or the Word (the Bible) – and thus Biblical Studies/Theology is equally important to the conversation.  Unfortunately, World and Word don’t fit as well in this diagram, but think of them as the ways in which we see reality and God – almost like a filter between us and what is real.  The little circle of “what we know” has been renamed “Metanarrative”, which is a “grand story” of everything: the way we understand the world as we know it.  All of the knowledge we have of the world fits into our metanarrative somehow.

Here in diagram 3 I’ve renamed our metanarrative “Christianity”, because I believe that all descriptions of reality are actually just describing what God has made and done, and of course everything we learn from the Word and World points to Him.  If I were an atheist, I’d have a different metanarrative – and Biblical Theology probably wouldn’t contribute much to it at all.  I’ve also added arrows to show that while the disciplines all contribute to what we know (which in turn has been systematized into our worldview, Christianity), what we know also contributes to the individual disciplines.  For example, there may be direct dialogue between two disciplines, but all of the disciplines tend to dialogue with each other indirectly, through what we already know; it is up to each scholar to be aware of this when it happens, and try to understand our own presuppositions so that they do not unknowingly affect our studies too much.  And out last diagram:

Here, all I’ve really added is that Christianity is both “embodied by the Church” and “described by Systematic Theology.”  This brings us back to the beginning: how does systematic theology relate to the social sciences (and every other discipline)?  By incorporating them.  All of the disciplines theoretically have equal opportunity to contribute to what we know, because they all study reality from a distinct viewpoint or approach.  We then systematize that knowledge into a worldview or metanarrative, which since we are Christian we call Christianity.  We of course must keep in mind that we don’t even know the half of it, and half of what we do know is wrong; even so, we can say that we do know something of reality and God, and hope that this is reflected in Christianity.  Christianity is then lived out by Christians – i.e. the Church – and described by Systematic Theology.

If we had a different metanarrative, the diagram would look rather different.  Many times, disciplines give themselves priority.  For example, a natural scientist with a “naturalist” or atheistic viewpoint (think Richard Dawkins or someone like that) would probably have “natural sciences” at or near the centre of the circle, and Biblical Theology probably wouldn’t be on the list at all; that worldview doesn’t have much room for anything else (see the previous post about postmodern suspicion of metanarratives for a critique of science as a metanarrative).  For many sociologists, sociology is at the centre of the circle – it can be a metanarrative too.  But here’s the point: it need not be.

So Milbank thinks that we shouldn’t have sociology because it is only a competing metanarrative to Christianity, and any insights it has to offer are already covered by systematic theology.  But if we see Systematic Theology as a descriptive enterprise, existing only to describe what we know about God and reality, then we need sociology to inform systematic theology even as systematic theology in turn informs our sociology.  In this model, systematic theology is a second-level discipline that incorporates all of the truth described by every other field (and hopefully weeds out the untruth at the same time).  Each of the disciplines is equally valid so long as they are presenting truth, because all truth describes God and his reality – the reality in which we are free to live as human beings before God, the reality of Jesus Christ.

Back to School: A Red Dawn?

Hello my friends,

School’s back! I slowed down a bit this summer, and produced some lighter faire (the Apology series, which I may continue periodically – we’ll see). But school’s back in, and I have some serious stuff to tackle this year. I’m taking my first and only sociology course this semester, called Global Problems and Change, so my writing might veer toward sociology a little bit. But I’m also taking a course called Research Methods, the goal of which is to present a thesis proposal by the end of next semester – which means that I’ll be reading a ton of theology this semester in preparation for my thesis. These two courses may end up working together, because my theology always leads to ethics (“how then shall we live?”) and my ethics inevitably lead toward social justice (caring for the orphan, the widow, the poor, the alien), which inevitably leads to the unjust system in which we live (sociology). I joked a few days ago that no matter which thesis topic I choose, I’ll end up writing a socialist manifesto…

Just to clarify, I’m not a communist. But I’m also most certainly not a capitalist. Also, I try to keep my anti-corporate, tree-hugging views off the blog so we can talk about God instead. But I’ve been finding more and more that talking about God leads to talking about what God loves and what God wants us to do, and more and more I’m finding that God wants us to take care of the earth and each other in responsible and radically generous ways. It just struck me that this is what happens when you’re dealing with a metanarrative: it affects your view of absolutely everything, and all topics overlap and run together. So I’m sorry if I take on a reddish tinge this semester: I just may begin a theological trend of North American Liberation Theology. Instead of “Black Power!” or “Power to the People!”, I’ll just say “All blessings and glory and honour and power be unto the King of Kings” and try to figure out what that looks like. I’d be honoured if you’d join me.

Apology: Other Religions

I saw this video on facebook today, and I figured it’s time I wrote this post on other religions.  The video isn’t really what I want to talk about, but it’s worth watching anyways.  I recognize that this post is very similar to the previous one (which I had forgotten about completely when I started writing this one), but it’s different enough that I’ll post it anyways (after all, I’ve already written it).

How do Christians see other religions?  This video gives good examples of two different views.  The first example, those who are eager to burn the Qur’an in a twisted commemoration of 9/11, are the radical extremists that tend to get the media spotlight.  The speakers in the film would likely be labelled as “liberals” by many more radical Christians, but I’d say that they exhibit all of the traits of moderation.  If I had to categorize three different Christian responses to other religions (of course it’s much deeper than that, but let’s generalize for a minute), they would be as follows:

1. Syncretism.  This option is usually considered the most “liberal” option possible.  As well as accepting people of other religions, a syncretist accepts their religions as well, making other religions a part of their own religion either by mixing them together or else by claiming allegiance to many religions at the same time, and in both cases ignoring the religion’s claims to exclusivity.  This is an eyes-wide-shut approach, because it belittles each religion that it melds together.

2. Dialogue.  This is the moderate option, in which it is possible to tolerate a person of another religion without accepting their views.  Disagreement, combined with civility and interaction, lead to dialogue in which the knowledge of both parties can be shared and the perceptions of both parties can be challenged and reformed.  I am able to love and acknowledge a person of another religion without converting to his cause, or even agreeing with him, and honest dialogue and even debate gives room for mutually beneficial examination of both of our religions, as well as ample opportunity to bear witness to the work of Christ by explaining my faith and understanding of God.  Disagreements continue within Christianity about how much witness and attempt to convert should play a role in interfaith dialogue; at worst, an attempt to convert another person can be the only reason for dialogue, which is actually just demeaning to the other person and their faith because it shows that you have very little interest in dialogue at all; it’s a monologue.  On the other hand, if we hold back from bearing witness to what Christ has done and is doing, we do our own religion a disservice and, since we believe it to be true, we do our friend a disservice by failing to present it accurately.  Either way, if we have honest and civil dialogue, it’s win-win.

3. Hatred and fear.  People hate what they fear, and they fear what they don’t understand.  There are many (who will usually claim some label of “conservative”) who see every other religion not merely as error (i.e. that people who follow other religions simply misunderstand God because they lack complete revelation of him) but as a direct tool of Satan (“the devil”) used to distract, mislead, or pervert people.  In the worst situations, they see people who follow other religions as active participants in the perversion of the world, often claiming that these people worship Satan or the like.  They occasionally make public statements such as the group we saw above who wants to burn the Qur’an, and demonize anyone who disagrees with them (though they usually only call Christians who disagree with them “liberals” – which may actually be worse, in their eyes).  The answer to this problem is to convert all of the heathens (as Ann Coulter loves to prescribe), at which point a person would be welcomed as a brother who moments before was at best pitied and at worst outright despised.  The especially frustrating thing about groups of Christians who hate and fear those of other religions so much is that, in general, they not only know nothing about them but that they don’t even want to know anything about them.  The knowledge of other religions that gets passed around in these groups is the worst kind of rumour, libel and urban legend – the same sort of things that the Nazis did to the Jews (and still happens in some countries today).  Honestly seeking knowledge of other religions, in deeply “conservative” circles, borders on apostasy – so the cycle of fearing what you don’t know and hating what you fear just keeps going.

I don’t know God’s plan for people from other religions; see the last post if you want to see more about my thought on that.  The point is, no matter what God’s plan for them is, he’s very clear on the necessity of loving them here and now – even if they’re my enemies.  I’m sorry if a Christian ever tried to justify war or violence based on religious issues.  I’m sorry if a Christian has ever despised or harmed you based on religious reasons.  The fact of the matter is, those people must be as ignorant of their own religion as they are of yours if they think that they are ever justified in that.  I’m also sorry if a Christian tried to tell you that all religions are the same; this shows just as much ignorance, and a poor understanding of truth and reality to boot.  There’s all sorts of issues surrounding the meeting of East and West, or Islamic and Christian cultures, as Muslims immigrate to the West – and there’s all sorts of ideas about how to deal with it.  But one thing I know for sure is that ignorance is never the way forward.

So this 9/11, read a book.