Rod Dreher of The American Conservative jumped into the fray of the debate regarding Islamic violence sparked by the Boston Marathon bombing. As I mentioned in a previous post, Dreher came to the defense of Andrew Sullivan’s insistence that Islam is inherently violent–though not violent in an absolute sense. Both Sullivan and Dreher followed this up by claiming that the connection between Islam–more specifically, the Koran–and violence differs substantially from Christianity in so far as violence acts done in the name of the Christian god* are deviations from the way the Christian god would have his believers behave. Dreher’s position may be summarized in his own words:
When a Christian murders, as many have done, sometimes with church sanction, he acts in direct contravention of Christ’s example and command. When a Muslim murders, he sometimes carries out Muhammad’s command, which is to say, Allah’s.
Admittedly, of course, not all Muslims are murderers. Dreher admits as much without hesitation. There is a caveat, however:
Now, it must be said that not all Muslims are bound to be murderers. That would be cruel and foolish, and demonstrably untrue. But it is also true that the Quran contains a number of verses ordering the Islamic faithful to commit violence against unbelievers (e.g., “Slay them wherever ye find them…”).
Were Dreher to take this further, he could have (or should have?) just said that Muslims are being inconsistent not to kill unbelievers–if this is in fact a mandate for all Muslims at all times in all places. Dreher doesn’t do this, though. (Robert Wright’s book, “The Evolution of God” provides a more balanced approach to religion and violence, especially in regard to the Koran and Islamic violence in history. He also does an excellent job of comparing and contrasting the violent texts within the Tanakh and the Koran.)
It’s at this point where Dreher goes balls-to-the-wall in the direction of the indefensible. He states, and I’ll quote:
You simply don’t have that in Christianity (and please don’t say, “But the Old Testament!”; you simply reveal that you’re ignorant about how mainstream historical Christianity thinks and works).
Allow me, then, to get this out of the way: But the Old Testament! Then allow me to follow this up with an insistence that it’s as unrealistic as it in indefensible for Dreher to contend that people who say as much are ignorant of how so-called mainstream historical Christianity really thinks and works.
Kicking if off with the obvious seems fair: it’s practically impossible for one to determine, at least in any objectively authoritative way, what mainstream historical Christianity is. Sure, there have been some tenets embraced by most Christians during some times in many places; the idea, however, that there currently is (or ever has been!) one faith at all times and in all places that can be objectively defined or even recognized as “mainstream historical Christianity” is a gross display of sectarian well-wishing. Christianity hasn’t been, is not, and likely never shall be something static. And with the exception of adherents–particularly those who believe they have heaven or hell on the line–Christians would be hard-pressed to find any well-informed person willing to grant that the so-called Christian religion** hasn’t qualitatively and quantitively changed over the past 2,000 years.
Central to the problem is the nature of authority within Christianity. I have spoken on this subject many times over the years, particularly in reference to what I believed to be one of the many strengths of the more apostolic traditions such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy–view videos here and here. From the outside looking in, though, the strengths of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are only strengths in so far as their particular sects are concerned. So long as (and in so far as) either institution recognizes key ingredients of ecumenism, these strengths become peculiarities pertaining to only a few sects within a greater network of sects (or religions?) recognized, by and large, to be Christian. (I could go in to how the so-called Baptism of Blood, Baptism of Desire, Invincible Ignorance and the alteration of understanding regarding Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus assist in making my case here, but I’ll refrain.)
As it stands, Christianity has splintered into a radically diverse religion–or a loosely-defined mishmash of different religions with some degree of commonality. These differences aren’t merely semantic. Sticking with Dreher’s point regarding the Old and New Testaments, one could point out the lack of clarity in the various creeds. And even were one sect or another to bring about clarity via creed or catechism, these are only recognized by adherents to be obligatory on any and all identifying as Christian or, more common than not, obligatory only upon those who identity with any particular sect seeking clarity and uniformity via creed or catechism.
What of the jot and the tittle, then? Is there continuity? Is there discontinuity? Does covenantalism better exemplify the so-called mainstream historical Christian position regarding the Old and New Testaments? Or does something akin to dispensationalism better describe the relationship between the two? Is Christianity an entirely different religion from that of the Old Testament? Or is it a continuation and fulfillment of the Old, preserving some things, discarding others, and reforming the rest? And what are we to make of beliefs such as the immutability of God, that the Old Testament (including the Torah and historical narratives) was inspired by that immutable god and that these laws and narratives, at bare minimum, inform Christians as to their god’s interaction (all having moral implications) with people in human history? How are Christians to distinguish between laws they are to adhere to (e.g. Ten Commandments) and those laws and narratives they may disregard as not really reflecting the nature and will of their god? Salvage the 10 Commandments of Exodus 20 but scrap the case laws of the following chapters, as well as the historical narratives giving these mandates clarity and authority? Lastly, and most importantly, even if a particular sect were to come up with answers to each and every one of these difficulties, how would this determine what human history recognizes as mainline historical Christianity? Would it be obligatory upon any Christian not belonging to that particular sect? Would non-Christians be obliged to refrain from identifying as Christian certain sects not reflecting the sectarian decree of another sect? We could go on and on here, but I’m not fond of beating dead horses.
Dreher’s unsubstantiated and indefensible insistence that people crying “But the Old Testament!” are revealing their ignorance of how mainline historical Christianity really works may not have fallen on deaf ears; but it did, nevertheless, fall of its own weight upon its own sword. His final line is both significant and revealing:
To say that all religions are basically the same is ahistorical, ignorant, and even dangerous.
True enough, I suppose, but as much applies to those networked in the mishmash of sects (or religions?) self-identifying (and being publicly recognized) as Christian. It seems, in the end and at the bottom line, that Dreher has revealed his own ignorance of how Christianity has thought and worked, both in history and at present.
* I refer to the Christian god, singular, throughout the entry. I do not, however, believe that’s very accurate as Christians often differ dramatically concerning the nature and being of God. This isn’t reserved to the likes of Oneness Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses as it is also true regarding in-group differences among Trinitarians.
** I believe that the word Christianity is misleading in so far as it fails to reflect the quality and quantity of diversity within both individuals and groups self-identifying (and being publicly recognized) as Christian.
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