I read a commentary recently regarding ISIS, the recent attacks in Paris, and San Bernardino, CA. The author drew a moral equivalent between what he referred to as radical Muslims and radical Christians, referencing the KKK and abortion clinic bombers as radical Christians along side the likes of the jihadists. Though he condemned acts of violence from both parties, I think he, like many, misunderstand and misapply the terms they use in respect to religion.
There are many labels being thrown around these days, creating much confusion about who is, and who is not, a radical as well as who is, and who is not, a moderate when it comes to the practice of these particular religious ideologies, and the confusion is not helpful as we try to combat the hate and violence that we are seeing with frightening frequency and intensity.
What does the term radical mean? Well, it can mean quite a variety of things depending upon the subject matter and the presupposition of the user of the term. One could say, for instance, that Jesus was a radical in terms of bringing a teaching that seemed contrary to the socio-religious climate of His day, yet I imagine that we would never categorize His commands to “love God” or “love your neighbor”1 as radical thoughts. Radical can mean extreme, fanatical, even militant, in a negative sense, or thorough, rigorous, and complete, in a positive sense.
While many scholars have sought to understand Muslim practice by deciphering the Qur’an, I think an examination of the actions of Mohammed and the origins of Islam, might be a better place to begin, just as an examination of Jesus’ life and early church practice helps to understand authentic christianity. In the study of these, we will find what is, and is not, truly radical in the positive sense of the word.
While it is true that Mohammed was a peaceful man in his early (Meccan period) years, preaching a peaceful message of tolerance, even advocating for orphans and widows, that cannot be said of his latter years. After moving to Medina in 622, the peaceful “prophet” became a warmongering murderer, inciting violence wherever he and his (now political) followers went.2 When we examine the historical record, we find that his most ardent followers, have in turn, created terror throughout the civilized world.3 These are not then radical in the negative sense of the word, but authentic Muslims -so radical, in the best sense of the word.
By contrast, when one examines the teachings and practice of Jesus and the first century Apostles, you find the highest teaching on love,4 morality,5 and sacrifice 6 that the world has ever know. The message of the gospel of Jesus is certainly an aggressive one, but it is one where love and reason are the methods of recruitment, rather than Mohammedan tactic of terror and coercion. You simply will not find, in the historical record, anything but the message of love, inspired by Jesus’ early followers. So, radical Christians, are individuals who strictly follow the examples and doctrines of Jesus and the Apostles, -they are radical lovers.
Some of the confusion is exacerbated by a misunderstanding of what it actually means to be a Christian. Many people in America self-identify as Christians, yet would not hold to many of the teachings of Jesus or the early church. For example, Jesus taught that to actually be a follower of His, one needed to be reborn spiritually,7 not simply claim His name.8 There are a great number of cultural Christians -individuals who identify as Christians, even attend church services, yet do not hold to many of the beliefs that Jesus taught. They may not be Christians at all, even though that is how they identify themselves.
The same is true with Islam. With an estimated 1.6 billion adherents,10 many of them are cultural muslims, who may practice some tenants of the faith, but live vastly different lives, and have much more secular views than the author of their tradition. These moderates are in fact, the Muslims that ISIS and it’s so-called radical counterparts have no problem killing as infidels. As one former Muslim, Brother Rachid, has testified in a statement directed at President Obama,”they consider them infidels and not Muslims.”11
Our secular society values impotent religion over what it considers fanatical religion. I believe that is a major contributing factor to what has become a confusion of terms. Many would like Christians to simply be nice people and be quiet about their faith, that is the politically correct and acceptable form of religious expression, and so they would like the same for practitioners of Islam. This is the false hope of President Obama, and many of the talking heads, but it is just that –a false hope. Neither authentic religious expression will be killed off. One will continue to kill, conquer, and subjugate, the other will, love, help, and give –until Messiah returns.
1. Matthew 22:36-40
2. “The Historical Muhammad:
The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly” / David Wood, 4truth.net
3. “Jihad vs Crusades” / Bill Warner. PhD.
4.John 13:34; John 15:9 / Jesus Christ ; 1 Corinthians 13, Romans 5:8 / Paul the Apostle ; 1 Peter 4:8 / Peter the Apostle ; 1 John 4:7-15 / John the Apostle …the author could perhaps cite an endless amount of New Testament references.
5. Matthew 5
6. John 10:17;John 15:13; Romans 12
7. John 3:1-21
8. Matthew 7:21-23
9. Matthew 10:6;
10. Pew Research Center, April 2015
11. “A Message To President Obama From A Former Muslim”@6:12 / Brother Rachid