“The difference in the position of women was indeed one of the most striking contrasts between Christian and Muslim practice, and is mentioned by almost all travelers in both directions. Christianity, of all churches and denominations, prohibits polygamy and concubinage. Islam, like most other non-Christian communities, permits both . . . The status of women, though probably the most profound single difference between the two civilizations, attracted far less attention than such matters as guns, factories and parliaments” (Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? pp. 66-67).
“What were the hidden springs of imagination, high up in the hills, that were to feed the broad river of the Reformation?” (Peter Matheson, The Imaginative World of the Reformation, p. 4).
“Anyone who can write a children’s story without a moral, had better do so: that is, if he is going to write children’s stories at all. The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author’s mind” (C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds, p. 33).
[Speaking of tradition as servant] “But notice how this leaves us with room for a necessary doctrine of subordinate spiritual authorities. The elders of a local church, Christian parents bringing up children in the fear of the Lord, and convocations of theologians three centuries ago are all lawful authorities, deputized as such in Scripture. They have the authority to teach and make decisions. They do not do so infallibly, and they are not ultimate. God’s deacons, God’s ministers, are never God’s replacement, but they are in fact His servants. Appeal can and should be made beyond them when necessary. But the fact that a case may be appealed beyond them to an ultimate infallible authority does not mean that the initial authority is no authority” (Mother Kirk, p. 62).
“Men naturally are wanton in nothing more than in the things of religion; and corrupt spirits are bent upon and pleased with opposition in these things above any other” (Burroughs, Irenicum, p. 29).
Our intent is to contrast some of the key differences between the biblical Christian faith and Islam, and to do so in a way that leads us to see the fountainhead of those differences, which is the triune nature of God, over against the radical monotheism found in Islam. In other words the differences are not arbitrary, but rather flow from our respective understandings of God.
“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man”
(1 Cor. 11:7).
“A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones”
As a congregation, we have spent a good bit of time studying the biblical understanding of the relationship of women to men. We have done this in part because it is an important part of our lives, and we all obviously need to learn how to be Christians in our marriages and homes. But another reason for doing this is because the Bible plainly teaches the submission of wives to theirr own husbands (Eph. 5: 22; Col. 3: 18; 1 Cor. 11:3). The word submission is one that a few have not allowed the Bible to define, and have rather imported their own ideas of what “submission must mean.” Not surprisingly, this carnal understanding has meant there has been an unfortunate growth of assumptions about women in conservative Christian circles that can be called more Muslim than Christian. But we see in our two texts this morning that a Christian woman’s submission is her glory. She is valued by her husband the way Christ values the Church, and she is exalted to a place of glory and prominence. She is not wrapped up and hidden away at home, but rather is her husband’s glory and crown. But we reject, just as strongly, the decadent notion that women are to be paraded around like they were hoochie-mamas—which is not a word you ordinarily hear in sermons. Rather, they are honored as ladies, as Christian women, as types and figures of the Church.
The Source of the Problem:
With raw monotheism, the basic relationship that the god must have with the world is one of raw power. Everything is a power relation, and the fundamental response to this power is one of craven submisssion. Because we become like what we worship (Ps. 115: 8), if a man worships a god like this, then when he gets into a place where he can wield power, then that is precisely what he does. Authority is not incarnational (because there is no such thing as an Incarnation), but rather authority becomes an excuse to be “the boss.”
What Islam Teaches:
The problems are not in spite of the Koran, but find their source in the Koran. “Men have authority over women because God has mde the one superior to the other . . . Good women are obedient . . . As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them” (Surah 4: 34). Notice the emphasis on force or coercion. Because men are in a position to demand, nothing is seen as wrong with them demanding. Force provides its own justification, and men are not being unlike Allah when they do this.
Women are held to be deficient and inferior. This is not the submission of an equal, the kind of submission that Christ rendered to the Father (Phil. 2: 5-6). For example, two women are required to serve as witnesses comparable to one man (Surah 2:282). To show why this is true, one hadith puts it this way: “The Prophet said, ‘Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?’ The women said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is because of the deficiency of a woman’s mind.’” And, following the example of Allah, those in an inferior position may always be forced
This obviously has unfortunate sexual ramifications. “If you fear that you cannot treat orphans with fairness, then you may marry other women who seem good to you: two, three, or four of them. But if you fera that you cannot maintain equality among them, marry only or any slave-girls you may own” (Surah 4:3). Notice two things here. The first is that the verse assumes that it is the weaker man who might not be up to polygamy. Contrast this with the Christian example of the godly Christian leader: he must be a “one-woman man” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). Second, notice that the limit of four is not on women generally, but rather on wives. You can have as many slave girls as you want (Surah 70:30). This comes out in yet another way in the doctrine of multiple companions for Muslim men in Paradise. “Gardens watered by running streams, where they shall dwell forever: spouses of perfect chastity . . .” (Surah 3:15ff). These women are called houris; there are 72 of them per man, and each man has the stamina of one hundred men. And Shi’ite Islam follows a variant reading of the Koran (4:24) that allows for term-limit marriages—which amounts to a “rent-a-wife” program. And consider this: “You shall not force your slave-girls into prostitution in order that you may enrich yourselves, if they wish to preserve their chastity” (Surah 24:33). Notice the conditional here, that little word if. It should not take too much reflection for Christians to decide that something is seriously and pathologically distorted here.
Fanaticism Does Not Understand Itself:
In March 2002, fifteen girls were killed in a fire at their school in Mecca. Because only women were in the school, they had shed their outer garments, and when the fire broke out, they fled the building in that condition. The Saudi religious police (the muttawa) fought to chase them back into the burning building, preferring their deaths to any public displays of immodesty. The muttawa battled the police and firemen who were trying to get the school’s doors open.
Pretended Common Sense:
There are many complications when we in the West assume that certain standards are “common sense,” and are common to all human societies. The problem with this assumption is that it is just flat wrong. Much of our “common sense” is actually Christian. Now when we consider how we as a society will treat women, it becomes immediately obvious that a society cannot be “neutral” on which set of assumptions we will codify in our laws.
Take a more realistic mindset from the British colonial experience in Hindu India. Sir Charles Napier, a British general there, had this to say when some Hindus complained about restrictions on suttee—the custom of burning widows alive on their husbands’ funeral pyres. “Yousay that it is your custome to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”
I have wondered why it is that, whenever the media wants me to worry about incipient terror attacks, they frequently show me footage of masked men on monkey bars. Somewhere in the Middle East, some men in pajamas swing menacingly toward the camera, and I am supposed to sign up for increased restrictions on my civil liberties. Don’t get me wrong. I believe Islam is a very real threat to the West. But it is not the kind of threat that Fox News has made it out to be.
I have mentioned before the essay by Francis Fukuyama in which he declares the “end of history.” By this he does not mean that stuff stops happening, but rather that we finally have managed to clamber off the Hegelian see-saw. We have settled on liberal democracy as the way to govern ourselves, and it is here we shall stay. But in the midst of this essay, Fukuyama acknowledges something astonishing.
“The rise of religious fundamentalism in recent years within the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions has been widely noted. One is inclined to say that the revival of religion in some way attests to a broad unhappiness with the impersonality and spiritual vacuity of liberal consumerist societies. Yet while the emptiness at the core of liberalism is most certainly a defect in the ideology – indeed, a flaw that one does not need the perspective of religion to recognize” (“The End of History?, p. 9, emphasis mine).
This acknowledgement reminds me of an old Monty Python skit where a television interviewer is talking to a man who claims to be Queen Elizabeth I. The host raises a series of objections, which the interviewee deftly handles, but finally the interviewer says, “But Queen Elizabeth has been dead for three and half centuries!” And the man responds, “Yes, well that’s where my theory falls apart.” Fukuyama has declared the City we have built to be invincible . . . but he admits that the city is hollow.
We are currently governed by practioners of realpolitik, men who believe that we can be manipulated indefinitely by images of threatened terror from external and alien sources. So far they have been largely correct; we have been so manipulated. But the Bush-haters are very much a part of this charade because they agree that, in order to constitute a threat, the problem must be a military one. And they, just like Bush, are champions of making the real problem with Islam worse. The fans of the current war on terror say that this is in fact the central threat, while the surrender monkeys say that there is no such threat. But what if the problem is coming from another direction entirely? The problem is babies, not boxcutters. The problem is faith, not Fallujah. The problem is that hollow cities cannot stand. If you do not know who you are, then you have nothing to say to those at the gates who demand to be let in. This just another way of saying that the crisis of our times is religious and demographic, not military and political. And in this setting, Islam is a very potent threat indeed.
My point is not to quarrel with those who say that the “war on terror” is the defining event of our times. I would be willing to debate with such people — if they existed. But even President Bush does not believe this. If we really were in a fight for our lives, if this particular threat really were right outside the gates, then our airports would be bastions of unabashed racial profiling. We would discriminate like crazy. Young males from Saudi Arabia would have to show up at the airport two days early to catch a flight. There would not be a single radical madrassah operating anywhere in the United States. Radical imams would find that preaching sedition in “moderate” mosques provided them with no protection whatever, and they would be summarily deported — instead of being recruited to say a little something at one of our inane prayer breakfasts. Under the current conditions, none of this kind of thing is even remotely possible, from which it may be concluded that whoever is running this country is not that worried about it. And if they are not, then why should I be? But if they want me to worry about it, while they continue blithely on, then I for one decline to do so. And at some point I might be prevailed upon to start asking what their game is.
Try to imagine this if you can. It is a couple years after Pearl Harbor. We are technically at war with Japan. And yet, all over America, thousands of Japanese-Americans still show up at shrines in order to worship Hirohito. Other American citizens standing by say something like, “What’s with that?” and find themselves hustled into sensitivity classes for the celebration of diversity. And in this situation, Roosevelt tries to convince us that he is really serious about prosecuting the war on “surprise attacks against naval installations, although Japan rightly understood remains a deep friend of the United States.” Yeah, right. Call me when you think it’s serious.
“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)
Growing Dominion, Part 106
“The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit” (Prov. 18:11).
The Bible is full of warnings about the false security of wealth. It does provide a measure of security, as everyone knows, but the temptation for rich people is to universalize how yesterday went, to render universal by induction. Since I have had no trouble thus far, I will not have trouble in the future. This takes the rich from gratitude into idolatry. A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and the history of the world tells us plainly that one of the things that strong cities do is fall. His wealth is a high wall, and history is also full of successful escalades. The rich fool in Christ’s parable had just this problem when he mused to himself that it was time to build larger barns. Throughout Scripture, wealth is described as a blessed and blessing servant. But it is a tyrannical and treacherous and incompetent master.