It’s The Thought That Counts… I Guess

Topping the list of really strange news stories this morning, we find a Roman Catholic Biship in Amsterdam who has suggested that everyone should start calling God Allah in order to further understanding with the Muslim community.  Hoo boy, this can’t end well.

On one hand I’m willing to give the Bishop credit for extending the olive branch in such a manner.  Considering that the two faiths have been at odds with each other for centuries, and in such a way that long after the crusades there is still severe underlying tensions, gestures such as this should not go unnoticed.  I find it somewhat touching and poignant that a man of the cloth, particularly a Bishop in one of the most regimented factions of Christianity, would offer so much in the name of peace and better relations with a significant population of the world.

On the other hand, I also find the gesture incredibly dumb, and for three main reasons.  For one, it is a gesture made without a deep understanding of the Muslim peoples, and risks overstepping its bounds.  While some like to draw points of similarities between the two religions, and actually consider them parallel faiths to the same deity (I actually to a degree prescribe to this concept, though that’s a conversation for another day), it should be inherently obvious that not everyone carries this view.

In making a gesture like this to the world’s Muslim community, it could be seen as an overt act of assimilation; a negation of the significance of their faith as a seperate entity to the churches of Christ.

Conversely, the very same gesture is likely, as pointed out by the article, to create widespread animosity within one’s own religious community by muddling the identity of the Catholic faith.  Further, hawks will likely see this as giving in to terrorism, and while I’m widely skeptical of this view in general, there are details and specifics to give this particular argument at least the ring of truth.

Finally, though the gesture seeks to do good in its intention, it falls very short of the kind of reform and inroads that do actually need to be made.  Contrary to this concession, there does need to be greater understanding of both the Muslim faith and the Muslim community throughout the world, but this is not the way.  We need to embrace an education of the Quran and the traditional teachings of Islam as well as the modern moderate evolved faith that we should be passionately seeking as a true friend and ally throughout the world.

Make no mistake here, I’m not advocating in any way conversion to the faith, but by education I mean a healthy intellectual investigation that goes beyond learning what is necessary to reinforce prejudices, agendas, and ideology.  That means not stopping at the old standbys of “Islam means surrendor to God” and what not.  It means seeking to understand how today’s peaceful, moderate Muslim practices and studies their faith and incorporates that faith into a morality system that allows them to become valued members of the global citizenry.

Understanding and acceptance.  And of course the first part of this is realizing that any faith of any color can be misused for ill purposes.  In addressing the Muslim world of today, Christians would do well to explore the darker history of their own pasts, not to feel shame about what has been done in the name of their church, but in the spirit of that greater understanding that will allow us to realistically realize that there are millions of Muslims in the world today who are just as ashamed and disgusted with what is carried out in the name of their faith as some Christians are when they read headlines about Fred Phelps picketing the grave of a soldier who fell in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But ultimately, this quirky little story goes to highlight something significant about the struggle we face today.  A battle of ideologies as we have experienced through the Cold War is difficult, there can be no doubt of this.  However, due to the personal and spiritual nature of Religion, one must realize that the implications and complexities of a conflict that is charged with faith-based undertones, and in some case blatant overtones, can be far more perilous.

Under the stewardship of George W. Bush, we have negotiated this spiritual landmine with unabashed wrecklessness and clumsiness and have as a result only weakened our position.  The time for prudence is at hand, and while the wisdom of this Bishop’s actions is sorely lacking, he should at the very least get some credit for trying.

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