Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Willingness to die: True religion and fakery

This video is doing the rounds on Facebook. In it, with a chilling smile on her face, a "Palestinian" mother chats with a reporter about how she hopes her son will grow up to be a suicide bomber. She talks about how she considers death to be "normal" and how all her people, including children, hope for martyrdom and are unafraid of death in the cause they serve. That cause, she makes clear, is the total destruction of the Jewish state of Israel and the complete takeover of Jerusalem by the Palestinian Arabs. The worst part of it is that the conversation takes place while her child is being medically treated by the very Jewish people she is hoping he will grow up and kill. (Note: It seems to me to be possible that the video is mis-labeled as far as timing. It may be a scene from the documentary Precious Life, which is several years old. See this story. If so, the reporter claims that the mother gradually changed her mind about the value of human life and even came to hope for peace with Israel in the course of the filming. I haven't been able to verify that the video is indeed a snippet from that movie, but it seems likely, as the dialogue quoted is similar.)

As I listened to her, I was struck by the fact that in its glorification of so-called "martyrs"--suicide bombers--Islam is taking an important Christian idea and twisting it. No lie, of course, is so powerful as the lie that starts with truth and then corrupts that truth. The truth is that we should be willing to give up our lives for a cause greater than ourselves. Christians teach their children this as well. The hymn "Faith of Our Fathers" says, speaking of the heroes of old, "And truly blest would be our fate, if we, like them, should die for Thee. Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee till death."

But Christian martyrdom could not be more different from Muslim "martyrdom." Christian martyrdom consists in refusing to deny Christ or in carrying out some noble task such as missions, even if this means that one is killed by one's enemies. Christian martyrs going back to Stephen ask God to forgive their enemies, in this following our Lord Jesus Christ's prayer on the cross.

It is a wicked perversion of the desire for transcendence to admire as martyrs those whose entire goal is to kill innocent civilians and who kill themselves in the process. To teach children to grow up to be "martyrs" of this type is an abuse of their innocence.

Islam is a counterfeit religion, and here we see one aspect of its fakery: Islam counterfeits Christian martyrdom and harnesses, in the service of murder, the human desire to give ultimate service to a transcendent cause.

There is an apologetic point to the contrast as well. If you do much work in Christian apologetics at all, it is guaranteed that sooner or later someone will dismiss the disciples' willingness to die for their testimony by saying, "A lot of people are willing to die for what they believe," instancing suicide bombers, Japanese kamikaze pilots, and who knows what else. Most discouraging of all is when that sort of flippant dismissal comes from a fellow Christian who, for whatever reason, wants to dismiss the historical case for Christianity as weak.

Not only did the apostles not commit murder like Muslim suicide bombers, not only did they not die in war, like Japanese pilots, not only were they not under the spell of a charismatic leader who urged them to suicide, like the followers of Jim Jones. Beyond all of that, they were willing to die not for an ideology but for their testimony to specific, empirical facts that they had heard and seen for themselves. They did not die, nor did they risk death, merely for a feeling, merely for a desire to serve something beyond themselves. Their cause was not a political policy nor even a religion but rather a Person whom they had seen alive again after his death. Their cause, to put it as bluntly as possible, was plain fact, fact so clear and undeniable to them that they could not deny it on pain of being deceivers themselves. The relevance of this point to the evidential value of their testimony would be difficult to stress too strongly.

We must pray for those who worship death, like this "Palestinian" mother. We should also pray for her son, that he learns the truth of the Gospel. Let us offer to our own children the true concept of martyrdom, the true willingness to die for our faith, and let us teach them the difference between that and counterfeits. And let us thank God for the apostles, who offered their lives that we might know the truth, and that the truth might set us free.


William Luse said...

The source of this mother's hatred (and of all like her) is still a mystery to me. It's as though in much of the Arab world the Jews are a sort of virus that needs exterminating. Imagine the entire American Indian nation - every man, woman, and child - spending all its time in hatred and thinking up ways to kill the rest of us. It makes me wonder if there is not something in Islam that facilitates, or nurtures this hatred.

Lydia McGrew said...

The Indian analogy is useful and instructive, because it shows that, even if we were to grant all manner of premises about the founding of Israel which we aren't required to grant, the inveterate hatred and refusal to bury the hatchet (pun intended) would be utterly unjustified. Nobody thinks that Americans should give back the site of some great city to the Indians, even if a true tale could be told of the Trail of Tears. Nor would Indian suicide bombing be an accepted "thing" in the name of the stolen land.

Certainly there *is* something in Islam that nourishes that hatred: There are explicitly anti-semitic hadiths, for example, including the infamous one about killing a Jew hiding behind a rock which you've probably read.

In fact, though my main post implies that Islam is a counterfeit of Christianity, it is at least as much a counterfeit of Judaism. The dietary laws have obvious similarities. The insistence upon ritual washing is a rather striking similarity, as is the strict observance of particular days. The explicitly anti-Trinitarian monotheism is common both to Islam and to Judaism as it has developed in the AD period. Muslims have a reinterpretation of Abraham himself, making him out to be some sort of proto-Muslim before Mohammad. And so forth.

So the competition there is fierce from the Muslim side, and a *Jewish* state, particularly, in the midst of the Arab world, is a kind of affront and stain that cannot be wiped out in the Arab mind until and unless the state itself is wiped out.

Tony said...

I have wondered about this "I hope my kids grow up to be suicide bombers" too: I wonder if it might even be counterfeit Islam.

Now, there is a lot I don't know about Islam, so I could easily wrong. But it seems to me that Mohammad preached conversion by the sword: either convert or die. I can imagine a so-called "good" Muslim secretly, at night, stalking non-Muslims with a sword, pinning them to a wall, giving them an immediate choice, and killing the ones who even hesitate. And I can imagine a few who are willing to do this by the light of day and become martyrs when after the 3rd or 4th the police come and he is killed in a fight. In a strange, (yes, twisted) sense, this would be following the explicit prescriptions of Mohammad and in that twisted way would be a "hero".

But a suicide bomber fails at 2 things: one, he fails to give the others an opportunity to convert, he never makes the choice available straight up. Secondly, there is (as far as I know, which is tiny) nothing in the Koran or haddiths that promote killing yourself just in order to kill the enemy. It seems like a cowardly way to behave for a soldier of God. A true religious warrior should be willing to go out there and actually fight with the enemy, actually let God's power flow through him to give him victory OVER the enemy, not give him defeat WITH the enemy. A suicide approach (when you are not already captured) seems completely foreign to the whole notion of being God's hand to smite wrongdoers. (That's treating non-Muslims as wrongdoers, instead of as potential converts, of course, which speaks to the other problem above).

Now I have heard (by hearsay) that there are Koran parts that say that God prefers the conversion of an infidel rather than his death, though I don't know if that is true. I just think it unlikely that Mohammad told his warriors to be suicide killers.

Which leads me to the plausible conclusion that (a) this suicide teaching is actually false even within Islam, and (b) probably those who teach it know it is not really there in Islam, and thus (c) it is manipulative and hypocritical of the teachers to teach it. (Which says nothing about like murder and religious war being against Islam.) Even if one were to grant that these leaders and teachers are religious zealots, it still wouldn't be true that their teaching others to suicide springs out of their religion, so it would really have to be zeal for some other goal or principle. That is, they are really not religious zealots so much as some other kind - like political.

Lydia McGrew said...

I agree that historically, conversion by the sword was central to Islam and suicide terrorism wasn't. However, there are a couple more things to throw into the mix. First of all, there is Islamic anti-semitism, which really does go back a looong way, and which I would say is _not_ foreign to Islam. So in this scenario, they are fighting a Jewish state, and that makes a difference to what they consider religiously justified.

Second, there is the issue of war. The argument is that this is a kind of total war and that there are no real Israeli civilians. That argument has been made explicitly by apologists for the "Palestinian" cause. Even, unfortunately, some Christians get their heads all messed up ethically when someone says, "What about in war?" So it's entirely plausible that this is not thought of as a war in order to spread Islam in a traditional way but just as war, period. As war to regain "sacred" ground that belongs to them by right. Hence, that activities are justified that would not be justified in an "ordinary" situation where one is merely trying to spread the religion by the most effective means.

Lydia McGrew said...

This page has some useful verses and summaries.


I hadn't known that bin Laden had issued a corporate invitation to Americans to embrace Islam before 9/11. How he would have known if "enough" Americans embraced Islam is unclear. The on-going situation in Israel with the "Palestinians" is *undeniably* such that they would be regarded as, corporately, refusing to embrace Islam and therefore ripe for destruction. I think it is probably a projection of our Western individualism if we take it that the "invitation" to convert must be given on an individual basis before killing.

Note too the hadith in which killing noncombatants is justified.

Tony said...

Perhaps one of the stranger things to a Christian about understanding Muslims and the Quran is that (unlike the Bible) apparently you don't interpret the whole Quran as if earlier texts can shed light on the later ones, it is always and only the other way around: the later ones completely control the earlier ones. This apparently for 2 reasons, first because the book was written sequentially in Mohammad's life, so it is semi-biographical. Secondly, because (from what little I can glean) the earlier temperate passages are cast into meaninglessness by the later immoderate violence was demanded. Thus apparently the inspiration for the earlier texts was not quite up to anticipating the later texts all that well, and any apparent inconsistencies are resolved by effectively saying that they are inconsistent and thus the later ones tell us to disregard the earlier.

Which doesn't really say much for it being an inspired book, I grant you. But hey, we knew that much.

I still see little in what passages I have seen to suggest Mohammad would approve of suicide methods just in order to kill non-Muslims, but again I could be wrong. There is a big difference between saying "go out and kill the heathen, and if you die your reward will be in heaven", and saying "go out and intentionally kill yourself while killing the heathens."

steve said...

Islam is not a Koran-only religion. It's not the Islamic counterpart to Protestantism (i.e. sola Scriptura).

Islam is also governed by a history of authoritative tradition. Even if the Koran didn't justify suicide bombers, Islamic tradition might still sanction that.

Srnec said...

Steve, that is true of most schools of Islam (all Sunni and Shia schools), but there is a Koranist stream of thought that is analogous to "sola scriptura". Like Karaite Judaism, it is a small minority.

Lydia McGrew said...

Besides, the argument, "The Koran doesn't contain suicide bombings, so Mohammad would have disapproved of them" is a fairly weak argument from silence.