Christianity and Islam are often compared – unfavorably – by critics who cite travesties such as the Inquisition and the Crusades to show it is religion in general that foments violence, oppression, and terror. Of course, these critics conveniently forget the Nazi Holocaust and its fifty million victims in World War II alone; to the Nazis, religion was just a pawn to be used in pursuit of power. They manage to forget – just as easily – the Communist holocausts of the twentieth century; this one claimed a quarter-billion bloody deaths, and the toll is not yet complete. It does not take a twisted religious revelation to ignite bloodlust in human beings. But God knows there are plenty of perversions alongside authentic faith; unlike people, all revelations are not created equal.
The difference is as stark as it is simple. All religions other than Christianity – even Judaism unfulfilled – are about things to know, from concepts to behaviors. Christianity alone places total reliance on a Person to be known. Are there concepts to be known in Christ and hope held out of personal encounters with God – theophanies – in other faiths? Yes and yes. But at the end of the day, it is all about what we know on the one hand and Who we know on the other. The distinction holds unless and until we twist the very revelation we have been given to make us comfortable with sin done in its name. Such aberrant interpretation has always been available.
The Inquisition was a perverse effort on the part of perverted Christians to force lapsed or (those seen as) irregular Christians to embrace the Faith as the inquisitors understood it. It began in France in the mid-thirteenth century and soon progressed from ostracizing the convicted to burning them at the stake. By the time it had spread to Spain, those placed on trial included Jewish converts to Christ suspected of reverting, unconverted Jews, and – rarely – invading Muslim POWs.
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The Crusades were a much more noble adventure in their creation but still subject to perversion – a reality that should provoke repentance from Christians without shaming us before Muslims. First preached in 1095, the Crusades were a response to Islamic aggression dating back centuries. Islamic founding prophet Mohammad launched nearly thirty jihads – understood as wars of conquest in the name of his religion. After attacking and conquering the Arabian Peninsula and what is modern-day Israel, his successors occupied Spain and invaded Italy and France over three centuries. Europe lacked the cohesion for aggressive response, although Charles Martel stopped the Muslim advance in the 723 Battle of Tours. The Pope called for a Crusade only when new Islamic brutalities combined with closing the Holy Places in Israel to pilgrims after 1090.
A series of wars were fought under the banners of the Crusaders over the next three centuries; Holy Lands were recovered and again lost to Islam. All this was nothing other than defense and response against aggression. Aberrations came in the form of gratuitous attacks on Byzantium – heart of the Orthodox side of Christendom – the slaughter of numerous Jews and even some Christian pilgrims. These acts were as inexcusable as the Islamic brutalities that preceded them. That they were perversions of the faith – nonetheless – is demonstrated by the reality that no text in Old or New Testament condones violence against the innocent. To the contrary – and this includes those thought heretical – the scriptural norm is a Christ who says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “I came that they might have life and that abundantly,” without reservation or qualification. His followers instruct each other to “Bless and curse not” because His will is “That none should perish.” “Behold I stand at the door and knock” is His model for drawing us into His Kingdom. Jesus always stands on the granting of privilege by those for whom He sacrifices His life – not ours – and never on entitlement.
Islam, on the other hand, was born in violent conquest and is true to itself when it goes to war. Following the outburst of her first three centuries – and another three centuries of war with the Crusaders – Islam invaded Europe again in 1481’s victory at the Battle of Otranto. Thousands of civilians were rounded up and slaughtered for the “crime” of not being Muslim. Sulieman the Magnificent attacked Vienna in 1529 and was thrown back, but not before cloning the civilian slaughter made infamous at Otranto as his parting salvo. Vienna was again attacked in 1683; this time, the advance on Europe was blunted until our own time. The Levant – including Israel – was ruled with iron hand by Ottoman Turks (Islamists) until 1917. All North Africa has been under Muslim domination more than a thousand years, and the Barbary Pirates of Libya and Morocco fought for their caliphs and sultans in the first foreign war against the then-fledgling United States in 1804-5. Islam has expanded exclusively through brutality and aggressive war from birth, but what is my point?
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My point is just this: Unlike the Christian Gospel, the sacred works of Islam bristle with everything from encouragement to exhortation to behave exactly as Islamic rulers always have. Muslims are specifically instructed to conquer in the name of Allah, to lie in ambush for unbelievers and deceive them where necessary, and to burn and behead those who will not accept Allah. Although untold millions of Muslim people do not accept these dictates – they seek only to care for their families and live in peace – it is they who are not in sync with their faith. The Islamo-fascists of ISIS, Al-Qaida, and Hamas – unfortunately – stand squarely in the lineage and tradition of Mohammad and every descending Islamic ruler of note.
Christians, on the other hand, are standing in the lineage and tradition of Jesus and the Apostles only when they are – in the words of Matthew 11:2-6 – raising the dead, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and sharing good news with all who will listen. There is really no comparison between these competing revelations. There never was.
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