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“We Need a Heavy Dose of Hope”

There has been plenty of talk of “Muslim Rage” in recent weeks. The video, the now famous response, the violence, the killing, the angry words back and forth, the inflammatory rhetoric and provocative magazine covers. It’s a tragically predictable script that we are becoming all too familiar with.

Which makes a departure from the script all the more welcome necessary. In a recent post, I referred to a lecture I attended by Izzeldin Abuelaish, the famous Palestinian doctor who lost three daughters and a niece to an Israeli bomb, and who has continued to work to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, refusing to take the easy road of hatred and retaliation. Last night, I finished Abuelaish’s powerful book, I Shall Not Hate. There’s so much I could say about this man’s story. Reading his description of the day he lost his daughters left me numb. Reading about the courage and resourcefulness, the unimaginable patience and endurance, the faith in the face of inconceivable pain and suffering that he responded with, the hope that has clung to—literally against all odds—left me speechless. It is a book that needs to be read. And learned from.

But I will resist the temptation to comment further. Instead, I simply offer a few quotes pulled from various parts of the book as an alternative to the more prevalent rhetoric that saturates our media and our minds. How we need voices like this in a world where we are so eager to misunderstand, demonize, mock, and defend ourselves from “the other”:

This catastrophe that killed my daughters and niece has strengthened my thinking, deepened my belief about how to bridge the divide. I understand down to my bones that violence is futile, a waste of time, lives and resources, and has been proven to beget more violence. It does not work, just perpetuates a vicious circle…

My core values, which are essentially medical, tell me that people are people. If we treat each other with decency and respect; if we refuse to take sides; if we see with clarity and take responsibility for our actions, then getting past the ugliness of war is possible…

In one horrifying year, my family and I faced tragedies that mountains cannot bear. But as a believer, as a Muslim with deep faith, I fully believe what is from God is for good

How do you avoid rage? I vowed not to hate and avoided rage because of my strong faith as a Muslim. The Quran taught me that we must endure suffering patiently and to forgive those who create the man-made injustices that cause human suffering…

We must work diligently on this journey to peace. Hatred and darkness can only be driven out with love and light

We need a heavy dose of hope.

46 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Johnston #

    I cannot even begin to imagine his suffering.

    Does Mr. Abuelaish offer any insight into what distinguishes his Muslim faith from the faith of those who appear all too willing to riot and even kill over, what is by western standards, modest provocation?

    October 2, 2012
    • No, he doesn’t.

      If I were to hazard a guess, I imagine it would be a similar story to that of the Christian world (and others). There have been many, throughout history, who have perpetrated violence in the name of Christ too, after all. Thankfully, our religious traditions are also populated by people who see things differently.

      October 2, 2012
      • Paul Johnston #

        Does the question then become, (as inferred, among other things, by the articles sited below) “What was it then within Christian understanding that enabled it to self correct and are similar understandings present within the Muslim interpretation of the Koran.

        October 2, 2012
      • That might be one question. Another question might be, “How can we learn from this man and follow his example?”

        October 2, 2012
      • farfromthetree #

        Paul, please point to this historical date when the self correction occurred. Forgive my ignorance, but I wasn’t aware that it happened.

        October 2, 2012
  2. Paul Johnston #

    After reading this post I’ve spent the last hour or so reading two different accounts of Benedict XVI’s, “Regensburg Address”.

    1. by Lee Davis


    I was most struck by these observations advanced by Mr. Davis, when he writes,…

    “Modern reason argues that questions of ethics, of religion, and of God are outside its compass. Because there is no scientific method by which such questions can be answered, modern reason cannot concern itself with them, nor should it try to. From the point of view of modern reason, all religious faiths are equally irrational, all systems of ethics equally unverifiable, all concepts of God equally beyond rational criticism. But if this is the case, then what can modern reason say when it is confronted by a God who commands that his followers should use violence and even the threat of death in order to convert unbelievers?….

    Modern reason says that all ethical choices are subjective and beyond the scope of reason. But if this is so, then a man who wishes to live in a community made up of reasonable men is simply making a personal subjective choice–a choice that is no more reasonable than the choice of the man who wishes to live in a community governed by brute force. But if the reasonable man is reasonable, he must recognize that modern reason itself can only survive in a community made up of other reasonable men. Since to be a reasonable man entails wishing to live in a community made up of other reasonable men, then the reasonable man cannot afford to allow the choice between reason and violence to be left up to mere personal taste or intellectual caprice. To do so would be a betrayal of reason.

    Modern reason, to be sure, cannot prove scientifically that a community of reasonable men is ethically superior to a community governed by violent men. But a critique of modern reason from within must recognize that a community of reasonable men is a necessary precondition of the very existence of modern reason. He who wills to preserve and maintain the achievements of modern reason must also will to live in a community made up of reasonable men who abstain from the use of violence to enforce their own values and ideas. Such a community is the a priori ethical foundation of modern reason. Thus, modern reason, despite its claim that it can give no scientific advice about ethics and religion, must recognize that its own existence and survival demand both an ethical postulate and a religious postulate. The ethical postulate is: Do whatever is possible to create a community of reasonable men who abstain from violence, and who prefer to use reason. The religious postulate is: If you are given a choice between religions, always prefer the religion that is most conducive to creating a community of reasonable men, even if you don’t believe in it yourself.

    Modern reason cannot hope to prove these postulates to be scientifically true; but it must recognize that a refusal to adopt and act on these postulates will threaten the very survival of modern reason itself.”…

    As this thread so poignantly postulates, a healthy dose of hope is essential. Likewise too, we need a healthy dose of reason.

    “In the beginning was the Word”…

    October 2, 2012
    • What’s this? Paul saying we need more reason? Well, this is a red-letter day indeed :).

      I’m sure these are interesting articles (time does not permit me to read them right now). The passage you quoted certainly is intriguing—perhaps the main lesson to be learned in all this talk about “reasonable men” is to invite a few more women into the conversation :). I say this with tongue only partially in cheek. Mr. Abuelaish is convinced that if our future is to be rid of the tribalism and violence that has characterized so much of our planet’s history, it will be women who lead the way. It’s difficult to disagree with him based on the track record of men.

      I confess that I am not making the connection between these documents and themes of the post. Mr. Abuelaish is not appealing to “modern reason” for his ethics or for his decision to pursue peace in particular. His is a religious response all the way.

      October 2, 2012
      • Paul Johnston #

        Hey Ryan,

        My response here is a way of accounting for and confronting, “Muslim Rage”. I see it as a constructive, “departure from the script”, that among other things may help reconcile the seemingly vast disconnect between the heroic observations of Mr. Abuelaish when he says, “I vowed not to
        hate and avoided rage because of my strong faith as a Muslim. The Quran taught me that we must endure suffering patiently and to forgive those who create the man-made injustices that cause human suffering”…from those who use this same Koran to affirm their rages and hatreds.

        As for the, “partially tongue in cheek” observation regarding women leading the way, I think it is correct to say that no violence is done to the argument presented, if everywhere the word “man” appears it is replaced by the word “woman”. Personally I have no objection.

        I want to agree with observations that encourage greater female participation in the process(es) but I am honestly stymied as to how that will be achieved until a truthful feminine politic emerges.

        For me too much of modern feminism is a “neo-marxist”, gender based as opposed to class based, political tyranny that like Communism will lead to a totalitarian form of governance. Further it’s “freedoms” are founded on the principal that each individual woman must view her unborn children as potential threats to her being. A definition of freedom that requires the death of another for it’s promises to be fulfilled. No thanks.

        That’s probably enough, “firestorm” for one day.

        October 3, 2012
      • Yes, Abuelaish obviously interprets his Quran differently than those who use it to justify their violence. But I would submit that this reality is structurally identical to the reality of the many “Christians,” throughout history, who have somehow used the gospel of Jesus Christ to legitimate abuse of authority, violence, war, and the brutal squashing of “heretics.” We must ask the same questions of ourselves as we ask of Islam. If we want to evaluate Islam by the light of reason, then by what criteria do we say that our faith trumps reason?

        Given that Abuelaish sees in his faith the resources to “self-correct,” I would have to assume that such resources do exist. If I did not accept this, I would find myself in the uncomfortable position of accusing him of either flat out lying about his faith and experience, or of ignorance of his own tradition. I’m not prepared to do either.

        Re: a “truthful feminine politic,” in your view has a truthful male politic ever been realized? I would submit that it has not, yet that has not prevented men from blundering forward with our violence and stupidity, to the great cost of so many.

        October 3, 2012
  3. Paul Johnston #

    Please excuse my mistake. The article “Socrates or Mohammad” was written by Lee Harris, not Lee Davis.

    October 2, 2012
  4. Hey Ryan, I had a similar response reading the book.

    Devastating. Shocking. Inspiring. Prophetic(?) and honestly hopeful.

    October 2, 2012
    • Prophetic, yes, I think so.

      October 2, 2012
  5. Ernie #

    His awing response mirrors that of the Amish after the West Nickel mines school shootings in Lancaster County in 2006.

    October 2, 2012
    • These are the kinds of responses that radically and powerfully expose the cycle of violence and revenge and hatred as the dead end that it is. The world sits up and takes notice when they see these kinds of things—they are so utterly countercultural, so completely beyond the scope of what is normal and expected. And then, once the awe and bewilderment and wonder wears off, we go back to our tired patterns of hatred, revenge and violence.

      I am grateful for these divine responses—these shafts of light that penetrate our darkness from time to time.

      October 2, 2012
      • Not that I am advocating violent action by any means but what would you say about violence from a place of love? It does sound like a paradox but is it? Not to take away from this man’s story and the many others like it. But, those institutions of systemic violence (I am looking at you capitalism) are most likely smiling every time someone commits to non-violent action. Maybe it is not brave at all to take up this position but rather cowardice. Cowardice of the potential of what one can become if they cannot control themselves. If you take away the happy ending religions always seem to provide, almost like a cheap Hollywood movie, the 100% non-violent commitment and the ‘not-taking-sides’ starts to look a lot like fear.

        October 2, 2012
      • I don’t think there is such a thing as violence from a place of love. Violence is, by nature, a coercive exercise of force and subjugation. It seeks to intimidate and destroy. In my view, this is completely antithetical to love which always seeks to honour and elevate the other.

        Having said that, I know that good arguments can be (and have been) made that it is sometimes necessary to use violence to protect the oppressed, the vulnerable, the weak, those unable to defend themselves. Frequently, appeal is made to the prophetic call to pursue justice for the widow, the orphan, etc. I know you wouldn’t frame this imperative in biblical terms, but I suspect this is what you are getting at. Sometimes the “loving” thing to do is to protect. Violence is a necessary evil in a world like ours.

        I don’t have a airtight response to this. It is often difficult to know how to reconcile the prophetic call to pursue justice for the oppressed with Jesus’ commands to refuse violence. But I will say this: whatever else one might say about pacifism/nonviolence, properly understood it is far from a “cheap Hollywood movie” with a happy ending, and it is far from a cowardly approach. It takes great courage and moral resolve to resist the violent narratives of empires, to refuse the terms of the “game” as they are given, to refuse to respond to violence with violence. The history of peacemakers (MLK, Gandhi, Jesus, Anabaptist martyrs, and countless others) is a roll call of people of great courage and strength. Sometimes pacifism is fuelled by a belief in a happy ending beyond this world. But just as often, I think, its justifications are far more terrestrial in nature. We have seen, by now, how the movie of “violence for violence” ends. It doesn’t.

        Are there logical holes in pacifism? Certainly. Is it a pragmatic solution by which the problems of our world will be solved? Probably not. At least not all the time. But we need a different story than the one we have been blindly following for millennia.

        October 3, 2012
      • Tyler #

        Violence is a “coercive exercise of force and subjugation,” but that is not the ethical component. Would you not agree that the intent and reason for the force is where ethics comes into play? The burden of proof falls to the one committing the act and in the examples you provide are adequate in presenting just violence and unjust violence. Therefore, I would conclude that if one loves justice then one can either commit a violent act from a position of love or not depending on their intent. A father defending his children, a God protecting his people…

        I am not saying that anti-violence is always a cowardly approach but I think it often is. At times one must choose to be committed to anti-violence or justice. For most of life hopefully these two are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes they are and if the commitment is 100% anti-violence then real people are going to and continually get hurt. If you remove the ‘happy ending’ then the person who stands by and repeatedly lets bad things happen is a coward. I once held the belief of anti-violence and then I stood by while I watched a man severely beat up another man. In that instance I was a coward and I knew it. For months I justified it to myself as commitment to my beliefs but under scrutiny I was a coward. It is a moment I regret daily.

        Now, if we want to reframe the idea as forgiveness then maybe it is much more compatible with justice.

        October 4, 2012
      • There is more than one way to refrain from violence. I don’t think that to pursue nonviolence is to sit passively by while injustices are committed. There are plenty of examples throughout history of those who were passionately committed to justice, and who resisted evil without resorting to violence. There are ways to be proactive and assertive in the face of violence that do not require violence. Many have pointed out that Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” would in fact have been a display of great freedom and strength. It would have been a refusal to be a victim—to dictate the terms of the engagement in an ironic and highly subversive way.

        In the example you cited, for example, I wonder what might have happened if you had simply stood between the attacker and the victim. If you had forced them to choose between striking the victim or you? I’m guessing at the very least this would have slowed the guy down and forced to make an uncomfortable (and unexpected!) decision.

        Again, I’m well aware that there are plenty of examples where it seems like violence would be the only way that the cause of justice could be advanced. It certainly seems like there are cases where violence is a necessary evil. I think that for the follower of Jesus, though, we do not refuse violence for pragmatic or utilitarian reasons. We do it as a result of our convictions about who Jesus is, about what Jesus said, and about the way in which the world is made new. As I have said, I truly believe that the world needs to see alternatives to dominant and assumed narratives. If the church won’t give evidence of such alternatives, who will?

        October 4, 2012
      • Tyler #

        I think I need to articulate my position more clearly. You are certainly correct in pointing out that anti-violence is useful in many instances but I’d definitely argue the effectiveness of many of the success.

        My issue is the 100% anti-violence stance. This is very common among the political left in North America. The 100% commitment is going to produce scenarios that actually stand in the way of justice. I agree that Jesus was committing to and following through with a very different tactical strategy than what dominated most of the globe at time (and still!). But, in all occasions, this simply cannot be the response as it will cause much greater suffering. The action of Jesus while powerful was not unique. Moreover, what is your conviction about the world is made new? Is it through ‘turning the other cheek?’

        My concern here is not that we shouldn’t all aim to be less violent. Of course I support this. My concern is a commitment to 100% anti-violence and holding the belief with 100% conviction that the sum of this world will always be good. I have said it before and I know we disagree on it but holding that belief is dangerous for the present. Maybe, instead of the Church, we should look to other groups such as the anarchists or the existentialists who put the burden of choice and proof right in the hands of the individual; groups who don’t externalize the good to God and aren’t waiting for Christ to come and make the world new.

        October 4, 2012
      • I understand your position, Tyler. You’re articulating it very well. It’s a position that makes a lot of sense on a number of levels.

        Perhaps I need to be clearer about what I am saying. Or, at least, what I am not saying. I am not saying that 100% anti-violence is unique to Jesus or obviously “effective.” I am also not saying that “the sum of this world will always be good” (I’m not even sure what that means, to be honest). I am not even (necessarily) arguing for a universal ethic. I am simply saying that as a follower of Jesus, I believe I am called to embrace a different way and that this way involves nonviolence (which, again, does not entail passivity in the face of injustice).

        (Having said that, re: a world made new, I wonder: if the ethic of Christ [i.e., turning the other cheek] was broadly—like, really broadly—adopted, would the world look different than it does now? “New,” even?)

        I realize that we’ve been over this before, but I think it bears repeating. In my understanding, Christian hope is far from passive. We are not just “waiting for Christ to come and make the world new.” There is a deep ethical imperative in the Christian narrative to align one’s behaviour in the present with what we hope will one day be real. On this score, Christians are no different than anyone else. Everyone lives according to some vision of the future (even anarchists and existentialists—some of whom are even Christians, rumour has it :)).

        October 4, 2012
  6. Paul Johnston #

    Far from the tree;

    I don’t point to a specific date nor to I mean to suggest that Christianity has fully self-corrected in all aspects but rather that central to Christianity is the notion of self- examination, the acknowledgment of shortcoming/sin and the need for correction/repentance. My question was/is, are similar perspectives central to the Muslim faith?

    October 3, 2012
    • Tyler #

      Belief and action are two very different things. And yes there is.

      October 4, 2012
  7. Paul Johnston #

    I have to admit to being a little perplexed here. 🙂

    I don’t read you to be responding directly to my concerns re,”Muslim Rage”. All I hear is, “Christians did it too”. Similarly with regard to the feminine perspective, an issue you raised, I agreed with it in principal but am trying to distinguish “feminine participation” from the political ideology that is “feminism”. I made two broad but for me decisive criticisms of “feminism” the ideology, not of the “feminine” or of woman in general. As my response indicates I do not see “Feminism” as a truthful representation of woman anymore that I would view Marx’s account of the proletariat to be an accurate accounting of the average working person. Truth is a stubborn thing and to my mind if someone wishes to foist a false ideology upon culture, ultimately her only recourse is to suspend discussion. Her only option is totalitarianism and the violence necessary to sustain it.

    My point is that gender identities are not the central “truth” about us, neither man nor woman, so I don’t know how to respond to a response that doesn’t deal with my broad critique but again seems to say, on one hand ….”men do it too.” and on the other reduces the context to a “gender identity” perspective that I have already rejected as false/not central to the truth.

    If I’m misunderstanding you please correct me.

    Regarding my perspective on “Muslim Rage” perhaps I will rephrase my concern and withdraw the question, “Does the Qur’an teach self examination and correction.” This contextualization seems to have offended your understanding of what integrity towards Mr. Abuelash’s character can, “look like” and caused what appears to me to be, no small amount of sarcasm and dismissiveness from, Tyler.

    So I suppose the more blunt question, (that I was trying to avoid), in the end, seems to be the only right question to ask, that being, “Does Allah through the Qur’an specifically advocate violence in general and pre-emptive violence in particular as a statutory imperative? Are Muslim’s obliged under edict from Allah to kill those from within who threaten or would abandon orthodoxy and those from without who threaten the rightful expansion of Muslim culture?

    This is the question(s) I ask of you? This I believe is a fair question(s) based on your linkage of again, what I can only re-affirm as the heroic and religiously true response of Mr. Abuelash, with the Newsweek (?) article captioned as, “Muslim Rage”.

    I suspect you know how I would answer this question and I can only say that I have significant excerpts to quote from the Qu’ran itself, the persons of Osama Bin Laden, Ayatollah Khomeini, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and both the person of, Hassan al-Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood) and the constitution and stated objectives and means of this same “Muslim Brotherhood” itself.

    I think though before we broach this subject we need to (a) re-start the dialogue so that we both are speaking from an agreed upon, “departure point” and (b) I have your full permission to advance this potentially explosive dialogue on what is your blog.

    In the end I share the conviction of Pope Benedict XVI that the conversation between Muslims and Christians regarding what is or isn’t an acceptable use of violence must take place so that through proper understanding of one to the other, a right response can be formulated.

    Finally, regarding the issue of the, “feminine/feminist” dichotomy I suggest we save that very lively and nuanced debate for another forum more appropriate to it’s nature.

    October 5, 2012
    • You’re right, I’m not responding directly to your claims, and for two very specific reasons. 1) I didn’t want this thread to turn into an opportunity to make apologetic hay against Muslims and in defence of Christianity; and 2) I am not a Muslim scholar and do not feel qualified to evaluate the internal resources for “self-correction” available to them. The only reason I linked Abuelaish with “Muslim Rage” was because I felt it was important to hear voices besides the ones that dominate our violence- and controversy-hungry media.

      I will say this. Jesus says that those who belong to the truth will be recognized by their fruit. When I look at the fruit of Mr. Abuelaish’s life, I can only conclude that he is well-acquainted with truth. He has demonstrated this by his actions which he says are inspired by his faith. Again, if I were to disagree with him here I would seem to be forced to declare him either dishonest or ignorant of his own tradition (a tradition which, again, I have only a passing acquaintance with). I will not do this.

      “Does Allah through the Qur’an specifically advocate violence in general and pre-emptive violence in particular as a statutory imperative? Are Muslim’s obliged under edict from Allah to kill those from within who threaten or would abandon orthodoxy and those from without who threaten the rightful expansion of Muslim culture?

      Short answer: I don’t know. It seems to me that there is a significant diversity of opinion within the Muslim community on these questions, so I don’t feel particularly bad about not having a definitive conclusion either.

      One more thing. You don’t like it that I have responded with some version of “Christians did it too.” That’s fine, I suppose. But I really do think that this fact is worth deeper consideration. Jesus warns us against judging others without first examining ourselves. If we’re going to criticize Muslims for violence and intolerance, I really do think it is important that we look at ourselves first. If we’re going to point to figures like Bin Laden, Khomeini, Ahmadinejad, and the Muslim Brotherhood as representative of Islam, we ought at least be prepared to look at some of our own less than shining figures whether presently, or historically. My reading of the history of the Crusades and how these were justified, for example, is every bit as grim as some of the rhetoric and behaviour coming out of parts of the Muslim world today. Although, based on our previous conversation about distinguishing between different streams of Christian theology, perhaps I shouldn’t be too quick to self-identify with things like this… :).

      I’m not saying the conversation about whether Islam and Christianity are intrinsically violent or not can’t happen, but I think it’s important to start with honesty and humility about our own failings.

      October 5, 2012
  8. Paul Johnston #

    My knowledge of the Crusades is limited. From recent reading I understand that there were 9 such crusades beginning in 1095 and culminating in 1291. Further I understand that the behaviors manifest, good and bad, were consistent with the world and cultures of the times. That is to say that the Crusaders and the armies that supported them were not a creation of the Church but rather pr-existing forces that acted as armies/militias on behalf of the kingdoms of Europe. The politic of the Crusades, however grimly we may view it, was the politic of the “West”. Further the European kingdoms were invited at the behest of the eastern Byzantine Empire, in no small part in order to contain Turkish/Muslim expansionism.

    The rhetoric you find offensive, comes with 700-900 years of hindsight. It would have likely found no such companion in the 11th century.

    For several centuries now, the Church has re-oriented Her relationship with, “nation states”. It would be an anathema to Her to behave in anyway similar to Her “Crusading” past. She has repented.She is changed.

    And so I return to a variation of my origional concern; how was the Church able to make this correction? And would this understanding be helpful to a Muslim world, some 800 years later, seemingly trapped in a similar posture?

    October 6, 2012
    • My knowledge of the Crusades is limited. From recent reading I understand that there were 9 such crusades beginning in 1095 and culminating in 1291. Further I understand that the behaviors manifest, good and bad, were consistent with the world and cultures of the times.

      The early (i.e., pre-Constantinian) church took root and flourished during violent and dehumanizing times in a violent and dehumanizing Roman empire precisely because they refused to behave in ways that “were consistent with the world and cultures of the times.” To say that those who claimed to follow Jesus behaved badly because everyone else was doing it seems to me a very thin justification indeed.

      That is to say that the Crusaders and the armies that supported them were not a creation of the Church but rather pr-existing forces that acted as armies/militias on behalf of the kingdoms of Europe. The politic of the Crusades, however grimly we may view it, was the politic of the “West”.

      There is no neat way to separate the “kingdoms of Europe” from “the church” during the time of the Crusades. On my reading of history, the post-Constantinian church was instrumental in creating and maintaining the political and social conditions of the West. The very term “Christendom” denotes a complex and deeply interconnected web of relations and power structures involving both church and kingdom. However we understand these relations and structures, I think it would be extremely difficult to make the historical case that the medieval church was in any way a reluctant participant in the machinations of some kind of a separate political entity called “the kingdom” that it had no role in creating and legitimating.

      And even if this case could somehow be made, that would just bring us back to point #1 above.

      And so I return to a variation of my origional concern; how was the Church able to make this correction? And would this understanding be helpful to a Muslim world, some 800 years later, seemingly trapped in a similar posture?

      Well, at the risk of blowing my own tribe’s horn, I think that the church’s “self-correction” has always come through protest movements (like the Anabaptists) that called the church away from its lust for power and violence and back to the ethic of Christ. Of course there were many other movements as well (the early monastics, the Franciscan Order, etc), but wherever these movements came from, I think they shared a common commitment to following the way of Jesus as a rule for life, and a pointed criticism to a church too closely wedded to and enamoured with the patterns of the world.

      Does Muslim history and theology admit of the same possibilites? Again, I don’t feel qualified to say. I know there have historically been reform movements within Islam, but my knowledge is very limited. Perhaps, as in the case of the Christian church, time will be the judge.

      October 6, 2012
  9. Paul Johnston #

    I don’t mind if we take the, ‘”gloves off”, Ryan but do be careful of the low blows. 🙂

    I’ll respond more fully at a later time. I want to be fair, thorough and precise. No easy task for me…lol

    For now, it is time to prepare for Mass.

    It is the Lord’s day. His blessing be upon us all.

    October 7, 2012
    • While I welcome a fuller response, I want to say things as clearly as I possibly can to avoid any misunderstanding.

      In my comment above, I made three historical claims:

      1) The early church refused to adopt the patterns and customs of the empire in which it grew (i.e., it refused the path of violence). I referenced the early church simply because I don’t think we can appeal to the “culture of the times” as a justification for behaving in ways that are not consistent with the call of Christ. The church ought always to have a higher standard than the cultures of which it is a part.

      2) The socio-political context of the high middle ages (i.e., during the time of the Crusades) was a complex mixture of church and kingdom, with the church intimately involved in the legitimation of political power. I don’t think I am making a very controversial claim when I say that there have been historical periods where the church has become too closely wedded to political power the attendant exercise of violence.

      3) The church has always been characterized by those who resisted and rejected 2) above. Anabaptists are only one example here. As I said above—and as you well know, I’m sure—many of the critiques have come from within the Roman Catholic fold as well.

      I am puzzled as to which of these three claims you consider to be a “low blow.”

      October 8, 2012
      • Paul Johnston #

        Thanks for this, Ryan. I would much prefer to engage with this comment than the previous one.

        The “Spirit” is a funny thing, yeah?

        I spent some time preparing a response to the previous comment but in the end chose not to send. While I was mostly satisfied with the tone and it’s measure, I wasn’t satisfied with the content. The content was too negative. It was focused more on my “feelings” of offense, than the particulars of the critique. I can’t really say anything more other than I intuitively knew not to “submit comment”.

        I was waiting for something. Truth be told, I thought I was waiting for a couple of more days to pass, simply suspecting my attachment to the “feelings of offense”, would wane. While this has proven to be true, it is also true that you taken the time to gift me with a qualification that addresses my concerns. Sincerely, my friend, I thank you.

        So I guess, I owe you some explanation, ( ya think 😉 ) about, “being careful of low blows” and we can move on to the more substantive arguments.

        1. I struggle with responses that parse particular statements, removing them from qualifying contexts. I find this approach tends to make the person being “parsed” appear more “dickish” in tone than they intended. Likewise the formality of the response; it’s academic over conversational style, creates a certain negative opinion about the author in the mind of the man being “parsed”…..distilled version….”I may be a DICK, but I’m not THAT much of a DICK, YOU DICK!! 🙂

        2. I bristled at reading the phrases, “pre-constintinian” and “post costintinian”. I knew you to be making historical reference points but for me there is no distinction. Pre or post, this is still my Church to me. It is Holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic. Forgive me, but the terms, on first read, in of themselves, seem insulting. Even though I KNOW this was not your intention.

        3. I also “read into” your “pre/post” delineation the following argument. Original Church good, Roman Catholic Church bad, Reformation Church(es) better. This may or may not be your contention but I know, you know, that I am the proverbial, “fat kid on a smartie” ready to “devour” any real or perceived (or even sometimes wholly imagined 🙂 ) attacks on the RCC.

        So I leave that stuff behind. The above is solely intended as explanation. The author in no way intends to assert, Nay! even hint, that such opinions are presently, present in the presentation he intends to make…. He is reformed! You have reformed him! 🙂

        Forgive me for so doing but I am going to pause here. I think the 3
        rephrased arguments you have presented me here are very worthy and require some consideration, reading and reflection before I respond. I know I’ve “ducked” you in the past but I’m not’ “ducking” you here.

        Sincerely, I need time to offer you something of value.

        October 9, 2012
      • Thanks, Paul. I’ll respond to these three comments in turn.

        1. I’m sorry if the tone/format of my responses is unhelpful. All I can say in my defence is that I like to be thorough and precise, hence my responding to specific statements and isolating them. I will try to do this less in the future. And the “academic” vs “conversational” tone? Hmm, well that’s just the way I write in this (profoundly limited) forum. Perhaps it would be different if we were discussing these matters over a pint :).

        2. You’re right, I wasn’t trying to be insulting. Pre/post-Constantine is a significant orienting point historically, regardless of one’s ecclesiology. I think even Roman Catholics would admit that something significant changed once Christianity moved from being a marginalized sect in the Roman Empire to the official imperial religion. “Constantine” is a convenient word to use for this shift, however gradually the change took place.

        3. I suppose it’s not too much of a mystery that, in my view, the changes brought about by #2 were not always positive ones. I don’t view things as starkly as you put it (“Original Church good, Roman Catholic Church bad, Reformation Church(es) better”)—I think there is both good and evil, to varying degrees, at every stage of the history of the church—but I also think that something crucial is lost when the gospel becomes intertwined with the machinations of states and empires. The gospel of peace should never, ever be advanced by the sword, nor should one’s religious identity be tied to one’s belonging to a specific political entity. I am a Mennonite, of course, so this probably should not be surprising.

        October 9, 2012
  10. Paul Johnston #

    One further pre- comment, comment. 🙂 As I prepare to answer the questions posed I am grappling with a recurring, theme/concern. That being the very different way in which I hear us each individually, interpret the word, “church”. For me the “Church” is located specifically within it’s Catholicness. That is to say that when I use the word Church I mean the RC and the EO, excepting when the discussion revolves around the specific differences between the two Catholic faiths. For me, the RC and the EO are apples and apples, albeit of different variety.

    Also, to me, Protestant “churches” are in many fundamental ways so wholly distinctive and frankly anti-ethical to my understanding of church, that I am not comfortable using the same term (church) when discussing their participation within Christianity. I feel like if I do that I am trying to say that an apple is an orange and an orange is an apple. However crudely I am putting the case, what I mean to say is that my motives for making this distinction are mostly rational; not emotional.So when I am asked to speak to any Protestant faith in general or any specific expression of the Protestant faiths in particular (say AnaBaptism 🙂 ) I would speak of them as a distinct ecclesial community but not as “Church”. I get that this explanation could be viewed with hostility and I in no way mean to infer that the “ecclesial communities that make up the Protestant movement(s) are in any way, “more or less” holy by God’s accounting. Again I just think the faith expressions involved are too different to describe ourselves as a collective; as “church”. I am just trying to deal with the reality of distinctiveness.

    Because of this understanding I even have difficulty with the use of the word “church” in a historical sense. Much of the blogosphere and I hear you using the word “church” similarly here, seem to be suggesting that there is some sort of continuity between the time of our Lord and Christianity today. A use of the word church in a way that “church” no longer exists.

    I’m sorry I have to cut this response short, I have to leave for work. I only make these points because I see them as valuable to the discussion going forward. Ryan, Iwholeheartedly encourage your response here, before we begin.


    October 9, 2012
    • Well, I’m not quite sure what to say in response here. Perhaps the less, the better… I suspect there’s probably not much to be gained in pursuing this line of conversation given how very different our assumptions and starting points are when it comes to ecclesiology, and how these inform the conclusions we have arrived at.

      Out of curiosity, though, how would you have non-RC and EO “entities” identify themselves? The sign outside of the building we worship in says “Lethbridge Mennonite Church.” What should we call ourselves, on your view, if the word “church” is off limits? You refer to us above as “Anabaptist ecclesial communities” but of course this doesn’t really help much sense since “ecclesial” just comes from the Greek word for “church.” I’m guessing that describing an orange in Greek doesn’t make it an apple.

      October 9, 2012
  11. Paul Johnston #

    Good question and great wit in your closing observation. Bazinga!! You got me “Dr. Cooper”.

    Contradictions and/or inconsistencies aside, in the end, “entities” will define themselves as they will. Real distinctiveness be darned! Perhaps it’s just important for me to remember that when you and I use the same word, “church” we can and often do, mean very different things.

    As importantly, for me anyways, this little side bar will help prevent me from repeatedly adding some variation of the qualifying phrase,…” Of course this argument rests on the distinctive way in which I define church”…

    I didn’t know the Greek word for church was ecclesia. Sadly the Greek words I know the meaning of aren’t fit to print. Linguistically your observation IS perfect sense. Still variations of the same word, are for me at least, most helpful in understanding distinctiveness. For example, I know that I can worship almost anywhere (excepting within the Anglican community) where the word, “parish” is applied to membership. The Eucharistic celebration is lawful for me. Conversely anywhere the term, “congregation” is employed, I understand the “Eucharistic Table” to be insufficient.

    So does describing something as an, “orange” with the Greek word for, “apple” still make it an “orange”?!! Yup. In my world it does. Though I am open to the creation of a new category. Something along the lines of, “wannabe apples” would do quite nicely.

    Frigarole!! Amigo! I just got off the phone with my, “work”. I’ve just been called in for a shift and quite literally have to stop here. My next day off is Friday. I will post my response to your, “three historical claims then”.

    October 10, 2012
    • Hmm, so not much help on what we should call ourselves, eh? “Lethbridge Mennonite Wannabe Apples” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue… And I’m not sure it would fit on our sign. And, we’re actually pretty happy with our orange-i-ness anyway… I think we’ll stick with “church” :).

      All we really mean by the word is a group of people who come together to worship, to be fed by the grace of Christ, and to try to learn together how to follow him more closely and represent him in our community. From our vantage point, this seems to be what the first followers of Jesus meant by the term, too. We’re reasonably sure that Jesus is OK with us using the term in this way.

      (Incidentally, what line of work are you in?)

      October 10, 2012
      • Paul Johnston #

        Waiter/bartender/part time toilet cleaner/kitchen help/ supposed restaurant manager, a.k.a. professional babysitter….in reality all the things you may find yourself having to do when you need a liveable wage after having blown off all the good educational opportunities life presented you in your youth….

        All that being said, I love what I do. 🙂

        October 10, 2012
      • Glad to hear it!

        October 11, 2012
  12. Paul Johnston #

    Yeah, you know what, in spite of whatever I say with regard to “church”, I am convinced that Jesus is o.k with any authentic expression of fellowship.

    October 10, 2012
  13. Paul Johnston #

    I’m not really sure how to begin here, so I just will. I’m going to try to defend the idea of “Our faith” 🙂 being, “wedded to power” but not to suggest that theocratic expressions of government aren’t fraught with danger and great risk of ungodly outcomes. I concede that scripture/tradition/history makes a case against some expressions of faith as politic but in the final analysis “faith as politic” is intrinsically Christian in orientation.

    The Old Testament (Adam where art thou?)

    GENESIS 12:1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

    GENESIS 12:2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

    GENESIS 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed…

    …”I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you, but the Lord shall rule over you” (Judges 8:23)…

    …”The earliest recorded use of the term “theocracy” is found in Josephus, who apparently coins it in explaining to Gentile readers the organization of the Jewish commonwealth of his time. Contrasting this with other forms of government—monarchies, oligarchies, and republics—he adds: “Our legislator [Moses] had no regard to any of these forms, but he ordained our government to be what by a strained expression, may be termed a theocracy [theokratian], by ascribing the power and authority to God, and by persuading all the people to have a regard to him as the author of all good things” …

    ….In the First Book of Kings in connection with the appeal of the people to the aged prophet Samuel to constitute a king over them after the manner of the other nations. The request is displeasing to Samuel and to the Lord Himself, who commands the prophet to accede to the wishes of the people that they may be punished for their rejection of His kingship. “And the Lord said to Samuel: Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to thee. For they have not rejected thee, but me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). Again in chap. xii Samuel, in his final discourse to the people, reproaches them in similar words: “you said to me: Nay, but a king shall reign over us: whereas the Lord your God was your king”. And at the call of the prophet the Lord sends thunder and rain as a sign of His displeasure, “and you shall know and see that you yourselves have done a great evil in the sight of the Lord, in desiring a king over you”….(the above 2 paragraphs quoted from, “The Catholic Encyclopedia”.)

    All the above material, is intended to make the case that from the beginning, it was God’s will that the political expression of the people must always recognize God’s “kingship”. God as the author of, “all good things”. If this line of thought is legitimate then, Ryan. I cannot agree with one of your foundational assertions presented here. That being, ” that something crucial is lost when the gospel becomes intertwined with the machinations of states and empires.”

    However crudely I make it, my contention is that the Old Testament instructs us in a diametrically opposite way. I suggest that the quotations I’ve offered above insist that something crucial is lost when the Gospel isn’t intertwined with the machinations of states and empires.

    The “devil” as the saying goes, is in the details.

    My next post will revolve around the New Testament and hopefully synthesize the necessity of both the Greek and Roman “machinations”.

    Blessings to you, my friend. 🙂

    October 12, 2012
    • For me, OT texts are a non-starter. Even within the texts themselves there is deep ambiguity about how the people of God should be organized and structured (as you note in the 1 Samuel text above). And until someone can explain to me by what criteria we feel free to set aside all of the OT sacrificial obligations but should nonetheless look to the OT for guidelines on political governance, I will quite comfortably look elsewhere for my views on how the Christian church should relate to the state.

      Re: NT, you are welcome to provide a list of texts. I’m not convinced these are always useful or the best way to use Scripture. Nonetheless, I will give you two of my own very simple starting points:

      1) When offered political power, Jesus consistently refused it.

      2) “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21).

      October 13, 2012
  14. Paul Johnston #

    Ryan, I want to preface this opinion by first responding to your primary criticism of my initial response. I am going to try to give you a reasonable answer to the issue you raise regarding “cherry picking” the OT.

    For me the distinctions you make are reconcilable. The whole intent of my effort here is not to suggest that the way in which the Jewish people did politic must be literally applied to a modern context but rather that the commands of faith DEMAND that all our political expression as Christians, sincerely and to the best of our understanding, advocate the word and will of God. While it is fair to say and I do concede, that this does not necessarily advocate theocracy as the only viable solution, I don’t say, as I hear you saying, that it precludes theocracy either.

    One simple, NT argument (switching gears here 🙂 ) would be, if the “Great Commission” is truly to engage and make disciples of all people and if politics is the primary sociological means by which culture’s inculcate;teach, make “disciples”, why shouldn’t faith explore political means and if exploring political means, seek political leadership.

    “Faith includes history. Faith includes culture. Faith develops.” -Cardinal Newman

    Back to the OT and the rejection of, “sacrificial guidelines”, I think it is consistent for me to say that sacrifice is also intrinsic to Christian faith. The, “guidelines” are up for grabs, mediated by culture through history. But the principal of sacrifice is not. “Sacrifice” itself, is simply not negotiable. The OT then, like it does for politic, informs us with regard to principal but not necessarily with the particulars.

    October 13, 2012
    • The church is necessarily an alternative politic—one that cannot (and ought not) be translated into the politics of earthly nations, kingdoms, and states. Something important is always lost when the church becomes an arm of the state. In my view, even a cursory glance at history bears this out. Christendom was responsible for remarkable advances. Western culture is, in may ways, a product of it. But, as I see it, these advances came via questionable means and with significant costs as well—means and costs that I have a hard time squaring with the ethic and way of Jesus.

      (I am aware of my usage of the word “church.” For the purposes of this discussion, I am letting the “oranges” into the conversation.)

      October 14, 2012
  15. Paul Johnston #

    Forgive the ambiguity, Ryan I do not mean the above response to stand as my sole NT reference point and I will address, quotes 1 and 2 in your last response also. I am just out of time for today.


    October 13, 2012
  16. Paul Johnston #

    Ryan, I’m going to (at least) pause here. My initial intention was to continue my line of reasoning through the NT, the early church (both Greek and Roman expressions) the era of “Christendom”, the Reformation and finish with a modern assessment. 5, maybe 6 more posts that would, I think, strengthen the argument in defense of Church participation in the politics of states. That being said, while I think (well, would like to hope 🙂 ) that pursuit could gave my argument greater credibility, I’m beginning to think it won’t do much for our conversation. I think, as the expression goes, we will begin to talk, “past one another”.

    If your interested in doing, I’d like to hear what you believe is “always lost” when church participates directly in the politics of states. Some perspectives that I’d like you to consider (but feel free to reject 🙂 ), if you agree, are the following;

    1. Could it be possible for, “always lost” to mean, “always at risk” and if so, could the “risk” be worth taking.

    2. Is the objective of having the state(s) become the TRUE “arm of the church” worth risking church becoming the “arm of the state”.

    I’m still up for continuing the present line of discussion, if you think it would be either interesting or helpful. But I’m more interested now in developing some kind of consensus between us and see the potential for such, in this approach.

    October 14, 2012
    • It’s a huge question, Paul. I think many things can potentially be lost, but probably one of the most importantly things is the ability for the church to maintain its prophetic voice in the face of power and violence. There are countless examples of this throughout history (not restricted to the Roman Catholic Church, incidentally… I am thinking also of the Lutheran church’s response to Hitler, among other things).

      1. “Sure.” And “not from my perspective.” Again, I think that a cursory glance at the historical record would indicate that a close connection between the church and political power is rarely good for what I would call an authentic expression of the gospel of peace.

      2. Again, not from my perspective, largely for reasons cited throughout this thread. But you’re right, it is very easy to talk past each other on these matters. Counter-examples can always be provided on either side of the question.

      I should say that there is a sense in which the hypothetical nature of this conversation isn’t particularly fruitful. As an Anabaptist, I freely acknowledge that the rise of Western culture is unthinkable without Christendom. I freely acknowledge that much of what I value has come, directly or indirectly, from Christendom. But we simply don’t know what would have happened historically if the church would have pursued other options—if other courses of action would have been taken. We simply don’t know what would have happened if the church would have remained committed to peace and, like Jesus, refused political power. Undoubtedly much that we presently value and cherish would not have come about (at least not in the same manner). But who knows what good things we have missed? History only moves in one direction, so we just don’t know.

      The question is, what now? Christendom isn’t coming back—at least it certainly seems highly unlikely in our postmodern world. So the question, for me, is what can we learn from history, and what posture ought the church take going forward. For me, Anabaptism has a lot to offer in conversations about these kinds of questions, having always stood outside the halls of power, and having at least tried to represent the way of Christ from the political margins (a position where the church is increasingly finding itself).

      October 15, 2012
  17. Paul Johnston #

    Well, we’ve come along way from the tragic events and personal heroism of Mr. Abuelaish….

    One thing is for certain, we share a mutual concern for, as you say, “what posture ought the church take going forward.” Obviously our different Christian cultures influence the substance of our “posture”. One thing I’ve been poor at understanding and conveying, is an objective perspective on Roman Catholicism. Often I can be too partisan. Without advocating even the consideration of conversion (in either direction), I’m hoping that the church (and I’m speaking to the oranges here 🙂 ) would thoroughly examine the catholic experience and offer critique.

    Like Johnny Cash, the RC “been everywhere man, it’s been everywhere!” At the heart of Christendom, in it’s halls and in significant capacity, with some similarity I would imagine to Anabaptist experience, in the “margins”. I sincerely believe their is a wealth of information that RC history has to contribute, going forward. Maybe mostly about how not to do things….been there, done that, burn that t-shirt…but useful non the less. 🙂

    Sometimes I think this is the better, less dangerous way, for ecumenism to go. Let us share the history of our cultures first, before we worship together.

    I’m struck by the idea you present of, “maintaining a prophetic voice”. Yes, in the end, this is our calling (all apples and oranges). Maybe you are right. Maybe like the camel and the rich man, the one with political power has the same, “eye of the needle” issues. Still I wonder, what if we had something like a “Gandhi” type Christian political movement. Is that what the Lord is calling us too? Is that what the world is waiting for?

    October 15, 2012
    • Well, I don’t think anyone can give an “objective” presentation of much of anything they care about, much less the tradition that formed and nurtured them. I certainly can’t and don’t claim to. Having said that, I certainly don’t think you’ve done a “poor job” of explaining yourself or the Roman Catholic viewpoint. As I said, I am not unaware of the enormous historical and cultural benefits conferred, directly or indirectly, by Christendom. But there are costs, too, as Anabaptists have always been keen to point out.

      I don’t claim to know what the Lord is calling us to when it comes to political movements, etc. I am convinced we are called to love God and to love our neighbours and that we are to be people of peace. I think the world is waiting for this.

      October 15, 2012

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