Monday, September 11, 2006

A final thought on 9.11

I think that the anger many of us felt after 9.11 is utterly natural; the question is whether it is ethical and in line with the teachings of Christ. This is exactly where the beatitudes become so difficult to live out. I have been struck recently by the admonition to love and pray for your enemy; to read it at face value to me seems to miss the point. We could read this text and believes it means that those who oppose us are also deserving of our prayers and love. But I wonder whether the message is more radical than that; perhaps Jesus is teaching us that in him there are no enemies, that by definition those for whom we pray, those whom we love cannot be our enemies.

To be honest, I have been quite troubled by assessments of Islam that suggest that the basic orientation of the religion itself is at least partly responsible for the conflicts in which we now found ourselves. I find this troubling because the same accusations could easily be made of the Christian faith on two levels.

First at the level of text, the Koran does contain suras which label infidels as deserving of death; the same, however, is true of our scriptures. Joshua tells us that it was God's command that Israel put all whom they conquered and their possessions to the flame. Revelation envisions a world in which God inflicts pain, suffering, and death upon the world. To be sure, we no longer read texts like Joshua and simply nod our heads in agreement; we have found ways to read these texts which do not endorse genocide. But their presence within the canon are unquestionable.

Second at the level of history, one could argue that Islam has recently produced a great deal of bloodshed and violence. Once again, this is something we share with Islam. The list of atrocities is not new to us. To be sure, we no longer claim these horrific acts as acts of Christian piety, but they were at the time.

We ought to remember also that Islam was not always a supposed harbinger of terrorism. In fact, Islam was a fount of civilization. Were it not for Islam, Aristotle would have been lost to us, and we may never have stumbled upon the number zero; these are part of the cultural heritage of Islam. Even more, for ages it was far safer to be a Christian or a Jew living inside a Muslim empire than a Muslim or Jew living in the emerging Christian empires of the West.

In these ways, we are not all that different from Islam; our respective heritages are both uplifting and tragic. To be sure, our views of the world are not simply interchangeable, but we share a common legacy of brokenness, of violent interpretations of holy writ.

New ways of reading scripture have saved us from our own sinful need to rule over the other, yet we still struggle for an authentic and faithful reading of scripture. My hope for Islam is that the same can be true for all those who worship Allah, that with joined voices we can all declare that our faiths are not oriented around violence but by the love of God.