Former Arkansas governor and 2012 presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee found himself in hot water this week after he called Islam the “antithesis of the gospel of Christ” and said that churches that share worship space with Muslims are caving to a religion “that says that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated.”
In an analysis of how Islam may shape campaign politics, Politico’s Bryon Tau wrote: “As Republican candidates define their national security stands in the 2012 elections, conservative discomfort with Islam in America will be a feature of the debate.”
Should Islam be debated on the campaign trail? Are religious issues in danger of being exploited?
Will religion be exploited in the upcoming (indeed, ongoing!) political campaign? Will Islam be an issue? Unfortunately, the answer to both questions is an unqualified “yes.” Too much is to be gained by politicians in reducing complex issues to sound bites; too much money is to be made and ratings points earned by shrill commentators’ playing to our worst instincts and fears.
When I was growing up during the Cold War, the “boogey man” was the USSR. Movie bad guys were invariably Russians; “godless Communism” was the great threat that was going to take away our freedoms. With the disappearance of that “enemy,” a void was left that had to be filled. Homosexuality filled the bill for awhile, but then 9/11 provided an even more effective focus for our fears and misunderstandings. The fact that millions of Muslims had lived among us in the U.S. for decades without politicians’ calling much attention to it; the presence of more than a billion Muslims around the world living ordinary lives – not unlike us; none of this seemed to matter when there was political and media hay to be made at the expense of a deeper, more nuanced understanding of Islam and Muslims.
Odd that Christians hundreds of years ago could have a more sympathetic approach to Islam (of course, other than the atrocities of the Crusades) than we more “cosmopolitan” folks of today! Even only years after Muslim armies were knocking on the door of Europe, Christians of the radical Reformation in the 1600s were pointing to evidence from Muslim legend of the universality of G-d’s grace and Light. The Quaker Apologist, Robert Barclay, cited in his classic theological work the 17th century Islamic story of an infant ship-wrecked on a deserted island, raised by animals, yet when rescued as a young adult could recite the fundamental beliefs of Islam as revealed inwardly to him.
Or let’s go back only a few weeks to the euphoria so many felt at watching the creative and primarily nonviolent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, carried out overwhelmingly by Muslims. Snapshots of violent Muslims, of Muslims calling for “death to the infidel,” can be found – just as snapshots of Christians’ doing violence individually or collectively are easy to come by. Isn’t much of the Muslim world’s supposed animus toward the West fueled by snapshots from recent wars against Muslim populations and the caricature of our culture coming out of Hollywood?
I would have expected better from Governor Huckabee, a well-educated minister of the Christian Gospel, a Gospel that teaches us to “love even the enemy,” not to “root out the tares among the wheat,” to “do good to those who despitefully use us,” and not to spread falsehoods about others. I wonder if the irony is lost on him that he uses rhetoric against Islam that sounds vaguely familiar: “unbelievers;” “infidels;” calls for what many will take to be a “causus belli” against Islam.
I trust that others in this “On Faith” panel, far more expert in Islam than I am, will weigh in on the accustations that Mike Huckabee makes against Islam. But as I understand it, Jesus is mentioned more in the Qur’an than is Mohammad! Jesus is revered as a prophet. “People of the Book” such as Christians and Jews are granted special status. Virtues of reverence for G-d, constant prayer, moral uprightness, and concern for others are vital to the “straight path” of Islam.
Yes, indeed, there are differences between Islam and Christianity over the nature of Jesus Christ. My goodness, there are differences within Christianity over the nature of Jesus Christ! Was he divine? Human? Of the same substance as the Father? A co-mingled nature? Fully human and fully divine? There are many sects of Christianity to this day which maintain “heretical” theological views. Islam has no corner on the market in that area! And I imagine that during the presidential campaign, the religion of one of Mike Huckabee’s opponents, Mitt Romney, will become an issue. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (see last week’s question!) holds rather controversial theological views of Jesus itself.
As the political rhetoric escalates, we should all be wary of statements of “absolutes,” of accusations against whole religions that they are out to “obliterate” us, that they threaten our way of life. While politicians and media personalities fulminate against “the enemy,” we might be better served by visiting a local mosque, a local Mormon congregation, a neighborhood synagogue – or maybe even the church of one of the many “heretical” Christian groups that dot the religious landscape. We might just find that under the skin of supposed religious differences there are people just like us – and at the heart of their theologies are the same hopes and dreams as ours: a right relationship with the Creator of the Universe; a meaningful life; a bright future for their children; a life transformed by coming into harmony with Divine will.
We might even learn something from them!