Published March 10, 2011
Many times, when people I meet find out I'm a religion correspondent, they usually respond -- that is, after the deer in the headlights stare-- with something like, "Religion is very divisive," or "Religion is the reason for all the problems in the world throughout history."
My usual answer to those theological musings is that, "Religion is the red herring. What's at the heart of all divisiveness is sin." Sin is basically people either behaving badly, selfishly, or making themselves equal to a sovereign being. This is the heart of human nature. And it's humans that practice all religions.
This response, more times than not ends the conversation. On rare occasions it launches a whole new discourse.
But with the House Homeland Security Committee hearing lead by Rep. Peter King in Washington, D.C. focusing on Islamic radicalization, once again religion itself is center stage.
There are those liberal voices that call the House hearing an assault on Islam, McCarthyism bent on demonizing a great religion. Still others make the point that with so many acts of terror in the name of Islam, we simply need to understand what makes it happen.
My area is religion, not politics. So my queries about Islamic terrorism tend to break the question down theologically and ask the question, "is there something in Islam itself that makes believers more susceptible to radicalization?"
Most religions are built basically the same; do these things -- pray, penance, repent, etc -- and earn your salvation.
I say most because Christianity actually is different. It says your salvation has already been given.
But both Islam and Christianity contain very violent verses in their Holy books. For example in The Bible it says in 2 Chronicles 25:12 "The army of Judah also captured 10,000 men alive, took them to the top of the cliff and threw them down, so that they were all dashed to pieces."(NIV) Or, in Deuteronomy 13:15 "You must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock." (NIV)
While in the Koran there are plenty of these kinds of verses, 2:193 "Fight against them (unbelievers) until there is no dissension, and the religion is for Allah."Fight until no other religion exists but Islam.
And, 8:12, 14 "I shall cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. Strike them above the necks, smite their finger tips…. the punishment of the fire is for the unbelievers."
So why is it that today the majority of terrorists are more Muslims and not Christian?
One theory put forth to me is that Islam is simply going through a violent stage. The religion is about 600 years younger than Christianity. And if we look back at Christianity there's plenty of violence to recount. There are the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of "heretics", anti-Semitism, etc.
But that doesn't answer the question of whether or not the fault lay within religion itself or its followers. The truth is there are good Muslims and there are bad Christians. So what is the difference?
I believe essentially there are three things that may make Islam more prone to radicalization. One is the Koran itself. The fact that it's not a narrative makes it easier to pick and choose verses to fit your interpretation.
Two, the Prophet Mohammed's own words and deeds. In Islam's early days, Mohammed spread the faith with the sword.
Three, Islam was introduced into a world rife with tribalism; a shame and honor culture which revered and respected power. Much of what's going in Libya and what went on under Saddam Hussein, are extensions of that tribalism.
So first why is the Koran not being a narrative a big issue?
Lets' take for example take the Judeo - Christian Bible. It is a narrative of redemption. It is a single storyline beginning with God creating a perfect world. But then there was a great sin which became the progenitor of all sins. Through that sin everything became broken. Decay, debauchery and disease entered the world. That sin had to be atoned for to reconcile God with his creation.
The entire Old Testament is God working toward that goal. According to Christians, the climax of the drama is Jesus death on the cross which atones for the sin. His resurrection then defeats man's ultimate enemy, death itself. All sins can now be forgiven because God Himself, through the person of Jesus, received the judgment that man deserved.
Theologians like Dr. Timothy Keller, author of "Kings Cross," and Dr. John Rankin of the Theological Education Institute, says that when we read the violent, immoral or unethical acts throughout the Bible, we can make a distinction between what is "Prescriptive," "Descriptive" or "Time sensitive." Prescriptive meaning "is this a command of God?" and if so is it for a certain instance in history or all time? Or is the verse descriptive in that the narrator is showing what happens absent instruction from God.
Dr. Leon Kass in his book "The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis" says that many of the relationships in the Old Testament are paradigmatic. For example, looking at Adam and Eve or Cain and Able not primarily as something that happened but as something that always happens when human beings take matters into their own hands.
The Koran, not being a narrative, is organized from long verses to short verses, stipulating how the followers of Islam should conduct their lives, to revere Allah in law, religion and ethics. Together they form the five pillars of Islam: The creed, the daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, almsgiving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.
There are conflicting interpretations of the Koran, but without a clear narrative, with one consensus of purpose, followers who do violence in the name of Islam can legitimately claim they are acting within the parameters of their faith.
Second, the prophet Mohammad himself. His words and deeds. This becomes the most fractious element for the Western world. For to insult the prophet is worthy of death to some Muslims, as witnessed by the reaction after cartoons of Mohammad were published in a Danish newspaper.
Mosab Hassan, author of "Son of Hamas", is a Muslim convert to Christianity. His father was one of the founders of Hamas. Hassan says, "In order to know what Islam is all about we need to study and learn the behavior of Mohammad, the same in Christianity we need to study who Jesus is.
"Studying the two personalities explains why we have more violence in Islam than it is in Christianity and Judaism."
Defenders of Islam say early on in Mohammad's ministry he encountered much persecution. Military action was then justified to further the cause.
That contrasts of course with Jesus' ministry. He preached about loving your neighbor and doing good to those who despise you.
Both religions came out of the same region wrought with tribalism. However, Christianity begins in a secluded sect, the line the Israelites, the Jews. Jesus ministry begins with the those people whose laws, religious rituals and customs are already primed for such an appearance: The sacrificial shedding of blood to atone for sin (Yom Kippur); scriptures foretelling of a coming Messiah that will "purify the sons of Levi" (the Levites were the priestly tribe), and of the suffering servant, that "was pierced for our transgressions... and by his wounds we are healed."
Islam had no such cultural DNA to graft itself onto. It met violence with violence. It used the cultural resources familiar to its founder.
As Christianity spread it filled the world with the message of forgiveness even unto death.
As Islam spread, some followers have found it difficult to unshackle themselves from what was deemed necessary early on in the faith's infancy. Not knowing the difference between what was then and what should be now has become the conflict within Islam. And now it is a concern for the rest of the world as well.
Lauren Green is religion correspondent for Fox News Channel.