A month ago, another Christmas came and went. As per usual, some tried to “put Christ back in Christmas” or to “keep Christ in Christmas,” and others enjoyed the time quite apart from any spiritual thoughts or activities. I frankly don’t care too much one way or the other. It’s just a holiday, and it can have its pleasures and/or its significant aspects for different people, no matter their preferences or beliefs.
Of course, quite a bit of human history and theology have come to be associated with Christmas. Every year in December, public attention (no matter how shallow) is once again directed to so-called Christianity:
√ Ubiquitous manger scenes
√ Advertisements of “Christmas services” (one such ad near me remains in plain sight a month after the fact)
√ Even secular news outlets allow time and space for Christmas.
Given our now-much-more-globalized consciousness, I’d have to say that both Judaism and Islam also have people’s ear a bit more these days, too. When I visited Bethlehem many years ago, there were Israeli soldiers in plain view. Now, surely, there are greater numbers involved in monitoring and peacekeeping—perhaps forces from three sides?
I haven’t specifically checked, but I suspect that a few extra outbreaks of violence occurred in the Middle East during the last month or two. Unfortunately, that would be the norm. Some of Bethlehem’s pilgrims, Jerusalem’s Jews, and Mohammed’s Muslims were probably on mental alert, and many were probably physically affected. The region is famously—and apparently irreversibly—not a place of peace.
In our time, most literate people are aware, to one extent or another, of Islamic-Israeli (and, by extension, Jewish) conflicts. Christian adherents are involved, as well. Around the time of Constantine, Jesus’ actual life-ethos and teachings were morphed into a politico-“religious” giant with very different goals and activities. “Peace” was even enforced with militarism, believe it or not. Something similar appears to have occurred within Islam a few centuries later, yet there is a material difference between the two, as Lee Camp has pointed out.
The fundamental storyline of the two [religions] is different: Jesus comes announcing the Kingdom of God, is persecuted for his message, calls his followers also to “take up their cross” and follow in that way, and loves his enemies and to the very point at which they kill him. His early followers . . . embody this narrative logic in their life together.
Muhammad comes proclaiming the rule of the one God, proclaiming monotheism in the midst of a pagan and warring and unjust culture; is persecuted for his message of justice and mercy; tells his followers not to fight back—for a while—and then, in time, permits the measured use of violent force on behalf of justice. At first accepting the injustice and not fighting back, Muhammad is in time given permission to retaliate. – Lee Camp, Who is My Enemy, 44
Camp’s observations are as succinct as they are astute. In saying “Muhummad . . . is given permission,” he refers to supposed divine revelation—an altered revelation. Things changed for Muhummad. While several world religions may on the surface share themes and quasi-narratives, here is one fundamental difference between pristine Christianity and original Islam: it was Jesus’ supposed followers who changed course about 300 years later, whereas things changed for and with Muhummad himself during his lifetime. Camp boils this down in another sentence, pointing the telescope’s lens squarely on so-called Christianity, for the sake of his Christian readers:
The shift from Mecca to Medina signals a shift from non-retaliation to justified war-making, just as the shift from early church to post-Constantinian church signals a parallel shift in the Christian tradition. -Lee Camp, 67
I would add this, in the course of comparing what happened in next-gen Christianity (Constantine et al) and next-gen Islam (when Muhammad migrated to Medina): power not only corrupts; it also tends to adulterate central ideals that had been held. It seems to me that, within both faith systems, the desire for power has corresponded to the acceptance of violence as a necessary norm. In other words, as power-mongers have ascended, those around them have increasingly assumed that violence should be employed.¹ Power has not been the only culprit, to be sure, but we should remember this: neither Jesus (ever) nor Muhummad (at first) approved of violent means.
Because it is less meddlesome and less potentially offensive, I will speak most directly of the distant past: The historical fact of faith-based wars such as the Crusades ought to bring shame. (Inasmuch as any more recent military actions have had some wispy “Christian” goal or mission, self-revelation and shame are also in order. Of course the shoe fits on either foot: both Christian and Muslim adherents ought to regret [and avoid!] violence employed in the name of faith.) Within the last week, I have seen on a local church’s website a logo image that appears to be a Crusader’s shield with a red cross inside. The emblem was surely chosen naively, without thought for the militaristic Crusades of the Dark Ages. Granted, “evangelistic” crusades are a nonviolent thing in our time, but the word “crusade, and all symbols associated with the Crusades of old, ought to be struck from the collective consciousness of those who believe in Jesus and His ideals.
It can be good to be informed about peace and war in the world, but I’d suggest it is even better to be prepared (spiritually equipped?) to deal with all of our neighbors, regardless of their views and beliefs.
For further consideration, see Thom Schultz’s post: https://holysoup.com/a-christians-reaction-to-islamic-terror/
¹ I would even go so far as to suggest that the notion of “manifest destiny” of the supposedly Christian U.S.A. leaves it open to greater culpability than most Islamic nations (until relatively recently).