The Thinking 

A Pastor Faces the World

April 5, 2011


IN A DISCUSSION here last September on Pastor Terry Jones’s plan to burn the Koran, I expressed disappointment that he had not. It is inspiring that he has since gone ahead and to read of his remarkable, no-nonsense defense of his decision to do so. At VFR, Dean Ericson writes:

Terry Jones’s action has been the single most bracing and courageous act of rebellion against the suffocating, mindless liberalism that infects nearly every American mind. In one dramatic gesture Jones proves that Islam is not a “religion of peace.” In one clarifying act he has demonstrated the utter futility of our Islamic nation-building folly. He has shown how shaky is the house of cards built by liberals–so shaky that one obscure man can make the whole pile of lies tremble.

In the discussion from last year, Thomas F. Bertonneau wrote:

Here is a partial list of societies and civilizations that ceased to exist when Islam, a violent cult-like creed whose ethos entails absolute intolerance of all other creeds, destroyed them – 

The Jewish mercantile civilization of the Arabian Peninsula

The Polytheist Arabic mercantile civilization of the Arabian Peninsula (which coexisted with the Jewish one)

The Hellenized Egyptian-Christian Civilization of the Nile Delta

The Syriac-Christian Civilization of Cilicia and the Levant

The North African Christian Civilization

Byzantine Christendom (which once extended from Greece itself eastward all the way to Mesopotamia)

The partly Hellenized Buddhist Civilization of Central Asia (centering on what today is Afghanistan)

The Persian Zoroastrian civilization

The Brahmanic and Hindu city-states, nations, and kingdoms of the Indian subcontinent

The Visigothic Christian civilization of the Iberian Peninsula

The Gnostic-Christian Bulgarian Empire of the Balkan Peninsula

The level of cultural achievement in these societies and civilizations was high, based on traditions going back hundreds or even thousands of years. Byzantine Christendom, of which few Americans, even ones who graduated from college, have ever heard, was the eastern, Greek-speaking continuation of the Roman Empire, which survived, under relentless Islamic aggression, until the sack of Constantinople in 1453. This is a history of inveterate, brutal destruction so large in scale that it beggars the power of description.

Conquest was invariably bloody – extravagantly bloody. That is the manner of Jihad. Yet our Western leaders from Barack Obama to Pope Benedict think that our existing problem is the pastor of a small congregation in Florida who wants (or did and maybe still wants) to burn his personal copy of the Koran on his own property, for reasons of private protest protected by the laws concerning free speech.

                                                    — Comments —

Peter S. writes:

While I hold Thomas Bertonneau in some regard and have found considerable value in his various writings, the point of his above critique is considerably blunted simply by noting that a similar list of offenses to those he has compiled could readily be drawn from such varied examples as the territorial conquests of Macedonia under Alexander, the Roman Empire or the colonizing European powers.  If the issue of measure is truly that of widespread civilizational destruction – whether at the point of a gun or at the point of a television screen – then secularist globalizing modernity – the bastard child of the Christian West – has no peer in human history. 

The problem with criticizing Islam on the basis of its perceived penchant for violence is that if this were to be truly applied as an objective criterion of judgment, then one would be compelled to reject not only Islam but Christianity as well, left to adopt, perhaps, a faith perceived as more “quietist” such as Buddhism or Taoism.  Alternatively, the problem with criticizing Islam on the basis of its perceived sense of world mission is that if this were to be truly applied as an objective criterion of judgment, then one would, again, be compelled to reject not only Islam but Christianity as well, left to adopt, perhaps, a less globalizing, more ethnically exclusive faith such as Judaism or Hinduism. 

One might wish to argue that some historical or theologically motivated violence is acceptable and thus insufficient as grounds to reject a particular tradition, but that beyond some measure, such violence is unacceptable and any tradition associated with such a measure is to be rejected.  How is this standard to be arrived at in a way that doesn’t simply prejudge the matter to achieve the desired result?  How is it to be universally agreed upon so that it isn’t merely a case of special pleading?  For Christians, the measure of preference would no doubt be – definitionally – that measure which Christianity falls below and Islam fall above.  This would, of course, fail to convince either Muslims, on the one hand, or secularists convinced that religion is the root of all evil, on the other.  There are, of course, those who argue that religion generally– and particularly the three Abrahamic religions – is inherently and intractably violent and to be either problemitized or rejected. 

Worse, such a criticism assumes that Islam is, of course, the more violent faith in comparison to Christianity.  The one comprehensive historical survey of violence across religious civilizations that I am aware of, Body Count: A Quantitative Review of Political Violence Across World Civilizations, presents a quite different picture, concluding that the Christian civilizational bloc has been dramatically more violent that the Islamic civilizational bloc over the course of history.  This study could certainly be subject to critique – should the European conflict in WWII be categorized under the Christian civilizational bloc, given that the European powers in question, while nominally Christian, were largely secular, while Hitler himself cannot be construed as Christian? – but even if such possible correctives were applied, the reported imbalance is so large that the verdict would be only marginally altered.  Further, the character of broad civilization blocs employed finds a certain precedence in its similarity of concept to that marshaled by Samuel Huntington in his writings.  In light of these findings, should, then, Christianity be rejected on the basis of its endemic historical violence and Islam spared this judgment?

Laura writes:

Peter writes:

The problem with criticizing Islam on the basis of its perceived penchant for violence is that if this were to be truly applied as an objective criterion of judgment, then one would be compelled to reject not only Islam but Christianity as well, left to adopt, perhaps, a faith perceived as more “quietist” such as Buddhism or Taoism.

I’m not sure what “objective criterion” Peter is referring to, but if one looks at the very foundations of Islam, its prophet and first adherents claimed violence against unbelievers as an open-ended spiritual prerogative. It is impossible to compare Muhammad, who established his empire, in part, through plunder, murder and rape, with Christ and see their words and actions to contain no essential differences with regard to the use of violence. There have been those who have killed in the name of Christianity, but in doing so they have not fulfilled the commands of Christ. Those who have killed in the name of Muhammad have followed the example and words of the prophet.

If there is no difference in the “penchant for [religious] violence” between Muslims and Christians, why don’t we see Christians murdering imams and beheading those who criticize Christianity?  Does Peter mean the modern citizen should view Christians as equally threatening?

I’m not familiar with the body count analysis Peter cites. Obviously, such comparisons are very complicated. He says the Christian civilizational bloc has been dramatically more violent, but of course Christian countries entered modern warfare much sooner and possessed more advanced technology. However, the most damaging wars that must be included in such a count were against other Christian countries.

Bhetti writes:

“Though you may burn the paper, you cannot burn what the paper contains, for it is laid up in my breast” — Ibn Hazm. 

I’m disappointed by your stance on this, Laura. I’m not one to prevent people burning books if they so wish and I believe in their right to do so without molestation. Yet it doesn’t mean it won’t offend me, as the gesture is very clear in what it symbolises.

I understand being offended by and wanting to wipe out violence and barbaric practices. We have that in common, your Christianity and my Islamism being incidental to this shared view. I received my education in the Emirates, where I lived with Christians at the very least. Burning a bible would have been anathema to me according to the education I received, with people of the Book living in my very own home.  
I understand the subset of Islam that is repellent. I do not support them. A significant subset of Muslims do not. We have a circle of friends which include Christians had family who were killed in a terrorist attack in the Middle East. Both Christians and Muslims were devastated.
The thought has crossed my mind to convert to Christianity. I’ve been to a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral and there are fewer experiences in my life that have moved me as much. I did not realise that it could be part of a church service to exchange a gesture of peace, and was surprised and moved when Christians around me started saying ‘peace be upon you’ to me.
When Toledo in Spain fell, there was deliberate burning of all that the Islamic civilisation there produced; a deliberate effort to not just wipe out the religion but the entire culture in the area. A few voices of rationality managed to save some key texts which among other things introduced Europe to Greek and Roman knowledge. God knows what other gems were lost. 
The propaganda is that only ignorant Christians have this vestige of hatred in them. However, you exemplify that this isn’t true. I thank God for my Christian friends who do not feel the same as you do, but that you of all people should feel this way redefines Christianity to me. Well, I shouldn’t be so naively shocked. I’ve come across so many Christian-based writings filled with deception and misrepresentation about Islam, with a certain false sense of superiority considering the Christian record of moral actions across history. I’ve seen some Islamic writings in the same vein as these Christians and remonstrated the writer on occasion. I will not judge Christianity on its failures, current or past.
We should share so much in outlooks. Both conservatism and our religious beliefs should draw us closer rather than push us apart. Thanks to both Quran burners and fundamentalists, I sometimes feel totally alienated in a world and civilisation I love. Of course I blame mostly the latter, but the movements represented in the former are not to be underestimated.
Where you had the opportunity to draw me in, you instead pushed me away. You would rather support empty gestures of pointless hatred, then be the example of Christian love. You have crystallised the conviction for me that there is nothing in the realm of Christianity I cannot find in one of the schools of thought in Islam, when I had reason to doubt this. 
For this last, I cannot but help the sense of loss. Though I will continue to read you, I have lost some of the respect I have for you as a person, though I hope you may yet think more deeply about your personal stance on the subject. 
Laura writes:
You open with a quote that sacred scriptures cannot truly be burned but are written on the heart and then state that you are upset and offended that I have countenanced the burning of the Koran, even though I have approved of the burning of not all Korans but one Koran in an out-of-the-way place by an out-of-the-way pastor in a Western country. These points are contradictory.
Now if a Muslim burned a Bible in Egypt or Turkey it would not offend me personally though I might have sincere concern for the person doing the burning. Why would I find it an offense against me? For this person, the Bible does not contain the truth and the historical narrative of God’s incarnation. It is for God to judge him for his lack of faith in the revelation contained in the Bible, not me. Even in God’s eyes, the burning of scriptures is not the greatest of offenses. The Bible is not a cultic object, but a book that contains words, revelation, ideas, poetry, myth, wisdom and historical facts. In all, it contains truth. Truth cannot be burned though obviously books are essential for it. No one envisions at this point the burning of all Korans or all Bibles. Obviously, if there were few Bibles left, I would fight against the burning of each one. If there were few Korans, I would not support Terry Jones burning even one.
The burning of one Bible would not upset me. But it does disturb and upset me when priests are slaughtered, their throats severed, by those who shout “Allah is Great!” Last June, Luigi Padovese, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Turkish port city of Iskenderun, was murdered in his home by a 26-year-old Muslim who stabbed him eight times in the heart and then severed his head while shouting “Allah is the greatest.” And you have the audacity to come to me and decry my insensitivity. You write to me with indignation over the burning of the Koran, which is a book, without expressing comparable indignation for the murder of human beings such as Padovese, who was one of many priests murdered in Turkey since 2008, or those slain in the World Trade Center. Since early March, at least two Christians were murdered and 69 churches were burned by Muslim radicals in Ethiopia. You can read about it and many other violent acts against Christians by Muslims here. Certainly, you were not personally involved in these atrocious acts, but given your outrage over the burning of a book for religious purposes, I would expect you to expend even more words on the severing of human throats for religious reasons or over those who were just killed in Afghanistan in retaliation against the burning of a book. Perhaps that is a difference between us. To you the Koran, as a physical object, is more important than human lives.
I have never advocated the destruction of Islamic culture or aggression against Muslims. I do not support America’s wars now in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. My support for Pastor Jones is inspired by animosity toward the falsehoods in the Koran, not for Muslims.
You say,  
We should share so much in outlooks. Both conservatism and our religious beliefs should draw us closer rather than push us apart.
There are things perhaps we may share, but our basic beliefs are not among them and because of the radical differences in our basic beliefs about historical events, our conservatism must also be radically different. That does not mean I despise or dislike you. May you and your children live a long life and may you come to see the error in your views and the intolerance and heartlessness of Islam. In the meantime, I hope you will respect the right of non-Muslims to express whatever opinions they choose about Islam just as I respect the right of Muslims to express whatever opinions they like about Christ short of murdering priests and churchgoers. Followers of Islam are permitted to freely practice their creed in America. Not so with followers of Christ in Muslim lands. I hope you have written to Muslim bloggers and complained about this incongruity.
Caryl Johnston writes:
I have a strong objection to your anti-Islamic post, and I am sorry to see Thomas Bertonneau join in this mindless Muslim bashing.
The Muslims were responsible for some great civilizations, exquisite art, the transfer and preservation of classical philosophy, and a civilization of tolerance (in Spain) for hundreds of years.
The Islamic revelation was, I think, a true one – unlike the Protestant and Jewish, which were both negative reactions against Catholicism and Christianity, respectively. Mohammed testified to
a communion on the archangelic level (Gabriel). the Koran speaks reverently of the Virgin Mother and respectfully of Jesus.
Do you know what the Talmud says about Jesus? It says he is being boiled in excrement.
The Muslims are – in the words of Israel Shamir – the last resistance against the New World Order of Slavery that is being prepared for us.
 Islam is opposed to  usury and sodomy, which is promoted by our NWO elites (esp Republicans and Democrats respectively).  Islam also supports family values and patriarchal marriage. You, as a conservative, I would think would make common cause with Muslims!!
I think the pastor who burned the Koran was a narrow-minded, bigoted, hateful un-Christian asshole and should be condemned by any civilized person and should certainly be condemned by a follower of the Catholic faith! What if he had said he would burn the Torah?
Islam has its faults – as does every religion. But the campaign against it has been spearheaded by those same powers that wish to rape this world and subject the world’s peoples to economic slavery. There are only two entities with the technical proficiency to have carried out the 9/11 attacks: and that is, the CIA and the Mossad. Then, blame it on the Muslims! What patent viciousness!
Laura, I was disappointed in you. You are harming your soul by publishing such nonsense. I think you owe the Muslims an apology. I call for you to repent. I hope you have the guts to publish my objections.
Laura writes:
Before I respond in more detail, I have to ask you this. Why do you ask if I have the guts to post your objections? Do you have reason to believe that I reject critical comments? Have I rejected a criticial comment from you before?
Given that your opinion about Terry Jones is supported by almost the entire American political establishment at this point, why would it take guts for me to post it?
Laura continues: 
I hardly denounced all of Islamic civilization. There is an interesting discussion at this site here and here on some of the fruits of Islamic civilization, which has produced beauty and scholarship.
The Islamic revelation is false. For one, it denies that Christ was who he said he was or that he was crucified. However, Islamic scriptures also contain truths, such as the existence of one God and creator.
I am not a follower of the Talmud and in supporting the burning of one Koran, I am not logically required to justify the burning of the Torah. But if the Torah was burned, I would not take offense. And if it were burned, I hardly think the life of the person burning it would be in danger; in fact, I am certain of it. Diana West has called Terry Jones act “performance art,” and indeed it is and the performance is directed at those who intend to make Americans fearful of Islam. If one Bible or even a thousand Bibles were burned, as they have been very recently in Muslim countries, I would not take offense, as I have explained above, though I would be concerned for the person who committed such a desecration. No one has been killed in those countries for burning Bibles.
I have no common cause with Muslims except the cause of mutual separation, mutual respect and mutual non-violence. Muslim family values are of no interest to me as a  model for others and I do not wish to see more burkas in America or Muslim patriarchy, which is entirely different from Christian patriarchy, replicated in the West.
I will not apologize or address your point that the World Trade Center was destroyed by the CIA and the Mossad. 
Some words of Terry Jones:
If you offend Muslims by questioning their beliefs, their prophet, their writings, their ambitions, their laws, they become aggressive, call down the curses of Allah against you, threaten and plan to kill you. We have received thousands of aggressive calls and letters from Muslims here at Dove World Outreach Center. We have received hundreds of violent and specific death threats against leaders, men, women and children. We have not harmed a soul. We have simply spoken words of truth and salvation. We will continue to do so.
Dean Ericson writes: 

Peter S.  tells us that Islam’s tally of destroyed civilizations is somehow nullified by the conquests of Alexander and the Romans and European colonialists. Really? By what strange magic? Is Islam a pussycat because Alexander was a lion? Is Islam somehow purified by the sins of ancient Romans and modern Europeans? The history of Islamic danger to infidels stands as objective fact. Peter attempts, as do too many, to draw an equivalence between Islam and Christianity, but here’s where that comparison ends, absolutely: Jesus neither taught nor practiced violence. Mohammad does both.

Bhetti writes:

“I understand the subset of Islam that is repellent. I do not support them. A significant subset of Muslims do not.”

That is all well and good. However, it is not a mere “subset” of Islam that is violent and totalitarian, but its very core. It was not Jesus who had a fire kindled on Kinanda’s chest in order to torture him into revealing the whereabouts of his treasure.  It was not Jesus who sent an assassin to murder Asma bint Marwan, who had insulted Mohammad, the assassin pulling a child from her breast before plugging in his dagger. It was not Jesus who had some hundreds of Jewish heads chopped off while he watched, then sold their children into slavery and defiled their women. We have no record of Jesus telling his followers to slay the infidel, and lay in wait for them in every stratagem of war. There is no record of Jesus indulging his lust with conquered women, or stealing other men’s wives, or marrying nine year old girls. It was not Jesus who declared, “I have been made victorious with terror”, and “I shall terrorize the infidels, so wound their bodies and incapacitate them because they oppose Allah and his Apostle”, and “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve,” and “I have been ordered to fight the people till they say, none has the right to be worshipped but Allah.” It also wasn’t Jesus who raided caravans stealing and killing in order to pay his army and gain power. That was Mohammad.  There is no record of Jesus either practicing violence or preaching it. This is a fundamental and defining difference between the religion of Jesus and that of Mohammad.

Bhetti also writes:

“When Toledo in Spain fell, there was deliberate burning of all that the Islamic civilisation there produced”.

Oh, for pete’s sake, man, what the devil were the bloody Arabs doing in Spain in the first place, hmm? How did they get there? Were they nice and peaceful farmers, who had come to help the poor Spaniards raise vegetables? Were they invited by the poor, benighted Spaniards to help them build libraries? No, they came as a conquering army, inspired by Mohammad; why on earth shouldn’t the Spanish people have thrown them out when they could? 


“Where you had the opportunity to draw me in, you instead pushed me away. You would rather support empty gestures of pointless hatred, then be the example of Christian love.”

“Empty gestures of pointless hatred”? Do you really not understand the gulf between us? Do you really not see the danger to Infidels posed by Islam? There is a 1400-year history of Islamic jihad aggression against the infidel. We are not making this up. Yes, we would like to push you away, just as you would like to push us away. It would be better if there was no need for us both to engage in these pointless exercises in mutual understanding. Let us agree to disagree, and to disengage. We infidels should get out of your lands, and you Muslims should get out of ours. Good fences make good neighbors. As things are now we’re like a cat and a dog closed up inside a burlap bag. Here is one equivalence we may agree on: the Western liberal’s “one world” nonsense is as bad and dangerous as the Islamic version. Let us go our separate ways and leave each other be. I know that probably won’t happen anytime soon, but I wish it could be so.

Caryl Johnston writes:

“I have a strong objection to your anti-Islamic post, and I am sorry to see Thomas Bertonneau join in this mindless Muslim bashing.”

Mindless? Really, Madam. I shouldn’t speak for Mr. Bertonneau, but for myself I can tell you my “Muslim bashing” is based on some years study of the subject, and a good amount of reading original sources, and serious thought about the matter. By contrast I’ve hardly come across the liberal who can be bothered to read anything more than an article in Mother Jones or the Nation yet who sports an outlandish moral superiority based solely on their parroting of popular liberal nostrums. I’m sick of hearing it.  The sight of ignorant, liberal fundamentalist bigots all puffed-up in ridiculous righteousness would be more funny if it wasn’t so deadly boring. Good day, Madam.

 Roger G. writes:
Hurrah for Dean Ericson. Just one small suggested change. Referring to Muslims and us infidels living together, he says we’re like a cat and a dog closed up inside a burlap bag. More accurately, we’re like a mugger and his intended victim closed up inside a burlap bag.
Bhetti writes:
Let me make it clear. I do not care about a pastor burning a Quran anywhere. I do not value it over human lives. What disappoints me and offends me is you, Laurasupporting this, you, and what it means about what you think about Islam. It is not the burning itself but what you personally as a person who I respected mean by supporting the burning. I doubt you’d be best friends or be able to fully respect people who enthusiastically support Bible burning and may have even done it themselves.

I have mentioned in my own comment to you about personal friends — Arab Christians — who suffered a senseless attack losing two members of their family. That you mention yourself further attacks as if I’m not aware of them and have been personally affected by them is insensitive, that you call me audacious when I have been more affected than you have is ludicrous and also based on an interpretation of what I am saying based on a prejudiced view (though correct me if I’m wrong, do you know anyone personally who was killed in intolerant attacks, including sectarian violence? If so, does your grief have superiority to mine?).

As to Dean Ericson’s remarks, even a cursory look at Fox’s Book of Martyrs tells you much about Christianity’s history of violence and intolerance, regardless of what Jesus taught. I say this not to attack Christianity, but to point out Christian history has hardly been bloodless.

I do agree with your animus against cultural Marxism, but no I do not want to push you away. We should serve God in everything; I would expect a Christian to not live in an insulated environment but to be the missionary for Christianity as an example in everything he does. By living with exclusively Christian factions, one hardly achieves that and it seems quite materialist thinking.

Regardless, I feel you’re wrong about cats and dogs in burlap bags on my individual level. I’ve personally lived with and have been friends with Christians better than any other factions including on occasion Muslims themselves. I acknowledge the wider states of Islam and Christianity do not reflect this, and I still don’t believe you should live in a country whose ideals are incompatible with yours.

Perhaps more thought out responses when I have time and energy; certainly I’ll reread and think about the points raised. 

Laura writes: 
Regarding the first point, I don’t support the casual, routine burning of the Koran. I don’t wish to see Americans burning Korans everywhere. That would be disrespectful and gratuitously insulting to Muslims, many of whom are good and decent people. Jones has made a political gesture by the public burning of one Koran and that political gesture, which is aimed precisely at the violence and intolerance you describe, is what I support.
I’m sure it is very difficult to have seen Christian friends killed. Many of those who were killed in the World Trade Center lived not far from me, but no I did not know any personally.
Christians have committed many violent acts, but they were not fulfilling the commands of Christ when they did.
Bhetti writes:
By living with exclusively Christian factions, one hardly achieves that and it seems quite materialist thinking.
I do not wish to live in a society where it is acceptable to criticize Christianity and not to criticize Islam. If a Bible were burned, it wouldn’t even have made for a headline in a local weekly. Again, that does not mean I wish to see Islam callously insulted. If Korans were burned on my street by hooligans, I would protest.
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