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The ungodly crusade of religious equivalence

By Chris Ashton - posted Thursday, 21 May 2015

Six months ago I wrote in the Spectator Australia about the constant and predictable insistence of western leaders and commentators that Islamic terrorism and violence has "nothing to do with Islam." For the more theologically minded politician (of which there are a disturbingly large number), this assurance was typically followed up by a positive endorsement of the "religion of peace." Not only was there no attempt to actually engage with – or even merely question - the cultural and theological issues in Islam that explain some aspects of the violence, but those who should have been championing Western values and traditions usually ended up becoming awkward apologists for the religion.

But a lot can change in six months. For example, 2015 has already seen a sharp increase in the frequency and savagery of Islamists in the West, not to mention Africa, where the volume of victims in individual attacks is off the charts. Recently we saw another change, namely the existence of the complete failure Islamist attack in Garland, Texas. (As an aside, was the Lone Star State ever going to be the ideal place to pull off such a feat? Martin Place? Sure. Paris? Why not! But gun-loving Texas? Are you stupid?).

A further change has been the response of western leaders and commentators who, mercifully, seem to have given up the whole "nothing to do with Islam" line, and the macabre "religion of peace" charade. The unashamed Islamic observances of ISIS can't have helped. Or maybe it was simply that their constituents and audiences have now heard one cry of Allahu Akbar too many. In any case, the foolish assertions have mostly stopped.


Unhelpfully, however, they has been replaced by an agenda that is equally as stupid, although, for a fleeting moment endows the speaker with an air of fairness, and moral and intellectual superiority. The agenda is that of religious equivalency. It allows a politician in the aftermath of, say, a bomb plot at a display of Mohammad cartoons, to concede (in appropriately vague terms) that yes, there was an Islamic element to the violence. So far, so Islamaphobic! But the political genius is in the punchline. Yes, Islamists just tried to blow up a poorly attended art exhibition, but what about the Crusades? What about Northern Ireland? What about the Inquisitions? What about the bombing of abortion clinics? Who are we to judge? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, etc, etc. It's a time honoured routine, and the only surprise is it's taken politicians and commentators so long to adopt when it comes to Islam.

You will notice, too, that it is not just about religious equivalence. It's about chronological equivalence and quantitative equivalence as well. When dealing with the present and on-going threat of Islamic terror, the most politically correct thing to do, if not the most sensible or strategic, is evidently to compare it to some similar "religious violence" from say AD 1096 to 1291. Or the Northern Ireland conflict, despite the remarkable peace that has been achieved (can anyone imagine such a peace in, say, Iraq? Or anywhere in the Middle East between Sunni and Shia Muslims). Or perhaps the best use of conter-terrorism time, money, and energy is to make comparisons between Man Haron Moris and the most recent abortion clinic killer. Which, by the way, was more than a decade ago.

Not surprisingly, President Obama is the grandmaster of religious equivalence; his moral high-ground rhetoric has become a classic of the genre. But he also has a unique forum for his sermons: the Presidential Prayer Breakfast. This venerable institution is unparalleled in the western world, and provides him with a willing audience of keen clerics (of various religions), all desperate to be seen with the POTUS, and most of a liberal persuasion, and therefore willing to provide him with the theological legitimacy he needs to make the outrageous statements he does.

In his most recent prayer brekkie, the pastor-in-chief said after speaking about Islamic State and Boko Haram:

…lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.

That would be the Crusades for which the Roman Catholic Church has said its mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa on multiple occasions. Ditto the Inquisition. Terrible deeds to be sure, but ones renounced by Catholicism, let alone wider Christianity. So, apart from offering a distraction from Islam, and from the actual, difficult conversations around it that need to be had, what could possibly be the point of bringing that up? Who does it help? What would the theological or the pastoral rationale?


It should also be mentioned, that while "people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ," and likewise people commit terrible deeds in the name of Islam, there is still no religious equivalence. While the Koran encourages – and indeed commands - violence against unbelievers (at least in certain circumstances), Christianity does not. In fact, it commands the opposite. So while Jihad can legitimately (according to the Koran) be committed in the name of Allah, no act of violence can legitimately (according to the Bible) be committed in the name of Christ.

Saint Peter was one of the first to get this wrong, cutting of the high priest's servant's ear at Jesus' arrest (Matthew 26:51ff). He was swiftly rebuked by Jesus himself with the well-used maxim: "all who take the sword will perish by the sword." Peter would later learn his lesson. Writing to the churches of Asia Minor he exhorts them to (in the context of persecution) "honour everyone" (1 Peter 2:17), and even to not retaliate as you suffer or are wrongly punished, rather to follow Christ's example and entrust your situation to "him who judges justly" (vv. 19-23). Paul, likewise, would command the Galatians, "as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone" (6:10). Religious equivalence? I think not.

I have said that the foolish "nothing to do with Islam" assertions have mostly stopped. Incompetent Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, however, worked himself into such a giddy state that he went even further. After the arrest of the Islamic State-inspired ANZAC Day jihadis (all of whom were regular participants at the Al Furgan Islamic Study Centre), Andrews declared "These people are not people of faith!"

Not people of faith? Err…so they're atheists? I can imagine the police interview now:

Detective: why did you do this?

Terrorist: because there is no god.

It is the height of arrogance to dismiss a person's faith in such a cavalier way, but in any case, how does Andrews deal with this atheistic threat? He gets faith leaders from a range of religions on board his $25m taskforce to combat violet extremism. I'm sure those Presbyterians will have a lot to contribute! The notion that these attacks have nothing to do with Islam is preposterous beyond belief, but at least it saved the taxpayer from funding self-righteous ecumenists, and from having to be lectured on church history by self-righteous presidents.

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About the Author

Chris Ashton is married with two children, works for the Presbyterian Church, and has a Master's in church history. He has written for The Spectator Australia and the ABC's The Drum, and tweets @chrisashton.

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