THE RECENT CARTOON RIOTS STIR IN ME FEELINGS OF AMBIVILENCE. On the one hand, we have to agree with much the secular liberalists like Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali say in defence of the open society and freedom of expression. After all, these concepts are closely linked with religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
Such freedoms have taken us a long time to achieve. Generations of Christian have paid the ultimate price for these freedoms throughout Europe’s bloody past. And others too, of course. The gruesome murder of Theo van Gogh, Hirsi Ali’s film-making colleague, just over a year ago on the streets of Amsterdam, signalled a new phase in the battle for the open society. Since that event, Hirsi Ali herself has lived in an undisclosed location with police protection.
Now Moslem mobs ransack embassies across the Middle East and chant death threats to Danish cartoonists who were only trying to give readers a laugh over their breakfast papers! Oxford professor Timothy Garton Ash is right when he warns that if the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way.
Yet on the other hand we find ourselves asking, is nothing sacred?
Granted, Christians don’t usually take to the streets in mob frenzy, firing weapons in the air, burning flags and effigies, offering bounties for the heads of the infidels, whenever God, Jesus or Christianity is criticised or lampooned. But neither can we be comfortable with the shameless, godless, amoral and individualistic society Moslem immigrants encounter when they come to Europe. Recently in Berlin I found myself looking through Moslem eyes at a huge billboard depicting two males kissing passionately.
It’s worth remembering we may share more moral values with Moslems than with our secular neighbours – regarding marriage and family, right to life issues, sexuality, and belief in a God. I have known Moslems to express gratitude and relief when they discover Europeans who fear God and who are also offended by loose morality and godlessness.
Current Moslem anger at the secular West (often perceived as the ‘Christian’ west on yet another anti-Moslem crusade) is fuelled by many factors. But we do well to avoid an ‘us-them’ polarisation. Instead we should perhaps ask ourselves, as does Michael Schluter in another context, “why is Moslem commitment to obey the Koran greater than the Christian commitment to listen to, and obey, the Bible?”
Moslems at least are standing up for their view of society, based on Sharia law. Some doubtless plot to impose it eventually on the West. Liberalists want to defend the secular, open society offering freedom of choice, preferably without a God in wings spoiling the fun.
But what vision of society do we Christians stand for? Too often we know what we don’t want, but not what we do want. Yet we have an important piece of the puzzle. Something fundamental, something at the heart of the Christian ‘good news’, is missing from both the Moslem and the secular views of society: LOVE.
God’s revelation to Moses included a pattern for society based on justice (mishpat), charity (tzedek) and covenant love (hessed). It’s a social vision based on right relationships, built on love for God and neighbour.
The Koran, however, does not describe Allah as loving. Secularism excludes God and thus lacks a solid basis for the rule of law and a moral society. Yet, argues Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a free society must be a moral society. Otherwise ‘freedom will degenerate into tyranny, and liberty, painfully won, will be lost’.
So this is not the time simply to watch in silence from the sidelines. It is a time to recover what reformers in earlier times fought for: a biblical, relational vision of society. And time may be running out.
Till next week,