November 13, 2014

Questioning Islam isn't Islamophobia

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, November 13, 2014

Questioning Islam isn't Islamophobia

Let's be clear on this: Muslims are people we should love and respect.

Though I disagree deeply with Islam, it seems to me that love of neighbour requires respect for those with whom one disagrees. So kudos to the folks in Cold Lake, Alberta, who helped clean up a recently vandalized mosque.

But let's be clear on this, too: having reasonable, evidence-based concerns about Islam—especially when adherents closely follow the violent life and teachings of Muhammad—is not an instance of Islamophobia.

Please notice I definitely am NOT saying that all Muslims are monolithic in their views, that all Muslims are supporters of ISIS or other terrorists, or that any Muslims should be treated with prejudice or in any way unjustly.

Rather, I am saying that we need to do some careful thinking.

I saw a meme circulating on the internet recently. The meme had two pictures with a caption under each. The first picture was of a meeting of several white-robed-white-hooded Ku Klux Klan members. The caption: "No-one thinks that these people are representative of Christians."

The second picture (immediately below the first) was of a dozen black-garbed-black-masked ISIS fighters with weapons at the ready. The caption: "So why do so many people think that these people are representative of Muslims?"

The apparent implication: just as the KKK isn't Christian, so too ISIS isn't Islamic.

Let's pause and think.

Most or all the Christians and Muslims I know are decent people, and, yes, we should protect them from being misrepresented. So far so good.

But the questions we should be asking are these: Does the KKK actually follow the example and teachings of Jesus? (Answer: clearly no.) Does ISIS actually follow the example and teachings of Muhammad? (Answer: very apparently yes.)

The more I learn about the life and teachings of Muhammad, the more I'm convinced that Muhammad was an extremely violent man bent on world domination by force—and he teaches others to be and do likewise. It's interesting that the present leader of ISIS has a PhD in Islamic Studies.

Unlike Jesus, who shed his own blood for others to spread his message, Muhammad shed the blood of others to impose his message.

A phobia is typically an irrational or ungrounded fear or hatred. Consider arachnophobia, an irrational ungrounded fear or hatred of spiders. Clearly, it's possible to have reasonable, non-phobic concerns about some spiders if the spiders display evidence of being harmful or lethal to humans.

In recent years I've seen too many public discussions shut down because people who raise important questions are dismissed as "phobic" when in fact they're not. The if-you-disagree-then-you're-phobic card is a smokescreen against truth, and it misleads popular audiences. (So I want to help nip it in the bud.)

In view of ISIS and its close affiliation with Muhammad's violent life and teachings, the challenge before us is threefold: (1) we should encourage Muslims who do not emulate Muhammad's violence to continue not emulating Muhammad's violence; (2) we should question Islam (Muslims’ religion) because it elevates Muhammad as someone to be emulated; and (3) we should do 1 and 2 in such ways that show love and respect to Muslims.

Yes, this is no small challenge. It also isn't Islamophobia.

Speaking truth and loving others can—and should—go hand in hand.

Recommended resources:

● William Kilpatrick, Christianity, Islam, and Atheism (book)
● Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (book)
● Robert Spencer et al., Islam: What the West Needs to Know (online video)
● R.C. Sproul & Abdul Saleeb, The Dark Side of Islam (book)
● David Wood, Answering Muslims (website)

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

November 01, 2014

War and Bible

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 30, 2014

War and Bible

I am neither a pacifist nor a war-monger. I believe that sometimes (as a last resort) war is just, or at least more just than the alternatives. I believe, too, that my view is consistent with the Bible. Here are some relevant clarifications.

1. Genesis 9:6

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God has God made man.”

This biblical principle seems odd or even contradictory until we account for the biblical notions of guilt and shedding blood with/ without God’s approval.

Consider Genesis 9:6 plus my clarifications in brackets: “Whoever sheds the blood of man [whoever kills an innocent person, i.e., kills a human being without God’s permission], by man shall his blood be shed [the guilty person will be killed by others with God’s permission, i.e., God prescribes that other human agents kill the guilty person].”

So in the case of killing an innocent person (a capital crime), it’s possible to forfeit one’s life (via capital punishment). Innocent life is so important—because made in the image of God—that whoever destroys it unjustly is justly destroyed.

2. God’s vengeance

Yes, Scripture tells us that God says “vengeance is mine.” Significantly, however, Scripture ALSO tells us that (just) government is “God’s servant”—God’s “agent of wrath.”

Romans 13:4: “[The government] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

The sword is an instrument of death. The sword-bearer is God’s appointed agent.

Vengeance is God’s, yes, but God delegates.

3. Jesus and the sword

Doesn't Jesus tell his followers to reject the sword, as when Peter cuts off the ear of the man arresting Jesus?

It seems to me that Jesus tells Peter (who was carrying a sword even after following Jesus for a few years!) to put his sword away so that Jesus would complete His special mission, i.e., so that Jesus—an innocent man who is also God—would die on our behalf for our sins to satisfy the requirements of God’s justice.

The above sword passage is a special case, in other words.

Significantly, elsewhere Jesus tells his disciples to buy swords. Elsewhere, too, Jesus commends without reservation the faith of a Roman Centurion, a commanding officer of 100 soldiers, i.e., 100 professional warriors—who use swords! (Jesus’ having such high regard for a soldier strongly suggests that there is such a thing as morally good soldiering and thus the moral appropriateness of sometimes, under appropriate circumstances, taking human life.)

Also, John the Baptist, whom Jesus holds in high regard, advises soldiers—professional warriors/ killers/ sword-bearers—not to quit their jobs but be content with their pay.

Also, David—a man after God’s (Jesus’) heart—uses violent force to kill Goliath plus chops off Goliath’s head with a sword.

Moreover, God in the Old Testament often uses lethal force (e.g., the sword of war) to deal with evil aggressors.

Furthermore, Ecclesiastes tells us, apparently prescriptively, that there is “a time to kill” and “a time for war” (which often involved swords).

In addition (and again), the apostle Paul, writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit (who is one with Jesus), says the state bears the sword—a lethal instrument—as an agent of God’s wrath (1 Peter 2:14 confirms the government’s role in punishing wrongdoers).

Therefore, when it comes to the question of whether the Bible tells us to use lethal police/ military force justly, it seems there are good biblical grounds for thinking so—especially to protect innocents from evil aggressors.

Love of neighbour sometimes requires just force to protect one's neighbour.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College.)

Additional Apologia columns relating to war, for further reading:

October 04, 2014

Bible and principle of non-contradiction

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 2, 2014

Bible and principle of non-contradiction

Does the Bible teach that the principle of non-contradiction applies to God? I believe so.

The principle of non-contradiction says that nothing can both be and not-be at the same time and in the same sense. For example, I cannot be both taller than my wife and not taller than my wife at the same time and in the same sense (I'm 6' 3" and Carla is 5'). A square cannot be both a square (a figure with four equal straight sides) and a circle (a figure with no straight sides) at the same time and in the same sense.

But does the principle of non-contradiction apply to the physical world only, not the spiritual?

I think that answer is no, for (at least) three reasons.

First, the God of the Bible reveals God in such a way that presupposes the legitimacy of the principle of non-contradiction with respect to God.

God reveals Himself as I AM, not I AM NOT. That is, God reveals Himself as Being, as opposed to not being.

Significantly, via Jesus, God reveals Himself as the Truth, as opposed to the false; the Way, as opposed to not the way; the Life, as opposed to not life. God is also revealed as never changing, as opposed to changing—trustworthy, not untrustworthy.

Moreover, Jesus—God—is revealed as the Logos, as opposed to the non-Logos. (Logos means word or rational principle.) And Jesus is revealed as the Christ, not the anti-Christ.

Second, the truth of the principle of non-contradiction is intuitively obvious.

Think again about my first examples. It's obvious to rational intuition that I can't be taller AND shorter than my wife at the same time and in the same sense, and that a square can't ALSO be a circle at the same time and in the same sense. Surely this insight applies to concepts having to do with God.

If God exists, then it's not the case that God doesn't exist. If God is the creator, then it's not the case that God isn't the creator. If God is wholly good, then it's not the case that God is evil.

Of course God's ways are higher than our ways (and more mysterious), but, surely, if God is good, then God's ways do not contradict the good.

Third, the objection that the crucial Christian doctrine—the Incarnation—is contradictory (and thus we should embrace the logically absurd) is a failure.

Yes, Jesus is the Incarnation: Jesus is God (God the Son) and fully human. Yes, this might seem to violate the principle of non-contradiction IF we take "fully human" to mean can't be God. But doing so would be a mistake.

Consider this. Humans are fleshly creatures made in the image of God. Whereas our nature, i.e., our God-likeness (our moral, rational, relational, and creative nature) is limited, God's nature (God's moral, rational, relational, and creative nature) has no limiting properties—God is all-powerful.

Logically, though, an all-powerful being could choose temporarily not to exercise all His powers and in so doing don human flesh. Significantly, this allows for the possibility that Jesus can be fully God (God the Son) and, because He is God, also be a limited fleshly creature made in the image of God—fully human.

Mystery doesn't require logical absurdity.

As the parent who limits him/herself to interact with a child at the child's level doesn't cease to be a parent, so it goes with God.

Thus, the principle of non-contradiction applies to God because (1) God says so, (2) it's intuitively obvious, and (3) the objection that the Incarnation violates it fails.

The important question now is: Why think the man Jesus is also the God described in the Bible? Enter: the evidence for Jesus' claims to deity plus the evidence for His bodily resurrection—a sign that vindicates His claims.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

Further reading on the principle of non-contradiction: 

Further reading on the concept of Incarnation: 

Further reading on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection: