In a previous post entitled “Russia and Islam, part eight: working together, a basic “how-to”“, I have discussed in some details the basic principles which could be applied by both Christians and Muslims to jointly take a stand against the current Empire. I don’t want to repeat it all here, especially since in that article I was discussing this issue specifically in the Russian context. What I propose to do today is to simply post a quick reminder of the general principles I am suggesting both sides abide by.
1) Recognize irreconcilable theological disagreements
The fact that the Islamic and Christians theologies cannot be reconciled is fairly obvious and yet often deliberately ignored, sometimes out of ignorance, mostly out of a misplaced desire not to offend. And yet, there is nothing offensive in the basic recognition of an undeniable fact. For Muslims Christ is a prophet, for Christians He is the theanthropos, the God-man. This is what the absolutely highest Christian theological dogma says about Him:
One Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
As far as I know – and please correct me if I am wrong – but all the segments which I have outlined in red are categorically unacceptable to Islam. But even if I got one or two of these wrong, there is plenty enough differences here to consider that the Islamic and Christian theologies are mutually exclusive (reminder: Orthodox and Latin Christians disagree only on one word and Orthodox and Arian Christians disagree on one single letter!). The best thing is therefore accept that as a fact and let each person decide in his/her conscience which of the two faiths – or any other, or none at all – he/she wants to adopt. Next,
2) Recognize that Islam and Christianity have polemicized with each other:
This really flows from point #1 above, but this is worth repeating. Because of their mutually exclusive theologies, Christians and Muslims have often polemicized with each other, sometimes resorting to name-calling. So what? Humans are humans and issues of religion can generate heated disagreements and disputes. This really proves nothing. Next,
3) Recognize that Islam and Christianity have a checkered track of coexistence:
Sometimes Christians and Muslims coexisted in peace, sometimes not. Since religion is very often used by the worldly powers of the state to justify various policies, it is often very hard to tell whether this or that bad episode was the result of tensions between the faithful or between their secular, worldly, leaders. But, again, does that matter? Neither Christians nor Muslims pretend to all be sinless saints – we all know that we are sinners – so what really matters is this: Christians and Muslims can – and have – coexisted in peace. This is possible, it happened quite often in fact. Thus, this can be repeated.
4) Christian and Islamic ethics mostly agree with each other:
Yes, there are some differences. As far as I can tell, the most acute ones are the stance on the death penalty (which Islam fully favors and Christianity opposes) and the attitude towards “apostates” (which Islam executes, while Christianity only declares them cut-off from the Church). The fact that Christianity and Islam have coexisted in peace for centuries tells me that these differences can be intelligently managed. And since most countries have abolished the death penalty anyway, this is hardly the most pressing issue for either community.
So here is again my practical recommendation:
Having accepted our differences, having accepted that we have a checkered history of coexistence but having also accepted that we can, with good will and intelligence, coexist, let us stop dwelling on these topics ad nauseam and turn to the pressing issues at hand today. I do not mean to say that these issues cannot be discussed here, or anywhere else, but only that this blog is probably not the best place to do so, if only because we are unlikely to change each other’s beliefs.
One final point: scriptural exegesis is a very delicate science which requires a lot of very complex and sophisticated methodological and even spiritual capabilities and which cannot be reduced to “this text says this or that”. For example, Orthodox Christians believe that the only correct way to understand the Scripture is within a pious spiritual life in the Church (orthopraxis) combined with the understanding of the so-called consensus patrum (the agreement of the Church Fathers) is on any given passage or topic. My understanding is that Islam teaches that the proper understanding of a passage of the Quran can only come when seen in the context of all the rest of the Quran and the guidance from the Sunna, as interpreted by recognized spiritual leader/jurist. In other words, this or that Sura or Ayat taken by itself cannot be understood any more than this or that verse of the Scripture. Yet another reasons for all of us to exercise the utmost caution when quoting the scripture of a religion which is not ours.
That’s it – I just wanted to submit these reminders to everybody as a way to keep our discussions focused and productive. I hope that the above is helpful.
Many thanks and kind regards,