Robert Meyer
Obama shouldn't use selective history to minimize current atrocities
By Robert Meyer
February 17, 2015

Obama's recent comments at a national prayer breakfast raised a host of critical eyebrows.

The most offending comment from the president's address was as follows..

"Unless 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. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."

Obama's commentary drew this response from one of the world's foremost Christian apologists, Ravi Zacharias. "I cannot recall when I have heard such inappropriate words at so important an occasion, in such a time of crisis." It should be noted that Zacharias by habit is extraordinarily careful not to foray too deeply into commentary on partisan politics.

The question is not whether the president is accurate in his historical perspective, but whether his comments are relevant and meaningful to the situation at hand.

But first let's analyze the statement itself.

Without a doubt, history bears witness to the fact that people have committed terrible atrocities in the name of Christ. But if we are going to evaluate the virtues of Christianity, this observation would be tantamount to asking the wrong question. We must ask whether the people committing the terrible deeds in the name of Christ, were actually following any mandates given by Christ himself. To put a finer point on this issue, I once asked an atheist this question: "If I committed a series of ritual axe murders using your own name as a justification for the killings, would that universally indict atheism as an evil ideology?" No response was offered. The fact that one acts in the name of something hardly evidences that they are accurately representing what they claim to represent.

Of course Christ never required or encouraged anyone to kill infidels or nonbelievers in order to advance Christianity. But claiming to be a Christian is no magical elixir that people will follow in the footsteps of Christ.

Others may eschew that approach in favor of one which points to accounts of genocide and barbarism in the Old Testament of the Bible. Of course, the mandate of the ancient Hebrews to annihilate other peoples was a command for a specified time and situation, rather than a perpetual mandate. You won't find any group of either Jews or Christians who read in the scriptures that David slew Goliath and, therefore reason, that it is incumbent on them to find the modern decedents of the Philistines and assassinate them.

Any individual thinking that way is not being religiously zealous, he is mentally deranged.

Skeptics continually remind us of the violent history of the Judeo-Christian tradition without any contemporary anecdotal examples to stimulate such observations. At the same time we continue to count the host of modern atrocities in the Muslim world, only to be met with the unwavering mantra that Islam is undeniably a peaceful religion.

So what are we to make of this?

First of all, we must understand that the mainstream media and liberal pundits tend to eschew criticism of Islam while heaping it on Christianity, because they view Muslims as an oppressed group.

Secondly, we must examine the origin of the claims that the Qur'an promotes peace or that it promotes violence.

I am no expert on Islam, but have read some experts that are former Muslims. They claim the Qur'an has two categories of sura (chapters) written at different times and at different locations. Those scriptures originating from when the Prophet Mohammed lived in Mecca, and those of later origin from when Mohammed resided in Medina. In Mecca, Mohammed was more tolerant and accommodating, as he was surrounded by religious idolaters who largely rejected his message. In Medina, he was better received and eventually gained considerable military power, so those sura were far less congenial and compromising. This is the origin of the more violent or militant mandates.

Many Muslim theologians follow the interpretation method of historian Ibn Ishaq. Generally this infers that the earlier Meccan suras are subordinate to the later, more militant Medinan suras. The Medinan sura are used by militant groups to justify their actions as mandates of Islam. The Meccan sura can serve as the primary citations by the majority who insist Islam is peaceful. Both viewpoints seem to a have at least legitimate claim that they follow Mohammed's instructions.

Notice how this presents a stark contrast from the Judeo-Christian tradition, where ancient mandates cannot be used at all to justify current activities because the older covenant is fulfilled and no longer in place.

It should also be observed that many world religions have their legions of nominal adherents: Those who identify culturally with a certain religion, but aren't really deeply devoted followers. Many Christians and Muslims probably both fall into this category.

The problem with Obama's exclamation is that the issue shouldn't be about shaming people over past cruelty associated with their religious tradition in order to minimize the horror of current atrocities, but whether we must condemn, and how we should combat the proliferation of senseless violence today.

© Robert Meyer


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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)


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