Tag Archives: Islam

A brief note about the influence of Neoplatonism on early Christianity

Some of my posts over the past four years have focused on the influence of ancient mystery religions on the development of Christianity. Here’s a brief quote, really a footnote, found in a friend’s book on Neoplatonism:

“That which is utterly beyond us and cannot be expressed or thought is by its very transcendence of distance and difference most intimately present. The Neoplatonists express this with particular force: it was from them that Christianity and Islam learnt their understanding of the unity of transcendence and immanence.” — A.H. Armstrong, in Hellenic and Christian Studies (Aldershot: Variorum, 1990)

Would C.S. Lewis suppose God could be found or experienced outside of Christianity?

The guy who scorned liberal Christianity as watered-down (“Christianity and water”)—and who mocked “gin-and-lace” Anglo-Catholicism—turns out to believe God could be found outside of Christianity?

The guy who is loved by U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists turns out to proclaim that people can experience God outside of Christianity?

Consider (here I paste from one of my recent replies in a social media thread):

…What I mean is, Lewis saw God in Plato. He also loved Rudolf Otto’s “The Idea of the Holy,” in fact listed it as one of his top 10 books outside the Bible, and Otto’s book affirms the human experience of God among many different cultures and religions, which seems reasonable considering Saint Paul felt it appropriate to quote a pagan poet who wrote, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”

Note Paul found a worthy piece of writing about God outside of Scripture, from a writer neither Jewish nor Christian.

Lewis also said, in “Mere Christianity” no less, “If you are Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through….If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.” He goes on to say God may be working through the good parts of other religions to steer people to Christ.

And in the Narnia book “The Last Battle,” a character who seems analogous to a Muslim enters Aslan’s kingdom and joins the ride “further up and further in.”

Considering Lewis’s love for Otto’s book and his own words in “Mere Christianity” and “The Last Battle,” you…must consider C.S. Lewis to be a heretic. Perhaps he wouldn’t be welcome in the ACNA, which seems only capable of issuing demerits. Look at all the evidence against Lewis being orthodox! And you wouldn’t be the first to consider him insufficiently orthodox. But I don’t.…and until I can consider Lewis a heretic, maybe for the time being I’ll consider a church’s consistent recitation of the Nicene Creed as enough to count for orthodoxy…

In that social media reply, I went on to mention Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, which offers appendices that show similarities in moral and ethical teachings across various religions and cultures. Not that morals and ethics are the ultimate concern for many religious people (for them, salvation is), but similarities in identifying sin are probably important to notice.

In that reply, I should have also included this Lewis quotation, from a 1959 letter to Clyde S. Kilby, which alludes to James 1:17:

“If every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights then all true and edifying writings, whether in Scripture or not, must be in some sense inspired.”

The harshest conservative critics will see the above as cherry-picking (selectively using evidence). However I think the above evidence reveals an undeniable tendency in Lewis’s outlook and worldview, in his theological and philosophical orientations, born from his deep and wide readings in classical literature and mythology.

So, more broadly, this post belongs to perhaps an emerging genre of posts, accumulating on this blog and elsewhere, carrying underneath a tonal blend of exasperation and bafflement at the U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists who appreciate C.S. Lewis, who was neither evangelical nor fundamentalist. Many things evangelicals and fundamentalists scorn in other types of believers are the very things Lewis believed. But C.S. Lewis remains famous and beloved, and he was a scholar who believed in a God and better yet in Jesus Christ; so see, they have a smart person in their corner in a time when undefined, somewhere-out-there smart people seem to be the biggest threat to those in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. (Well, the biggest threat until recently.) Evangelical and fundamentalist leaders seem invested in articulating easily-remembered phrases that can become rhetorical memes that build cognitive walls against outside critiques. C.S. Lewis is so quotable, the rhetorical memes are already available. If they side step the fact that Lewis didn’t see the world or God the same way as U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists, they can quote Lewis with faux gravitas, pat themselves on the back for being smart and bookish, and meanwhile convince no one else in their neighborhoods of anything.

That being said, this post was generated by a recent social media exchange in which an ACNA minister pressed me to seek disciplinary action against an Episcopalian priest for saying God could be found in the Koran. To that I made the above italicized response, also saying I would not be his heresy hunter because I’m not certain C.S. Lewis would play that role. The ACNA minister apparently did not see this as a response to the issue of the Koran. While admittedly not addressing the Koran directly, I argued from C.S. Lewis’s life and work that he thought people outside of Christianity could experience the presence of the real God (what more that might mean or indicate is up for discussion). I think the two strongest pieces of evidence for this are (1) Lewis’s strong appreciation for Otto’s book, not commonly read these days but historically important, and (2) his letter to Kilby. On balance, I’m not sure C.S. Lewis would be welcome in the ACNA except on the merits of his overwhelming celebrity in Christendom. Whether he should be read by ACNA members, as a matter of consistency with the ACNA leadership’s view of orthodoxy, is actually a different question from what I’m raising. But I doubt he would be accepted by the ACNA leadership today on the merits of his actual views. Maybe C.S. Lewis isn’t orthodox enough for the ACNA, or the Southern Baptists—or for that matter the PCA, for whom I have a great deal of love and appreciation, if probably not agreement.

‘Asad Shah death: Man admits killing shopkeeper because he “disrespected” Islam’ — Metro

This was new to me: Claiming to be a prophet could be an offense to Islam.

Although this alleged offense did not occur in the U.S., the claim to be a prophet is a very American thing.

Prophets were typical in the churches of my youth. Prophets would visit, and we would sit, hoping they would (or would not!) call upon us and give us a word from the Lord. More recently, at least one person was given the title of Prophet, in lieu of Reverend, in the credits for the film The Apostle, recently watched during a Tuesday dinner-and-book group I attend. These days, prophets still roam conference circuits.

In America, prophets are everywhere. The Mormons, members of a uniquely American religion, are led by a prophet.

The following article is about a man in England who killed someone who claimed to be a prophet, therefore presumably disrespecting Islam. Is such a murder typical? No. But I wonder if this will have a chilling effect on those who self-identify as prophets in the U.K. and the U.S.

From the article

In a statement, Ahmed, 32, denied the incident had anything to do with Christianity, instead saying that Mr Shah had claimed to be a prophet and therefore ‘disrespected’ Islam.

In a statement made through his lawyer, John Rafferty, Ahmed said: ‘Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Mr Shah claimed to be a Prophet….’

Read the full story

via Asad Shah death: Man admits killing shopkeeper because he ‘disrespected’ Islam — Metro

A Canadian mother’s testimony: the cultic brainwashing tactics of ISIS

NBC Nightly News tonight aired a segment entitled “A Mother’s Warning,” in which a woman from Calgary, Alberta, told the story of her teenage son’s social withdrawal and eventual decision to join ISIS or Islamic State, the terrorist group. He died fighting with ISIS.

Especially telling in the segment was the woman’s characterization of ISIS and how the group lured her son. She used the word “cults” and referenced mind control and brainwashing.

“It’s the same as any cults, gangs, neo-Nazism, any form of extremism,” she said.

She also said she could never imagine her son hurting a flea, much less picking up a gun.

To that statement, the reporter asked, “What happened?”

The mother responded, “They got into his head.”

(The woman was named, but NBC did not display her name on the screen. She now works with other moms to help prevent children from joining terrorist organizations.)

Tonight’s segment reminded me of a report back in September, a report I posted about, in which a Somali-American man in Minneapolis described his nephew’s recruitment by al-Shabaab, another terrorist group.

“He was brainwashed,” the Somali-American man said.

The above-mentioned mom and the Somali-American man saw young male family members leave comparably comfortable Western nations to fight in the Middle East beside terrorists with ancient mentalities. Based on NBC’s reports, the terrorist groups might have reached them through online videos as much or more than through local Muslim gathering spots.

Not long ago, the Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka suggested that plenty of radicalization could be happening the old-fashioned way in one powerful Western country.

As Soyinka said back in 2010, “England is a cesspit. England is the breeding ground of fundamentalist Muslims. Its social logic is to allow all religions to preach openly. But this is illogic, because none of the other religions preach apocalyptic violence. And yet England allows it. Remember, that country was the breeding ground for communism, too. Karl Marx did all his work in libraries there.”

Danish attitudes toward multiculturalism soured years ago, says The Economist

This Advent season, a very long wait: ‘Christians around world under siege’ – Chicago Sun-Times

Steve Huntley, in the Chicago Sun-Times:

During this season of joyous religious celebrations and especially the holiday cheer enjoyed with family and friends during Christmas time, we should not forget that in too many corners of the world Christianity is under siege with Christians abused, brutalized and murdered.

Ghastly crimes like the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian Christian school girls by the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram, the beheadings of Christians by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the flight from riot and murder by Coptic Christians from Egypt during the Muslim Brotherhood reign make headlines….

ICC’s Persecution.org website and organizations and individuals such as Open Doors and the Gatestone Institute’s Raymond Ibrahim do the good work of trying to keep the plight of Christians in the public eye. Their reports, easily accessible on the Internet, make for disturbing reading.

Ibrahim wrote of a Christian convert from Islam in Uganda who established a Christian school. Hassan Muwanguzi was beaten by Muslims, hauled into court on trumped-up charges of “defiling” a Muslim girl, saw his home burned by arson, was sickened by poison, and survived an attack by four Muslims that left his 12-year-old daughter dead.

In a crime that “has shaken Pakistan’s Christian community to the core,” ICC reports, a mob accused a Christian couple of burning pages of the Koran, beat them and burned them alive in a brick kiln. The woman was pregnant; the mob left the couple’s four children orphans.

Open Doors reports that a Christian convert in Egypt faces a five-year prison sentence and that an Anglican church in Nigeria shut down after 11 members were killed in attacks by al-Shabaab terrorists. Open Doors says that in India, Christian pupils and teachers won’t have a Christmas holiday because the government declared Dec. 25 “Good Governance Day” with a student essay competition that day. Furthermore, a Hindu nationalist group says the day should be devoted to “re-converting” 4,000 Christians to the Hindu faith.

via Christians around world under siege – Chicago Sun-Times.

 

Easter in Islamic eyes: common ground and an impasse

A bit of perspective from Rollo Romig at The New Yorker:

With Easter on the way, I became curious about what the Koran has to say  about the crucifixion. I called an imam I know, Ibrahim Sayar, and we got  together over glasses of Turkish tea. Sayar does a lot of interfaith work, much  of which involves getting people from different religions together to eat  kebabs. In the company of Christians, he said, mentioning the status of Jesus in  Islam can be a great icebreaker. “I always tell people, there are millions of  Muslims named after Jesus and Mary—we call them Isa and Mariam,” he said. “Nobody names their children after someone they don’t like.”

In Islam, he emphasized, “believing in Jesus is an absolute requirement. If  you don’t believe in him, you’re automatically not a Muslim.” According to the  hadith—sayings of the Prophet, second only to the Koran in Islamic  authority—Jesus was assumed into heaven, and will return at the end of time in  the east of Damascus, his hands resting on the shoulders of two angels. When it  sees him, the Antichrist will dissolve like salt in water, and Jesus will rule  the earth for forty years. What Muslims don’t believe, though, is that Jesus  died on the cross. It’s spelled out quite clearly, Sayar said, in the Koran’s  fourth Sura, verse 157: “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him.”

Read Romig’s entire article here:  http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/04/how-muslims-view-easter.html#ixzz1rULTAqja