By Garry J. Moes
Fanatical liberal extremists, such as the reality-challenged butch whack-job Rosie O'Donnell, are fond of charging that the United States of America (read United States of Bush) is a greater force for terror in the world than the self-proclaimed terrorists who have been blowing up everything in sight for some 40-50 years now. The charge is so absurd that it does not deserved to be discussed. So I won't.
I would like to discuss, however, a parallel charge, also from the same quarters (including Rosie the rabid riveter), that there is no essential difference between Islamic "fundamentalists" and Christian "fundamentalists," except that the latter are probably more dangerous. The "dangerous" part of that allegation is as patently absurd as the broader charge cited in the opening paragraph. However, it would be enlightening to consider what parallels there might be between Islamic fundamentalism and certain Christian elements. (Actually, "parallels" is a less appropriate term than, say, "mirror images.")
First of all, the religiously ignorant loudmouths making the charges know virtually nothing about the tenets of either Islamic fundamentalism or Christian fundamentalism. I would be happy if they would only acquaint themselves with the former, because a keen, even basic, understanding of the religious inspiration and motivations of the Islamic imperialists would be sufficient to end the discussion.
In modern Christianity, the term "fundamentalism" is a theological term of art. Fundamentalist Christianity, or Christian Fundamentalism (with a capital "F"), is a movement that arose mainly within British and American Protestantism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, led by conservative evangelical Christians, who, in a reaction to "modernism," set forth a series of fundamental Christian beliefs: the literal inerrancy and authority of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ through His death on the cross, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the imminent return of Jesus Christ.
In the late 19th century and early to middle 20th century, Christian Fundamentalists became highly identified with another set of beliefs which mainstream Christianity did not hold to, namely a scheme of historical interpretation of the Bible and a particular systematic eschatology known as "dispensationalism." Dispensationalism teaches biblical history as a number of successive economies or administrations, called dispensations, each of which emphasizes the continuity of the covenants God made with the Hebrews/Jews, said to be His original and eternally chosen people.
Most dispensationalists also espouse an eschatology (doctrine of the "end times") known as "premillenialism," which holds that Jesus Christ will return to earth at a certain point in history (that point delineated by certain benchmarks including the end [or beginning, in a variant view] of a seven-year period of severe persecution or "tribulation" ) and literally reign on the earth from a throne in Jerusalem for 1,000 years, after which the earth and all the wicked in it will be destroyed. Christians will be "raptured" out of the earthly environment either before, during or after the millennial reign, depending on which of several views of premillennialism one holds.
Among the benchmarks or "signs" of the end times and coming of the millennial reign of Christ are these, according to the premillennial Fundamentalists: the rise of false religious prophets, teachers and messiahs; wars; famines; earthquakes; tribulations; the spread of the Christian Gospel throughout the world; increasing godlessness; apostasy (a falling away) from the faith among Christians; the rise of a 200-million-man army in the East; the redevelopment of the Roman Empire (now taken to mean the European Union); the return of the Hebrew language within Israel; the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, along with the return of Temple worship and animal sacrifices; the appearance of a certain Red Heifer in Israel; increase in global knowledge and travel; the return of Ethiopian Jews to Israel; the rise of Russia as a strong military power; an alliance or pincher movement of Russia and China; the return of Russian Jews to Israel; the rise of certain technologies which will result in all of the enemies of Christ receiving a "mark of the beast"; the rise and establishment of "one world government" and a universal language under the rule of political superman or "antichrist"; the rise of Satanism, the occult, and sorcery; a rise in homosexuality, adultery, feminism, sex, violence, disobedience/rebellion among children and drug use; false peace movements; and instant worldwide communication.
Many premillennialists believe most of these benchmarks have recently been met and that the return of Christ to wage a final battle against His enemies, to establish His 1,000-year iron-fisted rule over the wicked of this world and to enter His Final Judgment against evil mankind is imminent. Some scan the daily news reports in great detail looking for evidence of the arrival of these signs. Many are working feverishly, in the open and in secret, to hasten the arrival of benchmarks still unrealized and thereby usher in the Rapture and Millennial Kingdom.
Over against the Fundamentalist Christian millennial view (by no means universally held among Christians, some believing that a figurative or spiritual "millennial" reign of Christ began with His original Incarnation and will continue until the end of history) is a particular eschatological view held by some adherents within Shi’ite Islam. These Muslims are expecting and/or working for the imminent return of a figure known as the Twelve or Hidden Imam, who will lead the world in an Islamic brand of millennial rule.
While the stories of the first eleven Imams are historical in nature, the history of the Twelfth Imam is mystical and miraculous. He was born in A.D. 868 as Abu'l-Kasim Muhammad (which is the name of the Prophet himself). When Hasan al-Askari, the Eleventh Imam, died in A.D. 874, the seven-year-old boy declared himself to be the Twelfth Imam and went into hiding, according to scholar Richard Hooker of Washington State University.
"The central Shi'a doctrines revolving around the Hidden Imam are the doctrines of Occultation (Ghayba ) and Return (Raj'a ). The Doctrine of Occultation is simply the belief that God hid Muhammad al-Mahdi away from the eyes of men in order to preserve his life. God has miraculously kept him alive since the day he was hidden in 874 AD/260 AH; eventually God will reveal al-Mahdi to the world and he will return to guide humanity," Hooker says.
This return is the most significant event in the future for the Shi'ite faithful and has thunderous eschatological consequences. This return will occur shortly before the Final Judgment and the end of history. Imam Mahdi will return at the head of the forces of righteousness and do battle with the forces of evil in one, final, apocalyptic battle. When evil has been defeated once and for all, the Imam Mahdi will rule the world for several years under a perfect government and bring about a perfect spirituality among the peoples of the world. After the Imam Mahdi has reigned for several years, Jesus Christ will return (raj'a ), as will Husayn and others. It is the return of the dead that falls under the Doctrine of Return; the Mahdi will only appear to humanity.
Twelver Shi'ism is, then, a deeply eschatological religion. Important to understanding Shi'a religious belief is the understanding that the end of time will be preceded by an era of perfect justice and spirituality. The world, for the Shi'ite, is a deeply immoral, degenerate, and corrupt place; these are the necessary preludes to the appearance of Imam Mahdi. Like Christianity, Shi'ism is also a deeply prophetic religion. Like Christian belief, the end of time and the appearance of the Mahdi will be preceded by a number of events foretold in prophecy. The Shi'ite, then, like many Christians, lives in a world full of signs of the impending concluding chapters of history. This is vitally important in understanding Shi'a culture and political theory. Most of Iranian history can only be understood in relationship to the Doctrine of Return and the prophecies associated with it. For instance, during the Iranian Revolution, several Iranians believed that Ayatullah Ruhollah Khumayni, the spiritual and theoretical head of the Revolution, was the Hidden Imam returned to the world of humanity. While Khumayni never admitted this, he never denied it either. In many ways, the Revolutionaries believed that they were engineering or inaugurating the beginning of the reign of justice in the world, just as the radical Protestant English who settled America believed that they were inaugurating the one thousand year rule of saints that would precede the end of the world. Contemporary Iranian politics can in no way be divorced from the fundamental religious tenets of Shi'a Islam.
As described by John von Heyking of the Ashbrook Center for Public Policy at Ashland University:
One of the differences between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam is that the latter, who dominate Iran and form the majority in Iraq, believe that Allah shielded or hid Muhammad al-Mahdi as the Twelve Imam until the end of time. Shi’ites expect the Twelfth Imam, which Jews and Christians would recognize as a messianic figure, to return to save the world when it had descended into chaos. Shi’ite orthodoxy has it that humans are powerless to encourage the Twelfth Imam to return. However, in Iran a group called the Hojjatieh believe that humans can stir up chaos to encourage him to return. Ayatollah Khomeini banned the group in the early 1980s because they rejected one of the primary commitments of the Iranian revolution: the concept of Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist). In other words, they opposed the notion of an Islamic republic because it would hinder the Twelfth Imam’s return on account of it being too just and peaceful. Today, in addition to the possibility of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad himself being a member (or a former member), the group has connections to Qom ultraconservative cleric Mezbah Yazti whom Iranians frequently refer to as the "crazed one" and the "crocodile." Four of the twenty-one new cabinet ministers are purportedly Hajjatieh members. Some reports state that cabinet ministers must sign a formal pledge of support for the Twelfth Imam.
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According to Shi’ite teaching, the Twelfth Imam will not require an introduction upon his return. His identity will be self-evident to all, or at least to those capable of recognizing him. One view states that he will rule through a deputy, or perhaps the deputy will precede the Imam’s return. Perhaps the deputy’s identity should also be evident to all who can see. [Could this be the Beast or False Prophet of Christian Premillenialism’s Antichrist? — GJM]
While Ahmadinejad has not drawn an explicit connection between his desire to see Israel wiped off the map and an activist belief in the Twelfth Imam’s return, the dots are there to be connected once one understands the tyrannical "logic" behind someone who, perhaps viewing himself as a self-proclaimed deputy for the Twelfth Imam, might wish to effect Mahdi’s return. The deputy would promote Iran’s nuclear capabilities for they are key to effecting chaos in the world. The deputy would also purge diplomats, dozens of deputy ministers and heads of government banks and businesses, and challenge the Iranian ruling clerical establishment. All these moves push the regime toward a "coup d’etat" (according to one Iranian source) or at least a constitutional crisis. But a constitutional crisis would be a mere stepping stone for a president for whom the Twelfth Imam does not require an Islamic republic to return.
Western observers need to be able to understand the ideological and religious overtones of the current situation in Iran. Ahmadinejad’s peculiar references to the Twelfth Imam are no mere eccentricity to be taken lightly. Nor do they seem to be the rhetorical ploy of a politician manipulating the excitable masses (as some have interpreted Saddam Hussein’s embrace of Islamism in the later part of his rule). Minimally, Ahmadinejad’s speeches and actions portend a constitutional crisis for the Iranian regime. Maximally, there are times when one should take bombastic statements not as double-talk, but for what they are.
Historian Victor Davis Hanon of the Hoover Institution observes, "In all his crazed pronouncements, Ahmadinejad reflects an end-of-days view: History is coming to its grand finale under his aegis."
It is not difficult to see that the Dispensationalist Premillennial Christian view of the end of history and the eschatology of the Shi’te Islamic Twelvers are on a powerful and potentially dangerous collision course, with Israel at the center of both apocalyptic views.
Beyond eschatology, there is a second area of theology which must be examined to clearly understand the clash between Christianity and Islam. The key word in this discussion is "theonomy" — the rule of divine law.
Islamic fundamentalists are currently on a worldwide crusade to establish the rule of divine law as the governing force in society, not only in traditionally Islamic lands but throughout the West as well, including Britain, France, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States, all of which currently have enclaves where Sharia is practiced.
Islamic law is known as Sharia. The term means "way" or "path." It is the legal framework within which the public and some private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system based on Muslim principles of jurisprudence. Sharia covers all aspects of day-to-day life, including economics, politics, banking, business law, contract law, sexuality, and social issues. There is not a strictly codified uniform set of laws pertaining to Sharia. It is more like a system of derived laws, based on the Qur’an, Hadith and centuries of debate, interpretation and precedent. Sharia has certain laws which are regarded as divinely ordained, concrete and timeless for all relevant situations (for example, the ban against drinking liquor as an intoxicant). It also has certain laws which derive from principles established by Islamic lawyers and judges.
For fundamentalist Muslims, there is no division of "church" and "state" (although in Islam there is neither church nor state). All of life is one, and all is guided along the path of Sharia. "As Islam makes no distinction between religion and life, Islamic law covers not only ritual but every aspect of life" (infoplease.com Encyclopedia).
"...Sharia ... contains the rules by which the Muslim world is governed (or should govern itself) and forms the basis for relations between man and God, between individuals, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, as well as between man and things which are part of creation. The Sharia contains the rules by which a Muslim society is organized and governed, and it provides the means to resolve conflicts among individuals and between the individual and the state," according to the Middle East Institute.
In Christianity, the concept of theonomy is being advanced primarily by a highly influential movement known variously as Christian Reconstructionism or Dominion Theology. This movement, sparked by the late California theologian Rousas John Rushdoony, author of The Institutes of Biblical Law, and drawing on principles advanced by early Calvinist Reformers in Europe and American Puritans, also holds that divine law (Biblical law) is, once was, and again should become the fundamental organizing principle for all aspects of society and every area of life.
In the terminology of Christian Reconstructionism, theonomy is the idea that, in the Bible, God provides the basis of both personal and social ethics. In that context, the term is always used in antithesis to autonomy, which is the idea that Self provides the basis of ethics. Theonomic ethics asserts that the Bible has been given as the abiding standard for all human government — individual, family, church, and civil; and that Biblical Law must be incorporated into a Christian theory of Biblical ethics (Wikipedia). The moral laws given by God to the ancient Israelites reflect God's character, which is unchangeable, theonomists hold. Most of the laws are intended for all nations, cultures, societies, religions and all eras, including the present time.
"Theonomic ethics, to put it simply, represents a commitment to the necessity, sufficiency, and unity of Scripture. For an adequate and genuinely Christian ethic, we must have God's word, only God's word, and all of God's word. Nearly every critic of theonomic ethics will be found denying, in some way, one or more of these premises" (The Theonomic Antithesis to Other Law-Attitudes).
Rushdoony writes that "the god of a culture can be located by fixing its source of law. If the source of law is the ontological Trinity of Christian revelation, then that Trinity is the God of that culture. If the source of law rests in the people, then the voice of the people is the voice of God (vox populi, vox dei), and that voice finds expression and incarnation either in a leader, a legislative body, or a supreme court, depending on which gains the ascendency. The highest point in the processes of law is the god of that system" (The Politics of Guilt and Pity).
Theonomists support public policy changes in accord with Biblical principles, but see those changes as coming about as a result of, and not the cause of, conversions to Christianity. By contrast, fundamentalist Muslims would base public policy on Sharia by whatever imposition is necessary, including by arms, terror or forced conversions.
Many Christian theonomists seek a future earthly "Kingdom of God" in which much of the world is converted to Christianity. They cite the numerous scripture passages referring to God's collective judgment upon unrighteous nations and God's blessing upon those rulers and societies heeding His Word as evidence that the presence or absence of Christian values may profoundly influence the rise and fall of nations.
"Theonomy means literally, ‘God's law,’ or the belief that the moral laws of the Old Testament are still binding today. This idea states that only Old Testament laws specifically fulfilled in the New Testament are non-binding (such as sacrificial laws, ceremonial laws and dietary laws). The moral Law of God is still the ethical standard for governing individuals and society," writes Jay Rogers, editor of a Reconstructionist-oriented publication called The Forerunner International.
The moral Law of God, when codified as a basis for civil law, restrains the passion of the sinner (i.e., capital punishment is a deterrent to violent crime). It also acts as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Knowledge of the moral Law of God brings individuals knowledge of sin. Then more may be converted through faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. How can we be saved unless we first know that we are sinners?
Theonomy implies the systematic theology of covenantalism: the belief that God operates through covenants, or eternally binding legal agreements; that there is no division between the Old and New Testaments; that the New Covenant includes the moral Law of the Old Covenant; that the Old Covenant required grace through faith in Jesus Christ as a means of obtaining personal salvation.
The system of government resulting from theonomy is called a theocracy: literally, "God's government." When we speak of a theocracy, it should be clear that we are not talking about a state run by a national church, or an ecclessiocracy, such as the Holy Roman Empire, or the totalitarian military dictatorships in Muslim fundamentalist states. In a true theocracy, the state does not control the church, nor the church the state, but both spheres of society are under the government of God. There is implied a decentralization of power or a "Christian Republican" form of government.
Christian Reconstructionism repudiates Zionism and vehemently opposes the views of the Christian Fundamentalist Dispensationalists and Premillennialists, which they say have captured much of the Christian Right in America.
"The Christian Right may be criticized for putting an undue emphasis on ‘political solutions’ and for not relying strictly on biblical law," says Rogers. "Simply put: either we will have man’s law or God’s law as a standard for civil legislation. We are not looking for a ‘voice a the table’ nor are we seeking ‘equal time’ with the godless promoters of pornography, abortion, safe-sodomy subsidies, socialism, etc. We want them silenced and punished according to God’s Law-Word. ... Civil law must has some standard: either it is human autonomy (what man sees as right in his own eyes) or it is biblical law (what God declares to be right in His Word) .... take your pick!"
We believe that there are two biblically prescribed punishments enforceable by the state: execution and restitution. We do not believe in jail sentences. We believe in only the biblically prescribed punishments for violations of the moral law.
We do not believe that the state is the final arbiter in all matters pertaining to the moral law. Most of these cases would be resolved within families or within churches. However, only the state may execute criminals for capital crimes; only the state "bears the sword’ (see Romans 13).
We want civil government to punish evil doers according to biblical sanctions. We want all moral laws of the Old Testament to be enforced according to biblical standards.
Reconstructionists hold that any person — Jew, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant — would be free in a biblically reconstructed society under the civil law to worship. "The civil government has no power to restrict religion," Rogers says. "The civil government has an obligation to see that all people obey the moral law as it falls into civil jurisdiction. Thus religious expressions which contradict the Ten Commandments would not be publicly tolerated. The domain of the church is to preach truth. Because Reconstructionists are postmillennialists [the view that Christ will return at the end of an undefined figurative millennium in which the church and world are now living], we believe that eventually, organized false religions will become rare, if not extinct. This will be accomplished mainly through the efforts of the church, not the state."
Such views produce hysteria among theonomy’s critics, avowed secularists and atheists. One such critic who calls himself an Evangelical Atheist, says, "My friends, Christian Reconstructionism and Muslim Fundamentalism are the two most dangerous ideologies in the world today. Under either, unbelievers would be oppressed at best. At worst, who can say? Which is more of a threat? The Muslims can only blow us up; the Dominionists get to vote. Al-Qaeda can take our lives, but Christian Reconstructionists can take our country, and ultimately, our freedom."
Reconstructionists energetically deny such charges and say that they hold only that as biblical thought competes in the marketplace of ideas, it will eventually win the day because of its inherent goodness, righteousness and justice and eventually become the basic character of society, with biblical ethics codified as law being the natural result. According to Rushdoony, "Now as Christians we believe that the basic starting point is the regeneration of man. Then man takes and applies that faith. For Christians the basic government is the self-government of the Christian man. Then the basic governmental unit is the family. This means that every father and mother will be more important in the sight of God than heads of state, because He controls children, property and the future. Then the third is the church as the government, fourth the school as a government, fifth your job governs you, then sixth society governs you with its ideas, beliefs and standards, and seventh, one among many forms of government, is the civil government."
Meanwhile, the clash of religious fundamentalisms will no doubt continue to grow. The strategies and tactics of the opposing fundamentalist forces are vastly different, with Islam renewing is centuries-old violent imperialism in an attempt to take the world by force through a growing army of terrorists, insurrectionists and violent propagandists. In the modern world, the nations of Christendom have no religiously motivated crusader armies, indeed few have much left of Christianity. Unless the formerly Christian nations of the West awaken to the harsh realities that Islamic fundamentalism seeks to impose on them, the outcome of this civilizational Armageddon looks bleak for the West. It is time to reassert the moral foundations of Western society, which find their genesis in the civilizing impulses and values of Christianity and the Hebrew-Christian Bible. Without the reinforcement of these foundations and the repudiation of its present moral corruptions, the West will crumble, and great will be the fall thereof.
"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it." — Jesus in Matthew 7:24-27 (KJV)