Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is There a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today?

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Recent terrorist attacks have exacerbated the polarization of Jews, Christians and Muslims around the world.  Causes for that polarization have shifted from theological to political differences, especially those over the freedoms of religion and speech.  If interfaith dialogue is to reconcile Jews, Christians and Muslims in today’s world, that dialogue must proceed from a common word of faith and politics, especially since there is no separation of the two in Islam.

            Neither Moses, Jesus nor Muhammad addressed the freedoms of religion and speech since they were not relevant to their ancient times.  Libertarian human rights were introduced in the 18th century by Enlightenment thinkers like Thomas Jefferson who drafted the American Declaration of Independence and championed the freedoms of religion and speech in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus to be “the sublimest morality ever taught,” but he had little use for the “corruptions” of those teachings by the church and monarchs of his day. 

            In 2007 Islamic scholars offered the greatest commandment as a common wordof faith for Muslims and Christians, but political events have since raised doubts as to how that common word of love for God and neighbor relates to faith and politics: First, Who are our neighbors?, and second, How do we love our neighbors as ourselves?  Most of the signatories to a common word are from Islamic nations that have recently experienced democratic upheavals and have chosen to retain Islamic law (Shari’a) as an immutable standard of law and politics, together with apostasy and blasphemy laws to protect the sanctity of Islam.

            An immutable Shari’a that condones apostasy and blasphemy laws conflicts with the fundamental freedoms of libertarian democracy as well as international law.  Until Muslims consider Shari’a a moral code compatible with the freedoms of religion and speech rather than a code of coercive laws, it will continue to conflict with libertarian human rights and further polarize Jews, Christians and Muslims, negating any common word of faith between them.

            With religious polarization exacerbated by Islamist radicals, the need for interfaith dialogue is greater than ever, and to sustain that dialogue a common word of faith and politics is needed.  To be effective interfaith dialogue must go beyond discussing arcane theological issues and exchanging pleasantries and address the contentious issues that divide Jews, Christians and Muslims today, and those issues are more about politics, morality and law than about theology. 

            The greatest commandment may provide a common word of faith, but unfortunately there is no common word of politics in the ancient scriptures.  The greatest commandment does, however, provide a common principle applicable to modern politics.  It is the principle of love for one’s neighbor—even one’s unbelievingneighbor.  It would put love over law and abolish apostasy and blasphemy laws and other ancient religious laws as immutable standards of justice, and embrace the fundamental freedoms and secular laws of libertarian democracy.  That is a daunting challenge for Muslims, but it is one that God/Allah has given to all who love Him.

Notes and References to Resources:

Thomas Jefferson selected those sayings of Jesus that he considered to be teachings on morality in The Jefferson Bible, and they are used in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy (The J&M Book) as explained in the Introduction(pages 10-15).  See End Note 2 at page 425 for Jefferson’s contrasting opinions of the "sublime" moral teachings of Jesus and “…the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man.”  

On the fundamental freedoms of international law in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the contrasting standards of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, see the blog on Faith and Freedom, posted December 14, 2014.

On The greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see the blog posted January 11, 2015. 

On Love over law, see the blog posted on January 18, 2015.

A sampling of the lively debate between Islamic scholars over how their religion and Shari’a relate to modern politics and law can be found at pages 10-17 at Religion, Legitimacy and the Law.  Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a signatory of a common word and author of a widely used text on Islam that illustrates the differences between the legal and political principles of Islam and those of libertarian democracy (see page 15 and end note 55 at page 31).

A Common Word(see takes the greatest commandment from Mark 12:28-33.  It is also found in the Gospels of Matthew (Matthew 22:34-40) and Luke (Luke 10:25-29), and Luke’s version answers the first question, Who is our neighbor?The story of the good Samaritan casts a Samaritan as the good neighbor to a wounded Jew, and that is significant since Samaritans were considered apostates by Jews of that day. 
How do we love our neighbors? Muslim scholars have answered that in A Common Word:
There are numerous injunctions in Islam about the necessity and paramount importance of love for—and mercy towards—the neighbour. Love of the neighbour is an essential and integral part of faith in God and love of God because in Islam without love of the neighbour there is no true faith in God and no righteousness. The Prophet Muhammad ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) said: “None of you has faith until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”xviiiAnd: “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself.”xix
However, empathy and sympathy for the neighbour—and even formal prayers— are not enough. They must be accompanied by generosity and self-sacrifice. God says in the Holy Qur’an:
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in God and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the pious. (Al-Baqarah 2:177)
And also:
Ye will not attain unto righteousness until ye expend of that which ye love. And whatsoever ye expend, God is Aware thereof. (Aal ‘Imran, 3:92)
Without giving the neighbour what we ourselves love, we do not truly love God or the neighbour.

So it is that if we love God we should give our neighbors—even our unbelievingneighbors—what we ourselves love, and that includes the benefits of our political freedom, beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech.  Those freedoms don’t exist in many Islamic nations today.             

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Love Over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            The recent massacre in Paris and continuing violence in Islamic nations is a reminder that Islamic law (Shari’a) conflicts with the freedoms of religion and expression and inspires terrorist acts.  It illustrates why all religious standards of legitimacy must be voluntary moral standards of behavior rather than coercive laws to be compatible with political and religious freedom.       

            Jesus was a Jew, and for the Jews of his day Mosaic Law was the ultimate standard of righteousness and legitimacy.  Jesus emphasized the supremacy of reason and love over religious law, as summarized in the greatest commandment, and to make that point he often violated religious laws and was criticized by Jewish teachers of the law for his ”civil” disobedience.

            On one occasion Jesus was criticized for picking grain on the Sabbath and he told his critics, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).  The word religion or law can be substituted for the Sabbath to illustrate the point: Religious laws can rob us of our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness if we allow them to do so.

            On another occasion Jesus was criticized for violating purity and dietary laws and he told his critics, Nothing outside a man can make him unclean by going into him.  Rather, it is what comes out of him that makes him unclean. (Mark 7:15)  Jesus later told his disciples: What comes out of a man makes him unclean.  For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean. (Mark 7:20-23)  This saying illustrates how religious laws can distort reason and common sense.   
            Blue laws that once prohibited business activities on Sunday in South Carolina have since been repealed.  Blasphemy laws that violated the freedoms of religion and speech were eliminated in the U.S. in the 19th century, but they continue to be enforced in Islamic cultures where, sanctioned by Shari’a, they are considered to be part of God’s immutable law.

            Shari’a incorporates ancient Mosaic Law that made blasphemy a crime punishable by death (Leviticus 24:16).  Shari’a makes any criticism of Islam, the Qur’an or Muhammad blasphemous, and also makes any assertion that God has a family or that Jesus was the son of God blasphemous.  Today Islamic nations such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt use apostasy and blasphemy laws with severe penalties to protect the sanctity of Islam against any criticism.

            Like ancient Judaism, Islam is a deontological religion and makes Shari’a its standard of legitimacy. The teachings of Jesus are more teleological and assert the timeless principle of love or compassion over religious laws.  Perhaps that is why Christianity has proven to be more compatible with democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law than Islam, but that has not always been true.  Before the Enlightenment made democracy and human rights prerequisites for Western governance, the Church used heresy and blasphemy laws to promote its worldly power at the expense of political and religious freedom, just as Islamic rulers now use the Shari’a to promote their political agendas.  It is axiomatic that there can be no freedom of religion or expression where apostasy and blasphemy laws protect the sanctity of any religion.

            The Founding Fathers who drafted the U.S. Constitution, most notably Thomas Jefferson, understood the conflict between religious law and libertarian democracy.  Jefferson might be considered a hypocrite on matters of individual freedom since he was a slaveholder, but his advocacy for the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence and for the freedoms of religion and speech in the First Amendment to the Constitution continue to resonate in U.S. politics and law, and for the vast majority of American believers, political freedom trumps coercive religious laws.

            Globalization has forced competitive religions into closer proximity, escalating religious polarization and violence around the world.  World peace requires religious reconciliation, but it must be based on the primacy of human rights and the secular law of libertarian democracy over Islamist theocracy based on Shari’a.  The two concepts of legitimacy are mutually exclusive, as indicated by a popular Islamic scholar from Egypt who asserted that “God is the only legislator.”                   
            Interfaith dialogue that seeks to address such contentious issues should acknowledge that dichotomy on issues of legitimacy.  Meaningful dialogue requires a commitment to justice based on the primacy of human rights and secular law over religious law.  Then there should also be an affirmation of the moral primacy of God’s love over lawas expressed in the greatest commandmentto love God and our neighbors as ourselves, including our unbelieving neighbors.
Even though Paul could not have foreseen how democracy and human rights would set new standards of legitimacy and law, he rejected religious law as God’s immutable standard of justice when he wrote to the Romans that “…love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)    

            The truth is that God did not give us an ancient and immutable code of sacred law, but instead a timeless and universal principle of altruistic love by which to measure the legitimacy of our governments and their laws.  It is largely up to those Christians and Muslims who make up over half of the world’s population to ensure that their governments and laws provide justice through laws that are consistent with love for others.  That principle is at the heart of legitimacy.

Notes and References to Resources:

This topic is related to Lessons #4 and #5 at pages 31-38 in the J&M Book and previous blog topics.
On Islamic Law and Mosaic Law, see the Appendices to the J&M Book at pages 469-651.  
On the moral teachings of Jesus selected by Thomas Jefferson and their application to politics, religion, legitimacy and law compared with the teachings of Muhammad, see the Introduction to the J&M Book at pages 10-15; see further discussion in Religion, Legitimacy andthe Law.
On human rights from a Muslim perspective, see Muhtari Aminu-Kano et al., Islamic and UN Bills of Rights: Same Difference, April 15, 2014, at   
For a criticism of blasphemy laws, see Fareed Zakaria, Blasphemy and the law of fanatics, Washington Post, January 8, 2015, at
For a Muslim perspective that opposes blasphemy laws, see Ali Mamouri, Islam preaches tolerance of critics, no matter what the Charlie Hebdo attackers believed, Washington Post, January 8, 2015, at
For more articles on religion and human rights, go to Links and click on Open Global Rights: Religion and Human Rights (at Open Democracy).
On the comments of Pope Francis on how love over law relates to the freedom of speech and violent responses to blasphemy (Killing is not justified, but punching someone for insulting my mother would be OK), see
A recommended purpose and process for interfaith dialogue is provided at Interfaith Fellowship: Seeking Reconciliation through a Common Wordof Faith.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Christianity and Islam share the common roots of Judaism and also a common word of faith from the Hebrew Bible.  That common word is made up of two commandments.  The first is the Shema, or Jewish confession of faith: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (see Mark 12:29-30, taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-5)  And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. (see Mark 12:31, taken from Leviticus 19:18)
            Islamic scholars have offered the greatest commandment to Jews and Christians as a common word of faith.  It is where the mystical and moral priorities of our faith—to love God and to love others—come together.  Islam means submission to God, and requires a submissive kind of love for God similar to that of the Jewish Shema.  Both Judaism and Islam define love for God as obedience to God’s laws as set forth in their ancient scriptures, with God rewarding the obedient and punishing the disobedient. 

            Ancient holy laws have produced holy wars, whether those enforcing the ban in the Holy Land, the Christian Crusades, or those of modern Jihadists who believe it is God’s will to kill all infidels.  According to the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an, the love of God can have hateful consequences for unbelievers.  Beyond making war, fundamentalist Christians and Muslims believe that God condemns unbelievers to eternal damnation.  How do you love a God like that? 

            Jesus answered that question by combining the two commandments of the greatest commandment into one: We love God by loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Like prophets before him, Jesus taught that God expects our mercy, not sacrifice (see Matthew 9:10-13, citing Hosea 6:6 and Amos 5:21; also Matthew 12:7).  We show our love for God through loving acts of mercy and compassion like forgiveness, reconciliation and humble servicefor our neighbors, not through religious rituals like blood sacrifices for a jealous and vengeful god.

            That begs the question: Who is our neighbor?  Jesus answered that question with the story of the good Samaritan, in which an apostate Samaritan stopped to help a wounded Jew after several Jews passed him by.  To hear that a Samaritan was the good neighbor was shocking to Jews who hated their neighboring Samaritans, whom they considered apostates. (Luke 10:29-37) 

            Jesus told other stories that shocked his Jewish audience, like turning the other cheek and loving your enemy, but they were rabbinic hyperbole and not intended to be practical standards of legitimacy.  Jesus was never responsible for governing his people, as were Moses and Muhammad, so he never addressed how to defend people from those who would do them harm.  But the principles of sacrificial love taught by Jesus do not allow us to turn the other cheek to those who would harm our neighbors.  Jesus taught and exemplified that loving others came at great risk, and that there was no greater love than to give one’s life for another. (John 15:13) 
            Today we have issues relating to how we love our neighbors that were not addressed by Moses, Jesus or Muhammad.  They involve democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law and are vital to the well-being of all people, but there are major disagreements grounded in religious and cultural differences.  In Western democracies, an emphasis on individual freedom can jeopardize providing for the common good, including welfare for the poor, while in Eastern Islamic regimes, fundamental freedoms such as the freedoms of religion and expression do not exist because of apostasy and blasphemy laws that protect the sanctity of Islam from criticism.  

            The future of democracy and human rights depends upon striking a balance between libertarian individual rights and providing for the common good.  Both are essential to political legitimacy, but libertarian democracy is likely to fail in the West if it cannot balance individual rights with providing for the common good, and democracy will never gain traction in the Islamic East without the freedoms of religion and speech.

            Even though Moses, Jesus and Muhammad never addressed libertarian democracy and human rights, the greatest commandmentis a common word of faith that requires us to share what we love most with our neighbors—and our neighbors include those of other faiths.  Every 4th of July we give thanks for a rule of law that protects our freedoms of religion and speech and that protects women and minorities from unlawful discrimination.  Because we love these libertarian rights it is a moral imperative of our faith that we share them with our neighbors around the world. 

Notes and References to Resources:           
This topic is related to the same topic with commentary on the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad found in Lesson # 3 at pages 25-30 in the J&M Book.
On beliefs, rewards and punishments under Islamic and Jewish (Mosaic) Law, see the Appendices to the J&MBook at pages 470-485 and pages 548-557. 
See the story of the good Samaritan at page 223 of the J&M Book; see the golden rule at page 124 of the J&M Book.
On forgiveness, see page 113 of the J&M Book; on reconciliation, see anger and reconciliation at page 93 of the J&M Book; on humble service, see humility: leaders as servants at page 54 of the J&M Book.
On turning the other cheek, see page 102 of the J&M Book; on loving your enemies, see page 104 of the J&M Book.
On conflicting views of democracy and human rights in the West and East, see Religion, Legitimacy and the Law  at pages 7-8 and 10-17.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            A new year is about new beginnings, and for people of faith new beginnings are about repentance, reconciliation and redemption, or salvation, as children of God.  These are mystical concepts with moral implications for our relationship with God and with other people.  After giving his disciples a new command to love one another Jesus prayed for a unity of all believers.  Jesus taught that through the transforming power of God’s love and mercy we can be reconciled and redeemed as children of God, and then reconciled with others, even those of other faiths.
            Sin is our separation from God’s love, and salvation liberates us from the bondage of sin and death and reconciles us with God and each other.  God’s will is to reconcile and redeem us in the family of God; but attempts to proselytize others into exclusivist religions can further Satan’s will, which is to divide and conquer the family of God.  Unfortunately Satan does a wonderful imitation of God, and has done some of his best work in synagogues, churches and mosques.
            Salvation has traditionally been based on belief in mystical doctrines and obedience to religious rules and rituals, and Judaism, Christianity and Islam offer different perspectives of salvation.  Jews to their credit do not proselytize, but fundamentalist Christians and Muslims do so with exclusivist beliefs that limit salvation to believers and exclude unbelievers from the unity of all believers and the family of God, condemning them to eternal damnation.
            For Jews, the Mosaic Law of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) provides a divine standard of legitimacy and righteousness that rewards obedient Jews and punishes the disobedient in this world, not the next.  For Christians and Muslims, God’s rewards and punishments overcome the finality of death with eternal life in heaven/paradise or hell.  

            Jesus was a Jew who emphasized love over law as God’s will and the means to salvation, with the promise of new spiritual life and peace in God’s kingdom and the universal family of God.  The Church has distorted that message with exclusivist doctrines that limit salvation to Christian believers, with unbelievers condemned to hell.

            For Muslims the Qur’an is the immutable word of God, and it conditions salvation on belief in the Qur’an and obedience to its laws, doing good works and submission to God in all things (Islam); and, as with Christians, unbelievers are condemned to eternal damnation.

            Even with their differences, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all share the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor as a common word of faith.  Unfortunately each religion has different ideas about what it means to love God and neighbor, and fundamentalist Christians and Muslims do not accept unbelievers as members of the family of God.
            When asked by a Jew who was his neighbor, Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan in which an apostate Samaritan was a good neighbor to a wounded Jew (Luke 10:29-37).  Jesus upset Jewish religious teachers by associating with tax collectors and prostitutes who were considered sinners, and told sanctimonious Jewish teachers of the Law who questioned him, I came to save sinners, not the righteous(Mark 2:15-17).  Later, when told that his mother and brother were seeking him, Jesus told a crowd, Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.  Jesus never promoted any religion, not even his own; for him inclusion in the universal family of God depended on a person’s love for others, not their religion or family ties. 

            Over the years the Church has not only advocated exclusivist beliefs but also attempted to extend its worldly power through the Crusades and Inquisitions, and Islam has a similar history of exclusivity and violence.  The Qur’an sends mixed messages on the family of God, appearing inclusive by referring to Jews and Christians as People of the Book, but also asserting that it is blasphemy to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and that most Jews and Christians are unbelievers.  And like ancient holy warriors, modern Jihadists believe they are instruments of God’s judgment with a divine mandate to exterminate all unbelievers.

            The teachings of Jesus point the way to religious reconciliation and peace.  They are grounded in inclusive concepts of salvation and a universal family of God; and even though Jesus never mentioned democracy, human rights or the secular rule of law, he related salvation to freedom when he read from Isaiah that God’s will was to liberate the oppressed (Isaiah 61:1-2 and Luke 4:14-21).  De oppresso liber links faith and freedom.  It is on the crest of the US Army Special Forces and affirms the relevance of religion to political freedom and military legitimacy.
            The concepts of salvation and the family of God shape the relationships between Jews, Christians and Muslims.  Until those competing religions understand salvation and the family of God in a more inclusive and universal way there will be continuing hate and violence between them.  Believers must learn to respect those of other religions, or like the Hatfields and McCoys, they will continue their holy family feuds with little hope of religious reconciliation and peace.   

Notes and References to Resources:

See the following references in TheTeachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy(the J&M Book) in the Resources:  On Lessons 1 and 2 on Sin, righteousness and the family of God  see Mark 2:15-17 and Mark 3:31-35 at page 17; on The new command to love one another, see John 13:34-35 at page 325; on The farewell prayer of Jesus: the unity of all believers, see John 17:1-26 at page 420; on The story of the good Samaritan, see Luke 10:29-37 at page 223; on Jesus announcing his mission to liberate the oppressed (de oppresso liber) see Liberation at page 385.

See related blogs at Blog/Archives: Faith and Freedom, posted on December 15, 2014; see also Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy, posted on December 29, 2014.

The greatest commandmentis the topic of the next blog, to be followed by love over law.

For those provisions in the Qur’an on Belief, rewards and punishmentfor Jews and Christians, see Appendix to the J&M Book at pages 476-485.

On a common word of faith, see