Sunday, June 28, 2015

Confronting the Evil Among Us

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            This website has often addressed the evil of religious hatred and violence, especially between Muslims and Christians; and there are striking similarities between the evil of religious hatred and violence and that of racism.  Racism is an ugly reality that continues to plague our nation, but until the recent church massacre in Charleston it appeared that racial violence was a thing of the past.  That assumption must now be reconsidered.

            The horrific acts committed by Dylann Roof at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17 left us in shock, sorrow and shame, wondering how to confront this old/new evil among us.  There is no evidence that Roof was part of a racist hate group.  He appears to be a lone wolf, a dysfunctional and demented man whose evil acts were self-motivated.  There have been similar mass murders in our nation, but the fact that Roof was part of our community haunts us.  How do we confront this evil that is among us?

            We hear calls to restrict the sale of guns and to remove the Confederate flag from the front of the State House.  Those public actions may be justified, but they are not likely to counter the evil that motivated Dylann Roof, who fits the psychological profile of other mass murderers who are primarily motivated by a demented and narcissistic need for personal glorification and who kill to bring public attention to themselves.  According to Ari Schulman, the way to stop them is to deny them publicity (see Notes below).

            If Roof’s crime is evidence of a resurgence of racist violence among young white men, which seems unlikely, our response should be similar to that for countering religious violence. Racists who are likely to commit violence must be identified, monitored and apprehended before they commit violence, much as the FBI identifies and monitors suspected Islamist terrorists.  But that is especially difficult since racist websites allow self-radicalization without personal contact with known racist groups.  For racists who are not likely to commit violence, efforts should be made to mitigate their racism through biracial discussion groups, both religious and secular. 

            The same principles of dialogue that can reconcile religious differences also apply to race relations and other divisive issues that polarize society.  Evil originates in the fear and suspicion of those unlike us, and unless people who feel alienated from others are willing to relate to them seeking common values, their negative attitudes can metastasize into hate and violence.  Both faith and reason are needed to counter the evil of hate, first with acceptance and accommodation, then seeking reconciliation.

            There are bookstores and social media sites that promote racial and religious division and hate, and the freedom of speech allows such activities; but it also allows our condemnation of such hate speech as immoral.  At the very least, publicizing hate-mongers who incite racial or religious violence puts law enforcement on notice of the danger posed by them.  Texas police recently thwarted mass murder by two armed radical Muslims at an event sponsored by Pamela Geller, who is noted for her hate speech and inciting anger among Muslims.

            Some question whether evil exists as a dark and divisive spiritual power that competes with the reconciling light of God’s love.  My life experience has convinced me that evil does exist and that we are in a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil.  That dualist concept is questioned by many theologians; but it is prevalent in Christianity, especially in the Gospel of John, where it is symbolized by the contrast between light (God’s love) and darkness (evil).

            Love is the antithesis of hate, and it is made the moral imperative of our faith in the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor and in the new command to love one another.  The Evangelist John equates God with love and states that fear is the enemy of love (I John 4:16-18).  Love reconciles and redeems us as children of God, while Satan uses fear and hate to divide and conquer us.  Unfortunately, Satan does a convincing imitation of God, and does some his best work in the synagogue, church and mosque.

            Our moral obligation to reconcile and redeem others as children of God should not be confused with converting them to Christianity.  The Gospel of John provides a mystical concept of the unity of all believers(John 17:20-23) that transcends all religions.  Reconciliation and redemption come to all who follow the Logos, or word of God, as personified by Jesus in John’s Gospel (John 1:1-14).  When Jesus says I am the way and the truth and the light (John 14:6) he is calling people to follow him as the word of God, not to worship him as a surrogate Christian god.  The second part of that verse—No one comes to the Father except through me—has done more to divide us than reconcile us when used to support exclusivist Christian doctrines.

            It is easy to say that we love our neighbors as ourselves—even those neighbors that we don’t like (see the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37)—but it is difficult to apply that moral imperative of faith in everyday life.  How can we love a person like Dylann Roof?  Only in the context of loving all others, and that requires protecting them from dangerous people like Dylann Roof.  That principle of love provides the ethical foundation for self-defense and justifies our police and military forces.  Our criminal laws and system of justice protect the public from those who would do them harm.  They are instruments of our love for others, and enable us to confront the evil among us, which comes in human form.

            On June 22, Governor Nikki Haley provided an example of how politicians can confront the evil among us.  Surrounded by politicians of all stripes—Democrat and Republican, black and white—she recounting the events and emotions in Charleston following the church massacre and, to the cheers of all present, she called for removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.  Governor Haley’s eloquent speech emphasized that when Satan’s power of evil is sown among us it can be countered by God’s powers of forgiveness, love and reconciliation.

Notes and References to Resources:

See Blog/Archives for related blogs: Religion and Reason, posted December 8, 2014; Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy, posted December 29, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, posted January 11, 2015; Is Religion Good or Evil, posted February 15, 2015; Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos? Posted April 19, 2015; and Moral Restraints on the Freedom of Speech, posted May 17, 2015.        

On reconciling racist attitudes through small biracial groups, much like interfaith dialogue groups, see Kathleen Parker, A blue print for changing the way that we talk about race, Washington Post, June 26, 2015, at

On moral limitations on the freedom of speech, see Brian Hicks, Free speech is a responsibility, not the right to change history, Charleston Post & Courier, June 24, 2015 at

For a psychological profile of the typical mass murderer, see Ari N. Schulman, What Mass Killers Want—and How to Stop Them, Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2013, at

On homegrown lone-wolf terrorists who are not radical Muslims, see Scott Shane, Homegrown Radicals More Deadly Then Jihadists in U.S., New York Times, June 24, 2015 at

For commentary on John 14:6, see The way the truth and the life at page 416 of The Teachings of Jesus andMuhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy; and on The unity of all believers, see page 420, ibid.

For Governor Nikki Haley’s speech on June 22, 2015, as reported in the Washington Post, see

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Christians Meet Muslims Today

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr., June 21, 2015

            Two weeks ago we looked at the future of religion and found that Christians in the U.S. and Europe are leaving the church in increasing numbers (as nones with no religious affiliation).  Last week we speculated that if Jesus and Muhammad met today they would agree that the greatest commandment to love God and their neighbors as themselves—even those neighbors of other religions—is a common word of faith, and would expect their followers to do the same. 

            What about their Christian and Muslim followers?  We don’t have to speculate on what happens when they meet.  There is suspicion and hostility among Jews, Christians and Muslims today.  Why can’t those People of the Book get along?  Because many of them see the world through the prism of ancient holy books that they believe provide the perfect and immutable word of God—as if God had nothing more to say to humankind.  This denies the living word of God and holds believers in bondage to exclusivist religions that defy reason.

            Catholics may be the exception.  As the Vicar of Christ the Pope provides encyclicals on modern issues, but the ancient scriptures, tradition and church bureaucracy can be as stifling for Catholics as for others.  The reason why institutional religions resist change and compete rather than cooperate with other religions is institutional inertia.  Until Jews, Christians and Muslims allow advances in knowledge and reason to liberate them from the bondage of their ancient scriptures and exclusivist beliefs, their institutional religions will wither and ultimately die. 

            But even if traditional religions die, God will not die.  The noneswho have left the church may have abandoned the gods of traditional religion, but most have retained faith in an eternal power beyond all powers that they have personally experienced and will continue on their journey of faith.  New religions will continue to emerge, and perhaps some of the old ones will adapt and survive.  Those that do will have to abandon the exclusivist idea that God favors their religion over all others, and conform their doctrines to concepts of libertarian democracy, while balancing individual freedom with the collective responsibility to provide for the common good.

            Current trends in religion indicate that will likely happen in progressive cultures, despite surveys that indicate Christianity is declining in progressive cultures while growing with Islam in less progressive cultures.  Current religious beliefs and values are diverse and constantly changing, despite the efforts of conservative believers to maintain the purity of traditional beliefs and doctrines.  That is because religions invariably reflect their cultures, just as cultures reflect their religions; and progressive cultures will continue to produce diverse and dynamic religions. 

            Modern Christians vary from fundamentalists who believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God and that all unbelievers are condemned to hell, to progressives who believe the teachings of Jesus are the word of God and interpret those teachings using their experience and reason.  The beliefs and values of Muslims also vary widely, ranging from the radical jihadists of ISIS to moderate and progressive Muslims who make an effort to conform their faith to the norms of libertarian democracies.  In fact, the beliefs and values of Christians and Muslims are so varied that progressive Christians and Muslims often have more in common with each other than with fundamentalist believers in their own religion.

            Individually Christians and Muslims tend to accommodate each other in their social and work environments, but collectively they are uneasy and suspicious of other religions.  Examples are evident in a social media that promotes religious extremism.  To counter the negative images of social media more interfaith dialogue is needed between moderate believers to promote interfaith understanding and build personal relationships that counter religious polarization.       

            In libertarian democracies it is a challenge to balance individual freedom with providing for the common good.  Even if hate speech is legal, it’s immoral, and the misuse of that freedom undermines interfaith relations.  At the other end of the spectrum apostasy and blasphemy laws in Islamic cultures prohibit any freedom of religion or speech.  The trend is toward religious polarization rather than accommodation and reconciliation, but more personal relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims who share the same values can reverse this trend.

            Complicating matters at the national level are U.S. military strategies that have responded to Islamist extremism with large deployments of U.S. combat forces.  Many devout Muslims see such military interventions as a threat to Islam, and turn away from their traditional sectarian conflicts to confront the U.S. as a common enemy.  Such U.S. strategies have attracted more converts to radical Islam and made it more of a threat to the U.S. and its allies, not less. 

            To promote peace, U.S. national security strategies must support moderate Muslims and avoid exacerbating the hostility of more fundamentalist Islamists.  That requires a policy of containment rather than military intervention, supporting Muslim leaders who support the freedoms of religion and speech and oppose discrimination against women and religious minorities.  Such a policy requires that U.S. security assistance in Islamic cultures is in the form of military trainers and advisors rather than in large deployments of U.S. combat forces.

            In summary, for Jews, Christians and Muslims to overcome the divisive inertia of their institutional religions and exclusivist doctrines they must accept advances in knowledge and reason, oppose religious fundamentalism and support the individual rights of libertarian democracy so long as those rights are balanced with the collective responsibility to care for the poor and needy; and they must support moderate Muslim leaders in their struggle against extremist Islamism.  If the great Religions of the Book can manage those reforms, they should be able to survive and contribute to peace in a modern world of religious diversity and cultural change; otherwise they will remain a source of conflict rather than reconciliation.            

Notes and References to Resources:

On an encyclical of Pope Francis on the environment and related issues of poverty, see

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jesus Meets Muhammad Today

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            The teachings of Jesus and Muhammad have been considered the word of God for Christians and Muslims since the birth of those religions.  Those teachings described the will of God, including standards of legitimacy (what is right) for believers, but since those ancient times there have been dramatic social, political and economic changes that necessitate new interpretations of those teachings.

            Many contemporary issues, like those relating to democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law, were not addressed by Jesus or Muhammad because they were not relevant to their time and place.  Today progressive believers interpret their scriptures to relate to current issues, but fundamentalist believers cannot do that since they believe that their ancient scriptures and holy laws remain the perfect and immutable word of God.  

            The ancient settings for the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad shaped their content.  For Jesus, 1st century Palestine was under Roman rule and Jesus never addressed the political and legal issues of governance as did Moses and Muhammad.  Even so, the early teachings of Muhammad in Mecca were not concerned with issues of governance and were similar to those of Jesus, but that changed when Muhammad left Mecca for Medina and assumed political power, and his teachings reflected ancient issues of law and governance like those of Moses, not Jesus.

            In the ancient times of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, authoritarian rule was the accepted norm for governance and holy laws provided obligatory standards of legitimacy.  Since the 18th century democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law have been the accepted norms of law and government in the libertarian democracies of the West, where religions have rejected authoritarian rule and conformed their doctrines to libertarian values and capitalism. 

            Culture shapes religion just as religion shapes culture.  While freedom and libertarian values have transformed culture and religion in the West, little has changed in the tribal cultures of the Islamic East where authoritarian forms of government continue to rule under Islamic law (shari’a).  Globalization has brought Christians and Muslims from these divergent cultures closer together, resulting in suspicion and even hostility based on religious and political differences; but that conflict can be resolved with understanding that leads to the respect and accommodation of their religious and cultural differences, or better yet, to religious reconciliation.

            There are significant differences in the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on concepts of legitimacy, law and governance.   The teachings of Moses and Muhammad were based on the absolute sovereignty of God, with no distinction between the sacred and secular; but Jesus spoke of different obligations to God and to Caesar.  Muhammad, like Moses, emphasized submission to God’s law, while Jesus emphasized the principle of love over law

            If Jesus and Muhammad were to meet today, what would they say about the relationship between religion and politics?  First they would set aside their many differences and debunk the principle of religious fundamentalism that asserts the immutable truth of their ancient teachings, then reaffirm the greatest commandment as a common wordof faith for modern times.  Then they would consider how to apply the principle of love over law to issues of religion and politics. 

            Both would likely agree that libertarian democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law are political ideals that are consistent with God’s will, but that for those cultures with no experience in democratic governance, authoritarian rule under religious law is justified so long as fundamental human rights, beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech, are protected.  Both Jesus and Muhammad would lament the libertarian excesses of modern democracies that put individual rights and personal gratification ahead of providing for communal needs, especially caring for the poor and needy, and then they would encourage their followers to apply the principle of love over law to reconcile their differences in religion and politics.

            There is an irony in religions embracing the libertarian values of the Enlightenment as an ideal of faith as well as politics.  Libertarian values are analogous to forbidden fruit; once tasted, there is no turning back.  In libertarian democracies traditional religions had to conform to advances in knowledge, reason and libertarian values to survive, and in the process they lost members and power.  But that decline in religion should not be confused with a decline in faith.  Individuals can adapt their faith to changing times more easily than institutional religions; and if religions expect to survive, they must also learn to adapt their ancient doctrines to modern times.

            The ancient teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on morality and law related to their time and place.  If Jesus and Muhammad were to meet today, they would adapt their teachings to modern times and reject any teaching inconsistent with the greatest commandment and the principle of love over law.  While they would acknowledge that some cultures are not yet ready for libertarian democracy, they would agree that God’s will is a matter of the heart that cannot be coerced by law and is consistent with both freedom in politics and free will in religion.  Finally, they would emphasize the need to reconcile all people of faith into the universal family of God.

Notes and References to Resources:

The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, is an interfaith Resource on the website that presents those ancient teachings with commentary that relates them to contemporary issues, as explained in the Introduction at pages 10-15.
See Blog/Archives for related blogs: Religion and Reason, posted December 8, 2014; Faith and Freedom, posted December 15, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, posted January 11, 2015; Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, posted January 18, 2015; Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is there a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today? Posted January 25, 2015; Religion and Human Rights, posted February 22, 2015; God and Country: Resolving Conflicting Concepts of Sovereignty, posted March 29, 2015; and Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, posted April 12, 2015.

On the paradox of fundamentalism that pits unquestioned belief in ancient scriptures against freedom in religion and politics, and relates that theme to Michael Walzer’s latest book, The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions, see E. J. Dionne at fundamentalism/2015/06/03/e4808cbe-0a13-11e5-9e39-0db921c47b93_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.   

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Future of Religion: In Decline and Growing

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Atheists have long predicted the demise of religion, and recent reports of The Pew Research Center (see Notes below) indicate they are half right.  Fewer people are religious in the libertarian democracies of the West, but elsewhere in the world more people are religious, with Christianity growing but outpaced by Islam, which is now the fastest growing religion in the world and predicted to surpass Christianity as the world’s largest religion by 2070.

            Demographic, political, social and economic trends have shaped the changing religious landscape.  In America, Great Britain and Europe, where most believers are educated and middle class and libertarian values have transformed both politics and religion, Christianity is the predominant religion and it is in decline.  In the Middle East, Africa and Asia, where most believers are less educated and poor and traditional tribal values take precedence over those of libertarian democracy, Islam is the predominant religion and it is growing.

            Where the growth of Islam is strongest, the influence of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law is weakest, and that spells trouble unless Islam transforms from a rigid and fundamentalist religion that denies individual freedoms into one that is compatible with reason and libertarian values.  That transformation depends upon Islamic Law (shari’a) being considered a voluntary code of moral standards rather than one of coercive laws.  The imposition of coercive religious laws like those of apostasy and blasphemy is a primary cause for religious and political conflict in a world of diverse and competing religions.

            Radical forms of Islam, or Islamism, represented by ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and al-Shabab, are notorious for imposing harsh forms of shari’a that deny fundamental human rights, not to mention killing unbelievers.  Lethal force has an important role in protecting people from Islamist violence, but the long-term remedy for Islamism requires government enforcement of fundamental human rights, beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech.  In modern Islamic regimes—even in democracies—apostasy and blasphemy laws deny those fundamental freedoms that are a prerequisite for legitimacy in a world of religious diversity.

            Islamism is a fundamentalist form of Islam, and like fundamentalist sects in Judaism and Christianity it asserts the absolute truth of its holy book and laws as God’s perfect and immutable word, and condemns all unbelievers.  Religious fundamentalism is a rather recent phenomenon, a reaction to advances in knowledge, reason and the libertarian values of the Enlightenment of the 18th century that challenged the truth of traditional beliefs.  While Jewish and Christian fundamentalists are minorities in their religions, Islamists are in the majority in Islamic cultures.

            Ironically, the remedy for religious fundamentalism is the same as its cause.  Ancient religious doctrines and laws must be conformed to advances in knowledge, reason and the libertarian values of the Enlightenment for a religion to survive in the modern world.  That has happened in the West, but not in tribal Islamic cultures.  The Pew Forum reports indicate that such a modernization of religion weakens it.  But for Islam to be compatible with progress and modernity it must experience its own enlightenment, beginning with the rejection of apostasy and blasphemy laws and embracing the fundamental freedoms of religion and expression.  
            Religious fundamentalism will never be eliminated.  There will always be believers who seek certainty in their faith at the expense of reason and individual freedom; but fundamentalism is countered as religions become more progressive and conform their doctrines to advances in knowledge, reason and libertarian ideals.  That trend can transform Islamic cultures just as it has transformed libertarian democracies of the West into modern and progressive societies. 

            The downside to traditional religions becoming more progressive is that they lose members.  Some leave as nones (those who claim no religious affiliation) and others leave to go to more conservative denominations to maintain their traditional faith.  Since many nones retain an individualized faith, there is more religious diversity in the West. 

            Radical Islamism is thriving in Islamic cultures, but not in libertarian democracies where most Muslims seem to have assimilated to libertarian values (see Notes below).  The most violent forms of Islamism thrive in regions where there is little law and order and weak governments cannot (or do not) protect fundamental human rights.  Providing law and order by strengthening security forces must remain a top priority in countering Islamist terrorism, but the political legitimacy of any Islamic government will ultimately depend upon it supporting democracy, human rights and a secular rule of law.       

            The seeds for Islamic enlightenment have already been planted by Islamic scholars who offered the greatest commandmentto love God and one’s neighbor as oneself as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  That great commandment puts love over law, and in Luke’s version an apostate Samaritan is portrayed as a good neighbor to a wounded Jew (Luke 10:29-37).  That common word of faith is clearly in conflict with apostasy laws.

Notes and References to Resources:

See Blog/Archives for related blogs: Religion and Reason, posted December 8, 2014; Faith and Freedom, posted December 15, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, posted January 11, 2015; Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, posted January 18, 2015; Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is there a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today? Posted January 25, 2015; Religion and Human Rights, posted February 22, 2015; Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, posted April 12, 2015; and A Fundamental Problem with Religion, posted May 3, 2015. 

The Pew Forum Reports are The Future of the World’s Religions (April 2, 2015) and America’s Changing Religious Landscape (May 12, 2015), and they can be accessed at Pew Forum listed in Links at!links/cgir

On religious diversity in America, see Emma Green, American Religion: Complicated, not Dead, The Atlantic, May 12, 2015 at  See also David MacDougall, Is America Losing its Religion or are lines more clearly being drawn? Charleston Post & Courier, May 12, 2015 at

A survey by the Pew Research Center in May 2007 indicated that Muslims in the US are “highly assimilated, close to parity with other Americans in income and overwhelmingly opposed to Islamic extremism,” evidence that libertarian values in the US have moderated more radical and militant forms of Islam. See Alan Cooperman, Survey: US Muslims Assimilated, Opposed to Extremism,, May 23, 2007.  Alan Wolfe has argued that the so-called secular American culture is actually religious, but with a commitment to libertarian democracy and human rights that trumps any conflicting shari’a laws.  Based on a poll on wealth and religiosity Wolfe found that Islam in the West like other religions has become secularized by Western culture and accepts libertarian democracy, human rights and capitalism, so there is little religious extremism even though people remain religious.  Wolfe sees a moderation of radical Islam coming from Muslims in the West. See Wolfe, And the Winner Is…, The Atlantic, March 2008, p 56.  Cited at note 6 in Barnes, Religion, Legitimacy and the Law:Shari’a, Democracy and Human Rights.