Among World Religions, Christianity Provides a Middle Way Between Jihad and Pacifism
It's a sin to turn the other cheek on behalf of a helpless innocent who's threatened.
Every heresy starts with at least a tiny mustard seed of truth. However great a distortion it is to say that Christianity preaches pacifism, non-violence, and passive surrender to the aggressions of other cultures, faiths, and ideologies, that notion begins with something real. There is a stark difference between Christianity and the religions that have surrounded it for most of its history. To put it another way: would we need a long article of to refute the idea that Islam is a pacifist religion?
Hardly. It won’t take that long. In fact, let’s go ahead and do it. The self-styled prophet Muhammad began by preaching his distinctive religion, which many scholars see as cobbled-together bits of Judaism and extreme Arian Christianity (which denies Jesus’ divinity), two creeds that were common in the region of Arabia where he grew up, all filtered through an intense tribal nationalism. The Arabs had been disorganized, dispossessed, and frequently governed by foreign rulers for many centuries, practicing either fractured and primitive forms of paganism, or faiths that came to them from other nations — such as Christianity and Judaism.
Islam: A Warrior’s Religion
Muhammad’s creed, by contrast, told them that Arabs were in fact the people of God, that God’s own Word had been written in their own language before all eternity and dwelt alongside Him in heaven. No translation of the Koran from Arabic into any other language is even considered authentic by true
believers, merely a paraphrase. The holy place where all must come to pray would be in Mecca, not Jerusalem, and the whole Arab peninsula must be purged of every other religion. After a decade or so of preaching this message with little success in Mecca itself, Muhammad fled to Medina, where warring clans turned to him as a peacemaker — and a political savior. He began to reign over Medina as a theocratic king.
Suddenly, the constant stream of messages that Muhammad claimed to be hearing from the Angel Gabriel took on a quite different tenor. While he had been weak and almost friendless, God had told him to preach tolerance and peaceful coexistence with other religions. Once he had at his disposal significant wealth and an army keen for commerce raids and conquest, Muhammad began hearing messages of quite another sort. These later messages, he would explain to his followers, “abrogated” the first set of teachings: the God in whom he believed was perfectly free to change his mind. (Indeed, the Islamic concept of Allah leaves Him quite unbound by reason, logic, self-consistency, or even the duty to keep His promises — only His Will is sovereign, and it’s quite free to prove capricious.)
It was at this point that the Islamic faith we have come to know and love took the shape it has kept ever since: it’s a creed of conquest that claims the whole non-Muslim world consists of sinful rebels against Allah who deserve to be subjugated by force and either converted or killed — though reluctant exceptions are offered in principle (quite often ignored in practice) for other monotheists such as Jews and Christians. Those peoples are damned to hell in the next life, but in this one they may be left to live in peace, provided they accept absolute subjugation to the authority of Muslims, defer to them in every sphere of life, refrain from making converts or advertising their faith, and pay a special, heavy tax.
Muhammad put this creed into practice, leading armies into battle, raiding caravans to raise money, and after massacring unbelievers who resisted his offer of faith or subjugation, taking women and girls as sex slaves. To this day, Muslim men are restricted to “only” four permanent wives, but are free to keep as many captured concubines as they can kidnap in wars fought for Islam. This doctrine is used today by ISIS in Iraq and Syria to justify the sex slavery of hundreds of non-Muslim women and girls. Unfortunately, Muslims consider Muhammad as the “perfect example” of human behavior, which means that virtually everything he did is worthy of imitation. Since he married a nine-year-old, that means that strict Muslim countries make it legal for their men to do the same — as Iran did in 1979 after its Islamic Revolution.
Christianity: A Middle Way Between Jihad and Servile Passivity
The example set by Jesus is … different, to put it mildly. Jesus responded to religious authorities who challenged His authority by engaging them in debate. He preached that we must go beyond the Old Testament’s call for proportional justice (“an eye for an eye”), and that when insulted with a slap we should “turn the other cheek.” He ordered us to “love your enemy” and “pray for those who persecute you.” He told His disciples that when they preached His message and were rejected, they should just quietly leave town. When gendarmes of the corrupt Temple establishment had Him arrested, He forbade His disciples to fight them, even healing the single Temple guard an apostle had rashly wounded. Insulted and beaten by guards, He spoke not a word of rebuke. From the Cross He did not denounce His persecutors, but called on His Father to forgive them, because they knew not what they were doing.
Jesus issued a powerful challenge to our natural (but fallen) instinct to avenge every slight, humiliate our enemies, treasure grievances, and wait for a chance for vengeance.
Jesus issued a powerful challenge to our natural (but fallen) instinct to avenge every slight, humiliate our enemies, treasure grievances, and wait for a chance for vengeance — in other words, to follow the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli, whose politics manual The Prince was essentially a self-help book from the anti-Christ. But the contrast between Jesus and Muhammad can be taken much too far, particularly if we pluck Christ’s statements out of their proper context and misunderstand His mission in a way that turns out to be perversely self-aggrandizing.
Don’t Try to Compete with Jesus
Because here’s the thing: Jesus is not meant to serve as our example in every single way. We are not called on to overturn the existing interpretation of sacred scriptures, for one thing. (Imagine if every Christian showed up at church and preached, “The Bible says unto you X, but I tell you Y!”) Nor is each of us a prophet preaching a brand new covenant between God and man. Few of us miraculously heal the sick, give sight to the blind, or dispense forgiveness to sinners on our own authority. As bad as some liberal Catholic parish Masses can be, we don’t have the right to rampage through the sanctuary, overturning the altar and scattering the liturgical dancers. (Resist the temptation, okay?)
Most of us are not even called to poverty, chastity, and obedience — as many of the apostles were, on whom monks and nuns model their very special and rare vocations.
We are not sacrificial lambs going peacefully to the slaughter out of obedience to the Father for the sake of man’s redemption. And martyrdom isn’t God’s plan for the human race — or else He would have told us so.
Most important of all, not one of us is called to be a pure sacrificial victim, going willingly to our deaths at the hands of unjust authorities so that our suffering can make reparation to the Father for the sins of all mankind. Really. No matter how righteous and altruistic you’re feeling at the moment, Jesus has been there, and done that.
While Jesus called on us to carry our daily crosses, He did not threaten to nail us all up to them. The infinitesimally small percentage of Christians who face the stark choice between renouncing Jesus or dying as martyrs are in some ways emulating Jesus, but even they fall far short: their deaths do not forgive sins, though they can offer their sufferings in union with Christ’s for the sake of other sinners.
We are not sacrificial lambs going peacefully to the slaughter out of obedience to the Father for the sake of man’s redemption. And martyrdom isn’t God’s plan for the human race — or else He would have told us so. A few Christians in the early Church, during the Roman persecution, got it into their heads that it was virtuous to seek out martyrdom and turned themselves in to the pagan procurators to claim a glorious Christ-like death. The Church Father St. Gregory of Nazianzus condemned them for their rashness.
Our Duty to Defend the Innocent, on Pain of Sin
The Catholic Church at least does not teach that we are to simply surrender our lives to anyone who attacks us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, relying on St. Thomas Aquinas, defends the lethal use of force for the “legitimate defense of persons and societies”:
Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow: ‘If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.’” (2263-4)
Nor are we expected — or even permitted — to leave innocent third parties defenseless at the hands of violent aggressors. As St. Thomas points out in another passage quoted in the Catechism: “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.” (2265)
We are called to use force, if need be at the risk of our own lives, to protect others. That responsibility has motivated Christian policemen, soldiers, and spies over the centuries.
This is an excerpt from The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism, republished with permission.