Equipping Your Reimagine Journey
“What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.” (Robert F. Kennedy, The Pursuit of Justice, 1964)
The evil of violent religion was graphically illustrated again this morning when 47 people were killed and 79 wounded in a bombing outside a school in northern Nigeria. An attacker disguised as a student set off the explosion in a government boarding school, where students had gathered outside the principal’s office for a daily speech. Police suspect that Boko Haram is behind this terrorist act.
Boko Haram (“Western education is forbidden”) is a militant Islamic movement that has carried out several deadly attacks on schools teaching a Western curriculum. They have murdered more than 5,000 civilians since 2009. They have abducted more than 500 women and children, including the kidnapping of schoolgirls last April. They kill people who engage in practices they view as un-Islamic. They offer no breathing room to anyone not adhering to their strict religious code.
The group’s aim is to establish an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. This law, which they see as deriving from the Koran, covers public behavior, private behavior, and private beliefs. Of all legal systems, it is the most intrusive and strict, especially against women. A woman can have one husband, but a man can have up to four wives; a man can unilaterally divorce his wife but a woman needs her husband's consent to divorce; a man can beat his wife for insubordination; a woman who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist(s); a woman's testimony in court, allowed only in property cases, carries half the weight of a man's; a female heir inherits half of what a male heir inherits; a woman cannot drive a car, as it leads to “upheaval”; a woman cannot speak alone to a man who is not her husband or relative. Theft is punishable by amputation of the right hand. Several infractions are punishable by death—criticizing any part of the Koran; denying Muhammad is a prophet; a Muslim becoming a non-Muslim; a non-Muslim leading a Muslim away from Islam; a non-Muslim man marrying a Muslim woman. The oppressive list goes on.
Pascal, in Thoughts, points out that the law which governed Jews is the most ancient law in the world, and that Greek and Roman legislators borrowed from it their principal laws. He also comments that this law was the severest and strictest of all, imposing on the Jews “a thousand peculiar and painful observances, on pain of death.” What is astonishing, he says, is that this law was preserved unchanged through many centuries, while other states changed their laws though they were far more lenient.
The apostle Paul, who faultlessly observed the Jewish law and harshly persecuted the church before he was converted to Christ, writes that “those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.’ So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.’ Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.” (Galatians 3:10-13 NLT).
All Christians have not always practiced religious tolerance, as sadly demonstrated by the Inquisition. But though such historical atrocities and current religious fanatical acts are heinous, we should do some personal soul-searching to see how willing we are to admit we do not have all the answers and we are not holier than others.
At heart we believe religious freedom is the God-given right of all people. At the same time, we place all our hope in the Son of God to save us from sin. We rest in Jesus Christ, who has answered the demand of law through His perfect life and vicarious death. He is our personal peace, and the ultimate hope for universal peace. The last word is not law—it is grace.
Johnny R. Almond
Christian preacher and writer
Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity