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Response to E-mail: Respected Columnist Cal Thomas Endorses Dr. Jeffress' Comments [on Islam]

ReligionI received an e-mail forward the other day. It was a reprint of an article by Cal Thomas. The article and video were the typical anti-muslim bigotry that has become common. I wrote a reply, which I've adapted for this entry.

Thomas's article was short enough, that I'll quote it here in its entirety.

September 13, 2010

There is a lot of talk about Islam from our government officials, to apologists for terrorists, to the dupes who think it's great to build the Ground Zero mosque, to those who promote Islam as a "religion of peace."

The best rejoinder to all of this are comments by Dr. Robert Jeffress, Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. In a recent interview, Dr. Jeffress spoke the truth about Islam and what he called its "35 sword verses."

I have no seen anything as good as this. Dr. Jeffress synthesizes in less than six minutes what we face and the arguments thrown up at Christians about our supposed violent past.

I encourage you to watch it. You'll find it at youtube.com. Just type Dr. Robert Jeffress in the search box. And then pass it along to everyone on your email list.

Dr. Jeffress talks about the Crusades and he is unafraid to say what Islam is all about and where it leads. Again, go to youtube.com and watch this video of Dr. Robert Jeffress. You will be very glad you did.

I'm Cal Thomas in Washington.

The video Thomas was referring to was this one, Dr. Jeffress Tells The Truth About Islam

Okay, there are two things to address from this – Thomas's comments in his opening paragraph, and Jeffress's comments from the YouTube video.

Since it's shorter, I'll start with Thomas. First of all, who are these political figures who are apologists for the terrorists? The past two presidents and Congress for the past several years have continually funded the war in Afghanistan, and actually initiated a troop surge since Obama took office. I hope that with 'apologists', he's not referring to the people who try to understand the underlying motivation of the terrorists, since they're doing it so that we can better counter the forces that create terrorists.

On the 'Ground Zero mosque', I can't believe there are people so opposed to the First Amendment that they would even consider disallowing a place of worship. That's outright religious discrimination, and is a reason many of the original colonists left oppressive governments in Europe to begin with. Or do those people think the First Amendment only applies to their brand of religion?

Thomas's comment on Islam as a religion of peace blends well with the discussion below, so I'll address it there.

Jeffress made a few specific claims that I wanted to discuss. First, Jeffress did mention the Crusades, but then he slightly shifted the subject to say that many of the bad things done by Christians have been overblown, using the Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials as examples. But if you're going to talk about horrendous acts done in the name of Christianity, it's very hard to ignore what still remains to many people the very epitome of evil, the Holocaust. I'm not saying that Christianity necessarily caused the Holocaust, but that it was used as a justification, and that many Germans, through their interpretation of the religion, believed they were carrying out God's will. Consider this line from Mein Kampf, which Hitler later used in a 1938 speech, "I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews. I am doing the Lord's work", or this line from a 1922 speech, "In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison." The actual religious views of Hitler himself are unclear, but it is clear that he was using Christianity to motivate the German people to commit atrocities (for more info on Hitler's stance towards Christianity: Straight Dope discussion on Hitler and Christianity or Extensive list of religious quotes of Hitler).

For a modern-day example, look at what's going on in Africa right now – Children Are Targets of Nigerian Witch Hunt. Evangelical Christian pastors, in addition to performing exorcisms, are accusing people, and often times children, of witchcraft. The accused are often beaten, or worse, killed.

There are two points to the above two paragraphs. First, any religion can be used to justify violent actions. Second, and more importantly, when one group acts in the name of a certain religion, you can't assume that other people of that religion share their views. We don't blame all of Christianity for the Holocaust. We rightly blame the Nazis. Similarly, we shouldn't blame all Muslims for the acts of al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Jeffress also made a claim that there's no call for violence in the New Testament. This depends on your interpretation. For every person who quotes Matthew 5:39, "But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also," someone else will quote Matthew 10:34, "Don't imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword" (Luke 19:27 is another of the passages that can be interpreted violently). There's also the way Jeffress is splitting hairs by focusing on the New Testament. After all, Matthew 5:17-18 says, "Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved." Many people interpret that as meaning that Old Testament laws still apply. And a skim through those books reveals a very violent set of rules, indeed. As just one example, consider Leviticus 24:15-16, which also shows that some rules were applicable to those outside the Jewish faith, "Say to the people of Israel: Those who curse their God will be punished for their sin. Anyone who blasphemes the Name of the Lord must be stoned to death by the whole community of Israel. Any native-born Israelite or foreigner among you who blasphemes the Name of the Lord must be put to death." For discussion of Christians who really do want to re-institute Old Testament laws, read the following articles:

So, while Jeffress's interpretation of Christianity may be nonviolent, not all Christians interpret it that way. This is the same situation in Islam, and is why some can consider it a religion of peace, while others can use it as a justification to fly a jetliner into the World Trade Center. Considering how many different ways the scriptures of religions can be interpreted, what's more important is the way people practice the religion.

There were a couple other points Jeffress made that I wanted to discuss, but this response is growing pretty long, and I'd rather not inundate you with so much information that you won't read it. So, I'm just going to give links to further sources, if you're interested.

On the subject of oppression of women:

On the subject of religiously condoned pedophilia:

In all this discussion, it would be easy for a Christian to fall into the ‘No True Scotsman' fallacy. I could imagine that Jeffress might say that the Christians who have done the horrible acts I've mentioned above are interpreting the religion incorrectly, and might go so far as to say that they're not true Christians. But who gets to make that call. Catholics, for example, may say that Jeffress is the one misinterpreting Christianity. If a person honestly believes they're following a given religion, then what other term should we use to classify them? And I'm sure there are moderate Muslims who would like to use this same tactic – saying that the Islamic terrorists aren't true Muslims.

My point in all this is most definitely not to defend terrorists, or to say that Muslims never do bad things (the reaction to the Danish cartoons is certainly a good example of widespread bad behavior by more people than just terrorists), but to put this into perspective. There is diversity in the practices of Muslims just as there is in the practices of Christians. You can find good and bad people in both religions. Some of the worst actions we see coming from Muslims are similar to some of the worst actions we see coming from Christians. But, since the majority of people in this country are Christians, they haven't been demonized in the same way Muslims have. But it's no more right to tar all Muslims because of the actions of extremists than it would be to tar all Christians because of the actions of extremists.

This isn't directly related to Tomas's or Jeffress's comments, so I'm adding it as an addendum. I think that focusing on Islamic terrorism removes focus from other terrorist threats. When you look at the terrorist attacks in the U.S. last year, only one was carried out by a Muslim (although it was the deadliest attack of the year). And in fact, many people argue that this was more the act of an individual than organized terrorism, as are some of the other cases I listed.

Here are some of the terrorist acts on U.S. soil that I found with just a little bit of googling. I don't expect that this list is exhaustive. And that's only last year - I've left out domestic terrorism or attempted terrorism from previous years.

There were also a few acts of vandalism that border on terrorism. These examples are all from the Foundation for Biomedical Research.

  • September 6, 2009 - property damage only - ALF Vandalization of Car
  • February 2, 2009 - property damage only - H.A.A.N.D. Vandalization of 2 Homes
  • January 19, 2009 - Hackers Against Oppression Attack on Websites


My church was tarred in the press because some nut did some whacked out atrocities in the name of God. The worst part was the nut was not a member of my church. His church split off from ours 75 years ago so they could do some of the illegal activities getting them into trouble today. Unfortunately, they didn't change the church name much, so I'm lumped in with him. So, yeah, I was sympathetic with Moslems sects that are not terrorists. But I have since changed my mind.

1. There seems to be a hidden support of terrorists among Moslems. Why is Osama Bin Laden given refuge by Moslems? No peaceful Moslem has seen him? I think about the nut giving my church a bad rap. He couldn't show his face for 2 seconds before we'd call the authorities.

2. I read the Koran. Get the facts from the horse's mouth, so to speak. I'm not impressed. The early peaceful chapters are countered by the later violent chapters. Am I biased? Certainly so. I can only say I tried not to be. I also read Buddhist's scriptures that did impress me although I am Christian.

3. Although Christian nuts--even Christian terrorists--exist, they don't do so with their society's blessings. When an ayatola, the Moslem leader for a country, calls for Jihad... When the government TV supports attrocities against Americans... well, it's hard to say "yeah, well, it's REALLY a peaceful religion." The No-True-Scottsman fallacy works the other direction too.

[Jeffress did conveniently skip the Crusades in his Christian apology. The Pope and Christian Kings waged that war. You can't pass it off as a local event exagerated in the telling. I don't excuse my ancestors. My only defense is that was 700 years ago. Can't we use a more modern example? Maybe Northern Ireland?]

1. You're still painting with too broad a brush. Obviously, there's going to be a spectrum of beliefs, from the violent extremists like Osama bin Laden, to pacifists like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. The people more towards the violent end of the spectrum, while maybe not being terrorists themselves, are more likely to aid the terrorists. But that definitely doesn't mean that all Muslims aid terrorists.

2. I never argued that the Qur'an wasn't violent. I only tried to put it in context of the Bible, which is also a pretty violent book. You, personally, may believe that the New Covenant means not having to follow the violent rules of the Old Testament, but like I wrote above, quite a few Christians point to Matthew 5:17-18 and say that all those violent rules are still in effect.

The truth is, most religious people don't know their holy books. How else could you explain the Prosperity Gospel movement? When you look at religion as a social phenomenon, however, that's not really a big problem. The particular group of people still have practices and beliefs that tie them together, no matter where those practices come from. That was what I was getting at when I said that the way people practice religion is more important than what's written in their scriptures.

3. I think my example of the Holocaust shows a time in recent memory when Christians have committed violence in the name of their religion with their society's blessing. I could have also pointed to the example you brought up of Northern Ireland, or the other example I already used, of the witch hunts in Africa.

Listen, I'm an atheist. I wouldn't mind at all if Islam disappeared. Frankly, I wouldn't mind if Christianity or any other religion disappeared, either. But I realize that people are people no matter what gods they believe in, and that I'm not going to automatically assume a person is good or bad because of which ones they've chosen.

For a good example of moderate Muslims being troubled by extremists, read this article from National Geographic, Pakistan's Heartland Under Threat. The article clearly shows that Muslims are not some monolithic identity that all support the terrorists, and that the terrorists are harming more people than just us Americans and Western Europeans.

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