Sunday, 11 November 2012

How Christianity and Islam sometimes go wrong

When religious leaders desire for power and wealth infiltrate their

social construct, Christianity goes from being a religion for

the oppressed and the lower classes to a religion of violence and

hatred. In a similar vein Muhammad and the early “rightly guided

caliphs” were devoted to a new revelation of justice and social 

good which would support the redistribution of wealth and

property for the public.  But over-time future leaders

took for themselves wealth and social prestige through

their many properties, servants, palaces, and harems. This

increased their willingness to do whatever it takes to

get more.....

Religions often begin with a charismatic leader who is 

devoted to the justice and truth of God.  Overtime time however an 

institutionalization process begins where prestige, power and 

influence, in both the religious institution and society are 

established for further teaching and leadership. The maintenance 

of this authoritative power through institutionalization, 

bureaucracy, and military might become the central motivation of 

the religious community. This Routinization of Charisma in both 

Christianity and Islam changes the relationship of Christianity and 

Islam from a kinshipbond, toward a violent clash of super-powers 

in the middle-ages.

Ingrid Mattson argues that in Islam this institutionalization begins

after the first two of three centuries of charismatic leadership.

According to Mattson “over time certain perspectives won out as

authoritative and the study of hadith, law, and theology became

more formalized and institutionalized. By the end of the third

century, particular schools of thought became dominant in all 

these fields and established the foundation of Sunni orthodoxy and

Shi’ite identity” (Mattson, 103).

For scholar Tom Arnold the development of this hierarchal power

structure reaches new levels by the eleventh century where the

Caliphate would not only be the defender and leader of religious

ritual, but would be an arbitrator in times of legal dispute, the

protector of Islamic territory, punish evil-doers, wage war against

those who would not accept or submit to Muslim rule, collect 

taxes, pay salaries, release public funds, and appoint officials in 

the operation of the vast empire. As the empire continued to 

expand so did the Caliphs desire for wealth and fame from military 


In a similar way we see the early Christian community introducing

a radical social economic where “all the believers were together

and had everything in common and they sold property and

possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45). For

the first 300 years Christianity would often be known for its love

and identity with the lower classes, along with their willingness to

be martyrs for their beliefs. However, with the conversion of

Constantine to Christianity in the 4th century we see a shift from a

religion of the lower-classes to a Religion of the empire. During a

time of great theological debate and diversity in the Christian

tradition Constantine would push theologians to unify their belief

system for a more powerful Christian empire and would persecute

those who fell outside of the new Christian Orthodoxy. Particular

resentment to this new found order would be Christian groups like

the Donatists who having already been economically oppressed by

the Romans before the conversion of Constantine would now have

their own religion turned against them as they would not fit under

the newly institutionalized doctrines of the church. And with Saint

Augustine’s newly minted Just War Theory, they would be

violently oppressed as heretics (Gonzalez, 176-179).

In light of this analysis, it is not surprising that these two arrogant

super powers would now clash against each other in bloody

conflict. In 711 CE Muslims would invade Spain and put an end to

Visigothic rule. Christian would later rally in response and begin a

long struggle to re-conquer the peninsula. While some Christian 

historians have historically romanticized the first crusade, the 

reality is "that women were raped, infants were thrown against 

walls, and many of the City’s Jews had taken refuge in the 

synagogue only to have the building set on fire with them inside." 

The crusades would continue into the 13th century, and would 

finally end in 1270 (Gonzalez, 349).

The most obvious consequence of the Crusades was an increased

mistrust between Christians and Muslims leading all the way up to

our current time period.

It is in these moments I must remind myself that this was not

the default position of the early these early Abrahamic traditions.

For hundreds of years in different parts of North Africa and other

eastern countries Muslims and Christians lived in peace under

mutual protection, regardless of which religion was run by the

State. This gives me hope for the future as the Abrahamic brothers

and sisters appear to be headed toward further bloody conflict.  

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