The Emperor's New Clothes

Posted on February 1, 2020

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Hans Christian Anderson penned a short tale years ago, based on a story composed by a Spanish writer centuries before Anderson wrote, about two weavers who conned the king. They promised him a new set of clothes—very fine and expensive—but they would be invisible only to those who are unfit, stupid, or incompetent. No one wished to be in that category, so the King paraded before his subjects, stark naked, until a child cried out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

We are in the same boat today regarding the relations between Iran and the United States. No one wants to address the spiritual issue at the root of the problem. Iran is a Muslim country while the U. S. remains a Christian one, albeit somewhat eroded in the past few generations.

To admit there are serious, profound differences between Islam and Christianity would be to admit we are prejudiced, ignorant simpletons driven by mindless creeds and superstitions. We moderns are beyond that superstitious chicanery concocted by priests and ministers to keep us from what really matters in the world, like power, wealth and the freedom to do what we please.

Or, are we like the King’s public until the small child cried out, the King has no clothes!

The issue is not only political, strategic, or military. It is religious. Its roots are not in the existence of modern Israel. They are in the long-standing struggle for spiritual truth between the three great faiths that all have their roots in the Bible: Hebrews, Christians, and Muslims. The political and cultural differences are symptoms of a much deeper and more profound differences between the three faiths. To ignore these differences is to stick your proverbial head into the proverbial sand and sidestep the truth.

The Israelites were promised by God to send them a Messiah, a deliverer, in the same fashion as Moses delivered them from Egyptian slavery for over 400 years. The Messiah would deliver them from oppression, and, even more important, from sin, and ultimately if they believed and had faith, from death. That Messiah to many Jews, like the Apostle Paul, was Jesus Christ. Jesus was also the son of God. He was given divine power by his father to forgive sins and so save men from eternal hell.

About six centuries later, a man named Muhammad (571-632 CE) arose in the desert regions of Arabia, in the cities of Mecca and Medina, and preached that both Jews and Christians had it all wrong. Jesus was not the son of God, not divine. He was but a prophet, along with other prophets in the Bible, think Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, etc. Furthermore, Muhammad received direct revelations from God, Allah, in Arabic that became the Koran, the teachings of God through his servant Muhammad. His followers spread like wildfire across the Middle East and especially across North Africa and eventually to Europe in the eighth century.

Like Christianity, Islam was an evangelizing faith, exhorting its followers to spread the word, the truth, and convert the people. That Christianity and Islam soon came into conflict is a part of history that still is with us today.

Islam challenged Christianity in two direct ways: one spiritual and one political/strategic/even military. In 711 C.E. Moors (another word used in Spain for Muslims) crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula for Islam. Their armies even struck through the Pyrenees into southern France before a Christian army led by Charles the Hammer (aka Charles Martel) stopped them at the Battle of Tours, 732 C.E.

Thereafter, for the next millennium and into modern times, Islam and Christianity have been at odds, one for the souls of men and the truth of Jesus and God, and two for secular control of the lands and people of Europe and parts of Africa and Asia.

In the late eleventh century Christian kings, lords and knights led a Crusade into the Holy Land to recapture Jerusalem from Muslim infidels, or non-believers. This first crusade was eventually followed by six more in the following centuries as Christians and Muslims waged war for the hearts and souls of people across Asia, Africa and Europe.

Today’s political competitor are manifesting an old religious battle between Muslims and Christians. Jews have been the targets of hate by Muslims since the establishment of the Jewish state in their very midst in 1948—modern Israel—which was done largely by Christian nations acting through the United Nations. Muslim states, such as Iran, have vowed publicly and often to destroy Israel from the face of the earth. It is no wonder that in some parts of the world, like Syria, Iraq, and Iran, American military are sometimes scornfully referred to as “Crusaders.”

Jews—and hence Israel–are supported by Americans, especially the Christian community, since Jesus Christ said he will return a second time to fulfill Scriptural prophecies. And his return will be through the Holy Land. And the remnant–modern Jews–will be converted to the true faith.

Not so the Muslims, unless they were dramatically to reject the violence and injury on others demanded by the Koran and embrace Jesus as Christians do.

Nothing is impossible but discord between Islam and Christianity has been driven largely by deep spiritual differences. No amount of politicking, even in our world of free speech and mutual respect and tolerance demanded by our Constitution, our laws, our traditions, will change these differences.  Let’s call it for what it is, a spiritual battle being fought out in a secular context.

Muslims and Christians have, by the way, lived in peace and even harmony at different times in history. For one example return to the Spain of the eleventh and twelfth centuries when a period of Convivencia, or coexistence, prevailed between Christians, Moors and Jews.

And, one final thought, our Founding Fathers precisely wanted to preclude matters of religion—often contentious and divisive—from intruding into public life by allowing for religious freedom and, even more important, forbidding the state from embracing one “official” religion. You may think the Founders as old, white racists, bigots and misogynists, but they knew their history.

Pubished as “Differences between faiths are profound” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Jan. 26, 2020.