Your Royal Highness,
I am writing to you to thank you for your Thought for the Day as given on BBC Radio 4 yesterday. I appreciate what you said and also the manner in which you said it. I remember the kindness you showed to a woman in my former congregation, Brora Free Church. Megan Boyd told me how sometimes you popped in to see her on your way up North – not least because she was the best fly-tyer in the world – but your kindness was largely unknown until the film To Kiss the Water, told the story. Thanks.
I also appreciate your evident concern for the well being of those who are persecuted because of their faith. As it happens I had just been reading about the Christians being beheaded in Aleppo and so it was particularly moving to hear your account of meeting the Syrian Orthodox refugees in London.
However perhaps you will permit a question about what you said – which I fear may have the opposite effect of what you intend. I have no intention to insult you (although thankfully we live in a country where you are not treated like The King of Thailand) but I do want to disagree.
You stated that we should remember what happened after the birth of Jesus – when because of persecution he and his family had to flee to Egypt. I think it is surely correct to realise the opposition that Jesus faced, from both political and religions leaders. But you then go on to portray Mohammed in the same light as Jesus, as being a migrant who moved from Mecca to Medina, with the intention of seeking freedom of religion. You then make the following application.
“Whichever path we follow, the destination is the same, to value and respect the other person, accepting their right to live out their peaceful response to the love of God”
That sounds nice. And nice people all over the Western World will be saying yes and amen. My atheist friends of course will regard it as somewhat twee. They will also be rightly somewhat miffed with the idea that you need to have faith in order to value and respect the other person! And I have to say I have some sympathy with them. Although I would go a bit further and say your statement is naive to the extent that it borders on dangerous. Here’s why.
Your view of Muhammed is coloured by your desire to believe that Islam is at core fundamentally just another religion like Christianity and it really does mean peace. But it is a wrong view of both Muhammed and of Islam. Any comparison with him and ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’ (as you rightly call him) shows that. As you know we get our information about Jesus from the four Gospels, about Mohammed from the Quran, the Hadith and other sources such as the Sirat Rasul Allah. Without going into the details – which of course you can easily check – the basic facts are that whereas Jesus was a religious leader, Muhammed was a religious, political and military leader. Jesus never killed anyone, nor owned slaves, but Muhammed killed over 3,000 (including 700 plus captured Jews in Medina) and had many slaves. Jesus never married, Muhammed had many wives. And so on. Your attempt, along with many liberal Western politicians, to portray Islam as equivalent to Christianity just does not work. I could give many more, but consider this. In the first 300 years of Christianity, Christians were persecuted, abused, tortured and killed. They never sought to spread their faith by force. In the first 300 years of Islam, Islam spread by military conquest throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Muhammed himself fought in 27 battles. I realise that some Christians after that (when political power and Christianity often went together) then behaved in a manner which was contrary to Christ, but I think the origins of the religions are important – as are the fundamental differences between the founders.
None of that means that Christianity is necessarily right and Islam wrong. But it certainly means that they are fundamentally different. The failure to recognise this amongst European and Western Liberals is creating havoc, because it means that we forget how much of our liberal heritage is owed to Christianity, and how much it is threatened by Islam. I know that there are many Muslims who are peace loving – but to portray Islam itself as such is not wise. In fact I wonder whether there is anything more ‘post-truth’ in this post-truth generation? You are aware that Islam is a political as well as a religious system and that it means ‘submission’, not peace. Or perhaps to be fair, that should be peace through submission?
You spoke of the “freedom to practice their faith according to their conscience“. Personally I think that is the foundation of all our freedoms. Although it too has limits. If my faith says I can have four wifes, or that I can beat my wife, I assume that you would regard that as a freedom too far! But my problem here is that I am struggling to think of any country where Islam is in political power and yet allows real freedom of religion. Is there any Islamic country where muslims are free to change their faith? My brother was once in your Majesty’s forces and sent to fight in the first Iraq/Kuwait war. He told me that they were instructed not to even take their own personal bibles with them in case it offended our allies, the Saudis. Is that freedom? What were we fighting for?
I can think of many people I know who are Christians in Islamic countries and have to live in fear of being accused of blasphemy. Even in your own country I have come across people who are under police protection because they have changed their faith. I’m afraid that by appealing to the example of Muhammed you are only fuelling the fire. All one has to do is read what Muhammed said and thought about apostates or unbelievers, to realise that if people take what you say seriously, and thus take him seriously, we are in real trouble!
There is one elephant in the room that you did not mention in your talk. Who is doing the persecuting of Christians in the vast majority of cases? Surely not the religion of peace?
Defender of Faith or The Faith?
I recall a few years ago that you spoke of changing your role from ‘Defender of The Faith’ (I admit a somewhat pompous and ridiculous title, but then most titles are – if we take them too literally!) to ‘Defender of Faith’. The missing ‘The’ is highly significant. Because defending faith is just daft. Does it mean every expression of faith? No matter how illogical, intolerant and dangerous? Are we to set up some kind of safe zone for faiths where they cannot be critiqued and criticised? Is it not to be a State doctrine, with royal approval, that all faiths are essentially the same? What will happen to those of us who blaspheme against that doctrine?
Your mother was asked: Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?
To which she replied “All this I promise to do…. The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God”. She has kept that vow. Will you be able to make it? Can you defend the Faith on which this country was founded?
“O God, who providest for thy people by they power, and rulest over them in love; Vouchsafe so to bless thy Servant our King, that under him this nation may be wisely governed, and thy church may serve thee is all godly quietness; and grant that he being devoted to thee with his whole heart, and perservering in good works unto the end, may, by thy guidance, come to thine everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen” Book of Common Prayer – Accession Service.
The Same Destination?
This letter is already too long but permit me one more observation on your observation. I’m afraid that whatever path we follow the destination is not the same. And the destination is not merely to value and respect the other person. Our Lord Jesus Christ summed it up perfectly when he said that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind, and we are to love our neighbour as ourself. The latter comes from the former. Our destination is to be with God. Our destination is to have the image of God restored to perfection within us. Our destination is to serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, before whom all kings and rulers will bow. We don’t all end up in the same destination – especially if we refuse to go the Way he has made for us to get there!
Peace Through Religion?
The peace and respect you speak of is not easy. And to be honest it does not come from religion. In fact you will find that religion is often the cause of war and an excuse for disrespect. I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins often but when he says we should not respect something just because it is religious, I entirely agree. That is the Christian position. We respect all human beings as made in the image of God. We don’t respect all religions. Our Lord Jesus Christ has a lot more to say about false religion and idolatry than he does about atheism! They cry peace, peace when ‘there is no peace for the wicked, says my God” (Isaiah 57:21).
The Source of Real Peace
I have been preaching through the latter part of the wonderful book of Isaiah and am struck at how much peace is mentioned and how much it was needed. Then, as now, the Middle East was torn apart by war. Then, as now, everyone claimed to be for peace, and yet it was never achieved. And then as now, the oppressed and persecuted people of God heard this wonderful promise.
Isaiah 52:7 – How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Centuries later, Jesus came. As the baby in the manger. As the weak being pursued by the strong. But it wasn’t just his coming. That wouldn’t have been enough. What did he come for? Just to give us cute images on Christmas cards and politicians/priests virtue signalling and rabbiting on about peace, when there is none? We need something more. Isaiah tells us what Christ came to do and how he does it.
Is. 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
That is where peace comes from. That is where the real Shalom is found. Not in the oppressive religion of Mohammed, or the pathetic Disneyesque religion of self professed Christians who think that Christ got it wrong in the Bible, nor in the narrow fundamentalism of religious legalists, nor in the politicians (whether of right or left) who want to use Jesus as an excuse for their own power grab; but rather in the whole person and work of the One who was born to die for us. May you know his peace this Christmas and may you and the subjects of your kingdom become the subjects of His….
In the Peace of Christ
St Peters Free Church,
Acts 10:36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”