February 4, 2015

Let's Call It What It Is

“Islamic extremism.”

This is one of the cool buzzwords that has been making the rounds on the TV news and talk shows. Clearly, almost all of the wars and terrorist acts of recent years have been motivated by religious zeal. When they cry Allahu akbar! each time, it’s hard to miss.

And yet, many pundits refuse to believe it. The bandits might be Muslims, but their violent acts are not sanctioned in the Koran. Religion, some insist, is only a convenient excuse for ungodly territorial ambition.

Perhaps. But I’m not convinced.
Me, I’m a Christian. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are more than 30,000 Christian denominations in the world today. And as I study the history and teachings of the various sects, one thing quickly becomes clear: Often, their differences have nothing to do with Bible teaching. It’s not that we interpret Scripture differently, or that we have access to some special revelation.

Instead, these distinctives are cultural. Or ethnic. Or regional. In some places, missionaries gather new converts through syncretism. That is, they blend Christian doctrines and practices with the existing pagan customs of the people, making the Gospel message easier to accept.

My point?

Truth be told, we all hold to beliefs and practices that are not explicitly sanctioned by our holy book. (Does that mean we’re all just a horde of heretics?) We all get something wrong, from time to time. We’re all profoundly influenced by our culture, our experiences, and (possibly misguided) religious leaders.

Our world is not being destroyed by Swedish Lutherans or Tibetan Buddhists. Let’s call it what it is. If we defined true believers as “those who adhere strictly to the canon,” I suspect we’d all be in trouble.

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