It's common to refer to the Christmas season as a time of "...peace on earth, good will toward men." That's a fine and noble sentiment, but the last few Christmases have been notably lacking in either peace or good will.
We've seen many pictures of men and women in our armed services doing their duty regardless of the holiday, for example. This Christmas seems to be no different as Mr. Obama plans to send yet more troops to Afghanistan to wage peace on our behalf.
As its name would imply, Christmas is celebrated, theoretically at least, in remembrance of the birth of Christ. With all of the imagination and technological resources of modern Western culture poured into it, the holiday traditions do seem to have taken on a life of their own.
In addition, there are many nations around the world which celebrate Christmas enthusiastically while having not the slightest clue what it's supposed to be about. Thus we find bizarre collisions like the legendary Japanese Christmas decorations featuring a confused Santa on the cross.
Well, Santa can sustain some indignities as long as people's hearts are in the right place. Far worse are those places where the spirit of Christmas is strictly forbidden: specifically, the Muslim world and its billion residents.
The commercial aspects Christmas doesn't get as big a play in Muslim lands because the theological leaders outrank the business leaders, at least for now. What's more, the world where Islam reigns absolutely supreme is growing by leaps and bounds; there are now many more Muslims than there are Christians.
Muslims theoretically respect Jesus Christ as a prophet of some kind, but certainly not as God in the flesh. Yet the cooperation of Muslims is needed for Christmas to be a time of peace. In honor of a time when we quote the Western Bible, we thought it worthwhile to check out what the Koran actually says about how a good Muslim deals with non-Muslims.
One conclusion is immediately obvious: the English translation of the Koran at http://www.islam.tc/quran/ uses the inherently pejorative terms "disbelievers" and "idolaters" to mean anyone who is not a Muslim so non-Muslims are at best second-class citizens.
The Koran is divided into surahs which are roughly equivalent to Bible chapters; each surah consists of numbered verses. Surah 2 says:
002.190 Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.
002.191 And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.
Sura 9:5 says:
009.005 Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
Various Islamic commentaries state that this passage, which is sometimes called the "verse of the sword," came late in the Koran and has therefore replaced all earlier verses calling for patience or forgiveness toward Christians and Jews.
The verses supporting tolerance were written at a time when Islam was a small religion threatened with extinction. When he became more powerful later on, the commentators say, Mohammad commanded his followers to be less tolerant now that he and his followers no longer had to be tolerant.
And what do we see in the historical record? Certainly for the last few decades, the world's Muslims have been devoutly obeying their prophet's commandments and diligently following his exhortation:
Despite the high-minded words of our last two presidents, we feel that the evidence requires us not to regard Islam as a "religion of peace" no matter what wishfully-thinking leaders may declare.
To be fair, what about Christianity? What does the Bible say about peace?
Most Christians acknowledge that the Old Testament has a number of passages where God commanded the Jews to exterminate various groups of people whose sins had offended God. They claim, however, that in the New Testament, Jesus commanded that Christians love their enemies and do good to people who harmed them:
And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
- Luke 6:33-35
The Christian claim that Jesus commanded Christians to do good to their enemies is true, but Jesus also gave commands which are somewhat less pacific:
And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
- Luke 22:35-36
Jesus had previously sent his followers on a marketing mission and told them to take nothing by means of luggage; they were supported wholly by people whom they met along the way. Now, however, conditions have changed, they're supposed to arm themselves. Having a sword is important enough that they should sell their clothes to buy one; perhaps that's why traditional fighting Scotsmen don't wear underclothing but do like to be well-armed.
Why would Christians need swords? Isn't Jesus the "Prince of Peace?"
Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.
- Luke 12:51
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
- Matthew 10:34-36
Jesus stated pretty plainly that Christianity would not bring peace. His statements that Christianity would divide families, households, and nations has proved to be accurate over the centuries.
That doesn't mean, however, that Christians shouldn't try to bring peace. Jesus declared a special blessing for people who do that:
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
- Matthew 5:9
Where does that leave us?
Jesus said that Christian teaching would divide people because not everyone would receive it and some of those who rejected it would reject it violently.
Jesus also said that Christians who try to achieve peace will be called "the children of God."
So when you observe someone, anyone, who's really working to bring peace during this season - and we don't mean just talking about peace, but actively doing something practical to bring it about - remember that you may be looking upon a child of God.
Odds are, it won't be someone who worships Allah.