THE ONE PLACE WHERE ATHEISTS AND MUSLIM FULLY AGREE
When we agree with almost everything another person or group says, we might still come to blows over as little as one point, depending upon how critical that point is to our overall framework. When we disagree with almost everything another person or group says, we might still become allies in a life and death struggle against a common enemy.
The one point of contention between Christian teaching on one hand, and Islam, Atheism, and virtually everyone else is the cross. While Muslims and atheists might disagree on whether Jesus was actually crucified, they would agree that the cross does not remove human sin and that good social order has nothing to do with the cross. Whether establishing a right relationship with God by cleansing from sin, or enabling right social relationships among people, cross, as seen by Jesus followers, accomplishes both. In the Old Testament it was the sacrificial system and the law which were intended to accomplish these two objectives, but the New Testament shows that they were nothing more than a kind of temporary crutch by which society stumbled and hobbled along until the cross and the resurrection of Jesus revealed both to be only a step in the right direction.
According to Paul in the New Testament, the law of Moses, while of great value in the revelation of God’s will, had failed to establish for the Jews either a right relationship with God, or with other peoples. Paul did not come up with this in a vacuum. He built upon the foundation of what Jesus did and taught, and upon the way Jesus confronted the guardians of the law in Judaism. The book of Hebrews, then, establishes the same thing for the sacrificial system.
The priestly class in Judaism were the guardians of the public ritual at the temple, while the Pharisees were the guardians of the law on a day to day basis. The Pharisees debated over the proper way to do everything, from washing to having sex to waging warfare. Jesus most often argued with the Pharisees, but he seldom argued with the other religious or political parties. It appears that he had hardly anything in common to even talk about with them.
Islam, also, concerns itself with many things of interest to Jesus, and one cannot but notice how closely the Pharisee party resembles the guardians and promoters of Sharia today. Sharia, the right path for living, covers the whole of religious, social, economic, political, domestic and private life for all Muslims. In some ways, Islam represents the very things that Jesus opposed among the Pharisees.
The Pharisees believed that if only the Jews could improve their performance in keeping the law, then God would surely remove the Romans from power, and that the Jews would become God’s guardians of the law for the entire empire instead of the Romans. Early in Israel’s history, Joshua’s unlikely conquest of Canaan and the successes of David’s empire were the definitive proof that God had chosen Israel, but the Babylonian captivity and subsequent domination by first Persian, then Greek, and finally Roman oppressors were clear evidence that Jews had done so poorly in following the right path (according to Moses’ law) that God was punishing them. If all Jews would follow the law properly, then things would be different.
The parallel with Islamic thought should be clear. What the Jews failed to experience, the Caliphate provided under Mohammad’s political leadership. God gave Mohammad a miraculous victory at the battle of Badr, and within a few years both the Byzantine and Persian empires were crumbling before the Islamic forces. Soon Islam dominated an area stretching from the Persian gulf to the Atlantic. Today the Muslim fundamentalist believes the principle reason for the fall of the Caliphate 100 years ago and the domination of the west (the successors of the Greeks and Romans) until recently are proof that Muslims haven’t followed the path set out in the Quran, that of Sharia. The parallel with the Zealots of Jesus’ day should be clear. But whether a Muslim follows the current minority violent Jihad or belongs to the majority nonviolent Islam, the reign of God through Islam is still the eschatological hope, even as it was for the both the Zealots (who were the terrorists of their time) and the Pharisees.
Jesus response was the cross, and Jesus twelve disciples included both Simon the zealot and Matthew the collaborator. The cross created a new order of the world in which Roman and Jewish believers worshiped the same God together in one place. Built upon the cross, the coming kingdom would be universal, but not military; it would not be built upon law and proper enforcement, but upon a common love for the One Lord who gave his life to save his enemies, that is us.
So where does Islam concur with Atheism? Precisely on the matter of the cross. The cross exposes the hypocrisy of the Jewish system, the Roman system, the Islamic system, and our democratic system alike. “What the law could not do because of the weakness of human nature, God did, sending his own Son in the same human nature as any sinner to be a sacrifice for sin, and condemning sin in that human nature. This was so that the Law’s requirements might be fully satisfied in us as we direct our lives not by our natural inclinations but by the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4).
Jesus said, “When the Comforter (the Holy Spirit), whom I will send you from the Father—when He has come, He will guide you into all truth (the right path).” The law gives right information, but the Spirit empowers us not only to meet, but also to exceed its minimum requirements. When the Spirit of Christ informs our lives, we begin to find sin progressively more distasteful. And only when the Spirit empowers our lives will we ever be able to forgive those who would torture us and murder those whom we love.