Well, my little post ‘My God doesn’t kill kids’ has attracted a little attention, both here and at the Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network site. I’m grateful for the positive comments, and have carefully considered the criticisms (expressed mainly on Facebook). There are two main ones.
First, some have questioned my wisdom in titling the post ‘My God doesn’t kill kids’; it smacks of superiority, the idea that ‘My God is better than your God’. To quote one commenter:
As revolted as I am by the massacres in Peshawar, I don’t think we move forward with headlines that say, “My god is better than your god.”
And another says,
We need to steer clear of anything that even vaguely hints at Christianity putting itself above other world religions. Also, our Conservative government has sent F-18s to drop bombs in Afghanistan. How can we be sure that no children have been killed there as a result?
My response is to say that I am of course a monotheist, so I can’t literally believe that ‘My God is better than your God’; I believe there is only one God. You don’t have a different God than I do; we actually pray to the same God, we just believe different things about him. So when we say (as I did not, actually, but let’s assume I did), ‘My God is better than your God’, what I’m actually saying is ‘I think my ideas about God are more accurate than your ideas’.
Now this may sound arrogant and outrageous, but is it actually? Let me be crude for a moment. Surely we would all agree that it is better to believe that God wants us to live lives of love and compassion, rather than that God wants us to fly aircraft into tall buildings and murder thousands of men, women, and children, or bomb abortion clinics, or drop atomic weapons and wipe out hundreds of thousand of people? Can we really say that it doesn’t matter which of these two pictures of God is the right one? Is it really a level playing field, with those who say ‘God is love’ on the same level as those who murder in his name?
And yes, of course Christians have done this too; I freely admit that. I would submit, though, that when we Christians do this, we are being unfaithful to the vision of Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. I have no idea how that is connected with the idea of the Conservative government of Canada sending F-18s to drop bombs in Afghanistan; as far as I know, the government of Canada does not claim to be a Christian government or to be acting in the name of Jesus (the idea that there is or ever could be such a thing as a ‘Christian country’ is very problematic to me; the New Testament everywhere assumes that Christians will be a persecuted minority!). But crusades? Conquistadores? Abortion clinic bombers? Yes, of course; we have much to repent of.
However, if it’s reprehensible to think that it’s better to follow the way of Jesus (compassion, caring for the poor, loving your enemies, living simply, seeking the kingdom of God) than the way of someone who says God is pleased with the murders of children, then I’m guilty as charged. I do believe it’s better.
The second criticism is related to the first; it’s the idea that Christianity is ‘putting itself above other world religions’. My response would be to say that that pluralism is not the same as relativism. Pluralism means that we live in a society where everyone has the right to believe and practice their own religion, and I am not going to attempt to use force to compel you to go along with my beliefs. Pluralism is a friend to Christianity; it gives me the right as a Christian to follow the way of Jesus, unlike in some other places in the world, where I would be taking my life in my hands to do so.
But it is possible for me to believe you to be completely mistaken about something – to believe that my ideas about God are more accurate than yours, for instance – and not to resort to force to try to impose my ideas on you. This is what the early Christians did. For the first three centuries Christianity got no help from the empire; the Christians had no political or military power, but were a defenceless band of missionaries taking their message all over the Mediterranean world. Yes, they believed that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God and therefore had the most accurate picture of what God is like. They did not believe that he was just another human prophet; they believed that in him, God had come to live among us in a unique way. And they were glad to argue and debate this in any forum available to them, but not on the battlefield.
This is true pluralism, and I welcome it. Of course I believe that where Christianity and Islam disagree, Jesus is right and Muhammad is wrong; if I didn’t, I’d be a Muslim, not a Christian. Muslims believe the same thing in reverse! To state this idea is not Islamaphobia; it is simply to recognize that when one religion says, ‘Jesus is the incarnate Son of God’, and another says, ‘God has never had a son, nor could he’, you have to pick which one to believe in; they can’t both be right.
But pluralism is not the same as relativism. Pluralism says ‘Everyone has the right to believe and practice their own philosophy of life’. Relativism says, ‘All philosophies of life are equally valid’. With respect, no one believes that, not even the relativists! Get them into a political argument and see how quickly they abandon that idea!
Right – back to Christmas service preparations!