Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Doing the unthinkable

I was listening to this discussion on YouTube last night while I was making dinner. Aayan Hirshi Ali was being interviewed by Susanne Pari, and made some interesting comments. I've listened to Hirshi Ali speak before, and I had heard her make similar comments in previous interviews. Hirshi Ali is the writer of "Infidel" and collaborator with Theo van Gogh on "Submission," a short film which criticized the treatment of women in Islam. Her collaborator, Theo van Gogh, was brutally murdered following the airing of the film on Dutch television. Here's the link to the interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCaD4FwsVu0, and here's a link to a news story regarding the murder of van Gogh: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3974179.stm.

The lead up to the comment is about 42 minutes in, but I'll cut to the gist of what she said. Her grammar might have been a bit off so I'm paraphrasing, but Hirshi Ali basically said, that if all Muslims were to become Christians, she wouldn't need to travel with bodyguards. In other words, though she was being criticized for saying it, she was advocating for outreach to Muslims by Christians especially, as well as other secular and faith based groups. Her final statement on that note was "let's compete with the jihadists, I believe we can win."

And so do I. I know that not all Muslims are Jihadists by the way, in fact most are not, but in short, I agree with Hirshi Ali, that a competition of ideas in a society is part of what makes for a healthy and free society. It comes down to dialogue, and having the freedom as individuals to make choices, to decide what we believe or having the freedom to change our beliefs if we so choose. I'm in favour of respectful dialogue in that way. I'm not interested in forcing my beliefs on anyone, but I am interested in the respectful presentation of the Gospel as an option to the person who would wish to learn about that option. At the same time I would want to advocate for all people to enjoy religious freedom or freedom of conscience to choose a different option.

The interesting thing for me though as an evangelical Christian, having lived all my life in the relative comfort of the western world: please let me explain what I see happening in the west at this time. I see a historically Judeo-Christian culture that quite arguably has given us much of what we enjoy at this point in history, in terms of our standards of human rights and values. It would be a whole discussion in itself to make that argument, but let me just say this. When I hear secular- minded people in this discussion as in others, they often make reference to the Enlightenment as being the source of all good things. Is it? Well, for me, I find it very interesting that they seem to assume that an emphasis on reason provides that historic basis, while at the same time other secular thinkers are debating the value of innocent human life itself, while still others are concluding that reason will not necessarily lead you to morality. Yet secularists as a culture generally seem to continue in this grand assumption that humans beings are somehow set apart, that we should honour human rights and criticize those who are not living up to our western standards. Why that is exactly, they don't seem to tell us.

But when I hear human rights advocates like Pari and Hirshi Ali talk, two people who have personally witnessed human rights abuses and lived in parts of the world where there have been gross human rights violations, they reflect a deep down gut wrenching conviction that human beings ought not to be treated this way. Says who, while their fellow secularists often seem to be undermining that assumption. Yes, I said "that assumption," that human life has an intrinsic value. Why on a materialistic worldview, where everything corrodes and wears out and flies away should we assume that something material has an intrinsic worth, whether it is small and fragile or not?  It's a Judeo-Christian value folks, that each and every precious human being is created in the image of God, regardless of their state of health, wealth or stage of life. It didn't come from the Enlightenment, it came from the opening pages of the Bible. Alas, I suspect I'll be arguing about that for some time to come. But to all the human rights activists out there, arguing for secularism and against Christianity (unlike Hirshi Ali thankfully), I'd like to point you to a verse in the Bible that's almost a couple of thousand years older than the declaration of human rights, and numerous centuries ahead of the enlightenment: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28

On a personal note though, I don't live in a bubble, and I figured out a long time ago that I'm not supposed to talk about this sort of thing. For the longest time, the thought of evangelism struck fear into my chambers of my heart. It rarely worked anyway it seemed, people weren't interested. Jesus was a cliche, telling people about Jesus was the joke of late-night television. Saying to someone that "Jesus loves you" was a great way to get rid of guys you weren't interested in (haha, would I do that), or obnoxious door to door sales people, but not the sort of thing people did if they wanted to be taken seriously in the lunch room at work. And yet, we cling to political correctness in the west because on some level we know it's all we have left, some blase sensibility that we should treat other human beings with decency, even if they're in line for the same opportunity. But why should we, really, if survival is all that matters and gifts are a mere status symbol?

But when Pari says in the interview, alluding to the cool exclusive Christians she has known, was it always like that? I mean, the status quo fundamentalist mindset that Pari alluded to? Was it like that when Wilberforce stood up in the British Parliament year after year pleading to end slavery? Was it like that when the early church stayed behind and cared for the dying through the scourge of plague? Yet isn't it interesting, that despite how comfortable we've become in the west, despite how much we take for granted, how much has become the norm, the fading backdrop of a once Judeo-Christian culture, that in a globalizing world where our assumptions are not the assumptions of so many, that doing the unthinkable, evangelizing, becomes practical, becomes necessary, becomes respectable when we once again see that truly living out the Gospel message, while valuing others more highly than ourselves, makes all the difference in the world.

Thanks for listening,

M.A. Harvey

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