Friday, December 20, 2019
I heard the following story while listening to a lecture from Ravi Zacharias on the pursuit of truth in our current culture:
I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts.
He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.”
I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?”
He said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.”
I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?”
He said, “That is correct.”
I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?”1
The Foundation of Postmodernism
I fully admit that I am not a professional philosopher and, while I was researching postmodernism, I stopped more than once to ask, “What did that just say?” I find it to be a very mind-bending philosophy, but will try to communicate the basics clearly and concisely.
Postmodernism rejects the idea that objective, universal truth can be discovered through reason, observation and rational investigation. No person, institution, or discipline is neutral in its pursuit of truth and will therefore always offer an interpretation that is colored by its culture, language, history and gender. Truth is not something external that we can determine, but is socially constructed through our collaborative interactions. There is no ultimate “Truth” that corresponds with reality, but there are collective “truths” that are built by each individual. Postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty puts it this way, “We…[should] give up the correspondence theory of truth (i.e. truth is that which corresponds with reality), and start treating moral and scientific beliefs as tools for achieving greater human happiness, rather than as representations of the intrinsic nature of reality.”2
Language plays a central role in the construction of “truth.” Jeff Myers explains, “Postmodernists think we cannot know the world directly. We only know it as we interpret it. Since our language structures our relationships, our talk about the objects in the world isn’t really about those objects at all: it’s really about ourselves.”3 So when we talk about an object, a moral truth, or a scientific idea, we aren’t talking about something with an objective, concrete essence but are only communicating our interpretation. Recognizing the role in which language shapes these interpretations, postmodernists hold suspicion about how language is used by the powerful as a tool of oppression to impose ideas on everyone else. One way this is accomplished is by the crafting of metanarratives, which provide a unifying story about reality. Postmodern philosopher Jean-Francois-Lyotard encouraged “incredulity towards metanarrative”4 because people’s experiences are too varied to provide a general, overarching statement about the world.
To postmodern literary critics, ultimately, even words themselves have lost objective meaning. In an essay titled “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes argues that the original and intended meaning of the text is not important, rather it is the interpretation of the reader that determines the text’s meaning. Postmodern literary critics claim that words cannot accurately describe the world. The writer cannot communicate about reality, but can only communicate about reality as understood by the reader.5
Origin – How did we get here?
Postmodernism is skeptical of claims that science can provide a neutral, objective description of reality. Author Nancy Pearcey recounts the following story from a conference on science and postmodernism:
Postmodernist philosophers led off by arguing that “there are no metanarratives,” meaning no overarching, universal truths. Responding on behalf of the scientists was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg, who replied: But of course there are metanarratives. After all, there’s evolution – a vast metanarrative from the Big Bang to the origin of the solar system to the origin of human life. And since evolution is true, that proves there is at least one metanarrative….To which the postmodernist philosophers responded, ever so politely: That’s just your metanarrative. Evolution is merely a social construct, they said, like every other intellectual schema – a creation of the human mind.6
Postmodernists claim that our observations are culturally and linguistically influenced and the knowledge that we gain from science cannot describe an objectively true nature. Terry Eagleton asserts, “Science and philosophy must jettison their grandiose metaphysical claims and view themselves more modestly as just another set of narratives.”7 Objective “Truth” about the origin of the universe, our solar system, and life on Earth is beyond our grasp.
Identity – What does it mean to be human?
Nothing at all. In their book on postmodern economics, David Ruccio and Jack Amariglio claim there is “no singular or unique ‘I.””8 Human beings do not possess a personality or human nature. We do not have souls, but are a “collage of social constructs.”9 Mitchell Stevens explains, “It’s not just that we have different sides to our personality; it’s that we have no central personality in relation to which all our varied behaviors might be seen as just ‘sides.’ We are, in other words, not absolutely anything.”10
From a postmodern view, things, including human beings, don’t have any real, intrinsic essence. Human nature and value is not something that we can objectively describe, but something that is socially constructed and colored by our unique experiences and cultural perspectives.
Morality – How should we live?
According to British essayist Phillips, “Universal moral principles must be eradicated and reverence for individual and cultural uniqueness inculcated.” Postmodernism denies the existence of any universal morality against which we might judge right and wrong action. Instead, we must be content to live with what Jean-Francois Lyotard called “little narratives.” Moral truth is not revealed by a divine being or discovered by reason, but resides within the community. Each culture and community determines what is moral within its own circumstances and experiences. This leads to the obvious question, however. How does one judge between two communities with opposite, incompatible moral views?
Meaning – Why are we here?
Albert Camus once said, “I have seen many people die because life for them was not worth living. From this, I conclude that the question of life’s meaning is the most urgent question of all.”11 Can postmodernism provide satisfying answers to this question? The worldview dismisses the existence of any external purpose and meaning for human life that we can apprehend and rejects any metanarrative that would attempt to provide an answer to the question of ultimate purpose.
What we are left with is pragmatism. Since ultimate meaning and purpose are not “out there” waiting to be discovered, we must generate our own purpose, informed by our experiences and culture. In other words, each person must discover purpose, meaning, and significance in a manner that works for them.
Destiny – What happens to us when we die?
Probably at this point, you’ve noticed a pattern that postmodernism can’t really provide any answers to the big questions of life. Based on its own central tenets, postmodernists would deem these answers to be unknowable in an objective sense. However, metaphysical truth can be discovered in a pluralistic sense, based on preference rather than objective standards. A person’s claims about eternal matters may be true for them, but they don’t apply to everyone else.
Despite claims of religious plurality, it seems that some postmodern thinkers have no problem rejecting certain metaphysical propositions. Richard Rorty claimed there was “no room for obedience to a nonhuman authority (i.e. God)” and endorses “forgetting about eternity.”12 Matters of heaven, hell, sin, and salvation compose a metanarrative that has been used by institutions to control and oppress. The very idea of God has been socially constructed through language. “God is a projection. When children have problems, they run to their father for protection. When adults have problems, they project their earthly father into the skies, and they run to this entity for comfort.”13
Although reading about postmodernism sometimes feels like swimming in the philosophical deep waters, it seems to me that a person can refute the worldview without needing to graduate from “swimmies.” The worldview is self-defeating, which can be shown with simple logic. Postmodernism claims that there is no universal truth that can be known, but in doing so, makes a truth claim of its own that should be universally accepted. By rejecting all metanarratives, aren’t postmodern philosophers building their own metanarrative that there are no metanarratives? Postmodern literary critics assert that the words of the author have no objective meaning; instead, it is the interpretation of the reader that has meaning. Yet, I suspect that when these critics write books expressing this view they expect that the reader will be able to understand the message they are trying to communicate. If a student completely misinterprets their message, would they correct them or be satisfied that the student had constructed their own meaning?
To be charitable, I do think that postmodernism does raise some valid concerns, but takes them too far. We should be humble about the limits of our own knowledge, but that does not mean that truth is unknowable or does not exist. It is worthwhile to recognize how own life experiences and culture impact our own beliefs and pursuit of truth, but again, this does not mean that we are unable to perceive that which corresponds with reality.
I want to return to the opening example of the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts, the postmodern building at “The” Ohio State University (a little joke for Michiganders, there). The architect felt the liberty to do all sorts of cute tricks with the building: false stairways, purposeless rooms, meaningless pillars. Yet, he didn’t dare do the same thing with the foundation that supported the building, but recognized its objective function and purpose.
In the same way, I feel that postmodernism plays a lot of cute, fancy words games while discussing the big questions of life. Yet, do they really live out their worldview? If we were standing in a road and a truck was hurdling towards us, would they say, “That’s just your opinion” if I warned them to move from its path? When they take a flight, do they want the pilot to trust that the instruments on the control panel are providing information that conforms with reality or would they rather the pilot construct their own truth? When the rubber meets the road, postmodernists do live as though objective truth does exist.
More than that, what would happen if we were to build the superstructure of human civilization on the foundation proposed by postmodern philosophy? We would be left with a foundation in which there is no intrinsic human nature or value, there is no standard by which to judge moral decisions, and there is no ultimate purpose or meaning to human life. I hope that humanity never needs to rise from the rubble that would ensue.
1) Gilson, Tom. “The Wexner Center’s Foundations.” The Thinking Christian. October 25, 2012. https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2012/10/the-wexner-centers-foundations/
2) Rorty, Richard. Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. 96.
3) Myers, Jeff and Noebel, David A. Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015. 156.
4) Lyotard, Jean-Francios. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994. xxiv.
5) Myers, Jeff and Noebel, David A. Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015. 158.
6) Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004. 114.
7) Eagleton, Terry. “Awakening from Modernity.” Times Literary Supplement. February 20, 1987. 194.
8) Ruccio, David F. and Amariglio, Jack. Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003. 167.
9) Anderson, Walter T. Reality Isn’t What It Used To Be. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. 3.
10) Stephens, Mitchell. “To Thine Own Selves Be True.” Los Angeles Times Magazine. August 23, 1992.
11) Gablik, Suzi. “Postmodernism and the Question of Meaning. https://msu.edu/course/ha/452/gablikpostmodernism.htm
12) Rorty, Richard. Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. 18.
13) Markham, Ian S. A World Religions Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. 24.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
When I started research for this series, I was surprised to see Marxism identified as one of the major competing worldviews. “Didn’t the Cold War thirty years ago?” I thought to myself. This might be a commonly held perception, but as a worldview, Marxism is very much alive and influential. Thanks to China’s large population, the world’s five communist countries (Chine, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, and Cuba) account for approximately one-fifth of the world’s population. North Korea’s implementation of Marxism certainly influences world politics disproportionately to its small size. Additionally, there are a number of other nations in which socialism is either the official policy (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Portugal, Tanzania, Guyana) or exerts strong political influence (France, Greece, Venezuela, Sweden, Zambia, Syria, Norway, etc.)1 Finally, a number of rebel groups around the world are motivated by Marxist ideas.
Clearly, despite the perception that Marxism ran out of fuel in the 20th century, it is a worldview that remains relevant in the present day and we should understand both its foundational beliefs and implications. This would be a good place to remind readers that this series is an analysis of ideas, not individuals. For example, advocating for universal health care does not make someone a Marxist or imply that they support the implications of a Marxist worldview. Nonetheless, as we engage in the present culture, it is important to understand how ideas emerged, what consequences they bore in the past, and where they could possibly lead in the future.
Probably when many people think of Marxism, images of cool, rebellious T-shirts with a face of Che Gueverra or a raised fist come to mind, but to truly understand a worldview we must dig down to its foundation. Based upon the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Marxism is built upon two main ideas: dialectic materialism and economic determinism.
Dialectic materialism, which was based upon a view of history developed by German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, describes the cyclical process in which the status quo, or thesis, triggers a reaction, or antithesis, whose goal is the negation of the status quo. After conflict between the thesis and antithesis, a new view emerges, which is called the synthesis and is a merging of ideas from the thesis and antithesis. Overtime, the synthesis becomes the new thesis and the cycle repeats again. In this way, history is a continually upward spiral towards a better way of thinking and a more just society and conflict is an important part of this inevitable process.
Friedrich Engels wrote, “In every historical epoch the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch.”2 In other words, economics explains everything else.
This is the idea of economic determinism. In this view, everything in history can be explained by an economic struggle between the bourgeoisie, the property owners, and the proletariat, the property-less workers. The bourgeoisie and proletariat are engaged in a dialectic struggle that will eventually lead to the ultimate synthesis, a communist society in which all means of production are held in common and there is no exploitation or injustice. This is the evolving course of history that cannot be stopped.
Related to both of these pillars, materialism and atheism are central to the Marxist worldview. According to Engels, “In our evolutionary conception of the universe there is absolutely no room or either a creator or a ruler.”3 As we answer life’s big questions, we will see that this foundational belief results in devastating implications.
Origin – How did we get here?
Upon reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, Karl Marx immediately believed that his view of economic evolution and Darwin’s theory of biological evolution paired together perfectly. Not only did the theory remove the need for a creator, but it mirrored his understanding of progress through conflict. He wrote, “Darwin’s [Origin of Species] is very important and provides me with a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.”4
However, early Marxist leaders came to realize that the gradual evolution described by Darwin did not comport with the dramatic revolutionary leaps predicted by Marxism. Instead, the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which proposes short periods of dramatic biological change followed by long periods of stasis, better fits the Marxist view of economic progress. In fact, two of punctuated equilibrium’s strongest advocates, Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge, acknowledged that Marxist philosophy was not “irrelevant to [their] personal preferences [for punctuated equilibrium over gradual, natural selection]” and that Gould “learned his Marxism at his daddy’s knee.”5
Most important for Marxist, philosophy, however, is that humanity did not originate from the purposeful act of a creator but through natural, unguided processes.
Identity – What does it mean to be human?
As discussed in the investigation of secular humanism, how a worldview answers the question of origin drastically affects how it answers the question of human identity. Humans are not made in the image of God, with inherent value and dignity, but are simply matter in motion. As Marxist scientist A.I. Oparin claimed, “We have every reason to believe that sooner or later, we shall be able to practically demonstrate that life is nothing else but a special existence of matter.”6
Although humanity is really nothing more than matter in motion, class distinction is important in the Marxist worldview. The bourgeoisie, or land and property owners, are the class that is responsible for injustice, oppression and exploitation. The proletariat, or working class, provide the labor necessary to produce the goods of a society and are oppressed by the bourgeoisie. A person’s place in this class system will dictate answers to questions of morality and meaning.
Morality – How should we live?
Marxist philosophy encourages growth in class consciousness, the awareness of the proletariat that they occupy the low position in society and are being exploited by the bourgeoisie. Class consciousness promotes a proletariat morality, an ethical system in which the “ends” of actualizing a communist society justify the “means” by which it is achieved.
According to Scientific Communism: A Glossary, “Devotion to the cause of the working class, collectivism, mutual aid, comradely solidarity, hatred toward the bourgeoisie and toward traitors to the common cause, internationalism, and stoicism in struggle are traits which not only define the content of proletarian ethics, but also characterize the moral image of the typical representatives of the working class.”7
Fervent Marxists openly admitted their view that killing the bourgeoisie was a basic moral duty. M.Y. Latsis, a top official of Lenin’s secret police, asserted “We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class.” Nikita Khrushchev, president of the U.S.S.R, admonished, “Our cause is sacred. He whose hand will tremble, who will stop midway, whose knees will shake before he destroys tens and hundreds of enemies, he will lead the revolution into danger. Whoever will spare a few lives of enemies, will pay for I with hundreds of thousands of lives of the better sons of our fathers.”8
Proletariat morality, combined with the unrestrained ethic of atheism, led to devastating consequences in the 20th century. In its wake, historians estimate 20 to 60 million deaths in the Soviet Union, 40 to 70 million deaths in China, two million deaths in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge, and 1.6 million deaths in North Korea.9 May we never adopt Joseph Stalin’s quote: “One death is a tragedy, a million is just a statistic.”10
Meaning – Why are we here?
While we may lack purpose endowed from our creator, we do find ourselves as players in the great economic struggle that has raged throughout history towards the evolution of the ideal, communist society. As members of the proletariat grow in consciousness of their oppressed status, they are called to join the conflict against the bourgeoisie. This calls for fully giving oneself to the common good of achieving the classless society. Members of the bourgeoisie can either surrender their right to private property and join the common cause or suffer the consequences.
Destiny – What happens to us when we die?
True Marxists are strictly atheistic. As Chou En-lai, the first premier of the People’s Republic of China, succinctly declares, “We Communists are atheists.”11 This is a view that has been consistently held by Marxists leaders throughout history.
Furthermore, Marx viewed religion as one of the tools the bourgeoisie used to control the proletariat. He explained, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, as it is the spirit of the spiritless condition. It is the opium of the people.”12 Marx sought not only to free the proletariat from economic oppression, but from the desire to seek salvation and eternal life. After all, “life is nothing else but a special form of existence of matter.”
Friedrich Engels put it this way: “All nature, from the smallest thing to the biggest, from a grain of sand to the sun, from the Protista to man, is in a constant state of coming into being and going out of being, in a constant flux, in a ceaseless state of movement and change.”13 Just like the Protista, when we die, we simply go out of being.
This investigation of Marxism is not political in nature. It is not my goal to promote conservative political views or to condemn liberal political views. I am also not insinuating that people who lean to the left embrace the ideology described in this post. Instead, the goal of this post is to explore the foundations and implications of the worldview laid out by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, a worldview that drastically altered the world in the 20th century and continues to exert major influence today.
I affirm and applaud the desire to bring freedom and justice to the oppressed and exploited people of the world. For those who are drawn to Marxist philosophy for that reason, I recognize that as a right and noble desire. When we examine the Christian worldview, it will have something to say on the topic.
However, there is no way to soft way to deliver my conclusion. Instead of leading to and a utopian society, Marxism brings harsh, cruel violence and tyranny. It is a worldview in which the ends justifies the means, allowing Lenin to say, “Even if for every hundred correct things we committed 10,000 mistakes, our revolution would still be – and it will be in the judgment of history – great and invincible.”14 Such a worldview permitted Lenin to view Ukrainian farmers (kulaks) not as “human beings”, but as objects of “economic terror,” a view that Joseph Stalin acted upon on December 27, 1929 when he announced “the liquidation of the kulaks as a class.”15
One might say, yes, in its implementation Marxism has resulted in atrocities, but in theory it is a good system and worldview. After all, don’t other worldviews have atrocities to answer for? Doesn’t Christianity, for example, need to answer for the Inquisition and the Crusades? To answer these questions, we must look at the foundations and implications of each worldview. Christianity will be explored in detail later, but as for Marxism, it demands violence and despotism. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx writes, “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”. He continues, “Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads.”16
When we examine the foundations and implications of Marxism, the results in the 20th century were predictable: the loss of millions of lives through hate driven violence. It is important to guard against the Marxist worldview so that our children and grandchildren do not see the same wake of carnage when they look back at the 21st century.
1) Myers, Jeff and Noebel, David A. Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015. 102.
2) Mark, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. Communist Manifesto. 202-203.
3) Engels, Friedrich. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. New York: International Publishers, 1935. 21.
4) Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. Selected Correspondence. New York: International Publishers, 1942. 125.
5) Eldredge, Niles and Gould, Stephen J. Paleobiology, Volume 3. Paleontology Society, 1977. 145-146.
6) Myers, Jeff and Noebel, David A. Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015. 106.
7) Sleeper, Raymond S. A Lexicon of Marxist-Leninist Semantic. Western Goals, 1983. 106.
8) Bales, James D. Communism and the Reality of Moral Law. Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1969. 121.
9) Myers, Jeff and Noebel, David A. Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015. 101.
10) Oxford Essential Quotations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
11) Bales, James D. Communism: Its Faith and Fallacies. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1962. 37.
12) Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. Collected Works. 3:175.
13) Engels, Friedrich. Dialectics of Nature. 13.
14) Lenin, Vladimir. Collected Works. 28:72.
15) Conquest, Robert. The Harvest of Sorrow. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. 117.
16) Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. Collected Works. 6:519.
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
In an age of religious pluralism, it is popular to say that all religions teach basically the same thing. This sounds tolerant and appeals to a desire to be inclusive, but the question is whether this cliché is true. As Steve Turner satirically quipped, “We believe that religions are basically the same, they only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.”1 The next stop on our Trip Around the Worldviews will require investigation of this statement, as we explore a religion and worldview that is often claimed to overlap with Christianity.
In the interfaith movement, it is popular to assert that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Recently, Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayebb of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University released a joint declaration “in the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity.”2 In 1965, the Second Vatican Council affirmed, “The church also regards with esteem the Muslims. They adore the one God living and subsisting in himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth.” While the interfaith movement promotes important values such as compassion, tolerance, and cooperation, the question remains whether different religions are truly fundamentally equivalent. If there are fundamental differences, how do those differences affect the worldview of a particular religion’s followers? While Islam and Christianity may have more in common with each other than the first two worldviews in this series (secularism and new age spirituality), we shall see that there exist fundamental differences have an important impact on worldview.
The Islamic worldview stands upon the shahada, or confession of faith, which states, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.” In Islam, Allah is not God’s name, but is simply the Arabic word for God. While Jews and Christians also affirm monotheism, Muslims understanding of God differs from the Biblical description. God is completely transcendent and is not directly knowable, but only relates to people through prophets and authoritative teachings. A Muslim would not talk about having a relationship with Allah as Christians often talk about having a relationship with Christ.
Foremost among the prophets, Muhammad was Allah’s messenger sent to correct religious misunderstandings of the past and to deliver verbatim the literal word of God in the Quran. Additionally, the Hadith contains a collection of Muhammad’s sayings and accounts of his daily practice and is an additional authoritative source for Islam. These two sources are the authoritative lens through which Muslims view all of life.
Origin – How did we get here?
When answering this question, the Christian and Islamic worldview will hold a similar viewpoint. Allah is eternal and self-existent, the creator of all. Similar to the Genesis account of creation, when Allah spoke, the universe was created. “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: when He decreeth a matter, He saith to it: ‘Be’, and it is.” (Quran 2:117).
In fact, the Kalam cosmological argument, which is popular among Christian apologists, was originally developed by Islamic philosophers to support theistic arguments. Christian apologist Norman Geisler acknowledges, “The Kalam argument is a horizontal form of the cosmological argument. The universe is not eternal, so it must have had a Cause. That Cause must be considered God. This argument has a long and venerable history among such Islamic philosophers as Alfarabi, Al Ghazali, and Avicenna.”3
The following quote, from Pakistani Muslim scholar Khurshid Ahmad, could very well have been written by a Christian:
How can one observe the inexhaustible creativity of nature, its purposefulness, its preservation of that which is morally useful and destruction of that which is socially injurious, and yet fail to draw the conclusion that behind nature there is an All-Pervading Mind of whose incessant creative activity the process of nature are but an outward manifestation? The stars scattered through the almost infinite space, the vast panorama of nature with its charm and beauty, the planned waxing and waning of the moon, the astonishing harmony of the seasons – all point towards one fact; there is a God, the Creator, the Governor. We witness a superb, flawless plan in the universe – can it be without a Planner? We see great enchanting beauty and harmony in its working – can it be without a Creator? We observe wonderful design in nature – can it be without a Designer? We feel a lofty purpose in physical and human existence – can it be without a Will working behind it? We find that the universe is like a superbly written fascinating novel – can it be without an Author?4
Identity – What does it mean to be human?
While Christians and Muslims share common ground with respect to human origins, the worldviews begin to diverge regarding human identity. Muslims do not view humans as being created in God’s image (compare to Genesis 1:26-27 and James 3:9) or as being beloved children (see 1 John 3:1), but as slaves of Allah. The Arabic word “abd” means one who is subordinated as a slave or servant, as well as to worship. A common name in Islamic lands, Abdullah, literally means “servant or slave of Allah” or “worshipper of Allah.” To worship and to submit as a slave are two sides of the same coin. Even the word Islam means “submission.”
Christians certainly should be completely submitted to God, not in any way viewing themselves as being equal to God as his image bearers. However, the Muslim view of humans as slaves to Allah, as opposed to image bearers of God with intrinsic worth and dignity, certainly impacts the way in which the Islamic world views people who are currently outside of the faith. Although there are examples of atrocities in Christian church history that could be cited, one cannot utilize violence to “convert” someone to Christianity and remain consistent with the teaching of the New Testament. However, since Islam teaches that all humans were initially born as Muslims, but that some are now in rebellion against Allah, the use of force and terror is completely justified to bring these rebellious servants back under submission. Consider just a couple of verses from the Quran:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Quran 9:29)
But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them. (Quran 9:5)
This is not to say that all Muslims agree in the use of violence and terror to advance the cause of Islam. There are many Muslims who live peaceful lives and desire peace in the world. However, this is a critique of worldview, not of individuals, and Islam’s teaching on the nature of man before Allah justifies the use of violence to force submission before him.
Morality – How should we live?
“There is no division of ethics and law” in Islam, according to Swedish Muslim writer S. Parvez Manzoor.5 Islamic law, which is primarily derived from the Quran and Hadith, is ethical by definition because they are specific commands revealed from Allah. Since Allah’s character cannot be directly known, Islam’s moral compass is calibrated by Allah’s words dictated to Muhammad in the Quran and by Muhammad’s actions recorded in the Hadith. Ram Swarup, a Hindu thinker and author, comments, “To (Muslims) morality derives from the Prophet’s actions; the moral is whatever he did. Morality does not determine the Prophet’s actions, but his actions determine and define morality. Muhammad’s acts were not ordinary acts; they were Allah’s own acts.”6
This view of morality may seem to be similar to the Judeo-Christian worldview. Certainly there are specific moral commands in both the Old and New Testament, however, Judeo-Christian morality ultimately derives from God’s character. Jesus summarizes all the laws of the Old Testament with two commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength...and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30 - 31). Morality, based on “agape” love, comes from the inside-out, not the outside-in, as it does in Islam’s divine command ethic.
Meaning – Why are we here?
The purpose of life is to be submitted to Allah and to bring others under submission to Allah. While some Muslims view jihad as merely a personal battle of self-discipline or a call to defend Islam against outside threats, historically jihad has also included the conquest of non-believing nations to bring them under submission to Allah. Famous Arab historian Ibn Khaldun wrote in the 14th century, “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or force.”7 A meaningful life is spent striving and fighting for the Cause of Allah:
"Not equal are those of the believers who sit (at home), except those who are disabled (by injury or are blind or lame, etc.), and those who strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has preferred in grades those who strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives above those who sit (at home).Unto each, Allah has promised good (Paradise), but Allah has preferred those who strive hard and fight, above those who sit (at home) by a huge reward." (Quran 4:95)
Destiny – What happens to us when we die?
While Muslims and Christians both believe in a final judgment, followers hold drastically different views regarding the means and methods of salvation. Although Muslim’s believe that Adam and Eve disobeyed Allah’s original command not to eat of the forbidden fruit in the garden, they believe that this act of disobedience was quickly forgiven and that humanity did not inherit a sinful nature. In fact, every human is born a Muslim, but some rebel against Allah, a rebellion that was made possible by Adam and Eve’s original sin. Islam was sent by Allah to provide a way back into proper standing before him.
While Muslim’s do believe that Allah shows mercy in salvation, it is ultimately the good works of man that save, not the grace of God. According to the Quran, “the weighing on that day (Day of Resurrection) will be the true [weighing]. So as for those for those whose scale [of good deeds] will be heavy they will be the successful [by entering Paradise]. And as for those whose scale will be light, they are those who will lose their own selves [by entering Hell] because they denied and rejected Our Ayat [proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations].” (Quran 7:8 – 9)
While there never is complete assurance of salvation, Muslims can add weight to their scale my participating in the five pillars of Islam: confessing the shahada (There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet), engaging in prayer five times per day while facing Mecca, fasting during Ramadan, giving 2.5% of their income to the poor, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca once during their lifetime.
Unlike the previous two worldviews that we have explored, secularism and new age spirituality, I find Islam to be a coherent and internally consistent worldview. For example, the previous two worldviews provide no objective foundation for moral obligations, yet people who hold these worldviews live as if moral obligations truly exist. Although secularism is built upon reason and rationality, its materialistic view of the universe unwittingly undermines the basis for libertarian free will, which would be necessary to truly engage in a rational investigation of the universe. Based on what I know thus far, I see no similar problems in Islam.
However, although Islam and Christianity do have some minor similarities, foundational differences lead to very different perspectives on humanity, morality, and destiny. Since both worldviews are coherent and internally consistent, the important question is whether either worldview is true. Despite the clichés of religious pluralism and the interfaith movement, it is impossible for both worldviews to be true, not only because of differing answers to life’s big questions, but due to fundamentally different foundations.
While both religions are monotheistic, Christianity teaches that God is triune, one being consisting three co-equal persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). To the Muslim mind, this belief is shirk, the sin of polytheism. The Quran denounces the Trinity by stating, “They do blaspheme who say, “God is one of three in a Trinity’, for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word, verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.” (Quran 5:75 – 76). Clearly, Islam denies the deity of both Christ and the Holy Spirit.
What is more, Christianity is built upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul clearly teaches, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 15:14 – 17). The truthfulness of Christianity hinges upon the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ. Islam teaches not only that Jesus did not raise from the dead, but that he wasn’t even crucified in the first place. The Quran claims, “They that said, ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of God’; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for a surety they killed him not; nay, God raised him up unto Himself; and God is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Surah 4).
Based on standard methods of historical investigations, it is a bedrock fact of history that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified at the hands of Pontius Pilate. There is incredibly good evidence that points to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as the best explanation of the facts of history. A series of posts on this topic will be forthcoming sometime within the next year. For anyone who is sincerely seeking truth, whether comparing the Christian and Islamic worldview or coming from a completely different perspective, I would implore you to investigate the question as to whether Jesus of Nazareth rose from the grave. I can think of no more important question in all of history.
1) Turner, Steve. "Creed." 1993.
2) Tornielli, Andrea. "Pope and the Grand Imam: Historic Declaration of Peace, Freedom and Women's Rights." Vatican News. February 4, 2019.
3) Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999. 399.
4) Ahmad, Khurshid. Islam: Its Meaning and Message. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1999. 29 – 30.
5) Manzoor, S. Parvez. “Islamic Conceptual Framework.” May 27, 2005.
6) Swarup, Ram. Understanding Islam through Hadis. Dehli: Voice of India, 1983.
7) Chapman, Colin. Cross and Crescent: Responding to the Challenge of Islam. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 293.