Is ‘Religious Extremism’ Always a Bad Thing?

While radical adherence to true Islam brings death and destruction, the opposite is true of Jews and Christians

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Trying to understand radical Islam has become a popular topic on talk-shows these days. It seems the general consensus is divided between those who believe that Islam is a peaceful religion that’s been hijacked by a bunch of zealous fanatics. And those who see the problem for what it is – something endemic to the religion of Islam. 

But there’s one thing they all agree on: religious extremism of any sort is never a good thing. For the secular world, radical Islam is no different than a rabid Christianity that once tortured “heretics” in the Inquisition and burned “witches” in Salem. Or a Judaism that once stoned people for committing adultery or defiling the Sabbath. (The fact that atheistic humanism was responsible for more deaths in the last century is never mentioned.) 

But is this notion about over-zealous devotion to one’s religious beliefs correct? Or is there a factor not being considered?  Such as what are the religious beliefs someone is so fervent about?  For the Muslim, the foundational source of his beliefs is the Koran. For the Christian and Jew it’s the Bible. And between the covers of these two books lies a world of difference. (I’ll limit it to those three religions to make my point.)

Inside the Koran are found many verses that advocate extreme violence, or jihad, against the ‘infidel’ – who is anyone not a committed Muslim. For example, verse 8:12: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” That means, if a Muslim is truly serious about practicing his religion as Mohammed intended, he must become a mass murderer. And believe in Sharia and their genocidal End Time theology.

So how do we explain the so-called moderate Muslim who is not interested in taking up the sword to bring the world into submission to Allah? His religion is more of a cultural thing.  Such a follower could be likened to a lukewarm Christian, or a Jew who only observes the High Holy Days. However, the more serious a moderate Muslim gets about practicing his religion, the more “radicalized” he will become.

With those who look to the Bible, just the opposite happens. The core message of the Bible urges believers to love your neighbors as yourself, not cut their heads off. So the more a Christian or Jew gets serious about his Biblical beliefs, and practices them, the more loving and godly they become. It’s only when we depart from the Bible’s teachings that bad things happen. That’s when Christianity ended up in intolerance, followed by Inquisitions, Crusades and people tied to the stake.  

Of course, it is a bit different with Judaism. In the beginning, Israel was under the Mosaic Law, which could be defined as “Biblical Judaism.” They had been commanded by God to adhere to all His commandments (Deut. 28:15). Some dealt with sin. Some with worship. And still others with behavior within the community. The punishments for disobedience were often severe and swift. And when it came to surrounding nations, God didn’t want Israel having anything to do with them.  They were to be shunned – even eliminated – in order to protect His nation from being corrupted by their sinful influences.

But the Mosaic Law was a religion of types and shadows that pointed to, and would one day be fulfilled by, Messiah. And, as we know, Messiah finally came. Since then the Law has been officially retired. Those Jews who did not move forward into Israel’s New Covenant had to settle for various rabbinical interpretations on how to serve God. With their temple destroyed, and they themselves cast into exile, they had no choice but to live peacefully among the nations in hopes they’d be treated the same. Which, sad to say, rarely happened. But in the process, the Jews adopted a new “live and let live” attitude that seems to have applied to spiritual matters also, living lives of personal obedience to God without imposing the Law’s penalties for failure.

Which brings us back to the world’s view of Radical Islam. For those who clearly see it as a growing threat, there are only two possible solutions if civilization is to survive. Either Islam must experience a Reformation as happened in Christianity to calm it down. Or there must be all-out war to defeat it. 

But consider this: Did the Protestant Reformation really make Christians less fervent? Did Luther and Calvin give the faithful a religious sedative? Or did their fiery preaching turn the established order of Europe on its head and awaken a moribund Christianity to its true faith? Did it not inspire thousands to take a courageous stand, many choosing martyrdom rather than submit again to a false religion? (The same is actually happening now to thousands of Muslims through dreams and visions.) 

And what of Christians today who pray in tongues, believe in healing and support the restoration of Israel? And Jewish ‘settlers’ who have the audacity to believe their land was given them by God, and are willing to die in defense of it? Wouldn’t they all be considered religious extremists by many? For sure!

Therefore, in spite of what the world thinks, not all “religious extremism” is a bad thing. When it’s based on the truth of God’s Word and done in love, it’s a return to sanity.

Brian Hennessy is author of Valley of the Steeples


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