Better to light a candle

I’ve just read a transcript of a speech President Bush delivered today. The subject is the war in Iraq. (Isn’t it always?) As he so often does, President Bush characterized the conflict in binary (us=good vs. them=evil) terms:

  • we’re responding to a global campaign of fear with a global campaign of freedom;
  • these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace, and stand in the way of their ambitions;
  • Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience …
  • they have endless ambitions of imperial domination, and they wish to make everyone powerless except themselves. Under their rule, they have banned books, and desecrated historical monuments, and brutalized women. They seek to end dissent in every form, and to control every aspect of life, and to rule the soul, itself.

The words are harsh, and yet they are not entirely untrue or unjustified. I have real sympathy, for example, with this paragraph, even if it straddles the border into hyperbole:

When 25 Iraqi children are killed in a bombing, or Iraqi teachers are executed at their school, or hospital workers are killed caring for the wounded, this is murder, pure and simple — the total rejection of justice and honor and morality and religion. These militants are not just the enemies of America, or the enemies of Iraq, they are the enemies of Islam and the enemies of humanity.

Nonetheless, I was relieved when President Bush briefly sounded another tone. It is my firm conviction that Islam needs to undergo a Reformation, just as Christianity has benefited from a Reformation from time to time, over the course of its history. (Read my thoughts on the subject here.) Thus I am deeply impressed by these words:

As we do our part to confront radicalism, we know that the most vital work will be done within the Islamic world, itself. And this work has begun. Many Muslim scholars have already publicly condemned terrorism, often citing Chapter 5, Verse 32 of the Koran, which states that killing an innocent human being is like killing all humanity, and saving the life of one person is like saving all of humanity. After the attacks in London on July the 7th, an imam in the United Arab Emirates declared, “Whoever does such a thing is not a Muslim, nor a religious person.” The time has come for all responsible Islamic leaders to join in denouncing an ideology that exploits Islam for political ends, and defiles a noble faith.

This may seem like a tangent, but I am reminded of the words of an evangelical Christian preacher who lived in the 19th century. Philips Brooks is best known for writing the words to the Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem.

When I was a pastor, I read a book by Philips Brooks, On Preaching. The main thing I remember from it is this:  Brooks counselled young clergy, like me, to appeal to the noble side of human nature. In other words, don’t dwell on the negatives. Don’t berate people, week after week, for all the ways in which they are failing to be the people God wants them to be. Paint a picture for them of what they could become, by God’s grace:  the noble objectives they could live by and the great things they could achieve.

And that is what I admire in the paragraph from President Bush’s speech. Maybe his negative characterization of Islamic radicals is 100% justified; maybe it isn’t. But I wish it was possible for him to spend more time looking at the other side of the coin:  the beautiful elements within Islam, what a great contribution Muslims have made to the history of human civilization in the past, and what glories may yet await discovery in Islam’s future.

Enough cursing the darkness, already; let’s see if we can’t encourage that candle to burst into flame.

Advertisements

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. CyberKitten
    Oct 07, 2005 @ 16:25:00

    Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience …
    they have endless ambitions of imperial domination, and they wish to make everyone powerless except themselves. Under their rule, they have banned books, and desecrated historical monuments, and brutalized (many people). They seek to end dissent in every form, and to control every aspect of life, and to rule the soul, itself.

    “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…”

    Pots, kettles, stones and glass houses come to mind.

    Though you do end with a nice sentiment:

    Enough cursing the darkness, already; let’s see if we can’t encourage that candle to burst into flame.

    If only… If only….

    Reply

  2. LoryKC
    Oct 08, 2005 @ 20:48:00

    Amen

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: