At bottom the question really is: is there any moral difference between mass killings directed by OT prophets commanded by the God of the Scriptures and mass killings by Islamic radicals directed supposedly by Muhammad, the self-professed prophet of the Muslim god, Allah?
Or the question might be put more generically: Is there any moral difference between the slaughter of human beings recorded in the Bible and supposedly directed by the God of the Bible and the slaughter of human beings at other times and places by certifiably crazy persons or criminal groups or rogue governments that the killers attribute to divine direction or impulse?
Common Denominators Do Not Equal Moral Equivalence
The answer is, there is no moral equivalence between these situations, only superficial resemblance. For instance, in the Second World War, the Allies killed hundreds of thousands of people, some combatants, some innocents, in that awful conflict started by Nazis and the Japanese in their joint effort to achieve world dominion and impose their evil will on the nations. Now, as we all should know, foul times require foul measures. One part of the world had to fight back to fend off darkness and unfortunately that involved serious, but necessary bloodshed, but there was no moral equivalence in the killing.
Israel is a small nation surrounded by hostile nations whose wicked dream is to exterminate the Jews from the face of the earth and obliterate Israel as a nation. Consequently, they have declared war on Israel in an effort to uproot her and take over her territory and failing in that enterprise, have set up state-sponsored terrorist entities to intimidate and kill as many innocent civilians as possible.
In response Israel has put up her defenses, occasionally pre-emptively, to thwart their evil intentions. And inasmuch as these nations and groups love to hide their military assets and personnel behind civilians and civilian structures and facilities, it is inevitable and sometimes necessary to stage strikes against the bad guys that also sadly kill some innocents caught in the middle.
This is the way it is in a dark and sinful world where there is no shortage of evil people, evil regimes, and evil intentions to oppress and suppress other persons and groups and nations. People are forced to fight back. And when they do, there is bloodshed on both sides of the conflict, but that fact does not mean there is any moral equivalency between the two in terms of motivation. War is war and bad things always happen in war, no matter who is involved. Some people can help it, but won’t, and another side can’t help it, but cannot avoid involvement in the bloodshed.
In civilian life, there are blood thirsty criminal elements who have no compunction about killing a few or many to gain their evil ends. To counter these inevitable outlaws, every society sets up its version of official police to protect the public and the vital interests of the state. In the contest between the malign criminals in any given society, the government authorizes its federal, state or local police to intervene and interdict (not unlike the God of Heaven), by force or by bloodshed, as necessary, to thwart the aggressive and punish violent behaviors of the criminals toward its innocent citizens.
Both may kill people, but there is no moral equivalency between a police force and a criminal force in this matter of taking human life, unless a police officer or police force has gone off the grid and gone rogue, acting outside their own authority and for their own private reasons.
From these analogies, I hope it is sufficiently clear by now that an ugly common denominator—human slaughter—in no way proves moral equivalency. Your neighbor may murder a house full of guests because they offended him. You may blow away with a shotgun three intruders into your home. No moral equivalency there.
OK, somebody says, I see that, but what about those who murder and maim innocent people on the pretext that God told them to do it. I mean, who can verify their divine authority to execute people? Anyone could make that claim, be it Moses or ISIS or some mad man. Isn’t there moral equivalency where human beings slaughter their fellow human beings on the unsubstantiated pretext of divine direction?
It might seem that way on the surface, but not necessarily.
Distinguishing Between Credible and Counterfeit Claimants Not Mission Impossible
It comes down to a question of whether that alleged divine direction is real or pretended (or imagined). Granted, here is where things can get a little sticky, but hardly impossible to sort out. Some claims to divine authority for one’s actions possess more credibility than others. Moses and the biblical prophets have a ton of moral credibility; ISIS and its kind have none. More about that later.
Look, it just goes with the territory—the world is full of counterfeits of all sorts. There is legal currency and there is illegal currency that could fool anybody but those trained to spot it. There are genuine Rolex watches and there are knock-offs that to all appearances look just like them. There are real cops and there are fake cops with all the manners and accoutrements of the former. People have been killed by both, one justly, the other unjustly. There are legitimate governments and illegitimate ones. People have been put to death by both kinds. There are sound investments, there are scam investments. People can get financially ‘killed’ by both. There are helpful drugs and harmful drugs. People can die by ingesting either under certain circumstances.
In this evil world full of sinful human beings pulsating with selfish designs and bad intentions, it is a dance at times to discern what is good and what is bad, what is true and what is false, what is wise and what is foolish, what is real and what is counterfeit. The peril of mistaken identity is always there that innocent parties may get duped, sucked in and burned by the counterfeit.
So, we must be wary, not naïve. However, that intellectual difficulty (distinguishing the valid from the invalid) is not to suggest the on-the-face-of-it blurriness is mission impossible, that discerning the difference is such a subjective exercise that we should write off all such professions (to divine authority) to religious fraud, at least until we find some way to prove them legitimate.
Unreasonable to Throw Out the Baby with the Bath
The fact that this threat of confusion exists and because it is not always a simple matter to detect the true from the false, the real from the counterfeit, is not such a conundrum that the difficulty exempts all rational human beings from being duly cautious about whom to assign credibility and exercising all due diligence to discern the difference in truth claims. For it is really not an option, for example, to throw up one’s hands in resignation and say that just because so many politicians prove corrupt, that all politicians are bad and should be sent promptly to jail, or that because so many judges prove venal and so many prosecutors turn out to be persecutors, we should just dismantle the legal system. Way too much subjectivity and criminality in the mix to trust those in authority!
The Trickiness of the Subjective Element No Excuse for Invalidating It
No, in making our way through the inevitable fog of moral conflict of this world, we mortals cannot escape our responsibility to sort out the true from the false where clear and decisive criteria are not readily available.
For example, love is a very important aspect of our lives, but who has ever seen a pound of it and can produce it and prove to us that love even exists? That subjectivity however does not deliver a woman from using her common sense to determine whether a man is conning her or truly loves her. We all crave a just world, but who has ever seen Lady Justice? And there is so much disagreement in given situations about when justice is served. Has anyone ever seen a ton of justice? Yet don’t we all feel we know it when we have seen it? Same way with beauty. Beauty is such an important part of life, but it has no objective existence. Even in the art world, which classically considered, is all about canons and productions of objects of beauty, it is not always agreed about what possesses its qualities or even what those are.
Still, we don’t throw up our hands and say, “Ha, it’s too subjective. No more professions of beauty will be accepted. Anybody can claim the ugliest things are really beautiful” (which in fact happens to be true, even in the art world!).
What I am stressing here is this: Just because 1) there are various claimants, some credible, some not, to divine revelation (and therefore divine authority for various human actions, including the execution of other human beings), and just because 2) determining which claims are true or false may indeed involve an element of subjectivity, those two facts are in no way fatal. It is still possible to sort out the truth.
Biases and Passions Skew Discernment
In getting the right read, it helps greatly that the moral ability to discern between the true and the false, real prophets and pretended prophets, is not entirely a subjective matter. There are objective evidences to assist us.
What throws people off the scent when proper conclusions would seem easy, however, is that human beings, when it comes to moral issues, are plagued with ingrained biases, blind ambitions, roots of bitterness, raging greed and unchecked lusts that foul up our moral sniffers. And for reasons like that many people go ‘nose blind’ to facts and circumstances all too obvious that should forewarn anyone with common sense that they are being duped or lured into drawing simplistic moral equivalences where there are none. Taken in their historical contexts, it is very hard, (for me at least) to see how any person intimate with both could see any more than superficial parallels between Moses and Isis.
Take an example of this blinding effect to the obvious from the financial world: Time and time again when one reads accounts of broken people sucked into some Ponzi scheme or other alluring financial scam, one hears this common lament:
“Well, deep down I knew it was too good to be true, but frankly my greed got the best of my better judgment and I lost my shirt.” Very familiar story.
The point is, to the extent our hearts (i.e. internal matrix of the intellect, the will and the affections) are twisted and impure and ill-motivated, we are susceptible to being blinded and led astray by the counterfeit. Our prejudices and sinful passions will give us moral and spiritual cataracts every time. That explains so much of the political, religious, moral and ethical fog in our world. Generally speaking, the human race can’t see straight. Most people can’t seem to tell the true God from false gods, distinguish true prophets from false prophets.
E.g. if individuals or groups or nations are a boil with hate (like Muslims hating Jews, Christians and even other Muslims), it is no wonder they fall hard into their religious delusions, assigning all the serial massacres and blood lettings they so boastfully perpetrate to divine authority. For whatever superficial resemblance their slaughtering habits may bear to certain divinely directed judgments against some people in OT times, the differences are enormous and the moral tone is light years apart. It should be obvious, I would think, to any unbiased person that this Islamic scourge is a thing apart, and that the murderous behaviors of Islam, not only today, but from its inception in the 7th century AD, has a lot more to do with the god of the world than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
I am saying that such deep seated, violent hatreds set up individuals, groups or nations infected by them (prejudices and passions) to be deluded by evil, charismatic persons who, taking advantage of and perverting that natural religious instinct embedded in the human psyche, to promote themselves as divine oracles. Then in the name of God or some false deity (or even the devil himself), these venomous characters stir up hate-blinded or otherwise sick people to commit wanton mass murders with no moral justification. ISIS is a good contemporary example. History, recent and ancient, abounds with other examples.
The truth is, the heart of man, dark and sick-sin as it is, as history redundantly testifies, when conditions are ripe, can be impelled to believe what it wants (or needs) to believe to achieve its ends. When the corrupted human heart is in a state of moral vertigo (the normal condition, except for the common grace of God), it is by definition intellectually and morally unstable and fertile ground for evil impulses.
The memory of Nazi Germany, post-revolutionary Russia, Communist China, for example, bears horrifying witness to the brutal fact. In the case of Germany, people have always wondered how such a sophisticated and cultured people could have followed such a mad man as Hitler to commit the most unthinkable crimes against humanity.
That’s not rocket science. Evil bias, deep political bitterness was the seed bed of their seduction and violence against the Jews and others.
The Hedge against Deception Not Blanket Rejection but a True Compass
Now the hedge against such outrages is not to throw out the baby with the bath, putting it down as an axiom that no prophets are trustworthy and all (past or present) should therefore be written off as fakes or counterfeits. And most especially so when the revelations they claim they have received from God result in killing people, especially en masse.
That would be an over-reaction to abuse as silly as refusing to pull over for a blue-lighted police car because I have no way of proving it is not a ruse, no way to assure myself that the ostensible officer is not a fake cop who plans to victimize me. Or, in the bygone days of selective service, to refuse to show up for the draft board because I felt I could not verify that my government is engaging in a just war (some have done just that, however). Or, to refuse to buy food in the open market because I cannot confirm that the items are not somehow contaminated or toxic. And so on.
In other words, in this world of sin and darkness and limited human knowledge, it is always the case, no matter how much we are in denial about this, we are forced to take much on reasonable faith in order to function. Otherwise we would be paralyzed. We cannot even trust science and its much-hyped objectivity these days, for that field has become itself so politicized that it is often the case that one cannot know which scientists we can trust to tell us the truth. (E.g. in the areas of environmental science medical science and biological theory, expert opinion conflicts).
So what is the bottom line here? What are we saying? In deciding whom to believe or not believe, whether to trust in the divine direction of the biblical prophets or Muhammad or whoever, who is morally right and who is morally wrong in the directions or instructions they give us, the truth is, your moral compass must be relatively true or you are at the mercy of a myriad of frauds and fools.
In a world amply populated with that kind, a person must be prudent, have good moral and spiritual (i.e. biblically informed) filters or, as one man said of his daughter, “She will do fine. She has good crap detectors.”
Recently my wife had hip replacement surgery. That is serious business. No way was she going to expose herself to the risk of just any Tom, Dick, Harry or Mary advertised as an orthopedic surgeon. Some are not good surgeons; others may be quacks. So, she took a hard look, did some investigation, looked at credentials, got good recommendations for those who ought to know one from the other, did an interview and wound up with a fine surgeon and an excellent result.
By Their Fruits (and Other Means) You Can Differentiate the Good Guys and the Bad Guys
The same thing applies in the case of those who claim to speak for God. In Old Testament times, Samuel was judged a true prophet of God (that very one who on God’s word ordered King Saul to exterminate the vicious Amalekite tribe). How was he so accredited? Well, not because anybody took his word for it, but because absolutely everything he forecast in the name of Yahweh proved correct. That will get your attention. Not a lot of private judgment required there.
But that is not the whole story. Samuel was revered as a godly man, a man of sterling character whose behavior conformed to the law of God, a man whose first impulse was to be faithful to God, to honor Him in His moral walk.
It was like Jesus said later of false prophets that had always cropped up in Israel and elsewhere to this day:
“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce good fruit…so then, you will know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:17, 19
If one investigates or researches the biblical prophets, reads their writings and sees the character reflected on the pages of the Scriptures, the difference between them and false prophets like Muhammad and his radical Islamic followers is starker than night and day. From its beginning in the seventh century, its founder and his followers conquered their dominions, never by any ‘good news’ or gospel, neither by the moral light in their lives, but almost exclusively by the power of the sword and bloodshed and oppression of every subjugated population.
I have read the Koran from cover to cover. In all honesty, I find these writings disjointed, hard to track with, factually inaccurate where OT figures and narratives are concerned, and, unlike the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, wholly deficient in any sublime, morally elevating content. Simply stated, the radical fall off of the Koran from our scriptures is truly jarring, in my estimation. And the difference between Allah of Islam portrayed in the Koran and the revelation of Yahweh, the God of Israel and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the difference between the arid Sahara and the lush and fertile and majestic environs of North America. No favorable comparison, nothing remotely resembling a ‘divine revelation’. Just a meandering hodge podge of who knows what. To me, it is difficult beyond accounting to understand how any reasonable person could read both literatures and not come away with a highly puzzled, most unfavorable impression of the revelational claims of Muhammad.
Yes, institutional Judaism and Christianity over the centuries have hit some false notes morally, and dishonored the moral character of God and His law (the essence of which is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”) The Koran and Islam know nothing of that spirit. Basically it is love your friends, provided they do not disagree with you, and subjugate and/or kill your enemies (i.e. non-Muslims).
But what about Moses and Samuel ordering the extermination of the Canaanites and the Amalekites? What is so different about those directives and the serial slaughtering of people around the world by Muslim terrorists like ISIS?
A great deal. It’s a line I have heard in Western and gangster movies a few times, but a typical scenario is one where a gunslinger comes along who is going to clean up the town. Someone says, “Mister, is it true you have killed a lot of men?” To which the gunfighter responds, “I never shot anybody who didn’t deserve it.”
Well, right there is one big difference between the killings the God of Israel directed through his prophets and the indiscriminate blood-lettings regularly indulged in by these self-proclaimed emissaries of Allah. With our holy God every case was a righteous act of judgment executed upon the notoriously wicked and hopelessly depraved. In short, God never ordered the killing of anyone who didn’t deserve it. It was God’s way of sequestering deeply rooted, morally evil influences that, if not carried out fully, would corrupt and pervert Israel (which is exactly what happened, by the way)—and then God had to punish His own people for their great sins.
In the OT, these acts of violence come under the heading of divine law enforcement: the prophets and the armies of Israel were His agents. And if one reads carefully, they did it only dutifully, not gladly—and get this: when Israel invaded the Promised Land, they were not allowed to confiscate the booty of those people God ordered them to destroy.
In the case of radical Islam the relentless killing and terrorism is driven by sheer hate, not any concern for moral holiness. They love, love, love to see their enemies die. They gloat in their blood and suffering. They boast loudly of their vicious crimes against their own and others whose only ‘crime’ was just being there when the Islamists wanted to make some kind of statement.
It is not a matter of who killed who and how many. The more important issue is the motivation and the inspiration behind them. One should see that distinction clearly in the motivation behind the slaughter of the Jewish people (and others, including Christians) by Hitler and Stalin and Tojo and Mao and the bloodshed caused by the Allies in an effort to put down pure evil. No moral equivalence here, although we all know that in the heat of war, when bloodshed stirs up the passions of universally sinful man, atrocities and savagery that go beyond the crying necessities of arresting evil, do occur. However in Christian-toned societies, unlike Muslim ones, when discovered, those who murdered innocents in sheer hate or heat are normally held accountable and forever disgraced. In Islam they are lionized and children in Gaza celebrate in the streets! (Remember 9/11?)
As someone recently noted, Jesus Christ has been known the world over as the Prince of Peace, but nobody has ever applied that title to Muhammad. And for the most obvious. Watch how his influence is playing out today on the world stage. Pretty much the way it did from the beginning. In blood, lots of blood, innocent blood.
So, to conclude, there is not the slightest moral equivalence between Moses and ISIS (or any of their ilk). They are as far apart morally as Earth and Pluto.
The world-wide influence of the biblical prophets and apostles and the gospel of Jesus Christ has, to some degree, ennobled and elevated every culture it has deeply penetrated. It has regularly transformed debauched sinners into marvelous saints. On the other hand, Islam has darkened (and continues to darken) and degrade every culture it has touched. Its jealousy of Western cultures raised to great heights of power and wealth and culture by the dominant influence of Christianity, knows no bounds.
Who are you going to believe? And if you are going to believe God spoke to Moses and Samuel and the other prophets, you have to believe that when God ordered the destruction of the Canaanites and Amalekites, it was a divine judgment upon exceeding wicked people, not executed by violent men in hateful spasms of blood-thirsty frenzy, but with obedient distaste in the fear of a holy God.
Not so with the modern radical adherents of Islam. They are hate driven and love the bloodshed. And what I think is really telling, they just happen to hate most what God loves—the Jewish people and the Christian church. That tells you as much as anything, in my opinion.
Use Normative Representatives as the Standard
Look, if one is going to compare and judge between Christianity and Islam, then do so on the basis of its normative representatives. Yes, in every religion, as in every nation or human institution or profession, there are counterfeits, wild sects and cults, there are rogue influences and even criminal characters who crop up flying falsely under its colors for various motives. We all understand that, so let’s be fair.
So ask, do these savage Islamist groups represent the mainstream, i.e. the normative Koranic version of Islam or are they just on-the-fringe, rogue, vicious counterfeits of the religion Muhammad founded? Well, here is breaking news to some.
Not everybody realizes that Muhammad spread his religion, starting in the early seventh century AD, at the point of the sword, unlike Christianity which swept the Roman world with good news proclaiming that by grace, people are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. Christians were being killed, not killing.
The truth is, the quiescent Muslims, such as exist, are not the true heirs of Muhammad’s spirit and teachings. They are more the nominal sort, the cultural species, much like so many professing Christians around the world who are strictly nominal ones who in no serious way follow Christ. Actually, radical Islam is the revival of the real Islam of Muhammad, the religion advanced with blood all over the world in the Middle Ages, and killing Christians like rats everywhere they advanced. Few people seem historically informed enough to know that. Or, maybe they are just historical revisionists. You know, like the Holocaust deniers or the type who now try to paint Hitler, a man who had nothing but contempt for Christianity, as a Christian!
Crusades as Pretext for Islamic Violence a Bogus Excuse
And what about this business that Muslims today are just taking justified vengeance (a little late anyone?) for Muslim blood shed by the Crusaders during the Middle Ages?
Islam from its inception was an aggressively violent religion which suppressed Christians and Jews all over the ancient world, and especially in the Eastern world. Why do you think Christianity all but disappeared where it was once so strong? Do you think it was because of the power of Islam’s message? What message? No, it was by oppression, suppression, and immersion in blood.
The Crusades? Not the smartest strategy and certainly not a godly strategy conceived to combat the onslaught of Islam, but it was a defensive strategy designed to dislodge the Muslims from the Holy Land and sites sacred to Christians that had been taken over, you guessed it, at the point of the sword.
As a kid in a street fight would say to authorities trying to break it up and seeming to draw moral equivalence between the combatants, the one who was merely defending himself or his friends would protest, “He started it!” Well, I at least know a little history of those times. None of the combatants distinguished themselves with godly virtue, but the truth is, the Muslims started it and they did not intend by any stretch to stop with the Holy Land. Because their prophet taught them (nothing has changed) that the whole world belongs to Allah, your country, your state, your county, your property, your house, etc. It is the will of Allah that his warriors take over all that for his name and fame.
That is Koranic Islam in case anyone is clueless (and that includes the vast majority of our elites and opinion shapers).
And besides, what on earth does the supposed offense of the Crusades have to do with the Muslim hatred for the Jews? Nothing.
There is no moral equivalence here between Moses and Isis and between Christ and Muhammad. Resemblances are superficial at best, non-existent at the worst.
Moral Equivalence Because Some Christians Owned Slaves?
Oh, I almost forgot (not really). Recently it was all over the news that our president (at a ‘prayer’ breakfast) had attacked Christians for getting on their high horse, as he called it, when they themselves were besmirched by the disgrace of not only their crusades misadventures (he needs a history lesson), but by also their checkered history as slavers.
Now on that last issue, criticism is justified—up to a point. Many Christian landowners in England and in young America did own slaves. Of course many slaveholders were not Christians at all. Don’t forget that. Still, it is easy for Christians in any generation to become acculturated and blinded to their own sins and excesses. That did occur, but it wasn’t normative. Not the big picture by any stretch. What our president apparently doesn’t know (or care to mention) is that 1) it was Christians in England first (Wilberforce for one) and then in America who led the charge to dismantle that disgraceful institution 2) that it was Christian influence and its love ethic that tamed the savagery of the once wild tribes of Europe and undermined the institutions of slavery that pervaded the old Roman world and get this, 3) the most notorious slave traders in the Middle Ages down to Civil War era were Muslims (!). Anybody remember the infamous Barbary pirates?
There is plenty of blame for sin to go around in the human community, but to see any moral equivalence between the biblical prophets, Jesus Christ and his apostles and the prophet Muhammad and his followers is a reach beyond the bounds of reason. It can only be accounted for by sheer ignorance (and there is an enormous amount of that) or pure, blind bias (and there is an enormous amount of that too) or both (and that is often the case).
I am under no illusion that what I have sketched here is going to dissuade those who want to believe otherwise. They want any excuse available for rejecting Christ and getting the truth off their consciences. I know that and you should understand that. They will ignore or fudge the facts any way they please for their own reasons. What I have written here is just intended to make you aware in case some of these things confuse you.
For a study in moral contrast, please read the short article attached from “The Voice of the Martyrs” magazine.