CONTRADICTION AND CATHEDRALS
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN MOHAMMED AND JESUS.
Christian Cathedrals are places of and for prayer. They mediate the presence of God. In the balance between transcendence and immanence they begin with transcendence encountered through scale, and move the pilgrim towards immanence through an encounter with the living Jesus.
Jesus is introduced to the pilgrim as the God through whom all things were made and hold together, come on a journey of suffering and triumph. Suffering because through the most profound sacrificial mystery, grasped only by the depths of the plaintive heart, he carries the impurities and imperfections of those who come to him, and cleansing, remakes them.
Triumph, because at first sight broken by death he returns, having rendered it impotent, calling those who hear his song of love on a journey through a dying that no longer has any power to hold and imprison.
The cathedral draws the pilgrim into its bowels as if drawing into the heart of Jesus.
What kind of prayer does the cathedral invite?
As the centre of a devotion forged by the experience of the apostles who turned the world upside down, when they encountered the risen Jesus, the cathedral invites prayers of exploration and prayers of praise and joy.
However, in the Church of England’s cathedral in Blackburn, this November, there was a concert to celebrate the Armistice. It featured Karl Jenkins’ the Armed Man (A Mass for Peace).
Jenkins was an old rock musician who accomplished ‘crossover’, a synthesis of rock and classical music that successfully grabbed the imagination of the public. Crossover composition is a serious achievement. When it works it fuses the immediacy of rock with the grandeur and complexity of the classical. It’s an exercise in synthesis and cross fertilisation; both a cocktail of sound and kaleidoscope of association.
Like a cultural magpie collecting his jewels from his neighbours’ nests, Jenkins collects material from the Latin poet Horace, the English poets John Dryden and Rudyard Kipling, the satirist Jonathan Swift. He references Lancelot and Guinevere.
From this exotic far-flung tapestry he weaves sonic harmony and dissonance.
Dissonance and harmony work well together for dissonance melts in harmony and brings peace to the senses and hope to the heart. But while Jenkins was a gifted composer, and a dilettante man of letters, but when he came to theology and spirituality he slipped from dissonance into contradiction.
The problem with the relationship between Islam and Christianity, or more accurately between Jesus and Mohammed, is that the ‘casual unread’ think that they are simply different manifestations of the same monotheism. The under-informed, which includes not only the secular populace but sadly too many clergy, deans or not, assume that the two religions are religious cousins by association. The opposite is true. They are in fact day and night, good and evil, true or false. The are contradicting polarities, binary choices of critical difference.
Why should that be? Surely Arabic Allah is Israel’s Jahweh? But a moment’s glance at either their ethics or their self-disclosure makes it clear that if one is plus, the other must be minus.
The ethics should give a primary clue. Jesus, the face and articulation of the Father, tells his followers that they are to turn the other cheek and love their enemies.
Mohammed tells his followers to respond to violence with violence:
“So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you” (Koran 2.194)
This is not the same God; this is not the same ethic.
The way in which both ways deal with violence sets them at odds with each other.
The Quran prescribes
“Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.”
Whereas the New Testament teaches
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:
‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy
is hungry, feed him… ‘”
The Cathedral is dedicated to Jesus who is proclaimed at the eternal Logos- God become flesh, embodied divinity.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”. (John 1.)
Mohammed on the other hand explicitly rejects and contradicts this:
“The likeness of Jesus in Allah’s eye is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, then He said to him “Be!” and he is. (3.59)”
“O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion or utter anything concerning Allah but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah.” (4.171)
So when CS Lewis in his famous dictum in Mere Christianity described the options that critics of Jesus have:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Mohammed replied – Jesus is a fraud, a fake – an imposter. And as Lewis says, no good man could be an imposter at such a level without being a bad man.
Mohammed in the Koran attacks Jesus as an evil imposter.
It is for that reason that there can be no symbiosis between Islam and Christianity. One of them is wrong. One of them is evil.
Christianity is just as stark. It repays the compliment.
In 1 John 4, the apostle writes;
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist.”
So from a Christian point of view, the spirit that spoke through Mohammed was the antichrist.
If we examine the Muslim call to prayer, does the situation get any better?
In the daily prayer of the observant Muslim, come the words:
“Guide us in the straight path,
the path of those whom Thou hast blessed,
not of those against whom Thou art wrathful,
nor of those who are astray.”
So who might those who have gone astray be and against whom Allah is wrathful be?
“Ibn Kathir cites a hadith in which Muhammad clarified what he meant:
Imam Ahmad recorded that ‘Adi bin Hatim said, … he [Muhammad] said: ‘Those who have earned the anger are the Jews and those who are led astray are the Christians.’”
So the Muslim call to prayer involves a prayer to avoid the fate of the Jews and Christians against whom Allah’s wrath is kindled.
The Dean of Blackburn cathedral didn’t know that the call to prayer was being planned for his cathedral until a short while before the event. He said to the Sunday Times that he “did not want to cause upset by blocking it.”
He has caused upset,- upset and offence. He spared the kind musical audience and the feelings of the Imam from any discomfort. But he has caused profound offence to Christian the world over in desecrating a Christian cathedral with the celebration of a religious voice that defies and denies Jesus, and warns of the wrath and judgment of Allah, and with Allah of all good Muslims. All good Muslims are called to imitate Mohammed. And Mohammed saw himself as the personal agent of God’s wrath and judgment against Muslims and Jews, which is why he killed them, personally.
The Dean of Blackburn is not greatly worried. Instead of seeing the cathedral as the guarantee that the Church of England is built on the faith of the Apostles, he is more concerned that the place should be perceived as “open and welcoming.”
It doesn’t seem to worry him that ‘welcoming’ includes welcoming those who reject and despise the risen Christ and that this might jeopardize the integrity of his own personal allegiance to Jesus. It appears enough that they come in. Validation of the cathedral comes from anyone coming in for anything, rather than accountability to Christ and faithfulness to Him.
The bishop isn’t worried either. As far as he is concerned, it was only a concert. The integrity of the Islamic identity and its rejection of what his cathedral stood for is diluted by having been wrapped up in the comfort blanket of ‘art’. Presumably to the bishop, art isn’t real.
The comfortable relativists of the West have built a world in the image of their comfortable values.
Try telling Asia Bibi, who has spent eight years under a death sentence in Pakistan for preferring Jesus to Mohammed that the Islamic call to prayer is nullified if it is seen as art. Or that her Christian brothers and sisters are just ‘open and welcome’ indiscriminately to the beliefs that have determined her faith in Christ in not innocent and she must die.
Tell the Copts in Egypt, cut down by Islamic inflicting the wrath of Allah and Mohammed on them soldiers as they go on pilgrimage, bombed in their own cathedrals as they pray to forgive their enemies, that the Islamic call to prayer fosters ‘inclusive welcome and openness to all.’
Too many of the Church of England’s cathedrals are in the hands of the under-read, under-learned, unreal and sub-Christian who like their religion comfortable, who prefer inclusion to salvation, who give themselves the choice not to choose between good and evil, but offer comfort-spirituality to ‘those of every religion and none.”
But life is not like that; Christian faith is not like that; Jesus is not like that; one could go further and say ‘Jesus does not like that.’
Jesus can in fact be very demanding and very particular:
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
Neither concert, inclusion nor even Mohammed will be much use to you then.