I heard a fellow make an interesting argument on the radio this week regarding Islam and the rest of the religions of the world. His argument belied two very deep misunderstandings and quite a bit of the bad reasoning so prevalent in our culture today. His primary argument was that Islam should not be considered a religion because it did not have a theory of redemption (I must admit I am impressed he used the word “redemption”). His support was that all the other major religions of the world have a theory of redemption that is peaceful, and therefore religious. Islam, according to him, was violent and therefore did not have a theory of redemption and was then not a religion.
First, I think it could be argued that Islam most certainly does have a theory of redemption that is caught up in works that please Allah. And in certain important ways, the path of redemption is a violent one. “Convert or Die,” contrary to popular opinion today, was perfected by the Muslims well before the Middle Ages, and how often are we told that one of the reasons there are so many suicide bombers is their promised reward beyond death? The fact that one path of redemption is violent does not exclude Islam from the category of “religion.”
The next problem was implicit in the fellow’s argument. It was the assertion that the rest of the religions of the world were basically the same because their theories of redemption were basically the same. That “sameness” to him was the peaceful nature of each theory. That is a little like arguing that all political theories are the same because they are political-or that all people are basically the same person because most of them have two eyes.
The peacefulness or lack thereof in a religion’s redemption story is not a significant factor in determining their identities. Christianity argues for a redemption process that begins with God speaking, moves to sinful humans responding in His grace, and finishes with God’s act of sacrifice securing resurrection. Buddhist redemption begins with the individual deep in contemplation and meditation, and ends with a recycling of the soul back into this material world. The two theories are completely incoherent with each other. Either one is true and the other is false, or both are false. It cannot be the case that both are true.