March 22, 2007

"Christian" Hostage Wants Clemency for His Captors

A former British peace activist held hostage in Iraq wants to defend his captors in court. He's not just trying to shield them from the death sentence, but also from a "long prison sentence". He even believes that if they were released, that they may become hostage takers again.

As I've said from time to time on these pages, this is one of the logical outcome of Christian fundamentalism and New Testament literalism. Pacifism is a form of Christian fundamentalism and literalism.

I hope the reason I bring this up is obvious. But, to state the obvious to the clueless: When was the last time you met a Muslim literalilst or fundamentalist who was a pacifist? All religions, my friends, are not the same.

Christians face the problematic of justifying violence when pacifism, in my mind, is clearly an immoral position. As history shows, Christians have not had that hard of a time figuring out a way to justify violence when necessary (and often, when not necessary). But, most of the violence committed in Christianity's name comes only after the Church rejected a core literalist tennet: seperation of church and state.

Muslims, on the other hand, have quite the opposite problem. The Quran and the hadiths clearly show that violence is God's way of not only defending the faith, but also in spreading the faith and in enforcing its moral codes. Thus, for the Muslim, the problematic is justifying peace when the Quran, the sayings of Muhammed (hadiths), and Mohammed's example (sunna), when taken literally, indicate that "God" wants his "submitters" to act immorally.

And, like Christians who rejected a literal interpretation of Christ's "turn the other cheek" or Paul's invitation to soldier converts to "do no violence", because doing so in every situation would clearly be immoral (eg, allowing genocide), so too have many Muslims, over the years, worked out ways of justifying peaceful coexistence with infidels (eg, India--at least, from time to time) or in rejecting sharia as nothing more than a set of values not to be enforced by state power (eg, "liberal" or "secular" Muslims). Because human beings have a way of finding the moral thing to do, even when Allah commands them to "strike the neck of the unbelievers".

But just because we have the capacity to see the immorality of pacifism or of jihad & sharia, this does not mean that people always follow their conscience. Ideas can have powerful effects on killing our innermost humanity. Marxism is the main example that comes to mind. An idea so powerful that it lead to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

In any event, there is something deeply troubling about a man who takes his reading of the New Testament so literally that he wishes to translate his personal forgiveness of his hostage takers into a public policy stance which would set them free, only to take more people hostage. Of course, Norman Kember's forgiveness stance is much less troubling than Osama bin Laden's kill the infidel stance. Both are problematic, but only one leads to mass murder.


A year after his release from almost four months of captivity when he was chained to fellow hostages, deprived of daylight and denied contact with the outside world, Norman Kember wants to defend his captors.

The British peace activist, seized in Baghdad with two Canadians and an American in November 2005 and held hostage for 118 days, says he will plead for the lives of the men accused of holding him and killing his American friend Tom Fox even though he fears they could kidnap or murder again.

"It's certainly part of Christianity and it's part of other religions, that forgiveness and an attempt to restore people who have done you wrong is the most positive outcome of something like this," Kember said in a telephone interview.

Let me just add one more thing. Pacifism has been an essential part of a number of fundamentalist and literalist Christian sects for quite some time. But what is troubling about many of these so-called "Christian pacifists" is their relentless focus on stopping Western countries from war, but their total (or seemingly so) lack of interest for non-Westerners killing each other. Thus, their pacifism is really a form of anti-Americanism or anti-Westernism. Not all pacifists, of course, but a healthy number of them. For instance, how come there are no "Christian" human shields lining themselves up to protect Jews in Israel from attacks from Palestinian terrorists? Similarly, how come we don't see these so-called "peace activists" lining up for human shield duty at predominately Shia markets in Iraq?

For more, see our Norman Kember archives here.

PS-for the record, I am a "Christian" and a "fundamentalist" (ie, back to the basics) but not a Biblical "literalist". I go to church every week, in fact. I am a believer. Or, at least, a "suspecter". Which is what Orson Scott Card describes as, to paraphrase, something more than a "hoper" but something a little less than full of faith.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 09:02 AM | Comments |