As part of the Economist magazine’s coverage of religion’s role in the twenty-first century, a recent story covers the “new wars of religion.”
The magazine’s emphasis on religion represents a nearly 180-degree turn from the publication’s 1999 declaration that belief in God had “passed into history.” But while the magazine is looking in the right direction, it does not understand what it is seeing.
The graphic accompanying the story could not be less subtle: an arm reaching down from heaven holding a hand grenade. According to the story, “faith will unsettle politics everywhere this century; it will do so least when it is separated from the state.”
We are not even into the story, and there is already a problem: There is a world of difference between mixing faith with politics and the kind of violence suggested by the hand-grenade graphic.
Even if you think that faith and politics should be completely separate, it is absurd to equate—as the Economist does—the actions of American Christians with those of al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. The article unintentionally exposes this absurdity: The only mention in the article of a Christian resorting to political violence was the Gunpowder Plot of 1605! Even there, calling Guy Fawkes a “Catholic Jihadist” is a bit of a stretch—a desperate attempt to draw a moral equivalency where none exists.
That’s because it has been 400 years since Christians settled religious disputes with explosives. (No, Northern Ireland, you may be thinking, but that was political.) Yet Islamic, and even Hindu, uses of political violence make headlines nearly every day.
Clearly, this is the case in the two countries the magazine spotlights: Nigeria and India. In Nigeria, when Muslim-majority states in the North adopted sharia law, the Christians faced possible flogging and mutilation, as well as restrictions on practicing their faith.
The adoption of the sharia law was followed by attacks on Christian neighborhoods and businesses. While it is true that some Christians fought back, that does not change the fact that in almost all cases Muslims initiated the violence.
In India, Hindu nationalists use their political power to oppress Muslims and Christians. Two thousand Muslims were killed in anti-Muslim riots five years ago.
It is simply grotesque to compare Hindu nationalists, as the Economist does, to Focus on the Family and my friend Jim Dobson—almost as grotesque to lump Christian efforts at social reform with the imposition of sharia law.
The Economist is still looking through a lens distorted by secularism. Maybe we cannot blame it, because so much today in our politically correct culture tells us that all religions are alike: All that matters is that we worship God, and we worship the same god. When I criticize Muslims, I have often been attacked.
We need to lovingly make the case to our neighbors that all religions are not alike. True Christians renounce violence and promote human freedom, which is why the major human-rights movements of the past centuries were inspired by and fueled by Christianity.
We cannot expect our critics to get it right, but we can teach our secular friends. I have done this from time to time and watched their attitudes dramatically change. We have a great case—all we have to do is make it, and let people know that worldviews do matter.