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An antidote to Islamophobia: christian history

 |  NCR Today

Do you have a friend who constantly links terrorism to Islam? Who even thinks that violence is in the DNA of Islam?

You might give that friend the gift of a new book by the noted church historian, Philip Jenkins. It’s called: Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years.

I interviewed him on "Interfaith Voices" this week. He recounted the violent struggles from the 5th to the 7th centuries over questions revolving around the divinity and humanity of Jesus. I asked him how such questions -- hardly at the top of our radar screens today -- might actually lead to violence. He said Christians of that era saw a need to “defend the honor” of Jesus. That sounds like the culture of “honor and shame” in much of the Muslim world today.

I was fascinated as he compared some early medieval monks to some contemporary mullahs -- both of whom led or lead militias. And he reminded me that -- while Muslims may have “fatwas” (decrees of various sorts, some -- but not all -- condemnatory), Christians have “anathemas” which were often deadly in the early Middle Ages. (As Catholics, we know that “anathemas” are not exactly extinct!).

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The point is simply this: any religious tradition, especially when it gets mired in literalism and dogmatism, is capable of horrific violence. And history provides plenty of evidence.

If you want to listen to the interview, go to minute #45 at Interfaith Voices

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April 25-May 8, 2014

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