Omnipotence needs no defense and other obvious theological truths

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA AFP/GETTY IMAGES Egyptian protesters demonstrate outside of the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 4, 2012, against President … Continued

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Egyptian protesters demonstrate outside of the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 4, 2012, against President Mohamed Morsi’s decree widening his powers.

Egypt is at the crossroads. Its emerging constitution, however, betrays the brightest hopes of the so-called Arab Spring. A draft approved by Egypt’s Constituent Assembly includes blasphemy laws and ignores the rights of women; it even permits child labor. Pray it’s just a rough draft. Citizens have taken to the streets in protest. We can only hope that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi remembers his courageous early promises of basic human rights and religious freedom and reasserts his independence from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsi would do well to heed the words of Abdurrahman Wahid, the first democratically elected president of Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Wahid wrote “Omnipotence needs no defense” as the title of his essay in my book, “Abraham’s Children.” While the title alone should be enough, he goes on to explain: “Omnipotent, and existing as absolute and eternal truth, nothing could possibly threaten God. And as ar-Rahman (the Merciful) and ar-Rahim (the Compassionate), God has no enemies. Those who claim to defend God, Islam, or the prophet are thus either deluding themselves or manipulating religion for their own mundane and political purposes.”

Wahid concludes: Those who kill or harm people in the name of the Merciful are nothing less than blasphemers. Fidelity to Islam’s deepest truths requires religious freedom not religious oppression; as stated in the Koran, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

Former President and Nobel Peace laureate Jimmy Carter expresses deep anguish over the injustices committed by the children of Abraham He laments the lack of progress towards peace in Israel/Palestine, and the countless atrocities done in the name of God. He writes: “The blood of Abraham, God’s father of the chosen, still flows in the veins of Arab, Jew, and Christian, and too much of it has been spilled in grasping for the inheritance of the revered patriarch in the Middle East. The spilled blood in the Holy Land still cries out to God—an anguished cry for peace.” And so while religions may divide, they also contain the power to unite. He calls upon those oppressive Muslims, Christians and Jews who are “draped falsely in the cloak of God’s will” to hear and then heed God’s clarion call to work together for peace, justice and human rights.

Of course much of what is attributed to religion is more genuinely attributable to a desire for power or a thirst for revenge. God’s love seems scarcely to animate religious hate speech and the ensuing violence. The fight is often more about the land than God. The anger of the oppressed, not love of God, is sometimes the primary motivation. Our inability to see the other as fully human is a function of our deeply human but all too familiar prejudices, not our devotion to God. It may very well be that God alone can liberate us from our devotion to self (and other selves like our own) so that we can value and then embrace those who are deeply different from us.

Morsi could likewise find inspiration in his Jewish brethren (generically speaking). Leah Shakdiel, Israel’s first female member of a local religious council, works to bring the values of peace, equality, human rights, and social justice to the next generation of Israelis. She is deeply concerned about Israel’s persistent dehumanization of Palestinians that justifies their treatment as little more than animals. She stands with Jews and Arabs who are mutually committed to one another’s flourishing. Her advice to her fellow believers: “Expose exclusive, egocentric, chauvinistic versions of religion as racist, show how they override all other content of faith and practice and text, show how these versions of religion, lead to crimes committed in the name of the Almighty, how His name is borne in falsehood and desecrated in public.” According to Shakdiel, the Jewish religion, properly understood and practiced, serves liberation not domination.

The Abrahamic religions can and should be a power for good and not evil, a power to unite and not divide, and a power to love your enemy. Each of the three religions expands the concept of neighbor to include those of other faiths and practices. God is working through his frail followers to bring peace and justice to the world. But the Omnipotent and All Merciful One who grants this redemptive power needs no defense.

Kelly James Clark is senior research fellow at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University and author of the recently published, “Abraham’s Children: Liberty and Tolerance in an Age of Religious Conflict.”

  • WmarkW

    WTF do you mean “Children of Abraham?” What Jewish or Christian nation prosecuted anyone for blasphemy or sorcery in modern times?

    Yemen is practicing amputation, beheading and crucifixion. Mali has banned music and is threatening to cut out the tongue of famous singers. it isn’t Nigerian Christians suicide-bombing mosques. In Pakistan, someone accused of burning a Quran mysteriously died in prison.

    It isn’t Jews and Christians doing the dirty work a supposedly omnipotent deity doesn’t.

  • tatooyou

    Whose hands are free from blood ?

Read More Articles

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

shutterstock_186566975
Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

shutterstock_186090179
How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

pews
Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

2337221655_c1671d2e5e_b
Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

bible
Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

csl_wall_paper
What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.