A guest post by Andrew Livingston.
When I think about the era and the culture we’re living in there’s a part of me that’s glad when I hear someone identify himself as a devout Christian. For all of the time and fervor I’ve put into my refutations of these people’s beliefs  there’s always that 5% of me that feels a sense of relief. Because it’s the most typical alternatives to Christianity that truly disturb me.
Christians and Muslims, you see, acknowledge a lot of the same things—many of the most important ones being specifically about Jesus.  Yet these days it’s become too much of a pleasant surprise just for a man to believe something. The average American (like a lot of other westerners) almost lacks any religious affiliation of any kind—the key word there being “almost”. Almost but not quite. It’s gotten to where I think of “Average American” as an affiliation unto itself. (I call it AA.) It’s hard to put into words exactly what I mean. I suppose you could say that an AA person is halfway between being an extremely non-practicing member of whatever religion he was brought up with and simply not knowing what he believes in the first place. He’s not quite one of those and not quite the other. The kind of person who’ll use highly telling terms like “raised Baptist” when describing himself. Or he might call himself “agnostic” under the common misconception that the word is a synonym for “miscellaneous”. Or he might mark himself as a Christian on the census—meanwhile not going to church even once a year, never thinking to pray except when he’s experiencing stress, and fornicating regularly without the question of whether it’s ethical ever crossing his mind. It’s almost as though it’s possible for someone to forget what religion he belongs to.
There’s no mystery as to why this happens. These folks simply don’t think much about the most profound and vital issues in the first place. Who in a materialist society could be bothered with such trifles? Human existence means waking up, drinking coffee, carpooling to the office, coming back to your apartment ten hours later, watching football, and going to bed. Anything unrelated to all of that will feel like an impractical topic.
Think about this: how many times have you heard people use the phrase “the universe” where they could easily have swapped it out for “God” or “Providence”? “(E.g., “Another job offer? Boy, the universe is being unusually nice to me today!”) It’s not literally pantheism—because it’s not anything. As these people are using it the phrase “the universe” has no actual meaning at all; it’s simply a cop-out. It’s like they want to believe in God only without the hassle of committing to a belief. For a long time I’ve suspected the same thing of the words “fate” and “destiny”. These words acknowledge the design in the world while carefully sidestepping the question of a designer. So when you met your spouse you “knew it was meant to be”, did you? Meant by whom then?
And so you can see why I’m partly glad when I see that someone has taken a stand at all. 
There is, however, one common claim from the AA that’s at least within shouting distance of being a valid point. I’m referring to when people say of religion, “You can’t prove any of this stuff anyhow so what’s the use?” It’s true that there’s no proof exactly. Of course, in the most literal possible sense of the word proof can’t exist for anything outside of mathematics. Now let me ask you this: when we come across the same problem in a secular situation how will we typically react? Will we throw up our hands, give up at once, and turn the football game back on? We don’t have any way to truly prove whether or not there’s life on faraway planets: does this mean that people are being silly when they think about the subject at all? Or shouldn’t we acknowledge the importance of the issue and make at least some attempt to decide whether it’s the believers or the skeptics here whose arguments hold up? 
Every religion is primarily centered on a single claim. Buddhists, for example, say that they have a technique that allows you to transcend your normal way of experiencing reality and achieve a new and blissful state in absentia of it. Given how monumental that would be if it were true it hardly seems responsible to shrug and say, “Oh well, how can you know?” Because one thing you definitely can do is take a look at their claim and see whether it seems to hold up. Does everything else we know about Buddhism make it sound reliable? Now let me make this clear: I’m not here to talk about Buddhists, nor the AA. I’m saying that if you take this approach you will see that the central claim of Islam does in fact hold up.
Boiling down said claim to a single statement is difficult but I suppose the sentence would read: “God has spoken to us through prophets for the better part of human history; their teachings were then sometimes lost and sometimes distorted; and the last of them, Muhammad, cleared that all up and told us all we need to know.” (See surah 2, verses 75-79; surah 5, verses 3 & 15) 
Now the thing about The Qur’an is that its text never ceases to give you exactly this impression, and constantly in new ways.
It’ll be easier to explain that when I’ve first discussed Christianity. Here is how I like to put it: Christianity is a religion of “yes, but” and Islam is a religion of “obviously; therefore”. Think just how many “yes, buts” a mainstream, Trinitarian Christian needs to use when he’s explaining his beliefs: 
* Is there only one god? Yes, but…He still consists of three “persons” or has multiple “natures”. How this works is utterly beyond our mortal comprehension and yet somehow a Christian can always explain to you in enormous detail how you’ve gotten it wrong.
* I thought they agreed with us that Jesus was a prophet? Yes, but…he was also the same God who sent those prophets. Imagine that I show up at your house in a mailman’s uniform and I hand you a letter. You look at the letter and see that it’s my own name on the return address. You ask me what’s going on and I say, “It’s obvious. I wanted you to get this message and so I became a mailman.” Wouldn’t you be positively baffled—especially if I’d sent you a large number of letters before through other carriers without ever resorting to this?
* Didn’t Jesus, according to their very own texts, pray to god and even worship Him? (Mark 1:35, 14:36; Matthew 11:25-26; John 20:17; and so on, and so on.) Yes, but…that’s because he was “both perfect God and perfect man”. Even if this were true it would still be evading the question. I’m capable of writing myself into a fictional story and becoming one of my characters but you’d still be surprised to find the Me Character breaking the fourth wall in order to beg the author for help, now wouldn’t you?
* Fine, then. Jesus was the Son of God. How did he get that way? Does it have to do with the virgin birth? Yes, but…that wasn’t the reason why he’s the Son. The Trinity is eternal and as such Jesus was always God’s Son right from the beginning. What then do they think the point of the virgin birth was? Symbolism?
* And just why did God come incarnate as Jesus anyway? Well, we all know the answer to that. It was to die in our place, so that God may forgive us for our sins. What, are you telling me that God isn’t willing to simply forgive people? Yes, of course he’s willing to forgive us but…He’s not only merciful, He’s also just. Which means that we’ve now decided to redefine “justice” to mean, “One way or another heads have got to roll. Even if it’s the head of an innocent man.” Justice and mercy do not need miraculous reconciliation because virtues do not work in opposition to each other. When granting mercy is the right thing to do that means it’s unjust not to do it.
* You’ll even find some cases of these “yes, buts” in the biblical text itself. Enough about Jesus for the time being: what of John the Baptist? The book of Matthew presents us with a very curious claim about him. You see, the common Jewish belief at the time was that Elijah will return from heaven during the end times. (In fact, if I’m not very much mistaken Jews still believe this: see Malachi 4:5-6.) And so in Matthew 17:10-13 the apostles ask Jesus why The Messiah has come but Elijah hasn’t. What he tells them is positively bewildering: he says that yes, Elijah is still going to arrive in the future…but at the same time he already has arrived, in the form of John the Baptist. There is not one word of explanation for what this means.
I could go on with further examples but by now you should see the pattern. On virtually every subject mainstream Christianity gives the impression that it has attached extraneous layers to ideas which were originally much more straightforward or sensical. You can’t leave it that Jesus was only a prophet, deified after the fact and against his will; that God is one simply meaning that He’s one, no elaboration needed; that being born of a virgin means that you have no father at all; and that God’s forgiveness consists only of His forgiveness. All of this being, you may have noticed, in each and every case exactly what Muslims have been taught all along.
Whereas The Qur’an and Islamic belief give at every point the impression that extraneous layers have been removed—from Christian doctrine, from Jewish doctrine, and from the content of earlier scriptures. Most of what we have in Islam is exactly what Christians or Jews already had before us—except that it has now been corrected, simplified, or in some way made more theologically sound. All of the bad parts are missing and all of the good parts are still there. I noticed this during my first reading of The Qur’an and it’s a part of what convinced me. It felt as though I were seeing either the final draft of a Bible I hadn’t previously known was even in a rough form, or the original draft of a book that had since been made worse through repeated rewrites (like so many Hollywood scripts). I’m not sure which is the better way of putting it. You won’t need very many “yes, but” answers as a Muslim. Rather, what you’ll find is one case after another of “obviously; therefore”.
* Take the subject of prophethood. God wants us to know His will; to that end He has repeatedly appointed human beings to teach it to us. And people need guidance everywhere, don’t they? Obviously He can’t leave anyone out; therefore He sent prophets all over the world (surah 16, verse 36). Try telling that to Christians or Jews, though, who are both convinced that a man couldn’t be a prophet if he wasn’t Jewish. A Christian will say here that the gospel was meant from the start to be preached to all nations; a Jew will say that Jews are supposed to serve as a light to the Gentiles. Yet all of that is hardly helpful for, say, someone living in the western hemisphere 2,500 years ago.
* Or take the idea of God punishing a corrupt city for its sins by destroying it. You’ll so often find this happening in The Old Testament (as well as The New Testament, with the book of Revelation). The very notion isn’t all by itself slanderous to the name of a noble Deity—just so long as we’re not talking about an exceptionless genocide. Obviously there’ll never be an entire civilization without a single decent person in it, without anyone who defies the immoral customs practiced around him—or who will at least be willing to repent of them if a prophet talks to him and hashes it out. Therefore it’s necessary to expect that God never indiscriminately kills a whole civilization for their sins but rather always sends a warner first, who will always be able to gather at least a few followers.
According to The Bible, though, God not only routinely did this sort of thing,  he once did it to the entire planet with a flood. Genesis 6:9-12 says that Noah was the only upright person on the face of the earth and so no one but him and his family got spared. What’s more, Genesis 8:20-22 depicts God as regretting His decision afterward and having a change of heart! Now compare that to the Qur’anic version of the story of Noah (surah 11, verses 25-48). Here it’s only one civilization God floods (perhaps only one town). Noah goes out of his way to convince the people of this place to change their ways and clear out with him before the flood comes—and some of them do exactly that. And God never wavers in His judgment.
Two particularly striking further examples are: Exodus chapter 32 compared to surah 20, verses 83-97; and Numbers chapters 25 & 31 compared to surah 2, verses 58-59.
* Or take the concept of The Messiah. Christians go too far one way with how they define that notion, Jews too far the other. A Jew will tell you that The Messiah is a prophet-king—not God Incarnate but mortal through and through—who’ll appear during the end times to heal the world of its problems and restore true faith. This is very much what we believe too—with one not-so-small catch. Again we find The Tanakh/Old Testament putting an inappropriate amount of focus on one nation and one people even in prophecies that are about the fate of the whole world. I have no idea what’s going through the mind of a Christian—who believes that The Old Testament was divinely inspired and largely written to foretell the coming of Jesus and Christianity—when he reads in chapter 8, verse 23 of Zechariah:
In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”
But I know what’s going through my mind: that this looks like an ethnocentric vindication fantasy.
It’s likewise hard to imagine how a Christian can read the description of The Messiah given in chapter 11, verse 3 of Isaiah and still think that this guy is supposed to be God Incarnate:
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear.
Islam offers us the best of both worlds. The Jews are essentially correct in their definition of the term “Messiah”, except that there’ll be no special emphasis on glorifying Israel, because you can’t expect the creator of the entire universe to be a jingoist or a provincialist. And Jesus was himself The Messiah, and he will come back someday, but we are still talking about a person who delighted in the fear of The Lord and therefore can’t be God Himself.
* Now let’s talk about angels and demons. Angels directly witness the majesty of the Godhead: it can easily be assumed that none of them would ever betray or abandon God, just like a human in Paradise would never think to do it. But even supposing that somehow an angel could turn against his Maker, he might still someday return to Him, right? If you have the ability to fall, you have the ability to rise again. Yet when was the last time you heard a Christian speak of demons repenting? Well, in Islam we’re taught that angels never fall whereas demons do sometimes repent.
In comparison to Christians Jews make what we might call the opposite mistake, claiming that Satan isn’t even evil in the first place (despite the very Hebrew word satan meaning “enemy”; indeed, it’s a word often used in their scripture to refer to a human adversary, such as in 1 Kings 11:14).  Satan, they believe, works for God. It is very difficult to imagine a man who hasn’t already heard this idea reading the book of Job and coming to the same conclusion on his own.
The Qur’an, on the other hand, makes amazing sense of the whole thing. There is a race of beings called djinn.  Now there is a lot we don’t know about these beings but they are perhaps best described as our close cousins in the invisible world. Psychologically and socially they’re very similar to humans for paranormal entities. The Qur’an often compares our two races, and even says that we’ll be judged alongside each other on Judgment Day (surah 55, verses 37-60). Just as there are good people and bad people, just as some of us are pious and some of us rejecters, so are there good djinn and bad djinn. The bad ones are the entities we know as demons or devils—and some from that lot have reformed and repented (surah 72, verses 1-2). Well, is there any reason why they can’t?
So once again we find with Islam the bowl of porridge that’s just right. Jews won’t acknowledge the existence of demons at all. Christians believe that demons are angels who have fallen. And that somehow they can sin but they (apparently) can’t repent. We, on the other hand, have taken that “obviously; therefore” route which lies somewhere in between.
Again, you should be seeing the pattern by now. The Qur’an centers Islam on a particular claim and its text bears mark after mark of said claim being true. Especially when you consider how seldom anything makes it look like Muhammad was intentionally making a point of engaging in revisionism. Every once in a great while there’ll be a case like Exodus 20:11 versus surah 50, verse 38 where you’re seeing a deliberate rebuttal yet this is very much the exception and not the norm. Normally it will all look so incidental; it’s almost as though the corrections and improvements are a happy accident. A happy accident which somehow keeps occurring over and over again? Read (or reread) The Qur’an and witness it all for yourself.
Look, I realize I’m fighting quite an uphill battle here. Getting people to view Muslims as human beings, let alone correct in our beliefs, is often hard enough in a country and an age when—to give just one example out of hundreds—we find an officially appointed county commissioner posting this on his Facebook page:
But remember what I said at the outset. It’s never the fanatics you should fear. Fanaticism isn’t a typical danger, apathy is. The murderous lunatics will always be on the fringe of any group of people; those who believe in something only nominally: now there is a problem that tends to get widespread.
And whether you care enough to consider the points I’ve made, to entertain the thought that they might be true instead of rejecting it all immediately in a knee-jerk reaction—that part is up to you.
Of course, God knows best.
 I covered quite a lot of ground in just this one article:
The links to the rest:
There were originally many more but the urls for them are now defunct. (In some cases I’m glad for it. No one should ever be proud of everything he’s ever done.)
 May he, and all of the prophets mentioned in this article, be blessed beyond measure even by the normal standards of heaven. (And may God receive a hundred praises for each time I mention Him.)
 Here I’m not counting the other AA: Average Atheist, which would take a whole other article to define but you must surely know the type. These people’s concept of taking a stand is different. It always looks suspiciously like they think “taking a stand” means “devoting half of your free time to childishly mocking anyone who has the unbelievable gall to disagree with you”.
 I’m not implying anything at all to be the correct answer when it comes to that particular issue. It was just an analogy.
 It seems to be widely accepted by non-Muslims (including most Christians) that this is indeed the claim. Not many things I could say, however, will receive a faster and more impassioned objection from modern Christian evangelists and their followers. These people have invented a revisionist history in which Muhammad never meant to contradict prior beliefs in the slightest and was simply too ignorant or too naïve to know that he was doing so—indeed, that he even went out of his way to confirm the infallibility of The Bible! The content of my article should itself show how obviously wrong those people are but Ijaz Ahmed has already given the irrefutable final word on the matter here:
And that will be my final word as well. I will no longer allow people to put me on the defensive based on their own excuse for unthinkingly dismissing our claims and arguments out of hand.
 I suspect that throughout history Christians have often been aware of this problem and that’s the reason why we have the old, “I believe because it is absurd,” (an argument Tertullian is typically credited as originating). Here is how C.S. Lewis put it in book two, chapter two of “Mere Christianity”:
“Reality…is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies—these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simpler either.”
Now N.T. Wright keeps publically doubting the existence of cognitive dissonance. There is, to be sure, some hemming and hawing involved, some “for all I know something like this condition may technically exist…” (which to a psychiatrist will sound like the psychological equivalent of, “I can’t say for certain that this germ theory thing isn’t true…”) but he is highly skeptical. Interestingly, there could hardly be better evidence of cognitive dissonance’s existence than the above argument, which Wright himself has been known to use. When someone objects to your notion that God must sacrifice Himself to Himself in order for the heaven He created to be accessible, and you contemptuously dismiss the objection as “boys’ philosophy and over-simple answers”, you have made yourself into living, walking proof of cognitive dissonance.
The mere fact that something is not what you were expecting to hear is not automatic evidence that it’s the truth: indeed, more often than not the reason we weren’t expecting to hear something is because it’s so genuinely wrongheaded that it would never even cross our minds. There are cults all over the word whose teachings have a queer twist to them you’d never expect anyone to have made up.
 To be fair, one slight exception does leap to mind: Genesis chapter 18, verses 23-33. Beyond that I’ve got nothin’.
 From the online version of Strong’s Concordance.
Accessed Saturday, July 1st, 2017.
 When you hear a Muslim speak of djinn try to forget that you’ve ever heard the word “genie” before in your entire life. The concept of a genie is basically an invention of fiction writers. Etymology aside, it’s endlessly misleading if the term is seen as a synonym for “djinni”.
 Accessed Tuesday, July 4th, 2017.
Final note: I will not be reading the comments section. There’s typically little to be gained from it even being there.
Categories: Guest Post