Moderation, shmoderation

December 16, 2006

Via “3 Quarks Daily,” I came across the following:

Making a meal of moderation -Dec 10, 2006

By Colin M. Morris

Whenever stories about our Muslim citizens hit the news, the very complex world of Islam tends to be reduced to two simple categories – moderate Muslims (good), extreme Muslims (bad). But that’s a political judgement made from the outside, often based on some notion of security risk. As a religious judgement, it just won’t do.

Put the boot on the other foot. Talk instead about moderate and extreme Christians. What does it mean to be moderately Christian when you are a follower of one who said you must lose your life in order to save it; that the social order will be turned upside down; that those who seek to do you harm must be loved and cherished. If that is moderation, what is extremism?

Indeed, if you looking for Christian extremists, go no further than the nearest Society of Friends (Quakers). A more respectable group of people you couldn’t hope to meet, but on one issue they could be judged extreme – however patriotic they are, they won’t take up arms to fight for their country. They’ll die for it, but they won’t kill for it. And in times of war, Quakers and other pacifists have gone to gaol for their extreme views.

Or take monks and nuns. For the sake of their faith, they have turned their backs on normal life – sex and the family, economic and political power, social ambition. If to be extreme means to go to the limit, you can’t go much further than that out of obedience to God.

An MP recently expressed anxiety about what he called the radicalisation of Muslims in some mosques. But every religious movement is in the business of radicalising its followers. Unless words have lost any meaning, to be radical is to get below the surface, to go right down to the root of an issue, in the case of religion, to do and believe the things that will get you ever closer to God.

And it’s the strength of a free society that it concedes the right of believers to have this higher loyalty without treating them as subversives.

Of course there are the deluded who make religious noises and are capable of anything, but it is not genuine faith, however fervent, that produces them. The explanation for their behaviour belongs in the realms of psychopathology rather than religion.

With the wisdom of hindsight, perhaps if after 9/11, there had been less religious rhetoric talked about a crusade against evil, there might have been less danger of our demonising a great faith.

© Colin M. Morris is a former President of the Methodist Conference and has held senior positions in the BBC. He was Director of the Centre for Religious Communication in Oxford from 1991-96, and is author of numerous books, including, most recently Things Shaken – Things Unshaken (reflections on faith and terror) and Bible Reflections Round the Christian Year.

Dr Morris is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, in which form this article was originally broadcast. Reproduced with grateful acknowledgement to the author and the BBC.

Moderation, in the present politicial and economic context, is anathema to Christianity.  We make radical claims about the nature of reality and the nature of humankind that demand an extreme (“prophetic”) position.  Let’s here it for the Quakers and the nuns.

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