Image via WikipediaSarah Ruden is a classicist and poet (she has translated various works--most notably the Aeneid) who still holds a visiting library fellowship at Yale Divinity School (seal at right). In this 2008 article for the Wall Street Journal, she takes strong exception to a Muslim-Christian conference hosted by Yale and the steps taken to ensure that Muslim participants were not offended at the conference. Here is an excerpt:
The Christian God gave up all of his power out of love, gave up even human dignity and human life. An image offensive to Muslims but indispensable to Christians was apparently kept out of the conference: the crucifix. Often worn over a woman's breasts or on a man's chest, it is an image not only of God, but also of God dying nearly naked and in agony. To Muslims, it is blasphemy broadcast through lewd idolatry. No explanation is likely to change their minds, but we should at least try to get across our commitment. We should state plainly that not only are we inspired by this image, but that we shaped our societies around it. It led us to express love not through power but through its sacrifice, so that, over time, we came to see defending the weak as the only legitimate use of force, limited our governments accordingly, and emerged looking—to Muslims—thoroughly godless. We're not: we've merely got the societies our God demanded, and most of us are happy to serve our God within them.
The cost of a phony love-fest between Christian and Muslim leaders could be high. There is already a great imbalance in knowledge or respect, if not both. As part of our confirmation course, when I was a teenage Methodist in rural Ohio in the 1970s, we were taken not only to a synagogue but to a mosque and learned the basics of both faiths. But the Muslim cleric who lectured to us clearly disapproved of Christianity, and the minister misled him to keep the peace. We don't want to be called Mohammedans, the Muslim huffed; we don't worship Mohammed, who was a man. The minister jumped in to assure him that we were just the same—we didn't call ourselves Jesus-ans or anything like that. I nearly gasped at the lie, but I wasn't bold enough to challenge it.
I'm bolder now. (It's amazing what a decade in Africa will do to you.) And truth in theology while theology approaches politics is worth a bold defense. Essential to Muslim extremism is the notion that the West is decadent and not attached to its professed values. "Violence will weaken political support for Israel" has a religious parallel: "The West resists adopting Islam only because Muslims do not push hard enough against Christianity." Not to speak up for Christianity with complete honesty sends our Muslim interlocutors home with a time-bomb version of us: either that we have no objection to being like them, or that we are in essence like them already. America has made the mistake of assuming our values are universal, and we may be encouraging the same kind of assumption about ourselves.
Source link (emphasis added).