Saturday, October 20, 2012

Review and Commentary of Aaron D. Taylor's Alone with a Jihadist

(By Guest Blogger - Michel Weatherall)

I had assumed this book to be a debate between the author – an evangelical Christian – and Khalid, a Muslim Jihadist with a hate-on for America and in general, Western ways. If, like me, you were hoping for a near line-for-line reading of this pair's actual conversation – like me – you will be disappointed, as Khalid is almost mentioned by name only. However, when Aaron D. Taylor describes himself as a charismatic-raised, Bible-belt evangelical, I was expecting the worst. I was quite surprised by what he had to say. Although we never hear the finer details of this conversation, we can see throughout the rest of the book that the author was genuinely effected. So, if the book isn't a 'play-by-play' commentary of Aaron and Khalid's debate, what is this book about? I think the author begins by attempting to answer a sobering question Khalid challenged he with:
”Jesus didn't leave the world with a comprehensive social system, economic system, political system, or any other kind of system to regulate society...How would you implement the Bible from a governmental point of view?” pg. 18
To which Taylor concludes,
”The Bible can't be implemented from a governmental perspective!” pg. 20
And I think this is the gist of the entire book. He further explores this issue by looking at the only divinely-ordained earthly government, or theocracy, we know of in the bible.
”...theocracy was tried once and it turned out to be a big fat failure. If we read the Bible as a narrative, then we have to conclude that theocracy doesn't work. The very things that theocracy was supposed to prevent actually increased under theocratic rule... Most human beings who are forced to conform to a strict set of laws will rebel every chance they can get.” pg. 24

”God started the theocracy experiment with Moses... we have to conclude that even God ordained theocracies are unable to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.” pg. 184-185
I was surprised to see that Aaron D. Taylor found himself seeing issues that I myself has stumbled across. A Nationalistic Moses. Too many times I have brought up the issue that the 'ways' and laws, and even how God is between the Old and New Testaments are different. And so many times Christians have blatantly denied it or attempted to 'educate' me in why I just couldn't see how they were all really the same. Not Aaron.
”Jesus was very comfortable with discarding old ways, even if those ways seemed right at one time. Jesus taught that old wineskins should be discarded, not simply patched up (Luke 5:36-39).”, pg. 90

”When it comes to God's self-revelation to human beings, clearly there's a then and there's a now.” pg. 91
But I couldn't help but notice his open-mindedness. Again, quite a surprising and refreshing trait for a Christian Fundamentalist. He speaks of Chomsky and Thoreau and Anarchism and specifically how Chomsky and Thoreau had defined it. (”Can there not be a government in which majorities do not decide right and wrong – but conscious?... Must the citizen even for the moment... resign his conscience to a legislator?” pg. 180). Government by (individual) conscience rather than institutional imposed law (via fear of punishment). I have seen this same point of view, but I had been introduced to it by Lao Tzu in Taoism.

What most impressed me about ”Alone with a Jihadist” and Aaron D. Taylor was his open-mindedness, especially for a Christian Fundamentalist. His willingness to seek out and accept the truth where the truth speaks loudest; from his willingness to actually listen to the grievances of a Muslim Jihadist, to words of wisdom from a Roman Catholic Pope (pg. 34), to the conscious-driven government of anarchism (Taoism?), to even acknowledging what the Hebrews under Moses and Joshua intended to do to the indigenous Canaanites was nothing less than genocide.
”I take Hebrews 8:13 at face value when it says the Old Covenant is “obsolete”, so that rules out every argument based from Mount Sinai on that says Israel is supposed to wipe out the Canaanites (Never mind the fact that Christians who use this argument balk at the term ethnic cleansing to describe what's going on today while appealing to Old Testament texts that advocate genocide to justify their position).” pg. 153
In every book review that I write, I always enjoy attempting to identify its potential target audience, and it is for this reason I don't want to say that Aaron D. Taylor seems to have the insight and wisdom of a pluralist or a syncritist too loudly. I believe this book has an audience within the American Evangelical; Bible-belt Christians. If not, then it is a book they should most definitely take seriously. If fundamentalism itself is allowed to run its course; if the American-Evangelical and Islam continue its escalating conflict, either fundamentalist position will only dig their heels in deeper and deeper. The only outcome in this scenario is disastrous for us all! A voice like Aaron's gives me hope that there is another option to fundamentalism.
”I believe that for too long the word “evangelical” has been synonymous with hyper-nationalism. We've turned the Lord Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, into a tribal deity who fights for the U.S. Flag. We've made God into our image and transformed Jesus into the defender of American values.” pg. 56
A hyper-national American tribal-deity. Now that's a title that caught my attention, and it is at this point that he begins to take a closer look at Religiosity in more detail.
”Religion creates cultures, cultures reinforce tribal and national identities, tribal and national identities lead to competition for resources and prejudice against other human beings, and competition and prejudice lead to violent conflict. In short, religion leads to war.” pg. 166-167

”Religion provides a means by which human beings can dehumanize others with the approval of their conscience.” pg. 167

”Religion and nationalism don't mix.” pg. 168
He systematically identifies the traits of tribalism; American Religious Nationalism. American Christian Zionism; masked hatred and racism and the illusion of a Just War, as the derogatory plagues that they are. Although he never uses the word, what his describes are all byproducts of the Disease of Religiosity.

 He compares the casualties of the invasion of Iraq to that of 9/11
”If a similar death toll were to occur in the United States, more than 295,000 lives would have been lost – about a hundred times the number of people killed on 9/11” pg. 111
Comparative civilian casualties were 100 times worst, yet somehow this form of violence is deemed acceptable because of the defense of freedom and democracy. He identifies that violent revolution are not a necessity for freedom and democracy as too many Americans believe.

Just because the U.S.A. achieved independence through violent revolution doesn't mean they must have.
”Canada and Australia are highly successful first world democracies and neither of them achieved their national sovereignty through violent revolution... Canada and Australia received their freedom gradually.” pg, 79
”All nations advance their self-interests by the power of the sword. No matter how much one nation claims to be more righteous, more holy, than all the other nations, Kingdom of God citizens know better.... A careful study of the New Testament reveals there are two types of kingdoms available to mankind – and only two. The Kingdom of God always looks like Jesus and operates from the basis of power through redemptive love and the kingdoms of this world operate from the basis of power-through-the-sword. The Kingdom of God always comes under the people to serve them. The kingdoms of this world would always rule over people to subdue them.” pg. 40
The Point? No nation is a Christian nation. No nation has Jesus' 'vote' or backing. No nation represents The Kingdom of God and that includes America.

But wouldn't Democracy be the exception? A significant portion of the Muslim world sees it differently.
”...summarized in three short sentences: Christianity leads to democracy. Democracy is man-made law. Man-made law lead to chaos. Whether we like it or not, this is an argument that millions of Muslims around the world, even the less radical ones find compelling. For them, words like “freedom” and “democracy” mean pornography and partial birth abortion. Democracy is convicted murderers and child molesters serving a few years in prison and then being set free to roam the streets again. Freedom means gambling, miniskirts, and legalized drugs. In short, democracy is man-made law, which is a mockery, something that's totally flexible, open to the whims and interpretations of the society.” pg. 53-54
He listens to the flaws and errors that are inherent within democracy without turning on it. If we can see the errors of our ways, at least we stand the chance of ejecting or correcting the bad while maintaining the good.
”We tend not to listen to people who support terrorists, but I think that may be our most profound weakness. Because if you actually sit down and listen to them... you will hear an anger and frustration with America and the Western world that isn't emerging from a vacuum.” pg. 169
This made me think of Osama Bin Laden. When America put him in power to combat the Russians he was a Freedom Fighter. When he challenged and turned on those American powers; when he ceased being of use, he became a Terrorist.
One question that continues to echo in my conscious is whether the fictional character V from  'V is for Vendetta' was a freedom fighter or a terrorist. Or maybe they are the same thing from two different points of view. A Frankenstein's Monster.

Near the end of the book he even gives credit to our critics, acknowledging that their anger and frustration do not come out of a vacuum. Although this does not accept the actions taken by some extremists, it does at least concede that our past actions (and inactions) have played some degree of influence. We of the Western World are not saints and possibly, just maybe, we've had a hand in creating Frankenstein's Monster. This is the only road to love, compassion and peace that I know of.

 I will finish this commentary or review with a simple, but sobering line from this book; one that I think is pointedly aimed at many Americans.
”Jesus has lots of fans, but very few followers.” pg. 164

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

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