October 10, 2014 | Graham

Putting the sword to religious relativism

It appears the AFP may have overplayed its hand when referring to a sword seized in recent raids. But the sword also demonstrates that those who claim all religions are essentially the same, have also overplayed their hands as well, and that to ignore the essence of a religion when analysing religious violence is a serious mistake.

According to the SMH it appears the sword was plastic and “wouldn’t be able to cut a cucumber” and is as common a religious artefact in Muslim households as is a crucifix in Christian ones.

The sword – a Zulfiqar or Dhu al-Fiqar – is one of the major symbols of Shiite Islam…

Jamal Daoud, a prominent member of Sydney’s Shiite community, said the sword would be found in almost every Shiite household as a decorative item either hanging on the wall or sitting in a drawer.

Sheikh Zaid Alsalami, leader of the Nabi Akram Islamic Centre in Granville, said many Shiite Muslims would also wear the sword as a pendant similar to Christians wearing a crucifix necklace.

“It basically denotes the sword that was carried by Imam Ali, the first Shia Imam,” he said. “The Prophet handed Imam Ali this particular sword [in a battle]. It’s not anything of any ritual value, it’s just a reminder of something that represents the relation that Imam Ali had with the Prophet.”

So a huge difference between Christianity and Islam is starkly, if unconsciously, laid bare.

Islam celebrates the conqueror, while Christianity celebrates the victim. The most widespread Islamic symbol is a weapon of war, handed to one of the early leaders of Islam in the heat of a presumably successful battle by Islam’s founder Mohammed, while the most widespread Christian symbol is a tool of torture and capital punishment, with the victim, Jesus, who is revered not just as the founder, but as God by Christians, still writhing in agony on it.

In fact the only story we have of Jesus, one of his followers and swords, is in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus is about to be arrested and taken away to be tried. The Apostle Peter (in Islamic terms, the most senior “imam” in the Christian church) has a sword with him, and he uses it to resist arrest and wound a servant of the high priest. Jesus tells him to put away his sword and heals the wounded man.

So, while Christians and Muslims both owe their loyalty to a power that they see as being above the law, Islam teaches followers to create their own religiously-based legal reality, while Christianity teaches followers to accept the consequences of defying the law, and to do so while showing compassion to their persecutors.

Which religion do you think is more likely to give licence to violent uprisings?

There is something in Islam which contributes to the violence and horror that we are seeing arising from and within Islamic communities, and while it may be confronting to have to admit this, it does none of us any favours to ignore it. You have to diagnose the problem correctly before prescribing a treatment.

Posted by Graham at 7:39 am | Comments (21) |


  1. Hello Graham: so how do you handle Matthew 10:34-36

    Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
    For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
    And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

    A most interesting, indeed superb, ABC Encounter programme covered this a couple of years ago..

    Comment by Michael Byrne — October 10, 2014 @ 9:18 am

  2. A prophecy that came true. Christians have most often been persecuted throughout history, including by those very close to them. It would have been particularly true in Christ’s time as Christians were mostly heretical Jews who were liable to be stoned by their own communities, as indeed happened to many of the early Christians, starting with Stephen. St Paul, in his pre-Christian days, was an enthusiastic persecutor of Christians, but once he had converted there is no evidence of him persecuting anyone.

    It’s easy to pick bible passages out of their literary and historical context but it is not good rebuttal.

    Or perhaps you were giving me an easy ball to hit.

    Not sure which.

    Comment by Graham — October 10, 2014 @ 10:56 am

  3. In assuming you are drawing a comparison between peaceful Christianity and a war-like Islam, I suggest my response is a true rebuttal of your assertive statement “In fact the only story we have of Jesus, one of his followers and swords, is in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus is about to be arrested and taken away to be tried.”.. Or are you relying on “story.. Jesus.. follower.. sword..” as a unique reference. If so you miss the real point of the Matthew reference in my view.
    If you listen to the Encounter programme you will indeed encounter a more profound explanation of the sword at work in the lives of people who disturb the human construct of seeking out and killing “the victim” to purge the violence we carry in us. Jesus, as the ultimate victim, frees we humans from the evolutionary tool that assisted us to advance as social beings.
    I carried this “violence in us” into a letter published in the Aust Financial Review yesterday (Oct 09). But with Rugby League being the ultimate channel for casual release. Cheers

    Comment by Michael Byrne — October 10, 2014 @ 11:31 am

  4. Yes Graham Islam, however you dress it up, is inherently violent.
    And the sword is a symbol of a religion born on the field of blood soaked battle.
    And yet there is a warriors code of honor, appropriate to the time, place and cultural norms.
    And then with the death of the founder, filled with internal dissent, as one interpretation is junked in favor of another more violent, man made substitute or perversion! I kid you not!
    So, we have arrived at a time and place, were a man, any man, can judge an unknown neighbor and decide his guilt, on the basis, he doesn’t believe what I’m told I must believe! Nothing more!
    [And in living memory, that absolutism included a flat earth at the very centre of the universe!]
    And from (a) leader(s) who can never err!
    The absolutism of a cult.
    So also, many Christian derivations.
    Throughout the course of human history, since the dawn of time, many/numerous false prophets have led the innocent and unwary down a wrong path, and in too many cases, to mass suicide!
    [Madness personified and to be ridiculed and satirized at every opportunity!]
    However, most folk, WHO ACTUALLY LEARN TO LISTEN THEIR HEART, have a built in BS meter!
    And this meter, this inherent moral compass, is what keeps us from committing murder on the battlefield/field or test of honor!
    Allows us to show mercy to a badly wounded warrior; to even tend his wounds and repatriate him home. [Even the so called enemy!]
    Compassion is never a sign of weakness, just unrivaled strength; just as is, knowing your own mind.
    And if one is unsure, has this tiny persistent doubt, even when confronted by a powerful orator, and mob psychology; it is always a mistake to ignore that small still voice, your very own conscience or moral compass.
    Let me explain it this way.
    A very long time ago, in a small Swiss village, a small boy was tending his fathers flock; when just on dust he was approached by smiling strangers offering sweetmeats and asking for directions.
    Disarmed the small boy walked part of the way, and in spite of his fathers repeated warning, trusted complete strangers.
    Then to his dismay, when out of earshot of his fathers house, was set upon and bundled most savagely into the back of a caravan.
    The very last thing he heard was the ringing of his own village bell, and burned into his memory!
    Within weeks, found himself in the slave markets of ancient Persia.
    For many years he never ever abandoned hope for his eventual escape, and so, as a faithful and compliant servant, won his masters trust and access to his treasure.
    Eventually that day and opportunity came, when, with a heavily loaded purse, he was sent to convey an important message to one of the masters relatives.
    Instead he turned the horses head and rode off into the night; northward bound and in search of his home.
    For many years he searched and searched.
    Time and again led onward by the slightly similar sound of a village bell; only to discover, as he crested a last hill; it was not his village nor his bell.
    After many long years of unrelenting search and when all hope was almost gone, he finally heard in the distance, the familiar peal of a distinctly unique bell.
    As he neared closer and closer, the more sure he became, it was the right bell/his bell.
    When he crested that final hill, there it was, his own village and its uniquely distinctive bell.
    And just as that boy become a man, was able to recognize his own village bell, so also do we, each and everyone of us, have the ring of truth within!
    Ignore it at your eternal peril.
    Seek ye first the kingdom of god within, learn to meditate, and having done so, let your own internal magic be your personal guide, rather than powerful but inherently false oratory.
    To start with, anybody that preaches messages of hate is inherently wrong!
    And everyone who listens to the divine within, knows this Falwell!
    Knows that violence always begets violence, and that we must own our own behavior; not blame the rest of humanity/anybody else for it, (the devil made me do it) or the outcomes it spawns.
    Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven within, learn to meditate.
    Interestingly, when you master this simple easily learned disciple, you can go into meditation with an unresolved issue or problem on your mind and come out of meditation, with the issue or problem (re)solved.
    Sometimes with a, why didn’t I see that before, simple truth/answer or solution!
    The only people that can’t learn to meditate, are very small children [because their attention span is too short,] and the criminally insane.
    The latter because they are simply unable to still the monkey chatter and hate messages, boiling within a very sick brain. Meditation is so easy.
    Find a private spot where you know you won’t be disturbed, and sit upright in a comfortable chair. Very soft very pleasant, personal choice background music my help
    Close your eyes, take several deep breaths and create in your minds eye, a very pleasant scene; your personal view of paradise is fine.
    And that minds eye view, could be a pleasantly warm tropical beach, with just a zephyr of a breeze, whispering, oh so gently through the palms.
    Listen to the sound of your own breathing; and compare it to the sound of the gentle waves caressing a sandy beach.
    As you, in your minds eye, walk along that beach, your feet making sharp crisp sounds as they tread the virgin sand, you eventually come to a stairway, leading off into the inland distance.
    You turn and begin to easily mount those stairs.
    Higher and higher you climb, noting a ever changing vista, and goosebumps creating, blindingly beautiful scenery that you seem to easily glide past; until you eventually come to a small mountain plateau, surrounded by glowing white, effulgent sunlight mist.
    As you look around you see (a) welcoming figure(s), with who you seem to have an intense and pleasant conversation(s).
    It is euphoric (a drug free natural high) and you seem to spend hours with this entity/these entities, which could be any of the prophets?
    Or, dear departed much loved rally, or your personal guardian angel/higher self/internal, as old as time, voice of absolute reason!
    And available to anyone, who learns this simple technique, to still the monkey chatter that is the human mind.
    Be sure to make time and do it early in the morning, when thoroughly rested.
    A daily half hour is plenty and arguably the most valuable time and exercise in your entire life!
    Learn the truth and the truth will set you free!
    Alan B, Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — October 10, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

  5. Mike, you are splitting hairs, and I’m not sure for what purpose. Your quote is not a story about swords, but a saying using the sword as a metaphor. There is no record of Jesus using a sword, or even condoning the use of one.

    And yes, Christianity is a religion of peace. When people try to use it to justify war they are cutting across its essence. The same does not apply to someone using Islam as a justification for war.

    Comment by Graham — October 10, 2014 @ 2:58 pm

  6. Graham, my focus is on the cost(the sword) on being a follower of Jesus Christ – it cannot co-exist with a peaceful (read “comfortable”) self engineered life. My “sword” is indeed a different category to that in your article. Just as is “peace”, which is the quiet stillness amidst the turmoil of Christian discernment and action.

    The Christian faith has had its physical “sword” moments in history from the 16th Century and came through alive still with the promise and hope of the eschaton; though mostly remnant in the minds informed by Enlightenment “progress”. Islam could be seen to be experiencing its path to modernity, if there is room for it in its religious “book” basis.

    Comment by Michael Byrne — October 12, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

  7. The Founder’s evocation, was to interpret his teaching with the heart as well as the head!
    That avocation seems to be missed or ignored, in later man made revisions of the original text!
    Another was that Jihad was only ever an internal struggle with ones own internal demons, rather than an excuse to take to others with the sword, just because they don’t believe, what some are told they must believe.
    The Christian crusades were reviled and rightly so, as an evil obscenity/aberration.
    One just doesn’t change that nature of a (Satan’s servants) blood thirsty crusade, by “copycat” repeating it!
    Again ignored, or quite deliberately misinterpreted Jihad.
    And solely, because it doesn’t fit the current conformation bias!
    Christians are left with just two very stark choices, in confronting this inordinately extreme perversion that is Isil.
    Live on your feet or die on your knees!
    If people want to ignore their own teachings, so as to slake an inherent blood lust; and an inherent ability to blame all their problems on the west/anybody else, [just as did Nazi fanatics blame all of their troubles on the Jews;] these later fanatics are no different and should reap the whirlwind of their own creating!
    And should not be accorded the time to entrench their position; and or, preach their pernicious poison, but must be eliminated with extreme prejudice and urgent alacrity.
    The way we ought to have, when Herr Hitler first appeared on the world stage, with all of his sabre rattling and attempts to right past; personally perceived wrongs, and alleged “lost territory”!
    Literally, tens of millions of lives would have been spared/saved!
    Mistakes are just useful learning tools, that only ever become problems when compounded by repetition! Of course peace is always preferred!
    But when that is just not possible ever, with blood lusting fanatics; then everyone has a right to defend themselves, their friends and family!
    Overwhelming and completely compelling evidence tells us, the very best place to take on an implacable enemy, determined to eliminate every trace of you and your culture/belief systems, is on his territory!
    If only to limit the unavoidable collateral damage, to him and his!
    And where did he learn this extreme perversion?
    At his mother’s knee!
    So save your sympathies and natural human empathy, for those who not only deserve it, but have rightly earned it!?
    For everything there is a season; and this is the season to beat the plowshares back into swords.
    To not only defend ourselves, but our very right to exist, and believe or not, as guided by our own internal moral compass/follow our own hearts; rather than the froth fleck and bubble of medieval miscreants.
    Whose beliefs have absolutely nothing whatsoever in common with, the ORIGINAL teachings of Islam!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — October 13, 2014 @ 10:32 am

  8. An interesting and thoughtful discussion.
    If we accept that religion is a human and social creation, then the 3 Abrahmaic religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) were all founded at sort of the the same time and region.
    It was a very violent and vengeful, tribal time. The acceptance of forgiveness and non-violence, if that was indeed what Christ represented in the evolution of humanity, has certainly been observed more in the breech by his followers.
    Maybe now, with violence again on the rise in that same part of the world, could we be ready for another step in our evolution?
    Prepare (ye sinners) for a New Paganism that reunites at last nature and progress, under the banner of Climate Justice.
    Think about it: what did the introduction of monotheism herald: an authoritarian, sexist, controlling and punishing and monopolistic God.

    Comment by ronda jambe — October 14, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

  9. Graham,

    “those who claim all religions are essentially the same, have also overplayed their hands as well, and that to ignore the essence of a religion when analysing religious violence is a serious mistake.”

    Yes, indeed, and a very dangerous one as well. Unlike Christianity, Islam was invented by a bandit leader and proselytised by the sword from its inception in the 7th century. Rather too much multi-culti ideology and wishful thinking has been applied to the analysis of Islam, it’s essentially a totalitarian ideology that’s inimical to liberal democracy.

    The Left, because of its current obsession with multiculturalism, has painted itself into a corner, currently, the only effective critique of Islamic ideology is mainly from the conservative side of politics.

    Comment by RussellW — October 15, 2014 @ 7:48 am

  10. Ronda, you really do need to brush up on your history. Judaism is arguably 4,500 years old, Christianity just under 2,000 and Islam around 1400 years. Judaism grew out of tribalism in the geographical space between the Egyptian Empire and the various Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian Empires.

    Christianity came out of the not very tribal Roman Empire and is an heretical branch of Judaism.

    One can trace the evolution of concepts of God from a household deity, through a tribal deity to a universal deity in Judaism. But the God that had evolved by the time Christianity split was a universal deity, and not tribal.

    Islam is essentially a new religion that grabbed bits of Judaism and Christianity and put them together in an idiosyncratic way in the teachings and leadership of Mohammed.

    The fact that you think they all arose at roughly the same time, and that somehow they are equivalent, shows just how little a lot of intelligent, well-educated Westerners know about history.

    Paganism would be a step backwards in religious evolution, as it represents the world of little, non-universal, capricious gods that Christianity superseded in most of Europe. I can’t see how environmentalism fits in here at all, or what “climate justice” might even mean.

    Michael, I’m not sure what you mean by “sword moments” in the 16th century. Christians have certainly committed violence against each other in the name of Christianity, and probably in most centuries. That doesn’t mean they were acting authentically as Christians in doing that.

    Comment by Graham — October 15, 2014 @ 10:49 am

  11. Graham,

    Although Judaism incorporates some elements of much earlier civilisations’ religious traditions, as a distinct religion it’s really not anywhere near 4500 years old, it probably developed during the first millennium BC .

    Comment by RussellW — October 15, 2014 @ 11:17 am

  12. Graham,

    I think that “climate justice” could be fairly described as; “an authoritarian, controlling and punishing and monopolistic (God)

    Jiri P.

    Comment by Jiri P — October 15, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

  13. Yes, Russell. I stand by my assertion that Judaism didn’t coalesce into a creed until about 1000 BC. That puts the 3 into a window of about 1600 years, reasonable enough to say they arose in a similar place and time.

    All 3 drew on previous stories of people and cultures across the wide swath of the Middle East.

    According to Tom Holland’s book In the Shadow of the Sword, the term ‘religio’ didn’t even exist as a concept until around that time. His book lays out the violent struggles that gave birth to Islam, and is an eye opener for anyone who thinks tablets of stone were dropped from the sky.

    As for Christianity being a foil to the Romans, doesn’t that just confirm the human/political origins of religion?

    A New Paganism would affirm our species place in a wider nature, and our responsibility to be stewards of the planet.

    Climate justice is incorrect, delete climate, leave justice. If we can’t do that we won’t survice.

    Comment by Ronda Jambe — October 16, 2014 @ 11:04 am

  14. Ronda,

    There’s also the “Axial Age” to consider, a remarkable period, around 500BC, of effectively simultaneous religious and philosophical developments in India, China, Persia, the Near East and Greece.

    Comment by RussellW — October 16, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

  15. So we’re off on one of those web discussions where people just blithely make “facts” up. The Bible traces the history of Judaism back at least a couple of thousand years BC, and just picking a figure out of the air because you can doesn’t really cut it.

    Ronda, only a geologist would suggest that 1600 years is not a long time. To put it in another context, you are saying that the differences between me, as the descendant of a German tribe now is little difference to what I would have been experiencing as a member of a German tribe in the late Roman Empire.

    Or that the difference between an Italian of today, and one of Constantine’s time are trivial.

    Anyway, paganism is a step back into irrationality. Monotheism, whether you agree with any of its religions or not, is infinitely preferable from an Enlightenment point of view.

    Comment by Graham — October 16, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

  16. Graham,

    “The Bible traces the history of Judaism back at least a couple of thousand years BC,”

    Actually it doesn’t, the Jews incorporated earlier Sumerian, Babylonian and Zoroastrian beliefs into their Bible–The Flood and Noah, for example. Judaism is not 4500 years old, unless you want to claim Sumerian religious beliefs as part of Judaism, the religion’s origin is much more recent than that.

    “Anyway, paganism is a step back into irrationality.”

    That rather depends on the type of paganism under consideration, many pagan Greek and Roman philosophers held much more rational views of the Cosmos than monotheists of their period in history, or actually ours.
    The Enlightenment was a time when Western Civilisation emerged from more than a millennium of Christian superstition and theocracy. Pagans were far more tolerant of different religious and philosophical beliefs than Christians.

    Comment by RussellW — October 16, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

  17. Yes, 1600 years is not much in our evolution, and I think the argument can also be made that society changed much more slowly before modern times.

    I am not making it up that Judaism only congealed into a ‘creed’ about 1000BC, if you distinguish between early stories and tribalism and the much more recent identification of their cultural practices as a ‘religion’:

    ‘Judaism is a religious tradition with origins dating back nearly four thousand years, rooted in the ancient near eastern region of Canaan (which is now Israel and Palestinian territories). Originating as the beliefs and practices of the people known as “Israel,” classical, or rabbinic, Judaism did not emerge until the 1st century C.E.’

    Comment by Ronda Jambe — October 16, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

  18. I think the majority of comments in addition to this article ignore the blazingly obvious truth that it is humans that create violence. A religion such as Islam or Christianity cannot be blamed for violence just as much the materials used to construct a gun can be blamed for what it forms and the purpose of this form.
    To pretend otherwise is to ignore that we as individual human beings all make conscious decisions everyday. The actions performed by an individual justified by religious (or other) doctrine is not the personification of that doctrine. It is the expression of the views and values of that individual.
    To remember this is essential in any discussion, not unsubstantiated arguments and views.

    Comment by Alex — October 20, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

  19. Alex,

    (1) “It is the expression of the views and values of that individual.”

    Just what, do you think is the origin of those ‘views and values’ if it isn’t partly, from an individual’s own culture, and religion is part of that culture?

    Of course a religion, such as Islam can be blamed for violence, since its founder Mohammed was a bandit leader who committed murder and enslaved victims during the course of his depredations. In contrast to Christianity, exhortations to violence are integral to the Quran.

    (2) “A religion such as Islam or Christianity cannot be blamed for violence”.

    That is a false analogy, religion is an ideology, an abstraction, so blame logically cannot be assigned, religion is an explanation for behaviour.

    (3) “…not unsubstantiated arguments and views.”

    Well, so far you haven’t substantiated any of yours. Why don’t you try?

    Comment by RussellW — October 21, 2014 @ 7:28 am

  20. Doesn’t all this just reinforce my point, that religion is a HUMAN creation. Therefore we must all take responsibility for any violence committed under any creed we aspire to.

    There is no God, so there is no religious sanctioned violence, only human graspings for power and control.

    Comment by ronda jambe — October 21, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

  21. Ronda,

    “Doesn’t all this just reinforce my point, that religion is a HUMAN creation.”

    Yes, of course, a fundamental mistake is to treat it as separate from culture.

    Comment by RussellW — October 21, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

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