Absurdities of other beliefs seen most clearly from a distance 

What are you prepared to die for?  It’s a question we should ask ourselves if we want to understand traditional Muslim values, says professor Irving Hexan of the department of religious studies at the University of Calgary.


It’s a question that’s difficult for my western mind to grasp — not just because no answer comes immediately to me but because the question itself seems odd.

It doesn’t help for me to probe the lives of those who give up their lives for a cause, either.   I recently watched a video of the true life story of Irishman Bobby Sands.  He died in jail of self imposed starvation because he believed that he and his fellow IRA inmates were prisoners of war, not criminals.

I understand that the Irish Republican Army considers itself to be an army and not a gang of criminals.  But I would not have given my life in a hunger strike to make the point.  I guess that passion for a cause is something that you had to experience in order to understand.

Islamic martyrs are like that.  For traditional Muslims, the question of what they would die for requires no soul searching, no head scratching.  One of the fundamental beliefs of Islam is that those who die fighting for Islam go directly to heaven.

The goal of our soldiers to get out of war alive and those who do so say that they were just doing a job.  Acts of bravery spring spontaneously on the battlefield, not as premeditated acts of martyrdom.  It is we, the ones back home, who say that those who died did so for a noble cause (freedom, country).

Unlike Muslims who life in societies governed by God (theocracies), we live in a secular world.  The head of Muslim countries, the caliph, is both spiritual and political leader.

Christians are in the world but are not part of it.  Christ made the separation of church and state clear: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world (John 17:14),”  Jesus says of his followers.  Christian life is at best a tolerance, at worst an endurance, of a Godless world.

Our western world has the appearances of Christianity but we don’t consider politicians to be spiritual leaders.  I find it ironic that the mightiest currency in the world is inscribed with the words “In God we trust”.   It’s not God that sustains the faithful capitalists but the almighty buck.

Although Muslim terrorists talk about a holy war against Christians, their targets are elsewhere.  Our churches were not their targets. Terrorists attacked a greater symbol of our belief system, the World Trade Center.  And it worked.  The attack had the desired effect of shaking the foundations of our secular consumer society.

The heart of western society is the marketplace.  We live to shop.   And if we didn’t, things would collapse.  Two-thirds of our economy is driven by shoppers.  Consumption and over-consumption are the cornerstones of our way of life.

And although we aren’t willing to die for the marketplace, there is often a lot at stake.

Consider those British Columbians who put their lifetime earnings into Eron Mortgage.   So great was their faith that they threw not just their savings into the pot, but they also mortgaged their homes.  So fervently did they believe in the 18 percent return promised that they were willing to risk it all.

I understand that kind of faith.  I lost money in the Teachers’ Investment and Housing Cooperative in the 1980s.   I never for a moment doubted that money would beget even more money — it was only the faithless poor who paid for their doubt.

But like TIHC, Eron squandered money in worthless investments. I didn’t lose a lot of money because I didn’t have a lot to lose but many investors’ lives were shattered.  They didn’t lose their lives but they did lose a lifetime of savings.

What are we prepared to die for?  Hexan’s question does provoke an examination of our beliefs, even if no answer comes to mind.  If there is anything to learn, it is that the absurdities of other beliefs are seen most clearly from a distance.


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