Allah in the Dock

Perspicacious readers might very well know that the title of this post is a reference to the 1948 essay by C.S. Lewis, “God in the Dock” (which is also the overall title for the volume of Lewis’ writings published by Eerdmans in 1970).

Lewis never wrote systematically on Islam–which is understandable, since his focus was on bringing people to Christianity (once he had converted, with the help of his friend and staunch Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien).  But what perhaps the 20th century’s most famous Christian convert had to say about Islam, as pieced together from several different essays, is interesting–and instructive for today.

IslamicJesuspublicdomain

Muslim art: Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount (Wikipedia, public domain).

In “Christian Apologetics” (God in the Dock [GitD], p. 102), Lewis states that “Islam is only the greatest of the Christian heresies” in the same sense that “Buddhism [is] only the greatest of the Hindu heresies.”  In “The Grand Miracle” (GitD, p. 80), he writes “even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles”–whereas you cannot do that with Christianity, since the grand miracle of the Incarnation (not to mention the Resurrection) is the heart of the true story. Insofar as Islam is derivative of, and a reaction to, Christianity, it is certainly not inaccurate to call it a heretical Christian movement; but then analogizing it to Buddhism obfuscates his point because that religion started out as a reform movement within Hinduism, whereas Muhammad was never a Christian.  And Lewis seems unaware that any miracles in the Qur’an are done by `Isa (Jesus), not by Muhammad.

Lewis was less negative about Islam, albeit indirectly, in “Answers to Questions on Christianity” (GitD, p. 54), via the following: “I couldn’t believe that nine-hundred and ninety-nine religions were completely false and the remaining one true.  In reality, Christianity is primarily the fulfillment of the Jewish religion, but also what was vaguely hinted in all the religions at their best.”  Finally, in 1958’s “Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger” (GitD, p. 182), who had written a critique of him, Lewis had this to say: “As to ‘caring for’ the Sermon on the Mount, if ‘caring for’ here means ‘liking ‘ or enjoying, I suppose no one ‘cares for’ it. Who can like being knocked flat on his face by a sledge-hammer? I can hardly imagine a more deadly spiritual condition than that of the man who can read that passage with tranquil pleasure…. Such a man is not yet ripe for the Bible; he had better start by learning some sense from Islam: ‘The heaven and the earth and all between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?'”  The former passage encapsulates Lewis’ famous reasoning that myths tell non-scientific truths, and that many religions have a story about a deity dying and coming to life again–which points to the actual historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Of course, this perspective becomes a bit problematic in light of the fact that Islam–unlike paganism, or Hinduism, or Judaism–came along six centuries after Christianity.  So how can it then point to its predecessor?

Lewis seems to get around this objection by looking at Islam much as did Hans Kűng in his much later work Christianity and the World Religions: Paths of Dialogue with Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism (1986):  by presupposing that much of Islam is akin to the Old Testament, and that Muhammad is thus analogous to a Hebrew prophet.  Leaving aside Lewis’ curious misquoting of the Qur’an, which nowhere contains that passage he adduces (although similar parts are found in Sura al-Jathiyah [XLV), it is rather difficult to turn Muhammad’s “revelations” from Allah into a predictive Christian typology–not least because the Qur’an systematically denies the Trinity, Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Still, C.S. Lewis never wrote of Islam as being “satanic,” nor did he ever argue that it was “not a religion”–two assertions often made by modern Evangelical Christians, most of whom I daresay are huge fans of the Anglican Lewis.  I believe that Lewis is correct: Islam, the world’s second-largest religion, is at root a heresy of the world’s largest religion.  (For more on this, see my 2015 essay “Muhammad: Sincere, but Self-Deluded, Prophet” in Sects, Lies, and the Caliphate, pp. 72ff).   Thus, insofar as Christianity survived within it, Islam is redeemable.  It is, after all, the only religion besides Christianity whose scriptural canon reveres Jesus–albeit through a glass, darkly.  But I also know that even the demons believe in God’s unity, and that believing in a merely mortal Jesus is useless for salvation.

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