One of the things that makes me crazy when I read through my real-me Facebook feed — which is primarily populated by liberals, given my West Coast upbringing and residence — is the constant insistence that Christianity and Islam are basically the same, with each being equally likely to result in religious terrorism. The fact that Christians in the West abandoned religious wars more than 400 years ago doesn’t bother these moral relativists. All religions are equal and all religions are, at heart, bad.
That’s the background to my listening to Josh Groban’s O, Holy Night and really paying attention, not just to his lovely voice and the beautiful melody, but to the words themselves. The words that Groban sings in this transcendent Christmas hymn are an abridged, slightly modified version of the lyrics that John Sullivan Dwight, a Unitarian minister, wrote in 1855. Dwight’s words, in turn, are a rough translation of the original French verse, Cantique de Noël, which dates back to 1847. In other words, they are the distillation of Christianity after the Dark Ages, after the Middle Ages, after the Crusades, after the Renaissance, after the Great Awakening, and after the Enlightenment. They are the distillation of the Christian experience in Europe and America.
I know I posted this video the other day, but let me post it again today, with special attention to the lyrics:
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! That ever, ever praise we.
Oh, night, oh night divine.
Oh, night, oh night divine.
Oh, night, oh night divine.
I’ll admit that my understanding of Christianity is imperfect, especially insofar as there are multiple Christian denominations in America and Europe, but it seems to me that those brief verses that Groban sings really do sum up the Christian God and his relationship with humankind.
“Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth” — I take this line to reflect Christianity’s recognition of each individual’s value. Christianity is a life affirming religion. This reflects a direct line of thinking from the Jewish Bible, which eschewed human sacrifice because life matters; each individual has value. Each soul has worth.
“Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother” — That sentiment reflects the fact that these lyrics date from the period immediately before the Civil War, but it’s also a reminder that the Great Awakening in the mid- and late-18th Century, when coupled with the Enlightenment, led directly to the abolitionist movement. Abolitionism was not a secular movement. It was a religious movement that recognized that we cannot simultaneously be equal before God and hold each other in slavery.
Again, this idea is a lineal descendant of the Jewish approach to God and the individual. In the ancient world, when slavery was the unquestioned norm and slaves were chattel to be used and abused, the Jews were different. Jewish law prescribed something more akin to indentured servitude, with a six year limitation period. Slaves could not be physically abused, the women could not be raped, and freed slaves were to be supplied with liberal sustenance as they embarked upon their new life. Moreover, every fifty years, all slaves were emancipated, whether the six year period had accrued or not. Those in the West who held slaves in perpetual servitude and heaped abuse them violated both Jewish and Christian principles.
“And in his name all oppression shall cease” — This is a notion of God as a liberator. Humans voluntarily worship him, and he frees them from the sin and error.
As filtered through O, Holy Night, Christianity (and its parent faith, Judaism) could not be more different from Islam. Islam, which is both a religious and political ideology, subordinates the individual to Allah and the state. The individual’s worth, which is so valued under Jewish and Christian law, is meaningless under Islam. And just as Muslims are slaves to Allah, so Muslims can be, and indeed are obligated to be, masters to anyone else. Moreover, the Koran holds to the ancient, pagan view that slaves are chattel without any individual worth or legal rights. They can be used, abused, raped, starved, beaten, etc. In Islam, a slave has no humanity.
Do all Muslims behave according to Islam’s dictates regarding the worth (or, more accurately, the worthlessness) of the individual and, especially, the slave? Of course not!! Westernized, secular Muslims have already started down the same path that Christians traveled when they began to honor the Old and New Testaments’ focus on individual liberty. Sadly, though, a majority of Muslims around the world still take literally Islam’s refusal to recognize individual worth, it’s demand that all submit before it, and its insistence on enslaving women, whether Muslim or not, and all non-Muslims unfortunate enough to find themselves in the path of the widely practiced fundamentalist strain in Islam.
That’s the start of my thinking on the subject. I can’t finish the thought, because I have legal work with actual deadlines. Feel free to correct me where I’m wrong, expand upon things I can right, and offer the conclusions I didn’t have time to reach.