I was going through another tough time. Although I had finally come to understand that the fundamentalist and judgmental image of God instilled in me during my upbringing was the cause of a great deal of my suffering, I seemed to be powerless to rid my psyche of this harmful deity. As a consequence, my depression, fueled by very low self-esteem, continued. In an effort to lift my spirits, I decided to accompany my wife, our younger daughter and our daughter’s friend on a weekend getaway south of the border. During the drive down, I dared to mentally confront my oppressive god-image, angrily expressing my disdain for its continued presence within me. I called it every nasty name in the book. This seemed to make me feel a bit better. However, that night I lay awake in our hotel room, unable to sleep. The next day, after breakfast, we toured several stalls displaying beautiful local art for sale. I made an effort to maintain an optimistic outlook, and decided to focus on appreciating the artwork. Suddenly, my mind was filled with an amazing depth of spiritual knowledge. I saw the incredibly intricate interconnections between the various events of my life. I saw how my own thoughts and actions had created my personal reality. I knew that I had more power than I had ever dreamed possible, and I knew that I was divine. My depression lifted immediately, and I felt incredibly calm, with a deep sense of self-acceptance and love. It was a beautiful and extremely comforting feeling. However, my grasp of this intricate web of knowledge was very fleeting and disappeared almost as soon as it had come. At the time, this did not bother in the least, because I knew that I had seen the truth of my real identity which could never be taken from me. I later tried to understand how I had seen this truth, but the thought patterns I had experienced were far too intricate for reconstruction and the effort to do so caused me further mental anguish. Finally, I came to simply accept the experience as a gift, which has been of immeasurable help to my healing.
I am an infinitesimally tiny speck in an infinitely large universe, and yet I am loved, completely and unconditionally. You are, too. How cool is that?
Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian who spent several years on death row for the alleged crime of blasphemy, specifically insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. She was recently acquitted by Pakistan’s supreme court, which ruled that the evidence against her was unreliable. However, in negotiations with Pakistan’s fundamentalist Islamic political party, the government agreed to prevent her from leaving the country in order to quell protests by radical Muslims, who continue to call for her death. Asia applied to the British government for asylum, but her application has reportedly been rejected in a shocking and callous display of cowardice.
Asia Bibi’s current whereabouts have not been made public. You can read her story in her own words in “Blasphemy: A Memoir” by Asia Bibi as told to Anne-Isabelle Tollet, published by Chicago Review Press.
Quite often I find myself thinking about, or rather remembering, the incredible depth of God’s love, and I am moved to tears. Anyone who hasn’t experienced this love in a deeply personal way cannot really appreciate what I am talking about. I think my own experience must be similar to that reported by those who underwent a near death experience and returned to their everyday lives changed to their very core by the love in which they were immersed during their experience. A profound experience of divine love heals mental illness by eliminating fear, including fear of death. It frees one to truly live. What a gift! Thanks be to God.
I read Rudolph Otto’s book “The Idea of the Holy” many years ago, quite early on in my spiritual struggle. I appreciated his emphasis on both the numinous character and the moral perfection of the Divine. At the time, I felt that all religions shared a similar appreciation and understanding of the holiness or sacredness of God. However, when I more recently became familiar with the roots and teachings of Islam, I was forced to conclude that Islam’s God, Allah, as depicted in many parts of the Quran and other Islamic scripture, is not holy. A god who orders his subjects to hate, and even kill, non-Muslims is not holy. A god who describes the Jewish people as "the vilest of all creatures" and descendants of apes and pigs is not holy. I could go on and on, for the Quran and Hadiths are full of examples of Allah’s unholiness. So when I see pictures of devout Muslims touching their foreheads to the ground in reverence to their unholy god, I feel great sadness. Perhaps there are many nominal Muslims who are simply ignorant of the nature of Muhammad’s Allah, but devout Muslims should know better. The fact that they don’t means that they don’t appreciate or understand true holiness. If they understood, they would know that Allah of the Quran is not worthy of veneration, and is simply a creation of Muhammad's sick ego.
This is what the eminent atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell had to say about Islam:
“Over a billion people believe in Allah without truly knowing what Allah supposedly stands for or what he really demands of them. And the minority that do understand continue to be Moslems because they have redefined their morality and ethics to fit within the teachings of Islam, which are floridly lacking in morality (italics mine). They therefore redefine what is good and evil in order to fit their lives into what is preached by Islam, instead of examining Islam to see if it fits within the good life. Backwards thinking, imposed by a backward religion.” (Mr. Russell defined “the good life” as “one inspired by love and guided by knowledge”.)
Several years ago, I was going through a very rough period of depression. I often spent long nights in an outbuilding (equipped with bunk beds and a washroom) so that my wife could sleep more peacefully. One snowy evening, I felt a need for an even greater separation from my family, and so I drove to our cottage, accompanied by our dog. After lighting the wood stove for warmth, I lay on the bed in the dark and allowed myself to feel a quite extraordinary pain – the pain of completely acknowledging the devastating consequences to my psyche from not having been loved by my mother for simply being me – her son. I had subconsciously recognized this from an early age and had struggled throughout my childhood to earn her love, not understanding that the unconditional love required by a child must be freely given and cannot be earned. Although I had felt the stirrings of the pain related to my mother’s emotional neglect on several occasions over the course of my illness, I had never before allowed myself to fully experience it. But this time was different. The pain was truly excruciating, and I sobbed and moaned uncontrollably. As a child, I could not allow myself to feel it, because it could literally have killed me. Now, as an adult, the pain itself could no longer kill me, but still I did not know how I could possibly deal with it. I simply did not have the resources within me.
Suddenly I experienced a completely unexpected miracle. I heard two very distinct sharp knocks, like a fist on a wooden door, coming from thin air directly in front of my face – “knock, knock”. Let me state unequivocally that this was not a hallucination created by the ego, nor was it due to an organic brain disease or a side-effect of drugs (I had not been taking any medication for some time). I knew right away that this was a communication from the Divine. It would be difficult for me to overstate its significance. What sprang immediately to mind was the Bible verse, “Knock, and it shall be opened to you”, and I responded desperately by mentally returning the knock. I lay awake pondering this event for the rest of the night, and drove home the next morning, still feeling rather down, but with a renewed sense of hope and determination.
Nine years have passed, and I feel very blessed. I have been given a personal experience of Revelation 3:20 : “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me”. I am so grateful for having been graced with the knowledge of Jesus’ loving presence.
The following article originally appeared on the website turningpointproject.com, and was later reprinted in thecatholicthing.org. It is posted here with permission of the author (William Kilpatrick).
A commonplace has emerged among media and political elites that criticism of Islam or even of radical Islam will only serve to drive moderate Muslims into the radical camp.
That argument should be questioned because it can just as easily be that lack of criticism has led to the rebirth of militant Islam. Far from being critical of Islam, Western governments, media, academia, and even churches have bent over backward to claim that all the atrocities committed in the name of Islam have nothing to do with Islam. Indeed, the Western media have adopted a rigid system of self-censorship that keeps them from admitting that these atrocities are in fact committed in the name of Islam.
The latest example is the reporting on the assassination of a Russian ambassador by a Turkish policeman. Almost the first words out of the assassin’s mouth after the shooting were: “We are those who have given a pledge of allegiance to Muhammad that we will carry on jihad.” If you don’t remember him saying that, it’s because that part of the statement was omitted from almost all news and television reports. Apparently, our betters in the media were afraid that if we were aware of the man’s devotion to Muhammad, we might say something provocative that would turn untold numbers of peaceful Muslims into bomb-throwing jihadists.
Perhaps the prime example of the wages of silence is the current crisis in Europe. Islamic terrorists have declared war on Europe and the result has been a series of deadly attacks – at airports, subways, cafés, concert halls, and, most recently, Christmas markets. All this mayhem is the indirect result of ignorance about Islam – an ignorance that, in turn, is the result of an almost complete blackout of news unfavorable to Islam.
Anyone with a thorough understanding of Islamic culture and religion could have predicted that, even without the 2015-16 flood of Muslim migrants, the steady flow of Muslim immigrants over the years would create a combustible situation. The amazing thing is that the consequences of this massive migration were never discussed – except in glowing terms. Just about the only thing allowed to be said about the migrants was that they would solve labor shortages, refill welfare coffers, and bring cultural enrichment to Europe.
That was the official line. Anyone who deviated from it could expect censure, possible job loss, or even a criminal trial. Say something negative about Muslim immigration on your Facebook page and you would be visited by police. Say it in public and you would receive a court summons. It didn’t matter if you were a famous writer (Oriana Fallaci), the President of the Danish Free Press Society (Lars Hedegaard), or a popular member of the Dutch Parliament (Geert Wilders). If you couldn’t say something nice about Islam, then you shouldn’t say anything at all.
In the European case, the idea that criticizing Islam will create an army of radicals doesn’t hold up. Criticism of Islam is essentially a crime in many parts of Europe and has been for a long time. In Europe, few dared criticize Islam, but the radicals came anyway. More than anything else, it was silence that allowed Islamization and radicalization to spread through France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
Practically no one spoke up about no-go-zones, sharia courts, polygamy, and forced marriages, refusal to integrate, crime waves, and the rape epidemic. Now that many are finally beginning to speak out, it may be too late to avoid capitulation (Sweden’s likely fate) or bloody conflict (more likely in France).
The very argument that criticism of Islam will drive moderates into the radical camp suggests that criticism is needed. If Islam is such a hair-trigger religion that the slightest offense might radicalize adherents, there is something radically wrong with the religion itself. We don’t worry that criticizing Catholicism is going to produce angry Catholic mobs rampaging through the streets. We don’t fear that one wrong word is going to cause a young Southern Baptist to strap on a suicide belt.
Islam invites criticism. Given its bloody past and present, it would be highly irresponsible not to subject it to a searching analysis and critique. Such a critique would not aim at alienating Muslims (although some will inevitably be alienated), but at alerting likely victims of jihad.
One of the basics that non-Muslims need to know is that Islam divides the world in two – the House of Islam, and the House of War (all non-Islamic societies). And every Muslim is expected to do his part to make the House of War submit to the House of Islam. Europeans are now experiencing a “don’t-know-what-hit-me” sense of bewilderment because they never learned this basic fact about Islam.
One reason for our reluctance to analyze and criticize Islam (an idea) is that such criticism seems tantamount to criticizing Muslims (a people). Unfortunately, even if that is not the intention, it is often the result. A person can’t separate himself entirely from his beliefs, and, consequently, we take criticism of our religion personally. That’s a good reason for presenting the critique as tactfully as possible. But it’s not a good reason for offering no critique at all.
If you can’t criticize a belief system because it would hurt the feelings of people who subscribe to that system, then we were wrong to criticize Nazism, Communism, and Japanese imperialism. Ordinarily, we refrain from criticizing other religions. Such a live-and-let-live approach is generally sensible, but when the other religion takes the attitude that you must either convert, submit, or die, then live-and-let-live is no longer an option. That is the position that we are in with regard to Islam. And it is suicidal to pretend that things are otherwise.
Based on the available historical evidence, Jesus and Muhammad were very different people, with largely contrasting morals. Reflecting these character differences, Jesus’ portrayal of God is very different from Muhammad’s portrayal of Allah. Christian scriptures describe Jesus as a loving peacemaker, who never promoted violence against anyone, for any reason. The original source documents of Islam (the Quran, hadith, biographies and histories), on the other hand, reveal that Muhammad was a warlord, who could be ruthless to non-Muslims. They contain striking descriptions of the casual and matter-of-fact way that Muhammad and his followers trafficked in violence and bloodshed. The Quran, which Muslims believe is Allah’s infallible word revealed to Muhammad, has several passages advocating violence against non-Muslims (“kafirs”), particularly Jews. Muhammad's character and teachings are reflected in Islamic law (Shariah), wherein the penalty for homosexuality and apostasy may be death (officially in at least 8 Muslim countries today, but potentially enforceable by radical Muslims anywhere). Under Shariah, women are inferior to men, and must veil themselves in order to avoid arousing male passions. Muhammad, who is considered by Muslims to be the perfect man, to be emulated, had people killed just for insulting him or for criticizing his religion. Therefore, the continued existence of Islamic terrorism today is understandable. Jesus had harsh words for the hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees of his time. If Jesus had had the opportunity to confront Muhammad, his words would have been much harsher. However, he would never have advocated violence against Muhammad or his followers. Similarly, those who follow Jesus are to call radical Islamists to task, but we are never to be violent toward them, except, I submit, where necessary to defend others who are unable to defend themselves.
Here is a description of two events that occurred near the beginning of my active spiritual search that convinced me of the existence of a divine intelligence:
During the course of my spiritual journey, I studied the teachings of all of the world’s great religions. Concerning Islam, I found that many Quranic teachings are inconsistent with what my heart tells me. Perhaps chief among these is the teaching that our creator (Allah/God) only loves and accepts Muslims. This leads to the teaching that Jihad (holy war) is to be waged against non-Muslims. For the many reasons described in my book, I know that God loves me, just as I am. God’s love is fully and completely unconditional, regardless of belief or actions. Although I am a follower of Jesus, I am not a fundamentalist Christian. Jesus, I am convinced, did die on the cross (contrary to Islam’s claim that Allah put an imposter in his place). However, his death was not a sacrifice (in the Old Testament sense) demanded by God as an atonement for our sins. Rather, Jesus willingly went to the cross out of love for all of humankind, trusting that his destiny was a very important part of God’s plan. Jesus gave of himself as the suffering lamb, for all our sakes, to demonstrate God’s love and power to overcome darkness and raise us to new life. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John: “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly”.
God loves me, and God loves you, too.
Robert Keith's work focuses on the healing of mental illness, particularly where such illness has been fostered by fundamentalist religion. He and his wife have raised four children. As a family, they were always open about Robert’s own struggles and their individual spiritual journeys. Robert is now semi-retired but continues to offer spiritual counseling.