In Islam, God is the Ruler. He sits atop the pyramid of the cosmos and watches everything down below to keep them all in their right place. In this type of religion, the problem of our world is disorder and the solution is His will. Force. Dominion. Obediance or rebellion. All that matters is His will. You don’t matter a damn, except as an agent of compliance.
Oh, sure, in this cosmos, God is “merciful” — which means that occasionally He doesn’t kill you when you deserve it. But His mercy is a mystery in the bad sense of the term; it emerges from a black box, nobody can predict it or count on it. So we are like the man in the familiar parable who has inexplicably been saved from the firing squad by a last-minute message from the unseen emperor. Except…add to this parable the little detail that THE FIRING SQUAD RE-CONVENES EVERY MORNING.
In the Old Testament, God also sits at the top of the pyramid, but the story is a love story. He at least tries to find ways to reach the bottom in a search for teh heart of His beloved people. In this cosmos, “love” or “mercy” are not emerging from an utter black box, because it is rooted in His personality. He is lonely in His core. Think of it: He says He needs us — or, Israel, at least. So His love is not an occasional add-on to the inner core of His personality. He made us, not as a hobby, but because He is Social, social in His core. It’s either the Trinity or a pyramid.
But there is enough of “God at the top of the pyramid” verses in the Old Testament that the West imbibed it as a moral vision. After all, it is the order of the political world, so it is nice and neat that it should be the order of the spiritual world.
The New Testament is a radical document because the Incarnation turns the pyramid upside down. No other religious assertion sets out frankly to flip the cosmos over and over like a child turning handstands.
Christians like their pyramid religion. Christian preaching and apologetics is not supposed to be an argument over what is the name of the guy at the top of the heap. It’s amazing how many Christians think of their universe as a traditional religious pyramid, with Jesus in the seat of Allah. Well, Jehovah would hardly have needed that whole crucifixion drama accomplish that.
So Christians have Jesus at the top of the pyramid and that is how the universe works. Sure, it is “by faith”, which is the best of all the edicts to issue from the apex of the universe.
So, they parent from the top of the pyramid. And then, consistent with that vision of the universe, their children rebel. We observe that the Western world has seen the emergence of a distinct stage of life marked by inexorable rebellion, because we parent like Islam but can’t quite stomach the necessary level of enforcement to carry it off. What’s our solution? Easy: it’s a feature, not a bug. Baptize it and call it normal.
Many Christian parents, along with all the rest of the non-Islamic world, have recognized that imperious parenting is not good, they themselves rebelled against it, and so they react by being permissive parents. And then their friends — or they themselves after they suffer that typical mid-life return to their childhood religion – they react to the Western secular permissiveness by re-ascending the old pyramid and imposing their will on their children. And evangelical pastors preach sermons on how children should obey their parents (instead of on how to love like God). And the cycle goes on forever.
No, the opposite of fundamentalist strictness is not worldly liberalism, but Christian agape. In the New Testament, God found a way to the bottom: become the bottom. Now, all fathers are givers, or they are not fathers. Father, now, is not that person who sits at the top but that person who comes to find the son in the garden every day.
Now, both permissive parents and strict parents are revealed to be: lazy. Truth is, it is actually easier to rule the pyramid than it is to enter the flesh of the beloved. Infinitely easier to rail and rant and throw lightening bolts from the depth of the storm than to be a baby in a manger. Nothing is harder, and more nourishing of the child, than love.
Oh, I hear the concern of those who think I’m destroying the authority of God. Relax: the pyramid is not gone. God still sits on the top, and is still to be feared. It’s just that He also plays at the bottom, and is available to be loved. So the bottom has become the top, and the top the bottom, in a ceaseless dance up and down the steps. And — the key point — His presence at the bottom makes His seat at the top an object of devotion, transforming an alienating fear into an integrating piety.
Don’t be a Christian who mouths Christian sentiments but teaches your child the universe is Islam.