JOHN STACKHOUSE: As a Christian myself, I think that the idea that Christians run the country, well, we’ve had a chance to do that a number of times over the last 2,000 years and the record is pretty chequered actually. You know, we didn’t run South Africa all that well and we had trouble in imperial Russia making sure everybody was looked after and there were those few bits of European history where Christians ran the show and didn’t necessarily came off unscathed. So as a Christian myself, I’m not entirely sure we are trustworthy with the whole package. I think, in fact, it’s best to have a diversity of views and keep each other honest and that’s why I think the right wing theocrats, whether they’re Christian or Muslim or whether their even narrow-minded folk like Richard Dawkins, who thinks that only people like him should run the show.
JOHN STACKHOUSE: People do have the right to be a bigot. In fact, it is an important thing for Christians, as well as others, to try not to grant other people less liberty than God does. It’s always important not to be more holy than God and if God is willing to allow people to say all sorts of things that he doesn’t approve of, we need to be careful about that as well. … I do think that free speech is so precious that we have to be very careful not to pronounce people unable to be bigots, because bigot is always defined by the people who have power and when people in power start saying what you can and can’t say I frankly am a little worried about that.
JOHN STACKHOUSE: I’ve been teaching world religion for 25 years. Islam is not a religion of peace. They’ve tried to trademark that but it’s just not true. Islam is a religion that copes with the real world and in Islam, including in its holy books, there are provisions for warfare and there are provisions for defensive warfare and there are also provisions for the extension of Islam, which is why the whole history of Islam has been steady territorial expansion. Of course it’s a religion of peace, by which they mean the subjugation of other people under sharia and that’s peace but it is an imperial sort of peace and I’m not judging it. I mean, we Christians have done the same thing and lots of other religions have done the same thing as well.
TONY JONES: I mean, I beg to differ you. You do appear to be judging it?
JOHN STACKHOUSE: No, I’m simply correcting the record. I mean, as a matter of fact, the Qur’an and the sharia are very clear that the jihad can be both the internal, the greater jihad of subjecting myself to the will of God, and the lesser jihad is to subject the world to God. I mean there is only two realms. There is Dar al-Islam. There is the submitted part of the world and then there is the rest of the world that’s not yet submitted to God, the dar al-harb, the situation of war, the house of war. So it’s a pretty clear worldview and while many of my Muslim friends are liberal and multicultural and love Canada and have no interest in the violent prosecution of their faith and I think it’s really important to understand, nonetheless, we just can’t make sense of world history if we suggest that Islam doesn’t have within it the legitimation of violence.
PETER GRICE: Professor Stackhouse, as you know, there is a lot of strife in the world at the moment in various place, including what one commentator called “Evil, the likes of which we’ve not seen in generations.” Such evil is even being visited on innocent children and many Australians are beginning to feel a sense of despair. It’s tempting to ask why God hasn’t shown up on the scene to fix a very broken situation. But supposing he did, what is your sense of a just punishment for those who bomb, torture, rape and slay innocent human beings and, by the same token, what remains of a positive vision for peace?
JOHN STACKHOUSE: Well, I think it’s an excellent question because I think we do have to presume, if we’re Christians and people of similar outlooks, that God is mourning over the world, that God is not happy about these things and that God is, in fact, as the ancient scriptures say, you know, keeping a log of these things. That nobody does anything in a secret place. God has maximum surveillance, in fact. He does know what everybody is doing all the time.
TONY JONES: He knows your metadata?
JOHN STACKHOUSE: He knows the metadata and the data. He has got it all.
TONY JONES: He doesn’t do much with it though?
JOHN STACKHOUSE: Well, that’s, I think, the crucial question is that if God wants me to continue to trust him as an all-good and all-powerful God when he manifestly seems not to be one or the other or both, then he’d better give me a jolly good reason to trust him anyway and God hasn’t given me any account, any daily briefing about why he is allowing the atrocities here and why he is allowing them there and they go back since the dawn of time.
TONY JONES: Well, is that where faith comes in? Because, as we know, plenty of Holocaust survivors actually lost their faith once they saw the real dark side of human nature and realised that God was never going to intervene?
JOHN STACKHOUSE: Well, indeed, I think that post-Holocaust theology among my Jewish friends is a very daunting and very dark place because, for them, there is no ground on which to continue to believe in God that is strong enough to outweigh the grounds to not believe in God and that, to me, is the real question. It’s not necessarily whether God explains to me what he is going to do. I’m not sure I have the mental or the moral capacity to be able to judge whether God is doing a good job in the world. I think he is not doing a very good job often, but I’m not sure I’m capable to judge that. But if he wants my allegiance, he jolly well better give me a very good reason to trust him anyway and for the Christian, that answer is Jesus. That answer is looking at this figure, whom Christians believe is the very face of God. So if God is like that, then I can trust this hidden god who is seems to be making a mess of the world. And if he’s not like that, then I am really in a much difficult situation. So, Tony, for me, as a Christian who looks at the world like anybody else does, if I don’t have Jesus, I frankly am going to be an atheist because, like my Jewish friends post-Holocaust, God actually doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job running things.