I think that most of us have been stunned by the reaction in the Muslim world to the cartoons depicting Muhammad in less than honorable terms. If I understand correctly, Muslims would be offended by any depiction of their prophet, just as they would of any “graven image” depicting God.  Fair enough.

I was almost equally stunned this morning when I opened an email to a newsletter that I was somehow subscribed to.  It is called To the Source, and deals with issues of contemporary culture from an evangelical Christian/conservative Catholic perspective.  They often have a lot of good things to say.  But I disagreed with the gist of today’s article.

The author says that, just as Muslims object publicly when their beliefs are ridiculed, so should Christians.  Here are a couple of excerpts that I hope will represent fairly what the author, Dinesh D’Souza, a Stanford scholar, was saying.

Obviously, in the Muslim world, blasphemy is a big deal. But if Muslim intolerance has gone too far, have Christians taken tolerance to excess?

But what is striking about conservative Christians is how passive and invertebrate so many of them are when their deepest beliefs are violated. The distinguishing quality of the Christian seems to be niceness, and I don’t mean this as a compliment. When a man calls your wife a whore it is not a virtue to respond with niceness. When your religion is mocked and blasphemed, it is sign of cowardice to pretend not to notice.

Sound reasonable?  Perhaps.  But I think that it’s easy to miss that this is a key distinction between Muhammad and Jesus, and why their followers are on such divergent paths.  Jesus taught his disciples to expect to be in the minority, to expect persecution, and to accept it as the normal state of affairs.  He himself set the example of how his disciples respond to insults—“he opened not his mouth.”

Muhammad, on the other hand, taught his disciples to expect to be in the majority, to dominate, and to resist persecution.  He regularly led raids on neighboring tribes.  In the spread of Islam, persuasion was considered the ideal means of conversion, but those who were not persuaded were taxed severely and commercially isolated.  Islam is a religion of the majority.  Its adherents cannot accept anything less than cultural domination as normal.  I do not say this to insult Muhammad or his followers, just to point out that Jesus and Muhammad taught different things, and therefore their followers respond differently to insult and injury.

This is not to say that Christians do not seek to influence society and the culture surrounding them.  We follow the example of One who revolutionized the world, but who did it through peace.  Of course it hurts and even angers us when we see and hear our Lord insulted, but we honor him best by responding as he did, not in following our instinct to strike back.