Challenging the text

aimendean_3218971bIn the Saturday Times there was a fascinating story about a man, Aimen Dean, who spied on behalf of MI6 against Al-Qaeda for some six years until 2006. His story recalls how he had been drawn into jihad by the plight of Muslims in Bosnia and he was involved in the founding of Bin Laden’s group. His moment of disillusionment came after the bombing of American embassies in East Africa. When he queried the accidental slaughter of 200 innocent African workers, he obtained the impression that such killing was of no significance as they were ‘just Africans’ and thus of no importance. He then asked the Al-Qaeda’s in-house theologian whether there was theological justification for such collateral damage. He was referred to a 13th century fatwa issued at the time of the Mongol invasions. As the Times article about Dean says, most people in this situation would have left it at that, but Dean persisted and read the fatwa for himself. He discovered that it was of no relevance to the situation at all. The dishonesty involved in this kind of text abusing opened his eyes to the way that the Koran and other Muslim texts were being widely manipulated to fulfil political and criminal ends. That was the beginning of his disillusionment which led him eventually to become a successful spy for the British MI6.

In our last blog post, which spoke about ructions in the Diocese of Southwark, we noted the highly questionable listing of selected quotes about marriage within the Declaration to be signed up for by conservative Anglicans. The question has to be asked as to whether the potential signatories actually read the texts quoted or whether they assume that the compiler of the Declaration knows his Bible better than they do, so of course this is what Christians believe about marriage. I would suggest that 95% of the signatories will not pull their bibles off the shelf to check the quotations. Even when they do, they will not question the right of a Christian leader to declare that, if the Bible says something apparently clear on any subject, then that is the last word. The ordinary Christian has to believe this even if though he may suspect at the back of his mind that the Bible in other places paints a far broader and more nuanced picture of male-female relationships.

Aimen Dean did something that few conservative Christians seem ready to do. He was faced with a dissonance within himself in feeling uncomfortable about the needless slaughter of innocent people. He allowed himself the heretical thought that the utterances and text quoting of those set over him might actually be wrong. Their pretensions of slavish obedience to an infallible text was something that he had to check out for himself. Why was he apparently the only one to go down this road? The answer seems to lie in the way that individuals in a crowd normally find it much more comfortable to agree with those around them. If there are 500 people in your group, religious or political, it is easy to want to be part of that group and not challenge anything is being said by the leaders.

In a comment I recently made on the Trinity Brentwood blog, I spoke about people in cultic environments having their ‘child personality’ re-awakened by the group. By this I meant that the adult individual in a cultic environment wants very much to believe like a child and feel that they are at the same time in the safety of a family. The child in them wants to rely on ‘Daddy’ to make the right decisions. This child personality is not one to challenge authority or look up to read ‘proof texts’ for him/herself. That is the action of the adult, one who has dared to question, to challenge and to critique what is going on around him.

The question in Southwark and elsewhere when Christians are being drawn in to political/religious processes, is whether they can see what is going on. The answer is that most of the time they cannot. The Southwark Declaration is an attempt to wrest political power from a group of people that have been identified as a ‘them’. The ‘them’ have become the enemy because they have taken on the identity of ‘gay affirmers’ and that makes them supporters of an alien faith. Aimen Dean, in his own context, is setting an example to all who find themselves caught up in a similar political/religious movement. He is one who dares to question, to doubt and in the process he is reclaiming his adult identity. It would have been so much easier to join in the adulation of Bin Laden, the manipulations and distortions of Muslim texts and the surrender to the pathology of violence and mindless cruelty. Thankfully he did not and there were people here in the UK to help him ‘recover’ and in the process serve the interests of this nation and the entire West.

The values of the Muslim ‘spy’ are perhaps more typical of the so-called Western Enlightenment than the Arab East. One particular luminary, I forget which one, said the words which sum up the liberal quest, ‘Dare to doubt’. With these words he helped to release Western civilisation from the chains of unexamined authorities from the past and the ties of dogma. Not everything that was doubted or questioned was wrong, but the implication of these words was that which released science, economics, philosophy and theology to take a fresh look at everything that had been handed on from the past. Going back to basics, questioning what had never been questioned before, was how Western civilisation was able to move forward and overtake, in terms of political and economic progress, every other civilisation. Not everything has been good in this process but, in spite of the horrors of industrialised slaughter by extreme regimes and in war, progress towards a better world has been made.

Aimen Dean accomplished two actions in his challenge of Al-Qaeda. He dared to challenge their authority by checking the texts on which they based their power. He also was prepared to stand out from the crowd. I see little sign of this distinctively Western value in the behaviour of people who sign declarations which have little to do with faith but everything to do with political power and the stereotyping of perceived ‘enemies’. How they come to be enemies has far more to do with psychology than with theological truth. When we finally can learn to listen to each other rather than play political games in our churches, then the cause of unity and gracious understanding of one another may finally be brought to pass.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

One thought on “Challenging the text

  1. You’re right of course. But I do think it is also about trust, and therefore abuse of trust. All of us tend to believe what we are told. Most of us actually tell the truth most of the time. This goes double when the person you are asked to believe is a high caste person in your own group. The world wouldn’t work if we went around behaving in a hostile manner about everything we are told, everything someone else says. We’ve probably all met people who don’t believe anything unless they’ve seen it for themselves! So I think this mechanism that actually allows us to function as a society is being suborned.

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