Friday, January 15, 2010

Must-Read: Mark Siljander's "A Deadly Misunderstanding"

Today I finished the book A Deadly Misunderstanding by Mark Siljander, and I vigorously recommend it.  A former Republican congressman with impeccable conservative credentials, colleague of Newt Gingrich and the "Young Turks" of the Reagan Revolution, Mark was also a staunch conservative Evangelical Christian, solid supporter of Israel and opponent of communists and Muslims wherever they might be found.  Challenged not long after an electoral defeat, to find the scriptural basis for his conviction to convert others to Christianity, Mark discovered to his shock that the supposed command wasn't there.  But rather than pull back into his comfortable religious shell, Mark did the crazy thing:  he learned Greek and Aramaic and started digging into what the original languages of the New Testament actually taught.

Without trying to tell Mark's story for him (which I couldn't anyhow--he tells it too well himself), let me just say that he's a shining example of what can happen when a true believer in Jesus allows for the dangerous possibility that what Jesus said and taught might actually be lived.  In Mark's case, that has meant learning Arabic and studying the Qur'an too, and discovering between Quranic Arabic, New Testament Aramaic, and Old Testament Hebrew, that an awful lot of the buzz words our faiths use to keep us apart, are actually the same words--or at least words with the same roots--in the Semitic language family.  For example, he demonstrates with some weight, that the Aramaic word "salem" that the Peshitta (Aramaic New Testament) uses to describe repentance and turning to Jesus, is of the same root as the Arabic word for "submission" to God (a Mu-slim is "one who submits or surrenders" to God).

I want to be clear:  this is no milquetoast universalist pablum.  Siljander is NOT claiming some notion of all roads leading to God.  What he's doing is far more careful and well-thought than that.  He is demonstrating the frequency with which fundamental--often violent--differences between the Abrahamic faiths are based on ignorance:  not only ignorance of the "other's" faith, but all too often ignorance of the actual text and context of our own faith and its creeds.  In this, he's coming to a conclusion a Muslim roommate and I (with far less scholarship) came to more than 20 years ago:  if both of us and our brothers merely were careful to follow what OUR OWN SCRIPTURES actually said, we'd find a lot of common ground, and at the very least, we couldn't fight each other.

Through story after story, Siljander tells how dealing with the actual person and teaching of Jesus (as opposed to the theological constructs ABOUT Jesus that make up most creeds), has opened doors for loving, peacemaking relations with Muslim, Buddhist, and other religious and political leaders on three continents.  This book is a powerful call to live in submission to the Prince of Peace, not in word and doctrine, but in actual love and practice.

Read it!


amberdkb said...

Dan, Thanks for this heartfelt review of "A Deadly Misunderstanding" and your call for support! You hit the nail on the head! (Nice blog title, by the way).

Best regards,

Amber Butler
Office of Mark Siljander

Seth McBee said...

Just finished the book myself...very much enjoyed it...would have some questions to ask him on the death and resurrection of Christ if we were to ever sit down for coffee.

I know he believes in it, but seemed a little soft on the fact in the book...but again...this might have been just something I picked up on that wasn't truly missing or soft.

Good review.

Dan Martin said...

Glad to know you found it, Amber! Please convey to Mark my personal thanks for his work, as well. I have a few friends out here that are particularly involved in peacemaking ventures with the Abrahamic faiths, in fact Mark may know of Rod Cardoza and the Abrahamic Alliance. In case they don't already know each other, I intend to recommend the book specifically to Rod and his colleagues.


Dan Martin said...

Seth, Mark definitely comes from a different faith background than I, and I would not presume to speak for him. My sense, though, in reading the book, is that Mark still holds unapologetically to the historicity of Jesus' death and resurrection, but doesn't get his knickers in a twist if people he loves don't see it the same way he does.

I don't have the book at my fingertips at this moment, but I believe I recall seeing a passage in which he said as much. With any luck, maybe we can get him to answer himself. . .

Thanks for stopping by!


Josh said...

Can anyone recommend a similar book written from a Muslim perspective?

Dan Martin said...

Josh, I'm not aware of a book from a Muslim perspective, but I can point you to a helpful website. A Common Word is a site dedicated to the letter "A Common Word Between Us and You" written by over 130 Muslim clerics, to Christian leaders back in 2007. In this excellent letter, the Muslim leaders--many of them highly influential in Middle Eastern countries--challenged Christians and Jews to join with them in a peaceful affirmation of the common "Greatest Command" expressed in the scriptures of all three religions: that loving God and loving one's fellow man are the two highest callings for the faithful.

Take a look both at the letter, and some of its responses, and you'll get an interesting insight into a side of Islam that won't be portrayed on Fox News any time soon. . .

Josh said...

Thanks for making me aware of this letter, Dan.

Stephen G. Parker said...

Dan - Your comments to me on Kurt Willem's blog led me to check out your blog; and I must say I'm finding it very refreshing. To find people who are willing to question 'orthodoxy' is delightful to me. I am also very much impressed with the courtesy shown by all contributors to the comments section (the ones I've seen thus far at least). This courtesy is also present on Kurt's blog. Again, very refreshing.

I've read several of your posts this afternoon, and while I don't always come to the same conclusions you do, as I say, I an delighted to find others who are willing to 'think outside the box'. I particularly enjoyed this article. Around the beginning of February I started doing some investigation of Islam, to see if the terrible things people say about it are really true ("Allah is a vicious terrorist", etc.). I found a few online English translations of the Qur'an to begin with, and then purchased one so I wouldn't be confined to my computer to read it. I also started reading articles at The American Muslim site, and Loonwatch. What a vast difference one finds when one 'goes to the source' to find out what a religion believes!

My own religious views are very liberal and universalistic. I refer to myself in many ways: Deist, unitarian, liberal Christian, somewhat Buddhist also; and now I can recognize that though I am not at all ready to embrace Islam 'organizationally' and follow its rituals, I am willing to say that, essentially, I am Muslim (meaning one who is submitted to God, the One). So, as I said, I found this article delightful. Thanks. I have bookmarked this site so that I can continue reading.

Dan Martin said...

Stephen, welcome and thanks for your kind words. As you investigate Islam and the relationship between Muslims and Christians, please be sure to spend some time at A Common Word, the website of a groundbreaking dialog between Christian and Muslim theologians and religious leaders. It's chock full of useful interchange as people of good will in both faiths seek dialog and bridge-building.

And small-m, I would hope we all are "muslims," as you correctly point out the meaning of the word is "one who submits to God."


Unknown said...

Great insight Dan!
Let me recommend the website for Common Path Alliance.
Common Path has started some great initiatives and seeks to build bridges of peace, hope and trust between Christians and Muslims around the person of Jesus. Take the time to explore the sight and digest things. Don't read one or two things and be judgmental of how things are worded and such. I think the approach will bless you!