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                              & THOUGHTS OF GOD

                                               An Essay By

                                               Carl Rollins


In Part One, polling data was used to jump start an examination of the connection between feelings of security (or lack thereof) and issues of immigration and tolerance.  I suggested that the security provided by faith in God should lead Christians to accept immigrants and foreigners, even if it is a sacrifice.  This is not just a moral policy but obedience to God as expressed in scripture.

In Part Two, the discussion will be expanded to focus more on how by obediently following the examples of Jesus Christ and the Apostles we as Christian Americans can help increase tolerance in countries worldwide.  This affects not just evangelical efforts, but also has repercussions related to globalization and the so-called war on terrorism.


                                              Part Two




                                             I. Introduction

Since I first conceived the idea of writing these essays six months ago the news stories about anti-immigrant violence and political backlashes caused by cross-cultural tensions have proliferated.  From murderous riots in South Africa, to racially tinged murders in the US, and reconsideration of “sanctuary” laws in San Francisco the drumbeat continues.[1]  The anti-immigrant protests of a loud minority have been displayed prominently in the media.

Here in the US we must ask ourselves how we can lead the world to enlightenment when we are still grappling with our own demons.

Many might also ask, of what interest is it to Americans whether people in other countries are xenophobic and generally don’t like people who are “different” than themselves?  For one, it complicates our foreign policy insofar as it affects the ability of our military to be successful in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Perhaps more to the point, University of Chicago professor Robert A. Pape has written that:

The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism…Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.  Religion is rarely the root cause…For more than twenty years, terrorist groups have been increasingly relying on suicide attacks to achieve major political objectives.[2]

I will explore in this essay the following questions: Are Westerners and Muslims/Arabs really different in terms of tolerance?  And, what if they are?

It turns out that the data about Iraqi and Muslim intolerance discussed in Part One must have been a little skewed to the extent that it left America and its European allies appearing all lovey-dovey with respect to our treatment and acceptance of immigrant workers in our countries.  I believe that such attitudes say a lot about tolerance.

A review of a series of surveys over time presents a slightly more complicated picture with respect to tolerance of foreigners and immigrants by westerners.[3]  I tried to select examples from a cross-section of the data that are representative of broader trends.

In 1999, fewer than ten percent of people from America, Great Britain and Denmark mentioned having a problem with being neighbors with people from another race.  Somewhat surprisingly, given later developments, less than ten percent of Danish people and about fifteen percent of those living in Great Britain said that they would not want immigrants or foreigners as their neighbors.  Just over ten percent admitted not wanting to live next door to Muslims.

Some people might say that there is a big difference between accepting someone as a neighbor and having them challenge you for your job.  I say, “hogwash.”  In America anyway, anecdotal evidence suggests that most immigrants are taking jobs Americans don’t want to do.  The largest job loss comes with factories closing and moving overseas.  This is a result of globalization.  The underlying motivation for these anti-immigrant feelings is intolerance.

Although the research findings in Xenophobia and In –Group Solidarity in Iraq: A Natural Experiment on the Impact of Insecurity, featured in Part 1, were presented at a conference about a year earlier, the authors’ paper about Iraqi intolerance was not published until September 2006.  What were westerners saying to pollsters about their feelings towards foreigners at about the same time?

In July 2006, a Pew Global Attitudes Project report entitled Muslims in Europe: Economic Worries Top Concerns About Religious and Cultural Identity concluded that there was “little evidence of a widespread backlash against Muslim immigrants.”  This was despite the occurrence of the London subway bombings, riots in France spurred largely by immigrant youth and the Danish prophet Muhammad cartoon flap. 

Most Europeans still thought it was a “good thing” that Middle Eastern and North African immigrants were working in their countries.  However, concerns about Islamic extremism, terrorism and the assimilation of immigrants into their new cultures were of concern to a large number of Europeans.  Concerns were greatest in Germany.[4]

The report’s authors summarized the feelings of Muslim immigrants to Europe as follows: “And while there are some signs of tension between Europe's majority populations and its Muslim minorities, Muslims there do not generally believe that most Europeans are hostile toward people of their faith.”  However, a significant number of Muslims in France and Spain reported bad experiences that they said were the result of their religion or ethnicity.  Indeed, British Muslims expressed some concern for their future in England.

With regard to American feelings about immigrants, largely from South and Central America, that same year the Gallup Poll reported the following:

Many Americans continue to see illegal immigration as a problem for the United States today, but more general views of immigration are the most positive they have been in the last five years. Two in three Americans think immigration is good for the country today. After several years in which more Americans favored a decrease in immigration levels, the current poll finds more favor keeping levels the same.[5]

This, however, was the most positive result since 9/11.  In other words, it was contrary to the trend.  It should be noted also that France and the Netherlands rejected the proposed European Union constitution a year earlier, in part out of concern about the effect immigration would have on their economies.

What happened in the last two years to sour western tolerance?

Given the mood in the Western world post 9/11, it should not have come as a great surprise when a Pew Global Attitudes Project report found that forty-two percent of Spaniards and a whopping sixty-four percent of Italians cited immigration as their nation’s top problem.[6]

The immigration tolerance bubble had burst.

Interestingly, the researchers found that, “In spite of the economic gains across a broad swath of developing and emerging economies, citizens of rich countries remain far happier and more satisfied than those in poorer nations.”  So money alone is apparently not the answer to happiness.  It’s far more important to have meaning in your life.  If true, this would undermine America’s foreign policy emphasis on spreading free market capitalism.  This is not a worldwide panacea.  It also brings into question the efficacy of merely increasing foreign aid to poor countries.

Finally, in October 2007 Pew reported an outright shift in the pattern of Western tolerance when it named its latest survey results World Publics Welcome Global Trade—But Not Immigration.  


                II. Why is so Much of the Developing World Unhappy and

              Why are so Many Wealthy Nations Becoming Unhappy Also? 

Could it be that the most important thing is for people to have meaning in their lives and a close connection with God?  Can one truly be happy while disconnected with God?

Turning to focus on the rest of the world, by way of contrast, the data concerning the intolerance of Muslims and Arabs has a substantial and consistent track record. 

For example, according to the World Values Survey, in 2000 over forty percent of Egyptians reported not wanting to be neighbors with immigrants or foreign workers.  Over sixty percent mentioned not wanting to live next to people of a different race.  The figure for Iran was more respectable, however, a little over twenty percent.  The survey reported a similar figure for Iran when the question was about people of a different religion.  In Asia, approximately thirty-five percent of Indonesians (the world’s largest Muslim democracy) did not want to live next to members of different faiths.

To get an idea what the rest of the world is thinking, it’s interesting to note that the percentages of intolerance among Mexicans, South Koreans and South Africans were somewhere in between that of Western and Muslim nations.

So what does all of this have to do with God and the brewing Christian/Muslim “battle of civilizations”?  And, how do we account for these disparities in the rates of tolerating people who are different?

Among the Christian nations America seems to be slightly more tolerant than its European counterparts.  Significantly, in 2002 the Pew Global Attitudes Project announced that, “Among wealthy nations…US stands alone in its embrace of God.”[7]  They further stated that, “Six-in-ten (59%) people in the US say religion plays a very important role in their lives.”  These numbers have been consistently steady in Gallup polling for more than half a century. 

The numbers for Great Britain and Germany were thirty-three percent and twenty-one percent, respectively.  In Asia, Pew said twenty-five percent of South Koreans, where there is a large amount of evangelical Christians, viewed religion as very important.  On the other hand, only twelve percent of Japanese thought religion was very important.

Somewhat surprisingly, the World Values Survey says that over ninety percent of Americans, Danish and Germans believe in God.  Great Britain lagged behind at about seventy-percent.

Americans seem to be slightly more tolerant than Europeans on the whole.  A key difference in levels of tolerance seems to be the seriousness or quality of one’s faith.  The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan reported in 1997 (using World Values Survey data) that forty-four percent of Americans attend church regularly.  Conversely, a Pew report stated, “Christians in European countries overwhelmingly self-identify with their respective nationalities rather than with their faith.”[8]

In contrast, “Fully 42% of U.S. Christians say they think of themselves as Christians first rather than as Americans.”

But, it cannot be overlooked that the Christian Democracy movement and political parties with strong theological underpinnings have been forces to contend with in Europe for generations.  In the Netherlands, the centrist Christian Democratic Appeal party has led a series of governments since 2002.  More recently an orthodox Christian party has joined the government for the first time.[9]

Even so, when it comes to having a strong and active faith in God Europeans are lagging behind.  However, when asked in the World Values Survey if there was a moral duty to help immigrants, high percentages of people living in Denmark, Germany and Great Britain said that they agreed with this reason either “Very Much” or “Much.”  Their faith is latent; hiding just under the surface.  It’s part of the European heritage.  Perhaps, Europeans reflexively respond that they are Christians who believe in God, but their faith apparently is not as important to them as to Americans.  Nevertheless, it has seemingly had an impact on their moral outlook.

The European media, in response to the 2006 riots over the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, felt it necessary to print additional offensive cartoons that intentionally blasphemed God and various faiths in order to prove that the secular “god” of free speech was more important to them than Christian, Muslim or Buddhist faith.  The American mass media generally did not follow suit.  Here, such behavior would not have been acceptable.

Despite this, there appears to be incontrovertible evidence that Christian nations, generally, are more tolerant of people of different backgrounds than Muslim ones.



              III. Why Are Christians More Tolerant Than Muslims?


I wade into this thicket at the risk of being labeled intolerant myself.

I believe that God blesses America because of its faith.  Europe was blessed for their history of Christian faith, especially prior to the Age of Reason.  It doesn’t matter that the collective history of faith in the West has been imperfect; more often than not our hearts are in the right place.  It’s guidance many of us lack.

We do well as Americans, comparatively, when it comes to faith and tolerance; but we have to do much better and reject the materialism and injustice that accompanies our free market systems.  This was a constant theme of the late John Paul II.

But, what about our Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters?  There is tremendous hope here because their rates of believing in God are at least as high as those of Americans and Europeans. 

The task at hand is to translate this faith into moral indignation to the point where common people will openly reject extremism.  This will result in more tolerance of people of different backgrounds and hopefully lead people to take action to defeat terrorism from within, among other things.  In addition, increased acceptance of outsiders, in the wake of globalization, may have an added benefit of boosting economic growth.

I am hesitant to conclude that Christian faith is qualitatively more highly favored by God.  Yet, if one believes in an active God the fact that the West is more blessed economically militates in favor of such a conclusion.  Nonbelievers might counter that it was the advance of science (the same trend that weakened religion) that caused this.  Belief in God’s omnipotence, however trumps this argument.  In addition, the absence of the massive additional blessing of the Holy Spirit, biblically promised only to Christian believers, may play the decisive role.  This may be the most important point.

Still, one is compelled to wonder why God gave the Christian West an appetite for oil, but gave Muslims so much of the oil.

Nevertheless, how do we rectify all of the conflict and intolerance on both sides?

Our task is made all the more difficult because of the image of the United States.  Why is Christian America so unpopular in the world?  The biggest obstacle to changing Muslim/Arab perceptions is our attitude.  Remember, we are supposed to love our enemy![10]

The goal is to be one.  There is so much more that unites the world than divides us.  Despite differences in race, gender, faith or nationality we all start with the same body, spirit and soul.  We should glory in the multi-hued cultural tableaux that God has created for us.  Indeed, diversity gives meaning.

When are we going to enthusiastically and honestly promote true love, unity and forgiveness?  The gospel holds the promise that people can change.  The bible teaches us to forgive and forget,[11] but we choose to divide and conquer.  We try to save through fear rather than love and hope.

Just about everyone is now coming around to accept the notion that the Arab-Israeli conflict plays a central theme in the “war on terror” that is exacerbating the disharmony in the world. 

The intolerance of both Arabs and Israelis is manifested in the wall that is being built around the West Bank.  Could it be, though, that Israel’s barrier wall, at least temporarily, might benefit peace efforts, if it gives both sides a respite from attack, in other words, security?  There’s that word again.  So far, only the Israelis have received the benefit of a decrease in suicide bombings, even though a small part of the country faces continual rocket attack.

I have always felt that Israel’s policies in the occupied territories were heavy-handed, unjust and intolerant.  Why would God bless the restriction of millions of people in jail-like conditions in the West Bank and Gaza in the midst of huge open “lakes” of sewage?  It is likely that none will feel secure until all feel secure.

This has always been a difficult issue for me.  Most of my time growing up in elementary school, I went to private school with a lot of Jewish kids.  I found them to be much more open and compassionate than people I came across later, especially when it came to race relations.  It’s no cliché, one of my best friends was Jewish and he and his friends taught me about tattoos, concentration camps and Nazis.

Later, as an adult after studying the history of the Middle East, a close family friend who is Jewish told me that many of Israel’s leaders supported a policy of incorporating the occupied territories into Israel until it became clear that the Palestinians were reproducing faster than the Israelis, thus jeopardizing the state’s Jewish majority.

This change in outlook was tragic.  Now that I’m a believer I know that the book of Ezekiel 47:22 commands the older policy: “It shall be that you divide it (Israel) by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the stranger who dwells among you…They shall be as native-born among the children of Israel…”[12]

Surely, ultimately God wants us to be together.  My reading of scripture doesn’t validate a Jewish or a Muslim state.  It is to be a land known for the fervor in its worship of God.

Holy Scripture contains prophetic words stating that Israel will become a holy state of believers in God that eventually becomes a Christian one.  It doesn’t tell us what form of state there will be in the interim.  The notion that it would be easier to convert Jews rather than Muslims, or that one side should be embraced to the exclusion of the other is not supported by scripture.  In fact, Muslims respect Jesus as much if not more than Jews already.

Last year I read that many Jewish rabbis and other leaders withdrew their support for an annual Christian event in Jerusalem because they deemed that it came too close to appealing to Jews to convert to Christianity.  I learned that Israel essentially outlaws Christian proselytizing.

If this were Iran, Saudi Arabia or China evangelical Christians would be screaming from the rooftops about the “persecuted church.”  They give Israel a pass because of their narrow-minded reading of scripture.

I also am concerned that in Israel, as in some European nations that have a historical connection to the holocaust, denying the holocaust is a crime.  How can preaching the gospel be a crime on par with challenging the facts of the holocaust?

Israel has put man, and his law, above God—in many ways.

Like Europe, they have embraced the secular.  America in many ways is worse.  God will not fully bless Israel, or the rest of the world for that matter, until we place our faith in God to protect us, not weapons.  Like America, Israel will be called upon to validate the credibility of their faith by risking the sacrifice of their lives to effectuate the words in the book of Ezekiel.  If they do so, they as we, will come under the increased protection of the Holy Spirit.

Then, everything else that we want in keeping with God’s desires that He has revealed to us in scripture will be effectuated as people are drawn to us because of our authentic faith.  God will in turn bless them; and they will notice differences in their lives and attribute them to their tolerance of Christians and Jesus Christ.  This will lead to more outright conversions over time.


                             IV. What Do We Do In The Interim?

Not embracing immigrants is one thing, but some separation doesn’t necessarily have to be bad—such as the case with Israel’s wall. 

Forget the psychobabble and foreign policy for a minute and use your imagination.

What if races, religions, sects and tribes raised their children primarily around others of their own kind—at least initially?  This flies in the face of what most of us who have been fighting for diversity believe in.  But what if the children were really taught love, tolerance and righteousness from a godly viewpoint?  Not like the hypocritical, politically-correct, watered-down version that causes people to lie on surveys and claim it’s only the other guy who discriminates.  Of course, we all discriminate some, even if we don’t want to.

Some researchers have argued that girls learn better in same-gender classes.  This concept is similar in ways to the goals of the homeschooling movement.  Perhaps this concept should be expanded.

For whatever reason, people are usually more comfortable around their own kind.  Perhaps it’s acceptable, if not preferable to raise children this way; if, and only if it promotes the following: security, confidence and discipline.  This type of “isolation” is alright if through proper education children mature to be the type of people God would have us be who are guided by principles only and are willing to sacrifice to see them fulfilled.  These principles must be love, peace, righteousness and justice.

Once educated, they could be confidently unleashed on the world as powerful change agents, perhaps even hungry to experience other cultures openly.  This is not to say that all contact with others would be limited; the idea is to ease children into the diverse pool God has made for us, not throw us in the deep end unprepared.  And it will never work as long as racism, tribalism, sectarianism or any form of extremism, be it Muslim or Christian is countenanced.

Similarly, many adults may have to be re-educated like children.  Whether it’s Iraq, the Balkans or the occupied territories our forefathers have helped to draw borders that unnaturally combine different people groups in nations.  Drawing a country on a map doesn’t make you a “nation.” 

I’m afraid that many parts of the world may have to endure what I call a voluntary, peaceful “ethnic resettlement” if we are to ever get out of the trouble we are in.  Many will have a hard time swallowing something that looks like ethnic cleansing having fought it for so long—myself included.  Israel’s barrier should be a test case.

Some places in the world, like some people, may have to go backwards in order to move forward.  America has to help, but in a different way than we have been.  Our foreign policy promotes and over-emphasizes the wrong kind of security; that bought with a gun. 

It is not unnatural to protect the young or undeveloped, such as a butterfly in a cocoon.  But when God sends them out into the world to sow and reap, they should be embraced and their beauty admired.  And, they must embrace and admire the beauty in others who are different from themselves.

We don’t have to build a fence on our southern border, or arrest and deport thousands to accomplish this in America.  As Christians we just have to walk the walk not merely talk the talk.  In the end, immigration makes it easier for us to accomplish God’s will, at home and abroad.  We can go on foreign mission trips across town as well as across oceans.

And it should not matter that some of these immigrants are illegal when some of them have walked hundreds of miles to get here only to help feed their nearly starving families.  That sounds like God’s will to me not a crime.  In Israel’s case a fence may bring peace; in America a fence only serves to disturb the peace.

[2] Dying to Win, Robert A. Pape, Random House (2006), pp. 4-5

[3] I used results from the World Values Survey

[4] However, see this recent story about what’s going on in France: “A Veil Closes France’s Door to Citizenship” (New York Times, 7/19/08)

[5] American’s Views of Immigration Growing More Positive, released on July 10, 2006

[6] A Rising Tide Lifts Mood in the Developing World: Sharp Decline in Support for Suicide Bombing in Muslim Countries, released July 24, 2007

[7] Among Wealthy Nations…US Stands Alone in its Embrace of Religion, released, December 19, 2002

[8] See also Nation Master and "Is God Dead in Europe?" (USA Today, 1/8/06)

[9] Wikipedia entries; “Christian Democracy in the Netherlands,” “Christian Democratic Appeal” and “Christian Union;” also see “Changing Patterns in Social Patterns Test Netherlands’ Liberal Identity” (Washington Post, 6/23/07)

[10] Mathew 5:43-48

[11] Isaiah 43:25, Mathew 18:21-22 and Luke 17:3-4

[12] Parenthetical and emphasis added





"On Immigration, Poll Results & Thoughts of God (Part 1)"


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