Monday, April 8, 2013

Pondering Crucifixions

Yesterday, April 7, was the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, which occurs at the midpoint of Orthodox Christian Great Lent. Without minimizing or shying away from Christ's horrific sufferings, the Orthodox services offer poetically beautiful and moving hymns in praise of Christ and the means of His sacrifice, the "Precious and Life-Giving Cross."

For some profound reflections on the Cross and its placement at the midpoint of the Fast, you may wish to go here or here. What I would like to concentrate on instead is the practice of Crucifixion itself.

In one of the meditations on the Cross linked to above, the author provides this excerpt from Martin Hengel's book, Crucifixion:

Crucifixion satisfied the primitive lust for revenge and the sadistic cruelty of individual rulers and of the masses.  It was usually associated with other forms of torture, including at least flogging.  At relatively small expense and to great public effect the criminal could be tortured to death for days in an unspeakable way.  Crucifixion is thus a specific expression of the inhumanity dormant within men which these days is expressed, for example, in the call for the death penalty, for popular justice and for harsher treatment of criminals, as an expression of retribution.  It is a manifestation of trans-subjective evil, a form of execution which manifests the demonic character of human cruelty and bestiality. (p. 87)

It is all too common to view the practice of crucifixion as a form of torture and execution from antiquity which hasn't been used in nearly two millennia, yet this is hardly the case. In fact, crucifixion is a standard means of execution in Saudi Arabia, and there is a growing movement among Islamists to bring back crucifixion as the preferred means of punishment for a variety of crimes, including apostasy from Islam, "fitna," which is a pliable term which can refer to unbelief or mischief-making, or anything which goes against Islam and Shariah. This is explicitly taught in the Qur'an:

The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this: that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off… (Qur'an 5:33).

Ominously for Christians, strongly associated with fitna is "shirk," the associating of partners with Allah. Believing Jesus to be the Son of God is, for Muslims, one of the worst forms of shirk, and is therefore punishable by death, including crucifixion. 

And fight them until there is no fitna and [until] the religion, all of it, is for Allah. And if they cease - then indeed, Allah is Seeing of what they do. (Qur'an 8:39)

In one of the authorized hadiths, Muhammad himself said: “I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah, and he who professed it was guaranteed the protection of his property and life on my behalf except for the right affairs rest with Allah” (Sahih Muslim 30).  

Obviously, if Muslims take these passages from the Qur'an and the hadiths seriously, their fight against fitna — and against Christians — could go on for a very long time indeed. It certainly seems to be increasing in intensity, per the reports below.

Sometimes, the zealous Islamists get a little too excited, and have a hard time prioritizing between crucifixion and beheading, one of Islam's other favorite forms of execution, as in this recent story out of Saudi Arabia, where a man convicted of murder was beheaded first, then crucified. Obviously, he didn't suffer from the crucifixion at all. Perhaps it was done as a crime deterrent. 

Lately, the Saudis seem to be showing signs of restraint and moderation, having recently delayed the executions of seven men sentenced to death by crucifixion. 

Screen Capture from Video of Crucifixion in Yemen 

In August and September 2012, reports from multiple media agencies in Egypt pointed to Muslim Brotherhood operatives crucifying opponents of Egypt's MB president Muhammad Morsi. There were charges of "hoax" which were repudiated by Raymond Ibrahim, who also cited video footage of an Islamic crucifixion of a man in Yemen

In 2008, reports out of Iraq of atrocities committed against Christians included accounts of children as young as 10 years old being crucified. 

Nomikos Michael Vaporis, in his landmark book, Witnesses For Christ: Orthodox Christian Neomartyrs of the Ottoman Period 1437-1860, includes crucifixion as one of the many forms of execution used by the Turks, although most martyrdoms during the Ottoman oppression seem to have been performed by beheadings. 

I could go on and on with citations and links, but you get the picture: Islam shows remarkable continuity and consistency throughout its history.

I'll close by repeating portions of the quote from Martin Hengel's book, Crucifixion:

Crucifixion satisfied the primitive lust for revenge and the sadistic cruelty of individual rulers and of the masses...  It is a manifestation of... evil, a form of execution which manifests the demonic character of human cruelty and bestiality. (p. 87)

Gee. Let's look at this in list form:
  • Primitive, 
  • lust for revenge, 
  • evil, 
  • sadistic cruelty, 
  • demonic character, 
  • bestiality. 

Yet this is one of the top two explicit forms of execution mandated in the holy book of Islam, the Qur'an itself, as well as in the life and words of Muhammad. And this is being mandated and practiced today both by official courts in Islamic countries, as well as by Muslim mobs in Egypt and elsewhere.

And our government is sending our taxpayer dollars to the people who perform these atrocities.

God help us as the darkness gathers...