Punishing Apostasy

“Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.

“And he said unto them, Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.

“And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.”

This was the punishment the Lord commanded and Moses ordered for the Jews who had fallen down and worshiped the golden calf while he was on Sinai being given the Law, the First Commandment of which read: “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.”

The severity of the punishments Jews and Christians have imposed upon apostates comes to mind as one reads that Abdul Rahman, 41, is on trial in Kabul for having converted, 16 years ago, to Christianity.

Rahman was caught as he sought custody of two teenage daughters raised by their grandparents. He was found to be in possession of a Bible.

Confessing to being a Christian convert, Rahman has refused to recant and reconvert to Islam, preferring to die a Christian.

Under Sharia, strict Islamic law, a Muslim who rejects Islam is to be put to death. Rahman’s prosecutor, Abdul Wisi, declared: “He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one. We are Muslims, and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty.”

Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada, who conducted the one-day hearing, explained: “We are not against any particular religion. But in Afghanistan this sort of thing is against the law. It is an attack on Islam.”

Post-Taliban Afghanistan remains 99 percent Muslim. The Christians are numbered in the hundreds at most, and most remain secret Christians.

If Rahman is put to death, he would be a martyr. And if there is a way we Americans can spare this Christian, we should find it.

But the story of Abdul Rahman raises anew this question: Are not free elections in the Islamic world, where the masses are urged to vote, almost certain to empower the faith of those masses, militant Islam?

Two thousand years ago, Christians in Jerusalem, from Christ Himself to St. Stephen, were declared apostates to Judaism and suffered the fate that Rahman faces. For 300 years, Romans executed untold thousands of Christians, among them Sts. Peter and Paul.

When papal Catholicism became the faith of Europe, apostates and heretics were burned at the stake. In the Protestant England of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, Catholics, such as Thomas More, Cardinal Pole and priests like Edmund Campion, were martyred.

None of this is to endorse killing in the name of God, but to suggest that killing in the name of God, and, in our own time, in the name of the State, the race, the ideology — be it Nazism, communism or Maoism, or even democracy — has been the way of mankind.

Heretics during the Spanish Inquisition were forced to make an auto-da-f, a confession of faith, not only because Spain and Catholicism were one, but because heretics imperiled the faith that led to eternal life. By undermining that faith, apostates and heretics were risking the souls and salvation of the Spanish people. They were diverting men from paradise. Whoever threatened the faith in that time of belief would be like, in our time, the pimp who corrupts a young girl with narcotics to put her into prostitution.

Devout Muslims believe that apostates to Islam, the greatest gift they have, should get the same treatment patriotic Americans in 1950 thought should be meted out to Soviet spies and communist traitors.

To devout Muslims, Islam is worth dying for, and killing for. This is a belief that the secularist mind, which regards religion as anything from an addiction of the feeble-minded to a substitute for Valium, cannot fathom. But that is a deficiency of modernity. For we all have, or have had, causes for which we, too, would kill.

Lenin executed more people in his first year than the Spanish Inquisition did in 300 years, said Solzhenitzyn. Mao’s body lies in a crystal sarcophagus in Tiananmen Square, though he killed many times more Chinese than the Western and Japanese imperialists put together.

The Christian West partook of two of the greatest mass slaughters of human history, World Wars I and II, featuring poison gas and the carpet bombing and atomic bombing of cities to advance the cause of democracy — that same democracy Islamic peoples now use to advance the cause of Islam and Islamism.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire.