Religious extremists like ISIS carve bloody path through history


American Christians have more in common with ISIS than they may assume, says theologian Miroslav Volf. Some Christians may find the Yale Divinity School professor's comments difficult to swallow in light of a propaganda video released on Sunday that reportedly showed the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS militants in Libya. Volf says that many figures in both Christian history and American history thought about faith and politics in a similar way to modern Islamist extremists. He also says that even though he doesn't believe the Christian and Muslim faiths are one and the same, we should search out and celebrate the good commonalities. Volf is author of many books including, Allah: A Christian Response and Do We Worship the Same God?

RNS: With what we're seeing now with groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. What do you make of the persecution of Christians by Islamist extremists?

MV: I take it to be an extreme reaction to globalization processes, which are perceived as being driven by Western interests and are associated with Christian tradition. I see it as a form of extremism that is perceived by majority Muslims as out of step with what Islam is. Your run of the mill Muslims in many parts of the world will generally refer to Islamic State as un-Islamic state. I think it is an attempt to assert Islam as a political religion as a unity of religion and government. Now that's been a way religions have functioned throughout history--from Constantine until recently. America was founded by folks who thought like this.

RNS: America was founded by folks who thought like Islamist extremists?

MV: Like many Islamist extremists, yes. Which is to say, they believed God would bless this new experiment if we integrate our obedience to God's laws and we ensure that this is indeed a city set on a hill.

RNS: A lot of people say that violence is inherent to the Muslim faith. Is that correct or are violent expressions a distortion of their faith?