We were talking earlier this week about the queasy-making but documentably real phenomenon of horrific catastrophes unexpectedly resulting in good outcomes for certain individuals. The catalyst was the finding by social scientists that there are quite a few people driven out of New Orleans by Katrina who consider it a blessing, because it lifted them out of a terrible rut in the Crescent City.
In that same general genre, 9/11 was Charles Featherstone’s Katrina, in that it saved him from his own consuming anger resulting from a cruel childhood, and terrible experiences of injustice — an anger that found expression in militant Islam. Longtime readers of this blog know Charles’s story, first told here, and then later in a terrific memoir, The Love That Matters: Meeting Jesus In The Midst of Terror and Death.
Now, Charles tells his conversion story in the current issue of Christianity Today. Excerpts:
Some people look to faith for ideas of right and wrong, or some understanding of good and evil, or a set of principles with which to order the world. Not me. What I sought, what I ached for, was meaning and belonging. And Islam gave me both.
There is much I keep from that time as a Muslim. The Qur’an teaches that God gives freely to all creation, believers and unbelievers alike, and it is best to respond with thankfulness and wonder. And Muslims in America live their faith with tremendous courage in the face of a frequently hostile culture.
But Islam also provided religious and political fuel for my anger. At one mosque where I worshiped during the early 1990s, I fell in with a group of jihadis.
Later, he was working in downtown Manhattan on that day, and it happened, and a voice spoke to him. More:
At this point in my story, if you are looking for a rationale for why I turned to Christ, well, there isn’t one. This wasn’t an act of reason on my part. What happened was a cataclysm, the kind of divine intervention that drove Abraham to leave home, trusting in God’s promises. The kind of force that struck Saul blind on the road to Damascus
Read the whole thing — and, if you haven’t done so, buy Charles’s book. I’m telling you, this thing is a spiritual classic. It is a scandal that it has not gone to the top of the Christian bestseller list.
The headline for the CT piece is “Saved From Islam on September 11.” I winced a little when I read that, because having read Charles’s book, he looks on Islam in a more kindly way than the headline suggests. Nevertheless, the headline is accurate, if blunt, because it is true that all Christian converts are saved “from” some form of unbelief. If I were a Muslim, I would look at converts to Islam from Christianity as being saved “from” Christianity, because they are passing form unbelief in what I believed with all my heart to be the true faith to belief in the true faith.
Still, reading the headline, I thought about how sad I was years ago to read a story in The New York Times about survivors of the Rwanda genocide, in which Christians slaughtered Christians, converting to Islam because they had lost their faith in Christianity after living through mass murder by their co-religionists. I mean, I believed (and do believe) that those apostate Christians forsook Jesus Christ, and therefore the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I do believe that God will have special mercy on them, given what they endured. That said, it grieved me as a Christian to read quotes from Rwandan ex-Christians talking about how they had been saved from Christianity, which, in their view, had brought such a curse of violence and hatred to their land, or at least had failed to prevent it. I imagine Muslims of good will must feel sad in a similar way about Charles’s journey, even as we Christians rejoice.
I must say that I am feeling especially grieved today upon the news that the barbarians of ISIS have destroyed Mar Elian, a 1,500 year old monastery, and desecrated the relics of St. Elian, a Roman centurion martyred for refusing to renounce his faith. After all these centuries, it came to this. ISIS must be the most evil people on earth, with the possible exception of the North Koreans.