Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a courageous and intelligent woman. Born in Somalia, she immigrated to the Netherlands in 1992. She served in the Dutch parliament from 2003- 2006. While living in the Netherlands she worked for the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society and worked to defend the rights of Dutch Muslim women. She worked with film director Theo van Gogh to create the movie Submission, which tells the story of a woman's life of abuse and shame within an interpretation of Islam that is oppressive to women. After the movie aired on Dutch television, van Gogh was killed. Ali now lives in the United States.
On Sunday August 15, 2010, she appeared on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS. During her conversation with Zakaria and Irshad Manji, the author of The Trouble with Islam Today: a Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith, Ali called for Muslims to abandon Allah. She said: "I'm not a Christian, but Christ as he has evolved in the concept of the people who believe in Him, has become a cuddly God who is all about love and paternity, and I think maybe for those Muslims, especially those who are seeking a better life coming to America, perhaps it's better for them not to just leave their home behind but also their God behind."
When I heard the description of Jesus as "cuddly God," I thought that this was a serious misconception of who Jesus is and what Jesus requires. There is a long history of a portrayal of Jesus as a figure bathed in heavenly light, looking heavenward with dreamy eyes. It is not an image of a man who looked at the awful aspects of the world around him and touched it with compassion. It is not the image of a man who cast out demons, outwitted his opponents, touched the untouchable, and loved the unlovable. The word "cuddly" connotes a teddy bear God whom we hold onto for comfort. It does not connote a challenging God who requires radical love.
Jesus calls for love that is yoked with justice. It is a love that compels equity for those who live on the margins of society. It is a love that loves the outcast and the despised. There is nothing "cuddly" about a God who commands us to turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, and love our enemies. There is nothing cuddly about a God who will defend a woman caught in adultery simply by writing in the dirt.
The love that Jesus requires from those who follow him is the love of 1 Corinthians 13: "It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." It is not a thin-skinned, easily offended love that countenances fear. It is a love that is so pervasive, so strong, so insistent that it leaves no space for fear. It is complete. The love that Jesus calls us to is a courageous love.
It is a love that is not threatened by a mosque and community center near a place of heart-breaking human tragedy. It is a love that has the power to turn that tragedy into a triumph of the human spirit and will to overcome the forces of violence with the forces of good. The love that Jesus demonstrated and expects from those of us who claim to follow him is a radical love of acceptance and of transformation. It is a love that loves in spirit and in truth.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.