Responses to Jamal Badawi's "Radio Al-Islam Channel RA 200"

Later Unitarians I : Servetus


In this series, on the "Latter Unitarians", Dr. Badawi takes great pleasure in discussing several figures whose views differed from the teachings of orthodox Christianity imagining that, in some way, the Unitarian viewpoint is close to Islam. There are several flaws in Dr. Badawi's approach:

1. All religions have "fringe" groups and heretical movements who, although they may retain some of the vocabulary and symbols of the orthodox faith, reject many of the religion's core tenants. Christianity has several heretical groups, the most popular are the Unitarians, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Mormons. Islam also has heretical movements including the Amadiyya, the Baha'i, and the Nation of Islam. Unlike Dr. Badawi, I would not quote the beliefs of these groups in a discussion with Muslims since their views do not represent the beliefs and teachings of orthodox Islam and are essentially irrelevant to interfaith dialogue.

2. Dr. Badawi is fond of accepting the arguments of heretical groups (especially the Jehovah's Witnesses and Unitarians) as his conclusions. The philosophical problem with this is that many of these arguments contradict the teachings of Islam as much as the beliefs of orthodox Christianity. In other words, because Badawi and other Muslim apologists cannot make a decent argument based on the teachings of the Qur'an, their opponent's (Christians) opponent (heretical groups) become their allies.

3. Dr. Badawi also takes great pleasure in discussing the cruel punishments that were meted out on heretics and dissenters by those who claimed to represent the orthodox Church. It is morally wrong to harm anyone for what they do, or do not, believe. The fact that this happened centuries ago does not diminish the cruelty of these acts. Some might claim that these persecutions occurred at a point in history when humans were less educated and enlightened, and this may be partially true. My question to Dr. Badawi is: why is he so silent on the atrocities committed by Muslims? Even today, many heretical groups are persecuted by orthodox Muslims including the Baha'is and the Ahmadiyya, as well as "freethinkers" like Anwar Shaikh and , Nasr Abu Zaid.

In this case, we examine the teachings of the Unitarians. Unitarianism is a religion in which each member enjoys complete freedom in his or her individual religious opinions. The emphasis is on free thought and reason instead of divine revelations. In this respect, Unitarians are also far from Islam and I have never met a Unitarian (and I know several) who believe that the Qur'an is from God. There is no set of doctrinal propositions on which all Unitarians agree. The only bond between Unitarians is their anti-dogmatic tendency, not their uniformity of belief. The authority of the Bible is in some degree retained in some Churches, while in other Churches non Christian texts are also read and studied. Ultimately, most Unitarians believe in the use of individual reason, not revelations or scriptures, to reach God.

Host: Did the Unitarians have any contact with the reformation movement?

Jamal Badawi: Yes, several tried to initiate contacts to re-establish the teachings of Jesus, the most important was Servetus who was born in Spain, there were others also. Servetus tried to win Calvin over but it appears that the leaders of the Reformation only wanted to reform certain aspects, like the Church organization instead of revising the Church dogmas.

Servetus and the leaders of the Protestant reformation were outraged by the same shortcomings of the Roman Catholic Church. Servetus, after attending the coronation of Emperor Charles V at Bologna in 1530, became very distressed by the Pope flaunting his wealth and the Emperor's deference to the worldly Pope. It was, in fact, contact with reformation leaders in France and Switzerland, which led him further away from Catholicism. Following personal study of the Scriptures, he rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and published his book, "Errors of the Trinity", in 1531, attracting the condemnation of both Catholics and Protestants alike. Many of Dr. Badawi's arguments are copied from Servetus' selective analysis of the Bible.

Host: Could you tell us more about him?

Jamal Badawi: He wrote about the blood circulation. According to the book Jesus a Messenger or Prophet of Islam by Rahim, is based on Christian sources. He was born in Spain in 1511 during unrest in the Church. When he was a child, Luther began his revolt. The relationship between Christians and Muslims in Spain began to change, the Christian crusades created an atmosphere of hatred against Muslims and Jews. The Spanish inquisition sought to force non Catholics to convert, or die. Servetus was appalled at the bloodshed and looked to the Bible to see if this is supported. He found that Trinity had no foundations in the Bible.

The Spanish Inquisition was terrible. Those who participated in this brutality were not following the example of Jesus of the teachings of the Bible. Unlike the Qur'an (see Suras 8:12, 9:5, 9:29, 9:73, and 9:123), the teachings of Jesus do not sanction tormenting or killing religious dissenters.

Host: Servetus had some interesting ideas, did he share them?

Jamal Badawi: He felt that it was his duty to tell the world. He knew that if the truth were followed, Muslims, Jews, and Christians would be much closer in their beliefs. He thought that the Trinity could be disproved by the Bible.

He was wrong. The Bible supports the doctrine of the Trinity.

He thought that the best channel to get his ideas out was the reformation. The argument was organizational and not theological.

He was wrong again. The leaders of the Reformation wanted to have a reformed Church based on the teachings of the Bible - which support the doctrine of the Trinity.

The teachings of the Bible were a threat to the teachings of both the Catholics and the Protestants because Jesus never claimed divinity.

Jesus did claim divinity according to the Bible!

Mark 14:61-64:

But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death.

Matthew 16:15-16

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Did Jesus object to Peter's statement? No!

Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.

John 5:17-19:

Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

How did Jesus respond?

Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does

Please think about what Jesus said in this passage and put aside Dr. Badawi's attempts to distort it out of context. Jesus cannot do anything by himself and can only do what the Father does because He and the Father are One. Jesus does not say that he can only do what the Father tells Him to do, He can only do what the Father does, making Him equal to the Father. In fact, Jesus is doing what God is doing, which makes them One! If you question my interpretation, ask yourself one question: why did the Jewish leaders want to execute Jesus for blasphemy if He was merely saying that He can do only what God allows, or tells, Him to do? Unlike Dr. Badawi, these men understood exactly what Jesus was saying, but like Dr. Badawi, they did not believe.

The Catholics and Protestants joined forces to stop Servetus. He approached the leaders of the Reformation personally starting with Calvin and tried to explain that Jesus was a human and the true teachings had to be re-established. He went to Basle saying that Jesus did not pre-exist, the Prophets spoke of Jesus in the future tense and his ideas were not accepted. He went to Germany but could not practice medicine because he did not know German. He went to Lyon and corresponded with Calvin, but Calvin did not pay much attention. He concluded that it is futile to work through the Church so he used other means which hastened his tragic end.

Jesus did pre-exist according to the Bible:

John 8:58:

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"

John 17:5

And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

John 17:24:

"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Host: How did he try to express his views, did he go public?

Jamal Badawi: Yes he did, in 1531 he published two books The Errors of Trinity and The Two Dialogues on Trinity. The Church was shaken and they began to hound Servetus who changed his name. His fatal error was his child like faith in Calvin. After Calvin read these books, he hated him and thought him dangerous. He thought that there were two dangers: threat to the religious establishment and the leaders of the Reformation did not want to go too far from the Catholic Church because there would be more persecution. Even Luther publically condemned him in 1539.

I cannot defend the proceedings against, and punishment of, Servetus - both were morally wrong and against the teachings of Jesus. However, it should be remembered that the principles of religious toleration were unknown during the life of Calvin, just as they are unknown in some countries today.

Host: How did he earn his living?

Jamal Badawi: He worked as a physician. He lived in a house of a friend of his named Peter Palmia who was the Catholic Archbishop, and that is interesting because some of the top leadership of the Church knew that the Trinity was not true.

The fact that someone, in this case an Archbishop, took pity on Servetus and hid him from the authorities does not prove that he agreed with the heretical ideas of Servetus. Dr. Badawi's conclusion, which is not supported by any historical evidence, is simply absurd. Did the Christians who risked their lives to save Jews in World War II do so because they believed that Christianity was untrue? Of course not! They, and the Catholic Archbishop, were following the teachings and example of Jesus Christ when they risked all to protect their fellow human beings.

Host: Did he contact Calvin in this time?

Jamal Badawi: He had a lot of correspondence and Calvin became the leading thinker of the Reformation. Servetus wrote The Restoration of Christianity in which he published 30 letters he wrote to Calvin. This upset Calvin. This book led to more condemnation and both Churches worked hard to stop him. In 1546, Calvin wrote to Servetus and told him if he came to Geneva, he would not allow him to escape alive. He did not believe it and went to Geneva where he found that Calvin was good to his threat and he collaborated with the Catholics and had him arrested and tried for heresy. Some of his former patients allowed him to escape to Naples, but he had to go through Geneva and he distinguished himself and someone recognized him and he was taken back to jail. He was tried and they said that he had no shame in opposing the Trinity and sentenced him to be burned at the stake with his books. On October 26, 1553, he was taken and fastened to a tree, a crown of straw was put on his head, bundles of wood were put around his legs, and the fire was lit. He suffered for two hours before he died. The book Errors of Trinity was put at his feet and some say that it was rescued from the fire.

Dr. Badawi, as usual, omits a great amount information in order to make Calvin appear worse that he actually was. It is true that Calvin had some role in the arrest and imprisonment of Servetus, however, Calvin objected to burning him alive. Calvin said:

"I desire," says he, "that the severity of the punishment should be remitted." "We endeavored to commute the kind of death, but in vain."(Fox's Book of Martyrs)

Farel said to Calvin:

"By wishing to mitigate the severity of the punishment, you discharge the office of a friend towards your greatest enemy."

Turritine said:

"historians neither anywhere affirm, nor does it appear from any considerations. Nay, it is certain, that he, with the college of pastors, dissuaded from that kind of punishment."

Some claim that Calvin had a great deal of influence with the magistrates of Geneva and that he could have obtained the release of Servetus if he really wanted to do this. However, this not true because Calvin was once banished from Geneva by these very magistrates, and often opposed their arbitrary measures in vain. If Calvin wanted Servetus dead, then why did Calvin warn him of the danger of coming to Geneva? In fact, Calvin visited Servetus in prison and used every argument to persuade him to retract his false statements.

Host: Have any of his writings survived?

Jamal Badawi: Some quote his works. He said that the philosophers invented the third being, the Holy Spirit, and made the Trinity three Gods. They mean that there are three beings which are different and distinct. One is born of a mother (Jesus), the other is breathed out of the other two (Holy Spirit). All three are separate in one jar. By admitting the Trinity, they admit a plurality of beings, entities, essences, and substances. We would have a plurality of Gods. He could not accept that three distinct persons can not be of the same essence. Some say that they are constituted together, but he said that this is not possible. He thought the effects of this belief turns our attention to three phantoms instead of thinking about God. The three beings confuse and delude us. The Church feared that his ideas would reach the common man.

Servetus was a brilliant man, however, he was wrong. By attacking the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, Servetus ignored the teachings of Jesus and, sadly, confused and deluded himself.

Andrew Vargo

Responses to "Jamal Badawi's "Radio Al-Islam Channel RA 200""
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