David Eugene Edwards
Face, voice and conscious of 16 Horsepower
By Danny Koks, photography Titia Hahne
from Dutch magazine OOR, issue 1, 20 January 2005.
A conversation with David Eugene Edwards is never just a chat. All his answers stem from the pious Christian's faith which is as firm as a rock. A dialogue like that gets a wholly different turn when the topic of conversation isn't music, but a sequence of events of which we had always thought: this will never happen in our country.
It is November 2004 when David Eugene Edwards and his band Woven Hand play the Patronaat in Haarlem. One of the most turbulent months in recent Dutch history is drawing to a close. A month in which writer and director Theo van Gogh lay dead in an Amsterdam street with knives in his body. Murdered by a Muslim extremist in the name of religion. A month in which mosques were burning and Special Forces snipers took their positions on the roofs of a working-class quarter in The Hague. We are in Haarlem to speak with the deeply religious Edwards about the new DVD 16HP by his other band 16 Horsepower. But what does a DVD matter when the country is on fire? The newspaper headlines, the images on the news, the doubt, the general collapse of society: it all leads to bringing up other subjects then a DVD.
Early this year there was a big fuss about Mel Gibson's movie The Passion Of The Christ. What did you think of that movie?
'Not a lot, actually. It was just a movie, without further use or purpose. I already knew the story. It looked good, though. Authentic. More accurate than all the other films about Jesus that have been made before. It looked like it could have looked back then. But I didn't leave the cinema with the feeling that I should advise all my friends to go and see it. During some scenes I felt a little bit uncomfortable. Like the scene in which Mary is depicted as a small child, or the one when the devil is disguised as a woman and is carrying a child. I didn't quite understand what the director tried to get at. But apart from that, it was just a movie about a story that people have known for thousands of years.'
Do you understand why it was such a controversial movie for some people?
'Yes and no. Mostly the controversy was ridiculous. I understand that some Jewish people thought that The Passion Of The Christ represented them disreputably. The movie is obviously a Catholic interpretation of the story of Jesus' last days and the Catholic Church has been accused of anti-Semitic sentiments ever since it was founded. The other controversy pertained to signals from the movie-industry that the movie was too bloody and too explicit. For people who earn their living in Hollywood that is a ludicrous statement. In 95 per cent of the movies people blow each other up, smash their brains in with a baseball bat or shoot someone's head off.'
But this was about Jesus.
'Irrespective of who is being whacked, for someone from the movie-industry this argument cuts no ice. I would understand it if this objection came from people who didn't want to hear about this story at all. They will challenge a movie like The Passion Of The Christ from any possible point of view and any stand they can take. But anyhow, those people aren't interested in the Gospel anyway. According to me this all springs from the fact that we live in a time in which the story of Jesus is the last thing we want to deal with. They simply don't want to see it, hear it or talk about it, and so they then cry out that it's such a cruel movie. Of course it's cruel. But then, the dust this film may have raised has already settled. It hasn't changed lives radically.'
'That it was all represented so realistically doesn't mean that the story has gripped me more than it had already done. When Jesus was still walking among the people, talking with them, touching them, even then most people didn't want to have anything to do with him. The whole town turned out when the Romans caught him and they shouted: 'Crucify him, crucify him!' When he hadn't done anything wrong. He cured the ill, performed miracles and spoke about love and forgiveness. If people didn't believe him then, why would they believe him now just because they saw that movie? Has His story become more important because Mel Gibson filmed it?'
I'm asking you this because recently there has been a murder in The Netherlands that has affected the county to the core. A Muslim has murdered Dutch moviemaker Theo van Gogh because in one of his movies he made a stand against the oppression of women within Islam. If you were a Muslim, would you then be able to say: 'it's only a movie?'
'From what I know of the Koran, Islam seems to be a religion that oppresses both men and women. The heart of Islam is violent. Mohammed was a fighter, a warrior. If you didn't believe in him he slaughtered you. Nowadays there are also moderate Muslims, but I wonder if you can really live according to the letter of the Koran and at the same time call yourself moderate. The Koran is the Koran. You could interpret it and make it more moderate. The same way a lot of people deal with the Bible. They omit or just skip the parts they don't like or approve of.'
What makes your faith different from Islam?
'Christianity is not oppressive, it is being oppressed. Affliction, pain and poverty. Jesus said about that: 'This is how it will be.' That is how he lived his life. When Christianity started Christians were hunted and murdered by people with different beliefs. They saw that Christians went to Communion (receiving Christ via bread and wine) and spread the rumour that all Christians were cannibals. That they actually ate human flesh and drank their blood. And they spread more lies about Christians, purely to find an excuse to persecute them. But Christians have never murdered those people who were blazoning forth lies. They never revolted against it. All the apostles were stoned to death, boiled or hanged. But they underwent their fate without calling for the killing of dissenters.'
Yet the Catholic Church has murdered thousands, if not, millions of people in the name of God.
'Oh, absolutely! Just think of the crusades, the burning of witches and what have you. The Catholic Church killed people left and right. They want to kill Martin Luther when he nailed his 95 theses for reform to the Wittenberg church door. Countless American colonists fled Europe for fear of being killed by the Catholic Church.
So you distinguish between religious organizations like the church and religion itself?
'Exactly, man can claim whatever they want, but the Bible itself breathes not a word about killing dissenters or non-believers. I'm a protestant myself, therefore I attach no value to Catholic matters like the Pope, bishops or praying to saints or Mary. The bible opposes those practises, so I can't comprehend how the Catholic Church can advocate them.'
Can you understand that Mohammed B. (Van Gogh's murderer) was willing to kill Van Gogh because he felt had insulted his religion?
'Naturally, I don't agree, but I do understand. In a way he's loyal to his faith, perhaps even more than a moderate Muslim is. I don't even know what that term means, a 'moderate' Muslim. For the sake of clearness: I don't hate Muslims. I don't believe that Allah is god, but that doesn't mean I will kill Muslims because they're not Christians. But they possibly want to kill me because I'm not a Muslim.'
So it all depends on how you interpret the Scriptures?
'Of course there are radical currents within Islam, like there are within Christianity. Take Waco (in 1993 David Koresh set fire to the headquarters of his sect in Waco, Texas, killing 77 sectarians) or other similar incidents in the U.S. Those events are miles away from the Word in the bible. It is nothing more than some fool with a bizarre distortion of the Word who actually managed to find people who wanted to believe his interpretation and were willing to die for it. They are the extremists in Christianity. But nowhere in the Bible does it say that you should lead you life like that.'
'When you read the Bible and then the Koran, you will see the difference. If the Koran dictates you to do something that the rest of the world regards as a crime, what should you do then? If you follow the Koran to the letter then you're an extremist. If you don't then you're actually saying: 'True, it does say that in the Koran, but that is no longer applicable, we shouldn't live like that.' So you can interpret it in numberless ways, and dependent on how it is interpreted Islam can be anything between the most peace-loving and the most resentful religion. But if you take the Koran literally, then you are what most people call an extremist.'
Christianity is six hundred years ahead of Islam in its development. In the Middle Ages heretics were condemned to the stake in Europe. Some theologians claim that Christianity went through a phase of enlightenment and consciousness and that Islam as a religion is still too young for that.
'I don't understand what they mean with that phase of enlightenment and consciousness, when did Christianity go through that?'
When the Church stopped burning people.
'But the bible hasn't changed. It still is what it is and it still says what it says. The problem is that people interpret the Scripture in a way that suits them best. When Martin Luther renounced the Catholic Church, he didn't do that because he was 'enlightened' all of a sudden, or because a new revelation had made him repent. No, he broke away simply because he had read the book properly and he saw that the Church didn't act like it said in the Bible. You are not redeemed of your sins when you give money to the church, you can't escape hell thanks to indulgences. None of that is in the Bible, those are rules made up by man. People who are infatuated with power and money. Martin Luther was a Catholic monk. He didn't eat, slept on the ground without blankets, repented. But nowhere in the Bible could he find that he should live like that. So he read everything again attentively and realized that the believers had drifted far away from Jesus' real intentions.
Do radical Muslims today do what Luther did in his day: read what it says?
Isn't it a scary idea that simply reading what it says can lead to such extremes?
'I don't see the world as subdivided into different religions. There are hundreds of religious, all believing in something different. But to me all those religious are false. Islam is a false religion, just like Buddhism or Hinduism. That is what the Bible says and I will not debate that. My trust and believe in the Bible are unconditional. The Bible is upright, merciful, loving, all the things that are necessary to make God God. But I will not preach against Muslims. That is not up to me. If people want to believe in Islam, I will pray for them and ultimately God decides what happens. There are also people who pray to the trees and the earth and maybe those people are awfully nice and lead a peaceful existence. But when you want to go to heaven it's not about what you do, but who you know.
Do you look upon Islam as a dangerous religion?
'Any religion that is not a religion of God is dangerous, even the most peaceful one. Anything that leads you away from the truth is dangerous and leads to death. That's what I believe, because that is what it says in the Bible. I am not necessarily looking for peace; I'm looking for truth. If peace is a result of that truth, fantastic. If joy is a result, wonderful. If sorrow, grief and pain are the results, I'll accept those too. I am not satisfied with something that isn't the truth, merely because it makes me feel good.'
Suppose that Mel Gibson would have wanted to make a statement with The Passion Of The Christ about the fact that Christianity condemns homosexuality. And he had decided to do so by having Jesus kissing one of the apostles. How would you react to that?
'I would consider that heresy, because it isn't written anywhere in the Bible, but I would not murder Mel Gibson because of that. But I'm also not claiming that all Muslims would do that, because they naturally won't. That murderer was just a loony. But I accept anything that is in the Bible as true. I believe that homosexuality, adultery and lust are sins. Some of these sins are my favourite things, I struggle with that continuously. But I know that Bible is right and that I'm wrong.'
Van Gogh's murderer found the justification for his murder in the Koran. Could you find the right to murder Gibson in the Bible?
'No. That is the fundamental difference between the Koran and the Bible. I don't pretend to be a scholar of the Koran, I'm only telling you now what I know and what I believe. Perhaps the killer thought that he interpreted the Koran in the right way. Just like the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages thought they were interpreting the Bible correctly when they were murdering all the Muslims in Jerusalem or drowning women to see if they were witches. Undoubtedly the Catholics then will have thought they were right and that they were following the word of God. But that doesn't mean that their truth is the truth.'
'You would think that if people actually had the ability to turn things for the better, that the world would be a better place after these thousands of years. But still we hate, we steal and cut off other cars on the highway. That is, very simply, because we are people. Without God we don't have the strength to do good or to change. Do you now understand that I can't discriminate between different religions? To me they all belong to the Devil. But that doesn't mean I hate those people or that I'm out to get them. I love those people, they are just like me. I am being cheated in my life too, just like them. I'm not a whit better.'