Monday, October 10, 2011

Biblical Glass Houses?

Monday is religious opinion day in today's USA Today "Forum" section. Though there are occasionally some fair, thoughtful articles here, this weekly column is usually my go-to source for blogging material -- and usually not because the column in question is fair to Christianity. Today is one of those days.

Tom Krattenmaker's ("a Portland-based writer specializing in religion and public life") piece is titled, "Holy Texts As Unholy Weapons," and its tagline warns us that "Whether it's the Bible or the Quran, believers must police acts of good and evil" -- the point being that the books associated with the two incompatible (editor's note) religions are really not all that different. "Let's face it," says Krattenmaker, "Whether it's Christians or Muslims, stone-throwers ought to realize that their own houses are glass." Both the Bible and the Quran have an equal culpability for condoning and justifying the violence and gruesomeness they contain. Being good pluralists, we should realize this and never engage in the:
too-common practice ... of plucking certain passages from the Quran (while ignoring the many peace-preaching verses) and marshaling them as "proof" that Islam is inherently violent.
Well, I am not one whose innocence allows me to throw stones. But I also reject the idea that Krattenmaker's admonition leaves me stranded in a glass house. I have written a little on this topic before (here and here), so I just want to respond with two points.

First, there is no doubt that the biblical passages that record God's command to wipe the Amalekites and Amorites off the face of the earth are emotionally difficult to defend. When the Israelites are told to destroy every man, woman, and child of some tribe, it is hard to square with our view of a loving God we honor and serve. But there are a few things to note here:
  • The utter evil that infused these cultures is hard to imagine. These were people who sacrificed small children by burning them alive. They had been given multiple chances to change their ways and warnings about what would befall them if they didn't. The sacrificial and sexually-charged societies (to include the practice of bestiality) they represented had infused these practices into many generations of inhabitants and there was every indication that their ways of thinking had infected the mindset of the entire society.
  • God also allowed his own people, the Israelites, to be decimated when they took up these same  practices of the abhorrently evil cultures that surrounded them.
  • The language that is used is obviously hyperbole. How do I know this? As Paul Copan points out in his recent book, Is God a Moral Monster?, the same people who were supposed to be obliterated in these relentless attacks continue to crop up later in biblical history! The simple fact is that these instructions were not carried out to the extent the language suggests they were.
We rightfully cringe at the command to obliterate an entire community of people, and I do not in any way diminish our responsibility to explain these difficult biblical passages. Nor do I relish having to do so myself. But the simple fact is that the loving, bearded, white-robed God we want to imagine as a our cosmic grandfather is also the Creator of the universe. He not only brought all reality into existence and can therefore do with it as He pleases, but his perfection demands that justice be done for those who rebel against Him. Justice is a scary concept when you are on the deserving end. And justice is not fairness. In fact, those who are pardoned of their rebellion against God get precisely what they do not deserve. If anyone is being treated unfairly in these stories, it is those who are spared from God's justice.

Second, conduct a thought experiment for a minute by considering the teachings of Jesus. Which of those teachings would lead one to believe that following Him entailed engaging in the violent behavior that Islamists perpetuate every day? The answer of course is, "None."

What Krattenmaker conveniently leaves out of his admonition against "proof-texting" the Quran, is the doctrine of abrogation that the Quran explicitly spells out. As I've said before:
This Islamic doctrine claims states that those parts of the Quran written after 622 AD (when Muhammad returned to Medina) overrule earlier verses. When you read these passages you find that it is the later passages that contain the commands to:
  • "fight and slay the unbelievers wherever you find them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war" (Surah 9, verse 5) or ... 
  • "Fight those who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor So, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth (Islam), even if they are of the 40 people of the Book, until they pay the jizya (Islamic tax) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
These passages are not "proof-texts" that are used to ignore the peaceful passages we find in the Quran; they are passages that the Quran itself says have been abrogated by Muhammed's newer, more violent, teachings.

Yes there are gruesome passages in the Bible. But these are descriptive passages that tell us the story of what happened in history. Conversely, the violence of the Quran is prescriptive of the remedies Muhammed passed down for his followers to carry out on the infidels that defied his teachings. One has to betray the teachings of Jesus to engage in violence. But when Muslims engage in violence, they are simply following Muhammed's prescription for the perpetuation of Islam.

One doesn't have to live in a glass house to see the difference.

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  1. Some good points here today, Bob.

  2. While you do have some interesting points, and I'm quite pleased you didn't use the cliche (and misinformed) reference to Jihad, you have blatantly quote mined the Quran. The first Sura you posted has to due with those who deliberately betray treaties. Not to mention many parts were added well after Mo's death, similar to the way the New Testament was written around 200 years after the death of Jesus.
    And sure, the entire agenda of genocide can be justified by calling the people they slaughtered to be evil, but remember that history was written by the victors.
    More worrying then the genocides is the full fledged endorsement of slavery, the laughable 'penalties' for rapists, and the idea of ignorance being acceptable propagated throughout the Bible. The usual argument to defend God's okaying of slavery is that "It was the culture at the time", or that "he simply moderated it". Does his morality change throughout time? Why is slavery, what would now be looked upon as being morally reprehensible, seemingly okay in the Bible? And not simply the racist form, nor the prevalent POW type, but the selling your daughters into sexual slavery type (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT).
    Now, pastor's and most Christians try and claim that the "Old laws were nailed to the cross". This isn't in the Bible, and in fact contradicts with Jesus and his views. Remember that Paul returns a slave to his master. (Which, interesting, most Historians say was illegal/frowned upon at the time, think America before the fugitive slave act.)

    So while I do not claim the Bible is worse then the Quran, simply remember that each and every day, you cherry pick your morality from the Bible. And not only that, but you have created a new sense of morality. No where in the Bible does it say slavery is wrong. Jesus claims people are free in heaven, but never speaks out against the practice of slavery, and his followers allow it. So if we do not get that from the Bible, where do we find it?

  3. Adam (your comments in italics),

    you have blatantly quote mined the Quran. The first Sura you posted has to due with those who deliberately betray treaties.

    I thought I explained this but maybe I wasn't clear or didn't give a complete explanation because I referenced other posts about this. The point is not what the Surah has to do with. The point is when it was written. The commands given by Muhammed after he returned to Medina in 622 supersede earlier passages. This isn't my theory -- it's the claim of the Quran itself known as the doctrine of abrogation.

    Not to mention many parts were added well after Mo's death, similar to the way the New Testament was written around 200 years after the death of Jesus.

    Your source for this? I ask because it is a commonly repeated myth that has no basis in fact. We have good evidence that most (all?) of the NT was written before 70 AD. Not one author mentions the destruction of the Temple that occurred that year. John even speaks of the Temple in the present tense in John 5. So, you're going to need to give me some evidence for this one.

    As for slavery, there is no denying the OT seems to endorse it. But what form of slavery are we talking about? The Israelites held "slaves" more as indentured servants. They were definitely not in any situation that would be considered similar to the modern definitions of the word. Jesus' silence on the matter is hardly a justification for claiming he endorsed it. Jesus didn't talk about a lot of things that are morally reprehensible. Does that mean he endorses all of them too?

    Finally, I don't "cherry pick my morality from the Bible." In fact, I see the Bible as simply reinforcing the morality or immorality of things we already recognize as being moral or immoral. I don't need the Bible to see that rape, and murder, and stealing, and lying ... are wrong.

    I appreciate your mentioning the "interesting points" you saw. Thanks for stopping by ...


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