Monday, November 9, 2009

Violence in Scripture

In any discussion with a Muslim about the obvious shortcomings of the Quran, a Christian apologist will be confronted with a blizzard of biblical passages that show how evil, depraved, and violent the Judeo-Christian tradition is. Muslims do this in an attempt to deflect the obvious passages in the Quran that give lie to Islam as “The Religion of Peace”, as well as other claims that Allah is the God of Abraham and Jacob. There are a number of logical problems with this tactic of Muslims, however.

Problem #1: Attacking another is not a defense. 
Standard Islamic rhetoric is to attack Christianity in an attempt to draw moral equivalency. This is an empty argument, since moral equivalency goes far deeper than just throwing scripture back and forth. One can easily cherry pick objectionable passages from the scripture of any religious body. The question needs to be examined with a wider frame of reference.
One critical point is how the proponents of each religious tradition apply their scripture? We have ample evidence that Jesus never killed anyone. He never stole anything. He never used his position for his own enrichment or self-aggrandizement. There’s no evidence that he fornicated or even had sexual relations with anyone. He forgave his persecutors, even as they killed him. When confronted with situations where the scripture dictated a death sentence, he taught forgiveness and tolerance. One critical point about Jesus is that he operated within the existing framework of religious law as passed down from Moses and previous prophets.

Muhammad, on the other hand, wasn’t constrained by previous law or scripture. He freely made it up as he went along to suit himself. He paid lip service to whatever Judeo-Christian scripture suited him, although he always failed to understand the underlying lessons, and frequently mis-stated the stories in ways that directly contradicted the written scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. He routinely killed those who disagreed with him. He assassinated critics, and presided over massacres such as that of the helpless Banu Qarayza tribe of Jews in Medina. He and his followers made a life of banditry and looting, and justified it on the basis of religious commandments from Allah, with whom only Muhammad could communicate. Muhammad got a 20% cut of all the loot collected, which he distributed in the form of bribes to ensure the loyalty of his followers. He condemned everyone who disagreed with him, and extracted vicious and cruel revenge. He tortured people, building a fire on one man, and ordering an old woman to be dismembered by tying her limbs to camels. He was a sexual libertine, having relations with any woman who struck his fancy. This is dismissed by Muslims as they point out that he was married to them, which was not always true. The Muslims who support this morality fail to tell you that marriage in Muhammad’s cult took no consideration of the woman’s desires. Muhammad had no qualms about taking a “wife” to his tent before the dead bodies of her murdered father and husband were even cold.

A fundamental basis of both Christianity and Islam is that the adherents of each seek to emulate the example set by the founder of each religion. Christians who engage in violence and atrocities are not doing so because they’re following the example of Christ.  On the contrary, Christ never did these things, so one cannot condemn Christianity as the source of such acts of evil. Muslims on the other hand can and do justify their actions by pointing out that their prophet behaved in a similar fashion. This behavior on the part of their prophet is conveniently ignored by the more moderate, “peaceful” Muslims.

Problem #2: Relevance
Critics who attempt to paint Judeo-Christian scriptural violence as equivalent to violence documented in the Hadith and endorsed in the Quran usually quote heavily from the Pentateuch, which is supposed to have been recorded in the time of Moses. These first five books are the foundation upon which two thousand years of documented Judeo-Christian scripture was based. The laws given then were harsh, and had the specific purpose of separating the Israelites who escaped from Egypt from their slave mentality and contamination from pagan influences. No Jew or Christian today maintains that the letter of the Mosaic law be observed in detail today. This position is justified based on later developments in the four thousand year relationship between the God of Abraham, the Jews and subsequently the Christians. The Judeo-Christian is a documented history of the development of the ongoing relationship between God and Man.

Islam on the other hand, has a point source in history. It was revealed in its entirety in the space of twenty years to a single man. It has no precedent, and no modifying antecedent. Moreover, tradition holds that the entirety of the Quran was recorded in Heaven before the universe was created (There are obvious problems with this supposition, but they’re outside the scope of this discussion). Therefore the Law as given to Muhammad is the law for all time, past, present and future, and immutable (well, Muhammad could modify it, and often did, because he was making it up. But no one else had that privilege).   Islamic scholars have no basis on which to justify any claim that parts of the Quranic law may be ignored today. This is borne out when one examines sharia law, which so many Muslims are pressing to be implemented in the west. Sharia calls for a positively medieval approach to justice, and anyone who subscribes to it cannot in any way be considered a “peaceful” Muslim.

Problem #3: Tone
The general tone of a piece of scripture may be discerned as a balance between what we would consider hateful, violent passages, and peaceful, uplifting passages. In the Christian example, we may further refine the general tone by assigning a greater weight to more recent scripture than the ancient texts. There’s no doubt that Mosaic law was very harsh, as is Islamic law. However, I challenge you to find a single passage in the Quran that equates to 1 Corinthians 13. There is nothing in the Quran that compares to the Beatitudes detailed in Matthew 5. The word love is hardly used in the Quran, and when it is it’s only in the context of things that please Allah. The challenge of the Quran says to bring forth a revelation that is equal to it. I have just provided two passages from the New Testament that exceed anything the Quran has to offer in both composition and content.

Taken as a whole, the Judeo-Christian scripture is a promise of hope and salvation; of enlightenment and the love of God for mankind. Sure, there are violent, harsh passages.  But they're the exception, not the rule, and they usually derive from the most ancient texts.  The Quran is a testament of pettiness and inconsistency, about a hateful, spiteful, tyrannical, self-absorbed deity who has little or no regard for the fruits of his creation except as they can serve him as slaves. The Quran is consistently harsh, with seeming every declarative ending in hellfire for the infidels and self-congratulation on how great and beneficent Allah is.  It gets pretty old, pretty quick.

Problem #4: Consistency
As was discussed previously, most of the Judeo-Christian scripture passages that Muslims wave to demonstrate moral equivalency date from the very earliest days of recorded Jewish history. Subsequent developments in the Judeo-Christian experience have rendered most of these moot. They no longer apply because the theology no longer requires it. In other words, the relationship between Judeo-Christian people and their God has matured beyond the need for such harsh laws, much as the relationship between a parent and a child matures as the child grows in years and wisdom. The mature theology recognizes that the Judeo-Christian society has matured to embrace a system of values which reflect the spirit of the law. As God taught Moses, there is nothing new in the Commandments. They are merely codifying the law that’s already written in men’s hearts. Where one can easily find an objectionable passage in the old law, it has been softened and mitigated as the law developed over thousands of years of God interacting both directly and indirectly with the faithful.

In Islamic scripture, the situation is reversed. Muslims are quick to quote peaceful sounding, conciliatory passages from the Quran which seem to speak to the general welfare of mankind. They use these passages especially when courting a potential convert to the faith. Islam is peaceful. Islam is tolerant. The problem is that all of these passages were “revealed” to Muhammad during his time in Mecca, when Islam was no more than two dozen adherents, and he had no political power. There are a plethora of contradictory passages which advocate the death of infidels and non-believers, and assign such to some pretty imaginative punishments in Hell. All of these harsh, intolerant passages were revealed in the later period in Medina, where Muhammad had fashioned himself into a warlord. Islamic scholars have been forced to reconcile these contradictions through a school of abrogation, where later revelations supercede earlier. In fact, Muhammad himself was buttonholed on this point by followers who remembered what he said. Consequently “Allah” revealed that he will make Muhammad forget a surah, and replace it with a better one.

Now stop and think about this for a second. . . .The Quran was recorded before time began, and Muhammad was made to memorize it. That’s Muslim tradition. Yet in the space of the twenty years of revelation, Allah made Muhammad forget parts, and then replaced them with better parts. With a story like this, you expect anyone to believe that a deity who indulges in this sort of tomfoolery is actually the author of creation? I don’t buy it. I don’t see how anyone possibly can.

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