Sunday, February 3, 2008

What To Do With Bad Scripture?

It’s sometimes argued by Christians that the Koran commands Muslims to kill “the infidel”, including Christians, and that this is therefore evidence of the evil of that religion.

I’ve been unable to find that exact quote in the Koran. I can find snippets that certainly would support a view that the Koran encourages killing non-believers. I can also find Muslim websites explaining why the Koran does not encourage killing non-believers. Unsurprisingly, there’s a fair bit of logical squirming on those sites to justify what seems to be contradictory to the words of the Koran, but at least they make the very clear point that the Koran needs to be interpreted according to the societal context in which it was written, and they disown the inherited xenophobia.

Christians have exactly the same problem: much of the Bible advocates murder, slavery, rape, and may other acts abhorred by a modern moral code, and often these acts are advocated for the flimsiest of pretexts. A modern Christian will conduct some amazing theological feats of acrobatics to get around this. The most common is that the O.T. (in which most of these acts of barbarism are given holy sanction) was in some fashion replaced with the coming of Jesus and the New Testament’s moral code. This is an argument that deserves time and space for a full rebuttal, which I shan’t attempt here except to note that it’s extraordinary for any religion – including Islam – to publically state simultaneously that its holy book is the one, true, unadulterated Word of God, and every line and word in it is true and sacred, and in the next breath deny the relevance of three-quarters of it – yet still cherry-pick from it to justify anti-homosexuality, bigotry, and xenophobia. Evidently it is too much to expect consistency and rationality in religion.

I initiated this post with the object of underscoring that both Islam and Christianity have the problem of painting their creed as embracing and loving when their holy scriptures contain much that is the exact opposite. In light of the statements of both sets of scriptures, it is actually much to the credit of both Christianity and Islam as wholes that the vast majority of practitioners of both religions are peaceful, loving people who are guilty, at worst, of nothing more than being as prone to emotional outbursts as the rest of us. Please note that I am deliberately excluding such extremists as the Westboro Baptist Church or Al’Qaida from that statement, but those groups have as much relation to their “mother” religion as I do to a monkey – long ago there was a common ancestor, but that’s about it.

So in terms of holy exhortations to annihilate the non-believer, the score is about level. Please don’t use quotes from the other religion’s holy book to illustrate why the other, be they Christian or Muslim, are nasty, terrible people who secretly want to kill you the moment they can get away with it. The same argument can be used against you, and it is no more true of a typical Christian than of a typical Muslim.

If you truly wish to demonstrate the superiority of your faith, then it’s simple: take a lesson from the Buddhists and Taoists, take a deep breath, and stop espousing racism, xenophobia, and prejudice, for there is nothing that brings a religion more into disrepute than messages of hate.

Blind attacks on other religions without having the grace to acknowledge the same issues with your own comes a close second, however.

4 comments:

Alison said...

Tim, please give me examples of what you based this statement on,
"...much of the Bible advocates murder, slavery, rape, and may other acts abhorred by a modern moral code, and often these acts are advocated for the flimsiest of pretexts. A modern Christian will conduct some amazing theological feats of acrobatics to get around this" I do not agree and would like to refute this but I need to know what specific scripture from the Bible state approval of this behaviour. Thanks!

Tim Lamb said...

Hi Ali,

It's taken me a while to realise there was a comment! [Hangs head in shame]

Okay, I've made three claims, and I'll provide one instance of each - there are more.

Murder (killing nonbelievers): 2 Chronicles 15:12-13
Rape (overt approval of): Zechariah 14:1-2
Slavery: Leviticus 25:44-46

Anonymous said...

Hey Tim,
Wow I win the prize for taking the longest to respond- sorry and thanks for your patience.
Ok- first I will admit I was surprised by some of the scripture examples you gave- curious what your source is. I was expecting some other, more obvious scriptures, that are used to support this view but I will do my best to respond to these three you have provided:
1) For Murder of Nonbelievers- II Chronicles 15:12-13
Those 2 verses do not say that 'God says that whoever does not seek Me will die...' The Israelites entered into a covenant on thier own to seek the Lord. This was of their own accord- out of a desire to please God and draw close to Him. Now those who did not apparently were killed but it doesn't specify only non-belivers- just those who did not seek the LORD of Israel- could have been Israelites as well that were put to death...and also, it doesn't say any were actually put to death. Now from verse 15, it appears God acknowledged the people's attempt to draw close to Him and honor Him ('The LORD gave them rest all around')and with that you could have an argument (if you are not happy that God would approve of killing period) but I do feel I need to justify God. I believe He is perfect and just and all-knowing. Again, there are several instances in the Bible where God specifically tells the Israelites to kill a people and this was because these people refused to repent of their sin and were comitting such horrible acts as child sacfrifice etc. God wants that all should repent and turn to Him- He loves all and is very long-suffering (patient) but when He realizes a heart is hard and will not be softened, He will no longer strive to reach that person or people.

2) Overt approval of rape- Zecharaih 14:1-2
This is a prophecy. "Behold, the day of the LORD is coming". I think that is pretty obvious. And it describes an event that will occur in the future. During this event, women will be ravished. I do not see how this is overt approval or can be seen as any kind of approval by God of women being raped. Just because a thing happens does not mean God approves of it. The Bible contains a lot of history past and future. If I were to tell you about something bad that happened, you would not think I condoned it, just that I was reporting it. Now, again, there are some hard passages in scripture but this is not one of them.

3) Slavery - Leviticus 25:44-46
Now this is the scriptue I was expecting you to point out becuase this is a hard passage to read and wrap our 21st century minds around. I do not have a clever or 'gotcha' response- just that slavery was vast and how most people survived during these ancient times. Some, if treated well, chose to remain with their masters for their lifetime. God is giving here the guidelines for having and passing down slaves. I can see that this is shocking. You could have an argument that God approves of slavery I suppose but I think this shows what God's priority has always been with mankind- not to teach us to be nicer to each other, or establish better social constructs or systems but simply to show us who we are in a sinful world - a sinner, one who falls short of perfect righteousness- and that our only hope of getting past this imsurmountable fact is to acknolwdge the sacrifice God made to keep us near him for eternity. God became a man and died- to pay the price for our sinfullness. And he did this out of a love we will never fully comprehend. I don't know why he didn't tell man that slavery was bad and not to do it. I have no answer for that.

God's ways are so beyond ours...I love a word I was taught in Bible College. I don't recall the Hebrew but the word used to describe God is 'Wonderful' which also can be translated 'Incomprehensible'. And I think that sums it up.

Ali

Anonymous said...

Dear Tim,
Duh- I just saw a pretty major error in my response that changes the meaning of the sentence! Ha! I am a dork! :-)
Here is the sentence under #1 where I made my boo boo:
"and with that you could have an argument (if you are not happy that God would approve of killing period) but I do feel I need to justify God. I believe He is perfect and just and all-knowing."

I meant to say, "I do NOT feel I need to justify God."

Kinda of a major oversight!

Until next time!
Ali