Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Violence in the Bible and in the Qur'an

How do people of faith deal with their own 'texts of terror?' A heated discussion is brewing on an earlier post, which from my point of view was about getting to know actual people, Muslims in our area. I advocate this in order to be neighborly and so that we might build bridges of common humanity and dismantle stereotypes.

These conversations quickly spiral down into debates over 'texts of terror.'

Here is one from the Qur'an:

Sura 33:25-27

25. And Allah turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty.

26. And He drove down those of the followers of the Book who backed them from their fortresses and He cast awe into their hearts; some you killed and you took captive another part.

27. And He made you heirs to their land and their dwellings and their property, and to a land which you have not yet trodden, and Allah has power over all things.
And from the Torah:
Deuteronomy 7:1-6

When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you— and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
And from the New Testament:
Revelation 19:11-16

Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’.
I can think of three ways to approach these texts:

1) God's word that was God's word not only then, but now as well. It is divine justification for elevation of one's own religion which can even include exterminating (if unsuccessful at converting) 'unbelievers' today. There are Christians, Muslims, and Jews who hold this kind of view. I would hope their number is small.

2) Not God's word at all, but a human justification for one's own greed and self-importance. These are texts to be rejected in regards to how we live with "the other" today.

3) God's word then but only then. These texts were true for their time but they do not provide a blueprint for how we should engage with those of different faiths today. Some type of interpretive theory is used to soften them either by spiritualizing them, placing them in their time period, or simply ignoring them.

I, because I have faith in humanity, think that most current adherents to their religion of choice or birth are either 2s or 3s. In other words they are decent human beings who want to live peacefully with people of other faiths.

Even as they may have a theological theory about their sacred book (ie. Word of God) they don't really invest too much time worrying over its content. If they are even familiar with these texts they find a way to be selective about them. Some do the hard work of historical and literary criticism.

The 1s however, seem to make the news and to make the trouble for the world. Even as I believe in humanity I also see that humanity is subject to paranoia. Even though some may think of themselves as a 2 or a 3 they think of the "other" as a 1. They make the error of coloring all the "other" as a 1 when in fact they may be 2s or 3s.

So how do we make the 2s and 3s thrive and diminish the influence of the 1s?

We need to face our own paranoia and diminish stereotyping. We need to talk to real people not simply point out their texts of terror and assume they are all out to exterminate "us."

That is why I as a non-Muslim encourage other non-Muslims to get to know and to make friends with your Muslim neighbors. I think in so doing we will discover that people in actual practice concern themselves with the good and positive things their respective religions emphasize.

If you don't have the opportunity to meet and to know a person of a different faith, such as a Muslim, you might at least consider reading a book from an average person of that tradition.

I recommend, The Muslim Next Door: The Qur'an, the Media, and That Veil Thing by Sumbul Ali-Karamali:

I live inside my religion because it is sensible, simple, and it teaches good things like forgiveness, generosity, tolerance, and compassion. I live in America because I believe it can be a nation of many faiths. As people of all religions have urged, it is time for genuine understanding and dialogue, not media hysteria and anti-Islamic racism. If we can separate the daily distortions from the reality, perhaps we can break out of that medieval framework of domination and hostility. Instead of working toward a "clash of civilizations," perhaps we can avoid a "clash of ignorances." (p. 247)
What do you say we try for understanding and peace, eh?


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