Holier Than Thou

December 13, 2015

Quran Bible

No civilized person of any religion of the 21st century takes all of its scriptures seriously —if they’re even aware of what those scriptures contain. Most cherry pick teachings to suit what fits the context of contemporary civilization. Few civilized Christians, for example, think it would be acceptable to stone anyone for adultery or any other form of sexual conduct. What’s more, most don’t believe it’s right to hold slaves, murder infidels or slaughter every inhabitant of entire cities from men right on down to goats; although, if they did a little research, they’d find all of those bloody excesses are found to be called-for in their Bible. I think it’s likely that modern Muslims may be like modern Christians in this way, but you would not think so if you’re following the rhetoric of Republican presidential contenders and the anger of their constituents.

NYT columnist, Ross Douthat, recently articulated what he says is believed by “…certain prominent atheists and some of my fellow conservatives and Christians, that the heart of Islam is necessarily illiberal — that because the faith was born in conquest and theocracy, it simply can’t accommodate itself to pluralism without a massive rupture, an apostasy in fact if not in name.”

But the same may also be thought of Christianity which, if not born precisely under the same conditions was certain in its early heyday that it could not “…accommodate itself to pluralism without a massive rupture…”  Popes fought tooth and nail to hold on to power claiming the will of God for their faith-based cruelties. But it did finally accommodate —and with massive rupture, but it still survives as the largest religion in the world. Accommodation is not death, despite the political rhetoric of politicians, popes and imams who say it is.

Fear is raising its grotesque head in Europe and the US, not without reason, but without resort to thought —or more correctly thoughtfulness. The inclination to immediately go for the throat without first detouring through the brain and heart may seem impossible but does not come without consequences if acted upon. The effect is likely to be destructive to the object of anger and to the angered as well.

Buddha sums it up like this: “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”

One form such punishment may take is the blowback from feeding the beast of an enemy’s strategy —specifically, ISIS in our case. “In international relations,” says NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof,  “extremists on one side empower extremists on the other side. ISIS empowers Trump, who inadvertently empowers ISIS. He’s not confronting a national security threat; he’s creating one.” 

But Trump is not doing this on his own. He’s doing this with the support of a large segment of likely Republican voters —angry voters. Voters who want to go for the throat.

But we’d better be more thoughtful about our dilemma than Donald Trump’s ego will ever be. Trump is on another glory ride, stroking himself as he goes while being stroked by his following. It’s almost obscene. But Trump is simply flailing around in a passion to be president without the necessary reflection of an adult. Trump has boundary issues. He needs to bulldoze as many of them as he can, precisely because he can —because he has the money to do so. The rest of us may not be as likely to survive the chaos of xenophobia his fear mongering is whipping up. We may wind up putting our constitutional glue to a stress test it will not pass.

Kristof again: “It may be human nature to fear what we don’t understand, to allow apprehension to override compassion (or thoughtfulness). But this is a time that tests our fundamental values…”

Religion, like every other thing humans touch can be a rat’s nest of hate and contradictions. Islam and the Quran have their share but so does Christianity. America has its societal strengths, yes, but as Donald Trump has shown, intolerance seethes just beneath the surface. We should not be so smug in our self-righteousness. We will certainly not be safe in it.

Before we vilify all Muslims and their holy book it would serve us well to examine our own. While condemning what the Quran contains we should at least understand what the Bible contains. As Kristof notes, analysts have found twice as many cruel and violent passages in the Bible than in the Quran.

Condemn ISIS for its cruelty and barbarism, fight ISIS, but do not be cruel and thoughtless toward the 1.2 billion Muslims on earth, or the 5-12 million in the US, who have the same hope for peaceful lives that we do —those who, like good Christians, cherry-pick their scriptures for the compassionately moral parts while glossing over or repudiating the ugly ones. Failing that we will not be punished for our anger, we’ll be punished by it.

by Jim Culleny


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