After 9-11, President George W. Bush went out of his way to repeatedly stress that “our war is against evil, not against Islam.”
In the wake of the embassy attacks this week, and the understandable anger it has aroused among Americans, Andrew Sullivan asks: “Can you imagine Mitt Romney saying about Islam what George W. Bush did in the very wake of 9/11? Or any leading Republican at this point?”
Even during Bush’s presidency, his comments about Islam were controversial. Some saw it as appeasement. Others noted that it wasn’t Baptists who flew planes into the World Trade Center.
And today, after the horrific events in the Middle East this week, we are reminded that Presbyterians never riot when Bill Maher mocks Christians, etc.
This, of course, is correct — but it misses the point.
I’m not a biblical scholar, and I’m certainly not an expert on the Koran, but it strikes me that one could probably justify all sorts of violence by taking Christian and Jewish scripture out of context.
Here’s an example from Deuteronomy:
12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in 13 that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely,[b] both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God…
Note: This scripture is not unusual for the Old Testament. I could have chosen many, many similar examples.
I suppose one could interpret the above as an instruction that if someone comes to your town and tries to convert you to Buddhism, you should kill them.
Of course, that would be taking this instruction (given to the children of Israel prior to entering Canaan) wildly out of context — and it would be ignoring countless other scriptures calling on us to love one another. Christians and Jews, thankfully, don’t make that mistake. Radical Islamists do. (It’s probably worth noting that the three are all Abrahamic Faiths.)
But doesn’t that say more about the starkly different cultures that produced the context guiding the reader’s interpretation of scripture — than it does about differences between the scriptures, themselves? (One could argue this is a chicken-and-egg paradox.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…
UPDATE: A reader emails this:
Like you I have often wondered about these texts given their incongruity with the rest of the Bible (for Christian anyway. I happen to be Catholic). I am providing a link regarding a recent Church (Catholic) document that deals with Scripture, where Benedict XVI address as what he calls the “dark passages”. http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0428.htm
I am also reminded of Jonah Goldberg’s column, arguing that Islam needs a Pope.