Thursday, February 12, 2015

Some Thoughts on Atheism, Christianity, and Islam (By Way of Chapel Hill)

On Tuesday, we had an energetic debate over the proposed use of force against the Islamic State (ISIS) during the morning Bible study class I teach every week.  One of the things I pointed out in our discussion was how forcefully the Qur'an in fact condemns murder.  In sura 5, verse 32, it reads (in part):

If anyone slew a person - unless it be in retaliation for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew all mankind: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all humanity.

First things first: I was in fact required to read the Qur'an for one of the classes I took in seminary on Jewish and Islamic holy texts, and I am very glad that I was required to read it.  If I am expected (by others or by myself) to have an opinion about something, it needs to be an informed opinion.  It always stuns me, though it probably shouldn't, how many times I hear someone spout a hurtful opinion about Islam and then when I ask them if they have read the Qur'an, they respond with some version of, "No way I'd read that!"

Christians, how would you feel about someone criticizing our religion if they have never read the Bible, or if they have only read a few verses such as these completely out of context:

"If the city does not negotiate peacefully with you but makes war against you, you may attack it. 13 The Lord your God will hand it over to you; you must kill all the city’s males with the sword. 14 However, you can take for yourselves the women, the children, the animals, and all that is in the city—all its plunder. You can then enjoy your enemies’ plunder, which the Lord your God has given you. 15 That’s what you must do to all the cities that are located far away from you—specifically, those cities that don’t belong to these nations here. 16 But in the case of any of the cities of these peoples—the ones the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance—you must not spare any living thing."  -Deuteronomy 20:12-15

You know how the Qur'an says at one point to slay infidels?  Well, the Bible--the same Bible that says 'thou shalt not murder'--also says to kill everything in a city that God has given us.

How would you feel if someone decided the Bible was an abomination based on that one passage, never mind all the times it says to love your neighbor and to give to those in need?  If you'd feel pretty chaffed at that, well, think about how it must be being a Muslim today.

That's the difference between Christianity and Islam in the public sphere today.  We Christians have a much easier time excusing or--more frequently--ignoring the awful verses in our sacred Scriptures, while Muslims are made to apologize for theirs on a constant basis.

I don't believe in the Qur'an as the word of God, but that doesn't mean it is the source of evil that so many Americans seem to think that it is.  And if Christians think that our God is calling them to do sins like this in harassing and bullying American Muslims, they are both sorely mistaken and likely divinely condemned.

But it isn't just Christians.  I do plenty of disowning and apologizing for the crackpots in my own faith, and it is high time that atheists started doing so as well, especially after the murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where my wife went to both college and medical school as a student at UNC, by an avowed atheist.

Richard Dawkins, the patron saint of the anti-theist strain of atheism, took to Twitter to say "How could any decent person NOT condemn the vile murder of three young US Muslims in Chapel Hill?"

Well...any decent person likewise condemns religious violence of all sorts, whether they are religious or not.  But when we religious people condemn religious violence, we get met with rude and cruel replies of how we are perpetuating a violent system through our faith and that if we were really sorry, we'd quit religion and become good little atheists like, say, Dawkins, who, among other things, trivializes the trauma of being date raped, so clearly not all atheists are capable of producing a moral compass purely on their own.

But that's low hanging fruit, and Dawkins has rightly been torn apart by critics far smarter and more eloquent than I for that particular bit of egregiousness.  But after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, when Muslim gunmen slaughtered members of the Charlie Hebdo magazine staff, Dawkins helpfully chirped, "Some useful idiot will claim it had nothing to do with religion."

I now await Dawkins serving his role as a useful idiot in claiming that the murder of these three young Muslims had nothing to do with religion either.

For Christians, though, this needs to be a wake-up call as well: we are throwing in our lot with amoral, ungodly jerks like Dawkins whenever we criticize Islam, and we ought to know better.  Atheism isn't the universal bogeyman of all evil any more than Christianity or Islam is, and the prejudices Americans seem to have against atheism (see the New Republic article linked above) are surely misplaced, but at least our faith teaches us to be (in theory) humble enough to examine ourselves and admit when we're wrong.

And if atheism isn't prepared to do likewise, it can dispense with any and all pretense of being morally rich enough to compete on the same plane of ideas and dialogue as any of the world's major religions that it either dismisses or derides.

Your move, Richard.

Yours in Christ,

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