I have a confession to make. I conducted a secret experiment on my social media friends. Yep, I used my friends as lab mice. So for that I apologize, now onto the fun stuff! The last blog post that I wrote was both completely true yet specifically ambiguous. The post held a small list of violent scriptures that I stated Muslims believe to be a revelation from Allah. Then a question was posed: “can Islam truly be the religion of peace?”
Except there was one thing that was not told to the reader. I had mixed in Bible verses with Quran verses. I also replaced the noun ‘God’ for ‘Allah,’ because Allah is simply the Arabic translation of the English word God. Likewise I replace a few other Biblical names for their respective Arabic words, for example Moses became Musa (for this is indeed how Muslims call him in Arabic; yes they believe Moses was a prophet of Allah, like Muhammad). In addition, I simply wrote the names of the books in Arabic script. In all of this I did not make an outright life, because Muslims do in fact believe the Old Testament to be Allahs revelation.
My aim was to conduct an experiment of sorts, to think about these issues:
1. How we read the Bible, and whether our personal, theological, and cultural biases changes our treatment of a text.
2. The kinds of apologetic arguments we use against other religions, and whether we are hypocritical.
3. Whether it is easy to identify a Bible text if certain key names are given in different ethnic accents or readings.
The Results of Our Secret Study
(I have now deleted the comments and responses to the last blog post, in order to preserve the identities of those involved.)
I have read numerous Christian apologists who list the violent passages in the Quran and argue that these passages definitively prove that Islam cannot be a religion of peace. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) Even though I do not personally like Islam, and am convinced it is not a true or factual belief system, I wanted to judge the intellectually fairness of arguments coming from Christian apologists, some of whom say that the Hebrew slaughter of children was beneficial in that “the death of these children was actually their salvation” (6) And thus I wanted to experiment on my friends to gauge their responses. Here are some things I learned.
1. Some of us think this is a good argument against Islam, without realizing it applies to us equally
My feeling is this view is held by the type of Christians who are likely to be found listening to Right-wing talk-radio and posting conspiracy themed links about Muslims to social media sites. This is probably an oversimplification, but in my personal experience I have found this to be true. The reality is that many of us Christians would eagerly condemn Muslims on the basis of violence in some Muslim texts, however, completely zone out when the same textual and logical criticism is applied toward Christianity. In part this may be because we don’t know the biblical text all that well. Or it might be because we have the cognitive excuse of ‘Old vs New Testament’ which allows us to say “every single word in the Bible, both Old and New testament, is 100% the inerrant, inspired, and authoritative word of God, it’s all fully true!” and then, when things are challenging, simply say “well we don’t have to read or listen to that, that’s just the Old Testament, it’s been replaced.”
2. Some of us think this is a bad argument, and compare the Biblical violence to Islamic violence
This is a very interesting observation, I did not expect to see many people think of this idea. In a few previous discussions about Islamic violence I have usually seen my fellow Christians contrast Christianity’s pacifism as a white dove that is radically different Islam’s black vulture. This position is probably the most defendable view because of its honesty, however, it brings with it numerous questions. Primarily, if we Christians are so apologetic for the Old Testament, and Islam is very similar to the religion of the Old Testament, why are we so adamantly against it? We are far more lenient on Jews who practice Old Testament Judaism than we are on Muslims who practice something very similar, and doing so believe that the Old Testament Judaism is a revelation from God. In other words, why are we so quick to judge Islam’s violence, and defend Hebrew Old Testament violence? That is a great question, and my guess is that it has more to do with cultural bias, than it does with theological integrity.
3. Few of us can tell which verses are in the Bible, unless we’re holding the good book
Numerous studies have shown that Americans (and everyone else) simply do not know the Bible that they eagerly fight for (7, 8, 9, 10). I love to study the Bible, so this is biased, but I am saddened to see such a horrible state of biblical illiteracy. A couple devastating highlights in a nation that is 85% Christian are that “fewer than [50%] of adults can name the four gospels” and “60 percent of Americans cannot name even five of the Ten Commandments.” (8) Besides forgetting basic concept from the Bible, most Americans assume many things to be in there, that are not, for example “some 80 percent including “born again” Christians believe that “God helps those who help themselves” is a direct quote from the Bible.” (10) As yet another example of this, out of a few hundred people who read the post, not even one person said, “wait a minute, that’s not the Quran, that’s a direct quote from the Bible, not the Quran!” though, to be fair, a few said the passages were “similar.” Let’s just all admit, we don’t know the Bible as well as we think, and we need to read up.