Because the universe is beautiful enough without having to lie about it

The Qu’ran

July 14th, 2008 Posted in Bad media, Religion

I wonder if anyone else out there saw the lengthy documentary on Channel 4, British TV, tonight on the subject of the Qu’ran? It was certainly fascinating and scary in equal measure, not least of which because I know exactly what the Daily Mail is going to say about it tomorrow.

On one hand there were moderates blaming the entire radicalisation of the Islamic faith on vitriolic Saudi Wahabbis (a claim that seems plausible, as far as I can tell).  On the other hand, there was evidence of a clear and unmistakeable thread throughout their most holy book that seems, in the absence of an extremely suspicious and contorted interpretation offered by one commentator, to denegrate women to inferior citizens and encourage a dizzying array of other barbaric or medievally backward beliefs.

But then again, this sort of viewpoint isn’t unique to Islam. The Christian Bible has countless verses telling of how adulterers should be stoned to death, along with women who are found not to be virgins on their wedding night, homosexuals and children who disrespect their parents.  The doctrine of an eye for an eye, though highlighted in Sharia law, was an invention of the Old Testament.  It’s not hard to find these threads throughout other literature of this period, and I’m pretty sure that people growing up in the (nominally Christian) Western World will be just as surprised to find that their Bible, in certain ways, promotes just the same level of inhumane and obscene punishments that the tabloids will tomorrow be condemning in the muslim world. Of course, those aren’t the verses that you’ll be reading at your Bible study classes because our society recognises that those passages were written by human beings who lived in a very different time, and intelligent modern Christians don’t feel like thy have to make every verse relevant to the 21st century.

In fact, there’s a very important point here that needs to be reinforced: It would be very easy for an Islamic documentary focussing on Western Christianity to highlight exactly those most disgusting verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy to explain exactly why Christianity has an even more barbaric nature than Islam; they could interview the Westborough Baptist Church and some insidious televangelist cretin like Jerry Falwell blaming 9/11 on gays, lesbians and adulterers; but that would bear virtually no resemblance to the Christianity that we in the West are familiar with – the religion of Church Fetes and coffee mornings, of ‘All things bright and beautiful’ and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Not that it would be an outright lie; it would simply be a misleading and biased view of a religion which has become vastly more than the book that inspired it. It has grown to incorporate, and to be incorporated into, the culture in which it finds itself, and I have always viewed religion as a tool for enhancing human experience rather than defining it.

So here’s the point of today’s post: The interpretation that societies of any age place on their religious texts seems to be largely independent of their content, and rather more on the hereditary prejudices that such a society wishes to perpetuate.  In that sense, the religions themselves aren’t wholly guilty of those atrocities, merely of being a vector through which the voices of madmen and fanatics can be injected with deadly force directly into the minds of those vulnerable listeners they claim to educate. So the problems currently caused in the name of religion may not be religion’s direct fault, but they are most certainly religion’s direct responsibility, and the one thing that religions could be doing right now that would ensure their continued existence way into the 21st century and beyond, is to root out from within their midst those divisive, hateful and destructive voices who would subvert the ambiguities in their texts to further agendas of hatred, racism and mysogyny.

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