“Agreement And Disagreement”
By Fred Mittag
Kenneth Crosby, in his article “Normal Muslims and the Paris Assassins” (May Ojo, 2015), emphasizes the sacred scripture of both the Bible and the Koran as authentic guides to the practice of religion. Those ancient scriptures, however, are too contradictory to provide reliable guidance. Instead, religious practice is determined more by culture and history than by scripture.
Crosby says we appreciate that not all religious people abide by the commands of their sacred scriptures, such as stoning the adulteress, executing the gays, etc. I agree. But Crosby claims that it is “absurd” to call Muslims “normal” who do not strictly follow the Koran. He makes the same point with Christianity, that most Christians (abnormally, but thankfully) don’t execute gays, but notes that Uganda passed a law “invoking the death penalty for homosexuality,” which he seems to suggest is “normal” Christianity, since it is biblical.
This is not correct. Uganda debated execution, but ended up passing a law that provides life imprisonment for homosexuality. Their supreme court overturned that law, on the technical ground that it was passed without a quorum in their parliament. For now, at least, Uganda is free from such legislation.
A harsh geography and insecure environment produced harsh cultures and religions. Both the Bible and the Koran contain contradictory suggestions for both war and peace, and for harsh punishments and mercy. Jesus stopped the stoning of an adulteress, as an example of mercy and kindness. Both Muslims and Christians have used sacred scripture to serve their purpose, including Bible-thumping American black slavery.
Other than scholarly interest, the wonder is that anybody in the 21st century would give serious consideration to such ancient and outdated texts, from a time when the earth was flat and nothing was known of science. Religion is a cultural, tribal, and political by-product. Religion has always been a factor in political power. Karl Marx correctly designated religion the “opiate of the masses.” Thankfully, his observation is less true today than when he did his research, but still, the Texas State Republican Party opposes the teaching of critical thinking skills because it undermines the authority of parents, schools, and churches.
Webster’s defines “normal” to mean: “according to . . . an established norm, rule, or principle. . . .” Murder is not normal in modern society, so, according to this definition, the 1.5 billion Muslims who are not terrorists and murderers are the “normal” ones, while those who commit terrorist acts are “abnormal.” Normal Muslims, like normal Christians, choose scriptural quotes of peace rather than the equally available scriptural quotes that command death. The vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims oppose terrorism, just as the vast majority of Christians oppose snake handling – even though mentioned in the Bible. It seems more pragmatic to describe a religion by how it is actually practiced, rather than by ancient teachings, many of which are necessarily ignored by modern standards.
A Jewish woman from New York, Katie Halper, scolded Fox News for constantly saying no Muslims had come forward to criticize the Charlie Hebdo murders. Fox kept asking, “Where is the Muslim outrage?” Halper decided to do the journalism that Fox News neglected and came up with 46 strong Muslim responses that condemned the Charlie Hebdo killings, and which included major groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Council of Britain, a French Muslim Council and others, and some that spoke with scholarly authority on the interpretation of Islamic scripture.
I agree with Kenneth Crosby that it would be much better to rely on science and reason to guide our lives. But since religion is in the world in various forms, we should apply science and reason to analyze its practice. Religion is a cultural and political creation. That’s why there are different religions and different languages, all products of different cultures. In the case of Uganda, there was obvious religious influence, but the anti-homosexual law was passed by a political parliament, acting in a cultural environment that is quite different from, say, San Francisco.