“The Religion of Peace.” I’ve heard that phrase in discussions about the essence of Christianity. Islam, on the other hand, is frequently depicted as “the religion of violence.” Watch FOX News and you will know what I mean. Islam equals violence, jihad, terrorism, barbarism, ISIS, and the rest of it. Christianity is rarely, if ever, portrayed as “being violent.”
To claim that any religion is violent in itself is an intellectual crime. Religions aren’t violent; people who follow religions are violent. There is a difference here – religion (an idea, or system of thought) verses an individual (a human being, emotional, prone to outbursts). With that said, some Islamophobes argue that Muslims tend to be more violent because of specific “nasty” verses in the Qur’an. To be fair, there are certainly verses that make you scratch your head. Of course, people who make arguments like “the Qur’an is violent” literally interpret Islamic scripture. In this regard, they are little different from members of ISIS. Context. That’s neglected.
I read holy books often, mainly the Bible and Qur’an. I like to compare them, see where they differ, but also where they meet on common ground. For the sake of this blog, I want to highlight an issue that is often overlooked in the Bible – its verses of violence and death. My plan isn’t to dive into the social or historical contexts in which these verses were written. I understand that context is crucial in interpreting religious texts. As the old saying goes, a text without a context may become a pretext. My aim here is to simply show that there are indeed verses of the Bible which are as shocking – if not more shocking – than verses of the Qur’an.
First, let’s look at Deuteronomy (13:6-9), one of the vilest and bloodiest parts of the “good book”:
“If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying: Let us go and worship other gods (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other, or gods of other religions), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people” (emphasis is mine).
If I were to take that literally, and used this as part of my obligation as a Christian, I’d be committing crimes against humanity. According to this passage, there’s no room in Christianity for “non-Christians” (maybe a little room for Jews considering they wrote Deuteronomy). The verse also tells Christians to turn their back on loved ones if they veer off the “Christian path.” That reminds me of a recent story of a member of ISIS who killed his mother because she (apparently) “left Islam.” Similar mindset.
And let’s look at Deuteronomy (17:3-5):
“And he should go and worship other gods and bow down to them or to the sun or the moon or all the army of the heavens… and you must stone such one with stones and such one must die.”
According to this passage, Christians are called to stone “non-believers.” In this light, Muslims certainly don’t have a monopoly on stoning (though media wants you to think it does). Again, in this Christian worldview, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and Rastafarians have no place in society. In fact, they have no place in this world. Christianity is telling Christians to kill a lot of people.
2 Chronicles (15:13) isn’t very nice either: “All who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman” (emphasis is mine). Again, it’s the same story. Kill “non-believers.” Kill everyone that disagrees with us.
I can hear people saying now, “But this is the Old Testament. The New Testament is much different.” Really? Is it? Some critics claim that many passages of the Gospel endorse and encourage violence. Consider Matthew (10:34-6): “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.” The verse continues:
“For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”
Sounds a bit like Deuteronomy (13:6-9) as discussed above. Turn your back on everyone – even family members – if they turn their back on Christianity. Of course, the sword is a metaphor; but for people who don’t even know what “context” means, bad things could happen.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the violent passages of the Bible. Philip Jenkins provides a deeper analysis. Read his work here. Jenkins is an actual scholar of religious texts. I’m a sociologist, a bit different in terms of our approaches towards “religion.”
After carrying out years and years of research, Jenkins has this to say: “Much to my surprise, the Islamic scriptures in the Qur’an were actually far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible.” He adds: “… the laws of war that are laid down by the Qur’an are actually reasonably humane.” The Bible, however, has a “specific kind of warfare… which we can only call genocide.”
When Christians point to the violent verses in the Qur’an, Muslims reply, “But what about the violent verses in the Bible?” That’s a fair challenge. A little dose of reality never hurts. Time to push back a bit on this idea of Christianity being “the religion of peace.”
One thought on “About Those Violent Verses in The Bible”
I am not a Christian, Jew or Muslim so I have no axe to grind as to whose religious text is more violent. However, I see the following points of comparison:
1. Everything in the Old Testament could be allowed to lose its virulence, as it has, because it was not taken to be God speaking directly.
2. The only part of the Bible, claiming to be directly from God, or at least from the God/Man hybrid Jesus, is relatively peaceful, particularly towards me, a non-Christian. The fact that the various brands of Christianity went through a vicious phase doesn’t find much support in the Gospels.
Accordingly, I am fairly relaxed about the likelihood of being attacked in the street by someone shouting Hallelujah.
On the other hand:
1. Everything in the Koran is supposed to be Allah speaking directly.
2. In his last communications he instructed his followers to convert, subjugate or kill the unbelievers. I am an unbeliever…did he mean me? This boils down to whether his instructions were limited to the conflicts Mohammed was engaged in at the time or were in fact open ended, intended to be operative until all the world was brought under Islam. My reasons for believing the latter are:
a) Mohammed left some fairly incriminating quotes in the Hadiths and the Sira, for instance
“Allah drew the ends of the world near one another for my sake. And I have seen its eastern and western ends. And the dominion of my Ummah would reach those ends…” Sahih Muslim (41:6904).
b) His surviving companions and immediate successors clearly took that view, spreading Islam from Spain to India within 100 years (and not by knocking on doors).
c) The great mediaeval commentators all seemed to see it that way, for instance Ibn Khaldun
“In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force”.
d) I believe all the various schools of sharia saw it that way too, for instance from “The Reliance of the Traveller” the 14th century Shafi’i manual of religious law:
“Among the things that entail apostasy from Islam are…to deny that Allah intended the Prophet’s message (Allah bless him and give him peace) to be the religion followed by the entire world”.
e) I know of no authoritative view to the contrary. If anyone can produce one I would be much obliged.
So, and bearing in mind the average of five deadly attacks being carried out somewhere in the world every day to the cry of “Allahu akbar”, I do not consider it any kind of phobia to regard followers of Mohammed with suspicion.
3. The greatest, cruellest violence towards unbelievers to be found in the Koran doesn’t even get a mention in these discussions. That is the appalling things Allah promises to do to me for all eternity simply for not believing in him. If Allah intends to fricassee me forever with periodic changes of skin so I can feel the agony all over again why should one of his followers quibble about chopping my head off?
Clearly, to equate the violence (to non-believers) in the Bible with that in the Koran is to compare a dormant volcano with a live one, an old labrador with a raging tiger. Why would anyone do such a thing. Surely they must be either duped or attempting to dupe.