Sometimes a single Facebook post can restore your faith in humanity just a little bit.
Like when a friend who’s a Boston-area church leader shared that she was engaging in a dialogue with her Muslim counterparts, reflecting together on the Boston bombings and the days ahead.
What a concept.
Talking WITH people of the Islamic faith instead of just talking ABOUT them or, worse, listening to Bill O’Reilly talk about them.
On his show, O’Reilly complains that too many Muslims are “silent” about violence perpetrated in the name of their religion. Yet as my friend pointed out after actually spending time with Muslim leaders, they have condemned these acts repeatedly. They see them — and denounce them — as heretical distortions of their faith.
But they feel like their voice gets ignored by a 24-hour news cycle which prefers a simpler narrative.
O’Reilly says he can’t hear any Muslim voices denouncing violence. Maybe if he stopped pontificating for two minutes and tried listening…
The truth is, we all see and hear what we want to. And we’re all blind to that which we just don’t want to see.
“Islam is a religion of violence.”
That’s the prevailing notion among many Christians, most of whom don’t know a single Muslim person.
Perhaps these Christians heard a fragment of the Quran that sounds like it’s promoting violence. Usually quoted without any context.
Sometimes it’s not even that. Sometimes it’s just what we think the Quran says — because, let’s be honest: most of us (myself included) couldn’t quote a single word of Islam’s holy book if we had to.
Sure. Islam has its “problem texts.”
But I’m a Christian, and that means I’ve got my share of problem texts to deal with too.
Then Israel made this vow to the Lord: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.” The Lord listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns. (Numbers 21:2-3)
“Have you allowed all the women to live?” [Moses] asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys [Heb. taf, or “little children”]. (Numbers 31:15-18)
At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them — men, women and children. We left no survivors… the Lord our God gave us all of them. (Deuteronomy 2:34-36)
You must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. (Deuteronomy 13:15)
In the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites — as the Lord your God has commanded you. (Deuteronomy 20:16-17)
The church has various ways of dealing with these and other violent texts in the Bible. Some Christians suggest they’re no longer applicable because they’re Old Testament, as if genocide was all well and good for Israel but not so much for us today.
Some traditions read these texts allegorically. Others question their historicity, noting that archaeologists have unearthed scant evidence for any wholesale extermination of Canaan’s indigenous population during the second millennium BC.
Still others have pointed out similarities between the Old Testament’s violent imagery and that of other ancient Near Eastern religions, suggesting the Israelites borrowed some less-than-ideal notions about God and violence from their neighbors.
And some of us would note that whatever path you take to get there, eventually you end up with Jesus, whose Sermon on the Mount puts a categorical stop to the whole “death to our enemies” business.
So yes, we have ways of dealing with our problem texts. But they’re still in the Bible. They’re still etched into parchment, there for anyone to read. Seemingly legitimizing violence, warfare, genocide.
The thing is, if someone used these texts to typecast Christianity as a religion of violence (as some indeed have), I wouldn’t be too happy about it. I’d probably say they were proof-texting my holy book. That they hadn’t considered the full scope of Christian thought and the various options for interpreting these problem texts.
I would probably suggest that as outsiders who are evidently hostile to Christianity, they probably aren’t the best ones to judge whether Christianity is, in fact, a religion of violence.
So why do we think it’s OK for us to read a handful of verses from the Quran and conclude that Islam is a religion of violence?
I don’t want someone demonizing my faith on the basis of a few “problem texts.” So maybe I should treat people of other faiths with the same courtesy. Maybe I should give my Muslim neighbors the same benefit of the doubt that I want them to give me.