Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are Judaism and Christianity as Violent as Islam?

by Raymond Ibrahim
Middle East Quarterly
Summer 2009, pp. 3-12

"There is far more violence in the Bible than in the Qur'an; the idea that Islam imposed itself by the sword is a Western fiction, fabricated during the time of the Crusades when, in fact, it was Western Christians who were fighting brutal holy wars against Islam." So announces former nun and self-professed "freelance monotheist," Karen Armstrong. This quote sums up the single most influential argument currently serving to deflect the accusation that Islam is inherently violent and intolerant: All monotheistic religions, proponents of such an argument say, and not just Islam, have their fair share of violent and intolerant scriptures, as well as bloody histories. Thus, whenever Islam's sacred scriptures—the Qur'an first, followed by the reports on the words and deeds of Muhammad (the Hadith)—are highlighted as demonstrative of the religion's innate bellicosity, the immediate rejoinder is that other scriptures, specifically those of Judeo-Christianity, are as riddled with violent passages.

More often than not, this argument puts an end to any discussion regarding whether violence and intolerance are unique to Islam. Instead, the default answer becomes that it is not Islam per se but rather Muslim grievance and frustration—ever exacerbated by economic, political, and social factors—that lead to violence. That this view comports perfectly with the secular West's "materialistic" epistemology makes it all the more unquestioned.

Therefore, before condemning the Qur'an and the historical words and deeds of Islam's prophet Muhammad for inciting violence and intolerance, Jews are counseled to consider the historical atrocities committed by their Hebrew forefathers as recorded in their own scriptures; Christians are advised to consider the brutal cycle of violence their forbears have committed in the name of their faith against both non-Christians and fellow Christians. In other words, Jews and Christians are reminded that those who live in glass houses should not be hurling stones.

But is that really the case? Is the analogy with other scriptures legitimate? Does Hebrew violence in the ancient era, and Christian violence in the medieval era, compare to or explain away the tenacity of Muslim violence in the modern era?

[click here to download the full article]


Jim said...

It's worth reading the whole article, if nothing else to get down to the last paragraph. He makes a particularly poignant point there.

Anonymous said...

I found the article to be somewhat depressing as I have a non-believing friend who refuses to look at Christianity seriously as he views our God as a cruel, violent entity, that as such, is not worthy of being called a God, or believing in. How do we, as Christians, defend God as a loving, and kind being in light of these scripture references that show the violent side of God?

Glenn Penner said...

The temptation to try to make a God that is more comfortable and acceptable (i.e. one that we can live with) is at the very root of idolatry. God is who He has revealed Himself to be. It really is not our respojnsibility to defend Him as if He were somehow like the crazy uncle that the family tries to pretend doesn't exist but whom we still have to invite to Christmas dinner.

AP said...

While I agree with you, Glenn, there's still a point to what Anonymous has to say. Perhaps "defend" is the wrong concept and I agree that we can never simply ignore part of the character and nature of God. What is important, from my perspective, is to keep the whole character of God intact. Those who see God as simply loving are just as wrong as those who see God as cruel because of acts of judgement in the Old Testament. Without both, we are encouraging people to worship a false god. It would be advantageous for our friend (and others) to do some study into the nature of God as a whole so that a full view of God's nature can be presented to this friend who needs to come to a relationship with a loving and just God.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response Glenn. You are right, and I am reminded of what God tells Moses, when He spoke to him at the burning bush - "I AM WHO I AM" has spoken, and needs no defense and no excuse. I reread the article, and I remember the Christmas message in last year's VOMC newsletter. It spoke of the dragon and the woman, and I make a connection between how God in the Old Testament protected "the woman"/the Jews, and more specifically the Holy family, from any around them who would get in the way of the coming of the Messiah. Now that He has come, the serpent is after His Bride, and that puts the teachings of Islam in a Biblical perspective, as one of the ways the assault is made on the Church is through Islam, and the teaching of continuing violence against "infidels".

Matthew said...

...but there are plenty of Muslims who try to re-interpret the violent passages in the Qu'ran to place them in their own historical context, or claim that the primary "warfare" of the Muslim is spiritual. They would put the current and historical atrocities of Muslims in the "misapplied scriptures" category, just as we would. So if we are asking others to overlook past offenses as the disobedient sins of power-hungry men misusing the Word of God for their own ends, will we grant the same to more moderate Muslims?