Sunday, February 13, 2011

The People of the Book

*Disclaimer: This post is not meant to in any way reflect the religious views of the author, nor offend the religious views of anyone else for that matter. It is, rather, a generalized, secular musing on religion and culture in modern society. Furthermore, I'm not looking to try to solve the world's problems, or even tell anyone how to think. I've just been thinking about this lately and decided to write my thoughts down.

Speaking of thoughts, you know you are destined to be a lawyer when your disclaimer is longer than your blog post.

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"The Jews say, "The Christians are not right,"
and the Christians say: "The Jews are in the wrong;"
yet both read the Scriptures;
and this is what the unread
had said too. God alone
will judge between them in their differences
on the Day of Reckoning.

- The Qur'an; Sura 2: The Cow, verse 113

What exactly is it that causes so much violence among people of different religions? I am taking a class on Islam, so I've been doing a lot of reading of the Qur'an lately. There is a respectful tolerance of all "People of the Book" that pervades the holy Islamic text. It is explicit and outright, in a way that it isn't in the Bible (understandably because of several centuries worth of timing issues).

The Qur'an basically lays out the fact that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same diety in different ways. Each religion has a slightly different interpretation of the revalations made to the prophets. People who practice Islam believe in the prophets of the Old Testament: Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. They even believe that Christ was a prophet - they just happen to believe that he was in the same category as the others rather than the literal son of God. Beyond that, they believe there was another prophet in the seventh century in Arabia, and his name was Muhammad.

Regardless of the arguments over the later prophets, God is God is God in all three major monotheistic religions and this diety serves the totality of those who believe in Him; rather, they serve him. 

Why is it, then, that some people who identify themselves as "good Christians" are distrustful or afraid or hateful of Muslims (or Jews, for that matter)? The most common answer to this is probably, "because they hate us, or they want to kill us."

First, this is categorically not true. To quote the great philosopher of NBC television, Aaron Sorkin, Islamic extremism is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity (West Wing, Season 3, Isaac and Ishmael). There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and the grand majority of them are "People of the Book." They are people with a moral foundation based on the fact that what they do in this life will affect how God will judge them for the next life - just like all of the Christians out there. If they are truly followers of the Qur'an then they see Christians and Jews as "believers" in God who happen to worship differently.

In the verse above, from the second sura (chapter) of the Qur'an, there is a lesson that should not be unfamiliar to any Christian: God alone can judge people at the Day of Reckoning. It is not up to us to judge the worth of 1.5 billion people who happen to believe that God dictated the words of the Qur'an to Muhammad between 610 and 632 instead of some guys writing down the scriptures of the New Testament a few centuries before that.

The more I read of the Qur'an the more that I realize the differences between Christians, Muslims, and Jews have nothing to do with religion (not that I didn't know that already, but it becomes more apparent as you become more familiar with the teachings of different religions). The hatred, the fighting, and the wars come from distrust of The Other. We are programmed to be distrustful of people who are different than us. We are tribal, clan-like creatures, and the development of our subconscious isn't going to evolve as quickly as the world has globalized. Religion is just a scapegoat for our mistrust of people who live differently than us. There are things about these people that we don't know, and therefore don't understand, and therefore fear.

If you buy that assumption, then the question becomes, how do we fight ignorance? How do we fight an ugly thing in the recesses of our minds that we can't even quite pin down?

Ironically, the answer probably lies in a place banned by one of our most trusted democratic values. The religion clauses of the First Amendment prevent us from seriously educating the population on religion (except in certain cases in Texas - joke). There is no way to teach the Qur'an in public schools to children who are minors. There is no way to force students to continue their education beyond the age of eighteen.

This is a tricky caveat of our system. I truly believe in the power of the first amendment as a guide for a democratic society. I would fight to the death for my right to express myself in whatever way I so choose; to believe in Xenu and immortal souls which originated from a volcano; and to stand and shout moderately nasty things as passers-by during a protest. I love the first amendment. Yet, it's hard to deny that it presents with a few shortcomings. Religion is such a tough subject. It's so entrenched in our culture - in a way which reserves the right to suspend logic - that is keeps our society from being dictated by reason.


Anyway, that is just my opinion today. I reserve the right to change it at any point in the future.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your mother thinks you are possibly one of the most fantastic thinkers in the world!