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Showing posts with label jihad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jihad. Show all posts

Friday, February 10, 2017

Does Religion "Fly You Into Buildings"?


Physicist and anti-theist Victor Stenger famously claimed "Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings." This kind of throwaway line is standard fare for the new atheist types and is often repeated via memes shared on social media sites. Stenger isn't the only one who thinks religion is a way to manipulate others into doing immoral acts. Sam Harris claimed "One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering. Religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not."1

I'm not sure how Harris concluded that religion divorces morality from suffering. If he were a true student of world religions he would recognize that the question of human suffering is the primary focus of most faiths. Hindus seek to be come closer to the divine, eliminating the suffering associated with the cycle of reincarnation. Buddhists teach balance to avoid pain and suffering. Islam holds suffering as Christianity focuses on eliminating suffering by eliminating sin and its consequences. While I don't agree with the underlying assumptions of other faiths, it is disingenuous to say that religion divorces morality from suffering. The problem of human suffering is front and center in religious faith.

What about Jihadists?

 So how do we explain the ISIS or Al Qaeda suicide bombers then? Isn't it obvious that such horrendous acts are religiously motivated? I would say it's true only in part. Islam is a faith that offers Muhammad as its exemplar—the model Muslim to which all others should aspire. Muhammad was a warrior who slaughtered innocents and the famous "sword verses" of the Qur'an commands the faithful to "slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush." (Sura 9:5) and "When you encounter the unbeliever, strike off their heads until you have made a great slaughter among them" (Sura 47:4). Also, the Qur'an promises a reward to the warrior who dies in his fight for Islam: "So let them fight in the way of God who sell the present life for the world to come; and whosoever fights in the way of God and is slain, or conquers, We shall bring him a mighty wage" (Sura 4:74).

Because Islam offers both the commands of the Qur'an and the example of Muhammad, it allows for jihadists to kill themselves while killing the enemy in the name of martyrdom. But that doesn't mean suicide terrorism is the first resort of Muslims. In fact, it turns out that suicide terrorism isn't a historically popular strategy for followers of Islam. Robert Pape in his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism notes that there were no suicide attacks by Muslims or any other groups from 1945 to 1980. From 1980 through 2003, Pape catalogued 315 suicide terrorism campaigns around the world with 462 individual suicide terrorists.2 Pape notes that "every suicide campaign from 1980 to 2003 has had as a major objective –or as its central objective—coercing a foreign government that has military forces in what they see as their homeland to take those forces out." 3Pape concludes, "The bottom line, then, is that suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation."4 So, politics and power are the real motivation for terrorist campaigns. It thrives in Islam because the belief system doesn't contradict its use.

What about the Destructive Power of Science?

The biggest problem with Stenger's quip is it is so self-selective. It gives a rosy picture of science by the example of one of our greate3st achievements and then contrasts it with one of our greatest horrors. But it isn't "science" that flies us to the moon. It's human beings who do that. Science allows human beings to understand thrust and gravity. It is a tool to help us accomplish whatever goals we have. Humans used science to develop the planes that Stenger seems to be so worried about, but he doesn't mention that. We use science to construct better weapons, too, producing some of them most incredible destructive powers on earth. Without science, we would never have had a Hiroshima or Nagasaki.  And without religion, we would never have a Mother Theresa or a Father Damien.

The Golden Rule and the concept of the Good Samaritan find their origin in Christianity.  Dr. Alvin J. Schmidt explains that it was the teachings of Jesus that "elevated brutish standards of morality, halted infanticide, enhanced human life, emancipated women, abolished slavery, inspired charities and relief organizations, created hospitals, established orphanages, and founded schools."5

Harris and Stenger's comments not only show their bias, but they are demonstrably wrong. They have simply created straw men in order to easily knock them down. Perhaps if they showed a little more Christian charity toward those with whom they disagree, they wouldn't be so nasty and could see things a bit more clearly.

References

1. Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Vintage, 2006. Print.
2. Pape, Robert Anthony. Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. New York: Random House, 2005. Print. 14-16.
3. Pape, 2005. 42.
4. Pape, 2005. 23.
5. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. 8.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

ISIS, Jihad, and the Model of Muhammad

CNN just published an interview with Secretary of State John Kerry commenting on the recent US response to the Islamic State's barbarism in Syria and Iraq. At the beginning of the interview, Kerry stressed that the US is heading a coalition of forces, including Muslim nations, in its fight against ISIS (although the New York Times reports that the idea of a coalition may be overstated.)  Kerry said the effort to involve nations such as Saudi Arabia was a "major effort to reclaim Islam by Muslims, by those to whom it belongs."1


Obviously as Secretary of State, Kerry's first goal is to create as much consensus with the nations of the Middle East as possible, even though most have done nothing to stop the carnage ISIS is creating in their own back yards. However, his claim (echoing President Obama) that the Islamic State is somehow not Muslim or a distortion of Islam needs to be reconsidered. The same claims have been offered since 9/11, with many making the comparison that ISIS or Al Qaeda is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity.

To be clear, I don't doubt that many Muslim groups have been shocked and horrified at the actions of ISIS.  It is also true that the vast majority of ISIS' targets have been Muslim.  And I believe the leaders of those sects of Islam that take a more moderate view of the Qur'an teach a form of Islam that would say the killing of civilians is wrong. However, that doesn't mean that these Muslims are the definitive version of Islam. The question actually is: "Whose interpretation of Islam is correct?"

The Problem of Context

When one looks at both Islam and Christianity, there are a couple of ways to establish whether the beliefs that one holds align with the teachings of the faith. The first is to look at the Scriptures of that faith itself and see how your actions line up. For example, the Bible contains passages such as Judges 19:22-29 where a Levite cut his concubine into twelve pieces after the men of Gibeah had raped her all night. But the context shows that neither the rape nor the response of sending the girl's dismembered body is approved in scripture. In fact, the refrain of "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" is replete throughout the text of Judges, and the writer here makes the actions of the Gibeonites parallel to the men of Sodom, which is a clear condemnation on them.

In the Qur'an there are many verses known as the "sword verses" that teach about fighting and conquering the enemy. Immediately, Sura 47:4-6 comes to mind:
Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost. Soon will He guide them and improve their condition, And admit them to the Garden which He has announced for them.2
The call to "smite at their necks" until the enemy is "subdued' (which many clerics read as "slaughtered") is completely natural from the text. More moderate Muslims would interpret these verses in a more poetic fashion, not calling on the actual beheading of unbelievers but as symbolic one. The problem is that unlike the Biblical books, the Qur'an isn't set up in a narrative style. Several verses may deal with one issue and the next set may switch topics completely. It's much more akin to reading the book of Proverbs than a historical narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. That means that either interpretation could be legitimately derived from the text.

The Model of Muhammad

Because context doesn't really answer the question of the meaning of Islam, one must look to another definitive source to get a better understanding of what the faith really teaches. The best way to do that is to look at the person that exemplifies that faith and see how he behaved and what he valued. For Christians, the model is Jesus Christ himself. Christians are to look at Jesus' life, see how he would sacrifice his own personal comfort for the benefit of others, and ultimately lay down his life for his friends.

In Islam, Muhammad is the model. In fact, the Qur'an teaches this as well.  Sura 33:21 reads, "Ye have indeed in the Apostle of God a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for anyone whose hope is in God and in the final day."3 So, we can glean more about Islam from the pattern of conduct of Muhammad himself. Looking there, we learn that Muhammad did in fact command beheadings. In fact, after Muhammad had taken control of Medina he still went out and beheaded the Jews who had resisted him there. He could have exiled them, but chose instead to kill all of the Jewish men and boys from around twelve and up. Realize that this was no small cohort, either, with estimates ranging from a low of 300 to possibly even 800 or 900 people. In the Muslim Hadith, which are holy books that recount the actions of Islam‘s prophet, one Jewish captive reports:
I was among the captives of Banu [tribe] Qurayzah. They (the Companions) examined us, and those who had begun to grow hair (pubes) were killed, and those who had not were not killed. I was among those who had not grown hair.4
Of course, this isn't the only record of Muhammad and his army. It is well known that Muhammad would lead raids on caravans heading toward Mecca, stealing whatever he wished and he ultimately marched his army into Mecca, conquering it with barely a fight. The Hadith of Abu Dawud explains, "The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: The best of the actions is to love for the sake of Allah and to hate for the sake of Allah."5

Who Models Islam More Closely?

Of course, ISIS has several other problems, such as killing Muslims, which is explicitly condemned in the Qur'an. But they would counter that because the moderates have reinterpreted the Qur'an and they have not followed the Islamic law on other issues, these should be considered unbelievers and therefore should be attacked accordingly.

All in all, it isn't fair to say that ISIS is the Muslim equivalent of the KKK. The Klan's actions are clearly the opposite of both the teachings and actions of Jesus, but ISIS is acting in ways that Muhammad himself acted when he faced his enemies. They may not believe other Muslims are faithful, and they would be wrong on that point, but they cannot be said to be a misrepresentation of Islam itself. They are simply being consistent with both their understanding of their scriptures and the model of their prophet.

References

1. Caldwell, Leigh Ann, Holly Yan, and Gul Tuysuz. "John Kerry: The Fight against ISIS Is 'going to Go On'" CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/24/politics/kerry-on-isis/index.html .
2. Sura 47:4-6. Holy Qur'an (Yusuf Ali translation.) Quran.com. http://quran.com/47
3. Sura 33:21. Holy Qur'an (Yusuf Ali translation.) Quran.com. http://quran.com/33
4. Abu-Dawud, Book 38, Number 4390."(Prescribed Punishments)" Partial translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud. University of Southern California Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. Sep 24, 2014. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/abudawud/038-sat.php#038.4390
5. Abu-Dawud, Book 40, Number 4=4582."(Prescribed Punishments)" Partial translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud. University of Southern California Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. Sep 24, 2014. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/hadith/abudawud/040-sat.php#040.4582
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