Monday, January 12, 2015

The Koran on Retaliation

Believers, be steadfast for the cause of God and just in bearing witness. Let not a group's hostility to you cause you to commit injustice. Be just, for it is closer to piety. Have fear of God; God is well aware of what you do.

Koran, Sura 5, Verse 8


G. Verloren said...

Religious extremists are always hypocrites - just look to many "Christians" in the US if you need proof.

The problem is that the religious aspect is just an excuse. If you take miserable and angry people and hand them a complicated, convoluted, highly symbolic, and difficult to understand philosophical system, you get a mess every time. Most people lack the knowledge, perspective, and patience to make any real sense of such systems of thought - they just glean a confused surface understanding that seems to reinforce their preconceived notions, then cling to that invention with violent tenacity.

And it doesn't need be a religious school of thought, either. People will gladly embrace the superficiality of any idealogy that seems to tell them what they already want to believe. People invoke shallow, twisted interpretations of most everything - economic theory, evolutionary theory, political theory, philosophical theory, even things like art theory and the like.

Want to "justify" your unsavory selfish behaviors or unfair societal biases and privileges? There's a community and school of thought out there that's got you covered! Don't worry that it doesn't hold up to rational scrutiny - if you just stick to your guns and repeat your flawed rhetoric over and over, people will eventually simply get fed up trying to even talk to you, and that means you're right and you win!

David said...

No--religious extremists are often quite sincere, and their arguments often derive quite straightforwardly from aspects of the religious tradition that are just as much part of that tradition as expressions of tolerance and pacifism. Certainly in all three Abrahamic religions, one can cherry pick scripture to argue that the religion "really" advocates peace or violence or just about anything one likes. The Koran contains expressions urging patience and peacefulness, and expressions that command religious war. "Slay the polytheists wherever you find them" (9:5) is pretty unambiguous, as is "Retaliation is prescribed for you" (2:178); while on the other side are lines like "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256). One could do the same with both the Hebrew and Christian Bible. The former commands, in crystal-clear terms, both forms of economic justice (such as the regular forgiveness of debts), for example, and on the other hand complete genocide for the Canaanites and Amalekites. And what can one do with the absolute clarity of "You shall not suffer a witch to live"?

G. Verloren said...

I would contend that cherry-picking scripture is still itself a form of hypocrisy.

If a text is blatantly self contradictory, you have to take that into consideration as part of how you understand it. To do otherwise is anything other than being "quite sincere".

G. Verloren said...

To elaborate, the root of the problem is that some people view religious scriptures as absolute truth stemming from a single infallible source, failing to realize that almost universally they are conglomerations of the thoughts and words of many different peoples across great expanses of time.

Even the Qu'ran, seemingly originating from the solitary source of a single literate man, suffers from the disparities of the passage of time, with the text having been written over many years of Muhammad's long and very convoluted life, and likely having been revised and edited at various points.

Yet even here, even if we were to flatly accept traditional claims that the work is infallible, even if we grant the notion of divine dictation and absolutely flawless human transcription, the fact that contradictions still remain in the text changes the meaning of those contradictory segments. If they are not in error, then the contradictions must be purposeful - and as two contradictory things cannot both be literally and wholly true, the intended meaning must inevitably rest somewhere else, embodies in neither half of the contradiction. Meaning one cannot possibly understand the truth of one verse or another without taking into account those verses which contradict it - making anyone who cites a verse in isolation from said contradictions, in doing so, innately hypocritical.

David said...

Ok, but accepting the idea that true "sincerity" requires wrestling with the whole of a body of scripture and/or tradition, does not exclude, in the end, concluding that on balance the scripture and/or tradition advocates violence or extremism. Unless one wishes to say that the only true form of "sincerity" is not making up one's mind.

Personally, I think sincerity, like courage, diligence, decisiveness, and other such qualities, should be thought of as a virtue of character, but not of morality. I see no reason why it is impossible that the Charlie Hebdo shooters (or many Nazis, for example), were both sincere and brave, as well as bad.

David said...

Would you say, then, that St. Francis was a hypocrite? After all, he decided to follow the Sermon on the Mount injunction to live like the lilies of the field, and to ignore Paul's stricture that even missionaries should earn their keep.

G. Verloren said...

A final note - this is a problem that has existed since time immemorial, and is even addressed in various religious texts themselves.

For example, the Christian New Testament - specifically the earlier gospels - are chock full of remonstrations to the reader to not misunderstand the parables, to not take them literally or to miss the message by not thinking a notion or scenario through all the way. For example, stories are told once, and then retold with slight but significant variations, in an effort to demphasize the trivial details of the parable and instead promote questioning and deeper thinking into the real underlying messages.

Or for another example, despite the common modern view of the Twelve Disciples being Jesus's greatest students, a critical examination of the gospels turns this notion entirely on its head. The disciples are constantly misunderstanding Jesus, constantly refusing to listen to him, and generally acting like a bunch of thick headed oafs - and this is by design. The disciples are not meant to be an example of how to follow Jesus' teachings, but of how NOT to follow them. They are "believers" in name only, sychophantic hanger-ons who follow Jesus for all the wrong reasons and who repeatedly fail him and ultimately betray him. And the text expects the audience to be able to read between the lines, to spot the folly and farce of their behavior, and take to heart that true understanding is not superficial and foolish, but deeply contemplative.

David said...

Your point about the contemplative message in the gospels is well-argued, but it is an interpretation. Plenty of readers have looked at the same material and derived messages encouraging activism (including fairly intolerant and/or literal-minded activism), and I see no sense in trying to score one or the other interpretation as "hypocritical" on the basis of how much it accords with a preferred understanding of scripture.