Today I was talking to a group of Muslim students who had set themselves up in the student union, and were trying to correct misconceptions about Islam and how they weren’t all terrorists or that sort of thing. While I commended their efforts for raising awareness and being so open, as I talked with them I quickly realized they were proselytizing as well, or at least very eager to try. This in and off itself is understandable. In last Sunday’s service, my pastor used the example of Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller made a blog post about a very nice guy who handed him a bible after a show, and was careful to not appear crazy. Mr. Jillette is a well known atheist, and he assumed that this guy knew that, but he also made that case that he understood if you believed in hell, and that the only thing that could save people is by sharing your knowledge or revelation, then how much would you have to hate somebody to not share that with them? He compared it to knowing their was a train coming, and someone was in the way, and that you’d really have to not like somebody to do anything about it.
Anyway, I talked to these students for awhile, and because I’d read a little bit of the Qur’an I did have something I wanted to ask them about, and it was specifically this passage:
[5:32] Because of this, we decreed for the Children of Israel that anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. And anyone who spares a life, it shall be as if he spared the lives of all the people. Our messengers went to them with clear proofs and revelations, but most of them, after all this, are still transgressing.
[5:33] The just retribution for those who fight GOD and His messenger, and commit horrendous crimes, is to be killed, or crucified, or to have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or to be banished from the land. This is to humiliate them in this life, then they suffer a far worse retribution in the Hereafter.
[5:34] Exempted are those who repent before you overcome them. You should know that GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
To me, it’s discouraging that such a clear condemnation of violence is followed by such harsh punishments for people who would oppose Islam. But after looking at the verse and going over their translation, the دارس الاسلام (student of Islam) explained it to me that the intention is to protect society as a whole; that the motive is to stop people who would afflict and harm others through their influence and keep the majority of people “safe.” Sura 5:33 applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, he was careful to point out. Anyone who willfully or deliberately was an aggressor against Islam was subject to their retribution; the same as how an anarchist or revolutionary in a secular society would be subject to what would be an exception to the laws of freedom. A lack of tolerance aside, the intention is to stop harmful elements of society from interfering with the faith of others.
For me, personal freedom is very important; each person comes to their own place where they decide on their beliefs, what those beliefs are, and they make the individual, conscious choice of following that. Otherwise their faith seems insincere; like a mere social order, rather than a metaphysical orientation. The problem is most religions and spiritual practices establish themselves as social orders or a means for society to communicate it’s values over the ages. This is why leaders and demagogues love to tap into religious language in order to reinforce their policies and gather easy support. But anytime people try to acknowledge their preferred theology as the ultimate source of social order in their countries, you always wind up with a system that excludes unbelievers from justice. It leaves the freedom of choice each person has to believe or not believe completely in the gutter, and instead oppresses everyone with man’s theology, rather than behavior one assumes from divine inspiration as a means of obedience. People’s obedience in faith is righteous based on his ethics, but people’s obedience to law is servile and arbitrary based on the lawmaker.
A common trait to all fundamentalists, be they Christian, Muslim, or Zoroastrianism is that they take the transcendent, spiritual kingdom that is ideal in the faith, the “new order” established by divine revelation and they look to impliment it in the world around them. But doing so depends on the cooperation of everybody else, and not everyone is privy to that special understanding or revelation the fundamentalists have. In some cases, fundamentalists “rewrite” the history of their government in the name of nationalism to justify it’s existence. Though typically it would be part of the sinful, material world, it’s made righteous when colored through the lens of fundamentalist revisionism. Of course, most of us don’t see things through that unique lense, and aren’t as eager to take the mental gymnastics course required to make the way we see things more like they do. On that note, while this verse sticks in my mind,
2 Timothy 3: 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
It’s important to also remember that God does not expect unbelievers to adhere to his rules.
Galatians 2: 15“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
While that may have been the case for the Hebrews (at least from a biblical perspective), it’s certianly not the case for anyone else, and the text goes on to say
17“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
For me, this is the essence of of faith; Kierkegaard suggested that parodoxes in Christianity (the divinity and humanity of Jesus, for one) demanded that believers make a leap of faith, a personal choice to believe. Most people would agree that faith is a
choice, without going into a deeper explaination. Nearly all beliefs are a matter of choice; we can prove facts, but subjective analysis or understanding of those facts is up to personal understanding. And, continuing with the Christian perspective, the author of Romans writes,
12: 2And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
3For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
I could go on with citations, but the point I’m trying to make is that each person is at their own place in their understanding of God; whether they have made the leap of faith or not, whether they agree or disagree on how each other should behave, and so on. No person is perfect or rightous in their understanding or behavior. But to summarily make laws and rules that supplant the freedom of choice each person has, and shortcuts their process of understanding is a terrible thing that both oppresses them and makes us all hypocrites, servile to the state rather than obedient to our beliefs.
Benjamin Disraeli wrote, “When men are pure, laws are useless; when men are corrupt, laws are broken.” This reminds me of a quote attributed to Plato, who wrote, “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.” Laws ultimately must be made in a democratic process that reflects the individual freedoms of all men, rather than a contriving system that is full of bad faith and sanctimony.They cannot suggest to reflect the morality of God, because it’s presumptuous to assume people are capable of the same reasoning or understanding God has. This being an absurd world, the efforts of men to establish “Babylon” in opposition to divine order can only absurd and ultimately illegitimate, no matter how much they try to emulate divine inspiration.
After all, for those who followed Yahweh this was why Jesus came to fulfill the law, rather than attempt to enforce it as the Jewish revolutionaries hoped; ultimately they would have become hypocrites themselves.
Romans 1: 20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
I can’t speak for Muslims, and by no means do I mean to make any offensive presuppositions, but as Christians we have to walk by faith and not by the law, least we lift up the text more than the author, the law more than our lawmaker, and the text more than the author.