May 2015        

Both are wrong!

Richard Bryant

With more beheadings in Libya come more pundits on American television. As a culture we seem keen to explore political, military and the occasional diplomatic solution when it comes to the rise of Sunni extremism in Syria and Iraq. I wonder if there are less obvious religious approaches?
     No-one is going to invade Indiana or Arkansas for considering the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Yet the approach by many in addressing either side of the issues has been exclusively religious. Politics has become a means to implement religious ideology.
     Certainly I believe this to be the case in Indiana. The sooner we understand how the fundamentalist impulse for control (create religious uniformity through the appearance of a political process) functions within the Christian tradition the sooner we’ll begin to grasp the apocalyptic, exclusionist thought inspiring violence in North Africa, Syria, and Iraq.
     I think the key to defeating radical and conservative interpretations of the Quran is to defeat radical and fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. If they both make similar claims, both venture into the realm of divine exclusivity, they both need to be subject to serious criticism. Both Jesus and Muhammad were real men. The books which relate their stories are sacred to billions of people. However, both books are historically constructed texts and not manuals for running a society. Cobbled together, sometimes centuries after the events described, they are not infallible guide books for living. Instead they are contradictory versions of historical episodes that few agree represent authentic history, either Christian or Muslim.
     This conversation needs to occur before new beheadings, more hyperbole and both faiths become entrenched in their belief that both are wrong and only one carries God’s true imprimatur. There is much wrong with both Islam and Christianity. The Quran and the Bible are not infallible texts. Both books are littered with inconsistencies, religiously sanctioned brutality, and virtually identical claims of divine involvement in human affairs, which Islam discredits in Christianity and Christians discount among Muslims.
     There is an unwillingness to speak honestly about the Bible among certain elements of Christianity. As the recent murders at Charlie Hebdo demonstrate, any depiction or questions regarding the historical role of the Prophet Muhammad can lead to violence. Both traditions have groups of people who don’t want anyone to pose questions threatening age-old orthodoxies and interpretations of scripture. While violence isn’t a way of life in American evangelical culture, no-one wants to discuss the brutality in the Old Testament, inconsistencies in gospels, and how one interpretation of Christianity is shaping the American political landscape.
     These same questions can be asked throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. We see, from a distance, how one interpretation of the Quran is shaping the political landscape of the Islamic world. Under the penalty of death, many share the consensus that the Prophet’s life and teachings form an unquestionable body of work. In 1,400 years, this basic message has gone unchanged and unchallenged.
     Christianity’s reformations have stalled in the United States. The impetus of Luther, Calvin and Wesley has given way to something unique to the consumer-driven culture of late-modern capitalism. Our faith, like our lives, is a narcissistic expression of self-fulfilment cloaked in the language of Joel Osteen’s God, love of stuff, and “me.” We understand that “this” is how God wants us to be. Others, who have not understood, are wrong. We don’t want the hard questions. We know who we are. Them, they, the other, the industrial-religious complex, tell us who to hate and who to love.
     The world is trapped between competing fundamentalisms. To question the authority of the Bible and the honour of the Prophet may be the first step to peace; it may be the only fair place to start. Someone must be able to ask harsh questions of both Christianity’s and Islam’s most sacred texts. No one life is worth a single word of any book. Both can’t be right. Both dominant versions, vying for prominence in the world today, are fundamentally wrong.

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