Literal Religion

Modern civil discourse appears to rest on the polite assumption that none of us will take our religions at face value — or, at least, not the relevant holy books. The passage of time, and the realization that we all must live in close proximity to each other, have combined to utterly end true literalism, even in the most fundamental of the fundamentalists. Andy Schlafly, debating the issue with me a few years back:

On the account of creation in the Bible opinions vary as to what should be interpreted literally and what is figurative.

That principle, when released (or acknowledged), admits of very broad application. Since Andy hasn’t tried to stone anyone (to my knowledge), we can safely presume he agrees. That’s for the best. The Bible has some crazy stuff, common to both Judaism and Christianity. The 43d (fictional) President:

Given this, it is the height of unfairness to call Muslims to account for every passage in the Koran, or treat each as if it must be believed, by every Muslim, upon pain of apostasy. This is not how religion works for us, and can’t be how it works for them. Nor is the related polemic, concerning the overall violent timbre of the book, well-founded. In the first ten pages (depending on translation) one will find no less than four injunctions that Muslims deal fairly and equitably with Christians and Jews. These commands are not surplusage, or commonly ignored, but find modern expression in the “controversial” (?) Imam Rauf, and in ancient times, generated a form or proto-religious liberty that, while not truly comparable to modern liberalism, was nonetheless ahead of its time.

Few religions are free of the burden of a violent past. Absent some showing of abnormality, though, that history will tell us little abut current practice.

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7 comments

  1. I liked Hitchen’s recent quote (http://www.slate.com/id/2266154/), “The taming and domestication of religion is one of the unceasing chores of civilization” which to me, is just a reminder that every religion has had to tone itself down, from it’s relatively radical roots (although, I would argue with his implied extremism of American Muslims).

    1. “The taming and domestication of religion and of Christopher Hitchens is one of the unceasing chores of civilization.”

      Fixed it for ya.

      1. Allowing for demographic changes between then and now, my feeling is it’s probably pretty much the same crowd, just a couple generations later. The 60’s had the John Birch Society and “fealty to the Pope”, we have the Tea Parties and “Obama’s not a natural born citizen”. Different in the particulars, but similar segment of society and similar ideological foundation.

    2. Also, I see that Hitchens is up to his usual intellectual sloppiness. When people opposed JFK because of his Catholicism, it wasn’t because the Church of the time was anti-Semitic or had cooperated with the Nazis. It was because A) they were afraid that he would swear fealty to the Pope; B) because in the eyes of many Evangelicals, the Catholic Church was a direct instrument of the Devil; and quite probably C) because the majority of Catholics were Irish. Or Italian. Or German. And therefore bad.

      It doesn’t surprise me that Hitchens tries to co-opt this tradition for his own agenda, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s ultimately about xenophobia and lack of an ability to differentiate. That is the real threat to “civilization” (i.e. a pluralistic society).

    3. Haha to your first; to the second, I always loved the “swear fealty to the Pope” fear. It’s on par with and maybe worse than the modern tea parties.

    4. (Oops, wrong reply button.)

      Allowing for demographic changes between then and now, my feeling is it’s probably pretty much the same crowd, just a couple generations later. The 60′s had the John Birch Society and “fealty to the Pope”, we have the Tea Parties and “Obama’s not a natural born citizen”. Different in the particulars, but similar segment of society and similar ideological foundation.

  2. I do REALLY like that quote. I didn’t like the implication that this was something new to expect from Islam. I expect it’s already happened, for most people, just like any religion.

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