This afternoon, before leaving for work, I became invested in a conversation that an old friend of mine was having. The conversation began when he posted something on Facebook that claimed that the Islamic culture condones rape, murder, terrorism, necrophilia, pedophilia, and bestiality; while simultaneously arguing that no such thing could be claimed with respect to the Christian faith which he adheres to. I couldn’t resist becoming involved.
“Actually”, I replied, “Rape is condoned in the bible…in multiple places throughout the Old Testament. Murder is repeatedly condoned and even pushed upon the chosen people as the right course of action; in fact, Abraham was asked to murder his own son only to have God step in and tell him that he was only testing him. Bestiality wasn’t and neither was necrophilia, you’re right there, but neither of those things are actually condoned in the Koran either…and pedophilia was condoned in all cultures at that time, up until recently (because what we consider pedophilia was nothing more than the usual time when children were of age to marry and bear children).”
At this point, someone else involved in the conversation stated that what I was saying would make no difference as the ‘friend’ in question does not believe in the Old Testament and considers it to be the word of the Jews.
To which I was forced to respond, “Well, Jesus himself stated quite clearly that he didn’t come to change a word of the law that came before him, that he wasn’t changing anything about what God had bestowed through the Old Testament.”
The response to my statements was to suggest that he was glad that I knew my Bible and that it was also a curse for me, he was sure.
Not knowing what he meant, I had to ask, “A curse? I’m afraid that I don’t follow your reasoning behind that.”
His response was that I would forever struggle, while suggesting that he would like to know of any ‘rape’ that could be found in the Bible.
“Struggle?” I asked, “I don’t experience any struggle from knowing the Bible or any other holy books. I guess that I just don’t know what you mean. As far as incidents of condoned rape…you can look to Judges 21, Deuteronomy 20, 21, and 22, Numbers 31, and easily another dozen or so places. Some of the same chapters have some very straightforward references to murder and infanticide as well. I’m curious as to how the repeated pushes for the murder of infants corresponds with the anti-abortion sentiments expressed by modern Christians.”
Another participant in the conversation then mentioned a Biblical reference from Numbers 31 which included multiple rapes, some genocide, as well as a great deal of murder and destruction.
“2nd Samuel has some really pleasant imagery regarding what was just stated,” was my follow up to that.
My ‘friend’ stated that none of this was condoned.
I was forced to return with, “God told them expressly to commit the rape. How is that not condoned?”
I opted to share the following verse:
Deuteronomy 21: 10-14:
10When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,
11And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;
12Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;
13And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.
14And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.
“That, my friend, is rape. Forcibly taking a woman from her home after slaughtering her family (including possibly her husband), keeping her as property and having your way with her…that is rape. Try it today and you will spend a long time in prison (for murder, kidnapping, and rape).”
He replied by saying that those actions were not condoned by God or by Jesus.
I felt compelled to remind him, “That was God issuing those commands…according to the Old Testament. That is more than condoning it, that is forcing it.
“I hate to say this, my friend…but you really don’t seem altogether too familiar with anything pertaining to the Bible…seems a bit absurd to call yourself a Christian while knowing almost nothing about what your holy book happens to say about pretty much anything.”
He replied by insisting that those actions were from the Old Testament which was meant for Jews who were the only ones saved at that time and who got mad when God game the same grace to gentiles and changed the rules, that the old rules were no longer true. He continued by suggesting that those who know the Bible and do not live by the word and humble themselves before God are twice as bad off as those who do not.
I had no choice but to respond with, “There is no Christian faith that doesn’t accept the Old Testament. And Matthew 5 makes it very clear that Jesus did not change a word from the law of the Old Testament or of the prophets. And there is no place that says that those who know the Bible and do not live by the word are worse off than those who do. I do a better job of living a moral and respectable life than most of the Christians that I know…maybe because I actually do know what their Bible says and they simply accept the word of a man who interprets it and spits out twisted variations to suit their desires.”
His response was to say that he accepts Old Testament teachings as well as all Christians, that what he didn’t accept is my using the laws of the Old as those of the New because I know that this is not the truth.
“You really should take the time to actually read the book that you base your faith upon, I replied. “I was raised in a Catholic household, attended catechism classes every weekend throughout my childhood, and even attended Catholic school for two years. I have read the Bible from beginning to end, and snippets of different versions of it to compare them…as well as English translations of numerous other religious texts from other cultures. It is precisely because I am so familiar with these books and that I have studied various sciences and happen to use a good amount of common sense and critical reasoning that I don’t believe what you believe.
“The words of the Old Testament are no less valid than those of the New…nowhere in any version of the Bible does it claim that the New Testament supersedes the Old, replaces it in any way, or invalidates anything written within it.
“In addition to reading the Bible, my friend, I would recommend that you read Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman…he’s a religious scholar from Chapel Hill. You might benefit from reading that as well. And, on the subject of reading, I’ll use this as a chance for shameless self promotion and recommend that you read Unspoken, by yours truly…there is no correlation between my novel and anything referenced in this conversation, but I’m trying to weasel in a plug for my book anyhow.”
His immediate reply was to state that Jews don’t believe in or study the New Testament and yet they still do not practice the same way that they used to. Further, he stated that Jesus never paid attention to the laws of the Old Testament, which was why the Jews were mad, and eventually had him killed.
“The Romans actually had him killed,” I returned, “the Jews were subordinates to the Roman rule of Jerusalem. There were some of a scholarly class of Jew that weren’t pleased with Jesus, but they didn’t have him killed. They had neither the political pull to force the Romans to do such a thing nor the sway within even the Jewish community.
“They don’t follow the New Testament because they don’t believe that Jesus was the promised messiah…and early Christianity was hugely conflicted on what they believed as well. It was only because of a Roman, Constantine (hundreds of years after the death of Christ), that the modern form of Christianity exists today…if you were to look back at the various forms of Christianity that existed prior to that, you would consider most of them absurd.”
My ‘friend’ accused me of cherry picking the Bible for the bits that best fit my argument and then proceeded to do precisely that with the Koran, pulling up references to Aisha and using them to promote his earlier argument about Islam condoning pedophilia.
I replied with, “Numbers chapter 31 has multiple references to young girls being taken by the chosen people at God’s behest. But I’m not saying that the Bible promotes pedophilia, nor the Koran. These young girls are no younger than the girls who were getting married during the settling of this country…it wasn’t pedophilia or considered to be at all wrong or unnatural until recently (and only in some cultures, even today).
“To try and state that either the Bible or Koran promotes pedophilia is to misinterpret what was said through a lens of our culture today. Today, it’s not acceptable for a man to take a 12 or 13-year-old girl as a wife, but that was totally fine less than 200 years ago, here in America. You’re wasting your time trying to argue that the Koran promoted pedophilia, my friend…it’s apples and oranges at best…and your own religious heritage promoted the same behavior.”
His retort was that I could condone anything when I believe in nothing.
“I don’t condone it,” I stated, “not in the least…but had any of us been living during the times of Jesus, Muhammad, or Abraham that is precisely what we would have been doing. It was the cultural norm for essentially every culture of the time…and it is still the norm for numerous cultures around the world.”
At this point he returned to commenting on Aisha, stating that she was 6.
I replied with what I had always believed to be true, “Actually, she was either 9 or 10 when she married Muhammad…which was a common age for marriage in the culture…and it wasn’t consummated until after that.”
His reply, which may be correct, was that she was 6 when she married Muhammad but that he didn’t penetrate her until she was 9 and that this sort of thing was still in practice in Islamic culture.
I was getting frustrated by this point when I responded by saying, “Hell, throughout European and American history we have countless examples of girls being promised to men well before the age of maturity…which is the same thing.”
His response was to insist that by arguing for it, I did in fact condone it.
“No, I argue that you’re distorting the facts in order to claim that there is a cultural precedent for pedophilia within the Islamic people…when the same precedent could be argued for your own faith and culture. There are still religious sects within Christianity (not mainstream, by any means) where young girls are promised to older men before they reach physical maturity as well. To argue that there are still Bedouin sects that do the same and apply it to all of that culture is no better than someone looking at those splinter branches of modern Christianity and accusing you of being complicit because you are also a Christian.”
I continued, “I don’t condone a number of things that are practiced in countless different cultures. I don’t condone a lot of what is done by our own culture here, but I’m not blind to it happening. Being aware and non hypocritical about it doesn’t equal condoning it. I’m in no position to judge the actions of a culture that I am removed from by a millennium or more…I can’t even properly comprehend the lifestyle of the people that lived in those days.”
He opted to change the subject then, by stating that he was glad that our morals come from Christianity, and that it was for this reason that I find those things to be wrong.
With no small amount of irritation, I said, “No! Most of the things that Christianity took as a moral code were well established centuries before there was anything even remotely like Christianity. In fact, a lot of the morality derives from pre-Judaic cultures of Babylon and Assyria…hell, Babylon was where a lot of the Old Testament stories and myths were derived from; during the time that the Jews were enslaved there, they adopted a lot of the myths of the Babylonian captors and then rewrote them to correspond with their own beliefs after being released.
“Our morals come from simply knowing what we don’t want to have done to us and applying that same judgment to people external to ourselves (an inverse of the golden rule). Kin selection and in-group, tribal components still apply, which is why it is easier for any culture to commit acts against another culture that they would never allow internally. We practice immoral acts against other cultures on a regular basis, and Christianity is guilty of that same thing just as much as any other religious or nation-state culture. Outsiders are still considered to be “something less” in a number of respects, and that sort of mentality is a remnant of our primitive origins.”
I took a brief respite from the conversation, and during this time my ‘friend’ said something about how God doesn’t want us to go to Hell and that the reason there is a Hell in the first place is because of our own sin and the disobedience of the Devil.
I found myself compelled to return to the conversation long enough to say, “Actually, regarding that whole Devil and disobedience thing; it couldn’t have happened, part of what separated man from angel is free will, angels didn’t have it. That was what it meant to be made in God’s image, to have will and to be able to shape the world according to that will, not that we looked like God…but that we were given volitional consciousness, something angels didn’t have. There could have been no rebellion without will to do so, and though this Lucifer was supposedly cast into the pit, he is right there in Heaven with God in the book of Job, testing the faith of God’s most loyal servant on Earth.”
That was the end of the conversation for me. I had no interest in continuing any further. For those of you who are unaware, I am an atheist and not the least bit apologetic about it. I wasn’t participating in the conversation to be antagonistic or mean spirited, but because the subject interests me.
What scares me is that my ‘friend’ is far from the only person who believes the things that he does believe, and he votes. I have plenty of religiously inclined friends and acquaintances, but it’s this sort of uninformed and ignorant belief structure that my ‘friend’ exhibits that terrifies me.
2 thoughts on “An Interesting Religious Discourse”
Thank you for stating so eloquently what has been rolling around in the back of my head for many years now. I almost slapped my forehead when you brought up European cultural practices of the past (also expressed in the “New World” of the Americas) which involved men taking adolescent girls as brides. By no means is this practice exclusive to Islam or pre-Islamic cultures. If this is a valid critique of current day Islam, then we might as well condemn Europe and the Americas as cultures based upon a past rife with pedophilia.
Sadly, I’ve also seen atheists in many quarters of the internet condemn Islam as a religion of pedophilia. “Muhammad was a pedophile!”, has become a favorite insult to hurl at Muslims. I knew that this assessment came from a place of historical and cultural ignorance, but I did not quite know how to describe that reality.
Unfortunately, there is a good deal of ignorance running through both Christian and non-religious social spaces regarding Islam. So many people have been swept up in a wave of fear and hatred toward Islam since 9/11. People so easily dismiss an entire religion, composing over one fifth of the world’s populace, as nothing more than a cultural backwater populated by terrorists and barbarians. European cultures of Christian heritage and current practice, possess so many comparable pitfalls. It is easy to ignore these matters when viewing people of other cultures. Xenophobia and ethnocentrism so readily color our view of the world.
I appreciate your thoughtful comment. It is indeed almost painful to think of the degree of ignorance and blind hatred that is associated with Islam these days. I’m no more fond of Islam than of any other religious belief structure, but it’s certainly no worse than any of the Judeo-Christian faiths have been in the past or still are today. I’m glad to see that I had stated things in such a way that someone actually appreciated it.