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Cherry-Picking Religious Texts

Thomas Whitley

It is by no means a new practice. People gravitate toward certain texts and (consciously or unconsciously) overlook many other texts. The New York Times has a piece out this morning that highlights a Christian, Brigitte Gabriel, who is doing just that with the Qur'an. Gabriel grew up in Lebanon during war-time, a harrowing experience to be sure. Gabriel, though, is using her experience to gain a large platform to speak against Islam.

“In the Muslim world, extreme is mainstream,” she wrote. She said that there is a “cancer” infecting the world, and said: “The cancer is called Islamofacism. This ideology is coming out of one source: The Koran.”

It is not difficult to find troubling texts in the Qur'an, such as at 2:191:

And kill them wherever ou find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.

And 9:123:

O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you...

Surely, Islam is a religion of fighting and war, right? Except, we don't usually same the same of Christianity, though the Bible contains texts that are much more troubling to me. Joshua 8:24-27, for instance:

When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the desert where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed all who lived in Ai. But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the LORD had instructed Joshua.

Genocide anyone? Or how about, Psalm 137:9, which speaks of babies being smashed against the rocks or Numbers 25:4:

The Lord said to Moses, "Take all the chiefs of the people, and impale them in the sun before the Lord, in order that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel."

Isaiah 13:16, 18 is a passage in which God is speaking against one of Israel's enemy, Babylon:

Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished (read: raped). . . . Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children.

I think you get the point. There are violent, disturbing verses in many religious texts, we just tend to overlook the ones in our own sacred text. A Christian speaking of the violence of Islam without giving the violence of Christianity is disingenuous and lacks integrity.

I am often accused of "picking and choosing" the verses I "like" in the Bible. To this I say, "Yes, and?" We all pick and choose, some of us are just honest about it. Furthermore, just as these violent verses in the Bible do not define all Christians, so the few violent verses in the Qur'an do not define all Muslims.

The stereotype that religious folk check their brains at the door of the church, synagogue, mosque, etc. has become so prevalent because that is exactly what many religious folk do. Too many Christians are content with seeing all the faults of other religions and never looking in the mirror. It's no wonder so many people think we're hypocrites.