It had to come. The most unpredictable about this was how long it took because sooner or later some snippy know-it-all will quote an unsuitable verse from the Bible and state: Look here, guys! I have exposed Christianity as a purely evil religion. The British actor Stephen Fry is one of those fearful people who is more than willing to misunderstand:
To be fair, it’s not that obvious that Stephen Fry criticized Christianity because this could be just as much about prejudices against one particular ethnic group (the Jews) as an objective criticism against a religion that has gathered many different ethnic groups from all the corners of the planet. The hateful actor doesn’t seem to have grasped the idea that God created paradise, handed it to us on a silver platter, before we very quickly turned it into a hellhole. God wanted, as I have understood creation, to give us free will, and if we didn’t have the opportunity to do evil, we would not be free. Christianity doesn’t do the job as well as we would like, but we are more honest with than without God.
The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet showed a video a few days ago where two young men in the Netherlands asked people what they thought about some verses they read. The verses were from the Bible, but the cover said the Quran. The message was that this was not something anyone could believe in, and how could we say that this is better than Islam? That’s a hopeless comparison because we are talking about things that are not valid anymore. Let me give an example.
The Book of Deuteronomy is constructed like a speech by Moses and contains a lot of rules and regulation about Jewish life. It’s a kind of summary of what the Jews had experienced so far and what was important to them. If we had taken chapter 21 and verses 18-21 seriously we would have had a huge male deficiency in most countries:
18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
There are a number of verses in the Bible that are not especially beneficial for women, and many websites believe they have rectified this by describing Christianity as pure evil. Personally I don’t believe the Bible is so authoritative that criticism of it should be punished to the extent we see with criticism of the Muslim world. A good part of the Bible are laws that people, not God, formulated. These probably did the job at the time, but times have changed somewhat since Moses. You can find verses about specific situations where God seems to have green lighted slavery, rape, incest, murder of anyone who didn’t know God, but I think it’s pretty clear that this contradicts the clarification Jesus made. That was the whole point of Jesus. The Apostle Paul (died in 67) wrote a series of letters to the early congregations and this quote from the Colossians 3 is interesting:
18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
This sound undeniably negative, bit I think the word submit has been misunderstood, and the next verses make it clear that the husband doesn’t have the Bible’s support if he chooses to treat his wife as inferior to himself:
19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
It sounds to me that the phrase as is fitting in the Lord is meant to limit the husband’s inclination towards aggression, if he has any, and I can’t imagine God regarding violence as decent behaviour in a marriage. It would very much surprise me if God told me that beating my wife was fitting to him. That’s a situation where I could see Stephen Fry’s point. The next verse deals with how slaves should handle themselves, which indicates that people and not God wrote this, because this is hardly in accordance with the respect the Bible says we should have for each other. Ephesians 5:28-33 is often used to show the instructions God gave to husbands.
I have to honestly admit that I don’t read the Bible nearly as much as I ought to, but I like the end of the chapter from the Colossians:
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.
The comparison with Islam always makes me think of Isioma Daniel. I met her when we lived in Stavanger in 2003/2004, where I had my first job. Isioma was new in Norway after she had fled from Nigeria to Norway (via Benin) assisted by Amnesty International and Committee to Protect Journalists. She worked as a fashion journalist in Lagos, Nigeria in 2002 and wrote about the Miss World-contest that Nigeria would be hosting later that year. She described the Muslim opposition to this event and added a short comment to her article that was meant to be a joke:
The Muslims thought it was immoral to bring 92 women to Nigeria and ask them to revel in vanity. What would Mohammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them.
These two sentences resulted in a riot that left 200 people dead, 1 000 injured and 11 000 homeless. The rebels also set fire to her employers offices. The Islamic government in the Nigerian state of Zamfara issued a fatwa against the journalist.
It also makes me think about Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, which Muslims find blasphemous. The fatwa against him was issued by the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomieni. A fatwa is viewed differently within Islam. Some maintain it’s not legally binding as it was issued by people without the kind of authority Allah or Mohammad had, but I suppose the whole point of it is to give any Muslim justification to carry out the sentence. It’s not unlikely that the murderer would have been acquitted if Isioma Daniel had been killed in Nigeria or Salman Rushdie in Iran. I think most people recognize that criticism of Christianity, or even innocent jokes, does not involve the death penalty.
This comparison also makes me think about the racist caricatures that were published in the danish newspaper Jyllandsposten or the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. This aroused a lot of hatred in the Muslim world, and I therefore believe it is legitimate to ask whether Islam and the Western world can go as well together as many people seem to think.
It’s easy, as many do today, to assert that ISIS is not Islam. There are a lot of things we rightly could and should criticize the Quran and Mohammad for, but because few Muslims do, it is not immediately obvious that Islam is the religion of tolerance and peace many say it is. There is, however, a focus on punishment and the fact that most people are infidels. I believe this includes other sects within Islam as well. There won’t be any Christmas mass in the Iraqi city of Mosul this year. It is probably the first time in 2000 years there won’t be a church service there. The Christians have been displaced or killed, and this didn’t start with ISIS.
If I compare the Old Testament of the Bible with the limited knowledge I have of the Quran, I would argue that the Christian Scriptures don’t give us the right to mistreat anyone. People (especially kings and governments) have made a mess of things for the last 2000 years, but I can’t see that there’s anything wrong with the core in the gospel. People are free to act as they please, as long as this doesn’t compromise others, but I have my doubts as to whether Stephen Fry or the Dutch video will help people towards a better life. We are muddled enough as it is.
The Bible quotes are from biblegateway.com