A couple of people have asked me to comment on a recent viral video from the Netherlands called the Holy Quran Experiment, in which two guys read violent, scandalous passages from what they claim to be the Quran to people on the street and ask them to comment and compare it with the Bible. The respondents say that it’s horrible and that the Bible is much more peaceful, and then comes the reveal – the book they’ve read from is the Bible!
The video has become popular both among those who want to combat islamophobia and think that people are hypocritical to how they view their own religious heritage compared to others, and among people who think that all religions are stupid and inspire violence and bad values.
Now, as an apostolic Christian I’m the first to say that there are commands and descriptions of practices in the Bible that no one should follow today, such as the violent punishments in the Old Testament. And it is indeed the Old Testament that the Dutch guys read from, with one exception: Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 2:12 on how women shouldn’t teach, a command most Protestant churches today would say is culturally bound (women had hardly any access to education in ancient times, and most couldn’t read).
The Scripture quotations are completely taken out of context, which I guess is sort of the point since verses from the Quran also are often taken out of context by islamophobic people, but this is never explained in the video. The horrible description of eating the flesh of one’s children is quoted without the explanation that this is a consequence of leaving God’s way in Leviticus 26:29 due to the immorality it brings, not a command. Similarly, the video is edited so that we jump directly from the New Testament passage of women not being allowed to teach to “you shall cut off her hand” in Deut 25:12. The latter is the punishment for a woman who tries to crush the genitals of a man and is in line with the “eye for an eye” punishment system, where the balls are replaced with a hand due to the woman’s lack of such.
The good news is that Jesus abolished the “eye for an eye”-logic: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Mt 5:38-39) Jesus told us to not judge, to love our enemies and to forgive, which is why the early church was pacifist. When emperors Constantine and Theodosius married the chruch with the state and violent theology was developed by Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries, this sadly changed, but throughout church history there has been a radical stream of apostolic saints and rebels who stay true to the Sermon on the Mount and refuse to use violence.
This is where Christianity and Islam differs on this issue. See, the Quran has no Old and New Testament; from Islam’s perspective, the Christian New Testament is a corrupted book and its teaching should not be followed if it conflicts with Muhammad’s message, while all of the Quran is relevant to Muslims. And Muhammad was not a pacifist, and the Quran contains some very violent passages such as Sura 2:191 and Sura 5:33. Throughout the history of the ummah, the Islamic community, violence and brutal punishment has been pretty standard, even though many exceptions exist.
Finally, it is important to evaluate why a certain practice or command is viewed as outrageous or immoral. The Dutch guys talk about how the Bible verses they quote are opposed to “Western values”. But where do these values come from, if not from the teachings of Jesus? Waldensians, Apostolic Brethren and Anabaptists were pioneers for freedom of religion, thought and speech, and apostolic Christians have argued for gender equality, liberation of slaves etc. both in ancient and modern times.
Atheism, on the other hand, leaves a black moral hole where no moral stance is objectively better than the other. This is why atheist regimes like Soviet and North Korea aren’t paradises, to put it mildly. Could it be that the very reason we view the violence of the Old Testament and the Quran as outrageous, is that our current morals are inspired not by atheism, but by Jesus?
By the way, keep your eyes open for Greg Boyd’s coming book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God where he will deal with how we view brutal Old Testament violence in the light of the cross. Coming maybe next year, I think. I don’t know, he’s a slow author.