Friday, August 16, 2013

Is Islam Evil? Part I

According to Terry Jones, the book-burning pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainsville, Florida, Islam is of the Devil:

According to an editorial by Jason Pappas published on the “Faith Freedom” website, Islam is Evil:

According to editorials by Robert Tracinski and David Holcberg on the Ayn Rand Institute website, Islam is a religion of War (not peace) that fosters terrorism and totalitarianism:

Is Islam Good or Evil? Is Islam a religion of Peace or of War?

There are at least four aspects of Islam that should be taken into consideration when trying to answer these questions::

1. the history of the followers of Islam
2. the holy book of Islam (the Koran)
3. the life and teachings of the founder of Islam (Mohammed)
4. the beliefs and practices of the followers of Islam

It could be the case that the history of the followers of Islam is one filled with hatred and violence, but that the teachings of Mohammed actually promoted peace and justice, and that the followers of Islam have largely ignored or misunderstood the teachings of Mohammed. The opposite might also be the case: perhaps the teachings of Mohammed promote hatred and violence, but the history of the followers of Islam is primarily one of tolerance and peace. We cannot assume that there is a direct correlation between the teachings of Mohammed and the behavior of the followers of Islam.

If someone were to claim that “Christianity is Evil” we should consider similar aspects of Christianity before accepting or rejecting this strong claim:

1. the history of the followers of Christianity
2. the holy book of Christianity (the Bible)
3. the life and teachings of the founder of Christianity (Jesus).
4. the beliefs and practices of the followers of Christianity

It is absolutely essential that Christian believers ask these parallel questions about Christianity, as they consider the case for the goodness or evilness of Islam. This is because it is all too tempting to use a double standard, and to judge Islam by standards that would never be applied to one’s own religious tradition. If one judges the Koran to be “an evil book”, then whatever standard is used to make that determination must also be applied to the Bible. It might well turn out that the Bible should also be considered to be “an evil book” if the same standard was applied to evaluate the Bible as was used to evaluate the Koran.

As an atheist, I have no big ax to grind on this issue. If Christianity is evil and Islam is good, I’m OK with that. If Islam is evil and Christianity is good, I’m OK with that too. And, if both Christianity and Islam are evil, that would not surprise or shock me. I’m less inclined to believe that both Christianity and Islam are good, but I’m open to that possibility as well.

I am tempted to believe that Christianity is evil, but I realize that it is in fact some mixture of good and evil, some combination of insight and error, and thus any critical assessment of Christianity is going to have to be somewhat qualified. In the end I might conclude that Christianity is more evil than good, but I would have to admit that there is a significant amount of good in Christianity.

If the history of Christians was one of love and peace while the history of Muslims was one of hate and violence, then that would be a big strike against Islam and a big point in favor of the claim “Islam is Evil”. But any person who has even a modest awareness of world history knows that the history of Christians is one filled with hatred, violence, slavery, slaughter, torture, oppression, and warfare.

Not that there are no bright spots in the history of Christians, but we cannot ignore the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, witch burnings, the wars of religion, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, to name a few obvious issues. So, it is rather doubtful that Islam would fail this first test while Christianity passes with flying colors.

At most, one could try to argue that the history of Christians is slightly less violent and less hate-filled than the history of Muslims. There will be no clear winner on this front. Both Christianity and Islam will be found to be somewhere south of “good” and only slightly north of “evil” on a fair and objective evaluation of this first aspect of these two religions.

If someone were to make the claim “Christianity is Evil!”, an obvious first reaction would be: Which version of Christianity are you talking about?

There are Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Calvinist/Reformed, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Mennonite, Quaker, and other kinds of Christianity.

Even within these specific sects of Christianity there is a diversity of opinion and belief. For example, Episcopalians and other denominations are divided over how to view homosexuality and homosexual partnerships. Protestants (and even Roman Catholics) are divided over the morality of abortion and to what extent abortions should be legal. For more than a century, Christians in the United States were strongly divided over the morality of slavery.

It is not at all clear that there is such a thing as “Christianity” if that is supposed to refer to a single set of religious beliefs and moral values. So, to be fair and objective, the claim “Islam is Evil” should be met with a similar question: Which version of Islam are you talking about?
To be continued…