Sunday, August 18, 2013

Is Islam Evil? Part III

Here is Arlandson's Reason #9 why Islam is not a religion of peace:

9. Muhammad commands in his Quran that adulterers and adulteresses should receive a hundred lashes.

Arlandson quotes from the Quran to establish his factual claim about Muhammad:

24:2 Strike the adulteress and the adulterer one hundred times. Do not let compassion for them keep you from carrying out God’s law—if you believe in God and the Last Day—and ensure that a group of believers witnesses the punishment. 

(MAS Abdel Haleem, The Quran, New York: Oxford UP, 2004)

The “supposed historical context” of this instruction from Muhammad is “a raid of a tribe in December 627 or January 628”.

Arlandson insists that Muslim apologists “have to answer why the true God would send down the harsh punishment of lashing in the Quran…” and he concludes that, “cruel violence sits at the heart of early Islam…”.

I agree that this is a harsh punishment for adultery, and I agree that this is an example of cruel violence. Furthermore, given that such a punishment was harsh, cruel, and violent, Arlandson is right to challenge the claim that such a policy was one that “the true God would send down” to us.

Since God is assumed to be a perfectly good person by Christians and Muslims, it is very implausible that God would institute such a harsh and cruel punishment. We should indeed be skeptical about the Muslim belief that these words from the Quran were inspired by God.

However, this legitimate objection that Arlandson raises against Islam, can be raised against Christianity as well. So, before Arlandson and his Evangelical Christian friends begin to pray “Lord, we thank thee that we are not like the cruel and violent Muslims…”, they need to take a good long look in the mirror of history, and then, out of shame and embarrassment, fall silent about point #9.

About a thousand years after Muhammad spoke those “harsh” words of “cruel violence”, a group of devout Christian were forming a new settlement in North America, called the Massachusetts Bay colony. Consider the following inspiring words of one of the leaders of these followers of Christ:

John Winthrop's City upon a Hill, 1630
Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body, soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; [emphasis added]
viewed on 10/21/10

Surely these devout followers of Jesus, who strive “to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God” and who are committed to “entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion” and to show great empathy by making “others Condicions our owne” and who wish to set a high standard of behavior that will be an example for the whole world, surely these loving and merciful Christians would not stoop to the harshness and cruel violence of Muhammad by flogging people who have committed adultery with one hundred lashes.

It is true that the Puritans did not use flogging as the punishment for the “crime” of adultery. They assigned a different punishment for that offense:

If any person commiteth Adultery with a married or espoused wife, the Adulterer and Adulteresse shall surely be put to death.
(from the Bay Colony’s 1641 Laws called the “Body of Liberties” source: Capital Punishment in the United States, 1997, edited by Bryan Vila and Cynthia Morris, p. 9 ).

Apparently, a thousand years of Christianity was not enough to drive out this harshness, cruelty, and violence from the devout followers of Jesus, so that they had not yet arrived at the level of restraint shown by Muhammad and his followers back in 628 CE.

Capital punishment in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries was typically (for Britain and New England) in the form of hanging. While hanging in the 20th century can be carried out in a way that is humane and fairly painless, this was not the case at the time the Puritans issued the above law. Prior to the late 1800s, and the arrival of new more humane methods of hanging (which instantly broke the neck of the victim), hanging was a cruel and violent punishment:

When everything was ready, the horses were whipped away leaving the prisoners suspended. They would only have a few inches of drop and thus many of them would writhe in agony for some moments. The hangman, his assistants and sometimes the prisoners' relatives might pull on the prisoners' legs to hasten their end. After half an hour or so, the bodies were cut down and claimed by friends and relatives... (Description of a typical hanging in Britain in the 1700s from "The history of judicial hanging in Britain 1735 - 1964", viewed 10/31/10).

People would sometimes survive hanging, and this meant that people knew from first-hand testimony that hanging could be very painful:

There are several recorded instances of revival in this country during the 17th and 18th centuries. One of the most famous is that of John Smith, hanged at Tyburn on Christmas Eve 1705. Having been turned off the back of the cart, he dangled for 15 minutes until the crowd began to shout "reprieve," whereupon he was cut down and taken to a nearby house where he soon recovered. He was asked what it had felt like to be hanged and this is what he told his rescuers:"When I was turned off I was, for some time, sensible of very great pain occasioned by the weight of my body and felt my spirits in strange commotion, violently pressing upwards. Having forced their way to my head I saw a great blaze or glaring light that seemed to go out of my eyes in a flash and then I lost all sense of pain. After I was cut down, I began to come to myself and the blood and spirits forcing themselves into their former channels put me by a prickling or shooting into such intolerable pain that I could have wished those hanged who had cut me down."

The "intolerable pain" experienced by John Smith during his recovery was not part of his punishment by hanging, but he also reported experiencing "very great pain" during the time that he was hanging.

Not only did these "merciful" Puritans strangle people to death for the crime of adultery, they also assigned the death penality to a number of other crimes less serious than murder (Capital Punishment in the United States, p.8-9):

- for worship of "any other god, but the lord god"
- for being a witch or consulting "with a familiar spirit"
- for blasphemy or for cursing god
- for having sex with an animal
- for a man who has sex with another man (i.e. gay sex)
- for stealing a man (i.e. kidnapping)

While the harshness and cruelty of the Puritans in dishing out the death penalty is remarkable, they were actually more restrained than the Christians that they left back in Britain:

While many of these laws seem particularly harsh, the code might be considered almost lenient, at least in terms of the number of capital crimes, when compared to the capital laws of the Puritan's British homeland. There, about fifty-five crimes--including burglary, robbery, and larceny--were punishable by death at the time (Hook and Kahn 1989:21; Mackey 1976:xii). 
(Capital Punishment in the United States, p.8)

Britain was a Christian nation, not an Islamic nation, and yet we find that the death penalty was rather freely given out in Britain in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries:

At the beginning of the 19th century, there were no fewer than 222 capital crimes, including such terrible offences as impersonating a Chelsea pensioner and damaging London Bridge! One reason why the number of capital crimes was so high was due to the way that particular offences were broken down into specific crimes. For instance stealing in a shop, a dwelling house, a warehouse and a brothel was each a separate offence. Similarly with arson, burning down a house was distinguished from burning a hayrick. It should be noted that in practice, there were only about seventeen general offences for which a death sentence was generally carried out in the 18th and early 19th centuries. These included murder, attempted murder, arson, rape, sodomy, forgery, uttering (passing forged or counterfeit monies or bills) coining, robbery, highway robbery (in many cases, this was the offence of street robbery, that we would now call mugging), housebreaking, robbery in a dwelling house, returning from transportation, cutting and maiming (grievous bodily harm) and horse, cattle or sheep stealing. For all the other capital offences, transportation to America or Australia was generally substituted for execution. 
(from "The history of judicial hanging in Britain 1735 - 1964")

Between England, Wales, and Scotland, there were about 103 civilian executions per year in the 1700s, or over 10,000 executions from 1700-1799 (see "The history of judicial hanging in Britain 1735 - 1964"). Most of the executions were hangings, and given that humane methods of hanging had not yet been developed, most of those hangings were cruel and painful deaths; death by strangulation that took several minutes.

Hanging was not the only cruel punishment given out in the history of Britain. Other punishments imposed by the "merciful" Christians of Britain include: drawn, hanged, and quartered (a person would be hanged, but cut down while still alive, disemboweled, and then chopped into four pieces with an ax), burning at the stake (the preferred capital punishment for women), boiled to death, and such loving non-capital punishments as whipping, amputation, and branding.

The 100-lashes punishment assigned by Muhammad in 628 CE, is less harsh than the death penalty imposed by Puritan Christians in America in 1641, more than a thousand years after Muhammad's statement. Although the Puritans were harsh and cruel in assigning the death penalty to a number of minor offenses, they were more restrained than the cruel and bloody Christians back in Britain, Wales, and Scotland who executed about 10,000 human beings just in the 1700s, mostly by hanging, a cruel and painful way to die, and for a wide variety of minor offenses (not just for murder or treason). So, although Arlandson makes a valid criticism Islam here, the same objection applies tenfold to Christianity.

One might object that we are not comparing apples to apples, because Arlandson's objection points directly at the Quran, whereas my objection points to the behavior and policies of British and American Christians. A better comparison would be to put the Bible up against the Quran, on the question of how to punish adultery and other "crimes" or sins.

But the laws of the Puritans were based directly on the Bible, and their law code cites Biblical passages for each law that imposes death as the penalty. It is in fact the case that the Bible teaches that death is the proper punishment for adultery:

Leviticus 20:10 (New International Version)
10 " 'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

Deuteronomy 22:22 (New International Version)
22 If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.

The Bible also assigns the death penalty for a number of minor offenses:

- kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)
- working on a Saturday (Exodus 31:14-15 and Numbers 15:32-36)
- for blasphemy or cursing god (Leviticus 24:15-16)
- worshipping "any other god" (Deuteronomy 13:6-16 and Deuteronomy 17:2-5)
- cursing your father or mother (Exodus 21:17)
- a man having sex with another man (Leviticus 20:13)

The Puritans were no more harsh or cruel than other Christians. Their law code simply followed the clear teachings of the Bible. It is not just that Christians are more harsh and more cruel than Muslims (concerning adultery). The real problem is that the Bible is more harsh and more cruel than the Quran, at least on this point, the very point that Arlandson is trumpetting as a key reason for believing that “cruel violence sits at the heart of early Islam…”.

It is not just Muslim apologists who “have to answer why the true God would send down the harsh punishment of lashing in the Quran…” . It is also Christian apologists who must answer why the true God would send down the harsh punishment of DEATH for adultery and various other minor offenses. A loving and merciful God would not have commanded such cruelty and violence, so just as this objection gives one good reason to doubt that the Quran is the inspired word of God, so this objection gives us even stronger reasons to doubt that the Bible is the inspired word of God.