the Quran that the killing of an innocent life kills all human life and the saving of an innocent
life saves all human life. (I apologize for the paraphrasing and anyone who knows the verse
is welcome to post the exact quote.) In getting reaction from the Muslim world, a number
of news outlets reported that Muslims watching or listening to the speech seemed very
pleased that the President read and quoted their holy book. It got me thinking about holy
books and about the three great Western religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. For
Christians, there are the Christian scriptures (at one time we would have referred to them
as the New and Old Testaments, but no more) and for Muslims it is the Quran. The purpose
of a holy book is to guide, inspire, evoke, and comfort those who read it. All these groups
believe that their book was inspired or dictated by God especially for them. God or Yahweh
or Allah wished to communicate with us and these books are collections of the divine mind
in action. As such, followers seek to discover what these messages from God mean for them
and their lives. Then why is it that so few seem to take the message seriously? How can it
be that God is said to have directly communicated with us and yet, on the whole, the
message is ignored, diluted, or dismissed?
I will not insult any Muslim with any attempt at an in-depth analysis of the Quran.
I have read some translations, but not enough to do much more than get me in trouble.
However, I have spoken with many Muslims and Muslim scholars, and I trust them. I
trust them when they tell me that the Quran is a book of peace. I accept their characterization
of it's precepts as highly ethical and morally demanding. They tell me that the Quran values
life. It cannot be used to justify indiscriminate killing (as the President tried to show in the
quote he used). Devout Muslims can quote innumerable passages that speak of love and
concern for ones neighbor, moral obligations of hospitality, kindness, and an exhortation
to live a good life. Allah so cared about us that he sent us Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed
(His blessed prophets) to tell us His thoughts and wishes; with the promise that if we lived
according to the principles revealed by His prophets, we could be with Allah in paradise.
In the Hebrew scriptures, the message could not be clearer. God, Yahweh, Adonai,
El Shiddai, El Eloyhim, etc. is knowable. He is not only knowable, but so intimate with
us, so deeply invested in our creation, that He even entered into a covenant(agreement)
with the Hebrew people that "...I will be your God and you will be my people." It is a
relationship that Yahweh wishes with us; and in the course of this relationship we learn
how the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wishes us to act towards each other. Among
other things, we are told to love our families, honor each other, do not kill, don't lie, and
accept the gift of life that we have been given without being jealous or desirous of anyone
or anything else. Prophets like Amos have told us how God wishes us to care for each
other and live ethical lives. The Hebrew scriptures value life and call on us to live in
accordance with a God who we can know and love.
In the Christian scriptures, the message is even more intense and radical. God
is not only knowable, but loves us so much He sent His only son to redeem the world.
The message could not be clearer. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. You are
to turn the other cheek and love your enemies. You are to forgive not seven times, nor
seventy times, but infinitely. Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters,
you do for God. We are called to be meek and peacemakers.
The President quotes the Quran about protecting life. The Hebrew scriptures
call on us to lead ethical and moral lives in which all life is valued; and the Christian
scriptures mandate that we love each other even if we are enemies. Billions of people
say they read or listen or think of the words every day. So what happened? When did
this train leave the tracks? God has tried to communicate with us through Abraham,
Jesus, and Mohammed; and yet the killing and the hatred and the immorality and the
inhumanity continues. How is that possible?
Of course, many people will talk of sin. Whether it's the apple in the garden or
the crucifixion of God's Son, humans have committed sin and ignored God or Yahweh or
Allah along the way, and I won't disagree with that contention; but in most of the world's
history, fundamentalism has been the greatest vehicle for spreading that sin and continues
to be today.
Fundamentalism, the belief that there is only one true way of reading any of these
Holy Books, one true message, one true set of rules, has been the accelerant that speeds sin
an inhumanity in every corner of the world. In fundamentalism, someone is always right
and everyone else is wrong. If your fundamentalists are in power, no unspeakable act is
too heinous to be committed against you. History is replete with example after example.
Whether it be spreading religion by use of the sword, going to war over who will control
the city of Jerusalem, torturing or jailing scientists who threaten the fundamentalist world
view, or enslaving other humans who are "inferior" in God's eyes, some of the worst abuses
of the messages in these Holy Books are perpetrated by those who say they believe them
Fundamentalism is anti-democratic, anti-pluralism, and anti-American.
Fundamentalism is anti-intellectual and intolerant. Fundamentalism, by it's very
definition, must be right and everyone else is wrong. Fundamentalist Jews, Muslims,
or Christians are no different. The fundamentalist checks his or her brain at the church,
synagogue, or mosque door and picks up their crayons to go inside. Fundamentalists
deny their Holy Books are for anyone but them. Their God is exclusive. Their God is a
vengeful God who punishes anyone who disagrees or professes different beliefs. Their
books may say do not kill, but their God is quite willing to sanction the murder of anyone
they disagree with. Fundamentalists blow up restaurants or churches. Fundamentalists
shoot doctors in their churches on Sunday. Fundamentalists assassinate prime ministers
who try to make peace. To fundamentalists, democracy is anathema. Equal rights for all
is heresy to fundamentalists. Peaceful coexistence would be unthinkable to a fundamentalist.
In Cairo, President Obama was speaking to moderates and hoping they will win
the day in the Muslim world. He was also speaking to moderates in Israel, and opposing
the fundamentalists that make up Prime Minister Netanyahu's coalition government. In
his speech, he was also confronting the fundamentalists in this country who long for the
day that America is supreme in a Christian dominated world. Fundamentalists didn't want
Obama to speak at Notre Dame. Fundamentalists didn't want him to speak in Cairo.
Fundamentalists don't want him to speak to the Palestinians and others who don't want
him supporting Israel.
The specter of fear and terrorism in this country, in Israel, and throughout the
world will only be eliminated when those who support tolerance, diversity of belief, and
intellectual curiosity rise up and reject fundamentalism. The message of the Quran and
Hebrew and Christian scriptures is a message of hope, love, forgiveness, and humanity.
Through Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed, God has attempted to reveal to us how to have
life and live life to it's fullest. One thing is clear, God was not talking to the fundamentalists.
What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to