Monday, May 26, 2008

It's the Books, Stupid

Here's the trouble with the Abrahamic faiths, the problem that can't be wished away, the problem that keeps a lot of bad ideas in currency: it's the books. The books are rotten. God's words are poison.

And it's god's words, not just anybody's words. That's key -- the Bible and the Koran stay around, unexpurgated and unchanged, because people believe they came from god.

They're not only poison -- there is plenty in those books that is praiseworthy. But the rot stays around, and because it came from god himself, there's no removing the rot.

Edit out the rot and the game is up -- that move is an admission that it's an imperfect book. It's a move strictly disallowed within the game of Abrahamic religion. You can't decide god's word is no longer worth reading. You can decide Titus Andronicus is too bloodthirsty and drop it from the junior high Shakespeare class, but you can't erase the violence from Koranic Suras or expunge the absurdities from Leviticus.

You can advance novel interpretations, but this can clean things up only so far. Stretch words and squint as you might, the god of the holy books sanctions violence and prejudice, slavery and repression. People have found justification for ugly, terrible deeds in these books from day one to the present day.

Yes, people have done terrible things without reference to holy books. Robespierre and company read Diderot and Voltaire and then committed atrocities; Stalin and company read Marx and Engels and then committed atrocities. True enough.

Voltaire, Diderot, Marx, Engels (and countless other writers from the secular tradition that might be listed) are not gods. They did not take dictation from angels or transcribe enchanted golden plates forged by god. They are not infallible; they didn't claim this for themselves, and if they had, no one would have believed it. It's extremely difficult to read the works of these writers and encounter something on par with god's instructions to kill all the Malikites and Canaanites, or god's demand to execute blasphemers, homosexuals, and disobedient children.

The tu quoque rotely invoked in the defense of Abrahamic monstrosity -- for every Inquisition there's a Reign of Terror, for every Taliban there's a Stalinist Purge -- fails utterly. It fails because the texts are different. The texts differ in subject matter; the texts differ in degree and kind of authority; the texts differ in what they sanction and how they sanction it.

It's inescapably the books.

Some references: barbarity in the Koran; more barbarity in the Koran; the Bible on intolerance; the Bible on the status of women; the Bible on slavery; the Bible on its own inerrancy; assorted conflicts between the Biblical text and modern moral standards.

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