The savage inhumanity of ISIS’s brutal ideologues continued to manifest itself this week as the organization kidnapped hundreds of Christians to be used, abused, and possibly beheaded in a sneering show of radical imbecility that grows from a perverted interpretation of Islam. During the same week, the terrorist group released videos of manic members raiding a museum in Mosul, smashing both reproductions of ancient work and actual priceless artifacts of the Assyrian civilization — echoes of past civilizations that can never be replaced.
If Christians interpreted the Bible in the same way as the strategists of ISIS interpret the Quran, we’d also be breaking into museums and smashing every ancient representation of a god, rather than preserving them as invaluable objects for the understanding of human development and cultural diversity — the prophets often called for the Israelites to destroy their idols and tear down sites where other gods were worshipped. We’d also be stoning children who cursed their parents, cutting off body parts for various crimes, selling slaves, and committing other acts that were embedded in Old Testament law — relics of a bygone age that we now consider to be barbaric. Horrific practices are there in scripture, but we don’t interpret them as appropriate for civilized society.
The problem, then, is not with Islam itself, as some outspoken critics would have us believe, but with sometimes twisted and sometimes too literalistic interpretations of Islamic scriptures.
We must acknowledge that Christians have also been guilty of misappropriating scripture. Catholic popes endorsed the Crusades and offered advance pardon for all present and future sins if they happened to die while fighting the “infidels” — not unlike brainwashed terrorists who think martyrdom will get them immediately transported to heaven. That was supported by the church, but was it Christian?
The Ku Klux Klan claimed to be a Christian organization trying to do right by God and to preserve civil society. Does anyone believe that their racial bigotry and terroristic actions were inspired by Jesus?
We remember the “People’s Temple” led by Jim Jones, which led to the mass suicide of 909 cult members in 1978. Jones claimed to be a Christian. “That wasn’t really Christianity,” we would say, but he drew many of his teachings from an aberrant interpretation of the Bible.
We recall the Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh, a schismatic group that broke from the Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. The group became increasingly ingrown, retreated from society, and burned their compound — killing 79 children, women, and men — rather than allow federal agents to investigate charges of child abuse. “That wasn’t Christianity,” we would say — but cult members claimed it to be.
Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone blame the atrocities of ISIS on Islam: there are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. The vast majority of those who are actually religious look to the Quran for teachings of peace, justice, and moral behavior. Meantime, a few thousand have been brainwashed into believing the exclusive hate-based ideology of extremists who harbor visions of grandeur and are mainly interested in gaining power for themselves — but they get all the headlines.
They’re not teaching true Islam any more than the KKK was teaching Christianity.
Just remember that.
[After posting this blog, I ran across some similar thoughts by Mark Sandlin. You might enjoy reading his take on “Reading the Bible Like Conservatives Read the Quran.”]