When it’s really up to you to choose to do something, you can always choose to do nothing. I’m sure you will be impressed and grateful for that profound insight and precious contribution to your education. But the fact is that very often we choose to do something, without asking ourselves first “Why bother ?” The action we choose may be more trouble than it’s worth. Its outcome may be doomed from the start. It may be just a pain in the neck which we would be better off choosing to avoid. If it is something that really must be done, often we’d be wiser to leave it to someone else with more time and talent than ourselves.
Where, you ask, am I going with all this ? Well, today I heard a moderate, I would even say, in a quasi-oxymoron, a liberal, Islamic theologian, suggest that we (it’s none of my business; he meant “they”) must “re-interpret” the Qur’an. I immediately said to myself : “Why bother ?”
Long before the third, copycat, monotheism came on to the scene, Jewish scholars and Christian theologians had already spent centuries trying to make sense of, if not to explain away, the more embarrassing, outrageous, immoral, inhuman, cruel events, teachings and injunctions of their sacred texts. It never occurred to them to ask themselves my question. They HAD to bother. That was their job.
You can find long lists of such texts on the net, or even a few Old Testament examples in my book (“From Illusions to Illumination”), page 75, “concerning, for example, the approval of selling your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), that working on the Sabbath deserves death (Exodus 35:2) or that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean (Leviticus 11:7-8) or that one must not plant two different crops in the same field (Leviticus 19:19) or that the whole town should be assembled to stone the offenders (Leviticus 24:10-16), or that people who sleep with their in-laws should be burnt to death (Leviticus 20:14)”.
I could have added a pearl or four from the New Testament, quoting the words of the Gentle Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God Himself :
“Do not suppose that my mission on earth is to spread peace. My mission is to spread, not peace, but division. I have come to set a man at odds with his father, a daughter with her mother, a daughter-in-law with her mother-in-law : in short, to make a man’s enemies those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter, more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-37)
“Just as weeds are collected and burned, so will it be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will dispatch his angels to collect from his kingdom all who draw others to apostasy, and all evildoers. The angels will hurl them into the fiery furnace where they will wail and grind their teeth.” (Matthew 13:40-42)
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels of heaven, he will sit upon his royal throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. Then he will separate them into two groups, as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. The sheep he will place on his right hand, the goats on his left … Then he will say to those on his left : ‘Out of my sight, you condemned, into that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels !”. (Matthew 25:31-33, 41)
“A man who does not live in me is like a withered, rejected branch, picked up to be thrown in the fire and burnt.” (John 15:6)
The Qur’an is a treasure-trove of similar texts that challenge the ingenuity of the most erudite Islamic scholars. A few examples from my book (pages 75-76) :
“Combat on the path to God those who fight against you … Kill them wherever you find them. If they fight you, kill them; such is the retribution of the unbelievers” (2:190-191).
“Your wives are for you a field to plough” (2:223).
“If the people of the Book believed, it would be better for them. Among them there are believers, but the majority of them are perverse” (3:110).
“God has fulfilled His promise towards you, when, with His permission, you wipe out your enemies” (3:152).
“Unbelievers are your declared enemies” (4:101).
The reason they all bother is obvious. No one would waste his time trying to explain how Harry Potter and his Quidditch team zoomed through the air on broom-sticks – or propose some esoteric symbolic meaning behind their magical aerial feat. It’s fun, it’s fiction, and we all know it. The problem with the Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an is that they are all supposed to be the Word of God. It is a given, therefore, that they express the truth. Even if much of what they say seems incredible and irrational, some people think they simply must try to discover the real (acceptable) meaning of the sacred text. Whence the arcane art and profession of biblical and Koranic exegesis.
There are three principal arguments behind the belief that the holy books are inspired by God : 1. They were written by holy men, or better yet, they contain the very words of a man who was clearly a spokesman of God (!); 2. The events they record and the claims they make are supposedly backed by miracles witnessed by many (!!); 3. A bunch of learned, holy men got together and after careful examination of the texts, sometimes comparing and contrasting them with spurious, “apocryphal” competitors, they were solemnly declared to be of authentic divine origin. Q.E.D. (!!!).
There is obviously no point in analyzing these “proofs”, and believers themselves don’t … bother. They just accept what they have been told, no matter how much it stretches and challenges their credulity. The rest of us know that the scholars need not have bothered interpreting or re-interpreting the troublesome texts. Some believers simply reject interpretation altogether and perform the mental gymnastic of taking it all at face value. It’s “In the Book”, so it must be true. Period. Liberals in all the monotheistic faiths scorn the blind ignorance behind such fundamentalist literalism. But they themselves, before they try to talk their way out of the obvious meaning of the more outrageous texts, should ask themselves our question : “Why bother ?”. Instead of arguing about the interpretation of books supposedly revealing the Word of a God invented by primitives, they would be better off doing what I did : stop wasting their time as exegetes bending themselves backwards to make sense of nonsense, and learn an honest trade, rather than continuing to blindly lead the blind into blind folly. In a word, get themselves a life.